Developers Who Are Concerned
So wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted!
But in all honesty, a lot of my musings were going to my Youtube channel! 🙂 – But now that let’s plays and regular content has come to a close on there I’m back on my blog!
I thought that a great post to come back to the blog with would be a nice, positive one; mostly about a developer whom I have a lot of respect for: CD Projekt Red. The developers of the beloved Witcher series.
Now, I don’t actually want to spend this post just writing about how good a game the latest installment: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is, there’s plenty of review sites out there that can tell you that. However, I’d like to talk about just how caring and professional developer CD Projekt Red are when it comes to supporting their community, their game and the growth of their standing with both the industry and it’s consumers.
Treating Customers like Fans
In light of so many developers (mostly publishers if we’re honest) finding ways to convert the average $60 customer into the $100 whale, it’s nice to come across a joint developer-publisher who are more interested in the quality and artistic merit of their game. To borrow Jim Sterling’s thinking, I very much agree with the divine being that games ought to be more artistically driven, that there is an underlying meaning and sense of value to each intellectual property piece / installment & sequel. Many games these days – take Alone in the Dark Illumination for example; clearly demonstrate themselves to be a hollow shell of a once previously, revered franchise and simply try to ‘cash in’ on the legacy it had forged.
Borrowing a large amount from the latest Resident Evil entries, Alone in the Dark sold it’s identity for common modern-day video game tropes.
Damn, those Characters…
Negatives out the way, let’s talk a little bit about The Witcher 3. Something I take great pleasure in is, yup, you guessed it! The character models! (I’m a character guy, you saw this coming right??) But seriously, it is just a sheer pleasure to look upon such master-crafted characters. Although I refer mainly to the supreme eye-candy that is Ciri, and the visuals of the characters, I also refer to the deep character development that has been so carefully woven around the existing novella that birthed the series.
You could argue that CD Projekt Red simply followed the footpath the original author had laid for them, but you have to consider that The Witcher 3, and it’s predecessors for that matter, provide hours of gameplay reaching easily into double figures and dependent upon your commitment, 3 figure-numbers. Every little interaction that Geralt would have with a townsman or villager (although you do make most of his choices) is still reflective of the author’s character. The choices offered to the player are cleverly woven to give the player a feeling that their actions do have consequences all whilst refusing to break the mold that is Geralt. Unlike other games that try to replicate this idea, Witcher’s consequences have varying delays and timings to when these would actually swing about, at times a consequence could occur straight after what was said, and others could lead to a whole different way of concluding a quest.
A common pitfall that many silver-screen big blockbuster Hollywood movies still gleefully swan-dive into is the fixation on developing only the protagonist’s character and storyline. The Witcher 3, although primarily about Geralt, avoids this pitfall masterfully. All the time whilst I’ve been playing as Geralt, I’ve been thinking more about the supporting cast: Vesemir, Triss, Ciri, Yennefer and even the Wild Hunt themselves. The game’s main scenario quest is the search for Ciri, but along the way, I can’t help but get sucked in to helping Triss in Novigrad, to pondering just what exactly is up with Yennefer and her treatment and feelings for Geralt, what Vesemir’s doing back in Kaer Morhan and even what Keira’s doing in her little witch-hut.
Eventhough the game doesn’t force you to tag along with the local witch Keira, or Novigrad’s hunted sorceress Triss, I still find myself knocking on their doors well after their part of the main quest has been fulfilled. Do note! To sherk me away from tracking down Ciri is rather difficult, but I just feel like there would be so many missed opportunities for character development and relationships if I just quickly visited, shook hands and left. I genuinely fear that something would happen when I found Ciri and all the stuff I could’ve done with Triss, Keira or even the Bloody Baron would suddenly lock itself off from me, mirroring the closing of doors of opportunity in reality.
