Narrative Design and the Witcher

Working on the Witcher was a great experience, not the least of which was experiencing the story and capturing Sapkowski’s world. Even though the game was inspired by a linear medium, the game itself is a great example of how to offer branching narrative with non-trivial choice. Read on only if you’re willing to read spoilers of the game.

One of the major themes of the Witcher stories involves choosing “the lesser evil.” Indeed, Geralt earned the moniker “The Butcher of Blaviken” because he once chose the lesser evil and has never been able to live it down. As a result, the developers wanted to incorporate difficult moral choices with no clear answer into the game. For example, in the first act, you must decide how to deal with Abigail the witch. A bit rough around the edges, Abigail sells her magic and potions to the people in town. If you choose to save her, you have condoned her darker activities and alienated the village. If you choose to hang her, you have acted as a judge and jury of her and sided with equally guilty villagers. No matter what you choose, you will find yourself progressing in the game, but your choice will influence how you play Geralt and may have repercussions later in the game.

View one of the choices below: (click here for French version)

Unlike many other games with branching, the developers did not envision an “ideal path” for the player. In one game, Shadows of Destiny I believe it was called, I felt like I had to guess what the developers wanted me to do, and if I didn’t do it, I would get one of the lamer endings. In the Witcher, the developers don’t punish the player for not reading their minds. In fact, they much prefer the player struggle with each decision, because there is no right answer. It’s up to you to determine what the lesser evil is. You will fight the same Big Bad no matter what, but you may have had to step on different people along the way. You will have to face them in the end.

What are some other great examples of non-trivial choice in games? I’m always on the look-out for good ones!

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Sorry but your princess is in another castle.” Check back next week to see where it came from.

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Filed under Game Design, Games, Guess that game dialog!, Writing

7 responses to “Narrative Design and the Witcher

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