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Crysis, Consoles And Crytek: Cevat Yerli Interview

Tom Hopkins

Feature


We speak to Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli about Crysis, the free-to-play market and OnLive.

Published on Oct 3, 2011

How are things over at Crytek right now? You must be very busy with your many projects.

Yeah busy, and more than ever before too. I mean, times are really hectic and tense, but they are also very exciting for us. So exciting in fact, that I can’t talk about any of the projects I’m referring to. [Laughs]

When we spoke with Crytek earlier in the year – around the time that Crysis 2 received its Direct X11 upgrade – we discussed the way that Crytek is now a multi-studio business. But now you’re focusing on binging your biggest in-house title, Crysis, back to consoles. Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?

Well, I wish we were actually able to launch the original Crysis on consoles at the same time we launched it on PC. There was a lot of constraints and knowledge that had to be broken down before we could do this, and a lot of content had to be broken down from an engine perspective as well. 

The maturity of console platforms also had to be dealt with. We had to better understand the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 first, and overcome some of the boundaries that everybody in the industry faces with those platforms. 

Crysis has required a lot of optimisation, and a lot of new technology. But we’ve done a lot of smart streaming implementation and memory management that goes way beyond the typical streaming capabilities in most games.

That tech enabled us to deliver Crysis 2, and then we realised that we might be able to bring the original Crysis back as well. As we started to give it a try, things looked very promising and we built a small team to try and bring the first Crysis to home console – not as a port – but as a remastered edition. 

Though smoke and mirrors effects are in place, Crysis should still look stunning on consoles.

The timing is perfect as well, given the success of Crysis 2 on consoles.

I’m very excited about this, because Crysis was a game that not many people have played, or certainly not enough people have played. This is due to some people having a preconception around the game’s demand on PC hardware. 

The difference is that consoles now are very cheap, and so the access barrier to Crysis has been reduced, as most people in our target market have a console now. The low price downloadable game cost helps, and from my perspective, there was also a tremendous amount of requests for the first Crysis on consoles, round the time we shipped the game on PC.

Unfortunately, we had to tell people back then that Crysis on consoles wasn’t possible, which was honestly the case at that point. We never imagined it could be possible at the level we wanted, so that we wouldn’t compromise the quality of the game. 

It almost seems as if Crysis 2 came about as a result of your research into bringing the first game to consoles. Is that right?

No, it’s the other way around. Our research into Crysis 2 has resulted in the first game coming to consoles. Without Crysis 2, we probably wouldn’t have had Crysis on consoles. Most people aren’t aware of this, but Crysis 2 is actually pushing more textures and data than the first game. 

Would you say that technically, that Crysis 2 is the superior game on all formats?

Not from all angles, but in regard to the amount of texture detail per frame, Crysis 2 is like two or three times more intense than Crysis. However, the first game offers greater horizontal play space, and this also takes a lot of memory. 

When we discovered we were dealing with more textures but less space in Crysis 2, we said, “OK, maybe we can actually deal with more space but less textures on consoles.” So when we went about to try it with the original Crysis on consoles, it actually worked very well, because we had more, smart ways of dealing with memory management.

Was that the biggest, most technical thing you had to overcome to make Crysis on consoles a reality?

Memory was the biggest challenge, and then the amount of shaders. I thought the visual fidelity was as good as Crysis 2 already, but dealing with memory management in the innovative way that we did was key to cramming all the data from Crysis on PC, into Crysis on consoles. 

Compared to Crysis 2's linear exploration, the original Crysis's open world will take more work to render.

Does the finished product on consoles run at the specs you would like?

Yeah, it runs at the same fidelity as Crysis 2, but the frame rate is a solid 25-30, it’s not a 60FPS game. It feels very fluid on consoles, and we’ve also made an effort in remastering the content for consoles. 

What I mean by that is we’ve given it a whole new lighting path, quite a few new special effects, we’ve added the Nanosuit 2 controls, and all of this has added to, as well as improved the experience. 

I want to be clear; when I say the console versions look better than Crysis on PC, I mean that as a factual thing, not in terms of technical specifications. 

So you mean as more of an art consideration?

