This week I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with CD Projekt Red Animator (and all-round nice guy) Brad Auty, about Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Gwent is a free-to-play spin-off from the main series that includes exploration, and both single and multiplayer card battles.
SR: Why did you think it was important to animate some of the cards?
BA: So we have these amazing artists; I would say for me that they’re the best illustrators in the world. They’re at the top of the game for card illustration. We get this beautiful artwork and so we’re like “How can we get the ultimate shiny Pokemon card; the ultimate shiny sticker?” We tried different things and thought “Let’s try and make it 3D. Let’s try and add effects.” And over time it just became “Let’s try and tell the story that the illustrator is trying to tell and let’s try and tell it with animation and 3D and just bring those cards to life for the premium versions.”
SR: Do you think that these versions complete the Witcher world? Does it bring that world further into the card game?
BA: Yeah, it’s like you’re looking through a window into that world and it’s a very cool effect.
SR: Is there a specific card that you particularly liked animating?
BA: My favourite might be the [INSERT FANTASY INSECTOID NAME IN HERE]. It’s like this big stompy Arachas. It’s just super cool. With these cards we say to ourselves “What’s the best way to make this alive?” And sometimes it’s some cool slow-motion moment, or sometimes it’s a big cool stompy Arachas. That’s my favourite.
SR: You mentioned that these moving cards are going to be premium, and it’s a free-to-play game, so how much are these going to cost?
BA: I think that they’re still working out the specifics of how people are going to get the premiums. The whole idea of Gwent is that it’s free-to-play, right? Premium cards are a visual upgrade. It looks way cooler, especially when you see that card on the board and it’s alive around all these other cards.
SR: Is it only specific cards, or is there an animated form for all of them?
BA: All of the cards have premium versions.
SR: That’s cool. So the game is kind of free-roam, you can walk around. How do you think that adds to the card-game experience? Is it valuable to explore?
BA: Yeah, for us it’s a big part of the type of storytelling that we do; the type of quests that we do with our games. What you saw [in the demo] was a very early section of the single player tutorial. But it’s more than just Point A to B. There are way more dialogue events and battles. It’s only a small taste of what we’ve got, but with that open world we want to fill it with interesting things to do and interesting stories.
SR: So it’s just as valuable to you guys as the player?
BA: Yeah, it’s so valuable to us. Everyone on the team is really excited by it.
SR: Why venture into something that’s less expansive than The Witcher 3, or would you perhaps say that this is just as expansive? Is it a broader, different experience for you guys?
BA: Well, it’s single player Gwent. It’s “How can you take Gwent and make it into a single player campaign?” And we think we really have something special. The way you build up your army; the way you build up your deck for the game – that type of story works really well with this. We’ve taken inspiration from the Magic: The Gathering games and Banner Saga – these sort of games where you’re building your armies and working with battles. It’s a different kind of experience than The Witcher, but the mechanics we’ve got in place work well with that kind of story.
SR: Can you tell me where this is set in terms of place and time in The Witcher world?
BA: All I can say right now is that it’s a Northern Realms campaign. It’s set around events in the Northern Realms. With these campaigns, we want to take stories that are alluded to in The Witcher books or The Witcher games, and we want to expand on it and tell the whole story.
SR: So there are going to be more campaigns?
BA: Yeah, so the idea is that we’ll be doing campaigns for each of the factions. You can extrapolate from there where they’ll take place.
SR: So probably going to Skellige, maybe fighting some monsters. I understand. How has it been implementing a minigame, and turning it into a standalone title?
BA: It’s something we want to perfect. But it’s already working really well. We’ve got a guy, Charlie, who’s in charge of our AI, he’s a super smart guy. He’s got ideas about how to make the battles feel unique. And the way that’ll transfer into single player is really interesting too. But we’ve also got the multiplayer, so if you’re playing against another person it’s a completely different experience.
SR: Do you play Gwent a lot yourself?
BA: Yeah, it’s one of those things that’s such a passion project for us that people are just always playing it. People are just sat in the office playing this game all the time. It’s pretty cool. As for adding in new designs and new builds, it’s just super fun to play around with building a deck with new cards.
SR: Are there any things from The Witcher 3 that are going to make their way into Gwent?
BA: Yeah, definitely. I guess you’ve seen Roach [Geralt’s wayward horse] already?
SR: I don’t think I did.
BA: Okay, so our Roach card. Basically, whenever someone plays a Hero, if you have Roach in your deck, Roach just appears on the board; on a random row. You have no choice. It’s a nod to the idea that Roach shows up at random places. We also have some cool abilities that are linked to characters. As an example, we have a few different Geralts. One that’s really cool for me is the Igni Geralt because it adds scorch to the melee row, and removes frost. It’s really tied to that character, and we have a lot of stuff like that.
SR: You mentioned something earlier about other decks, are you interested in adding other factions into the game? [At the moment it’s only Northern Realms, Monsters, Skellige and Scoia’tael].
BA: We really want to add in Nilfgaard, but now we’re just working on the other four.
SR: Can you give me an idea about what’s going to be in the free, base game?
BA: I don’t think we’re going into specifics at the moment, but we’re going into closed beta on the 25th of October on Xbox One and PC, so we should get a lot of data on that as far as how to best launch this game; making sure that everyone’s super happy.
SR: Can you finish the campaign without paying any money at all?
BA: Yeah, everyone should be able to enjoy it without paying for anything. That’s the goal for us.