How the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Perfected Fantasy in Games

How the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Perfected Fantasy in Games

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt initially came out in 2015, followed by two large expansions, Hearts of Stone and finally Blood and Wine, along with multiple free DLCs. I am more than embarrassed to say that I am 2 years late to the party, finishing it only recently, however, I am not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed the experience immensely. I might even be so bold as to place it in my ever shifting gaming hall of fame due to not only the game’s profound effect on me, but the work ethos displayed by the Polish developers and publishers CD Projekt S.A. that no doubt contributed greatly to the success of The Witcher franchise. And while I may go more into depth on why developers usually need publishers to be successful, and the rare but inspiring examples that exist, I think it would be best to devote the majority of this particular blog to The Witcher 3, and how it set the standard for future “AAA Games”.

I’ll begin with a solid foundation so some of you may grasp this much more easily. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open world action role-playing-game developed by CD Projekt Red, a Polish game development studio under CD Projekt S.A. The games themselves are based on the series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, a very talented author well versed in fantasy writing and whose books have been translated into nineteen languages.  I can’t speak much on the actual novels as I’ve only read the first one-The Last Wish, however I have pieced together quite a bit of lore from the games, and as such, I’ll be focusing on the games. However, credit where credit is due, because one of reasons the games are so amazing, is because of the source material. CD Projekt S.A. have specific company philosophies, one of them being working on lesser known franchises that they can bring to a wider audience. However, they also focus on the player, and rather than focusing on normal game rhetoric such as making game worlds bigger, they decided to put more life into the games themselves, encouraging players to explore the game more and become attached to the world, the lore, and the characters.

And it shows in the Witcher 3 more than most other games. The game cost $81M to make, half of which went into marketing, which was handled by CD Projekt S.A. However, devs like Bioware quite possibly spent much more than that with a much bigger team and most likely, a higher budget to come up with something that was not at all what was advertised. This not only shows the failing of the devs and the publishers, but shows the great amount of effort, time and commitment that The Witcher’s developers put into it. Motion capture, coherent facial animations, interesting characters, well written plots and subplots, engaging side quests, a gorgeous open world, and physics that aren’t god-awful all contribute towards its success. Each character is voiced with an air of care for their character, and each NPC that you can have a conversation with has enough quirk that they are remembered even later on in the game. When we look at development, The Witcher 3 got so many things right, and in an industry like gaming where so many people are privy to the process of making a game, the fans could appreciate the efforts of the dev team.

As for plot, that’s where The Witcher 3 has its highs and lows, although this is just me nitpicking for the most part. In this particular adventure, we follow our main character, the fame Geralt of Rivia, also known as The White Wolf and The Butcher of Blaviken on a journey to find his surrogate daughter, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. As far as RPGs go, this is part and parcel of a standard main quest. Something that will span hours and stretch across the map. However even before you take control of Geralt, you can see how much he loves Ciri despite not having seen her for many years. He dreams of her, has premonitions involving her and talks about with concern despite usually having a cocky. slightly sarcastic demeanor. And as the game progresses, it is this single minded search for Ciri that helps and hurts the plot. From an emotional angle, we can understand why Geralt is searching for his daughter. It is immensely important that he keeps her safe and it is this care for her that makes us relate to him as well as sympathise with him. This unfortunately has the effect of streamlining the plot, making it rather simple and without much diversity. Few questions are asked and that robs the intrigue out of the story, making it seem boring, and making Geralt himself seem very one dimensional. However, that is remedied almost entirely by the abundance of side quests, many of which are optional, but extremely interesting. They contain one-of-a-kind characters with their own backstories, motives and personalities. If you do a side quest, the more you progress, the more you will feel that you’re missing out afterwards if you don’t do the side quests. Besides building Geralt’s character and revealing areas of his past and motives, they also give the player freedom to make their own choices and give Geralt his own ending. The player gets to live out their gritty medieval fantasy through him best in the side quests, whether by helping villagers with petty issues, solving murders, appeasing spirits, lifting curses, and slaying monsters.

