Gwent Gamescom 2016 Interview

While visiting Gamescom 2016, we had the chance to sit down and play a couple of rounds of the standalone version of Gwent. Even at first glance, it’s an entirely different beast now, the Witcher 3 mini-game only a distant memory.
It is good, much better than anyone could’ve expected. Afterwards, we took the chance to grab Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, principal narrative designer at CD Projekt RED, by the arm and ask him some questions. You’ll find our full interview below.

gwent interview cd projekt red 2016
Gosu Noob: During the presentation, your colleague said players wrote to you in great numbers, saying how much they loved Gwent in The Witcher 3. How did you react to the response, it being just a side-activity and all?

Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz: We’re always happy when people like our work. Obviously, everyone likes that. I think we were all surprised it was liked so much. After implementing it, we liked it — everyone in the studio liked it — and at some point we saw it was very special. When some of our leads were playing the game and testing it, they used to play Gwent a lot instead of playing the actual game. We saw it was special, but we never really considered making it standalone. But after we released it, a lot of people messaged us, emailed us, wrote to us on Twitter and so on… it was overwhelming. Overwhelming, but great. We really liked the idea of a Witcher card game – that’s why we added it in The Witcher 3 in the first place – so we were really happy we could work on a standalone version.

GN: How different can we expect the full-fledged game of Gwent to be, compared to the one in The Witcher 3?

MT: We have added a lot of new cards and a lot of new abilities. In The Witcher Wild Hunt, you might remember, a lot of cards were basically pure values (cards with no abilities, only strength – Ed). Right now, most cards do have abilities and we try to tailor those abilities in a way that they fit the characters story-wise and lore-wise. That’s one major change – you have much more possibilities for combos and combinations of cards. Secondly, we have added new rules to the deck building. As you might remember, in the Witcher Wild Hunt, you could add as many hero cards as you wanted. In the standalone version, that’s limited up to 4, so you can’t just spam heroes.

The same goes for character cards. There is a limit on those as well – the unique characters that are not as strong as heroes. Other than that, we are modifying the game rules all the time, we are balancing the game still. As you know, we are launching the closed beta on October 25th. I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of changes before the release of the game, depending on the feedback from the people. The feedback we got so far, on the internal tests, was pretty positive. We hope we’ll get more information on how balancing works after we launch the closed beta. It’s a lot of work, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing it up until release, but I’m optimistic about it. I think we have good designers back at the office, that really know what they’re doing.

GN: After all the balance changes, did the duration of a single game of Gwent change drastically?

MT: I wouldn’t say drastically. I think it’s pretty much as it was, because it’s still three rounds. Some players take more time to think about their moves, so I guess in these terms, you could expect a longer match. For multiplayer, we’re adding the time limit for a round, so your opponent doesn’t take too long. It’s still very dynamic, as it was in The Witcher Wild Hunt.

GN: One of the things we’ve seen during our hands-on time with the game is that a lot of the old cards have been severely rebalanced – spies had a pretty substantial damage boost, for instance. It’s obvious you’re re-working it from the ground up, basically.

MT: And you can expect more changes that are on the way. The build you were playing today already has some things we know we need to improve.

GN: What would you say are the biggest changes you’ve made so far?

MT: The thing I said about the abilities, because this changes the dynamics a lot. The deck building rules, because they change the way players build their decks, obviously. We have added a lot of new synergies between cards – this is also a big and important change. We have reworked the whole UI of the game, so all the important information is available off the bat. You can also see the moves of your enemy, or the last played card, for example, so it’s not purely visual, it’s also a functional change. Other than that, from the visual side, we have redone all the cards. As you might have seen, we’ve also added these new, cool premium cards. I think there is a lot to be looking forward to.

GN: Those animated cards, are they going to be obtainable through play?

MT: Yes. It’s another variety of card. Every card has a normal version and a premium version. When you buy card packs, sometimes you can find a special, premium card. It’s purely visual.

GN: Apart from the redesigned abilities we’ve seen, could you tell us about the new abilities being added?

MT: There are a lot of abilities we’ve added that you haven’t seen in this build, created for some special cards. For example, there is this Geralt card – it’s a Geralt Igni card. When you play this version of Geralt, he melts the frost if there is any, and burns the units in the melee row. There are some special abilities like this one that are tailored specifically for some characters that you didn’t see yet. There are also some more general abilities that more cards have, and we’re still adding new ones.

GN: It was mentioned during the presentation you’ll be adding Nilfgaard as a faction at some point.

MT: During the release, we’re releasing only the four factions – Northern Realms, Monsters, Scoia’tael and Skellige. Nilfgaard will be added later. It’s purely production reasons. We have to balance for every faction, so it works fine. We also have to redo all the art.

GN: I presume it’s going to be at least thematically similar to the Nilfgaard faction from Gwent in TW3?

