Monday, August 17, 2015

Windows 10 "Unboxing"!

I upgraded to Windows 10 - it's free and it sounded good from what I've heard. Watch the installer in pictures if that's your thing.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Storytelling in The Witcher: Wild Hunt - an analysis of the series so far.

After having played a further several hours of The Witcher 3, I have encountered much more story elements. I should add that while I have tried to avoid any story spoilers (just a few minor game play elements) for the Witcher 3, if you want a completely new and surprising experience, until you play the game for the first time, you may want to avoid this.

Taking Control

In the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, there are a few points in the game where the player takes control of a different character for a few minutes to show some aspect of the story from the other character's point of view, rather than protagonist Geralt's. For instance, at one point you play as a general on the battle field walking to meet his compatriots. In another point, you play as a captured enemy solider reliving some memories to reveal the location of a secret base. In both cases, the game, forces the player down a specific path, without needing to orient themselves in the game world. Often in story driven games, the enemies during these sorts of sequences are deliberately easier to kill and the alternative character may have much faster healing abilities, again for gameplay simplification purposes.

 The Witcher 3 uses this technique as well, to show what happened to a character that Geralt is looking for. In this case, in the story Geralt is told the events by a witness, but the game allows the player to experience them directly and actually influence the story to a small degree.

On a technical note, CD Projekt RED has improved the user interface in Witcher 3 to show the above sort of tips when the player first encounters a new screen. In this case, they explain that you are playing as another character and that you don't have access to your inventory.

In The Witcher 2, the game didn't pause to explain that you're playing as someone else for story purposes, so I felt it was actually a little jarring initially. Of course the character model is different  - which you notice is "off" - however the HUD didn't give much indication that I was no longer in a cut scene, so I initially didn't think to try to interact as I would if I was playing, instead of just watching. Once I realised I was playing as another character, of course I just played it the same. 

In The Witcher 2, these sections were quite self contained so you couldn't get lost. The Witcher 3, has so far has also set these areas in a relatively closed off section of the game world - actually inside a small canyon or dried river so that the player can really only travel forward. I actually tried turning around and running in the other way, but the valley seemed to continue in the other direction for quite a ways. And even then if you became disoriented, you could always follow the quest direction marker to get back on the path again. It's quite likely that this part of the world was specifically designed for this quest.


In a similar vein as above, the games also Both The Witcher Assassins of Kings and Wild Hunt have told memory recall flashbacks to the player as interactive sequences played like normal gameplay. This technique provides a much more engaging story to the player than just a simple cut scene movie would.

The prologue in the Witcher 2 actually gives the player a chance to influence the story further along by way of your actions and dialogue choices with the character Geralt is conversing with. Without giving too much away, Geralt is being interviewed and his responses to the interviewer are acted out by the player. What's interesting, is that at various points, the game switches between the re-enactment and the interview, giving the player some dialogue options which changed the progression of the re-enacted story.

In the Witcher 3, the game opens with a flashback scene giving the player an introduction to the world of Witchers (in general) and the important characters in the story. In this playable-flashback, you're given opportunity to practice combat, Witcher skills, and introduced to the characters through direct interaction and dialogue conversation sequences. After this opening area, this part of the story is revealed to be a dream that Geralt is having while resting with the other witcher (companion) who the player was previously introduced to in the opening gameplay. They then have some conversation which the player can direct to learn more if they desire. After this the rest of the game continues with a horse ride to the next town.

Story Progression

The Witcher series of games have always been story heavy and The Witcher: Wild Hunt is no exception. The story structure in Wild Hunt (so far as I've played at least...) seems to be more similar to The Witcher than Assassins of Kings.

The original game in the series is clearly divided in to 5 acts, plus a prologue and epilogue. The prologue gives the player an introduction to the concept of the Witchers, and begins the story of the stolen witcher secrets. First, you need to make your way to the capital city performing tasks and helping the inhabitants of the neighbouring city, before they grant you access to the capital city of Vizima. Once you gain access to Vizima, the first couple of chapters progress from finding and researching the conspirators, to attempting to capture them. Finally, a break in the action to enjoy the Lakeside during Act 4, and returning to action to catch up with the conspirators in Chapter 5, concluding in dealing with the mastermind in the Prologue.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings follows seems to have taken a much more discreet path in it's plot progression. In each chapter the story moves to a different city as Geralt finds out more about the Kingslayer's whereabouts. The quests, dialogue, action and cutscenes also deal with the political landscape and how it's being shaped by the assassinations - so much so that the politics actually overshadows the hunt for the perpetrator. While the story and setting were interesting and the quests seemed to fit in to the story, I found this too distracting from the perceived main story. The politics of the fictional world were very hard to follow, and of course I wanted to find the killer.

So far, the story progression and structure of Wild Hunt reminds me of The Witcher rather than the Witcher 2. Being an open world game, The Witcher 3 is not divided into specific chapters, but the main story quests do branch off into further quests, expanding the story. During the prologue, the player needs to help the town with a monster problem (just as well he's a professional monster slayer) in order to gain information on the whereabouts of his friend. After the two are reunited, the rest of the story opens up, and Geralt is tasked with finding an important character. There, Geralt is given an initial lead and instructions on where to gain further information. He then has to meet three people who might have had dealings with the person he's after. These people also need Geralt to complete various tasks for them before they'll tell Geralt the information he seeks.

This plays similarly to the first game, revealing more information directly related to the main plot-line as you progress through the game, so you feel like you are solving the mystery. In second game, I got the impression that much of the mystery was actually solved for the player during unrelated quest-lines, instead of guiding the player through their own discovery. Contrast that with Wild Hunt's story progression where quest completion reveals information directly related to the main plot, and fits in well with the theme of the setting - war, poverty, city, wealth, etc.

Overall Feelings

It's been an interesting progression of the game development through the series, from a game using a modified but licensed game engine, to developing their own more capable engine from scratch, to finally building an open world game to rival games from even well established developers. 

The Witcher: Wild Hunt has a very purposeful and engaging story, it's well written and is tied together completely too. This will be the final game with Geralt as the main character, and this story looks like it will finish up quite nicely. Out of Witcher 1 and 2, the second game had the better graphics and gameplay, while the first game had the more engaging and satisfying story. I do notice one other point of difference between all three games, and that is atmosphere and my personal emotional state while playing the games. I will discuss that in further detail in a future post though.