Lykaon – A quest completed

Getting to know REDkit

I was pretty surprised when I was chosen as a part of the REDkit beta for The Witcher 2. When I applied, my experience with game development included building custom maps for Age of Empires 2 for my friends and me, building a landscape with the Crysis Editor for my own enjoyment and creating a small horror mod for Skyrim, “Arheim” (which I never finished). So since I thought that this would probably not sell myself very well, I added some videos I made with the movie editor for Grand Theft Auto IV.

So all in all, one can say that it was a very lucky coincidence that I was chosen. In the October of 2012, I received a mail explaining how to download REDkit. I downloaded the whole thing, started it, sat down and was overwhelmed. So many buttons! So like any reasonable man would do, I showed it to my girlfriend, who is much better at stuff like this, since she, coincidentally, studied computer science. We managed to get a new level up and running and I could start to just take the mouse, move it to the so-called asset browser (a library with every object of The Witcher 2) and just drag stuff onto the level until it looked nice.

Since I obviously „have got extraordinary sense of artistic beauty“ (don’t we just love comments like that about ourselves?), I created an in my eyes nice looking environment in a few hours. Or at least some nice looking square meters with a lot of empty space around them.

As the level grew, I started to think that I might actually make an adventure out of it. So I thought of an intriguing storyline. Would it be about politics, the struggle of a witcher in a world that has no use for him anymore, a tale about love and betrayal? Nope, “I want to do something with werewolves. Werewolves are cool!”. So what kind of name would I give an adventure that is about werewolves?

Since I studied archaeology and history at that time, I thought of an ancient Greek king, who was turned into a wolf by Zeus. His name is the origin of words like “Lycanthropy”: Lykaon. So it was settled. Had I known that most people have no idea how to pronounce the word, I would have probably thought of alternatives. But there it was, and I liked what I saw.

Learning Game Design

So developing an adventure in the world of The Witcher takes a few things. One has to do the level design, write a story and create quests around it. So at that time I knew how to build levels (I was not particularly good at it, but it worked) and I thought “heck, writing a story and dialogues can’t be that difficult. You read a lot and do you remember back in school? You ruled at writing stuff!”

Obviously, I overestimated my skills. I was just not able to learn the whole quest editor. So, as any reasonable man would do, I showed it to my girlfriend, who implemented my ideas into REDkit, while I was running around the apartment shouting ideas. Of course she did not learn it out of thin air. One of the great features of the beta was the REDkit Wiki, where we could find some tutorials and more importantly (since there weren’t a lot of tutorials in there at the time), we had a so-called REDkit chat, where we could talk to the developers, most importantly to a guy who called himself Banan (yes, this means Banana in polish). Without this guy, I would have never been able to even start Lykaon, let alone work at CD Projekt RED. So the first weeks of my REDkit experience were building the level, writing dialogue, running around the apartment shouting stuff and writing in the REDkit chat.

As the level developed and I already had a nice little village with people, a high mountain, forests, a lake and grave fields, I started to post pictures and videos of my work to the REDkit forum.

After a while, I got a mail by Banan asking me if I’d like to talk to some of the developers about my level design. I started an e-mail correspondence with them and in the end, I was asked to do the “CD Projekt RED Level Design Test”, which included building a level with two hills or mountains, a river in the middle, a trading route, a town and the lair of a troll. Those of you who played the demo of Lykaon probably already realized: The test level I built for CD Projekt RED is the level I now use for my Lykaon adventure.

As a goodbye to my old level, I made a movie about it.

Going professional

So my goal with the test level was to build something big and impressive. The new Lykaon would be more than twice the size of my old level and I wanted to build the biggest level that was ever made for The Witcher 2.  After a few days (after a while I got pretty fast with level design in REDkit), I was able to send a prototype out to CD Projekt (around 90% of what you see in this early video is still in the level).

As I changed the level, I also changed the backstory. I wanted to tell a fictional short story set many years before the saga or the games. Two things were certain right from the beginning: we will see how Geralt met Triss and, most importantly, Dandelion should be the companion of Geralt. For me, personally, Geralt as a lone wolf was always the same as the fact that Geralt should always be neutral: He always tries, he tries really hard, but he almost never succeeds. And who could be a better companion than the witty Dandelion? It was quite a struggle to implement a real companion into REDkit, who could take part in dialogues and who would react to what the player does. But after we (my girlfriend did most of the work in this area) researched in the files a little bit, it was quite easy (there is a tutorial out there explaining how to do it now). Work went very smoothly as I learned that music helps me a lot in being creative. When I was doing Level Design, I was listening to the soundtrack of Conan the Barbarian or of course the ones from both Witcher games. And one special tip for anyone who is experiencing a lack of motivation or is out of good ideas: some good ol’ Scarface “Push it to the Limit” always does the trick!

