‘Blood And Wine’ And Beyond: ‘Witcher 3’ VFX Artist Talks Final ‘Wild Hunt’ DLC, ‘Cyberpunk 2077’

During PAX East 2016, CD Projekt Red released new screenshots from the final expansion for the critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, titled Blood and Wine. One look at the images revealed a seemingly quaint new destination for Geralt of Rivia: Toussaint. The environment appeared so tame, it was somewhat eerie. Then, there was the disturbing forum-exclusive screenshot that confirmed a darker side to Blood and Wine. Although more details about the DLC won’t be released until May, the Inquisitr sat down with Visual Effects Artist Jose Teixeira to find out more about the visual magic it took to create The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt — Blood and Wine, plus a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at what’s going on with CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077.

Witcher 3 Blood and Wine VFX
Interview with CD Projekt Red VFX Artist Jose Teixeira. [Photo by Asma M.]

To get things started, what has it been like working on this new expansion?

“It’s very good. I think we finally get the hang of how these things work; we’re finally getting the hang of these video games. [Laughs] As cliché as this sounds, it was a big learning experience for us. [Wild Hunt] was a really huge game, even a little bit overwhelming, to everybody involved. So, [with] these expansions, we took everything we learned from [Wild Hunt] and made it a little bit better. For example, I am a part of the environment team, so all the aspects of the environment were done a little bit more effectively [in each expansion] and we have really, really beautiful environments and lighting. Everything seems to be a little bit upgraded from the main [game;] — not to say, by no means, that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an ugly game or something — but, everything is a little bit better [after] taking in all those lessons.

“Everything keeps improving and the cycle repeats itself. Working on these expansions is another learning experience. You learn what else you can improve and what you cannot. It’s funny; it’s a permanently iterative process where you keep doing things, trying to make it a little bit better and a little bit more, and learning in the process.”

Very cool. So, The Witcher 3 was designed for the current gen, and at the time it was going to be the “next-gen.” What’s that process like once you’re in the new generation? How do you go about pushing the boundaries of what the hardware can do?

“That’s a very good question, actually. The funny thing is that since with the hardware, let’s say it’s permanent, or relatively permanent and it doesn’t really change much, we find these things, — and you would expect this not to happen — but we really do find these things, like, ‘Whoa, actually I can do a lot more with the same amount of resources.’ It’s very weird. You have to do things once. And then, you look back at what you did and figure out, ‘Oh, I can cut this part. I can improve this part.’ And, you know, [there are] so many things that we’ve tweaked.

“I don’t want to get too technical, but we figured out a clever way of packaging the materials and the shaders that are used in the game. We had done it previously for The Witcher: Wild Hunt. Then, in the expansion packs, we figured out a new way to do it that is much more effective. So, then that gave us even more performance. It’s super weird that you do something, and then you look back at what you did, and you figure out all the ways to do the same — or even more — with less resources.”

Witcher 3 Blood And Wine -- Toussaint

That’s really awesome. And, the environment in the new expansion is a little bit happier, and it has this character to it. So, share a little bit about creating the character of this new environment.

“Yeah, exactly. That’s a very good point. This environment kind of is a character in itself. Because our previous expansion, the Hearts of Stone expansion, it took place on an existing environment, so we kind of focused more on the quests and so on. In this new expansion, Blood and Wine, there is a brand new environment, which is this beautiful sort of Southern European-inspired environment. [It] actually contrasts with the rest of the environments of The Witcher: Wild Hunt because The Witcher: Wild Hunt takes place on this sort of war torn country, and in comparison, this expansion, Blood and Wine, takes place in this beautiful, has-never-seen-conflict [locale.] So, everything is beautiful. Vineyards, castles, palaces, and everything. And everyone has a great time and is relaxed.

“Of course, there’s a lot more to it. This is only skin deep. There’s a lot more happening underneath; but, still, it’s a super fun environment and it was very nice to do such a contrast, such a beautiful contrast. I mean, — of course, you know I’m biased saying this since I work on the game — it’s beautiful, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m actually curious to see what people can do. Recently, it’s been crazy since they introduced some modifications to the game that allow you to have a free camera and basically take in-game photos. People, you can call them in-game photographers, take these ridiculously beautiful images of the game. It’s even better than our own official marketing material. And I think they’re gonna have a great time with this environment, ’cause it’s really beautiful. Almost every point of view gives you a tremendous, beautiful view of the scenery and they are gonna have a great time with it. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do.”

Is there a specific area or object that you got to work on and create that you feel particularly proud of and that you want fans to look out for? That you can say, obviously.

“I really like it, but I can’t because it’s a spoiler. Oh, man. At this point, it’s part of a quest. It’s really fun; everything changes a little bit. It’s really fun, and it was quite a fun thing to do.”

Okay. So, is this really going to be the last expansion for The Witcher 3?

“Yeah, we plan on it being the last one. Everybody is really excited about our next project, Cyberpunk 2077. We’re really looking forward to it. I can’t wait to start working on it. It’s such a change, as well, to this completely new thing. So, yeah, we’ll put The Witcher to rest for now and focus on Cyberpunk.”

Cyberpunk 2077
First artwork for 'Cyberpunk 2077.' [Image via CD Projekt Red]

As a VFX artist, how do you make that transition from working on something that’s somewhat historical and based in the past to something that’s completely in the future?

