It was a very big deal when CD Projekt finally confirmed in March that The Witcher 4 (opens in a new tab) (not the official title, but what we’re rolling with at the moment) is in development. Also unexpected was the news that he is not developing the game using a new iteration of his REDengine, but will instead be using Unreal Engine 5. During the current state of Unreal (opens in a new tab) event, members of the studio explained why this change was made.
“There was a demo that happened last year, it was the medieval environment demo, where at one point there’s a billboard that looks oddly familiar to the things we have done in the past – which even has a sign that says ‘monster slayer wanted’,” Slama explains in the video. “And I’m like, ‘Hmm, are they trying to tell us, come on Unreal Engine, look at how great your games can be there? Was this whole demo made for this nefarious purpose? I don’t know, but it definitely caught my attention.”
Find out more about why @CDPROJEKTRED chose to use #UE5 to create new open-world games, including a new saga for The Witcher! 😻 pic.twitter.com/IVKFKljwf7April 5, 2022
This “Monster Slayer Wanted” image is actually from a multi-part tutorial, which you can see below, on creating medieval environments in Unreal Engine 4. Despite the specifics of the engine, this seems like a clear call of The Witcher, a fake medieval monster hunter who often takes up work on local billboards.
Of course, getting anyone’s attention is a long way from convincing studio management to switch to an all-new engine. REDengine has impressive capabilities, but building, maintaining, and upgrading it from game to game is a major drain on development resources. The move to Unreal Engine 5 allows CD Projekt to leave much of the engine-level development to Epic, allowing them to focus primarily on creating an actual game.
“Unreal Engine is like a toolbox that already has lots of features, lots of solutions, that allow teams to just try new things,” said Jakub Knapik, visual effects and lighting art director. “The fact that Unreal is already used by many teams around the world, many perspectives are thrown into the design of the tools, and that helps the tool to be much more agile.”
Here is that tutorial segment:
Another big part of the decision to switch to Unreal Engine for the new Witcher game is its open-world specific capabilities, which Slama says will make it easier for developers to deal with the “exponentially greater” number of issues they’ll encounter. while making them open worlds compared to linear games.
“Players can go any direction they want, they can run content in any order, theoretically,” Slama said. “To really sum it up, you need a really stable environment where you can make changes with a high level of confidence that it’s not going to break in 1,600 other places down the line.”
Strictly speaking for me, I don’t care what engine CD Projekt, or any other studio, decides to run with: I’m here to be impressed by the games, not the technology. But if switching to someone else’s engine makes the process of making great games easier – and CD Projekt clearly seems to think it will – then I’m all for it.
It’s not the only studio to come to this conclusion: Crystal Dynamics announced today that it’s working on a new Tomb Raider game. (opens in a new tab) also using Unreal Engine 5. The previous Tomb Raider trilogy uses Crystal Dynamics’ own Foundation Engine.