PREVIEW l INTERVIEW
As developers go, few have enjoyed pushing the boundaries of PC hardware as much as Germany’s Crytek. Its 2004 debut Far Cry enjoyed success worldwide, prompting publisher Ubisoft to continue developing the brand in-house. Crytek, meanwhile, focused on further iterations of the licensable CryEngine and FPS series Crysis, first released in 2007 with a sequel following in 2011. We recently talked to Crytek Producer Michael Elliot Read about his history in the industry, his work on the upcoming Crysis 3, how the series is pushing forward and what kind of experience PC and console gamers can expect.
People have come forth and said Crysis 1 was very open world, and I think that’s not a correct assessment of how Crysis 1 was. – Read
Read got his start working in publishing at CCP, best known for Eve Online, before moving over to Crytek. He says that it was “kind of a transitional point when I came out of CCP where we had 600 people, to moving into a company like Crytek which was just growing past 600 people.” According to Read, Crytek has continued to expand thanks to both game development and licensing of the CryEngine, which is now seeing use in the fields of film and architecture. Having been a PC gamer for years, Read says he was “very familiar” with the Crysis series before securing his current position, which sees him working with not only newer employees like himself but also veterans of the original Far Cry development team.
We start the conversation about Crysis 3 by asking Read how Crytek has addressed the complaints levelled against the linearity of its predecessor. In giving a very comprehensive answer, he states that it is first necessary to discuss the original Crysis. “People have come forth and said Crysis 1 was very open world, and I think that’s not a fair assessment or a correct assessment of how Crysis 1 was.” In arguing this, Read expresses a belief that it was more the art design of Crysis, rather than its gameplay, which set it far apart from its sequels. “I think there was more of a visual reference that played into that with being able to see the forests, the trees, the mountains and these very open style vistas. There was a lot of wide area that you could traverse through but we were still keeping people on a linear path in progressing through different story and progression elements as the game went through.”
In assessing this statement, we could observe that the gameplay of Crysis 1 offered a degree of horizontal freedom whilst still keeping the player on a relatively linear path. Read then suggested that, whilst Crysis 2 might have narrowed the horizontal plane, it opened up much more of the vertical. “With Crysis 2, you come into New York City and you don’t quite have the open visual reference. You’re dealing with tall buildings and the confines in the streets of NYC, but we did add quite a bit of vertical gameplay which is something that was not really existent in Crysis 1”. What we deduce from this is that Crysis 3 will most likely fall somewhere in between these levels of horizontal and vertical linearity, as Read assures us Crytek is “taking what we learned from Crysis 1 and Crysis 2, combining those elements and bringing them into Crysis 3, not only in environments but gameplay and technology as well.”
Housed within the Nanodome, a shell created by the nefarious Cell Corporation to cover a ravaged New York City, are the Seven Wonders…
Crysis 3 does indeed look to provide a variety of environments for players to enjoy. Housed within the Nanodome, a shell created by the nefarious Cell Corporation to cover a ravaged New York City, are the Seven Wonders, three of which have thus far been detailed. New York’s famous Chinatown has become The Swamps, Downtown Manhattan a series of crumbling, skyscrapers forming The Canyons and Midtown West Side sounding slightly more open as The Fields. Describing these areas, Read says that “the environment art styles are very different in terms of time of day, lighting, the plant life and the different objects you’ll see throughout these levels.” He describes the drastic change of art style between levels in Crysis 3 as “one of our biggest challenges”, with the team preferring to offer players individualised areas rather than “30 levels of the same sort of stuff”. Each environment will also give players different opportunities and challenges in terms of gameplay to suit different playstyles.
On the issue of restricted gameplay options found in Crysis 2, Read concedes that “players felt a little pigeonholed by what they could do. There were options there in the way that you could move through levels, but I think that has been expanded out quite greatly for Crysis 3”. Promising a wider range of weapons, customisation options, enhanced AI and environment diversity, Crysis 3 looks set to provide what Read describes as a “more dynamic experience,” with the kind of emergent gameplay that allows those water-cooler moments of comparison.
When discussing the Crysis series, it’s hard to ignore its legacy as a PC hardware benchmark tool, particularly in light of the reported poor performance of Crysis 2 on aging consoles. A recent quote from Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli suggests that Crysis 3 is pushing current generation consoles close to the breaking point, while earlier in the year he claimed that it would “melt your PC”. We ask Read what compromises had to be made between platforms and whether PC gamers will still be able to measure their components through a Crysis title. Read was up front, saying “Let’s be honest here, we’re dealing with eight year old hardware on PS3 and Xbox. I can’t sit here and say it’s going to look exactly the same on hardware we have today on PCs. During Crysis 2 we learned a lot about console development. It was something that was new and foreign to us, not to mention at the same time we were building a brand new iteration of the engine that had to be backed down to be able to run on these consoles as well, so the technical challenges we had in creating a new engine and game in tandem created a lot of design blockers for us”. Taking what it learned during production of Crysis 2 on board, Crytek is hoping to deliver a much better experience for console players in Crysis 3. “There’s definitely a balance on the consoles we have to find” Read says. “We go through a lot of different sequences on there and say ‘Okay, here’s a gameplay sequence, this plays really good but I get to this spot and there’s a big frame rate drop, how do we fix that? Do we need to remove particles? Do we need to change something up? What’s going on in the scene that’s going to kill the gameplay experience?’”. For PC gamers worried that Crysis 3 might suffer from its simultaneous and meticulous console development, Read allays your fears in six small words; “How far can we push this?”
Let’s be honest here, we’re dealing with eight year old hardware on PS3 and Xbox. I can’t sit here and say it’s going to look exactly the same on hardware we have today on PCs. -Read
Despite a seamless gameplay experience between PC and console, players of the former will be able to extract the most in term of visuals from Crysis 3. During a closed PC alpha of Crysis 3, Read tells us that many PC tech sites decided to put Cevat’s PC melting claim to the test, the verdict being that “it really was the case”. For those that aren’t on the cutting edge when it comes to PC hardware, fear not as Read reports that the latest version of CryEngine is more flexible than any of its predecessors, evidenced by a much wider range of graphics settings in Crysis 3 when compared to earlier franchise instalments.
For fans of multiplayer, Crysis 3 has undergone significant changes in order to ensure a more enjoyable experience with larger maps, tweaked perks and an improved nanosuit. Read says the result is “easier to get into, faster paced, a lot more fun overall and a very different experience from the corridor styles that are pretty common out there today”. As long time fans of couch co-op, we finish up by asking about the potential for such a mode. Regrettably, Read informs us that at this time the team at Crytek is unable to implement such a feature, but elaborates that it is one of the aspects the developers are most interested in looking into for future entries. Although he was unable to give specific dates, Read has promised a multiplayer beta before release, with further details coming in the early days of 2013.
PREVIEW l INTERVIEW