The devil is in the details

To fully understand our work, I believe it is important to explain the difference between story design and quest design at CDPR. The story design department operates mostly from a macro perspective of game storyline – what should be the main focus in game, what characters would be most interesting to introduce in game, what regions should the action take place in, who should be our main antagonist, etc.

They set the very foundations for the game that we all build upon. Quest designers, on the other hand, operate at the micro level of the storyline, thinking what solutions could and what solutions couldn’t be implemented in game, what could work in quests and how to implement them in a way that will appeal to the players – they are the people responsible for implementing both main and side-storyline content in game engine. The key to success is the close cooperation between those two departments, as they design and create the structure for the whole game together.

In the pre-production period at the beginning of the project, the story team prepares the outline of the main storyline. This documentation consists of information about backstory, characters, factions, places and the connections between all of them. Finally, the story team works on a plan of general events that should take place in game. The exact number of quests that should be in main and side- storylines is planned between story and quest departments, and, based on this, the structure for the game is prepared. After this happens, the storyline is divided into the smaller fragments that we call “quests”. Then, the story team provides the quest team with ideas and most important elements for each main storyline quest.

Quest Structure Example

Example Quest Structure

Based on these documents, the quest team starts working on more detailed scenarios. Each designer chooses quests he/she wants to work on, and then designs the quest in detail. This includes thinking about what dialogue is necessary to implement, what cutscenes will be needed, and what gameplay elements will be implemented in a quest. At this point we also list the assets that will be required to implement a quest. During this step, quest designers cooperate with story designers, as quite often some changes must be introduced to the original storyline outline to “mend” plot holes that might have been undetectable on the macro level. Last, but not least, both quest and story designers have the opportunity to design side-quests all by themselves, although ultimately these scenarios must be planned in detail by quest designers as well.

After the pre-production period ends, quest designers work on implementing all those quest scenarios in the game engine: they create quest structures, spawn NPCs on levels, implement quest events and quest related combat encounters, prepare objectives for players, connect cutscenes and assets from other departments to the game, and write dialogue placeholders, which are later on re-written by the story team designers. Dialogue placeholders compose of key elements that each dialogue must convey in order to keep the quest logic intact, so the quest designers must always check the rewritten dialogues later to be sure that it is in line with their intentions. There is a lot of co-operation and feedback between the teams.

As stated in the title, the Devil is in the details. This idiom explains exactly why the work of a quest designer on a quest doesn’t end until the very premiere of the game (or even after, if patches are being prepared) – there is always some tweaking to be done, bugs to be fixed, things that may be improved upon. Quest design work is a constant striving for perfection, and, being gamers ourselves, we genuinely believe that details do matter for the player’s overall experience.

  • robert70r

    AS always – a bunch of interesting information. :)

  • Nukri

    Thanks for another good read :)

  • Stas Simovski

    Its a wise thing to say to any dev: the beauty of the game in in the details. You’d definitely know much about that, Witcher 2 has so many details that even after playing through 6 times, I still always discover something new.
    I don’t know if you take requests, but if you do, can you please write about Combat design and asset creation/export? That would be very appreciated.

  • Marian

    k

  • MasPingon

    Hi, you guys need to work closer to the storyline team because, sad to say, quest design was the worst part of Witcher 2. What were those quest lacking are those little details you are talking about. They were absolutely linear, player wasn’t able to choose a different way to do particular quest. I hope you see that, cause reading it I have heavy doubts. This graph you showed us seems pretty simple. I know it’s not easy job you are doing there but I’m not impressed with an effect. If you want to see good quest design look at Fallout 1/2 or, New Vegas, Mask of the Betrayer, Bloodlines, hell, even Gothic 2:Night of the Raven.

    • Geralt

      boy i can tell you played the game for an hour and dropped it at the kayran

    • atena

       I agree with you, guy, most of the side quests where pretty linear. They did great in The Witcher 1, specially with the ripple effects and delayed consequences of your choices. It’s been discussed in a lot of places, i.e. http://forums.obsidian.net/topic/60877-delayed-consequences-ripple-effects/
      That really builds up the sense of non-linearity.
      In my opinion, most of the results of your choices were pretty obvious in The Witcher 2

  • Kaniball

    MasPingon you are a fool,

  • http://heybigname.com/about/shawnmccool Shawn McCool

    I just began The Witcher 2. I bought The Witcher 1 from Steam because someone told me a few years ago that it was a must-play. I was enraptured with the game to the chagrin of my social media friends as I couldn’t shut up about it.

    As a result of your team’s work I picked up the translated novels and began reading them. I have a feeling that the original language versions are better. But, as a companion to the games they work great.

    CD Projekt Red has entirely sold me on their vision and their deviation from the norm to deliver unique experiences.

    I will basically pre-order anything that you release at this point. Keep the good-will rolling!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.bauer.5 Alexander Bauer

    witcher 2 might be one of the top 5 best games i’ve ever played. MIND BLOWING! 

  • Leonardo

    I’m not sure if this is the best place for what I have to say, but here it goes.
    I believe that something that makes the game not as awesome and envolving as it could be is the fact that Geralt always seems and sounds so very tired. It is as if he barely had the energy to speak and is forced to whisper instead. I know he is suposed to have a cold steel temper, but the feeling I get instead is of one tired old man who has to avoid straining himself.
    The game is a story-focused/character-centered one, and if the character fails to interact with the story and it’s personas in a convincing and appealing way the player won’t feel half as tied to him as he could. Immersion suffers as well.
    The reason I’m sharing this is because I really liked the second game and I really think that the way you guys are trying to go with gaimg is the right one. Cheers.

    • Leonardo

      P.S.: multiquesting(does that word exist?) feels and has always felt very akward and unrealistic in most games.
      P.S.2: having an option to zoom out to the normal camera during a dialog (or not zooming in at all in some cases) would give the game a great classic-RPGlike feeling. It could also make it more fluid.