But The Witcher doesn’t get by solely on its plot. The world of The Witcher is filled with interest, living or dead. Lore wise, it contains a huge bestiary of beasts terrible and strange, and on top of this, it has a large index of characters that you meet. Part of the core gameplay is visiting the bestiary to see what category of monster you’re fighting, and the best way to defeat it. Doing this gives you a certain sixth-sense when facing monsters and increases your cautiousness, however it makes you dive deeper into the world of The Witcher, because if you not you’ll die in horrible,and often pitiful ways. But luckily, the monsters exist everywhere, and by creating this system you can be surprised and pleased depending on the situation. For example, if you ride in the forest on your faithful horse Roach, expect to find a pack of wolves, or if you’re especially unlucky, a Leshen. If you go into a swamp or ride by a beach, you’ll be greeted by the pleasant moan of a Water Hag or a drowner. But all is not lost because the nastier monsters, like Lycanthropes griffins, wyverns and noonwraiths are usually only encountered on Witcher Quests. However, it is possible to run into one by accident, at which point it is probably best to turn tail and conduct a flawless tactical retreat. And all of this never get old due to the inspiration of these monsters coming from Slavic mythology, which has been untouched by many authors despite having a wide range of legends and tales. However, at the end of the day, preparation is usually key, and the Witcher who is prepared, is victorious.
The designs of the monsters are visually striking, and one can see this without even glimpsing the concept art. The attention to detail is immense, from the rotting decaying flesh of the undead, to the graceful and sharp movements of vampires. Ogroids are lumbering, and relicts are unique and different. Unless species are related in some way or another, most monsters do not look alike. Which is great character design as it keeps players highly interested in the game as well as showing that the creators cared enough.
And it’s not just the design of monsters and the human characters. The whole world is gorgeous, featuring 4 distinct locations-Velen, Novigrad, Oxenfurt and Skellige-before Toussaint was added to the Blood and Wine expansion. The cities are bustling and full of life, and the countrysides sprawl for leagues in every direction, littered with forests, swamps, highlands and fields. It’s a straight treat to the eye, and the changing weather and travel options such as boat and horse make the world feel so much more alive.

But enough about design, because the gameplay mechanics take into play so many things from the lore and design and turn them into fully functional elements. One such example, which gave me enough incentive to run about for hours completely ignoring the main quest, is the crafting system. Not as extensive as some RPGs, and fairly straightforward, the ability to dismantle any common item for materials in order to build new and powerful weapons and weapon sets is an exciting one, and is extremely practical in the long run. Besides, getting a full witcher gear set is an exciting quest in itself, exploring long forgotten caverns and haunts. And while one can get money from hunting monsters on quests for people, the fully fleshed out world means that even repairing weapons at a blacksmith requires money, making it very impractical to hoard money to save up for that fancy sword. And that brings us to the alchemy system. A Witcher has many enemies, supernatural and human, and having the right tools on hand might make the hunt more exciting than nerve-wracking. Lathering your sword in necrophage oil can make dispatching a group of rotfiends much more enjoyable than tedious, and chucking a dimeritium bomb robs spectres of much of their annoying invulnerability to normal attacks. All of this can be achieved by obtaining ingredients rather easily from plants as well as monster corpses. And the stronger the enemy, the more potent the oil or potion will be, making the game progression much more balanced as you progress.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will undoubtedly be remembered as a pinnacle of gaming for years to go, backed by an amazing development team and an enthusiastic fanbase. The more you delve into the game, the more you realise how much the different elements fit into the game, from the easy loot system, to the more advanced potion and mutagen creation systems. And it is this in-depth RPG system, mixed with a unique world and interesting characters that make the game so appealing. There is so much substance that it is so hard to lose interest. It’s hard to find a franchise that has existed for so long and with such success. However, it is not a fluke and the reasons for its success can be listed down and analysed clear as day. So for the casual gamer you have a whole new and amazing experience, for the avid gamer, you have a game that surpasses all expectations and can be explored wholeheartedly, and to the industry-man, you have a benchmark for “AAA Games” that can be followed for the next few years. As Geralt of Rivia said so effortlessly, “you don’t need mutations to strip men of their humanity. I’ve seen plenty of examples.”



