It seems The Witcher 3 graphics controversy never ends, and it is for good reason. Recently it has been quite apparent to a lot of people with footage showing up all over the web of newer PC build gameplay demos supposedly running on ULTRA on the PC (Poland preview event) which pales in comparison to the 2013 gameplay trailer. We contacted our insider who provided us information on The Division downgrade and apparent delay into 2016 months ago – who managed to connect us with someone in the know-how at CD Projekt RED last night to further explain the situation and set the record straight.
Here is simply what they had to say in regards to the whole thing (we advise everyone to take it with a grain of salt, despite having vetted their identity ourselves):
2013 was a tough time for CD Projekt RED simply because we were trying to create an entire bulk of the game on the older DirectX 9 renderer that we had in place for The Witcher 2. Most of the assets were created during the time we were creating our DX11 solution render pipeline to bring the next-generation experience to everyone. A lot of the footage including the debut gameplay trailer was done when the consoles were not even out and we only had an idea of the specifications of the system. This landed itself into problem territory when we realized the next-generation systems could not simply meet our graphical output to the desirable level of quality that we needed. There were several options: build three different builds or consolidate to the nearest denominator, which is what we did. We took the specifications of the lowest performing throughput system which I don’t care to mention here at all to avoid that discussion, and worked our way up from there. As almost a 250 man team, we sequentially had to take out/turn down a lot of features not just from our NVIDIA GameWorks pipeline but our normal game solution scripts as well – these include the following:
Level of horizon detail (essentially the draw distance had to be completely tuned down to tax the consoles less)
Volume based translucency
Ambient occlusion and foliage density / tree count
Flexible water simulation / tessellation we resorted to a (script texture effect similar to most games than physical based simulation)
Forward lit soft particles (this is the fire, smoke, fog that you would encounter while going through thick terrain into open space)
Real-time reflections in the water are completely off and replaced with a cheaper render solution estimator (this is a primary reason blood splatter was also removed from water)
We just did not have the manpower, budget or the console power to produce the vision we intended before the consoles were released to create a more visually stunning game of higher fidelity like 2013 assets. The PCs themselves had more than enough power to achieve this vision, almost certainly. But working on the game across 3 platforms did not make it feasible to keep features included that could potentially break the game as we kept building around it. All the 2013 trailers were actually in-game footage (not prerendered or vertical slices) but essentially just not an entirely finished world running on a high-end PC at the time.
When questioned as to why CD Projekt RED’s community managers have denied that “there will be no downgrade” and that there has not been one (as if this hardly a smart answer to anyone with a pair of eyes):
In game development you simply just don’t explain it like this. It isn’t something a developer ever wants to admit to because it would make us look bad even if it is plain as day. It would make us seem like we’re incapable and that next-gen is not as next-gen as people would think. The team would rather focus on the positives than admit to any faults, negatives, or that the final product is not the vision they intended politically speaking (because the game still looks good but not 2013 good). As for the PC version, it looks just like the console versions just with a higher resolution and a lower-form of HairWorks in effect.
Again, because I cannot reveal the identity of this developer for obvious reasons, I can tell anyone out there interested to take this whole thing with a grain of salt. But likewise, take any talks of “nothing has been downgraded” since 2013 with the same amount of salt as well from CD Projekt RED.
Update: Lots of e-mails pouring in. Just to make it clear to people – if you take a look at The Witcher 3: Killing Monsters trailer you will notice something peculiar in the intro. Or if you cannot do that – take a look at this:
We here at WhatIfGaming do not need publicity. Game developers need our publicity. Our job here is just to report what we know and can verify for the best interest of the public. That is all.
Update # 2:
Eurogamer posted an article with CD Projekt RED admitting this downgrade just as we wrote it. To all the naysayers: remember who we are. We are the voice of truth.