Strategy Informer talks with Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli and Game Director Rasmus Hojengaard to talk technology, whether there's room for innovation in shooters anymore and what Crytek's possible free-to-play future means for Crysis
I wouldn't call Crysis 3 a stealth game, not from what I’ve played at least, but there is a considerable emphasis on creatively circumventing all-out combat and Crysis 3 seems a whole lot more playful than Crysis 2, more interpretative; each combat zone a dynamic puzzle that alters with every step forward, every sound made and every ill-advised rustle through the long grass. The Hunter and the Hunted mantra that Crytek like to bandy about certainly isn't unfounded, then.
Having glimpsed the single player in action, Strategy Informer took the opportunity to sit down with Crytek Founder and CEO Cevat Yerli and Game Director Rasmus Hojengaard to talk technology and its impact on innovation, whether there's even room for innovation in shooters anymore and where Crytek's possible free-to-play future leaves the Crysis franchise.
Strategy Informer: I read an interview recently in which you spoke at length about how you've created the grass in Crysis 3. That strikes me as incredibly precise and painstaking. Just how important is the technology powering Crysis games to you as a developer?
Cevat Yerli: At Crytek technology is always about, how can technology bring new opportunities that have not been done before? How can cutting-edge technology make a game more immersive? How can it improve the AI, make it react differently? So, effectively, how can technology inspire gameplay? Grass has been an opportunity for a while but only with Crysis 3 were we able to finally make the full circle where we have huge amounts of grass and vast terrain that you can use not just to hide but to read the battlefield. You can see people moving in and the AI reacts to it. You are in a different emotional situation driven by technology systemically, not staged, and that's where technology comes into play.
Small technologies can take a lot of time to make but inspire whole new gameplay and hence give you an experience that you've never had before. That's what Crytek games are all about.
Rasmus Hojengaard: There's also the chicken and egg scenario. Sometimes someone will come up with something that's brilliant technically and you'll ask, 'what can we use this for?' And then sometimes, like we're making this game about being a hunter and people might have visions of velociraptors in Jurassic Park, and we're like 'that would be cool for this game but we can't do it right now.' So then the push comes and the resources are allocated to actually do it because it makes sense, there's an idea behind it that will manifest big time in the game because, as you rightfully say, normally it's not a focus that a game development studio would have to that extent on something like grass. That's when it becomes really interesting, when a feature like that can suddenly carry so much weight in a game.
Strategy Informer: Do you feel that tech drives innovation?
Cevat Yerli: At a holistic level it's all about immersion, and immersion is divided into gameplay, into audioscape, into art direction, etc... So technology helps at the end for better immersion and that's the primary goal. For us, technology will always do that. We will always use technology and not just for the sake of pushing more polygons or textures - that would be unfounded. Our developers are also creative guys, not just programmers sitting in their corners saying, 'let's make technology.' They're trying new things all the time. Eventually it's all about, not being more realistic, but making the player feel more empowered, putting the gamer in a more systemic, more simulated world with more choices and consequences that's more immersive as a result.
Strategy Informer: There's a sense at the moment that shooters have stagnated, is there still room for innovation in the genre?
Rasmus Hojengaard: Innovation can happen in a lot of areas. It's not only necessarily about, in a shooter, shooting a gun. Innovation is also about the context in which you do these things, so if all these things develop in parallel, if you make sure your world is interesting, your characters are interesting or maybe you play around with the rules of physics suddenly, how all this stuff plays together, changing each of these slightly and together could feel like an incredibly innovative step. Or you could change one aspect a lot and that's innovation. Right now there's a lot of focus on the mechanical side. Unless there's a completely new way of firing a gun it's not innovative and I think maybe that's a little unfair because you can innovate on many fronts. It's the same with MMOs. They're combating this now, the idea that it's all just button mashing, but then another game maybe comes along and has a completely different world or maybe a little addition that can completely revolutionise the feel of the game. So it's really about making sure that everything has a good context and you're not trying to be too clever with things, because if you're trying to be clever with things, if you think 'if we do this then they're going to think that' then it's usually too transparent.
Cevat Yerli: With Crysis 3 we went away from Crysis 2 and this is very important because Crysis 2 was supposed to be the evolution of certain things and actually it wasn't. It became more of a devolution. It was perceived as a step backward and retrospectively rightfully so. If you look at other shooters however, if you look at the competition, they are actually narrowing down certain things and they're staying still. What we tried to do was evolve. We tried to evolve the game by going more vertical with the New York setting and the New York setting was driven by the design team because they didn't want to do a jungle again. With Crysis 3 we said we have to go back to what gamers like, which is more expansive open gameplay, we have to bring vegetation more into the game. We needed to continue the story of Crysis 2 but Crysis 3 had to have its own stamp as well, it had to be its own sequel.
