This is my second entry for the @archdruid Gaming Contest: THE PRESENT hosted by @veryspider and @elfranz. My first entry was about the supreme awesomeness of the XCOM reboot by Firaxis! My second entry was the nerdgasm that is BattleTech the PC game by HareBrained Schemes.
One of my most favourite gaming types is the open sandbox Role Playing Gane (RPG) style of games.... the sort that was made famous by the Elder Scrolls series and the reboot of the Fallout franchise by Bethesda and Obsidian. This couples a "go anywhere, do anything" attitude to a gaming world with the traditional RPG leveling mechanics of an hero avatar. Now, these sorts of games have to run a fine line between exponential development and writing costs (if the player can go everywhere, you need to write and program for every possible experience... even if the majority of players are never going to see most of the work!)... and creating a dead and repetitive world.
Procedural generation has gone some way to populating gameplay areas and dungeons... but the ability to seed the world with believable and interesting Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and quests is something that evades all but the best of development studios.
Witcher 1 and 2
The year is 2007, and the the world at large (outside of Poland) has not experienced the world of The Witcher... a series of books by the author, Andrzej Sapkowski. Enter a little known development studio, CD Project Red, with an ambitious goal of setting the Witcher world to a PC game and bringing the setting to an unsuspecting Western audience... and they managed to do a really great job of it as well! CDPR took the aging Neverwinter Nights engine (the Aurora engine developed by Bioware) and modded it to an inch of it's life... and created the masterpiece that would be known as the first Witcher game!
The game was creaky as the engine was being asked to do things that it was never designed to do... but it managed to hold together and CDPR managed to release the game to huge critical and audience acclaim! We'll never mention the collectible "sexy card" mechanic ever again though....
The second release (Assassin of Kings, 2011) in the Witcher gaming franchise was written upon an in-house developed game engine, REDengine. The ability to port the save from the original Witcher game was a nice touch... however, most people would have long deleted their save game in the intervening years... or at least deleted their entire gaming rig and long upgraded to newer hardware! It was a nice thought, but one that just wasn't going to happen with such a large amount of time between releases.
On the other hand, hardcore gamers (like me!) would play the first Witcher again in the hype season before the release of the second Witcher game.... just so that we would have the save file! Yep... it's hard work being a dedicated nerd!
The game was a huge improvement over the original... in both looks and game mechanics. There were many criticisms of the narrative... which was found to be lacking... a good set up, but then falling apart by the end. To be honest, I do remember being disappointed by the ending... but it has been such a long time ago that I really can't exactly remember why that was! I will have to go back and play it again!
CDPR has evolved from being an unknown developer (who used to specialise in game localisation for the Polish Market) to one of the most respected development studios on the planet. Their success with the Witcher series has allowed them to launch the game store, Good Old Games (GOG), which used to specialise in modernising forgotten gaming treasures from the past and now is the poster child for DRM-free gaming.
They have maintained a buyer owns the product approach to game distribution, which has various advantages for gamers and developers.. but has resulted in a mixed approach for keeping games up to date. In their own game development and support, they have championed the chunky DLC approach. This is where the Downloadable Content (DLC, content that is released post-launch) is seen as large expansions and worthwhile updates to the vanilla game instead of quick cash grabs from material that was stripped out of the original launch (ahem... no names here...).
This "gamer" first (instead of profit first) approach as resulted in a die-hard and loyal following amongst gamers, with many of their launches seeing overwhelming first day (and long term) support from the gaming community.
The world of The Witcher is one that is full of monsters... The Witchers are a dying breed of genetically enhanced monster hunters that have long hunted down monsters for bounties.They are both respected and feared.... but due to their code of honour, they sometimes have difficulty in distinguishing whether the real monster is the fearsome looking apparition or the humans themselves. This moral code has sometimes put them at odds with the existing kingdoms and has nearly wiped them out as humans have been less forgiving about being described as the true monsters.