Avatar-An Underappreciated Gem: Part 1

Avatar-An Underappreciated Gem: Part 1

Like many other kids born in the 90s, I got to experience a myriad of amazing cartoons all the way up to my mid-teens. Samurai Jack was one of my favourite, and perhaps something that I’ll revisit along with Courage the Cowardly Dog which was a horrific but amazing kids show along with the likes of Megas XLR, Kim Possible and even Danny Phantom. All of these were forays into the usual structured, and time tested formula for conducting a kids show. A formula that I don’t hate as far as things go. The formula being a non-linear show with new adventures every episode and at most, a 5 episode linear plot that would include some interesting plot devices to keep the story going. But apart from interesting art or the occasional intriguing characters, nothing could keep fans coming back except the length of the show or how much it conformed to trends (Teen Titans Go).
Enter, Avatar: The Last Airbender. A bit of personal history to set up grounds for a potential future blog post, but I was actually banned from watching Avatar the Last Airbender growing up. Not that it stopped me, but it was an annoyance to say the least. That was probably because of the late timing of the Satanic Panic in Malawi, and while it didn’t have as much of an influence as it did in the US and other parts of the Western world. It was still annoying being told I couldn’t watch something for the simple reason that it was “satanic” but oh well. Avatar was one of those shows that made me give fuckall about my parents opinion on what I should watch or not. By the age of 8 I already had my own basic grasp of wrong or right, “good and evil”. Simple statements didn’t faze me, and even the threat of the whip did nothing to stop me. It seemed odd to me that a bald kid who could manipulate air and flew around on a giant bison gave my mum and uncle the shivers. Of course, later on, I realised it was because of the religous, cultural and spiritual connotations the show took from Asian civilisations.

But now, onto some show history and the premise of the show. Avatar the Last Airbender was an animated television show created by  Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko which aired from 2005 to 2008 for the duration of three seasons. The show, besides being highly popular, becoming one of Nickelodeon’s most popular shows, became a cult hit garnering a large adult following despite catering for 6 to 11 year olds. The show follows Aang, the titular Last Airbender and Avatar, destined to bring balance to the world after a century of war and oppression from the imperialistic Fire Nation who also wiped out his people, the Air Nomads. Aang, who was already talented, was told he was the Avatar, the one to master all 4 elements and bring balance to the world, 4 years early, at only 12. Because of this, and other reasons, he encased himself in a sphere of ice for 100 years, and without an Avatar, the world drifted into chaos, war raged and the Air Nomads, who mind you were not necessarily the good guys, were utterly wiped out. After being found by two Southern Water tribe kids, a newly awakened Aang has to truly face his destiny and bring balance to a world teetering on the edge of all out war, and defeat a dictatorial figure who is basically cartoon Hitler.

There are many plot elements that I have gone over, but just from reading that brief summary of the show’s premise, one can tell that this is not a stereotypical kids show. it is nuanced and contains a high level of world building, history and law, taking place in a completely different world with completely new concepts that have been executed incredibly well. But before we dive in, Avatar draws in from many influences to achieve both its emotional and dramatic storyline which is simply peppered with exciting and thrilling fight scenes. The first influence I want to speak of, is the anime FLCL, a rollercoaster action sci-fi amalgamation of chaos created by the lauded studio Gainax. The director of Avatar forced the entire team to watch the full thing to prepare them for the hectic battles. The creators also took pages out of “Legend and Lore” titles like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, inspiring them to make a highly intricate world. This is very different compared to many other series airing at the time in the sense that viewers are going to be immersed in a world completely new to them. This was further reinforced from the fact that the show took many real world influences from Asian history, culture and spirituality. This achieves two distinctly, seemingly opposing effects that work incredibly well when mixed together. Because it is a new world, it is interesting and exciting enough to explore, but because of the clear real world influences spun to enhance the show, it is vaguely recognisable by the audience. Kind of like that word that’s on the tip of your tongue.