As work continued, I learned how to do quest design myself, since my girlfriend did not have a lot of time. So after a while, I also implemented my quest ideas on my own. As the new year started, I got a response by CD Projekt RED that they would not need a level designer right now, but only some days afterwards, I was asked what I thought about being a quest designer. At that time I already decided to go and study game design, so when I said that I only had three months time during the summer and then had to go back to Germany, I did not think that they would agree. To my surprise, they did. In May, REDkit finally went into the open beta and I released a demo and a trailer for Lykaon.

It was unfinished, was missing most of its content, but to my surprise, people actually liked it. I got a lot of criticism and comments I could use to improve the mod. I also won the REDkit Beta Competition and got a bag of goodies, but most importantly, a giant witcher sword I hold very dear. It will have an honourable place on the wall in my new apartment (detachable of course, in case I feel like swinging it around, which I do a lot).

In July, thanks to the support of Banan, I got into the plane to Poland to start my new job as a Junior Quest Designer at CD Projekt RED.

 The Wild Hunt

As a fan, it is kind of weird to work at the company that made your favourite game at first. I always thought about it, but it was a surreal feeling to sit down at the desk and start working on the next Witcher game. Thanks to the guys at CD Projekt RED, especially Danisz, another young quest designer, I felt at home very quickly and learned how to use the editor and my REDkit experience helped a whole lot.

On my very first day, I sat down on a chair, got a controller, and got to play The Witcher 3 for the first time. Although I already talked with some people at CD Projekt RED because of REDkit before, I only knew as much as anyone outside the company of the game. And it blew my mind. Secretly, since I am kind of narcissistic sometimes, I always intended to make Lykaon look even more impressive than the original Witcher 2 and I was always giggling like a little girl when people told me exactly that. But The Witcher 3 was an entirely different beast. If this was not the Next Gen we heard so much about, then nothing was.

My usual day at CD Projekt RED looked like this: I entered the company in the morning, bought something to drink, went upstairs to The Witcher development team and there I started the PC and worked for a little bit. Soon after, always at the same time, Peter, a Senior Level Designer, yelled a most beautiful sound: Slimak! Slimak, Polish for “snail”, was one of the many people who came to the company to deliver food. After simultaneously eating breakfast and working for around half an hour, the quest guys would get called to the so-called “Stand Up”, where we would talk about what we did yesterday and what we intend to do today, we’d talk about problems and news. After that, with a break for lunch, I would work on quests until the evening (and sometimes beyond that). It was a very nice environment to work. To me, everyone (and I mean everyone) seemed like they are working on the best game ever and you felt that. Whether it was story guys, concept artists or AI programmers, they were all motivated to make The Witcher 3 the masterpiece of the trilogy.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was that there was a flat hierarchy. You could talk to anyone, give constructive criticism and sometimes I got ideas or comments for quests from people who had absolutely nothing to do with quest design. Since I already wrote around 100 quests for Lykaon, I really started to love how it was done at CD Projekt RED. Once you wrote a new quest idea, it got reviewed. If the quest did good, you would get comments on how to improve it, questions about the story and structure and eventually approval to implement the quest. After implementation, the quest would be reviewed again. If it did good, the story writers would take over, shape the quest’s story  and write the dialogues. After they had written the story, the quest would be… you know the drill. And even after that, many different people play and review the quest, so that in the end, only the best of the best end up in The Witcher 3.

I tried to stick to the simple philosophy I loved about The Witcher games: No matter how small a quest is, it always has to be something extraordinary, something believable, something that players would remember and sometimes something emotional.

The Future

After my time at CD Projekt RED, I am certain that Game Design is the thing I want to do for a living. I met great people and friends, and I learned a lot.

Right after returning to Lykaon, I noticed that I would have to change a lot. Some stories or dialogues suddenly seemed unbelievable, some quests were just not fun and the graphics weren’t that amazing any more.

