12th Apr 2006 | 15:33
If there's one thing that came out of GDC that really set our tongues wagging, it was the awesome movie debut of Crysis, Crytek's spiritual successor to the admirable Far Cry, which is set to erupt all over your PC before the end of this very year.
Although Crysis is a spiritual successor to Far Cry, it certainly seems set to move in an entirely different but still entirely fantabulous way, dispensing with lead hero Jack Carver and casting you as a normal US grunt caught up in the midst of a war against a vast and implacable alien horde, which threaten the future of life on planet Earth as we know it.
Okay, no prizes for original plotting, but having now seen the game in action (more on that in the very near future - our lips have to remain sealed at the moment), we can confirm that, in graphical terms, Crysis is as revolutionary and gob-smackingly beautiful as Far Cry originally was. But it's the ambition to really push the FPS genre forward and Crytek's obvious determination to lovingly craft a PC FPS monster which will probably rival the best of breed, which impressed us most.
Still, we also had a chance to sit down with Crytek's CEO Cevat Yerli and lead game designer Bernd Diemar to shoot some Crytek breeze, and during the course of a fascinating interview they revealed world-first information and never-heard-before details on how the game's been forged in a white heat of innovation.
From exclusively revealing some of the first details on Crysis multiplayer modes to detailing some of the advanced AI techniques used, the weapons you'll get to employ and even offering first word on some of the Zero-G levels you'll get to encounter in the endgame, this is the first big definitive interview on Crysis and we're proud to present it to you first and exclusively on CVG.
Now read on...
Could you tell us a little about Crysis multiplayer modes? It's not something we've heard much about so far...
Cevat Yerli: Yeah, we've got four main modes, including Tactical Deathmatch, Tactical Team Deathmatch and Tactical Capture The Flag. The reason we have 'tactical' in front of the name is, with the additions of the player's suit and the different weapons and ammunition, it means each of the modes has a new kind of play. It's changed inherently because it gives each of the modes a new kind of dynamic. For example, during a Team Deathmatch game you could simply shoot down an opposing helicopter, or you could choose to put the pilot to sleep - it completely changes the nature of the gameplay.
Then we have a mode called Power Struggle, which features economics and that's like an unlockable shopping tree or list if you like, for certain equipment like weapons and vehicles. It's based around a US force and revolves around alien artefacts and technology. Depending on what you find and what you capture, it unlocks new possibilities in the gameplay.
By design, it's as hardcore a mode as you can get in a multiplayer game and it's very evolutionary and deep for the hardcore gamers, to offer the most tactical possibilities for them. We want to see the battles going on forever and there's always a hot spot evolving for them with new things to unlock to change the balance. That's the reason we call it the Power Struggle, because you can change the balance with new researches.
The amount of players in a game? Well, we're shooting for 32, we want to focus and make the best experience for this amount of players and we think this is going to make Crysis one of the best multiplayer games around. We've really brought multiplayer code up to scratch right now, because in Far Cry the technology didn't really allow for reactive gaming.
Reactive gaming is a subset of 'outsmarting gaming', because if you're not smart enough at least you could react with skill. Far Cry offered tactical gameplay in multiplayer, but an amateur could kill a pro gamer because of the network problems. So it didn't allow a pro gamer to make a difference, to react faster, even if an amateur gamer was potentially quite smarter, the pro was always at a disadvantage.
Now the lag or slowdown has been optimised out so pro gamers can really make a difference. However, now amateur gamers and even female gamers who are more tactical and play at a slower pace can make a difference by being smarter against a hardcore 'reactive' shooter. At a fundamental level that's what we need to make sure happens, then the rest is just gameplay design. Far Cry's multiplayer game was pretty strong, but it didn't kick off, hardcore gamers didn't like it because their skill didn't make a difference.
We really liked the sense of tactics and planning in Far Cry's single-player game. Is that tactical feeling revived in Crysis?
Cevat Yerli: It was what we call 'outsmart gameplay' or as the Romans used to say, Veni Vidi Vici [I came, I saw, I conquered - Caeser loving CVG Ed]. That's very much part of our gameplay. It was about seeing something and then working out the best way to conquer it.
