Ahead of this week's Crysis 3 release date of February 19 in the US and February 22 in Europe, we recently got the chance to catch up with Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli and Rasmus Hojengaard, the studio's director of creative development.
During our chat, Yerli told us how he believes Crytek has built on Crysis 3's predecessors to create a game that will match up to early launch titles for next-gen consoles.
The pair also discussed how Crysis 3's multiplayer experience aims to differentiate itself from leading games in the FPS genre, while Yerli touched upon the company's desire to increasingly focus on free-to-play gaming experiences.
Crysis 2 was your first console game. While it was praised for certain technical and gameplay elements, there were criticisms of instances where the AI didn't perform as it was meant to or the visuals dropped on consoles. Were these valid criticisms and are they issues you've managed to address with Crysis 3?
Yerli: We fucked up on the AI bug. If you played long enough, and if you died and rebooted to a checkpoint, and you died again, after two deaths I think it was, the AI would effectively not be reacting any more. That was the bug effectively and we didn't capture that. Despite the fact we fixed tens of thousands of bugs that one fell through. On PC we could react to it quickly, on consoles it took a while for the patch to come out.
Of course, with Crysis 3 I hope this doesn't happen. We hope that the AI system works as it's intended to work because I think Crysis 3's AI is far better than Crysis 2's.
How does the team size and investment in Crysis 3 compare to the previous game?
Yerli: Time-wise and total man months it's about the same.
What have CryEngine 3 developments - and your greater console experience - allowed you to achieve in Crysis 3 you might have wanted to but weren't able to in the last game, which was your first for PS3 and Xbox 360?
Yerli: Well first, the consoles are pretty much at their limits. PC is much more flexible so we did the DirectX 11 patch. We were able to combine the much more expansive gameplay sense of the original Crysis with even more lush vegetation, even on consoles now, which we weren't able to do in Crysis 2 times. There's a huge amount of vegetation, including lush and physical grasses. Crysis 3 is more anchored around Crysis 1 than Crysis 2, so we made a conscious decision to say we should really evolve Crysis 1's gameplay while continuing Crysis 2's story.
So you believe you've managed to bring together the best elements of the first two games?
Yerli: I think we did more than that. What we did is, gameplay followed Crysis 1, story followed Crysis 2, but Crysis 3 has its own visual identity, [the urban rainforest] is a world that hasn't been done before, that kind of depiction, the quality and the level of immersion, I think no game has ever done that kind of setting, it's a visual spectacle. It has not even been done in Hollywood. People might suggest there are similarities with I Am Legend, but that is quite different to this. I Am Legend is overgrown, Crysis 3's urban rainforest is a whole different level of that. It has its own identity and I'm very proud of what the team achieved in this regard.
Presumably this is final current generation release. Do you feel you've reached the limit of what you can achieve on existing consoles?
Yerli: I don't think Crytek can do more on current generation consoles than Crysis 3.
How do you think the game will stack up to early launch titles on next gen?
Yerli: I actually think people will be astonished that next gen launch titles from other companies might not be much different from Crysis 3. Crytek's [next gen] projects generally will be way above what we've achieved on the existing consoles.
Crysis 2 was allegedly the most pirated game of 2011, with the PC version alone downloaded in the region of four million times. A near complete build also leaked shortly before launch. How do those experiences make a studio that's put years into a game feel and how do they impact your approach to PC development?
Yerli: In an ideal world, I would like to have a situation where if somebody doesn't want to pay, they can do that, along as they're playing the game. In an ideal world, at least that way I'd know how many are playing the game. Because the number might be four million, it might be ten million, we don't know. Crysis 1 was estimated to have 15-20 million users, but we sold maybe 2.5-3 million units. At least knowing the real user base would be a major step forward.
Going forward, we want to enable people who don't want to pay to be able to play our games. If they want to pay they can use microtransactions to buy virtual currency, but nobody would be forcing them to spend. That's what we call the free-to-play business.
Is there a market for splitting up the single player and multiplayer components of games?
Yerli: There could be. If you think in just narrow boxes and don't open your mind to what could be done... You could say, why don't we sell single player for £49.99 and do free-to-play multiplayer or something like that. But that's very closed minded in my opinion. There's a whole different way of making a true win-win situation for gamers where if they don't want to pay they can still play. There are ways to do this which I can't disclose now because we're experimenting with them ourselves, but I believe there's a whole creative angle on this.
Which elements of Crysis 3's multiplayer experience do you think will make it stand out from other leading games in the FPS genre?
Hojengaard: Hunter mode is definitely a stand out. Asymmetrical team-based modes have been experimented with before in interesting ways but it's never been nailed. I would say the most interesting thing about multiplayer in Crysis 3 is Hunter mode because it plays out really well. It's forgiving and hardcore at the same time. You have the rotation element which means you end up playing on both sides and it features short time-based rounds that are gratifying very quickly. It also gives an interesting sense of adrenaline rush when you're hunting, and a sense of being completely alone in the world when you're the Cell trooper. It has all these different layers, and it's also forgiving in the sense that, just because you might not be a very good multiplayer player and you die quickly as a Cell trooper, you get a second chance on the other side of the fence. It's a good way to ease into a community of already very good players.
Yerli: If you are a newbie you start as a Cell trooper, if you are hardcore you start as a Hunter armed with an enhanced Nanosuit and the Predator bow. For me it's the most cinematic multiplayer experience you can get, it puts you in the same emotional space as when you're playing the single player game but instead of playing against the AI you're playing against humans. In my opinion asymmetric multiplayer has a whole different genre opportunity as opposed to symmetric multiplayer, and I think we're just scratching the surface of what's possible.
Hojengaard: If you look at the trailer we made for Hunter mode, it was a very easy mode to create an interesting trailer around. We attempted to make a narrative of what the experience is and it was easy to convey in visuals. That's something that's normally quite difficult to do with multiplayer because it's very mechanical, for example 'take this thing, bring it here, make sure you don't die', which is all very structured and rudimentary, which of course makes sense because it's essentially almost like a team sport made in the context of a game. So as Cevat said, asymmetric multiplayer is definitely something that begs to be explored more.
Are you planning a significant DLC campaign for the game and will you offer anything above the industry-standard map packs and fresh game modes, perhaps more single player content or a co-operative experience?
Yerli: We're still exploring that. We have some plans in mind that we can't disclose yet, but we are going to wait a little bit to see how the multiplayer beta runs and how the game does for the first few days. We do have a big plan to support it.