Chatterbox: GTANet Interview with Razed

Welcome to GTANet’s Chatterbox, our interview series where hosts uNi, Spider-Vice and Kirsty sit down and get personal with notable people from the GTANet and Rockstar Games community. From the well-loved to the unknown, Chatterbox is all-inclusive.

It’s been a while, but now we’re back with a bang! Chatterbox #4 brings our first modder to the stage, with no other than the creator of GTAV graphics mod NaturalVision: Evolved, or NVE as it’s most commonly known. In this lengthy interview, Razed answers our questions about NVE’s background and the team’s plans for the future, alongside his thoughts on E&E, modding, and more.

Let’s go!

GTANet: Do you want to tell us a bit about NVE’s background? How long have you been working on it?

Razed: Well it’s a bit of a long story. I think NaturalVision Evolved is the culmination of many years of work. I created the project back in early 2016 when it was just called NaturalVision. I was looking for a new hobby at the time and modding seemed very appealing. NaturalVision started off as a simple ReShade preset for another mod called VisualV. People ended up liking the preset and it gained a lot of attention. Everyone wanted ‘realistic’ game graphics at the time including myself.

The positive reaction from users motivated me to improve my work, so I began experimenting with timecycle files and other weather files. I spent a few months working and released NaturalVision 2.0 towards the end of that year. I still relied on ReShade at the time due to my lack of knowledge and experience when it came to GTAV’s weather files. The second version of NaturalVision was positively received by users which led to requests asking to make the game more realistic, so I started working on another overhaul.

In the summer of 2017 I ended up releasing NaturalVision Remastered (NVR) which is when I first dove deep into the game files. I was really proud of my work at the time despite it being heavily flawed. To my surprise it garnered a lot of attention from people all over the gaming community. I continued to release updates for NVR over the next year.
I thought I did everything I possibly could for the project until I ended up playing Red Dead Redemption 2. That game completely changed my outlook on modding graphics and on lighting in general. RDR2 has some of the best lighting I’ve seen in any open-world game. It opened my eyes to the potential of RAGE. I took a moment to reflect on all of my past work after playing Red Dead and began noticing tons of flaws.

In late 2018 I started working on a new update for NVR and hoped to achieve something close to RDR2’s visuals. This update continued to grow in size over the next year. Towards the end of 2019 I decided to come up with a new name for the project. That’s when NaturalVision Evolved (NVE) first originated.

Since then the project has grown massively and has a dedicated team working on it each day.

GTANet: Since NVE came around, a few other similar mods have popped up, but NVE still remains the most balanced one. How do you improve an old game in this day and age while trying to stay consistent with the game’s art direction?

Razed: I think I grew a better understanding of what can and cannot fit with the style and art direction of the game after experimenting with so many different styles over the years. Improving the game has continued to be a growing challenge due to lack of proper tools and documentation. We’re still working with an old version of RAGE so we’re limited in terms what we can modify and to what extent. I’m fortunate to have a group of people working alongside myself on the project and coming up with ways to improve the mod.

GTANet: What are your thoughts on RAGE? So far you have thrown a bunch of graphical and texture improvements at the game and it stays pretty stable.

Razed: I think it’s an incredibly powerful game engine and we’ve yet to see its full potential. Sometimes it can make scenes in RDR2 look way better than anything I’ve seen in Unreal Engine 4 so that in itself speaks volumes. It’s surprising to see how well the older version of RAGE which GTAV runs on holds up after all these years. We’ve definitely thrown everything we can at it. There have been some issues such as building pop-ins but that was mostly due to our fault for not optimizing the vegetation and road models correctly. We began optimizing them two months ago and things have been smoother ever since. Overall I’m really excited to see what Rockstar delivers in the future on their own game engine.

GTANet: If you had the time and resources to develop something like NVE for RDR2, would you, or do you think it’s fine as is and you don’t want to touch that game? Obviously it already has a ton more graphical advances on top of GTA V.

Razed: I actually have a small side-project for RDR2 called VisualRedemption which I occasionally develop with fellow modders _CP_ and robi29 whom are best known for their VisualV mod. We’ve only changed a few things such as fixing the way bloom renders, increasing reflection detail and increasing reflection draw distance, among other small tweaks. I don’t think RDR2 needs any sort of major visual overhaul. It’s a really gorgeous game right out of the box. I’d rather not ruin the style it has going for it.

Here’s some screenshots as a preview of our work so far (click to enlarge).

GTANet: Real ray-tracing is a beast to implement as a mod usually, but have you ever thought about ray-tracing or path-tracing for NVE?

