Think back to the first moments of Witcher 3, just after the tutorial section in the witcher keep. Geralt and Vesemir, talking naturally together on the road to Vizima, subtly lay out the backstory, reiterate the mission to find Yennefer and indulge in some playful repartee – the writing feels seamless and uncomplicated, as though it arrived fully formed onto the pages of a performance capture script. According to lead writer Jakub Szamalek, however, it did not.
“I actually checked how many times I edited the dialogue in that scene,” he recalls during our interview at Spanish sci-fi festival Celsius232. “I think it was over 120. Sometimes these were minor edits, changing one sentence, but sometimes it was rewriting the whole thing. We did a lot of that: writing something, playing it, tweaking it, scrapping everything then re-doing it. It is just inherent to the process. There are so many moving parts when you’re working on a video game, it’s unavoidable.” It turns out, constructing the narrative behind Witcher 3 – one of the most ambitious and enormous open-world games ever made – was not easy.
Szamalek joined the writing team at CD Projekt Red in May 2012, a few months after pre-production on Witcher 3 had begun. At this point writers Sebastian Stępień, Marcin Blacha and Arkadiusz Borowik had already started to create a master document, a 60-page manual which contained a story synopsis, descriptions of the parts of the Witcher world the story was set to explore as well as background information on the key characters and concepts. The next step was transforming the treatment into a game script. This involved dividing it into smaller parts focusing on the three main hubs – Novigrad, No Man’s Land and Skelligeand – then subdividing into quests, writing the dialogue and detail, and linking to other quest and character documents. “It was like a set of Russian nesting dolls,” jokes Szamalek.