‘Artistic perspective’ is better. But then if you look at it from a purely technical perspective; the original Crysis on a super duper PC will always run better than on consoles. There’s no doubt about that. 

But from an artistic lighting and gameplay perspective, if you look at Crysis 2 on consoles, which runs on similar specs as the PC version – just to get the same resolution and so on – the first Crysis on consoles looks much better. 

We recently saw Nvidia talking about the PC market, and they released a graph that showed the increase in graphic card power in PC. The company said that its latest graphics card is to be nine times more powerful than the current generation of consoles. Is this something you would agree with in terms of visual fidelity?

Performance power and visual fidelity are not things that should be compared. Nine times more brute force power might not result in nine times more visual quality. It may, in fact, only result in 50 per cent more visual quality. Any benefit we get from increased hardware power today, is applied more and more to the finer details. 

There is a diminishing return with every increase in power. I would expect from a ten times more powerful spec set-up, a perceived improvement of visual experience, somewhere between a factor two, or two and a half. You would not get much more than that. 

If you were to have the same assets, but running on a PC that had a ten times faster GPU, you would get a ten times faster frame rate, but that’s not what you want. That’s not a visual improvement. 

When you start adding more complex shaders, then the power can be seen in the details. You get better lighting slightly and maybe smoother pixels, but for an average Joe – not for hardcore gamers – that image will not improve a lot.

Will we be seeing games like Crysis go free-to-play one day?

It sounds like you’ve had that sort of experience with Crysis 2’s DX11 update?

In fact, that’s exactly one of the reasons. The Crysis 2 DX11 specs are somewhere like three to four times larger, but the quality upgrade is in the hardcore, trained eyes only. The true benefit of that is, if you’re trained, you will get an improvement of 30-40% or even 50% in some cases when tessellation is one of the things that can add more of an impact.

If people are using a completely different approach of graphics with – let’s say 10 times more computational power – then the impact can be higher, but if you go down the path of traditional optimisation as we did in any game over the last 10 years and there’s a diminishing return.

Can we ask you about the price point for Crysis on consoles? We’re talking about a game with triple-A visuals, but you’re only charging £16 for that in the UK for that – are you trying to pioneer a different model with Crysis on consoles?

We’re just hope that we get as many as possible users playing Crysis 1, we want the community of Crysis 1 to increase. It’s kind of a unique kind of scenario where we bring a game that has been successful on PC – and for many a benchmark on PC – to consoles many years afterwards. I mean, it’s almost four years later.

There is some aging on the content, but I think it still holds up there. I think the price point is fair, and I think that people, hopefully, are going to enjoy it a lot. And maybe this will enable to offer more of these kind of offerings in the future.

We were going to ask you about the original Crysis again in terms of the original release. Could you ever see Crytek such a technical powerhouse of a title that’s only really available to a small minority at launch based on PC specs, could you ever see yourself doing another title like that in the future? 

If you look at the retail markets right now and where they are, and if you look at the calculation trends that Nvidia put out in regards to the market then maybe I should say yes, but I don’t believe the retail trends are as Nvidia put out. But that being said, the PC market is going to be strongly growing in the free-to-play market.

But then again free-to-play requires huge community, so it means accessibility. It’s kind of contradictory to running a high-tier game where the community will be very small, but those community will be paying for the retail game and not for a free-to-play experience.

When you want to go free-to-play you’re trying to target millions of users so you get a percentage of them to pay for something. In the high-end space, those players are already investing a lot of money into their PC specs, so for them to buy a game it’s not going to be a problem, but at the same time the retail market is going down – so the expected sales are very low.

But free-to-play market is exploding, but yet it needs more reach. I think the short story is: Crytek will push the technology boundaries going forward, but if we make a game that is commercially viable I don’t think so. 

CryEngine 3 will soon be used for much more than triple-A titles like Crysis, indies will be supported too.

It sounds like you’re trying to look at all the different areas: you’ve got a free-to-play game in the works, and you’re still making console and PC games and you’ve got your engine business too. Is it safe to say that you’re trying to look at all these different areas of the industry?

