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What separates CryEngine from its competition?
What separates CryEngine from its competition?
June 6, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Last week, Crytek launched the subscription version of CryEngine. At $9.90 a month, it undercuts Unreal Engine 4's $19 a month drastically -- before you even take into account the fact that Epic will take 5 percent off the top of your revenues if you launch a commercial project using its tools.

It turns out that's not the only big difference between the two packages. One significant difference is that with CryEngine, you must license WWISE if you want a full-featured audio solution, an added expense. CryEngine doesn't yet build to mobile, though that's coming "very soon."

Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the difference between the two companies' attitudes toward their developer communities. Gamasutra spoke to Crytek's Carl Jones, its director of business development, to find out more.

Software as a Service, or Crytek isn't Epic

Crytek, Jones says, is offering a true software-as-a-service solution, and intends to remain in total control over engine development -- which he contrasts against Epic's total openness.

"At the core, Crytek is building advances in that engine and controlling where that engine goes -- that's where we think we get the best results from."

"If you're only looking at the game engine, the game industry, the two are quite comparable," says Jones. "What we're offering is more of a business option for developers who want to commercially make a game, and do it in a manageable way. It is quite a distinct thing."

"At the core, Crytek is building advances in that engine and controlling where that engine goes -- that's where we think we get the best results from," Jones says. "What CryEngine is, is driven by Crytek's games and developers -- it's a result of that work. We're confident that we can push high-end further than anyone else by taking that approach."

He says that, by contrast, Epic is "open-sourcing" Unreal Engine 4: "They're obviously then charging for that, but their fundamental strategy is, 'Let's open-source the engine.'"

Whether or not that's true, it is clear that Epic is encouraging developers of all stripes to play with its source code and will incorporate useful changes into the stable builds it distributes. "We're really looking forward to opening that up to the wider community, with thousands or hundreds of thousands of programmers, to use it and contribute," Epic's Tim Sweeney told Gamasutra in March.

Crytek will decidedly not be taking that approach. Still, Jones promises that Crytek will be responsive, and is already implementing feedback gathered since the launch last week. "We'll do it based on the feedback and demands from our community," says Jones, but Crytek's engineers will be the ones making the decisions about the direction of the engine.

The Engineering Question

While Unity has a core team of around 150 engineers, and Epic has around 100 concentrating on Unreal Engine 4, Jones says it's hard for him to compare -- because while there are only around 50 engineers working directly on the engine, every Crytek project across its eight studios has its own engine R&D team, and "every single one of those games is delivering technology back into the engine."

"Every single one of Crytek's games is delivering technology back into the engine."

For example, Xbox One launch title Ryse brought forth a number of improvements: "all the character rendering improvements, skin shaders, new ways of rigging and animating characters, as well as the camera control, we have all those new features in there," says Jones.

Meanwhile, Crytek USA's new game, Hunt, will result in "some really state-of-the-art procedural content generation tech" in the engine closer to the game's release, once its code base stabilizes, which will generally be how additions work.

Is he worried about other developers using tech Crytek pioneered in their own games? "That's not a reason we'd hold anything back," says Jones. The only parts that won't be included are solutions so "hardwired" to a specific game that even Crytek wouldn't want them in the engine's general code base. Another potentiality is that "we would hold back code where it might create security risks," such as server code.

"We would never hold back a feature just for ourselves," says Jones.

Learning from a New User Base

Jones says the company will be active in addressing user feedback -- and notes that the requests Crytek has already seen since going subscription differ from those it gets from its triple-A licensees. "I think it will change our approach," says Jones. "We listen to our community and give them back what they want."

One major piece of feedback that has already gone into the engine is that developers don't like paying royalties -- something Crytek had tried in the past, when it released a free version of its engine. "We got very good pickup from that, but as soon as people were trying to move into a commercial space, it got very complicated. It became pretty clear to us that people didn't like that royalty model, and they would be happy with something else," Jones says.

As for the WWISE situation, Jones says to expect an update on that in the future, but he offered no further details on what that might be. (There is a reduced-feature version of the audio middleware package included with CryEngine for free.)

However, a big change is that "very soon" the mobile version of the engine will be available to subscribers. It was used to develop Crytek Budapest's The Collectables, which released in March.

Crytek is courting high-end mobile projects, and is "not going to pretend it's going to work on low-end mobile," says Jones. The goal, however, is to make it "as smooth as possible" to publish projects to mobile using the engine, including making it easy for developers to put CryEngine-based PC and console projects on mobile devices.