Developing Geralt through others
If you’re an avid reader of this blog, I’ve often spoken about the importance of characters in video games, and how I’ve often said that silent protagonists don’t cut it for me. It comes back down to the idea of: ‘Would you like to play as a character?’ or ‘Would you like to play as yourself?’ To be fair, I can see both sides to the argument here even though I much prefer the former. The reason why I bring this up is that although Geralt IS the main character (and he holds 90% of the game’s screen time) he isn’t I feel; the most developed. For example, as someone’s who’s only skimmed through the first 2 hours of Witcher 2 and not even touched the first, I’ve already appreciated how far Triss has come. When meeting her in Novigrad you can easily feel some tension between the two and it automatically starts a quest for me in my head to unravel and clear the air between them. This treatment doesn’t stop at the recurring supporting cast either.
I was remarkably moved and astonished at how much my decisions and Geralt’s presence changed the Bloody Baron. What was once a hateful, ruthless and manipulating drunk of a man was transformed by my strong-handing, cold words but unyielding faith into finding his daughter and wife. Upon doing so and instructing him on the basic qualities of being a good dad, I felt absolutely chuffed upon the resolution of the quest chain; the Baron having cleared the air with his daughter and personally seeing to his wife’s health, it was an experience and progression I had previously thought exclusive to main characters of a video game narrative. CD Projekt Red broke the mold here and although this quest chain revolved around the Baron, we also got a deeper look at Geralt’s affection for his daughter Ciri.
A game that does female characters right
So the header here I feel, leaves me very open and prone to some professional journalists currently writing for the industry to go ahead and pick me apart. However, as it is my site I’d like to venture my opinion on the matter. I genuinely believe that The Witcher 3 showcases some really well-written female characters. Those of you who frequent any of my sites / doings will know that this is a very important factor for me. It’s my goal to create a character that’s so lifelike, he/she is indistinguishable from a real person; more character-wise than visually. Looking at just the primary female characters of the game: Ciri, Triss and Yennefer. We can brutally generalise each with a single sentence:
Ciri is the strong, warrior-like girl who leans more towards a very look-after-herself kind of persona, preferring action to words.
Triss is the more emotional of the three, somewhat naive in nature, often putting herself on her sleeves but a powerful sorceress to be reckoned with.
Yennefer is the woman who knows what she wants, when she wants it and is a force to be reckoned with both emotionally and magically.
WAIT! Arrête! Please put down the apples and other hideous things you want to throw at me!
The above interpretations are all very wrong aren’t they? So limited in scope that you could easily argue those interpretations are wrong. You’re definitely right, but that’s because that although the three DO show evidence of this behavior to inform these interpretations. Their character doesn’t stop there, or like many other video game characters, constantly regurgitate this single theme and remind you that the NPC in question suffers from behavioral predictability. It is the careful and clearly affectionate writing and development that has gone into each that pushes them beyond this common failing, like real people, these characters go back and forth between ideas, decisions and display emotions that we take for common among ourselves: regret, compassion and empathy. The simple three there being remarkably underwritten for many game characters.
So let’s start with my favourite: Ciri. Ciri is a personal favourite of mine for many reasons, (one reason may or may not be due to the fact that her character reminds me of the very first 3D character I’ve ever created) but she is the youngest of the trio, adorably hot-headed at times and at others; awkwardly affectionate. This is shown through many different ways: dialogue, body language and actions etc. Her whole story arc revolves around the fact that she is running from the Wild Hunt who pursue her in order to safeguard the general populace as well as those she cares about.
One could argue that although a noble cause, it perhaps isn’t the best course of action, you could argue that directly seeking out Geralt, Yennefer or any of her allies to band together to defeat the Wild Hunt would’ve been a better idea. But just like how we are able to debate about this, we are shown that she has clearly run the numbers herself and has chosen the former over the latter, the decision-making process has been so greatly inferred (rather than painfully expositioned) that we can see both reasons for and against her decision. Furthermore, upon encountering an unlikely ally in a village, she is quick to respond with agitation when meeting someone who just nursed her back to health for the first time and yet later thanks him with a peck on the lips and a quick quip right after.
After that exposé of her more feel-y side, she immediately jumps back to combat mode, insisting she can look after herself when told to stand back. Like her personality, we can see this change even in the way she stands, at times she’s very feminine and almost suggestive in stance. Others, hunched over and taught; ready for combat – both physically and verbally.