People tend to overlook that feature instead favouring characterisation, which is in no means inferior. However, it is important to see just how big of an effect the real world influences have on the show and the lore it crafts, essentially making it very relatable and mystical to kids watching it. Especially kids born in the Western World. For me, seeing the four nations represent their real world counterparts so well intrigued the hell out of me. The Air Nomads were clearly inspired by Tibetan monks, with their philosophies and stances on vegetarianism and non-violence. The Earth Kingdom was a bit more complex, being an obvious nod to ancient China, but more specifically, a pre-Mao imperialist China which still had a monarchy in place at the time. The Fire Nation is a little less obvious as a pre-World War II Japan, as imperialist and war bound as ever. Which is interesting because in the show we’ve got the Fire Nation (Japan) invading the Earth Kingdom (China) which is what happened during World War II. Finally, probably the most interesting was the Water Nation which was represented by the real world Inuit tribes. All of the nations have cultures that clearly permeate throughout the show as well as their own grievances and quirks. Not everyone loves each other, some people straight up hate each other, and some people have the saddest backstories. It’s incredibly interesting to see how the chemistry between each nation works out as the story progresses and events unfold. With all of this being pumped through your screen, you’ll think it might brainwash your kids. I mean, I’m fairly certain that’s one of the reasons my Mum was so against it, becasue she was worried that the “religous” connotations of the show might have an influence on me. But that’s the thing, Avatar: The Last Airbender can be so alien to Western audiences, but it is capable of teaching kids about multiple diverse cultures. About the fact that people can be very different, have incredibly differing views and can both live harmoniously and in conflict with one another.

All of these are points that I think are important for children to be taught, especially if their parents have skimped on those simple at home lessons. I was lucky to have been exposed to that kind of media considering that all things aside, Malawi is rather sheltered from the world, with diversity only in a few spheres. However, cultural influences aside, I think Avatar really shines on two other points, which are its action, and characterisation. For anyone who has ever watched Avatar, the action scenes can be heavy with tension, or lighthearted and playful. A good episode to analyse is episode 3 of season 1 where our protagonists traveled to the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu. The king of Omashu, despite being a slightly mad, but immensely old man is incredibly powerful, filling the stereotypical “old men are strong” trope from anime. And even though it is plain to see that he holds back, the stage is set, and the fight progresses, with Aang, our main character utilising the whole arena, and Bumi straining his muscles to put Aang to the test. Throughout the episode we get a good measure of speed, velocity and the impacts of blows from the rocks Bumi hurls around. One of my other favourite fight scenes amongst many occurs in Season 2 episode 21 when Zuko, our antagonist until this point is betrayed by his psychopathic sister, they engage in a furious battle. Zuko brandishes knifes of flames while his sister twirls around him effortlessly. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that she’s that much better than him and ends the duel with a frightening display of her power. A shot of lightning directed at her own brother. One that would have surely killed him. This does multiple things, including setting up a big story point, building up tension between the two characters that is played upon, developing a great story arc and finally, adding stakes to the battle. The battle itself is brief, but the impact it has is monumental. And this isn’t even a season finale.
Another characteristic the fight scenes share in common is both the scope and atmosphere, mostly due to the way that battles work in the Avatar universe. Each bending art is based on a specific martial art, and thus it actually feels like a physical fight despite few blows being thrown by actual benders. Also, each bending style is so intricately different that bending duels or battles feel varied and balanced. Earth benders usually carry heavy but powerful blows. Airbending is precise and quick while waterbending flows quickly and fire is explosive and carries the intent to harm. This means that every fight has personality, making sure that the viewer is glued to the screen watching a highly complex and well thought out battle play out.

Perhaps I’ll talk about the fight scenes more in another post, but many fans might argue that only the character development and individual story arcs overshadow the fantastic action. The character development in the show is not only superb, but moves forward at a good pace which ultimately contributes to the high quality of the plot especially for a kid’s show. There are initially three main characters, however by the final season there are 7, one of whom is a former antagonist. The show sets up things about each character from the very beginning by giving them their own quirks and personality traits, and short but personal story arcs. Just to show you how in depth they went with the character development, even the pet and steed of our group have their own story arcs. and while it would be a great disservice to briefly touch on some of the main character’s personalities and their development arcs, there is one worthwhile supporting character who has a profound impact on the show as a whole, and that is General Iroh.