The subscription engine will also be able to build for consoles, Mac, and Linux in the future, too. "They will just follow a different path to launch it on the different devices," says Jones. "All these platforms we're going to add in, in the future."

Tied to Steam

Most interesting -- or scary, depending on whom you ask -- is how tightly the company has integrated its engine with Valve's Steam service. Steam is the only place to subscribe to CryEngine, and Jones explains that this is a very deliberate move.

"There are many things around building a game people wanted to have... and the best place to do that is Steam."

Choosing Steam to distribute CryEngine allows for an "end-to-end service to developers that we knew we couldn't do ourselves," says Jones. "If not the only place, it's certainly the best place."

Steam is where developers are "talking to their gamers," and "showing them what they're working on" as well as "getting people to work with them" and, ultimately, "going through the Greenlight process and releasing their game on Steam."

"There are many things around building a game people wanted to have, and from an ideal perspective we'd put the engine out in a way, and in an ecosystem, where that was available to developers, and the best place to do that is Steam," says Jones. "Maybe the only place to do that is Steam."

"As we work more with Valve, and as we update our engine, more people will see more around this concept," Jones says. Upcoming next is an asset store for the engine, which will also be handled via Steam.

More Changes Coming

Jones is well aware that CryEngine has a long way to go to become an engine that will satisfy all developers. In fact, at launch, "there are a few things we knew we'd get demands for," he admits. He knows that developers want "more source code access" to "major parts of the engine" such as CryAction and CryInput, for example, and that came in an update today.

New subscribers are also "looking for more samples, more content to almost mod from, which is quite different from what we got from the bigger projects," Jones notes. "What we're hearing from the community is more about, 'Give us a starting point, we need some help,'" he says. That is coming too -- Crytek will distribute full game projects with the engine in the future.

Jones points out that CryEngine already has accessible world-building tools -- "easier than any other engine" to his mind -- and visual scripting tools, but he's also aware that the tech has a reputation for being hard to work with. To that end, Crytek is "spending a lot of time" working on increasing the engine's ease of use, Jones says.

The goal is to become a "more democratized engine," he says. "I can't claim we came up with that idea in any way -- just look at Unity."

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Jason Irvan
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As an actual subscriber of the UE4 engine I wouldn't actually call what Epic is doing "Open Source". They are allowing us to contribute fixes and add features back into their code base, so you can argue that perspective if you like, but more importantly, they haven't locked us into their development path. We have the full source at our disposal to integrate whatever functionality we choose and we don't have to push it back to Epic if we do not wish too.

At the end of the day both companies have opened up a great opportunity for Indies and Hobbyist. I'm not going to knock either of them for allowing us access to their engines in a financial model small shops and start-ups can afford. It comes down to preference and personal choice in the end.

Daniel Ferrer
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What separates CryEngine from its competition?
Well, after studying CryEngine, Unity and UE3, all I can say is CryEngine felt like hell to use, at least as an artist. "Hard to work with" is an understatement.
Simply importing a 3D model already takes like 5 more steps and a couple more plugins than Unity and Unreal, and everything needs to be done in a specific way or it all collapses.
There are loads of bugs everywhere, like a material inspector that shows you the material only when it wants to, awkward navigation through the 3D view of the game world...
Hell, the first time I tried to export a 3D model into the engine, an error came up saying I was missing a file that apparently CryTek had forgotten to add to the latest version of the software. Their answer? Download the previous version and just use that file! O_o Damn, I know the engine was free, but that just sounds irresponsible.
And the "accessible world-building tools" that are "easier than any other engine"? Don't get me started on that... Building a room exactly where I wanted it felt like playing a game of Jenga.

Every little thing felt really frustrating, compared to the other two engines. Sure, it looks pretty, and opening it up to indies is great for everyone, and the engine is young and will probably fix everything eventually, but right now the other two engines have way smoother workflows, at least to my experience.

Jennis Kartens
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Funny enough, usability problems are exactly what I am currently encounter with Unity coming from UDK/UE4... missing half of the build-in tools and features and having the exact same "jenga" issues with building stuff. Spending too much time searching for answers only to find myself in some code snippets in the official guide or some horrible work-around forum posts that seems to be the accepted "solution" in the Unity community.

So I guess it's what you're used to...

