Crysis 3: “How Far Can We Push This?”
OXCGN’s Interview with Mike Read – Crysis 3 Producer
by Arthur Kotsopoulos
©2013 Arthur Kotsopoulos
February seems to be a huge month for EA, with the release of Dead Space 3 and Crysis 3, both the final installments in their respective trilogies, and both drastically changing the direction of the series.
Where one game moves away from the slow and horrific corridors of space to appeal to a broader audience, the other tries to combine the better features of the previous installments to please its fans.
Arthur: How are you Mike?
Mike: Good, how are you?
Arthur: Not too bad, finally enjoying this heat after a few days of overcast and rain. Now, I wanted to get started now on the box art for Crysis 3, it displays the use of a bow as the primary weapon, and in the last few years archery has seen a resurgence in popular culture such as The Hunger Games, Far Cry 3 and Tomb Raider.
What prompted the decision to use a compound bow alongside guns, and how does it sit with the overall story telling of Crysis?
Mike: Well we wanted to copy everybody else of course (laughs).
No, so actually this came about and it’s interesting because I came along a little further into the project as I wasn’t there for pre-production, but I went back and especially with the resurgence with the bow coming back with all of these games recently, especially some of these ones that have put out expansions recently, that I think were tied in with the bow or were more following the trend.
This was something that tied in thematically early on in the pre-production with a lot of the game so we basically looked at it, like we’re doing this throwback where we’re coming back to the jungle again and we are shifting from the hunted becoming the hunter, and also this unique suit mode of being able to cloak kind of combines all of these elements and you go “OK, what would be a cool thing we could tie in with this?” Of course our designers went through a number of different things and came out with the bow.
They basically took sort of a modern day design that’s out there, and modified it a little bit with a special auto-loading box and it just fit in with the theme. It was originally intended as more of a silent tactical cloak weapon, but what we saw people doing with it was all sorts of mid-air stuff and trying to do things we didn’t really intend to do with it.
That kind of emergent gameplay and not only that, but watching people and how they interact with the maps and different weapons, and the gameplay experience people are having in the way that they traverse the level has been interesting to watch.
Arthur: So essentially you’re giving the player a better sense of different gameplay options, where they can complete most areas completely via stealth. This is obviously transitioned into multiplayer with Hunter Mode that we got a chance to play the other day.
How much work has been put into multiplayer this time around, to bring it up to scratch with obviously every other console and PC shooter?
Mike: A lot of work has been placed into this. Back in 2009, when we adsorbed the Crytek UK studio, formerly Free Radical, it was their first entry dealing with Crytek and dealing with multiplayer and how to define that.
I think we’ve learned a lot over that time, especially with Crysis 2 on how the multiplayer needed to be refined, and not going in and going “Well, the suit mode needs to function like this because it has in single player, so it needs to do in multiplayer.”
We’ve gone back and really analysed the whole thing from top down, bringing in expert clubs where we have these groups of gamers who play console games, and some play PC, and some play FPS or don’t play FPS, and we bring them in and do tests with these guys and a lot of other external testing that we’ve done to refine the gameplay experience overall to make it a lot easier to get into, with a faster pace.
The new environments have expanded the game out drastically, and the maps are significantly larger than they were in Crysis 2. The new Hunter Mode is very asymmetrical and that needs to be balanced in a very specific way.
We’ve done a tonne of work on that, which is probably very noticeable from both sides of things, but when we come to the Nanosuit vs Nanosuit, we separated Armour and Cloak energy bars, which have been big changes and they’ve been very well received.
Arthur: Whilst Crysis was set in natural environments and jungles, Crysis 2 obviously used the urban setting of New York. Was this challenging to merge them both into Crysis 3?
Mike: It absolutely was and I think it was the toughest things that we’ve had moving into the environments, having these 7 distinct environments.
Don’t take on one single art style, take on a whole different series that have to be defined with each level. As you go through these you’re going to find different assets and different things, it’s not like we’re going through each of them and re-using pieces all over it.
You’re going to find certain things that are throughout (the game), but in terms of the plant life and the lighting and the way that we do those, a lot of details have been put into that. Not just for the visuals but the gameplay elements as well. We really wanted to hit that sweet spot between the two, and when they were doing it in the early days of development it was swaying back and forth.
When we released the E3 one, we had a lot of unsolicited feedback coming back to us from fans telling us “Wow, you guys have really hit this right in the middle with Crysis 1 and 2 not only in environments, but gameplay as well.”