I revised most of the existing foliage or even created some new models and textures. There’s also a completely new lighting, weather effects and most noticeable, Lykaon is twice as big now, while the performance is much better. There’s a completely new area players can explore in the finished version. Since the level design is almost finished now, I will start finalizing the story, which started as “werewolves are awesome” and is now much more complicated and, at least I hope so, much more captivating. I hope that I will be able to surprise some players. I also got help from some very talented people now. One helps me with implementing the music, and I found great artists, whose works are simply amazing. Before me still lies the biggest challenge: Full voice acting. It is going to be a lot of work and I am still searching the most important person, Geralt, but I hope that I will be able to find someone.

Since a picture says more than words, I prepared some new ones so you can see the state of Lykaon as it is right now.

Thanks for reading!

Philipp “Benzenzimmern” Weber

  • Daniel F

    Great read, thanks!

  • Khoa Nguyen

    Awesome read, and awesome girlfriend you have there Benz ;)

  • Kacper

    Best wishes Philipp!

  • Lino

    Awesome, great read, great story. Congratulations. Hope to play your quests in Witcher 3.

  • I+W Weber

    awesome story and very interesting. Good luck for the future for you and your girlfriend

  • Honza K.

    Very readable, thank you for putting this down! And congratulations, of course :-)

  • Lärcher

    Haha, bis Heute ich wußte nicht dass du deutsch warst. Ich glaubte 100% dass du ein Amerikaner bist, wahrscheinlich aus Kalifornien oder etwas Ähnliches. LOL.

  • Bryce

    Great work! Good luck in all your future endevours. Thanks for wrighting down your experiance.

    Looking forward to the Witcher 3, becuase of people like you.

  • Ioana Popescu

    Excellent stuff! Rock on girlfriend :)

  • Paul

    So I would assume you will go back to CDP when you finish studies ? I mean, it just makes sense :-)

  • Marek

    Just wondering if CDPR thinks about developing Thorgal after you’re done with Witcher 3?

  • SteV1989

    Great post, very insightful to read. I was wondering how once might end up working for CDP under development of games created out of pure passion. I mean this is the main reason why that company is so successfull.
    I really enjoyed reading it, I could feel honest interest of yours which resonated with my heart. Plus the part of you not being expert in that enviorement but passionate and you did make it is somehow inspiring. How much hours approximately would you say you spend during getting involved with REDkit?? And did you do it full time?

    I would appreciate the answer.
    My regards:)

    • Philipp

      Quite a lot, but I am not sitting there 10 hours a day working all the time. When I am workin on Lykaon, it is still a hobby. So if I feel like it, I continue working a little bit. If you follow the tutorials in the Redkit wiki, you can create new adventures very quickly and after you learned some things, it is a lot of fun!

      • SteV1989

        Thx for your reply man!:)
        And possibly can you make a living out of it? I mean is there any possible finnacial support if you succeed at creating something extraordinary? I mean beside maybe being spot by CDP crew and getting enrolled?

        I am getting that firstly you need to be passionate and do it just for it (greatest pieces are done this way) excluding any other factors, but I would really be aware if it is such a possibility before I really make a dive in if you know what I mean!;)

        • Philipp

          There have been a lot of mods made into real games, DayZ as the latest example. All in all I can say that if you want to work in the gaming industry, creating a mod is not the worst of ideas. :)

  • David Kelvie

    Beautiful work! I’ve been plugging away at my own unique world space using the GECK and Fallout 3 /NV assets for about 2 years (screenshots on my public FB, If anyone wants to stoke my ego..).
    It is an incredible amount of work and exhausts your creative thinking ability on an almost daily basis. Kudos to you.

  • megakoresh

    This is quite motivating. Personally I wasn’t able to get the editor to work, since it kept crashing all the time and also the navmesh wouldn’t properly generate, but I look forward to the future in any case. I hope when Witcher 3 comes out, we will be able to do fully featured models for it, as it was the thing I was looking to do in Redkit: make models in Blender and import them. It’s good that this mod and the Combat Rebalance made it out, even if the modding didn’t really take off this time, with the game being very directed and all, I am sure in Witcher 3, which will be Open World, the Redkit will take off much better and then this mod will get the exposure it deserves.

  • Thomas

    Its funny that you started off with age of empires maps because that’s what i started out on but soon moved to Warcraft 3 in favor of the style that and the fact that i liked a more dark and twisted approach but when i out grew that i couldn’t find anything that could give me the freedom, scale or content customization i was making my own content in Autocad for a while but no program to port it to does anybody know of any

  • Nathan

    Thank you Philipp! I will start play with REDkit right now. I subscribed your channel so I look foward for more content.