In an earlier entry in this series (this entry, to be precise), I placed the Witcher 3 into the mini-genre of “Dad Games,” and said furthermore that in my opinion, it’s the best of them. Now that we’re closing in on the end of the main quest, I should go into that more.
Most Dad Games feature a protective relationship between the father and the child. This was the case in the Last of Us and this year’s God of War. In the case of the Witcher 3, however, Ciri is pretty capable herself and isn’t presented to the audience as vulnerable in the same way. She’s also older. I don’t remember if her age is ever made explicit in the game, but I get the impression she’s twentyish years old, or at least in her late teens – basically, an age where parenting might be less about protecting and more about letting go.
CDPR handles this theme in a way that in some ways is very clever, but in others can lead to players feeling like they’ve been treated unfairly. Basically, at several points in the second half of the game there’ll be a scene – which seems innocuous at the time – in which Geralt is given the choice of either being protective or solicitous towards Ciri somehow, or backing off and letting her act on her own. (The choices don’t all cleave along that particular line, but
For example, in one instance, Ciri is frustrated after the battle at Kaer Morhen, and storms off, and Geralt has the choice of following her or giving her privacy to deal with her feelings on her own. In another, Ciri is to meet several members of the Lodge of Sorceresses. Geralt, knowing that the Lodge has their own agenda and can be manipulative, can either accompany Ciri or allow her to face it alone.
The wrinkle that isn’t revealed to the player until much later (the end of the game, really) is that each of these decisions affects how Ciri’s character develops, and how well-equipped she is to handle a certain challenge that she has to face alone. This, in turn, determines whether you get one of the “good” or “bad” endings.
One the one hand, this is thematically appropriate, as it rewards the player for not being overprotective, and for treating Ciri as the capable, autonomous person she is. On the other, the way some of these choices are presented to the player are opaque to the point of being a bit unfair, and some of them just come off as arbitrary.
To go into one example in detail: at one point, Avallac’h is attempting to teach Ciri how to control some of her abilities, and she gets frustrated after repeated failures. She meets Geralt in the courtyard at Kaer Morhen, feeling the pressure of responsibility and self-doubt, and basically asks Geralt how he handles such feelings. Geralt is given two timed dialogue prompts. One reads “Relax. You don’t have to be good at everything,” and the other reads “Think I know what might lift your spirits.”
Now a player encountering this choice for the first time has very little to go on as to what these two prompts actually mean. In this case, the “relax” one leads to a rather depressing scene where Geralt and Ciri get grumpy-drunk together, and the “lift your spirits” one leads to a lighthearted and fun snowball fight (which is, incidentally, the “good” choice, as far its effect on which ending you get is concerned). If anything, intuition and experience with Geralt would lead a new player to predict that “I know what might lift your spirits” would definitely be alcohol, whereas “you don’t have to be good at everything” is not bad advice.
To cite another example, at one point Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer visit Avallac’h’s lab, where we learn that Avallac’h has a preoccupation with the Elder Blood, and a strange combination of disdain and infatuation with Ciri herself. Ciri, who by this point is low on patience for elves treating her like a science experiment, gets angry and says “What? Do you fear I’ll level this place like I did Kaer Morhen? Shame I can’t do that at well, because I’d really like to now!”
Geralt gets two dialogue options, abridged by the game as “Calm down” and “Go for it.” Of course, taken literally, “go for it” means that Ciri does something reckless and extremely dangerous for herself and everyone else in the vicinity, so upon seeing those two options, my thought on my first playthrough was “wait, am I being sarcastic or not?”
This is a common, and for me at least, infuriating problem with many RPGs: dialogue options that the UI summarizes in such a way that trying to predict what my character is actually going to say or do is basically an exercise in guesswork. It’s bad enough in normal conversations, but about decisions like these, where their import is not immediately obvious and their consequences won’t be felt until many hours of gameplay later? To me, it feels unfair.
Let me say that I love the IDEA of the ending hinging on choices of how the player treats Ciri, and I’m ok with disguising their importance a bit. But players should be given more information with which to predict what the outcomes of different dialogue choices are. By luck, I did get one of the “good” endings on my initial playthrough of the game. But I can only imagine how frustrating it would be for someone to get a bad ending because of a poorly-paraphrased dialogue choice they made twenty hours earlier.
(In this case, incidentally, the “good” choice is “go for it,” which results in Ciri and Geralt trashing Avallac’h’s lab using conventional, non-magical catastrophe methods.)
That’s the extent of my thoughts (for the moment) on that particular aspect of the game. In the next entry I’ll cover the rest of the ending sequence.
For now, there’s another thing I want to at least mention in passing. Sapkowski, author of the Witcher novels and short stories, is going through the courts to get an additional $16 million out of CD Projekt. (Here’s just one of many articles written on the topic.)
Why? Well, back before the Witcher series became a surprise hit, the hitherto mostly unheard-of CD Projekt bought the rights to turn Sapkowski’s works into a video game. He sold them those rights, for what is now in retrospect a tiny amount of money. (I’m not sure how tiny. I’ve read that it was the equivalent of about $9,500 US, but I couldn’t find a citation for that figure.) Why? Well, Sapkowski wasn’t a big fan of video games, and he also (understandably) suspected that any such game – especially by a rookie studio – would be a bust.
“I was stupid enough to sell them rights to the whole bunch,” he says. “They offered me a percentage of their profits. I said, ‘No, there will be no profit at all – give me all my money right now! The whole amount.’ It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn’t believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn’t.”
I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that, in an American court, the argument of “give me more money because I only took an up-front cash payment in lieu of a percentage because I thought the game would flop” wouldn’t go anywhere. But apparently Polish (and more broadly, European) copyright law operates on different principles. It operates at least partially on the concept of “moral rights,” which say that (and be advised I am very much a layperson on legal matters, on any continent) the original creator has a relationship to any adaptations of their work that can, in some cases, supersede a written contract.
Roughly paraphrased, “yeah, sure, he signed away the rights for a song back before the games were a hit, but now that they ARE a hit, he has a claim to some of the profits they’ve generated through use of his creative property.” On the one hand, caveat emptor (or, in this case, “let the seller beware,” but I don’t know how to say that in Latin). On the other hand, CD Projekt made their fortunes as a developer partly on the back of this guy’s creative work, and he shouldn’t be penalized for failing to predict what was at the time an unlikely financial success.
I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on this dispute. I don’t know enough about either Polish copyright law or the fine details of the situation to make a judgment. However, broadly speaking, my personal sympathies are at least slightly with Sapkowski. Maybe he doesn’t get the full sixteen million. But CDPR is financially successful enough that they can certainly afford to toss him something, out of gratitude and good PR if nothing else.
Like I said, I don’t have a clear conclusion to draw from this, but I mention it because I think it’s an interesting situation. Next entry, we’ll be back to the game. See you then.
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