Strategy Informer: I was going to ask, what were the most exciting new things you've brought to Crysis 3 that Crysis fans won't have seen before?
Cevat Yerli: With Crysis 3 we approached it from a creative direction with the seven wonders, the urban rainforest, driving and so on. So there's this theme that goes through all the gameplay, through the AI design, through the story, through the characters, through how we roll out challenges, everything. And it has a severe impact, it gives you an experience and context, as Rasmus says, that makes sense. It's not done arbitrarily. All of it has a meaningful theme. At the end we said this hunter theme is something we should drive into single player and multiplayer and we were able to keep that in tact as a driving force. That's something that Crysis 2, for example, didn't have. Crysis 3 is clearer as an IP, it's addressed the feedback and, I think, it's a true sequel to Crysis 1, as opposed to Crysis 2.
Strategy Informer: I noticed when playing that the AI was far more alert and dynamic. I saw some of the soldiers clambering up into the higher stories of buildings, using verticality to their advantage and grouping together when hunting, for example. Was AI something you started working on immediately after Crysis 2?
Cevat Yerli: AI has always been in our DNA. In Crysis 2 we fucked it up by having this one AI bug in the game. If you died one or two times the AI would stop reacting to you. It lost a state and then it didn't know what to do anymore. It was a severe gameplay impacting bug that we didn't catch among the tens of thousands of bugs. We patched it quickly afterward but it took too long on console - the whole patching process is a mess on console - but on PC we were able to fix it quite fast, it was actually almost not present. The Crysis 3 AI has been pushed forward. We have a much more charismatic AI this time around that has emotional value - the aliens are more effective at hunting and they coordinate together. With the Cell we have more coordinated AI behavior. They have more personality this time around. They swear at you. But they show respect too, fear and whatnot. So that makes it much more charismatic.
Rasmus Hojengaard: There's also the chaotic environments. The Stalkers, for example, not only are they in the grass but they leap up on things and they use the elevation of the environment, too. It's the context thing again. A Stalker jumping around in a taller environment wouldn't come off as cool but because the environment is like it is, because you're like 'hell yeah, of course it does that because it's in the tall grass', you perceive it differently. And also you have this Nanosuit. You're this powerful hunter so the Cell guys show a bit of fear and panic that gives off this perception that you're in your element and they're not. That whole thing works really well in the game.
Cevat Yerli: The other thing we did with Crysis 3 is we don't push you forward constantly. Crysis 2 was like 'go, go, go, go' and it was sandboxy but it was also go, go, go and people felt like it was too pushy and linear. Crysis 3 is slower paced, more like Crysis 1. It's a more proactive shooter as opposed to a reactive shooter. It makes for a slower game, but in regards to your question before of are games getting less innovative or maybe even dumbed down, I think Crysis 3 makes a big step in saying, 'play as you really want to play', and if this means you'll spend half an hour in a section that you could maybe do in three minutes by bypassing the AI and sneaking around, that's fine. That's the kind of toying we had in Crysis 1 that we wanted to bring back.
Strategy Informer: You've spoken about the transition from the traditional business model to free-to-play in future, how do you see consoles factoring in to that future?
Cevat Yerli: We do have a few console games in the works but at one point in the near future there will be a transition where I think we might stop, and really that depends on whether the console manufacturers can house our business models. If they can we'll be very happy to be there. Currently they're making strides in the direction of free-to-play. We just believe in a free-to-play future and if the console business takes off with free-to-play then we're going to be there. We are firm believers of the new generations to come, we are supporting them, our technology is already there. We said two years ago we're next-gen ready. We're just waiting. We have bets on a lot of things right now but we also have our own platform launching with Warface and that's going to be a major focus for our company going forward.
Strategy Informer: Does this mark the end of Crysis, then? What are the chances of seeing Crysis as a free-to-play game in the future, with a strong single-player component? Free-to-play shooters have largely been multiplayer focused so far.
Cevat Yerli: In Warface we have a strong PvE focus for you and your friends. So when you play with your friends you have a highly replayable story mode experience and that's very unique in the online world right now. Crysis is actually more destined to be like that. Crysis is a much more cinematic IP. It can have, in my opinion, a single player-esque experience but I wouldn't call it single player. We have a different name and a different concept that's very challenging in mind, game structure wise. The future is going to take benefit of online, it's going to take benefit of social, it's probably going to be free-to-play. But the future of Crysis is going to be great.
Crysis will exist but what as, we don't know yet. Whether it's even going to be first-person, whether it's going to be an RPG or an MMO, honestly I don't know. We're experimenting. We said to the team we want to be really blank-sheet, we want to have elements of Crysis in there but we don't want to say it has to continue the story ten years after Crysis 3. We didn't want to limit ourselves. We want to innovate again.