The Witcher 2: World Building Blog Post

The CD Projekt RED blog is hosting a new post concerning world-building in their most recent title, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and it looks like it's just the first part of a series of posts on the subject. Here's an excerpt from it:
Creating something gamers will enjoy is a long process. The game doesn't begin on high-end rigs, but on paper. In our case, it begins in the STORY department. That's where the first ideas for The Witcher world sprang to life. This is a long and complicated process, but defines everything that will happen later. Their work is the base for the whole studio and later influences the work of everyone else in it. Sometimes, of course, we have to remove certain elements of this foundation, because they don't fit into the whole structure. We have to be 100% sure, that we want a specific element in the game.

But this is just the first step. Once all the teams know where are we headed, we start to create prototypes. This takes place in each team. The design team pens down the quests and develops the main storyline, the programmers code the first tools depending on the other departments' demands and needs. Cut-scene artists draw the storyboards. Gameplay designers plan the movement mechanics, combat and other ways to make the world more alive (e.g. how do the background characters work?).

Concept artists draw maps of locations based on quest descriptions together with the first impressions of characters and monsters.

Character artists look for ways to reflect personalities of different people, concentrating on those which are the most important to the storyline.

Location artists create the first 3D maps using the REDengine, which is an excellent tool for creating vast locations. This is the moment my team steps in. When we have the first sketches we can see how the world will look in 3D. We define the size of the gameplay area, thus setting the area the player will be able to explore. We determine what we want the player to feel when he or she walks up a hill or descends into a valley. After we combine our work with all the story and gameplay guidelines, we see a world teeming with life, no longer an empty visualization.