Razed: We’ve discussed it as a team but it seems incredibly difficult to properly implement without having complete access to the engine. We do have screen-space global illumination though, which seems to do a decent job at bouncing light.

GTANet: What is your history with modding Rockstar games in general? Was NVE your first big project or did you have something cool before that you’d like to talk about?

Razed: I’d say NaturalVision was my first big project. I’ve been modding Rockstar games on and off for several years though. I recall modding clothing textures back when GTA 3 and GTA Vice City first came out on PC. It was quite easy back then compared to modding clothing or skin in GTAV. I recall modding GTAIV extensively as well, but I never created my own mods for that game. During the IV era I used mods such as iCEnhancer and LordNeophyte’s texture mods. I remember everyone thinking modded GTAIV was the most realistic game ever at the time. We seem to surpass this milestone with each new Rockstar release.

GTANet: Though this interview is obviously about you, we have the tight-knit team that works behind you on NVE to thank as well; how did you go about bringing the team together? Do you each have your own responsibilities for different aspects of the mod, or is it all a joint effort?

Razed: I was initially approached by Mihail (Robin) sometime during 2019 asking if I needed any help with developing 3d models or textures. I ended up giving him a few tasks which were seemingly difficult. He ended up delivering on those tasks within a matter of days. I was really surprised because I wasn’t expecting him to actually be able to help. Prior to that I was constantly approached by various people in the community wanting to contribute and always had a disappointing experience. Robin was the first person to join me on this project and remains on the team. He is one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. I met the other devs through similar experiences as well.

We each have our own tasks but we occasionally work together on a single task from time to time. The current active team consists of Robin as our 3D artist, MADZ as our animation artist and graphics programmer, NB as our vegetation artist and myself as the project manager and lead graphics artist. I try to dip my hand in a bit of everything when working on the project by editing the lighting, particle effects, weapons, textures, models and much more. The hardest part has been managing the entire team and reviewing everyone’s work near the end of each month to make sure it’s up to our standards prior to releasing a new update. Sometimes we end up remaking things multiple times over the course of multiple updates until we are finally satisfied with the result.

GTANet: Are there any specific new features that you are planning to bring to NVE, that you can tell us about? Or any other projects in the works? (aside from VisualRedemption)

Razed: We’re currently focused on trying to finish our volumetric clouds shader. It has been an extremely challenging task since we’re doing it by ourselves without help from others. Our dev MADZ has added the ability for users to change the density and scale of these clouds in real-time should they wish to do so. We plan on implementing a little system where users can make their own presets for clouds as well.

You can see an example below. Please note this is an early preview and the final version will be improved. The footage showing clouds changing in real-time has never been revealed publicly so it’s an exclusive for GTANet.

There are other new features we’re working on too but I’d rather not speak about them until they’re closer to completion.

GTANet: At some point you will end up without anything else to visually improve on V, is there any other areas of the game you would like to improve on? (e.g new models as you have already done, better and more interiors etc)

Razed: I think creating new models and textures falls into the visuals category. We’ve been working on new models and textures for roads and vegetation alongside our weather overhauls and have a good portion of the map covered. Occasionally we re-texture some buildings and interiors as well. I’d like for us to eventually re-texture all the main characters and their vanilla clothing. I don’t think we have the manpower to rework every single ped as much as I’d love to do that. The project will most likely come to a halt once I’m satisfied with our weather, lighting, vegetation and road improvements though. There’s only so much you can do with a small team.

GTANet: Are there any mods out there that you are personally impressed with, or use the most, at the moment? Or are there any WIP mods that you think are worth highlighting to the community?

Razed: I use a few mods while playing the GTA Definitive Edition games such as the radio restoration mods, simple reticle mod and various character re-texture mods. In GTAV I use a variety of vehicle mods created by vans123, SaleeN and tk0wnz. Aside from GTA, I occasionally play Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and use a bunch of different mods in that game such as the Star Wars X-Wing mod by EggMan28 or various airport overhaul mods. I think everyone should check those out if they plan to mod these games.

GTANet: What are your thoughts on the relationship between Rockstar, Take-Two, and the modding community? There have been a lot of events lately, as you’re likely aware; is this something that concerns you regarding your own work? How do you think Rockstar can turn things back around, and how do you feel about the future of modding?