Iroh, the uncle to the crown prince and former crown prince himself is a renowned general of the fire lord and an incredibly powerful firebender, holding the title ” The Dragon of the West”. Despite his weighty positions and glory however, he is a jovial character who constantly takes the piss, cracks dad jokes indulges in self-deprecating humour and serves as a moral compass to the antagonist Zuko. He is introduced in the beginning of the show, and while his character is well established, it is carried out well throughout the show while small trickles of his history are given to us. That he laid siege to Ba Sing Se for 600 days and breached the outer wall, a previously unheard of accomplishment, that he himself developed the technique to redirect lightning, a seemingly invincible ability. Moreover, he could breathe fire, which just added points to the badass meter. However, in the season 2 episode 15 episode “Tales of Iroh”, Iroh goes around Ba Sing Se spreading his usual good vibes and in a generally good mood, even offering life advice to someone who attempted to rob him with a knife. However, at the end of the episode we learn that it is his dead son’s birthday. He travels to a hilltop overlooking Ba Sing Se, the same city he besieged years before and the same city his son died in and makes a small shrine, lighting incense and lamenting the fact that he can help everyone but couldn’t help his son. He begins to cry while singing a requiem, and it is in this moment that we see the entirety of his character. That he’s not just the one dimensional “funny guy” of the show, but a wise and deeply changed person. One who is able to forgive and love even towards the people who cost him so much, including his son. This is A1 writing, especially when considering that this episode is considered “filler” as it does not majorly advance the plot.

And while this is but a small fraction of the greatness that constitutes the Avatar series, I have hopefully enlightened you on what made the series great, or at least some of the things. And while I hope I can cover more Avatar in due time, hopefully that will be when I start my own Youtube channel which will invariably make things much much easier for me. So to end this post with an infinitely wise quote from Aang, “Anyone’s capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Firelord and the Fire Nation, have to be treated like they’re worth giving a chance.”

Character Study: Negan, A Modern Day Prince

Character Study: Negan, A Modern Day Prince


If a man goes around terrorising people with a barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille and breaks the main character’s party in his first appearance, he is undoubtedly one hell of a villain and an all round badass. But that’s not all that Negan is, surprisingly, despite his clear gruff appearance which is common for those existing within Robert Kirkman’s  ongoing Walking Dead comic book series. In due time, I shall explain what he is, and why he is so great at what it is he does, but until then, I believe a proper recanting of the Walking Dead is in order. The Walking Dead, which started serialisation in 2003 and had its TV run start in 2010 became a sensation among horror fans due to its compelling, continuing style. Comic fans were drawn in by Tony Moore’s black and white style and Robert Kirkman’s gritty and believable post-apocalyptic writing. Nothing is held back. He writes about the abandonment of morals, the degradation of humanity, the tragedy and terror that follows in the wake of a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, while peppering it with slivers of light that shine through and give the characters hope. Meanwhile, the series’ characters are well portrayed by their actors, which has given fans great character development, amazing scenery and stunning acting throughout its seven, soon to be eight season run. Man has always had a fear of death, and zombies are one of the many imaginary manifestations of that fear. They are not necessarily inhumanely strong, they are stupid and mindless, however, they outnumber the living and are terrifying in their endless pursuit of the living. However, despite this, Kirkman drives home the point that the living will almost always be the true danger to the living as many individuals come and go. Some with misguided morals, others with fractured minds, and others with despicable intentions.

Having established this, it is important to see how well Negan fits into the equation as not only a villain, but a hero to others. Despite his villainous nature, he has managed to amass a large following of individuals who will serve him no matter where he goes, while those who will not serve him willingly, he breaks down and has them slave for him, providing him with food, weaponry and old world commodities that are now luxuries in the new world of the dead. He has a vast network of soldiers and workers. He has specialists and doctors, people whose worth is priceless. A feudal meritocracy based on a point system where those who obey and play their part are rewarded, and based on the points they have amassed, they can afford the various items in his inventory. You see, Negan is cruel, but one thing he is not, is stupid. Those with ties and attachments, he takes full advantage of. A pretty girl who desperately need the medicine for her ailing mother can be offered the choice between backbreaking labour or becoming one of his wives. A man who has disobeyed him but has a lover can be broken down and become one of his armed men in return for total security and a small measure of luxury for him and his lover. And do not think his intelligence stops there because Negan has even created tactics making sure that even the dead serve his purpose, sending hordes of zombies to settlements in order to weaken them so they are easier to take.

