The Witcher 2 Deep-dive Roundtable Interview Part 3

May 18, 2011

By Jimmy Thang

Note: This is the final part in our three-part Witcher 2 deep-dive interview. For information on the game's improved gameplay mechanics, story, and world, click here. For a retrospective discussion on the humble beginnings of CD Projekt RED STUDIO and why they've decided to be a PC-centric developer, see here.

Back in the 1990s, the PC used to be a hotbed for exclusive RPGs. With game engines becoming much more multiplatform-friendly over recent years, it's been hard enough finding an exclusive PC RPG, much less a good one. So when an unknown polish developer known as CD Projekt RED STUDIO released their critically-acclaimed The Witcher RPG in 2007, the game delightfully shocked the PC world. Based on the fantastical fiction established by esteemed Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the game was praised for its presentation, mature themes, deep storyline, and wonderfully realized world. With the game's follow-up, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, CD Projekt RED STUDIO aims to make the experience bigger, better, and more polished than ever. had the opportunity to conduct a deep-dive interview with a host of the company's developers including Producer Tomasz Gop, Level Designer Marek Ziemak, Graphics Programmer Bartłomiej Wroński and Technical Producer Grzegorz Rdzany to see how they went about achieving these goals.

In the final part of our three-part discussion, the team delves into the presentational aspects of The Witcher 2 which include graphics, art, and sound. The game is aiming to be the best-looking RPG you've ever played and powering it all is CD Projekt's proprietary RED Engine. The developers delve into what this tech will mean for GeForce card owners.

Moving on to the game's technical prowess, given that it would probably me much cheaper to use other existing game engines, why did you guys decide to invest in and build your own "RED Engine?"

Bartłomiej Wroński: One of the main reasons that we decided to create our own engine was that it gave us different new possibilities for creating a role playing RPG game. There were a lot of great engines in the market that we find very good for action games or first-person shooter games and they are great engines, but still, we are creating a role-playing game and we wanted [an] engine to have features that allow our designers and level artist to create a non-linear game in a much more easy way. This way, creating quests or creating monsters or writing artificial intelligence or creating different items or combat system [will be] much easier for them and we still did this without sacrificing the graphics quality because we also designed our own renderer, our own rendering engine.

Powered by the new RED ENGINE, The Witcher 2 aims to be the best-looking RPG you've ever seen.

From what I've seen of the game, it looks gorgeous. Will you guys be licensing the RED Engine out?

Tomasz Gop: It sounds like a natural or good or reasonable idea, but with the development process of the Witcher 2 being so tight on schedule, [because of the development of] the Witcher 2, we did not get any chance [to] think or even speak to anyone about it. So if that will happen, it might in the future. I seriously don’t know. We needed a proof of concept first to show that its capable of at least holding one game, and then maybe somebody will come to us and say, "Hey, we want to give you 5 million dollars. Please let us use this engine." Then we will start talking.

Tomasz has said in the past that The Witcher 2 is going to be the best-looking RPG thus far. Considering those are quite bold claims, how do you guys plan on backing that up?

Bartłomiej Wroński: I think that our rendering engine has all the features that are required in the current most advanced rendering engines. It supports fully dynamic lighting, thing like ambient occlusion, we have Bokeh filming depth of field affects and other cool features and actually, I didn’t see them in any role-playing game that’s currently released and by now we have the best-looking role-playing game and that may change in the future. …[Along with our engine], the work of our artists provide one of the most beautiful gaming experience in role-playing games.

Will the game take advantage of higher-end graphics cards?

Bartłomiej Wroński: Yes, of course. The visual quality is fully scalable so if you have a two year old graphics card you can run the game, you can say the graphics look really nice, but still, if you have one of the most current cards like the most current NVIDIA cards, especially the ones that connect in SLI, you can turn on some extra features that are extremely power-demanding that will make the game look really nice like the bokeh depth of field effects. It’s a new effect I didn’t see it any game yet. We've seen in some tech demos of Unreal Engine, but I didn’t see it in any actual game yet and so we have our own rendering mode called "Uber Sampling." It's a form of, it’s a bit like super sampling anti-aliasing but way, way better, you have to see it for yourself to know what I'm talking about.

Could you try describing its added visual effects?

Bartłomiej Wroński: It’s a total lack of aliasing. It's better than any hardware anti-aliasing, and the increase of detail and textures and everything …you can see our screenshot for a reference of how our mode looks like.

The brand new RED Engine will feature dynamic lighting, ambient occlusion, "uber sampling," (an extreme antialiasing measure), and bokeh depth of field.

How do you go about designing a game that will take advantage of high-end hardware while being scalable enough to work on older tech?

