From my twenty minutes with Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli at the Game Developers Conference, it's clear the company is thinking like a leader, not a follower. Showing off CryEngine 3 for the first time, Crytek is confident it's got the technology to not only help deliver bleeding-edge games for today's PCs and consoles, but also for whatever comes next from format holders.
In this exclusive interview, Yerli talks to GamesIndustry.biz about the uptake of CryEngine 3 by other developers, why they are focused on making future-proof technology, and how the company has grown with the transformation of Free Radical Design into Crytek UK.
Q: This is the first time you've shown CryEngine 3 off publicly, what's been the early reaction to it so far?
Cevat Yerli: We've had really high-profile meetings with executives and reactions have ranged from "we've never seen this before" to "are you sure this is running on PlayStation 3?" I promise you, on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 it looks absolutely the same, there's no difference. When we show it, we show it side by side and there's no difference. In fact the PS3 version is running a tick faster but that's only coincidence and they'll be equal.
Q: Obviously Crytek is known for creating cutting-edge first-person shooters for the PC. Is the interest from developers looking to license the technology for similar titles and formats?
Cevat Yerli: That's the most obvious, but there are also racing game developers, MMO developers, fighting game developers. We're talking to a range of developers right now. We looked at our schedule and we're talking to the guys who have made almost all of the top twenty games of the past two years. We're seeing a variety of developers concentrating on different genres, and varied platform needs. Some are only looking at PlayStation 3, some are multiplatform. It's every style.
Q: This is also the first time you've shown your work running on home consoles – are you confident you can support developers who want to use the CryEngine 3 for console projects, considering Crytek has not made its own console title yet?
Cevat Yerli: We're very confident. We're working very closely with Microsoft and Sony and we know what it takes to create a Triple A title. We know how many assets you need for a PC title and the good thing is that we can push that same amount of data on a console now, which typically developers find much more constrictive and with less content. So we've come with a top down approach rather than bottom up.
Sony and Microsoft were amazed at what we can actually achieve by that approach. They said “you can't do this, you can't do that” and we challenge this knowledge. Overall, the fidelity we achieved, as well as the support structure that's in place already, it's a case that those that are using the engine are getting what they need. We have game developers, we have a dedicated licensing support team, there's training support, and they are ready to handle a lot of licensees. We've built this system over the past two years and we have dedicated support.
Q: How important is it for Crytek to establish CryEngine 3 as the leading engine for the next evolution of hardware beyond the PS3 and Xbox 360?
Cevat Yerli: We look at it this way; at a company like Crytek, we are in place to make kick-ass games, Triple-A games, they are not short-sighted. When we develop games we always want to prepare for the future. We always look out for the future as far forward as we can. And so because it's in our culture, we said to ourselves, “why not offer a forward thinking engine?” CryEngine is the technology that allows you to look out for the future by being next-gen ready. That means if you know you want to make a PS3, Xbox 360 and PC game, you may also want to be looking at a version for the next Xbox or the next PlayStation. If you want that, this is the engine of choice because it can scale up, it can scale down. It can deliver top-notch quality on all platforms now and you can have a head start on development. You can have characters, resolution, quality, interaction, physics set-up, AI, and it will scale up and down, depending on the platform.
If I want to make a next-gen launch title I could do that by pushing the boundaries of the engine. For me that's significant because we offer this as an enabler for people like us to look out to the future and deliver in the future. Typically an engine is designed, if it's for PS3 you can develop on the PS3 and you're done with it. When the next hardware comes along you have to start again. It's 2009 and Triple-A games take two to three years to develop. So if a game takes 36 months to develop then you better be ready for the next-generation. That's our assumption. Because when we start games now we want them to be next-gen ready too.
Q: You've said before the you're expecting the next iteration of console hardware to be out in 2011, 2012. Do you still believe that?
Cevat Yerli: Yes. I'm not sure that it's the case for all platforms, but my gut feeling is there will be a new platform by the end of 2011. Whether another arrives in 2012 or 2013 is hard to say. And which is first, I don't want to comment [laughs].