However, there do exist "traditional" monsters... mostly derived from Eastern European folklore, which makes a refreshing difference to the Western stereotypes that have flooded the gaming and other narrative markets. Most of these monsters are completely unknown... and they can be truly fearsome... however, the more intelligent ones tend to have complex backstories... which renders the question of absolute good and evil very very murky.
Non-Humans (Elves and Dwarves...) also exist as remnants of older civilizations.... however, they have fallen a long way from their powerful pasts.. and these days are seen as beggars and misfits and general sources of trouble for the dominant Human race. Racism abounds... as do "freedom" fighters.
Which brings us to the game's handling of moral choices. In most Western (and Asian) RPG games with morality mechanics... the morality is just cartoon like.. you are obviously killing the children and sucking out their blood evil... or squeaky clean nicer than nice good. It's pretty lame...
In the Witcher universe.. there is never a "right" or "good" solution to quandries. Things are just crap or less crap... and the choices that you make only make themselves known much later in the game when you are far from that quicksave! Not everything works out as expected... and often, things that you think are doing for a good reason end up with unexpected and terrible consequences. This is real life morality at work and a sign a maturing art form... and something that no other studio has managed to date.
There has been few games that have been as awaited by so many people as the Witcher 3. Finally released in 2015 (and this year, 2019 as a port to the Nintendo Switch!), the game was released as a truly open-world sandbox RPG. A huge world that was alive with interesting quests, beautiful scenery, engaging NPCs, challenging combat and Gwent! This was everything that any hardcore gamer could wish for... plus the grey morality of the universe and story... this was an adult's game!
When it was released in 2015... it was the game that brought gaming PCs to their knees... you would need top tier hardware to have anything close to the ultra settings.... but you could manage on lower settings with mid-tier hardware. However, on the ultra... the game was just stunningly beautiful. It does say a lot about the march of hardware technology that the Witcher 3 has now been released (albeit at a lower resolution and graphical quality) on the Nintendo Switch!
The gameplay and combat was fluid and challenging. Every supernatural monster had specific weaknesses and strengths... and button mashing was a sure way to lose. Swordplay was a subtle give and take interrupted by the occasional rhythm breaking spell or bomb.... the battle would be won before the swords were drawn, with knowledge and preparation being able to tilt the edge (very slightly) in favour of Geralt. The world also did not scale with the avatar... which is a concession that other games have for the "mainstream" gamer.... a faked power trip. Let's just say that if you are stupid enough to pick a fight with someone stronger than you... you deserve to get pounded and not hand held to victory!
The Witcher has long been a favourite of cosplay characters... but the Witcher 3 brought in the choice of romancing either one of the powerful witches, Triss or Yennifer (or being screwed over by both as revenge!). This spawned a huge online war where you had to pick your side... were you #teamtriss or #teamyen?
Well... I can't drop any spoilers here... but from the developers, the future of the Witcher franchise will not lie with Geralt anymore. There is a lot of rumours swirling around that Ciri will be the new protaganist... or a new unknown Witcher. In the end, I really don't mind where the story goes... CDPR has one of the most valuable things that a development studio can have... hordes of hardcore and loyal supporters. Their dedication to the gamer's ideals of gaming and their almost single-handed championing of gaming narratives as an adult art form has my full support!
I love the universe of the Witcher... the hardcore gaming mechanics and their PC first development style... along with the morally difficult and grey choices... realistic and engaging quests and relatable NPCs. They have one of the most revered franchises on the planet at the moment... it would be hard to see them messing it up if they retain their current development philosophy... and this gamer first philosophy has the nice side effect of monster profits from sales!
Steem-Monsters (aka the best blockchain game out there!)
Have you heard of Humble Bundle? It's a place to get some really great deals on Games, e-books and comic bundles. However, if you sign up for a Humble Bundle Subscription (12 USD per month) you get some really nice bonuses!
- A 100+ USD bundle of games delivered direct to you each month, redeemable on Steam, Uplay or direct download (depending on the game). This includes recent Triple A games!
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Humble Bundle Subscriptions, it's a no brainer for the dedicated gamer!