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We Played The Witcher 3 Next-Gen Update in Warsaw

By Dan
Dec. 7, 2022 updated 03:00

Interview by: Kupo

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (hereinafter referred to as The Witcher 3) took the world by storm when it was first released in 2015 and is still rated by many as the best RPG of all time. The ambitious storyline and entangling dilemmas have left countless players in a pleasant melancholy after spending hundreds of hours beating the game for as low as 8 USD, if they picked up the game during a sale. Its developer, CD Projekt Red (hereinafter referred to as CDPR), is affectionately known to Chinese gamers as the “Dumb Polish Donkey” because of their free meaty DLCs and anti-DRM position.

Seven years after the original release, the game has sold over 45 million copies across all platforms, and the long-awaited Next-Gen Update is finally coming to PC and consoles on December 14th. This time the dumb donkey seems to be playing dumb again – The Witcher 3’s upgrade will be free for all owners of the Witcher 3. In addition to visual improvements and performance optimization, new content such as the Photo Mode, Korean and Chinese Voice Overs, and The Witcher Netflix Goodies will surely bring players something different.

Superpixel went to CDPR’s studio in Warsaw and played a couple of hours of the Next-Gen Update at the first opportunity.

CD Projekt Red’s Studio in Warsaw, Poland

The upgrade most notably brings a visual difference. On PC, with the aid of DLSS and Ray Traced Reflections, the game world is presented in a more realistic rendering. The default visual fidelity is now similar to the Ultra mode of the original version, while players who are seeking higher image quality now have the option of an “Ultra Plus” mode.

Play Station 5 and Xbox Series X each had a “Performance Mode” and “Ray Tracing Mode.” Performance mode targeted 60 fps and ran very smoothly. Ray tracing mode, on the other side, improved the lighting and reflections by global illumination and ambient occlusion but targeted 30 fps. Both modes used Dynamic Resolution, meaning they would scale the resolution dynamically while playing to improve performance.

The game world seems significantly improved in those areas with a clear and definite light source under the Ray Tracing Mode

What impressed us most was probably the new “Quick Sign Casting” addition and the haptic feedback on the PS5 controllers. The quick sign casting allows signs to be switched and cast without opening the radial menu, which worked extremely well. The haptics and adaptive triggers for the DualSense controller are fun and engaging (most noticeably emulating the snap Geralt does with his fingers when casting the Igni sign).

With Cyberpunk 2077’s faithful dubbing, we honestly do not worry too much about the quality of the new Chinese voice-over. Yet CDPR still managed to surprise us with the Chinese version of The Wolven Storm (Priscilla’s Song): it was not just the music of heaven - the localization team went the extra mile to adjust the character model so that the shape of the mouth would match the Chinese voice-over.

After the demo, we had some frank and in-depth conversations with CDPR’s acting narrative director Philipp Weber and their localization project manager Marta Cannilla. We talked about some behind-the-scenes of the Next-Gen Update and some China-exclusive localization efforts.

Philipp and Marta

Superpixel: Known for its rich references to Central and Eastern European mythology and folklore, The Witcher series has a huge fan base in China. How did the Chinese localization of The Witcher 3 handle the integration between Polish mythology and Chinese culture? Was it hard to ask the voice actors to perform Western fantasy characters?

CDPR: Localization is essential for the Witcher series to grow bigger. We aim to achieve the feeling that the game was made in that language and for that region, with unique references for the language and culture. With this full localization, we didn’t just translate the game but also made adaptations based on local folklore and culture, presenting many Polish references in a way that people of other cultures can easily accept and understand. Everyone can appreciate some of the subtle cultural and atmospheric details.

However, The Witcher is deeply rooted in Slavic folklore, so it was important to preserve the elements that make it unique. For example, in a quest like Forefathers’ Eve, we don’t want to lose all references to the original tale and replace them with local ones. We still want the players to get curious and maybe learn something new.

As a celebration of this release, we added a new armor inspired by Chinese legends and folklore. We also gave it a bit of context in the game: you will find a letter with the armor that explains how it fits into this world.

A new armor inspired by the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms

One anecdote we’d like to share is that when Philipp first heard about the Chinese recordings months ago, he asked if he could specifically hear Priscilla’s Song, one of the nice moments in The Witcher. He listened to the song in Chinese, and it was “really, really nice.”

Superpixel: How did you control the quality of the localized voice performance? The tone and emotions may vary in different languages, but Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3 (I assume) did pretty well. What’s the secret?

CDPR: First of all, we worked hard on selecting the right voice actors in close cooperation with the recording studio and with the help of the native speakers who are part of the CDPR team. In addition, Localization QA is a highly underestimated process that requires testers who are also native speakers to play through the game and report bugs or suggest any improvements. We often had to rerecord lines to make sure they sounded right in the context.

We give the same directions and freedoms to directors and actors in each language version. On this specific project, there’s probably a more significant influence of the English version, as this game has been released for years, and probably most of the audience is familiar with the sound of the characters. Still, we never try to replicate a given version.

Overall, we have a great cast, and I cannot wait to see how the players react! But Geralt needs to be our pick. It took us several tries to find the right tone. It happened at some point during the project when the voice actor finally grew into the character, and we decided to go back to rerecord some of the initial parts to ensure the experience would be consistent for the players.

Superpixel: We know that The Witcher 4 and The Witcher Remake are also being worked on. Does this Next-Gen voice-over imply that from now on, for all your major releases, you will have Chinese localization?

CDPR: We are probably not the people to make that call (Laughs). It will be a high-business decision, but to be honest, China is a really exciting market, and we know that many fans in China enjoy our games. It would be nice if we start providing full localization for China moving forward.

Superpixel: Okay! To go away from that and a bit more over to the technical side, apparently there’s been some changes to fall damage?