Arthur: With the engines powering both Crysis games, obviously they’ve received almost as much promotion as the games themselves. What is the advantage of using your own homegrown game engine (CryEngine 3) instead of third-party solutions such as Unreal Engine 3 and EA’s own Frostbite 2?
Mike: The big one is support, that’s always the giant challenge of the cost associated with licensing an engine, and determining what level of support your going to need to do this.
We have all of the guys in house that have worked on the engine, created the engine, an entire RnD team and a technical side that works with us on the Crysis side, that we can make changes to the engine.
There’s a time cost to it of course, but we know not only is this going to benefit us, we’re learning not only from our RnD and technical guys that are being injected into the engine, but from the games we’re doing internally.
Another thing to note I’ve been bringing out recently after Crysis 2 came out with the CryEngine 3, we’ve seen a big resurgence with the licensing of the engine itself. We’ve not only ventured into games but architecture and film and all these different aspects people pick the engine up on. Not to mention having a free SDK out there that anybody can pick up and at least use the core of the tools on the engine has been a big plus.
We get feedback from all these different angles from licensing, from public free SDK testing, our own games, then combining that and building our own technology. It’s definitely a huge plus for us that we’re a multifaceted company at this point.
Arthur: As a producer at a studio that develops both games and engines, what would be your most wanted feature for say the next Xbox or the next Playstation beyond more power, higher resolutions or DX 11?
Mike: Hahaha. I think that whatever they end up delivering there are a lot of things that we want, and as you said more power is originally at the core of what we want. We want to be able to deliver a similar experience graphically to console gamers as much as we do in pushing the PC.
Being a producer, I deal with all different people, so I’m sure talking to the Art guy they’ll be like “Yeah, we want more graphics!” talking to the Level Design team, “We want more processing power!” and the Technical guys they want a little bit of everything.
I think it’s safe to assume at this point we’re going to get that since hardware is 8 years on. What’s going to be the most interesting thing is the longevity of this next generation, and there are a lot of interesting things happening in the tech and video game industry as well, with SONY’s purchase of Gakai for streaming technologies, Nvidia has started talking about their grid technologies and streaming technologies as well.
Streaming is definite on that end, and you also have digital distribution which has been a staple of PC gaming for what going on 5 years.
It’s looking at all of technological things combined and how far behind consoles are in power of hardware and content delivery, as to how the next 10 years are going to play out when the next gen consoles start arriving. Not that we don’t have the Wii U already, but when SONY and MS start talking about theirs.
Arthur: Just to quickly finish off, you were talking obviously hoping for more power in next gen consoles to give that same PC experience to the player, is it disappointing to know that the majority of players that purchased Crysis 2 didn’t get to see the game at it’s fullest potential and didn’t get to appreciate the technology behind the game.
I know with Crysis 2 sales, the PC sales accounted for only about 14%, so is it disappointing they didn’t get to to appreciate the technology?
Mike: I think given the circumstances, and what we went through in Cyrsis 2; just a bit of a history on that is that in Crysis 2 we really were developing a brand new engine in tandem with making a game, and also bringing it to platforms that weren’t so much aged, but were ageing at that point.
We were taking an engine that was primarily known for breaking and blowing up PCs and making that work on older hardware, it was definitely a big challenge that we had to achieve, and in the long term it’s been beneficial for Crytek.
I think we always go back and look at a game and think “Wow, I wish we could have done X, Y and Z,” and I think for what we had to do with the technical challenges, and the design barriers that we ran into with that in creating this new iteration of the engine, I think we did the best that we could possibly could under the circumstances.
I get people coming back to Crysis 2 and going “Wow this game really did look good for the time it came out and that much on PC as well”, but this time we’re really able to hone in on that and take the consoles as far as could possibly go with them, pushing them really hard.
Also having our PC branch on the side and asking “How far can we really push this? Not to what the current generation is but past that?” It’s always thinking about tomorrow rather than thinking about today when it comes to innovation and moving ahead.
Arthur: I actually thought Crysis 2 looked amazing for a console title despite the AI glitches and bugs in graphics, it was probably one of the better looking games that was released over the past few years on the 360.
Looking forward to the third one because it’s more Crysis, the same small open sandbox levels but expanded and it’s going to be a good Q1 of 2013 when Crysis 3 is released.
Mike: Yeah, the AI systems, that’s another thing that I’m really starting to talk about quite openly now. I’m starting to feel really good about the AI systems and where we’re at with those, how we’ve changed those quite drastically since Crysis 2.
Those are really coming together and adding a lot to the gameplay, especially having different approaches and not having a very linear way that these guys react to things.
Arthur: Sweet, thanks for the chat Mike.
Mike: Great, thank you.