“Oh yeah, there’s gonna be some interesting Google searches happening for me soon. Because, it’s so different. You know, for The Witcher, I go looking [for] waterfalls, and rivers, and little clouds, and etc. For Cyberpunk, I don’t [yet] have an idea of the type of effects they want, but I’m sure it’s going to be something a lot more science fiction related. So, it’s going to be a completely different challenge for me. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Speaking of the future, VR is such a huge trend right now. Is that something you’ve looked into at all?

“We have and we love it… we absolutely love it. We actually have a VR device there, at our studio, and we use it from time to time. A lot of people have bought them and are super addicted to it. It’s super fun. We have no plans to [develop a VR title] at this moment. You know, I’m guessing it’s pretty difficult to develop for VR, as well, and right now we really have to focus on this role playing game. But, who knows about the future. Honestly, I have no idea. I wish that someday we’ll do it. For now, no plans, but we are huge fans of VR. Huge fans.”

Since you’re going to be moving from The Witcher to Cyberpunk, for The Witcher, you did have the original source material in terms of the story. Did you use that when you were creating the environments and things that you worked on? And then, what’s it going to be like not having that reference for Cyberpunk?

“Ah, that’s actually very interesting. So, the great thing about The Witcher was that there was already a big foundation of the story already laid out. Some relationships and some areas were already there. We sort of built upon them. We put faces to the books’ characters and we put images to locations. So, we gave an image to the ideas that people had. With Cyberpunk, it’s a little bit different. There’s a general idea of what the setting is, but we’re [making everything] from the start. And, I actually have to say — I mean, putting aside the fact that I’m a CD Projekt Red employee, and I sit there with and I see these guys working on it — it is absolutely fascinating seeing this type of thing being done from scratch. Because, you have to ask such direct questions, like, you have to ask, ‘What is this game about? What does this mean? What is the point of the game?’ You have to ask these crazy questions, like, ‘What will this game mean to the player? What is it supposed to feel like?” And people have to define it. Everything has to be extremely well-defined if we then are to build a game upon it. So, it is an utterly fascinating discussion happening at the moment. It helps a lot, of course, to have the foundation that The Witcher had with the books. But, I have to say that what is happening right now with Cyberpunk is really fascinating. It’s really, really good stuff.”

On the technical side, is there a new engine being built?

“Yeah, probably the biggest thing happening in our studio at the moment is that the software, our engine, is getting a pretty severe upgrade. I would say an upgrade and an update. It’s getting updated because as nice and as capable as the engine is, it’s already a few years old, which in game terms, it’s ancient technology. Might as well be banging rocks there, whoo. [Laughs] How can we even make a game? No, I’m kidding, it’s a perfectly capable engine. If anything, actually, this second expansion proves how much it can still do.

“By the end of The Witcher: Wild Hunt, because it was such a brutal project and everybody was [testing its limits], basically, we essentially broke our engine. We had to upgrade our engine mid-development in order to process the size of the game and that actually ended up being one of the reasons why we had to postpone the release of the game. We had to upgrade the system, because the game got so big that the game memory management system of the engine wasn’t working anymore. So, by the end of the [game’s development], pretty much everyone in the studio had a list of things that they wanted to either fix or improve within the engine, and it was just this gigantic list. The programmers went, like, ‘We’re gonna need a year to do it.’ And I was OK. That’s actually fine, because we just finished The Witcher, and were gonna make the expansions with the existing engine. So, this [gave them] the perfect year to upgrade. They’re doing a pretty enormous upgrade to the engine. I’m really looking forward to it because I’m a visual effects artist, and I’m getting a brand new visual effects editor, so I’m really happy with all the fancy new tools. So, yeah, we’re looking forward to it.”

Is there a specific new tool that you’re excited to start using, or anything that you think you can push the envelope with?

“Well, I really do hope that we get… Oh, boy, there’s so many things… Visual effects are super heavy in video games. They are performance heavy. That’s why you usually don’t see them. They’re sort of subtle. There are games with lots of effects, but when you have this [type of] open world game that’s gonna have lots of stuff happening on screen at the same time, you usually don’t see a lot of visual effects. So, if we manage to do the open world with lots of things happening on screen and [simultaneously have] lots of visual effects that would be a huge win for me. It would already be a huge win.”

Last question, what is the magic that you guys have at CD Projekt Red that maybe other studios don’t have? Or, maybe it’s just something special? What do you think that it is at your studio that has been able to help you make these fantastic games?

“Oh boy, this is gonna be a tough one to answer. To be honest, I don’t know. The weird thing is that all these things seem natural, they seem obvious, and it’s surprising to us. How is this not a thing? I mean, why would you want to monetize, for example, your game in a way that’s very obviously unfair? Or put a price on something that obviously doesn’t deserve that price? Or, I don’t know. There’s a lot of aspects that people just look at it and go, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.’ Fortunately, the members of the board of CD Projekt Red agree. That’s the general philosophy of the studio, to just give the players a lot of content.

“And, also, everybody at the studio is a huge gamer. Everybody. Actually, I still remember my job interview at CD Projekt Red, and that was the first question they asked, ‘Are you still a gamer and what games have you been playing lately?’ And it was a huge conversation on what games I have been playing. So, everybody’s a huge gamer and loves games. And… I’m working with a lot of people. Everybody has a different experience, but you really do feel like you’re working together toward a common goal of quality and content and everything. We just wanna treat people fairly and make a product that other people see value in.”

[Image via CD Projekt Red]