Despite being one of the best games in recent memory, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been marred in the same type of graphics controversies responsible for pulverizing past games like Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs.
The final version of Witcher 3 looks markedly different than the remarkable preview footage that was unveiled at VGX 2013, and throughout the game’s development cycle, fans have noticed these disparities and voiced their concerns.
Although the game is still amazing even with the changes, many gamers feel they’ve fallen prey to the game industry’s infamous “bait and switch” tactic: building hype while taking pre-orders, delaying the game, and releasing a finished product that doesn’t resemble the game you were promised.
Up until now CD Projekt RED has been stalwart in their affirmations that changes, not downgrades, have occurred.
“No…We are not downgrading it,” the devs stated during the game’s first delay. “We are optimizing the game but in a way that doesn’t affect the visuals.”
But now that the game is out, players have held up a magnifying glass to investigate every little detail across all platforms, adding even more credence to the downgrade scenario.
The general consensus about the controversy is that that the PC version of Witcher 3 was held back because CDPR had to optimize the game across PS4 and Xbox One, and rather than playing favorites, the studio decided to make the game equal across all platforms, thereby downgrading the PC version considerably.
You can see many of the differences for yourself in this massive Imgur gallery or below in the side-by-side comparison video that puts the final PC game up against the VGX 2013 trailer:
Armed with these findings, the controversy continues to spread like wildfire, all but forcing the developers to come forth and explain why the early trailers don’t resemble the finalized game.
According to Marcin Iwinski, co-founder of CD Projekt RED, the VGX 2013 trailer of Witcher 3 was just a pre-packaged “tradeshow build” meant to show off the game and didn’t necessarily resemble the finalized build.
“If you’re looking at the development process, we do a certain build for a tradeshow and you pack it, it works, it looks amazing,” Marcin Iwinski, co-founder and co-CEO of CD Projekt RED, told Eurogamer.
“And you are extremely far away from completing the game.
“Then you put it in the open-world, regardless of the platform, and it’s like ‘oh shit, it doesn’t really work’. We’ve already showed it, now we have to make it work. And then we try to make it work on a huge scale. This is the nature of games development.”
Also Philipp Webb, the Witcher 3‘s quest designer, affirms that CDPR didn’t switch the textures between the VGX build and the final game.
The reason the VGX 2013 trailer looks so good is due to a distinct sharpening filter that was optimized for screenshots and short videos, but isn’t so good for long-term gameplay sessions.
So in the final build, CDPR had to switch off this sharpening filter–but Webb says that PC gamers will be able to turn the filter back on.
“We never switched the textures. On pc, you now have the option to activate “Ultra” quality textures with the full resolution.
“However, the difference that many people see with new and old footage was a strong sharpening filter in 2013 that looks awesome on screenshots and in short videos, but strains the eyes after a short while if there is a lot of movement (leaves and grass swaying in the wind as an example).
“That’s why it was decided to tone that effect down.
“However, people who really want to have it can of course use the Redkit to change the environment settings. It’s just a matter of taste. ; )”
Back to the claims that the PS4 and Xbox One are holding the game back, Marcin Iwinski states that it’s entirely the opposite, in terms of funding.
The exec clearly says that without consoles “there is no Witcher 3 as it is”. Without the revenue generated by multi-platform pre-orders and sales CDPR would never have been able to afford the development for the game.
But Iwinski does acquiesce that if TW3 was a PC only game, the team “probably could get more in terms of graphics”.
“I cannot argue – if people see changes, we cannot argue.”
At this point everyone knows–including CDPR–that there are disparities in the footage. The answer of whether or not the game was downgraded is still kind of a grey area, as it’s really answerable with just yes or no. The game has changed, and is different, but not necessarily downgraded.
“I cannot argue – if people see changes, we cannot argue,” CDPR’s Adam Badowski said in the same interview with Eurogamer. “But there are complex technical reasons behind it.
“Maybe it was our bad decision to change the rendering system because the rendering system after VGX was changed.”
Many people saw CD Projekt RED’s insistence on no downgrades or technical-laden responses to be a sort of damage control, which many studios behind big-name AAA games conduct on forums and the like. Some gamers saw this as dancing around the point and trying to purposely mislead gamers, and that CDPR had something to hide.
So why didn’t the devs just spill the beans and deliver straightfoward answers?
“Frankly speaking because we didn’t see it as a problem.
“You’re saying that we should have said ‘hey we’ve changed stuff and now it looks like this’? …We are not trying to hide anything.
“We don’t feel good about it, and I treat it very personally. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way because we run around like crazy at the release but…
“In a way, because of us not seeing it as a problem, and working hard on the game until the very end, that’s where we are today and that’s why we have to explain. I hope it shows our intentions, because we are not hiding anything. Considering our values, hiding is the last thing we ever want to do.”
Just as The Witcher 3, every game goes through dramatic changes during its development process. Ultimately CD Projekt RED had to make a hard decision on what was more important, graphical fidelity or performance, and as every other dev would, they chose performance.
That being said it is understandable why gamers are reticent. Just because The Witcher 3 is an amazing game doesn’t mean we shouldn’t catalog and be aware of these changes, and scrutinize certain aspects of how games are marketed.
However in this case I feel that the graphics downgrade controversy is more of a testament to the current exploitative trends of the industry as a whole rather than the possible subterfuge of a single development team.
Read More: The Witcher 3 Controversy Sucks
Too often gamers are wooed with smoke and mirrors and encouraged to pre-order games that ultimately won’t ever exist based on dramatized footage that’s specifically created to net pre-orders.
In short, the industry is positioned in such a way where it profits off of misleading gamers, but at the same time, the very hype that these games create can very much crush the projects, so studios/publishers have to walk a tightrope lest they be destroyed by the very thing they hope to exploit.
Although CD Projekt RED is a developer that makes money the same way that other devs do–season passes, pre-orders based on teaser footage, etc–they’ve made a clear commitment to the game and to their constituency.
The devs will continue to optimize new features and tweak the game in the coming months, and have ” a lot of stuff” to add in the PC version. Feedback is important to them, and in the future players will be able to tweak .ini files on the PC version and there’s a huge new patch to boot.
All that being said, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is still an incredible game in every respect. While it does look different than what was explicitly advertised two years ago, I believe it’s still genuinely worth your time and money.