A little while back, I got the chance to get my greedy little hands on some of EA’s finest titles for 2013. One of those titles was the hotly anticipated, hardware melting, Crysis 3. Who else should accompany the game though, than Crytek producer Michael Elliot Read. We managed to have ourselves a little chat, so read on to find out about the current FPS landscape, game development challenges and the future of the Crysis franchise.
What do you say to the people that believe Crysis is about style and graphics over substance?
This is actually a good question. I think that it’s interesting and I think about my own experiences with Crysis which was before I joined the company. When Crysis first came out, it was this game that no PC would run. It was this myth that when anybody picked it you were like “Oh, it’s not going to run on your PC.” So it came in on that and then became the forefront of this graphics push and became the benchmark for that. Then later on when I upgraded my PC and grabbed Crysis, I played it and was like this is actually a pretty good game.
But it got completely overshadowed by the fact that it needed such a powerhouse system to run. But for Crysis 3 I think we’ve kind of come back to the graphics and the type of stuff that we’re able to do as a focus. And what that does is act like a domino effect to our designers and what they’re able to do in the level design – in making a lot of smarter decisions in the way they’re putting those levels together. So I think in Crysis 3, the way that we’ve been approaching it is that a lot of levels have been pushed up. It’s not just the graphics at the forefront, but the gameplay is a lot of fun now too. The story is there, the audio is there. We’ve put a lot of time into these little things that really add up to the bigger picture of what we’re going to deliver in Crysis 3.
So do you not want to melt PCs anymore?
[laughs]We still want to melt PCs. When our alpha got out and all the tech sites got their hands on it, they were like “Wow, this really does push PCs hard.” So we’re able to do everything in tandem this time and not just focus on “Yeah, let’s make a hyper pretty game.” The teams we have put together handle so many different aspects of the game and it doesn’t always boil down to “we can’t put that in because it’s not graphically feasible.” There are a number of things that play into it. But I think for the overall gameplay style – we wanted to maintain what we did in Crysis and Crysis 2. Find that middle ground between the two of them, but come back and do all these little things that will just make the overall experience that much better.
Once you hit your third game in a series like you have with Crysis, how tough is the battle of innovation versus iteration? Do you fear changing things too much?
I don’t think we are changing too much. There’s a lot of things in Crysis 3 that are going to be very familiar to people in the Crysis franchise, but also very easy for new people to jump into the game. We’ve added in a tutorial now on how to use the suit modes and it’s actually this kind of virtual reality kind of thing that people get into which explains how things work. But I think it will actually peak an interest in people to go back and touch the first two [Crysis games] as well.
In the past you’ve said that in Crysis 2 you were very restricted by the urban grid you were using versus the first game’s open plains. How hard is it to strike that perfect middle ground during the development process?
It was a challenge in some ways because we had … well the biggest challenge for Crysis 3 if you talk to the level designers is the distinct areas. The seven wonders are very different from one another. It’s not like Crysis where we had an island which was all the way through. I mean you had an island and you were either in the middle of the island or one of the shores around the island. So there was definitely an art style that went into that, but it was very defined. Then in Crysis 2, dealing with New York City it was very defined again. But taking those two and going “ok, how do we take this and this and mash the two together?” That’s essentially what we did this time. That’s been one of the biggest challenges; really defining how each of those is and re-imaging how new York City would be if you built a dome around it. What kind of plants would be there? What kind of things would grow? How much erosion would happen? It’s been a challenge, but it’s come together really nicely.
Where did the idea and inspiration for the Hunter mode come from?
I get this a lot and I really should ask Adam [Duckett - lead multiplayer designer] about it. He’ll get mad at me if I say something really bad about that. I think it came from a lot of things that he wanted to do for quite some time and I’m sure the inspiration came from a magnitude of different places. But having these asymmetrical modes, people always look at them on the surface and go “wow this is hyper unbalanced. How is this going to work?” But there’s a lot of tweaks and things – you’ll notice the Hunters aren’t fully invisible, but they’re just invisible enough and we’ve lit them in such a way that they stick out. You also have the clacking tone that happens when a Hunter gets close to you as well. It kind of balances itself out.
We had a lot of expert groups come in, which is basically like video game players who play Xbox, play PC or play PS3. Gamers who have played Crysis, who haven’t played Crysis and who play FPS games. And we had them come in and do regular assessments on this and a lot of that feedback was injected. Not just on that game mode, but a lot of the other ones as well. I actually wish we had Crash Site here as well, just to show off how we change the Nano suit modes when it’s just Nano suit versus Nano suit. Because now it’s not a single energy bar – you have an armour bar, you have a cloak bar and sprinting is completely decoupled from that.
What do you make of the current FPS landscape?
I mean, it’s interesting where it’s going. Because you’re starting to see, especially on the console market, you have games like Battlefield which are starting to introduce players to these larger maps and groups of people that PC people have had for ten years or more. I remember back in 1999 playing Tribes and guys that were hacking servers and having 120 people playing. I mean, it ran like shit, but it was like “wow I’m playing with 120 people in the same space.” It’s cool that console players are getting into that and further away from corridor type stuff and in more open spaces, especially in the multiplayer environments. I think it’s very cool to see that evolve.
How do you feel going back into the FPS market against the popularisation of games like Call Of Duty and Battlefield?
I think we got criticised for Crysis 2 where people thought “Oh you’re just trying to be a COD clone with armour and cloaks,” and I kind of feel that was an unfair assessment of where they were going with it. But we’ve really dialed that back and really come into our own to go “Ok we have these really unique suit modes and we have these unique things that we really need to play in.” I think the maps are also significantly larger than they were in Crysis 2; a lot more open spaces and a mix of indoor and outdoor stuff.
What’s been your hardest challenge?
Definitely the environments because you have all of the district areas that are being done. Like I said before, it’s not one giant island where you have one dedicated style and even in New York it was kind of the same thing. You have buildings, but you have different types of day, lighting, plant life and water. So it was really about defining and creating all of those seven areas.
Once Crysis 3 is done do you want to continue with the series, or try something new and take a break?
You know, I think at this point I don’t want to give anything away. But I think the Crysis franchise itself has life left in it. Whether it’s in a different game type format, whether it’s expanding upon this, it’s hard to say. That’s going to be up to the designers at the end of the day. But I think we’ve built… Crysis was always intended to be a trilogy and I think that over that time we’ve built a really cool universe. We haven’t really gone in and said “Hey let’s put Nano suits and clown suits and stuff and completely violate and sell our IP.” We’ve done a fairly good job at maintaining that, so I think in terms of the universe, we have a lot more life left in that to go back and try some unique stuff. Whether it’s FPS or not I have no idea, but there’s definitely a future in the franchise.
Finally, in one sentence, why should people buy Crysis 3?
Because it really detaches itself from all the other shooters out there – it provides a unique gameplay experience for all FPS fans.
Crysis 3 will be hitting consoles and destroying PCs across the globe in February 2013. Stay tuned for our review!