Daniel Ferrer
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Having used the old UDK, Unity and CryEngine, it's true that it's what you're used to. UDK has things Unity doesn't (node based material editor, Kismet and BSPs for example). And Unity has some things UDK doesn't, like no need to rebuild geometry and lighting after every little change (I'm talking about UE3, not UE4) and in my opinion a simpler more accessible UI. Also I personally prefer C# to C++ as I'm not a very experienced programmer, and find Unity's documentation and forums to be way more useful than UDK's.

I eventually got used to both Unity and UDK's way of working, and CryEngine too, but I got the biggest headache (by a long shot) from CryEngine.

Bruno Xavier
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Well, in Unity if you want good lighting you must bake light maps too.
But in UE4 you don't need to re-build lightmaps if you use GI; Experimental and buggy, but the results are what Unity would call "state of the art"...

Greg Scheel
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Maybe CryEngine is partly responsible for all the bugs and delays in Star Citizen, that project has way too many reports of bugs and delays to fix things.

All I can say is that having looked at the UE4 shooter game example, the code was written by one cool kitty, it is clean, well written, reads like a novel, almost Knuthian in prose. Very easy to understand code, consequently easy to work with. I feel smarter just reading it, and it serves as an excellent guide on how to code C++ correctly.

Michael Thornberg
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That is an understatement, all the bugs I reported to them I also saw in CryEngine. I know SC have bought the entire source code, so they don't depend on Crytek. But since they are here I get the distinct feeling they do wait for fixes to appear in CryEngine first. So I think you're on to something there :)

I'm using UE4 myself, and I love the code in it. It sure got rough spots, but overall I am very impressed by it.

Joshua Wilson
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I don't get the distinction he's trying to make. I've been using UE4 since it was publicly released and since that time the engine has received (from Epic) two major updates, ongoing bug fixing, tons of tutorials, continued feedback and support via the forums, answerhub, etc, free example content that can be used to develop your own products. And I'm sure more that I'm forgetting.

I don't see how that's not "software as a service"

Epic is still driving development - it's not like they just put the engine out there for the community to manage - but the fact that they're willing to open the source and allow all developers to modify it and feed back to it (not just internal studies or high paying licensees) seems like a huge plus. I get the feeling he's trying to imply that somehow cheapens the end result but that would be hugely out of touch, so hopefully not.

Jonas Barka
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I totally agree.

Just because some community code is included in UE4 doesn't mean Epic aren't "building advances in that engine and controlling where that engine goes".

And I also fail to see how Cryengine is "more of a business option for developers who want to commercially make a game, and do it in a manageable way."

My take from this is that Crytek has a hard time coming up with real reasons for choosing their engine.

Greg Quinn
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I played around with CryEngine for a couple of months. The documentation is horrible, and while there are some good 3rd party tutorials on the editor, trying to understand how the C++ api works, on top of the confusion with the Lua api, to me it all seemed like just one big confusing mess.

Crytek needs to take a close look at how Epic are doing things, lots of developer presence in the forums, loads of well explained, high quality video tutorials and amazingly presented, comprehensive API documentation.

The workflow is not the best either, they need to make the easy things easier. They have a few long months of hard work ahead if they want to be competitive.

Right now the 5% royalty Epic charges is well worth the polish and presentation they provide over Crytek's offering.

Robin Tan
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I was on commercial eval of Cry3 before, I thought the doc (not in community version) on workflow was pretty good. Sure they had different way of setup but it had to done in certain way to achieve the results. With Unity, you have to develop the workflow yourself, and that's impossible.

We didn't proceed because it was prohibitively expensive and limited to FPS/third party games. And Lua scripting (back then). With better samples, I think Cry has a place, just different segment from Unity/UE4.

Michael Thornberg
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That Wwise pill is hard to swallow. If I am to put up that kind of money I would much rather go with Unity. But I am using UE4 and very happy with that engine. And no nasty Wwise pills to swallow, and full source. Which one may, or may not use. But it is there.

Gregory Booth
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Unity has an awesome workflow, perhaps it depends on overall developer experience.

Unity also currently has the most complete cross platform support we've seen. Most of the samples run on the 1st gen Kindle Fire and Bluestacks!

UE4 has great tooling, nice workflow and awesome results with the most prominent
negative for us their poor low end Android support. If they get Android working on low end devices we'd switch from Unity in a heartbeat.

Haven't worked with Cry since all the feedback we had regarding workflow and docs were very negative.

Based on what we've seen of Cryengine's docs and workflow combined with a ton of negative comments we've read and currently no mobile we wouldn't touch Cryengine with a ten foot pole.

If it's your engine then enjoy.
Have fun.