All in all, a superb character and apart from being a gorgeous cross between Eva Green and Yennefer, is the reason for her being my favourite.
Triss as mentioned before is the seemingly most emotional of the three. A friend of mine and myself agree that she is strangely naive to things, especially to the serious nature of events in Novigrad. This even leads to Geralt treating her almost like a daughter at times, scolding her for her choices and even taking charge in conversation and action. I would imagine that Triss’s character is the most prone to the journalists I mentioned earlier, it’s rather hard to tear apart the other two in comparison, but I offer; a simple conjecture. It is a conjecture at that too, nothing more. I know at least personally, when dealing with someone whom you have a great deal of affection for, or someone whom you’re romantically attracted to and may have even had some romantic history with; all of which Triss has shared with Geralt. One often doesn’t think the most clearly in such situations and can sometimes be very submissive to the other party.
As an INFP, this is commonly something I do, and something many, I mean MANY have taken advantage of. INFPs can sometimes feel pressured into submission to avoid upsetting the cart, or causing a problem that may evolve into being irreparably damaging to the relationship, both friendships and romance-wise. It is almost objectively a flaw in character for sure, but is something that is very real. I feel that Triss is the same. Even when asked directly about their past she is quickly dismissive with another topic, provides a simple non-committal answer or gives a simple sheepish smile, making sure to break eye contact. This was actually quite a surprising angle for me personally as I always had the impression from Witcher 2, that Triss was a very powerful sorceress who was somewhat more emotional and affectionate than Yennefer, but was much closer to Yennefer in character because of this. I was pleasantly surprised!
Let me take it back to my point again, realise now that if this conjecture is true, and I believe there’s a fair amount of evidence to support this. Realise just how deeply woven her character is and actually how vulnerable she can be, but isn’t always. I have to say that although Ciri still wins me over, I have a soft spot for Triss I never thought I’d have and it’s this shared vulnerability that drives me to make extra sure I can leave her in a smile before completing her story arc.
So, Yennfer. It’s a little harder for me to break down Yennfer’s character personally, but I also feel this is done deliberately. Immediately, Yennefer appears to be a character who unlike Triss, doesn’t wear herself on her sleeve, There’s a strong air of mysteriousness around her that is deserving of her reputation. We know that Geralt and her share a deep bond and are seen as the truthful parents to Ciri. It is fact that Geralt and Yennfer have a deep romantic history together and in the third installment, we see quite an emotionally hurt Yennefer, still dealing with Geralt’s actions in the previous game. Although it’s clear that she has feelings for the Witcher, she is struggling to hold together her priorities: find Ciri, patch things up with Geralt, defeat the Wild Hunt etc etc. Although a woman who evidently knows what she wants and when she wants it, Yennefer remains a closed box to many and only opens herself up in increments for those willing to take time with her: namely Geralt in this instance.
It’s the constant struggle of priorities and emotional engagements that round out Yennfer’s character for me, she’s not always cold despite her best efforts to appear as such. She isn’t emotionally stunted despite her attempts to off-offhandedly address Geralt’s apologies, and she bears a commitment as a mother figure to Ciri. These are all very big things to handle and juggle with simultaneously and it’s CD Projekt Red’s clever writers that deliver this insight masterfully.
Mike… Finish up already!
Yeah, I know, I get carried away… Writing on a blank page is easier than talking to a sleeping human being haha. However, I just wanted to fully go through the reasons why I think CD Projekt Red are a develop to take inspiration from. I think the majority of gamers and game developers out there will admit that there’s something special about this developer. Let me mention that although this post seems to paint CD Projekt Red as the sole developer who are like this, I’d like to remind everyone that there are many other developers out there who give just the same love, dedication and commitment to their games and consumer base. A behavior that’s more commonly seen amongst indie developers and smaller studios I’m extremely thankful that developers like CD Projekt Red, Rocksteady and Bethesda, just to name a few; are still showing their commitment to giving quality experiences to gamers and treating the customer like a fan, and not a cash whale.