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Essays 23 December 2015, 16:15

Many faces of Geralt - 10 things about The Witcher franchise you probably didn’t know

The Witcher brand has a long history in Poland but the West turned its attention to it quite recently. Here you will find a brief look at The Witcher series’ past and the most interesting things from the history of the novels and their creator.

The Witcher brand has a long tradition in Poland where it was born, with fame and a number of fans no lesser than Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the West, however, people heard about Geralt of Rivia just recently, after the first game was released – and they really loved The Witcher’s world after the release of Wild Hunt, just a couple of months ago. So we present you this feature – a brief history of the aforementioned brand. But it’s not an elaborate, boring work – just 10 points, 10 interesting facts about Andrzej Sapkowski’s books and their adaptations. Enjoy!

1. Witcher was created by a trade specialist for a short story contest

Andrzej Sapkowski (source: www.mmpoznan.pl, author: Adrian Wykrota) - 2016-01-12
Andrzej Sapkowski (source: www.mmpoznan.pl, author: Adrian Wykrota)

As you probably know, the world of The Witcher was created by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. But do you know how and when it was done? It all started in 1986 when Sapkowski took part in a novel contest held by Fantastyka (Fantasy) magazine. He wrote a short story called simply The Witcher and altough he didn’t win, the monster slayer going by the name of Geralt of Rivia quickly became famous all over the country. Andrzej Sapkowski decided to leave his previous job (he was an international trade specialist) and become a full-time writer. Between 1986 and 1999 he wrote seven books – two short stories collections and five parts of the so called The Witcher Saga. They quickly became bestsellers and gave Sapkowski the analogical position in Poland that J. R. R. Tolkien holds globally – a master of the fantasy genre.

He also gained popularity in the neighboring countries (e.g. Czech Republic, Russia) but his work waited many years to be translated into English. First such translation was published in 2007 (The Last Wish), after release of the first video game. In the following years the West received next books, but the Saga isn’t complete yet – fans are still waiting for the fourth (The Swallow’s Tower) and the fifth (Lady of the Lake) part. There is also a prequel written unexpectedly in 2013 (Seasons of Storms, a novel set before the events from The Witcher short story) but there are currently no plans to translate it into English.

2. Dark Horse’s comic book isn’t the first one ever created

Samples from the first The Witcher comic books. - 2016-01-12
Samples from the first The Witcher comic books.

The Witcher comic books from Dark Horse Comics were the first ones to be released in the West, but they aren’t the first to be ever created. Many years before, between 1993 and 1995, six issues were released in Poland, and they were re-released recently in collections in hard cover. They have a small bunch of fans, but all that Andrzej Sapkowski always has to say about these comics is usually short but suggestive: “No comment”.

3. Early merchandising – pen & paper RPG, first card game

You probably heard that CD Projekt RED has made a deal with R. Talsorian Games to create a pen & paper RPG system based on The Witcher’s universe. But did you know that it won’t be the first such product? In 2001, a publisher MAG has released The Witcher: A Game of Imagination in Poland. It was a rather simple system and one far from being perfect, but it gained many fans across the country. It came in two editions and received a couple of add-ons.

The Witcher: A Game of Imagination (on the left) and The Witcher: Adventure Card Game (on the right). - 2016-01-12
The Witcher: A Game of Imagination (on the left) and The Witcher: Adventure Card Game (on the right).

Another interesting yet not well known game based on The Witcher series is The Witcher: Adventure Card Game. It was released in 2007, for the occasion of the first video game’s release. It’s a very different game than the currently popular Gwent and also a bit simpler. It’s worth mentioning that publisher also prepared a special edition of Adventure Card Game, added as a bonus to the collector’s edition of The Witcher.

4. The Witcher video game was planned since 1996

CD Projekt RED isn’t the first Polish developer that came up with an idea of creating a virtual adaptation of The Witcher books. Earlier (around year 1996) the same idea had Metropolis Software – now-defunct studio led at that time by the famous Adrian Chmielarz (Painkiller, Bulletstorm, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter). The developer wrote a letter to Andrzej Sapkowski and obtained the license for a ridiculously small amount (if you compare it to international standards). Later Chmielarz tried to involve the novelist in development, but by unanswered letters he quickly figured out that Sapkowski simply doesn’t care and gives Metropolis a free hand. It’s not an unimaginable thing if you consider that the witcher’s “father” is known for joking that he “would sell Geralt even to a toothpaste commercial if he only got paid well”.

The Witcher from Metropolis Software – a screenshot published in press in 1997. - 2016-01-12
The Witcher from Metropolis Software – a screenshot published in press in 1997.

So Adrian Chmielarz intended to create an ambitious action-adventure game with some RPG elements. It had a third person perspective in 3D and, of course, Geralt of Rivia as a main character. It was supposed to be a story-driven game for adults, with moral choices, mature storytelling and psychologically complex characters. Of course, this earliest The Witcher also contained combat and a simple character progression system. Unfortunately, the project turned out to be too big for a small studio such as Metropolis and it was eventually abandoned. All that remained of the game is a few screenshots (one of them you can see above).

5. There is one The Witcher movie already… and we wish it never happened

After the release of the Lady of the Lake book, Geralt of Rivia was so popular in Poland that local filmmakers decided to create an adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels in the form of a TV series (and a film which was born almost accidentally). It’s called The Hexer and was released in 2002. The director Marek Brodzki had a high budget (for Polish standards, of course) and the best Polish actors… and what he created was completely disastrous. A silly story that took well known motifs or characters only to chew them and spit in some monstrous form, poor dialogues and performance by the actors, special effects that were more funny than scary… Fans cried, then laughed, then cried again. Also Andrzej Sapkowski describes his experiences with filmmakers as “Very, very, very, very bad” and he suggests that Brodzki rather took the aforementioned comic books as the base of the storyline than the books about Geralt. However, The Hexer had its moments, Michal Zebrowski as the main character wasn’t so bad and Grzegorz Ciechowski composed a very atmospheric music for the sake of the movie.

