A Tale of Two Genres
Maciej Miasik and the Journey
from Reah to The Witcher
Nickie and Becky
From Adventure to Role Playing
Games producer, designer, programmer, owner -- Maciej Miasik has been
involved in many capacities in different genres in the computer game world.
Some of the games will be familiar to adventure game players: Reah,
Schizm: Mysterious Journey, Mysterious Journey II: Chameleon and
Sentinel: Descendants in Time, known for some rather challenging
puzzles. Familiar to the role playing game aficionados would be The
Witcher, which has sold its one millionth copy and of which Miasik is
the executive producer.
Discussing the similarities and
dissimilarities of adventure and role playing games (along with other
important questions of the universe) Becky and Nickie sought the insight of
Miasik, who knows both genres well. He kindly provided the following
Q: Could you give us a brief
history of your career as a software designer/developer?
A: Being a young aspiring programmer, I always envied those (unknown to me
then) programmers who could code games instead of other, stupid in my
opinion, programs. I thought that programming games was a kind of secret
computer science and when you did that you became a real programmer. I
started developing some small PC games, mostly to learn various techniques
and around 1990 I teamed up with my friend who actually had already written
two successful games for the 8-bit Atari. We met another friend who wanted
to start a software publishing business and convinced him to invest around
$10,000 for our first PC game. That was how Electro Man was born -
essentially a two person, nine month gig where together we did everything
from designing the game, writing the engine (supporting four completely
different video adapters, from monochrome Hercules to colorful VGA) and
tools (the level editor), creating entire art and levels, testing it,
writing the manual and designing the package. That was fun.
Q: What in particular drew you to the adventure genre early in your
A: That was by accident. I wasn't a big fan of adventures in the middle of
the 90s, but I observed many of my friends playing various adventures and
often found the games quite impressive. That was a respected genre then,
definitely considered to be on par with other genres. When I was looking for
a new job I got an offer from LK Avalon to join their internal team,
finishing the work on A.D. 2044 and preparing to start a new project.
I took the offer and joined a group of excellent people who formed Detalion
a few years later. The team specialized in adventure games -- the lead
designer had been working on them since the end of the 80s on 8-bit machines
-- so I was aware of the type of games we were going to develop. I started
to play some adventures to learn as much as possible about the genre and its
trends. I was the one who introduced Myst to the rest of the team,
which influenced our subsequent products.
Q: What happened to Detalion after Sentinel: Descendants in Time?
A: Well, from the original team founders, I was the first one to jump ship
and look for a job. The remaining ones split and formed Detalion Games
(basically a one person shop, which produced basic game concepts and then
died) and Detalion Arts (an art outsourcing company, doing various jobs,
including for The Witcher). Detalion Arts was acquired by another
Polish developer - City Interactive. They now work on the adventures games,
the Art of Murder series being among them. You could say that
Detalion is still developing adventures, although not under its own name and
probably not pushing the boundaries of the genre anymore. Which is sad.
Q: The Witcher is a huge favorite of many of our members. It has a story
line that is unsurpassed for an RPG. Did your experience with adventure
games influence your decisions in how the game developed?
A: My creative input on The Witcher was minimal I'm afraid. The game
had its own strong team of designers, with deep roots in the pen & paper
RPGs, where stories really mattered. I didn't have to convince them that a
good game needed a good story -- that was one of the primary design
principles for The Witcher. That was a story-oriented game from the
Q: Could you have made The Witcher into an adventure game by showing
action in cut scenes or would this take away from the essence too much?
A: I'm afraid that Geralt, the witcher, is a man of deeds. I think that even
RPG is already stretching the essence. He is probably the best candidate for
a hero of an action-oriented adventure, not a classic adventure. The RPG
genre allowed us to flesh out the world of the witchers, show some
background, present a sizeable cast of various characters without
sacrificing the action part too much. That way Geralt could act in a way
natural for him, yet we got enough means to paint a broader perspective.
Q: The Mysterious Journey games (Schizm and Chameleon), Reah and Sentinel
all had fully-realized, consistent, atmospheric worlds. Is this harder to
master when creating a huge world for an RPG than when developing an
adventure game? What are the similarities and differences in terms of world
A: The Witcher is a licensed product. It is based on a series of
novels and stories that have a huge cult following, especially in the
Eastern Europe. Not that we had to be faithful to the world created by
Sapkowski, we wanted to recreate it in the game. That wasn't even the
license requirement but it was a kind of duty for most of the team members
who happened to be also huge Sapkowski fans. That obviously limited our
creative options and made the job harder. We not only had to create an
impressive RPG world. But we also had to match what thousands of Sapkowski's
fans had imagined. Judging by their reactions, we did a pretty good job.
When we created our previous games, we had almost total control over the
world creation. Actually, our goal was to let our imaginations rule. If we
needed the story to adapt to the world we wanted to build, we could that
without any problems. This is something which simply isn't possible with a
license that so many people know well. On the other hand, if you have as
strong a license as we had with The Witcher, you have many other
benefits to compensate for some creative limitations. The world created by
Sapkowski differs from other fantasy worlds, giving us a good opportunity to
create something that stands out anyway.
