At Electronic Arts' E3 press conference, the company announced (among other things) that it would be publishing Crytek's Crysis 2 through the EA Partners division.
EA also published Crysis and Crisis Warhead, making the two organizations logical partners for the full stop sequel. More surprising was the plan to bring the series to consoles, with Crytek hoping to sacrifice none of the graphical glitz and glamor for which it is known.
We had the opportunity to speak with Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli and EA Partners group general manager David Demartini about the deal, as well as the delicate balancing act of bringing a Crysis game to console without compromising, or making PC fans feel like they're getting a lower-fidelity product.
This isn’t the most surprising deal, EA publishing Crysis 2.
Cevat Yerli: Isn’t it? Well our relationship with EA is that we’ve worked together on one game at a time. And our relationship was great, with Crysis and Crysis Warhead. But we had to do some research and some work on the development side before we knew that we were ready to bring it to the next big level. Because we said to EA, “we’re trying to make the best game possible on consoles – let’s do that, let’s research it."
A few months ago we made a breakthrough, and we showed it to EA and said “we’re ready to kick ass on all platforms, and we’re ready to bring Crysis to all platforms, beyond the PC as well.” And we’re committed to delivering the best game on PC, on 360, and for the PS3 market.
Was it rather difficult to scale to the consoles then? To some degree many Crytek games are still somewhat aspirational on the PC side, not everyone can play them.
CY: See, this is the number one reason why we said we had to deal with the technology. Three years ago we started researching the console technology, figuring out what we can do on the consoles so that we don’t have to compromise or scale down, as you say, on PS3 and 360. So our recent breakthrough allowed us to take the next step without compromising.
We could’ve started this two years ago, three years ago to bring Crysis to console, but we’re now committed without compromising to be sure that when Crisis 2 comes to PC, it leads, looks better than Crysis. When Crysis 2 comes to 360, within 360, we make sure from our perspective that it’s the best game the 360 can do, and it will be the best of all games there, and with the PS3, same deal.
Crysis 2 is on CryEngine 3, right?
CY: Yes, that’s the reason actually we could bring it right now.
What, on sort of a high level, were the technology hurdles you had to overcome?
CY: With CryEngine 3 our number one goal was to squeeze out as much as possible the technology enablers and features that were not available on 360 and PS3 games so far, but which we have seen in Crysis on PC. On a high end PC, not just the low PCs. The ones that are up there and are aspirational to a lot of games.
From our friends, as well as millions of gamers, we heard that there’s a lot of requests and desire for Crysis on consoles, but we knew they wanted to play the game they’ve seen on PC, not a dumbed down version. So for us to enter that market, we needed to make sure the technology solved that on PS3, and obviously PS3 is difficult to program, it isn’t easy – the 360 also has its intricacies – but overcoming those technical burdens, spending a lot of time, energy and know-how made it possible now. Now for us working on a PC, 360, and PS3, it’s the same. No more problems.
David Demartini: And Crytek has shown a tremendous amount of discipline, because the simple thing would’ve been to make these compromises and put it on PS3 and 360 before it was industry standard-setting, but as a company they have a reputation for not going to a platform just to exploit the platform, but they go to the platform when they have something that’s as good as anything in the industry, if not the best on that platform, so I think what consumers can look forward to is them setting a new bar against any game whatsoever on those platforms.
This is perhaps a difficult question, but would EAP actually have pushed back if Crytek were to try to bring the game to the 360 or PS3 with those compromises?
DD: Well we clearly had discussions about Crysis 1 on PS3 and 360, and we had dialog back and forth. Our dialog isn’t one way, it’s not like EA can say “Crytek, you do this.”
Just like our relationship, our relationship is voluntary on both sides on a project-by-project basis. We jointly made the decision not to bring Crysis 1 to console. Now when I say jointly, that could be Crytek saying “it’s not going to be good enough,” or EA saying “no, I don’t think it’s going to work,” but together we made this decision, and we’ll reap the benefits of this decision now, because now that they’ve actually achieved these modifications and enhancements with CryEngine 3, when they actually come to this platform, it’s going to be as good as anything that is out there right now.
And I don’t say that boastfully on behalf of Crytek. I just say that factually. It will be as good if not better than any game on those platforms.
CY: Yeah, you’ve seen it, that’s why. (laughs)
Some of the more hardcore types that really get off on having the highest gear, they might interpret this possibility as saying you’re making compromises. I’m not suggesting you are, but I’m sure you know you’ll have to address the perception.
CY: Yeah. So those gamers, let’s say when we release Crysis 2 and it’s going to compete with PC games, right there. So either it’ll compete with Crysis or it’ll compete with whatever is then the leading game. Let’s assume it will be Crysis 2, and then we will beat (the visual quality of) Crysis.