Bartłomiej Wroński: Actually it's not difficult to make a game scalable because it all depends on the engine. Graphics artists and level artists make the game content only once. We make the game engine that supports scalability so the artists don’t have to do their work twice for low-end machines and high-end machines. It's our engine that does all this necessary work.

One negative effect that that the old Aurora engine [what powered BioWare's Neverwinter Nights games] had on the first game pertained to its constant loading times. With the game being more graphically intense, will this still be an issue with the sequel?

Bartłomiej Wroński: I think we were aware of that, so one of the main things we were thinking about in the beginning was to lower those loading times or get rid of them. That was the idea. We wrote the engine from beginning, aware of the fact that the loading times were terrible in The Witcher one. It was one of the main costs of using another engine, not our own engine so we couldn’t do anything about it. Making The Witcher 2 was [also] making a new game engine from scratch. We could do a lot about it so we really cared and now I think the loading times are extremely short. Every resource used by [the] game is prepared. The way that it loads is much faster, and we have a lot of streaming in the background instead of annoying loading screens.

Marek Ziemak: So if your PC is good enough, you won't probably see those loadings. Of course you will see something at the beginning of every chapter. That’s like a huge change in the game, but while playing in the level, most of the players won't probably even notice those streamings in the background.

The Witcher 2 will support NVIDIA 3D Vision, Surround, and SLI.

So what was it like working with NVIDIA? How did the company assist you in development?

Bartłomiej Wroński: Well, we [got] lots of help from NVIDIA engineers. They helped us, for example, to implement NVIDIA 3D Vision and it looks really nice in our game. They have helped us develop NVIDIA Surround and they provided lots of technical help, for example, for optimization for NVIDIA cards to make the game run very nice on new GeForce cards to make it fully scalable in SLI and also they provided us with cool equipment like 3D monitors and 3D glasses.

In regards to 3D, how do you guys feel about this feature and was it hard to implement into the game?

Bartłomiej Wroński: Well, thanks to NVIDIA, it wasn’t hard to implement. We have very nice help from them, from their engineers. What do we feel about it? Well, you have to see for yourself. It looks really cool and lots of people say it may be the future of gaming.

Technical proficiencies aside, the game's art style looks fantastic. Was the game inspired by anything in particular?

Marek Ziemak: …We have a lot of great concept artists so that’s a great beginning and that’s how most of the ideas are born. They're just creating the world in their mind and then drawing all of those different things. We have a lot of great concepts and another level is of course creating those 3D meshes and textures. That’s where the 3D artists come into action. I think we have many really creative people and they like the things they do. They watch a lot of movies, read books. It's harder to give you various examples of the things that really affect the visual style of The Witcher. We're looking at all the other games and movies and taking the parts we like and then try to apply them into the game and recreate them into The Witcher's reality.

Bartłomiej Wroński: And I think also one important thing is that we were aware of the fact that the artists [have] different visions of different places and we wanted to create a technology that supports it, and all of our processing on our renderer can create very different moods from every location. For example, one location with the same meshes and same textures can look extremely different at night during the day. It can also look very different during gameplay. I don't want to spoil anything but one location, we can see it in different conditions and our technology, our post processing allows us and our artists to achieve this; to achieve different moods, like we see in movies.

Marek Ziemak: Yea. That’s definitely true, so thanks to this technology we're able to use most of the same assets and multiply it in different places and players won't probably know that those are the same meshes and textures used because of the change of lighting, environment, fog and all those settings. We have like a million different weather and parameters we can tweak. There's a lot to be done when you're creating a level, but the effects are really great thanks to the technology.

Backing the fantastical visuals well be epic music and well-fitted voice acting and sound effects.

In terms of sound, on the audio front, the voice acting and music in the original game was fantastic. Are you guys using the same studio and composer for the sequel?

Grzegorz Rdzany: We are not using the same studio and the same guys. The game is completely different for the sound, but still, they've achieved, I think, even better results than The Witcher one. The music and sounds are really well fitted into the world. So we're very happy with the sound and music. Voice acting is very important to us. We were very careful with casting, with choosing the right actors for different characters. This part of the game was made extremely carefully and I think that players will enjoy listening to the voices, the sounds, and the music.

My last question, with the development of the game over, what's next for CD Projekt RED STUDIO?

Marek Ziemak: Selling the game! *laughs*

Grzegorz Rdzany: We can not reveal future plans because they are not announced. You can be sure that we have new ideas we want to try and new things we want to do. We won't be sitting and resting after The Witcher 2. We will be doing some other projects.

Thanks for the interview, guys.

To read part one of the interview where we talk about the games world, story, and nonlinear design, click here. For a retrospective discussion and why CD Projekt RED STUDIO decided to be such a PC-centric developer, click here.