One hell of an undertaking.
Developer CD Projekt RED, responsible for last year’s The Witcher 3 as well as the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, recently conducted a Q&A which shed some light on the work required for the climactic battle at Kaer Morhen.
Spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will obviously follow, as designer Pawel Sasko explains the Battle of Kaer Morhen:
In 11 years of my career as a quest designer, I have never implemented such a technically challenging quest as ‘Battle of Kaer Morhen’. From the early state of paper design we knew that it was going to be a huge and complicated quest – and it turned out to be even worse than we expected. Players could have between 9 and 16 characters supporting them, depending on all other things they did – and those characters could appear in any possible combination, plus some of them had to have additional separate scenes (for instance: the dialog with Roche and Ves confronting Letho). I had to make sure that every player who brought a unique set of characters had a quality experience that would stay with them for a long time.
Another level of complication in ‘Battle of Kaer Morhen’ was with the gameplay mechanics – each character has something unique to offer that I had to design and implement, while some of the mechanics had to have synergies (for example: if Zoltan is in Kaer Morhen, he brings his explosive barrels; if Roche and Ves are there, they are shooting flaming arrows – but if they are all in Kaer Morhen, Roche and Ves shoot the explosive barrels first to ignite them and blow up the Wild Hunt). All scenes and gameplay situations were designed to give the player a reward from what they did in all the quests before. At the end, I was proud of what we managed to achieve and I’m grateful that I was working on it.
Speaking for myself for a moment, I’ve completed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt three times, and each time ended up with different allies to help me fight the Wild Hunt, as well as undertaking different strategies to defend Kaer Morhen, as Sasko mentions above.
You can read the full Q&A here, in which Sasko and fellow designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewics discuss handholding the player, camera angles and weather within cutscenes, and the harsh realities of modern video game development.