Director of Creative Development Rasmus Hoejengaard sits down with Polygon to talk tech, environments, and Crysis 3.
It's tough to talk about Crysis 3 without starting with Crysis 2. While Crytek's second proper nanosuited excursion proved a critical and sales success, it deeply divided the original PC fanbase that made Crysis and its expansionWarhead its own.
Crytek isn't blind to that, and Director of Creative Development Rasmus Hoejengaard is patient about it, all things considered. Crysis 2 was a gamble, a move of what the studio considered necessity from the difficult retail environment on PC to the slightly greener pastures of consoles, but Crytek knows that some of the concessions there were pain points for the original Crysis audience.
But after Polygon's Emily Gera got a look at Crysis 3 last week in London, and I saw it for myself this week in San Francisco, fans of the wide jungle spaces of Crysis and fans of Crysis 2's verticality should be excited for next spring's sequel (and the return of fan-favorite character Psycho). Hoejengaard sat down with me to talk about console technology, Crytek's comfort with older hardware, and the thinking behind Crysis 3's Nanodome New York from a design perspective.
What feedback did Crytek take from the reception of Crysis 2 going into Crysis 3?
Whenever we approach something that's an iteration of something, that's not a new IP, it's always a combination of what we would like to do as a company, and what players would like to see, or would like to see changed in the next version of the game. And we find the best kind of mix and match of that.
We definitely wanted to do something which was, from an environmental point of view, different. At the same time everybody was really in love with the idea of bringing heavy vegetation back into the game, like whenever you haven't done something for a while, you want to go back and do that again, right, but at the same time, there was also something cool about the urban situation, but we didn't want to create something we had seen before. So we said why don't we merge the two, and create an organic city, basically, an organic urban scenario.
That kind of snowballed and the idea of the Nanodome, very early on. There was this vision of a big dome that would cover these cities, why doesn't that hyper accelerate the plant growth, how does that tie into the fiction, how long would that take, well that means the game would have to take place here. We wanted to tell also the Prophet story, we thought he was a really rich character, and wanted to wrap up his story. So that was also decided really early on. And then we just wanted to push the understanding of Ceph technology and how that ties into Prophet and the Nanosuit, and push that as a theme, as part of Prophet really realizing who he is. Obviously, he tried to kill himself. So, what was he when he "came back" at the end ofCrysis 2, and how does that then lead into his story in Crysis 3? These are all kind of existential questions there that we wanted to answer and we thought would be interesting to answer.
And then of course we wanted to continue the story of the Ceph, as well as Cell industries. So we were very specific this time around about what the Ceph are as a race. We'll also learn about Cell industries and what they want. They're not about enslaving literally, but having so much technological and military power that they have no competitors in the world, basically making them the dominant force. And them being this shady and power hungry organization, it's not a good thing, right? So we wanted to create a much more clear story with Cell industries, and we thought that whole thing really resonated well with some of the kinda global issues going on right now, and some of the issues that people are taking up. And we wanted to create a simpler story. Not simpler as in boring, but we wanted to narrow down what we were trying to explain, and wanted it to be more driven by a tight cast of characters. So it's more about characters in this sci-fi setting, rather than a sci-fi setting with some characters in it.
"WE HAVE SO MANY MORE PLACES TO PUSH WHERE MAYBE WE COULDN'T BEFORE, BECAUSE WE WERE COMING UP WITH STUFF DURING DEVELOPMENT [DURING CRYSIS 2]."
Crysis 2's level design was effected in large part due to its move to multiple platforms, and the technical limitations therein. Crytek released Crysis on Games on Demand and PSN late last year, which had most of the game intact. Was that a dry run to see if you accomplish that on the consoles?
I wouldn't say the goal was a proof-of-concept, because it was done so late that we were already doing Crysis 3 at that point. But obviously that endeavor of pushing Crysisas a franchise on to consoles created a lot of challenges, obviously because we had to develop the technology while we did Crysis 2, which meant we had to risk manage it in a completely different way. And the stuff we were pushing was different than when we were only doing it on that PC platform, but, since we now have a stable console technology that's been much further developed, even since the release of Crysis 2, by having done the first Crysis for consoles for example, we have a much better understanding of the challenges that we have, and those limitations are not anywhere near the same that we had before.
And as I mentioned a couple of times now, it was a learning experience, and it was the first launch of a Crysis game on a console ever. Other developers at that point would have been on their fourth or fifth console title because they'd been around for a while, but we weren't, which means that we have so many more places to push where maybe we couldn't before, because we were coming up with stuff during development.
So yeah, we're still in production, but we're doing stuff far and above what we could do in Crysis 2. From a technical point of view, we're prototyping render features now that have never been seen on consoles before from any studio. We'll need to see what we can actually use in the final game, since it all boils down to performance, but it looks pretty promising. We have new vegetation systems, which isn't unique, but we created a crazy lens flare system and we have parallax occlusion mapping functioning on console now, something we had in the DX11 update for Crysis 2 on PC. And we actually managed to figure out ways to use that on console. Obviously it's not in the exact same way as on PC, but the end result is largely the same. We'll push as much as we possibly can in the hardware performance spectrum. We want to push the high-end benchmark of what's possible on PC, but also on consoles.
Are you targeting Directx 11 for the PC launch this time around?
Yeah. It needs to be an embedded part of the launch software that we're going to have.
From a design perspective, what are some things Crytek didn't feel you had the time to execute on with Crysis 2 that your comfort level with consoles now is allowing you to do?
It's hard to pinpoint specifics like that, but because we're confident in our ability to execute scale on a console really well, we want to really leverage the sandbox gameplay to a larger extent than what we did in Crysis 2, which was more about verticality. Because of the setting and many other reasons. Right now we want to leverage whatever brings the kind of experience we want to convey, the gameplay experience that fits that. So we're doing both broad horizontal sections and more narrow vertical sections, depending on what fits. So the dynamic range we're going to have on this game, and that's regardless of platform, is gonna be large because it's not an open world exploration game, and it's not a linear experience, it's whatever we want it to be at any given time. And that's definitely new and different from Crysis 2, and fromCrysis as well. The thing about open world, open ended games like Crysis, is that they are more hardcore to play, so not going full-on with that, but not going fully linear either is broadening the experience.
Crysis 2 on consoles suffered from some particular technical issues, namely an uneven framerate, and running sub-HD on both systems, particularly on the PS3. Is that something Crytek is hoping to address with Crysis 3, or are you still leaning toward visual complexity over things like resolution?
We want to do both things, and our aim is to kinda push on both ends. We obviously want a game that runs at a stable, solid framerate, with a resolution and visual fidelity that's as high as possible, and I think with the amount that we can push our console technology now, compared to Crysis 2, we still have hopes that we can push equally on those things. Obviously we can't do things the same on an Xbox 360 that we can do on an SLI-equipped supercomputer, but one thing we want to make sure to underline is that we don't want to create a difference experience on the platforms. If something would radically change the experience on one platform, and we can't translate across all of them, then the feature will not be there. That's the rule of thumb, right? We don't have an elitist view of the platforms, that "this is the benchmark experience, and if these other two platforms can't live up to it, then too bad." Each thing gets equal consideration.