MT: Probably. We’re still figuring these things out. They’re still going to be sneaky.

gwent interview gamescom 2016
GN: Onto the multiplayer. Can we expect a ranked mode?

MT: Most definitely. This is a feature we are still working on, so right now, we don’t have any details on it. We’re working on making it as satisfying for players, as good as it can be… But no details yet. When we have them, we’ll release them.

GN: Since you’re looking at the possibility of having ranked play, have you thought about having an e-sports scene around Gwent?

MT: It would be great. We all hope it will develop like that. We’ll do anything we can to support it. But it’s something that depends a lot on the people. It something we can’t force or just do ourselves. Like I said, we’ll be supporting any initiatives like this, and I hope it will develop into an e-sport. That would be great. I definitely think it has potential for it. After all those changes, I think the game has a lot of depth, and it is very skill based. There’s a lot of space for improvement for players, for finding new tactics and so on. At the same time, it’s super dynamic, the matches aren’t very long. I think it’s fun to watch as other people play – a lot of it revolves around bluffing and how well people bluff.

GN: There hasn’t been any word on how you actually plan to make money off Gwent. It’s going to be free to play, but you’re obviously going to be selling something.

MT: It’s going to be free to play with optional in-game purchases. That means, basically, that you can download the game for free, get the base set of cards and you can already play the multiplayer and skirmish against the AI. The campaigns will be 10+ hours of content, so they will probably be paid for. You’ll have to pay for them, but we don’t know how much yet. This is something we’re figuring out. Then there are the card packs that you buy in order to improve your multiplayer deck. In general, you can buy those with either with in-game currency or with money. The price is still being worked out. You can also expect some cosmetic improvements you can buy, probably, but this is something we’re still thinking about. We don’t know what they’ll be exactly. When we know, we’ll announce it. These are the main sources of income we’re thinking about.

GN: Do you think playing competitive multiplayer will be viable without investing actual money into card packs?

MT: I think it definitely will, because we’ll allow you to buy them with in-game currency. I think that if you invest time in it, you can still be competitive. Of course, it will require a certain amount of time. I still don’t know what it will look like in terms of time investment, the specific amounts, but it will be possible.

standalone gwent gamescom 2016 interview
GN: We’ve seen the first glimpse of the single player campaigns at the presentation. The first question that springs to mind is, are you reworking the AI for it?

MT: Yes. We have a dedicated AI programmer who is working on it right now, he’s coming up with a new system of prediction of moves, so you can expect a pretty smart AI to play against. I think it will be much better.

GN: We’ve seen a portion of the world map from the campaign, and it looks like it has a bunch of optional encounters. If players skip those, are they going to lose out on something?

MT: The whole idea of the single player campaign is — every campaign will be about a different faction. During this campaign, you’ll be building up an army. It’s a separate deck from your multiplayer decks. It’s like building your army during the story boundaries. We definitely want to encourage players to explore the map around them, so going off the beaten path will provide you with things to find and unlocks that you’ll miss out on if you just go through the main quest. So yes, there will definitely be things hidden on the side that are worth finding. Also, exploring the map and finding all those hidden encounters might influence the main storyline as well. As always, we want to have the choices and consequences, and these side-encounters are no exception to that.

GN: Will we be able to go back and comb through the areas we’ve played already, to get the stuff we’ve missed?

MT: We’re doing what we can to allow you this. We’ll see how it goes, depending on how the maps will look like and so on, but we definitely want to give you as much freedom as you can have, so that you can go back and do those encounters you haven’t finished. So probably yes.

GN: Are there going to be random encounters on the map, or are all of them going to be scripted and hand-written?

MT: Most of them will be scripted. We’re thinking about random encounters. We’re testing it right now. I’m not sure about it yet. We’ll see how it goes. I want the players to feel the experience they have, the encounters they play are very unique and not randomly generated. This is something I think adds a lot to the immersion. That’s why I’m pushing a lot for doing mostly scripted encounters. Like I said, we’re just testing this approach with random encounters as well, so we’ll see how it goes. If anything, those will be more like minor encounters with some opponents you can find — let’s say monsters attack you in the forest, encounters that don’t require that much of a story.

GN: Finally, why did you rename the Poor Fucking Infantry card?

MT: [Laughs] I’m not very happy with this either. The thing is, the multiplayer version of the game will be probably either PG 12 or 13, so that’s why. This is only for the multiplayer. For the single player, we’re still discussing this. And even though we did do it with some things, like this one, you shouldn’t be too worried about it being stripped of the Witcher feel.

GN: Thank you for your time.

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Ketchua has been writing about games for far too long. As Señor Editor, he produces words (and stuff) for Gosunoob. There are a lot of words (and stuff) there, so he's terribly busy. Especially if you need something.

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