So far you've shown fairly constrained urban environments. Are there areas of more openness?
CY: Yeah, there is a variety of openness and verticality. Crysis 2 is more 3D of a sandbox than Crysis 1, because you have more traversal up and down. You are looking up and down more as well when you fight. The volume of play space is very similar. But sometimes it might be more narrowed, sometimes more expansive and flat. It varies a lot in the game.
Has that required you to rethink the level design process? Both Far Cry and Crysis were relatively flat and open.
CY: Yeah. Far Cry is what I call a "2D sandbox". Crysis is what I call a 2.5D sandbox, because you have some jumping up and down on huts. That was a favorite of a lot of people; you jump on a hut, break it, and go inside.
Crysis 2 is a true 3D sandbox. It definitely changes the way level design is done because you have to think about more dimensions, you have to think about where enemies will come from, how you want to traverse the environment, et cetera. It definitely was quite a big change for a lot of people.
Crysis Warhead already started to go a little more to a directed, linear experience; do you feel like you learned lessons from that?
CY: Yeah. Crysis 1 was sandbox, Crysis Warhead tried to be a choreographed sandbox, but was a bit too choreographed in a way, and Crysis 2 is a bit in the middle, offering flexibility and intensity as well.
For me, it was an evolution of that learning experience. With Crysis 1, we tried to be more intense, but still open. To be frank, in Warhead, you can still be very sandbox-y, but we didn't make a mistake from a level design perspective -- we made a mistake with the tempo of the game. It felt too much like it was pushing you forward: "Push, push, push, go, go, go!"
People didn't feel like they could explore anything, but if they tried, they could have. It felt like a loss of opportunity; it felt like, "If I try to deviate from my main course, it looks like I'm doing something wrong." It was an aesthetic element that led to that. With Crysis 2, I think we are doing this much better.
There must be a difficult balancing act there. Your demo includes scenes like a huge building falling over; that's obviously scripted, and it has to happen at a specific time and place. How do you still retain openness?
CY: That's the crux of it, right? That's the fine line of it. Again, we've been working on this for many years now through sandbox experiences, and we had two options: go wider, more open, or try to bring in the ultimate cinematic experience.
I always wanted to have a blockbuster feeling with surprises. With Crysis 2 I chose the choreographed sandbox approach. I wanted to nail that one for Crysis 2, because usually, the more open the game gets, the more challenging it is for gamers.
That being said, people have experience with open games, right? But in the shooter category, not as much. From that perspective, there was a DNA change for the genre. What was our Crysis 2 DNA going to be? Should we make it open like many third person games? Should we move into third person as well? Should we keep it first person?
The thing is, in first-person games, people are not used to it. In first-person, the dominating games are much more linear, but we didn't want to be linear. The challenge came when we decided that we needed to nail the choreographed sandbox.
What is it about the first person perspective that Crytek connects with?
CY: For me, it's about immersion. It's you who plays, it's you who is in charge, you are empowered, you are the super soldier, you are badass, you are kicking ass. That's what I want players to feel. It's not necessarily about you impersonating a character; it's more about you being yourself, as a hero. That works best with first person.
That being said, there are third-person games where that works well, but usually it's more about impersonating a character and identifying with the character. I want you, yourself, to become the hero.
You talk about how you want some things choreographed and you want players to think, and the options have been more streamlined. That seems true of the suit as well; now, you choose broader configurations that combine a few powers.
CY: The nanosuit evolved in a more direct, accessible way. It's more straightforward to access it now. You have direct access; you have indirect access already by just sprinting and jumping. If you press jump longer, you jump higher; if you sprint longer, you sprint faster.
You have some of the speed and strength parts from Crysis 1, but you also have the armor mode, which makes a protective element, but also stabilizes your aim, and it has melee kill differences. We just pushed that one because it was very popular in Crysis 1.
Stealth was also popular, so we said, "This one should become one of the primary modes." We have speed and strength as part of the core experience that is already present by default, and on top of that, we added a binocular visor mode that gives you tactical combat intelligence. Making them more streamlined and easy to access was part of the equation of making the choreographed sandbox much better.
It sounds like you tried to determine the effective tonal modes of playing Crysis, rather than just the individual notes.
CY: Yeah. It's less about the ability, and more about the intention. What do you want to do? "I want to play stealth, I want to play armor. I want to be tactical." It's much more intention-driven than ability-driven.
I remember speaking with you before Crysis came out and you were saying that the suit powers actually came along quite late in development --
CY: Yes, we were at a point in Crysis where there was no nanosuit, and I said, "There's something missing." Thank goodness we came up with that (laughs).
I followed up on that in the run-up to Warhead and you said that, as designers, that short turnaround time didn't let you really learn how to best incorporate the suit. Does it feel very familiar now?
CY: Yeah, going from 2.5D to 3D sandbox from Crysis 1 to Crysis 2, I certainly believe we are using the nanosuit powers much better.