But to play a game that is in the vein of Crytek games on PC, you will still need a quite decent, good PC setup, plus it will be future-ready again. So just as aspirational as it is today, it will be again on PC. So fans of that kind of high-end PC gaming will still find it.
DD: Yeah, as he alluded to, Crysis is still visually the standard-setting bar on PC, two years after it shipped. So fortunately or unfortunately, Crytek is only competing with themselves in terms of setting that bar higher yet again.
Right, obviously when you make a new engine you want to make it future proof. I also wonder though if this new engine is more scaleable to lower spec environments.
CY: I think there’s a preconception about scalability on CryEngine 2. I don’t want to engine CryEngine 2 too much, but Crysis actually did run extremely well on low spec. Comparing games that had higher minimum specs than Crysis, even the so-called best technology providers, looking at their games, they look actually quite shaky against Crysis low-spec.
DD: And you could just talk to any of the people who stole the game from Bittorrent and other places, because it seems like millions of people are actually playing the game on moderate spec machines, just not necessarily having paid for it at retail.
CY: I truly think – Warhead, today a really high end PC running Warhead is like $350. That’s not a big demon machine anymore. Of course if you spend $3,000, you will get an experience unlike anything else on the market. That’s future scaleability. I think we are scaling somewhere between a factor of 5-15, depending on what kind of PC you have. And this is unheard of with an engine. And CryEngine 3 scales even better. So that’s why I don’t want to defend CryEngine 2, because CryEngine 3 does a better job.
David, it seems like EAP is doing a bit more hardcore stuff than the rest of EA.
DD: I wouldn’t necessarily break it down by hardcore or less hardcore, I’d break it down in terms of, EA Partners is looking to sign the top 20 developers in the world on a short list. And many of those top 20 developers are shooter companies, primarily, but the one common thread they have is that they all shoot for excellence.
And I think there’s a very specific difference in how EA Partners approaches the partnership. Previously at EA I think we always needed to have our hand on the steering wheel, yet when you pick some of the best drivers in the world in the independent game development space, you don’t over manage it. You kind of back away and give them a tremendous amount of room.
Backseat driving, perhaps?
DD: Backseat driving better than front-seat driving, where you’re both trying to steer at 80 miles per hour with all your hands on the wheel! So yeah, I do think it’s backseat driving to the extent that if someone leans back and asks “should we go left or right?” you offer that advice. Otherwise you just sit in the back seat and shut up. (laughs)
And get chauffeured to your destination, perhaps.
DD: (laughs) Exactly! Ride on their coattails, it’s a great strategy!
CY: And we’re trying to drive as fast as we can, so they get scared!
Why have different approaches per console?
CY: Because the PS3 is quite different from 360, which is quite different from PC.
Market-wise, or performance-wise, or both?
CY: Actually performance, and the market, they’re quite different. Of course one could argue with the PS3 and 360 there’s an overlap of audience, which of course we’re counting on as well, but there’s also differences in the online space, differences on the PC online space, the hardware requirements are different, the PS3 does have more storage, and there are a lot of details and differences. And the companies are different. Sony is a different company from Microsoft, from the way they support us as a developer.
So our goal is to put all the differences aside, and provide the best experiences we can as a developer, abstracting these kinds of issues from the gamer, avoiding that so that they just get the best game on all platforms.
What would you cite as the major performance differences between PS3 and 360? I’ve heard a lot of opinions.
CY: I mean essentially the game we run is about the same. Probably one’s stronger on the GPU side, one’s stronger on the CPU side, so depending on what you’re doing where, the PS3 does perform here sometimes better, the 360 performs other things better, but overall by the time the game ships it’ll be absolutely the same.
One thing I was just thinking about, because Crytek tends to push technology forward, is how Sony stated that the PS3 wouldn’t be pushed to its limits until 10 years of life. Do you feel that’s true, or will you max it out here?
CY: The interesting thing is we did run a performance analysis on the PS3 devkit, and you know the funny thing is the occupation on all the CPUs, the Cell and the GPUs, is pretty much – the needle is at the limit. There’s not much more you can do. And frankly the breakthrough was very recent, and otherwise we would’ve had a compromised strategy on the consoles, which we don’t have now.
So I think we will still have an upside, but we’re touching the hardware limits already. We do develop very very low level to get that performance out. Like I said, we started three years ago in the research of technology, and we had to dig very deep into the hardware to find the reserves, and say “oh we have 2% more here, and 1% more here,” and that allowed us actually to get to where we are.