Razed: I’m not sure if I can accurately comment on the relationship between Rockstar and Take-Two from an outsider’s perspective. I hope they are getting along together and communicating properly. I would like to see them better communicate with the modding community instead of being completely silent. I feel like it was very unnecessary to take down the map mods for the older GTA games. I don’t think those mods would’ve negatively impacted the sales of the new Trilogy games. Unfortunately this move resulted in a lot of backlash from the internet. It feels like both companies are constantly under fire by people in the gaming community as of late which is a bit sad. Speaking of which, it’s not okay to go around harassing the devs at GSG or R* just because you don’t like the new definitive edition games. People need to cut that out.

I think Rockstar has already started turning things around by making sure the GTA Definitive Edition games get patched. All they can do now is continue to go forward and learn from the past. I am confident that Rockstar will keep making great games which will set new records within the industry. I’m sure we can all agree that mostly everyone will buy the next big GTA game no matter what happens.

As for the future of modding, I don’t think much will change other than the talent pool. Most of the current GTA modding scene is comprised of individuals that started doing this in their late teens. They are now much older and have less time to focus on developing mods. By the time the next GTA comes out on PC, those same people may not be around to sit here and make quality mods for the game. This actually scares me a bit because personally I am not impressed by some of the younger generation of modders entering the scene. For example, if you go on a custom FiveM server then you’ll notice most of the interior mods, texture mods and vehicle mods are very poorly made. I can only hope those individuals will eventually step it up and carry the torch for the rest of us in the future.

GTANet: Modding aside, let’s slide in a couple questions about yourself: what’s your favourite Rockstar game and why?

Razed: That’s really tough to choose because I enjoy all of them in different ways. I’m gonna have to go with GTA Vice City because it’s based in Miami which is where I grew up most of my life. I love the Scarface references, the 80s soundtrack, the neon lights and the atmosphere. Tommy Vercetti is pretty badass too for someone wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt.

GTANet: How did you get to know Rockstar Games? How long have you been a fan?

Razed: I first heard of Rockstar Games and GTA itself back in the year 2000 or 2001. I was in the 5th grade and went to school one morning. We always had a few minutes to kill before class and one of my friends at the time brought his Gameboy Color to school. He was showing off this new game to me where you could steal any car and run from the cops. Turns out it was GTA2. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and ended up borrowing it from my friend for a while. Then GTA3 came out a while later and I was completely hooked ever since.

GTANet: If you’ve played the Trilogy remasters, do you appreciate any changes that Grove Street Games have implemented, or are they not to your personal taste and you’re going to stick to the classics?

Razed: I appreciate the effort by Grove Street Games into porting the games over from the RenderWare engine into Unreal Engine 4, but at the same time I think the games should’ve been delayed to allow for more polish. I like some of the enhancements but there are way too many bugs at the moment. Nonetheless I am enjoying my time playing through these games again with the help of some mods. I’ve been slowly working on my own mods for some of these games as well, such as a GTA III mod to restore the lighting and atmosphere from the original PS2 version of the game. I’m not sure if people will like this mod, but I mostly wanted to make it for myself because I prefer the original game’s ambience.

You can see a preview of it here below (click to enlarge).

GTANet: What’s your thoughts on E&E? A good part of the community think it deserves visual upgrades similar to what you achieved with NVE. Is this something you and the team agree with or do you think they will just update it but still keep the vanilla flavour the game has?

Razed: I think if they’re calling it “Enhanced & Expanded” then it surely deserves a visual upgrade. It doesn’t have to be on par with NVE but it should have visible improvements to the weathers and lighting. If they went all-out with visual upgrades then I’m sure people would be more than happy to pay full price for the game.

NVE, captured by uNi

GTANet: What about Rockstar’s next game – if it is GTA VI, what direction do you expect the graphical improvements to go in? We’re likely to get an even newer version of RAGE that builds upon RDR2, which still looks stunning, so is there anything you hope to see in the future, or any wishlist-style preferences?

Razed: I have really high hopes for GTA VI but at the same time I try to remind myself to keep my expectations low in case it’s not how I imagine it to be. I expect it to look better than any open-world game out there on the market. I definitely want more improvements to textures and materials. RDR2 did not fully satisfy me in that department. I want to be able to zoom in on each object and see even more detail. Ideally I would like an overhauled version of GTA V’s San Andreas, IV’s Liberty City and a new location (such as modern-day Vice City) all in the same game with the ability to travel between cities via the airport. I want 80% of the buildings to be enterable too. I can sit here for hours and talk about what’s on my wishlist for the next GTA game.

I just hope the long wait will be worth it.

Big thanks to Razed for agreeing to this interview and taking the time to respond with some well-spoken and insightful answers! You can find relevant links below. Stay tuned for more Chatterbox interviews in the near future.

Follow Razed on Twitter and Patreon!

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