And this is vary important because unlike other settlements we have seen throughout the Walking Dead, Negan is the first to make a truly feudal society. He has his knights, his generals and his pawns, and it is only in this world where Niccolo Machiavelli’s teachings take full effect even though they have some weight even in our world. He was one man, but yet, he is truly and undeniably the only one at the time. Everything belongs to him, even though he says it is for everyone. He can take as he pleases, but he doesn’t because he only takes what he needs, and occasionally, what he wants. He gives others “choice”, which is to serve him, or die. However, in being his direct subordinate, he breaks them down, assimilating their personalities to the point where they lose all sense of identity and are only left with loyalty to the point where “everyone is Negan”. They gain all the rewards, living like kings, but still being thralls to Negan himself. Those who work the menial tasks but retain their individuality live in fear of all the various Negans and, for lack of a better word, are complete and utter slaves. Whilst Negan would think twice about killing one of his Negans, the workers are completely replaceable, and so they live with the knowledge that death is perhaps the first and last punishment they will receive. But yet they are still living, and with enough work they can afford for themselves and perhaps the ones they love. He has been known to smash the brains in of those unwilling to bend, and even permitted the executions of every male over 10 to ensure that a settlement never thinks of revolting against him again. By leaving able bodied people, but no trained fighters, he has sustained a supply source, but robbed it of much of it’s fighting power. He is ruthless to a fault, and that is only possible by having the barest minimum of morals. Morals that can only really help himself the most, and get others by on the most basic of levels.

But Negan has established a Cult of Personality, much like Joseph Stalin. The people worship his power like a demigod of old, and his men respect and fear him. He has a throng of wives at his disposal and his chambers are kingly compared to everyone else’s. Given the choice between betrayal and death, his followers would rather choose death because they know just how terrifying Negan is. He mercilessly punishes those who cross him, beating two of Rick’s friends to death with Lucille at the beginning of the seventh season himself whilst the rest were watching just to show that he was in control. Afterwards, he let them go because he knew that any resistance was all but stamped out due to the fact that he held the numbers, he had the guns and every other resource. In this way, he fulfills the duty of the Prince as Machiavelli intended, being cruel, but also rewarding, and in some cases, kind. When Carl, the main character Rick’s son comes to kill Negan and guns down two of his men, Negan shows Carl what he has built around him, steadily breaking him down. He pokes at his fears and insecurities, showing the benefits of living under his rule whilst demonstrating the punishment for those who disobey, which is burning half of their face with a burning iron.  After which he takes Carl home personally, playing with Carl’s baby sister while cooking in Rick’s kitchen, using their dwindling supplies and making himself at home, showing the level of control he has over everyone.

Despite all of his deeds, as stated before, Negan does this because he believes that survival is only possible through the application and enforcement of rules. When one of his men attempts to rape one of Rick’s people, he kills him right there and there as rape is strictly forbidden, as is disobedience, thievery or murdering one of your own. He ensures that he doles out the punishment to show his superiority, but also to show that this is the leader’s responsibility, and whoever wants to step up also has to take up the less…appealing aspects of his position. Negan rules through strength, all the way from his dominating body language, his armed forces and his menacing baseball bat. He exudes it, utterly overshadowing those around him. He is more than smart enough to know that he should always step up, and only step down if it benefits him. He is, perhaps, the epitome of an “Alpha Male”, and a ruthless, but nonetheless efficient leader, looking down on everyone around with scorn. Therefore, it stands to reason that Negan shall perhaps be remembered as a charismatic prick who pissed too many people off, but his character is an important one. In the face of true destruction, can his actions truly be classified as completely evil considering the massive improvements he has brought about, not counting the undeniable security he has provided for those around him. Should we really fault those who create rules that, while tyrannical and despotic, still manage to keep a populace safe, fed, and most importantly, in check? Maybe we’ll answer that during the zombie apocalypse

To highlight the sheer  confidence of his character, and quote one of his best lines, “I just slid my dick down your throat, AND YOU THANKED ME FOR IT!”