That was very much Far Cry's basic core gameplay and now we're improving and amplifying it with the hero, the weapon and the ammunition in Crysis. You're going to be presented with a challenge, you're going to have to digest information, see what is happening and it's ultimately up to you to read the situation. The more you observe, the better you can develop your skill and tactics because you get more from the situation. If you rush into it you will most likely fail, but if you're really careful about it you can get a much richer gameplay experience and, by the huge amount of choice you have, you can play it again and again.
We believe that you can play Crysis three or four times and still have a unique experience. In Far Cry you could play through about two times and you got some replay value there. In Far Cry you could die and replay again and the scene would be almost unique, but in Crysis each scene is going to be inherently unique, each mission is going to be kind of unique depending on your choices, but each game experience is also going to be up to three to four times as unique, because of the anomalies and consequences, because of the tactical choices. So there's a lot more spontaneity at every level of Crysis.
The game engine is looking fantastic. Are you sticking with PC or would you consider a next-gen console version of Crysis?
Cevat Yerli: It's just PC. It crossed our minds, but we're sticking with PC. Of course, we thought about it on PS3, but one thing about our company is that we want to focus, we don't want to do multiple things, we want to do one thing and do it as well as we can. It's a matter of focus, PC is our focus right now, we were born there and we want to showcase what we can do there, before we made any move onto consoles.
If there's ever a console version it will be later - if at all. Right now there is no console version whatsoever because we have to showcase what we've learnt from Far Cry. And then in the future? Well, we'll see.
How many hours of gameplay are you figuring on? Will it exceed Far Cry's play time?
Cevat Yerli: No it's about 10-12 hours, roughly in this range, but remember there's more replayability and every minute has been filled with three to four times more intensity than Far Cry. It's much more compact and more filled with information, it's a more compact ratio - the way it deals with information. Essentially it's a faster game and the replay value of Crysis is about three to four times that of Far Cry, plus there's a huge multiplayer component which is inherently better than Far Cry as well.
So the summary is you get about 30-40 hours gameplay experience - if you replay of course - and you also get multiplayer as well. So it'll definitely be worth your money - for sure.
Which new technologies in Crysis would you say are most important in terms of new gameplay?
Cevat Yerli: I think the most important gameplay technologies are actually our breakable physics. It allows us to shatter things and break vegetation and model recoil damage, those make a huge impact on gameplay. The other aspect is soft cover and soft physics, to be able to represent motion throughout the jungle, that's very important for gameplay as well. Of course, things like motion blur add to the cinematic feeling, to the drama and the fear level, especially for the aliens, it amplifies speed and gives you the impression that they are moving very fast. It makes an impressive difference and you perceive the enemy differently as a result as well.
The other task when we were planning the game, was really to just make it more intense and dramatic, so it's not just the gameplay mechanics that you have with the technology, it's also the immersion factor. For immersion, definitely volumetric clouds, the lighting, the motion blur, the animated motion blur and camera blur as well, so all these add to the involvement. But the most important ones are the AI technology and the physics. The AI technology, we're pushing way harder than Far Cry, because we need to be in the number one spot again.
We had soft cover technologies for bushes in Far Cry, but now fog and clouds count as soft cover as well. To some degree fog has been done in other games, but for sure, cloud gameplay is a very new experience you're going to have. When you battle in the helicopter against the aliens inside the clouds it becomes very interesting indeed.
Driving a tank into the jungle, or chasing enemies into the jungle in your tank and laying on the devastation will be very interesting. For that matter, fighting in a helicopter, against the alien mech, which we call Hunter by the way, fighting that will be very interesting.
So put it this way, these technologies and multiple choices will add additional layers to your tactics, but ultimately it will be up to you how to play. Whether you use hard or soft cover, whether you're visible or not, what tools you use, what powers you use, which suit [configuration] you use or your ammunition type. So your amount of choices has increased radically over Far Cry. That's what we mean when we talk about 'outsmarting gameplay' which then leads into the AI. The AI will react to all these decisions intelligently and depending on how well you do, they get pissed off, they hide or ...well we'll see what they do with you.
So just how smart is your AI - and can you give examples of how it will directly affect gameplay?
Cevat Yerli: Well, with the aliens for example, the Hunter you have seen - I always say it is an enemy which you need to study for a while to understand its weaknesses. So the first time you encounter one, it will take a quite a bit of figuring out to take him down. It's a pain actually, you're not very well equipped or powerful.