CDPR: (Laughs) Yes! So that’s actually one thing that Philipp made himself. We know about the memes - people always say Geralt has ankles made of glass. Philipp even built a little gym in the game where he took one-meter-high boxes and made stairs of them. He checked at what height Geralt took damage for the first time and at what height he died from fall damage. He then adds roughly one and a half meters on top of that as the new initial height of the falling damage. So now it’s much less likely that you accidentally die from fall damage if you jump from a little hill.

Geralt might be able to parkour in the update

Superpixel: Are there any other quality-of-life changes you’ve worked on, like the fall damage? Minor tweaks to the HUD or anything like that?

CDPR: There are a ton of quality-of-life changes. A lot of them were done by another quest designer, Eero Varendi, who also proposed a few of them. He’s the guy behind the new Photo Mode and the Quick Sign Casting.

Those changes weren’t part of the initial design for this version - they just came out like, “Oh wouldn’t that be cool!”. The Quick Sign was a mod that Eero worked on before, and he basically just asked, “Hey, do you think we can make it properly and be part of the game?” It was so good that we checked it with our gameplay designers who were veterans of The Witcher 3 and they all really liked it. So we made it official.

We also made some small quality-of-life changes. For example, in the original game, if you loot herbs from the ground, it always opens a loot window that you must click again to confirm. In the upgrade, we removed the window and replaced it with a small hand move that Geralt does to provide feedback. We wanted to go over all these little details that felt a bit more clunky and polish them.

Of course, we fixed many other issues, such as broken skills and rebalancing things that didn’t really work. One of the CD-Projekt designers, Andrzej Kwiatkowski, did a full combat rebalance mod in the past to balance a lot of the combat and fix broken skills. We didn’t take the whole mod because it changes how the game plays in some ways, but a lot of the fixes that Andrzej did were now officially added to the game.

Superpixel: A selection of items inspired by The Witcher Netflix series are now available, including a new armor for Nilfgaardian soldiers and a new outfit for Dandelion. Are they only made for their looks or also made to be practical and functional?

CDPR: By default, the new armor is off, but you can turn it on in a menu if you choose to. In the same menu, you can also turn on the new alternative appearance for Dandelion, called Jaskier in the show. Besides that, we also included other Netflix goodies, such as Henry Cavill’s (the actor playing Geralt in the series) armor from season 1 and season 2, as well as the swords he uses.

Armor and sword inspired by the Netflix series

We did not want to put those new pieces of equipment into some random chests without context, though. We checked with our localization team, got all our Geralt voice actors on board, and decided to make a quest for the new items to give them a little history. This way, they do not feel like foreign things but more like they belong in the Witcher world.

As for the functionality aspect, I assume they are as practical as the other armors in the game. You can tell the artists who made those armor and swords wanted them to have a unique cool look while retaining the medieval character. My personal favorite is the armor from season 1. I really liked the way it looks in the game.

Superpixel: As Acting Narrative Director, what’s your approach to creating stories for something like The Witcher based on the original fantasy?

CDPR: The important thing is to get to the core of what those Witcher stories are about. To not copy and paste the stories that are there already but to look at how Sapkowski wrote those stories: What are the messages that Sapkowski wanted to convey? What’s the kind of style that he used? The Witcher is a very interesting fantasy world because it isn’t just medieval. It’s already at the beginning of a renaissance. It’s also not purely dark fantasy because there’s a lot of hope in the stories. The Witcher books are largely allegories of central European fairytales and legends with a deep Polish attitude. Those Slavic themes, in particular, were not very well known in large parts of the world before The Witcher.

If you want to be a quest designer or writer at CD Projekt, you’d better have an extensive reading list of all the things you should know. Not just fantasy but also the history of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as a solid understanding of the various themes we want to explore. At the end of the day, we are all trying to answer one question: “What is it like to be a Witcher?” Once you have your own answer, you are not far from creating an ideal game world.

Superpixel: Why give the update out for free?

CDPR: Honestly, the reasons are many. So for The Witcher and The Witcher 2, both enhanced editions were already free. That is a thing we are known for, and you know how the release of Cyberpunk 2077 went… Our philosophy is that if players pay for our games, they should receive follow-up support, updates, patches, and new content for free. We wanted to say, “This is the kind of stuff we want to do. This is the kind of CD Projekt we want to be.”

We took over the development of the Next-Gen Update (previously outsourced to Saber Interactive) back in February. This, to some extent, led to the delay of the release. We had lots of developers spend their time on this. But we just thought, “It’s worth it for our fans. Let’s make it free.”

Of course, seven years have passed since the release of The Witcher 3, and there will probably be a new generation of players to buy the game, so people will still spend money on it. But we also figured this update should be a celebration. So for our fans who have already owned and played the game, we didn’t want them to have to pay again.

Superpixel: Will this update have any lore hints for the new games?

CDPR: I can’t talk about that. There might be some super subtle things in there, but you’ll probably only understand those in hindsight. We don’t want to spoil anything!

At the end of the interview, we asked Philipp if he had any words for the Chinese players. He was very excited to share that he had fans from China contact him to discuss the content of the game, which made him really feel the significance of The Witcher series in terms of cultural dissemination. The original book series is a Polish national literary treasure, and one of the important things the game series has done is to pass along these small, unique, folklore-like Polish legends that differ from the traditional grand narrative of Western fantasy.

Philipp was delighted that people from all over the world embraced and enjoyed the Polish fantasy. For him, it was also fun to dive into Chinese folklore. He and the team even talked about influences from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms when working on the new armor.

“We are now in a very good time to share those truly unique and local folklore legends. It is nice that cultural elements can be incorporated into the game content so that players of different backgrounds can all appreciate the beauty of other cultures.”