I personally prefer the situation where I'm in total creative control, where
my imagination is the only limit. For me, a very significant part of each
game, (almost) no matter which genre, is the exploration and discovery of
new environments. That's one of the strongest driving forces that pushes me
to progress within the game and continue playing. That is probably why our
previous games offered so much variety and creativity with each new location
or world opening after finishing one of those infamous puzzles.
Q: Geralt (the main character in The Witcher) has unusually complex
emotions, showing his strength when necessary, but also displaying a loving,
passionate nature. Was the inspiration for Geralt’s character drawn from
Andrzej Sapkowski's books, or did the team use their own feelings and
experiences to make Geralt come alive?
A: I think that's one of many good influences coming from Sapkowski’s books.
Geralt is a complex, multifaceted hero despite being a monster slayer,
despised by many. But emotions are also one of the important elements of our
storytelling, something which really helps in creating a believable
experience. Geralt is not just another “antihero” game character throwing
witty one-liners, but a person with his own problems and feelings, facing
difficult choices. We always wanted the world where not everything is
clear-cut, black and white, and our hero has to reflect the world’s
ambiguity as well.
Q: The Witcher team clearly has had great rapport with the fans of the
game, making the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher to bring to the table an
even better game than the original. Were you able to accomplish everything
you wanted to do with this latest version of the game? Are you seeing any
exceptional player mods?
A: There are no finished games -- just abandoned ones (or however that old
industry proverb goes). We had a chance to correct and improve some elements
of the original game, but definitely we couldn't fix everything we wanted.
The community is working on various mods but so far we haven't got anything
spectacular. Modding The Witcher is very difficult because the
technology doesn't make it simple. The idea of releasing the tools
materialized too late in the development to make them really accessible and
easy to use. We also wanted to create the most impressive and beautiful RPG
game ever, and focused on reaching that goal. The released tools are just a
by-product, far from being perfect.
Q: Would it be possible to use the world of The Witcher for an adventure
A: The world of The Witcher is rich enough to accommodate many
different stories. Our game tells one of those and I can imagine it being
told using slightly different game mechanics which don't involve fighting or
other action elements. But adventures didn't die because developers ran out
of story ideas - the players changed their tastes and demanded other forms
of interactive entertainment. Well, I know there are those who still
appreciate adventures, but their numbers simply can't fund the development
of modern, very demanding games.
Maybe new distribution methods will allow Indie developers to work and
profit from adventures again. I wish the genre could be revived.
Q: Do you miss creating complex math and pattern-based puzzles?
A: I personally didn't create them -- that was our lead designer's job. I
miss those Myst-style adventures, not because of their puzzles but
because of the fantastic environments they created and the stories they
sometimes told. In my opinion, those kinds of adventures built more
immersive and more fantastic worlds than the traditional adventures did.
Q: Was Sentinel: Descendants in Time the last use of the Jupiter 3D
A: Actually, I had to check Wikipedia to find out which games used the
Jupiter engine after our games did. It seems that there were some, but
probably all of those were shooters. The Jupiter engine evolved into Jupiter
Ex which is now used by City Interactive for their series of shooters. Maybe
some time in the future, they will decide to create an adventure with it.
I miss those first person perspective adventures. That is the kind of
presentation I like the most, the one that allows deep immersion in the
world. I don't like playing a puppet master who controls small characters
on the screen. I need to be immersed in the world and control "myself"
If combined with more complex stories than the ones we could create with our
very limited resources (The Witcher's cost was around $11 million
dollars, whereas each of our adventure games had total budgets of less than
$350,000), we could create pretty interesting and nonviolent games. I could
imagine shifting from puzzle-oriented adventures into more traditional
story-oriented ones, yet keeping the first person perspective and great
Q: Are the business aspects of the gaming industry very different for
adventure games versus RPGs? Is localization more difficult?
A: I don't know much about business aspects of adventure games now, so it's
difficult to compare precisely. An RPG of The Witcher's scope
requires a completely different business approach. The game is huge, the
number of assets is enormous and the effort necessary to keep all that
running is big. Securing the budget for a big team working several years in
this very competitive industry is not an easy feat. The complexity of the
game makes the whole process even more difficult.
The localization is one of the bigger tasks, especially for a game which
features over 22,000 recorded lines of dialogue and almost 200,000 words of
written text – all of which need to be translated and recorded in the nine
languages the game was released in. RPG games are very demanding
localization-wise because they usually have tons of elements that need
Q: Do you have any plans to return to the adventure genre?
A: Unfortunately, I don't really believe that adventures will be respected
again, with a market share big enough to sustain developers who can make
their living from it. I hope that someone proves me wrong, though.
Q: Are you now developing a Witcher 2?
A: I wish I could reveal what we are doing now, but it's not a proper time
for such announcements. Everything in due time.