Later on you'll meet maybe four, five or even six of those Hunters, but you're equipped better, you'll have skill-based moves against it. For example, you'll be able to jump on its head and take it down from up there. But from the off, you're not as good and you don't know how to do that. Your knowledge rather than your skills will evolve and, once you know that you can play the game again, now you can apply your knowledge, and you can take it down faster now. So we're evolving with the character, the intelligence of the player.
The AI is applied on bigger creatures. On the Hunter for example, it has sensors so it can hear and see and recognise the biggest threat. It will try to freeze you, shatter you, grab you, throw you around, it tries to pin you with its legs, it's very, very intelligent for an AI. So we're pushing that kind of AI for example, also we're pushing the vehicles' AI. For the North Koreans, the human element is negotiating objects better, making them more aware of the environments and then ultimately the Zero-G enemies, the aliens themselves, that [environment and] AI is going to show you a lot of gameplay variations.
AI-wise we're pushing everything. On the aliens' AI side I think we're going to set a new bar - that's our goal and intentions. On the human AI, we're not pushing as hard, but there will be a tangible difference to the next generation of human AI, but we need to acknowledge that the aliens are our key focus. We want to be number one in the human AI again, but we're not pushing it as hard as the alien AI. There won't be any weaknesses like the mutants in Far Cry, that won't happen this time.
Bernd Diemer I think two areas concerning AI where we've made the biggest leaps forward are that the AI is aware of the environment and also aware that the environment is changing, for example with falling trees. So they need to react because you can use a tree to block a road for example, so the AI has to do something smart and not just bump into it. This is just one example, but it can apply to a lot of things, especially in the jungle environment. They don't only have to react to sounds the player makes, but when you brush against a tree or leaves, they have to see it and know that it's the player causing it.
The second the thing is readability. We can make an AI that's so damn smart that you wouldn't ever have a chance of winning the game, and the art is to make the AI seem very, very smart, but it also gives the player an option to be even smarter. One thing we had in Far Cry is the AIs talking to each other and they'll say 'I'll check out this corner over there', which was kind of cheesy.
In Crysis we're going to take that to the next level so they comment on what they actually see. It's like a guy saying 'I think I heard something' or 'I think I saw something over there', or he could say 'I'm hit'. These are very simple examples but he could call for covering fire or say 'I'm going forward' or 'flank him'. It's very important because when we added the readability signals, suddenly levels became much, much more fun. I could hide behind a rock and hear that the enemy is doing something, I wasn't really sure what, but they were aware of me and trying to counter my actions.
Cevat Yerli: What's important is that some of that was there in Far Cry but it was an 'I', but in Crysis they talk about 'we', it reinforces the group tactics as well, it's an intuitive AI aspect. In Crysis it's more about the group recognising and that's very important to amplify the group tactics. Also we've improved the cosmetic nature of the animation if you like, to make the animation more beautiful, so we implemented a new animation technology with AI and physics driving it, so your opponents look more real and more believable.
How many weapons will we get to play with in the game and can you describe the most important ones or at least your favourites?
Cevat Yerli: We have a Gauss rifle, it's an alien technology-based weapon, we have the SCAR, which is the most advanced human assault rifle and we're getting a next generation version of it essentially, with a number of mod kits for it, including sniper configurations. But we also have a rocket launcher as you have seen, with a mini-gun version, which we're going to remodel to a more intermediary version in the final game. We also have things like grenades and C4 and also some other weapon classes which I can't talk about for now.
One thing we do have is an Icicle Gun, which is based on the alien technology. Essentially it takes water and humidity from the air and freezes it and shoots it out as ice particles, which means you're never short of ammunition. The other one I will talk about is the freezing gun, which you can pick up off the aliens. It's really fun, you can freeze someone and then shatter them. You can give those aliens some real payback after they've used it against you, but that's as much as we're going to reveal for now.
Will it be playable at E3 and do you have any firm release date yet?
Cevat Yerli: It will definitely be playable at E3 and we're shooting for winter 2006 right now. We don't have to wait until Vista ships either.
Bernd Diemer Everything you've seen has been running on DX9 and normal hardware you can get in the shops right now. It's all normal spec and doesn't even use a dual processor or anything like that, we don't have any special graphical hardware inside these boxes. However, with DX10 and a dual core CPU, you're going to see something very special indeed. When we compare Far Cry to Crysis we're talking about two to three levels better in terms of generations, but if you compare DX 9 to DX10 it's at least a generation better, so there's a tangible difference, visually as well as from the intensity.