CryEngine 3 – What Does It Mean For Console Games?
by AXIS of Reality
©2009 Alex Baldwin
For years Crytek was wowing PC owners with incredible videos of tropical environments revealed to be Crysis running on the CryEngine 2. Despite mixed reviews when it was finally released, one thing was clear: Crysis was the most visually arresting game ever created. PC owners flocked to upgrade their graphics cards and processors to run the technical showpiece, but little word was heard of the possibility of running the engine on a console. (Except for the fact OXCGN had spotted it running on 360’s some time ago in an earlier form)
It looks like the time has come.
Check out the Crytek CryEngine3 tech images below:
While the CryEngine 2 (follow-up to the CryEngine 1 that powered FarCry) rendered close to photorealistic vistas it was a resource hog, still straining even today’s latest hardware to run at high resolutions with the graphics dials turned to maximum.
It was generally accepted as being beyond the capabilities of the Xbox 360 and PS3 in its current form, and it looks like we were right – the CryEngine 2 was not optimised for consoles. Instead, we’re now presented with the CryEngine 3 developed specifically for console support, and the teaser trailer from the Game Developers Conference 2009 making its rounds shows the wait was worth it.
• Cryteck’s CryEngine 3 GDC 09 Demo
Almost every feature that made the CryEngine 2 so revered is back in force – stunning HDR lighting, physics-controlled foliage and collapsible buildings.
All running on the Xbox 360 and PS3. While the amazing graphics can be analysed for days even without concrete technical specifications released publicly, there’s the all-important question to ponder:
What does this mean for games and the industry?
So far this generation most console games have been developed on the studio or publisher’s proprietry game engines built internally. While for titles like Killzone 2 and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts ‘n’ Bolts this has resulted in amazingly detailed environments and animation, the cost and time of developing an engine that may only be used for one of a few games is often too high.
With the current economic climate it’s becoming more risky for developers to take this route. As an alternative, many studios have opted to license a middlware game engine, designed to be bent to whatever genre the developers need it for. In the last generation there were numerous middleware solutions such as Renderware and Unreal Engine 2X, but this generation there has only been one of note: Unreal Engine 3.
While able to create impressive results as seen in Gears of War 2 and Bioshock, when used for non-shooter genres or titles that require large open environments the strain can be seen. Lost Odyssey was filled with numerous loading screens and The Last Remnant and Mass Effect were plagued by technical issues such as the infamous texture pop-in.
It is also widely known Unreal Engine 3 has compatibility issues with the PS3 as well.
This is due to its focus on GPU rendering which plays to the 360’s strengths but not the PS3’s main focus of the Cell and SPUs. This made the engine sometimes a gamble for multiformat titles including Stranglehold. Most other engines developed were used internally within the same developer or publisher such as Valve’s Source Engine, Rockstar’s RAGE and Capcom’s MT Framework 1.
For smaller developers of those on a tight development schedule this creates a problem which will often result in sub-par games as deadlines can’t be stretched or trying to force a game engine to power a game it was never designed to handle. Back to the present, and it appears developers now have an additional choice: the CryEngine 3.
One of the main features of all the CryEngines has been the ability to render large outdoor scenes with long draw-distances which effectively covers the Unreal Engine 3‘s main weakness. This could lend itself to a wider variety of titles using large-scale playing fields instead of the tighter, more intricately detailed focus of the Unreal Engine 3.
Similarly, while the UE3 features the basic toolset of Agiea (now part of nVidia) PhysX dynamics engine it has never been a major component and as such does not feature heavily in Unreal-powered games. From the introductory trailer for the CryEngine 3 much of the emphasis is on physics integration that opens up new possibilities for console games.
The introduction of a new major middleware engine player to console gaming can only be a good thing.
While it is doubtful it will suddenly make all other engines obsolete, it provides more options for developers as they can choose between more options when deciding what technology will power their new games, as well as the apparent ease in porting to both the current HD consoles. It will be interesting to see the results in the years to come as the first CryEngine 3 titles crawl blinking out into the sun.