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Tech Focus: Crysis 2 and the future of CryEngine 3

Crytek discuss the past, present and future of CryEngine 3 with Digital Foundry.

Darlings of the hardcore PC gaming enthusiast for many years thanks to standard-setting games such as Far Cry and Crysis, the arrival of Crysis 2 sees a fundamental shift in the technological ethos of Frankfurt's most prestigious development studio.

The PC-only focus has gone, with Crysis 2 launching on all three HD systems, garnering a host of very positive reviews. The transition across to multi-platform also gives the studio a new opportunity to license its state-of-the-art engine to the games industry and to challenge the dominance of Unreal Engine 3.

In this exclusive interview, Digital Foundry discusses the CryEngine 3 technology, its utilisation in Crysis 2, the challenges of cross-platform development and the advantages and opportunities the new engine represents.

For this discussion CEO and President of Crytek, Cevat Yerli, is joined by R&D Principal Graphics Engineer Tiago Sousa, R&D Technical Director Michael Glück, along with Director of Global Business Development for CryEngine, Carl Jones.

Digital FoundryThere's a rumour that you were showing a Crysis 1 prototype on Xbox 360 behind closed doors as far back as GDC 2008 - a year before you went public with CryEngine 3. Is this fact or fiction?
Cevat Yerli

I think that was 2009 and what we were showing back then was a CryEngine 3 tech demo. In this demo there was a section with a tropical island we partially generated with existing Crysis 1 assets. In 2008 we were working with consoles already but I can't remember us showing something at GDC.

Digital FoundrySurely with CE3 at your fingertips and all the Crysis 1/Warhead assets at your disposal, a console Crysis collection would have been an easier - and certainly cheaper - project? Why make the jump to Crysis 2?
Cevat Yerli

We wanted to move on to our next game and come up with a fresh setting to further develop the Crysis franchise. A port to consoles wouldn't have been easier or cheaper necessarily and we always want to innovate and thus offer improved and refined gaming experiences.

Digital FoundryThe move from wide-open spaces to the more linear cityscapes of Crysis 2 must surely have performance benefits in its own right. How much was the change in location down to technological issues in having to deal with the limitations of console architecture?
Tiago Sousa

It was a game design choice to move away from jungles which we have been doing for almost ten years. This decision was completely unrelated to any technological issues. But from a technical perspective it was a nice change to go out of our comfort zone.

We could not have created a game with the scope, scale, and multiplayer features of Crysis 2 if it were a PC only title. The PC market just does not support that cost of development, but going multiplatform does.

Tiago Sousa, Crytek.
Digital FoundryCrysis 2 is in stores now has already proven to be a commercial success, but there is still a level of controversy concerning the PC version of the game. Do you feel that your approach in targeting consoles has been vindicated now the game has shipped?
Cevat Yerli

Yes, absolutely. I think we have achieved what we aimed for - the best Crytek game yet on all major platforms.

Digital FoundryDo you feel that the issue of piracy on PC can ever be successfully tackled or is the cross-platform approach the only way to justify a AAA game budget?
Tiago Sousa

We could not have created a game with the scope, scale, and multiplayer features of Crysis 2 if it were a PC only title. The PC market just does not support that cost of development, but going multiplatform does.

If making a game that is bigger, better, more stable, performs better across a wider range of hardware, provides a continued visual benchmark for PC gaming, and more fun with a huge singleplayer and multiplayer offering is considered selling out, that seems like a really odd application of the phrase. The decision to go multiplatform has allowed us to bring a better game to everyone, which has been our goal all along.

Digital FoundryCan you give us some background on your initial R&D work on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? What was your first assessment of the technology?
Tiago Sousa

It was a giant task, extremely challenging, and a very, very long process. At least speaking from my own point of view, my first impression was that this was going to be our biggest challenge ever. How the hell are we going to make a Crysis game running on five-year-old hardware, and to top that, do it for all platforms? Most developers tend to go the easier route, and focus on a single platform - but Cevat wanted our first multiplatform engine/game, to ship simultaneously on all platforms.

There's a reason why most developers focus on a single platform only: although high quality multiplatform gaming is definitely doable, it's extremely hard and time consuming, especially for the first technology iteration. We started by first "making it work": step-by-step adding all the missing core functionalities on consoles, doing straight forward ports of all PC features.

We then started to "make it right and make it fast": when all basic functionality was in place, it was clear that a massive amount of low level optimisation and re-factoring would be required across the entire project. The best example (or worst depending on your perspective) from GPU performance side: the straight port of our old post processing was taking around 30ms, and HDR post processing took an additional 10ms. On the current CryEngine3 iteration for both together, it is around 5ms on consoles, which is almost ten times faster.

Digital FoundryWere you struck by any significant strengths or weaknesses of any platform? Did any technology in the consoles excite you with possibilities?
Tiago Sousa

When you spend many years working on cutting edge PC technology, it's difficult to get very excited with console platform tech, but it was definitely an exciting challenge for the graphics team to push the console hardware to its limits.

GPU side, when programmed properly, they are fairly similar. We just have to be conscious of the clear handicap on PS3 RSX in terms of vertex processing, but other than that, on fragment processing side they are relatively similar, both have their strengths but such differences become irrelevant in the long run, especially when compared to PC platforms.

My finger pointing at Microsoft/Sony would really be on the memory side; it's way too low, and the biggest crippling factor from a visual perspective. I would really like to see next gen console platforms with a minimum of 8GB.

My highest praise goes to the amazing work they did for their performance profilers, with Xbox 360 PIX and PS3's GPAD, the PC industry has a lot to learn from such tools. I think it's great to see NVIDIA's NSight trying to raise the bar once again on this area.

Both platforms also benefit greatly from their vast documentation and support.

Richard Leadbetter avatar
Richard Leadbetter: Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.