Creating The Fierce Women Of The Witcher

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When most people think of The Witcher, they immediately think of its powerful antihero, Geralt of Rivia. However, he has three intriguing women at his side fighting the harsh realities of its brutal universe. The kind-hearted Triss, sarcastic Yennefer, and rebellious Ciri are all important to the narrative, and each has her own motivations and struggles to overcome a discriminatory society and the world’s greater dangers. While CD Projekt Red could have kept the narrative centered on Geralt, instead it saw value in exploring the individual complexities of each woman. In the end, the writing team created three fascinating characters – so much so we couldn’t resist finding out how they approached their arcs, giving all of them their own places to shine.

Going Beyond The Books CD Projekt’s Witcher series is based on the best-selling novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish writer often compared to J.R.R. Tolkien. Sapkowski laid the groundwork for all the characters in the Witcher universe, something that CD Projekt respects and tries not to wander too far from. The personalities have to match and fall in line with how the characters have been presented by Sapkowski. However, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt takes place after the books, forcing the writers to ask the question: How did the characters grow in the time that has passed since the novels?

Ciri, in particular, was a child at the start of the books and a teenager when they ended. CD Projekt Red had the task of showing her as a maturing woman. “With Ciri we had the most freedom and it was also the biggest challenge, because she is a very different character,” says senior writer Jakub Szamałek. “Now, she’s grown up; she’s been through a lot of things so we wanted to create a character who is aware of her special place in the world, but who doesn’t want to accept it.”

For Triss and Yennefer, the personalities stayed on point from the books, but CD Projekt Red added new dimensions to them by giving each unique struggles. Yennefer has always been a colder character, but her desperate search for Ciri brings out a more caring and motherly side to her. Whereas Triss finds herself caught up in a political struggle in which a new leader in Novigrad is persecuting mages. Her caring nature goes into overdrive, throwing her into a leadership role to help save their lives.

While CD Projekt Red gave each woman her own trials, a common thread brings them all together: their relationships with each other and Geralt. CD Projekt Red knew with the expansive game it planned to create it couldn’t have the main plot be something abstract like killing a certain monster or about politics; the centerpiece had to be emotional. That’s how Ciri became the link that would make all their paths cross.

Triss is like a sister figure to Ciri, while Geralt and Yennefer have a more parental relationship with her. “It had to be someone close to Geralt, and Ciri is without a doubt the most important character in the Witcher saga,” Szamałek says. “We knew this would be the fi nal installment in Geralt’s adventures, so we felt that we had to bring her up and make her the key to the story to this final installment of Geralt’s saga.”

Writing Characters As People

It may seem like a no-brainer, but CD Projekt Red’s core philosophy is to make sure every character has a place in the story. This extends to NPCs. “When creating characters, both major characters and really insignifi cant ones, we want to give them their own aims, goals, and ambitions,” Szamalek says. “They’re always up to something. They aren’t there just for the player to interact with, they are always scheming and doing their own things.”

This mantra extends to The Witcher 3’s leading ladies. “For us, Triss, Yennefer, and Ciri just are people, not plot devices,” says writer Karolina Stachyra. “Our only consideration was to give each of them as much time in the quests as possible to show who they are and why they are so interesting and important for Geralt.”

To CD Projekt Red, creating interesting characters means making them fl awed and realistic. Similar to the moral ambiguity in the choices you make, characters also must refl ect that. “We focus on creating interesting characters and if someone is an interesting person, he or she has to have shades of gray – because this is what makes us human,” Stachyra says.

Szamalek thinks it’s important that the lead characters’ personalities add contrast against the harsh landscape and awful people in it, while still maintaining their own rough edges. “It’s important that the characters you interact the most with are likeable, but that doesn’t mean that they all have to be Mary Sues and they all have to be ideal, nice, warm, a nd cuddly.”

Triss, Ciri, and Yennefer all have their likeable qualities, but they’re far from idealized. Ciri can be reckless, Yennefer is detached, and Triss is sometimes too kind for her own good. These flaws enable CD Projekt to put them in interesting situations.

Triss isn’t a natural born leader, but when the mages are being persecuted in Novigrad and no one steps up to protect them she steps into that role and must cope with the heavy responsibility. On the other hand, Yennefer aligns with unpredictable political leaders, letting her guard down all in the name of finding Ciri. These women don’t exist merely for Geralt. While he’s on his journey, they’re having their own experiences, fighting their own battles.

Overcoming

The Harsh World The Witcher’s world is grim and brutal. Similar to George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the backdrop is full of horrible circumstances and uncomfortable situations. CD Projekt Red has maintained Sapkowski’s vision from his books, right down to the violent and shocking moments.
Sapkowski’s creation was heavily influenced by Slavic mythology; the fantasy setting is in archaic times where outmoded attitudes in regards to women were prevalent and class divisions are ever present. Even more so, non- humans are not treated kindly, such as when we see Geralt getting called a “freak” or worse at times. When you enter this world, you must be prepared for the bleakness.

For some players, it’s been hard to watch these primitive attitudes surface and seeing characters, women in particular, being treated poorly. “The world of The Witcher is a horrible place,” Szamalek admits. “I’d never want to live there. It’s full of violence, of racism, of sexism as well. The world is a grim place with all of these horrible things going on, but I think you’d have to have a lot of bad will to think this is how we as writers or developers of the game think that’s how things should work out.”

While CD Projekt Red is quick to say it’s not an ideal world and it doesn’t think what occurs in it is right, it does create strong characters who persevere in spite of these unjust circumstances for that very reason. Yennefer, Triss, and Ciri all hold important positions in the world and rise above the evil pitted against them. They’re capable on and off the battlefield. Yennefer doesn’t wait for Geralt; she runs ahead to find Ciri, using her talents in political scheming to find answers.

“Against this backdrop, we put characters that we sympathize with, that we like,” Szamalek says. “These characters are often women. They have an opportunity to be important, both for the story of Geralt and be strong characters in their own right. They manage to overcome all the differences and prejudices inherent in this world.” From the beginning, CD Projekt Red has always wanted to remain true to Sapkowski’s source material and show respect for it. For Szamalek and his writing team, it’s been a tough balancing act. “We want to tell an emotional, grim story set in a morally bleak world and we didn’t want to punch in kiddie gloves just because it’s a video game,” he says. “We didn’t shy away from some controversies because it’s easier or safer to do so. It’s a game that can last for up to 200 hours, and we haven’t got solutions for everything. Sometimes we didn’t quite strike the right tone and we’ve always acknowledged that we are not perfect and our games are not perfect, but overall we managed to tell a mature story which respects its characters even though they might end up in horrific circumstances.”

Providing A Building Block

CD Projekt Red broke new ground in the RPG genre with its work on The Witcher franchise, innovating in areas of choice and mature storytelling. Not many games have challenged players with such distressing scenarios or mastered the art of ambiguous decisions. To buy into this world, you have to care about it; you need these characters and their plights to matter. The writing stands out for that very reason. The previous Witcher games may not have set a high bar with its female characters and their representations, but The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt takes big strides thanks to Triss, Ciri, and Yennefer. CD Projekt Red aims to continue writing intriguing female characters like them and only hopes to grow from here.

“It is very important to talk about gender issues within the game industry, and we are happy to be part of the discussion,” Szamalek says. “The fact that we have so much to talk about – this is why it’s so important that we have strong female characters. It’s indicative of a problem, that there aren’t enough strong female characters. It should be natural that games have strong female characters. We are happy to provide a little building block toward that goal

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