Q: So you don't subscribe to the theory that this generation of console will be around for 10 years, or even much longer past five years...
Cevat Yerli: I think one of them will be longer on the market than the other.
Q: You mean the PlayStation 3?
Cevat Yerli: That might be the case. Unless it's the other way around [laughs]. Whatever happens, we don't want developers to be the victims of change and repositioning. We don't want to be the victim of ambiguous politics or complications. Our lifecycle depends on releasing new games. We decided to decouple from that, we wanted to make an engine that's ready for next-gen inherently. Because whatever the next-generation will be, it will be more parallelism, more computation of what already exists. We are ready for that. Writing the driver layers for the next PlayStation or next Xbox will be quite simple for us. As soon as that knowledge becomes public, we'll be on it. And all those people working with CryEngine 3 will get an update and they'll be on it as well. That's why we made it next-gen ready, so that none of us are victims of new hardware.
Q: Although a PC developer, you've always been very interested in home consoles. Is there even more pressure now to release a console project to show off what you can do and what the CryEngine 3 can achieve on consoles?
Cevat Yerli: Is there pressure? Yes. Are we doing something, I cannot comment. Frankly, let's put it this way, we are not just working on an engine just for the sake of developing an engine. Let's wait and see.
Q: You acquired Free Radical Design recently, which became Crytek UK. How's that integration coming along?
Cevat Yerli: It was such a good move. They can speak better than anybody else about this, but I feel their motivation is very high. From what I hear from the management that is actually running this studio, after the troubles, a lot of people who left the company have now come back. We had 40 staff when we acquired it, it's now grown to 60. That speaks for itself. They feel like they're moving in a new direction. I'm hearing good reports every week. Motivation is high. The project they're working on and the technology they are equipped with is super exciting. It's been a win-win. When we met with the team we instantly new we had to work with them. Their heart, their vision, is just right. They were just victims of business practices and there were some external factors and it was a shame that happened.
Q: It was a big move, to acquire a full team rather than staffing up through normal recruitment methods. Are you interested in other similar sized acquisitions?
Cevat Yerli: Not really. We've been asked a lot if there was a strategy or a plan behind it, but there wasn't really. It was a laid back decision. I was following what happened there, I really liked their work. There was always a quality there, and we could see they were a team who cared about games. They're dedicated and passionate about games.
When you see that, you don't want to lose it. You want to make sure that passion continues, and I think we've got the management that enables them to do that. They were unfortunate victims of external events that didn't allow them to succeed. We wanted to be in the UK anyway, we wanted to be there within a year, and we thought, well, maybe we can be there within four weeks. That was it. We worked out a quick plan spanning long-terms interests, because this was not about short term IP gain, and when we met them it confirmed what we knew. With CryEngine 3, with that many team members under the Crytek framework and knowledge about IP creation, the team will just excel. We were very German in our approach. Very precise [laughs].
Q: There's been a lot of buzz around cloud gaming, and Crysis is on display at the OnLive stand during GDC. How are you working with them?
Cevat Yerli: We're not involved, we just allowed Crysis to be tested on it.
Q: What do you think to the technology?
Cevat Yerli: The technology of video-based rendering is not actually a very new concept but they do some things that others didn't do before so it will be interesting to see. We had our research in 2005 on this subject but we stopped around 2007 because we had doubts about economics of scale. But that was at a time when bandwidth was more expensive. And we saw that 2013 - 2015 with the development of bandwidths and household connections worldwide that it might become more viable then. It's a technical burden. It doesn't take a lot to make a video-based renderer, but what you need is the right infrastructure that is beyond the technology we have, it's more like cable net providers and communication networks. They have to provide fast bandwidths and connectivity in order to allow such technology to excel. So as it was dependent on somebody else, we decided to wait.
Cevat Yerli is CEO of Crytek. Interview by Matt Martin.