Yeah, but more importantly what I think we’re really trying to do now – as an initiative going forward – is to try and increase the quality of the free-to-play market.

So that’s a huge focus for Crytek?

Yeah, we want to release triple-A free-to-play games, going forward.

Would you see those games funded by microtransactions like other games we’re seeing at the moment?

Yeah. It’s a win-win for everybody. I mean, we’re saying we’re going to offer you high-quality entertainment for free. And that means you can play the game forever for free, but then you can pay for transactions to speed up certain things.

Last time we spoke to your colleagues, we talked about next-gen. Do you have any extra thoughts on that; do you think it’s getting any closer or you’ve changed your predictions on anything?

My predictions were 2012-13 was when next-gen will come, and I still hope for that.

Okay. OnLive has launched in the UK recently, what are your thoughts on cloud gaming and streaming technology were and if you could ever see Crytek’s titles using that technology in the near future. 

We are going to announce to the public that some of our games will appear in some form or other on the cloud. Not necessarily OnLive, I don’t want to name the service now, but it will be announced shortly.

But the important thing is that I believe in a future where games are free, and the kind of business model that current cloud gaming operators are dealing with can’t sustain a free gaming market with that. It’s just prohibitively expensive. 

At Crytek we are very interested in the cloud gaming business. I would say so much that you can be assured that we are going to announce something in this regards. But we are dealing with it in a very different approach that OnLive and Gaikai would do.

That being said, I do want to applaud OnLive and Gaikai and some of the others that are working on streaming techniques right now. Because if you look at OnLive or Gaikai and similar services, usually their limitations aren’t scale; if you have 100 users you need to have between 50 and 100 PCs concurrently running.

In a free-to-play market that will create 50 or 100 PCs worth of cost, but because only a few percentage of the players are going to pay the cost of the current model is prohibitively expensive. But that being said I want to applaud the initiative because if the markets were not changing to a free-to-play model and it was staying true to digital retail then I think this is one of the best models you can do.

But as I said, at Crytek we believe games will be free and this is not sustainable. That type of cloud gaming, where one-on-one scaling is done, that cannot be possible.

But if cloud gaming changes to support the free-to-play model, then I think that is going to be very interesting for gamers around the world. So for those companies who are trying to replace the retail models, they are doing the first steps on this, to pave the way for next-generation cloud gaming and I think that should be applauded.

Are there any recent developments or progress on CryEngine as a product and mobile space for CryEngine as well?

Yeah, we can’t announce our plans for mobile just yet, but we’re definitely working on it. And we’re working on some of the showcases for that, though it’s too early to give any details on that.

But what’s important is that we are excited about mobile tablets and browser gaming; we are definitely looking at these markets in a strong way and we will have some exciting announcements very soon. 

And one other thing, as you know we released CryEngine 3 SDK. That has now reached 430,000 downloads I believe since its launch. And it’s been a massive success for us, from a free downloadable engine perspective.

We are the fastest download engine ever, and that’s something that is huge for us because it feeds a great community of users who are going to create content and games of all types.

And we are working on something interesting for it’s creators as well. We really want to promote the indie community, the users of CryEngine, to become successful ultimately.

Almost like monetising their own products?

That sort of thing, yeah, but I can’t actually go into details right now but I’m very excited about this. It’s one of the most excited things we’re dealing with right now internally at Crytek.

Finally, we’ve heard your great news that Crytek will be working with THQ on the next Homefront at your UK office. How much of a challenge is it going to be to take all the things you’ve learned from the Crysis franchise and to make that work for a different type of game for THQ?

For Homefront I can’t really talk about that just now. It’s way too early. But Homefront is Homefront and Crysis is Crysis. We will have lessons to share, of course. But how the game will turn out it’s too early to determine. It will be some new take on it, however, people shouldn’t just expect it to be a Far Cry of Crysis in the Homefront universe.

Of course, when we heard the announcement we thought it was such a great fit from Crytek’s perspective and the types of games you’ve put out already.

We are very excited about this. We want to make sure this Homefront just rocks, and we want to be sure its great. In terms of releases, we’re sure it’s the best title we’ve released so far.

 

 

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