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After years of making games exclusively for the PC with its ambitious large-scale shooters Far Cry, Crysis, and Crysis Warhead, Frankfurt-headquartered Crytek is stepping into multiplatform development with Crysis 2, a game that leaves the studio's traditional lush island environments behind in favor of the dense urban jungle of New York City.
That's a decision that has significant implications on Crytek's established gameplay tropes, which tend to deal with massive, wide-open landscapes. CEO Cevat Yerli, who has presided over Crytek's rapid expansion to a seven-studio company that also tackles serious game contracting, uses the phrase "choreographed sandbox" to describe Crysis 2's intended dynamic.
Yerli says the "choreographed sandbox" allows for the player expression and exploration that defines Crytek's previous efforts, while giving the studio's designers the ability to script elaborate cinematic sequences with toppling skyscrapers and massive alien ship landings.
In a wide-reaching interview, Yerli sat down with Gamasutra to discuss that gameplay philosophy, what Crytek has learned from its past titles, how the company has maintained growth while shipping so few games, and why Crytek is on board with 3D gaming.
Have you been working on this since Crysis, for the most part?
CY: We started Crysis 2 in mid-2007, just before we finalized Crysis 1. We started working on it with just a few people, and after we finished Crysis 1, the dev team took a little break, then jumped right into Crysis 2.
So that was parallel to your other studio's work on Crysis Warhead.
CY: Yeah. We are quite a large organization, so we have a lot of projects now, but we focus on them one-at-a-time still. We are trying a lot of new IPs as well.
How many Studios do you have now? There's the Frankfurt headquarters, the Budapest studio, and the former Free Radical, but there are more, right?
CY: Six. There is also Kiev, Sofia, and Korea.
What does the Korean studio do?
CY: I can't divulge that yet. Actually, I can't divulge any of them right now.
During your demonstration, you spoke a lot about the notion of choreography. How does that play into the traditional Crysis values of openness and player direction?
CY: The choreographed sandbox combines the freedom of Crysis 1, so you still have free-form gameplay, with choreographed moments that are interspersed into the experience. You have a more intense feeling -- a more action packed, intense feeling of a linear shooter. It's more accessible and more cinematic.
At the same time, you can use the world full of freedom; you can traverse it horizontally and vertically using the features of New York. The world is filled with objects that have logic behind them; you have cars, barrels, and breakable stuff that you can pick up and slap people with, and you can also have the intrinsic ability to play stealthily without the stealth suit.
You can also activate the stealth suit to play stealth, because the entire AI system is based on hearing and seeing. If the AI didn't hear or see you because your footsteps weren't loud enough or you were behind an object, then you can sneak up on them and activate stealth mode.
You can sprint fast, jump high, jump long, and you have the tactical mode to assess and scan the enemies' attacks to truly define your action. I bet Crysis 1 gamers will be super happy with the game; we still have the more open areas. But, also, traditional FPS gamers will also find cinematic, intense experiences because of the choreographed sequences.
What we want is for people to explore the depth of the game, the systemic tools. I want people to experience their own created experience; we never tell the player how to play. Since Far Cry, we've always said, "Play as you want. You are empowered. You have the tools, the world is a tool, and everything can be a weapon is some way, you just have to find a solution to that." We want people to still be able to do that, but we also want to satisfy people who don't care too much about sandbox.
Did you feel pressure to move in that direction when going to a multiplatform release?
CY: It was more about an evolution. For me, it's a new generation of sandbox, to be honest, because it's a challenge. It's a challenge to be more accessible and deep at the same time.
Crysis was a bit difficult to access because it required more burden on the player to think. What we want is for the burden to be reduced, but thinking is still allowed, so the access is easier, simplified. Generally, if you have complex systems that are more easily accessible, it is an evolution and a challenge. Hence, moving the sandbox to a choreographed sandbox was a challenge in gameplay design.