We’re just eleven meager days away from the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and considering that it’s a massive open world game in which magic plays an important role, I had a chat with Visual Effects Artist Jose Teixeira, asking him about what we can expect in terms of pyrotechnics from the massively anticipated RPG by CD Projekt RED.
Teixeira shared quite a few interesting technical details with his usual enthusiasm, and you can read what he told me just below:
Giuseppe: First of all, would you tell us about yourself, your role on The Witcher 3, and what you did before working on this game?
Jose Teixeira: So… I’m a visual effects artist! I did some weather and environmental effects, some magic spells, and all sorts of eye candy for cutscenes. Basically I’m the guy with the weirdest browser history you can imagine (searching for effects references can be quite a traumatic experience)!
Before working at CD Projekt Red, I worked for about five years doing 3D for television, advertising, music videos, and so on, and then I worked for four years at Epic Games Poland.
G: We’re almost at the end of the road. How does it feel to be so close to the culmination of years of hard work?
JT: We are nervous. Take the excitement of the fans patiently awaiting the release of the game, multiply that by a hundred, and that’s us! This type of suspense can’t be good for the heart. No matter how many times we say this, it sounds like a “marketing cliche” sentence, but this really was a game made by a bunch of gamers who just wanted to do a really excellent role playing game.
It was a relief to see the positive response from the journalists who had a chance to play the game, and we can only hope that positivity will continue! We really hope you will enjoy it, THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT!!! (dramatic chipmunk sound)
G: If I’m not wrong, you worked extensively on the game’s weather. Can you give us some details on how it works? How often can be expect weather conditions to change? and are there different settings for different region of the game’s world? Does snow actually accumulate on the ground when it snows?
JT: I did work a lot on the weather effect (not as much as I’d like to, I had tons of other things to do!). My intentions were very simple – to not use static textures, and to have a bit more variety and movement to the sky. We came up with a system that generates certain weather conditions based on probabilities, it’s a pretty cool system! Different places in the world experience different weather patterns, snow on colder areas, etc.
I went crazy with the “randomness” of the effects, and I had some feedback from our Environment Lead, who commented that layers of clouds were being mixed too randomly and didn’t always look good – it was better to have fewer weather patterns, but ensure they were consistent – fair enough… That actually makes a lot of sense.
JT: Hmm that one is more for gameplay designers… But as far as I know, the weather will not influence animal/monster encounters. They’ll be more affected by the time of day (I’m going to write that one down as another feature in future games).
G: Current generation consoles have a lot of memory, but compared to a modern gaming PC their CPU and GPU aren’t exactly top notch, even if optimization and the ability to code at a lower level helps. This means that games like The Witcher 3 can load a lot of assets into memory, but what about all the effects, particles, lighting, shaders and the other elements that require a lot of sheer power? Was it hard to squeeze all of those on PS4 and Xbox One?
JT: Oh boy, nothing like a question about hardware to summon the wrath of the fans! I shall attempt to answer this without people demanding my public execution. Was it hard to “fit” this game in consoles? Why yes, of course it was! And that’s the whole point! I’ll try to elaborate, without making it too boring: PCs evolve every year, so the limit to what we can do is constantly changing (believe it or not, that actually makes developing for pc quite difficult).
Consoles, on the other hand, are constants, so we know where the limits are, and it’s up to us to do as much as possible within them. That is a necessary challenge, and one that every gamer greatly benefits from.
Take the last generation consoles – compare a game from the first and the last year – it’s the same console, the same “performance limits”, yet the game looks so much better! Let’s think of it this way – The Witcher 3 is coming out on consoles that are about one and a half years old, and it already looks this good! Based on our experience making this game, the lessons we’ve learned, the ideas we already have to be able to do even more within these same limits… I, for one, am already super excited for the next couple of years.
G: While many focus a lot on pixel and polygon count, lighting is possibly the most important element in making a game look great. Could you give us some details about the lighting solutions and tech used in The Witcher 3? How much of it is dynamic, and how much is baked?
JT: Lighting is absolutely crucial! And making an open-world game with always changing lighting conditions was a huge challenge. Every light in the game is dynamic, even some effects cast lights too, you can walk up to almost every light source and extinguish or ignite its flame, nothing is baked!
We ended up not using Global Illumination, light bouncing and reflecting… this is similar to what I mentioned previously with visual effects, an area where things keep getting better every year, but these really cool solutions are still far too expensive to use in a complex game. So to add more detail to the lighting, the whole world is covered in “lighting and reflection” probes, that analyse the surrounding area and light it accordingly. It does a pretty good job.
G: I’ve been told water has been improved a lot since the build we were shown at the latest press events. What did that improvement entail? How much of your work on the weather system actually reflects on water, or influences it? and in which way?
JT: The water is one of those things that could be worked on forever! This is one thing that our Technical Art Director – awesome guy, btw – worked on extensively… adjusting the foam, the wave patterns, their reaction to the wind, sooo many things! We even have simulated ripples when characters walk on water, or generated by the boat… and the ocean shader, what a crazy complicated shader that is.
One of the latest tweaks to it was to add this “coloring” of the water as the ocean floor gets deeper, you go from transparent water to a very exotic turquoise tone, and finally to the dark blue tone in deeper waters. It looks super cool, especially in areas where the ocean floor is not too deep.
Some shaders are really great, one of our Technical Artists did an amazing looking ice shader, with some clever translucency effect… You have to see it, under certain lighting conditions looks absolutely fantastic! I know I’m an effects artist, and I know a bit about shaders… but these ones go way beyond my capabilities!
G: Draw distance is another element that contributes to make a open world really feel “open.” Just how far can we see in The Witcher 3? Does it vary with different weather conditions? Is it the same on all platforms, or is it different?
JT: As far as I know the draw distances are the same in every platform. Now of course it gets more complicated because it’s greatly affected by fog, and all those things, but in the more clear weather conditions, the visibility distance is pretty impressive!
G: One of my favorite weather conditions in games are thunderstorms. One day I was playing Driveclub, and thunder stroke the ground just a few meters from my car. That was quite the scare. Are lighting and thunder included in the game’s weather system? And if lightning is in, can it actually strike the ground close to the player?
JT: Aaaaahhhh thunder (now I’m stuck playing AC/DC in my head)! Short answer – yes and yes. We do have thunderstorms. The majority of them you’ll see far away, like in real life… However there will be some occasions where you’ll have lightning close to you! But only in some special moments, for added drama. Driveclub has fantastic weather effects, they were a huge inspiration for us! Again, the ideas for the future keep pouring.
G: Thanks a lot for your time. Do you have any parting words for our readers?
JT: Well, what can I say? We worked crazy hard on Wild Hunt, and we genuinely hope you enjoy it. As a gamer, I hate hearing those “absolute” sentences like “groundbreaking this” and “revolutionizing that”… How about this: give me a really good game! One that is interesting, well written, well made, a game that will serve as a reference for future role playing titles. I’m biased, of course… But I think we did exactly that.
As for us, CD Projekt Red, this was one hell of a learning experience. A gigantic game, made by a relatively small team (for a project this big and complex), no automated procedural systems, hand-made, hand-placed assets… In three years we upgraded and tweaked our engine so many times, we’ve lost count… And we already have such enormous lists of things to improve it even further… This is mindblowing.
Like I said, I’m super excited to see what comes next and what we’ll be able to pull off with all the lessons learned from this title. We can’t thank the fans enough for their constant support, and please, KEEP COMMENTING! We do actually read the feedback, and it does influence the game! We’re all gamers!