Dandelion, Geralt and Yennefer in the 2002 film / TV series. - 2016-01-12
Dandelion, Geralt and Yennefer in the 2002 film / TV series.

6. First The Witcher game from CD Projekt also has a long story

The first The Witcher video game was released in 2007 but it came a long way since the first project created at the beginning of the 21st century. Did you know that initially it was planned as a PC port of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance? CD Projekt was creating it in collaboration with Interplay, but at that time Brian Fargo’s company started to collapse and the project was shut down. However, Polish developer already had a portion of a working code so they decided to continue the work but with another license – and they bought rights to The Witcher, of course.

Initially the game wasn’t mentioned as a continuation of the story of Geralt of Rivia. We were supposed to play as Geralt’s “son” (a character created by player) and the White Wolf would appear just in certain points of the story. In the beginning, the game was developed in Lodz with the use of the Calaris IC engine (previously used in a FPS game Mortyr). Eventually, Ryszard Chojnowski - the new coordinator of the project - reevaluated the work and decided that The Witcher needs to be done from scratch.

The developing team was moved to Warsaw. There, CD Projekt RED studio started to shape the game that was eventually released. At E3 2003 the developers met with the representatives from BioWare and made a deal to use their engine, Aurora (known from Neverwinter Nights). Eventually, Geralt of Rivia became the main hero. Even Andrzej Sapkowski was partially involved in the project to help with names and the map, and to make a comment on the scenario. He was later stating that the game is a “high quality adaptation” but he never played it as “games are far from his sphere of interests”.

7. CD Projekt was going to port The Witcher on X360 and PS3

The Witcher was created as a PC game but sometime after the release CD Projet RED decided to also create console versions of the game (for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3). However, they weren’t just simple ports. The new project, called The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf, was supposed to have new controls and combat system, animations, enhanced graphics, the ability for Geralt to jump and so on. Unfortunately, the conversion was cancelled in 2009 due to problems with the French developer WideScreen Games which was contracted to make Rise of the White Wolf. Also global economic crisis left its mark on CD Projekt forcing the developer to cut some of their plans.

8. The video game can’t be sequel to the books, says Sapkowski

The first video game from CD Projekt RED is set five years after the events described in Lady of the Lake and it has form of a direct sequel to the books – it continues the story of Geralt of Rivia and uses open plots from novels (especially The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does it). However, Andrzej Sapkowski declines to accept games as a continuation to his work. He often repeats that there is no such thing as “media convergence” and in his opinion different types of work (books, films, games, etc.) cannot be considered as directly related. “The game cannot be canonical and it cannot be considered as canonical. The game’s world and the literature’s world are two entirely different things”, he said once.

In other words, if Sapkowski ever decided to write what happened to Geralt and his friends after the events of Lady of the Lake, he won’t pay the slightest attention to what CD Projekt RED did with his world in video games. Fortunately, the Polish novelist also repeats often that he considers Saga definitely closed and he’s not going to ruin its mysterious ending by writing what happened next.

9. The creator of intros for games is directing a new The Witcher movie

Tomasz Baginski was nominated for an Oscar in 2013 for a short animation called The Cathedral, you can download the full movie from Platige Image's page. One of the brightest points in Tomasz Baginski’s and his company Platige Image’s gaming career is an intro for The Witcher (2007). Later they also created opening sequences for Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and The Witcher 3 but by that time they became international professionals, working, among others, with Creative Assembly (cinematic trailer for Total War: Warhammer), Electronic Arts (a commercial for FIFA 14). As a result, it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm we felt when it was revealed in 2014 that Tomasz Baginski is going to be the director of a new movie set in the world of The Witcher.

Unfortunately, not much is known about this project yet. Baginski revealed that he is collaborating with Sean Daniel Company (The Mummy) and he has a 20 to 30 million dollar budget. The movie could be released in 2017 but for now the director is preparing to start shooting (he’d like to do it in Poland or/and Eastern Europe) and to reveal the cast (spring 2016). We also know that the storyline of the film is based on short stories The Witcher and Lesser Evil from the collection The Last Wish but it will be only the beginning of the whole series of movies (or perhaps an introduction to a TV series).

There is one problem, though. Baginski’s project probably won’t be called The Witcher as CD Projekt RED is the owner of this name and the director didn’t request the right to use it. Perhaps the filmmaker is going to give his work some other title… or he just didn’t start negotiating with CD Projekt just yet. We believe that if Baginski managed to convince Andrzej Sapkowski to give him the rights to make a new movie (after the novelist’s very bad experiences with the aforementioned The Hexer), he also won’t have any problem with the developers.

10. The Witcher is coming to a theatre in Poland

And last but not least, an interesting fact about the career of The Witcher as a brand. Polish IMKA Theatre is going to create a dramatic adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s work, called simply The Witcher. It’s directed by a pretty experienced playwright Pawel Swiatek and it’s going to be released in 2016. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet anything else about the play.

Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com

Christopher Mysiak

Christopher Mysiak

A scholar, librarian, wannabe witcher, and a gentleman. Cars, guns and swords are his things, as are deep stories about serious stuff.


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