At the recent EA summer showcase, using the aid of his nanosuit’s cloaking mode, Bennett Ring snuck into the dressing room of Michael Elliot Read, Producer on Crysis 3. Unfortunately the cloak energy ran out just as Michael was taking his pants off, so to defuse this awkward moment Bennett quick-fired off a list of things he’s been wondering about EA’s upcoming sci-fi stealth blaster. The result was this interesting insight into Crysis 3’s approach to linearity, local matchmaking, hardware requirements and more, with not a peeping tom violation in sight.
GON: Crysis 2 played best when you were in the open areas, but there were also frequent linear sections. How are you approaching that mix of linear versus open in Crysis 3?
Michael: A lot of people came back and said Crysis 1 was very open, in fact a lot of people called it open world, which is completely incorrect. When you look at Crysis 1 and the areas you had to deal with, you’d come up on a vista and you’d be able to see a beach, then a village with trees, and mountains in the background, creating an open visual reference to where you could go. In Crysis 2 there were other areas where, yeah, it did open up a little bit, but dealing with the urban grid and the skyscrapers of New York City created a closed feeling to where things were, and where you could and could not go.
In Crysis 3, we’ve basically taken New York City, taken jungle elements, and thrown those two into a pot and combined them together. You have these large vistas, you have these large open spaces, but still you’re able to traverse through these. We’ve opened that up with these having these more open spaces, for exploration and secondary objectives, which encourage people to explore the maps.
GON: Variety of enemy type and AI is crucial in shooters these days, with games like Borderlands 2 having dozens. Crysis 2 didn’t have a wide range though — how are you improving it this time around?
Michael: There’s been a huge focus with AI and how we handle that. Back in Crysis 1, the AI had multiple alertness levels, from green to yellow to red. In Crysis 2, they only had two states – green and then straight to red. In Crysis 3 we’ve added the middle mode back again. On top of that we have some new tools in the engine that are available to us, like the AI navigation mesh. That allows our level designers to build out maps, and the system then says the AI can walk in these specific areas. You’ll find when you’re playing that when you come into a map, you can take 50 different people playing through it, and each experience will be very different depending on how the AI reacts and where it goes. We’ve done a host of tweaks to the AI and it’s really coming into its own now. It’s feeling really good.
GON: The multiplayer of Crysis 2 had some interesting elements, but didn’t really take off with players. What are you doing this time around to make Crysis 3 stick?
Michael: We’ve looked at what didn’t work in Crysis 2. We’ve brought in large numbers of groups with the help of EA and their internal teams, and also brought in groups which we call “The Experts Club”. These are comprised of people who play on consoles and PCs, and who have and have not played other Crysis games. We brought them in and did a whole series of feedback sessions with them. We found out what would make the game easier for people to get into, what would increase the pace of the game. We did a number of things based on this.
One is taking the nanosuit and changing how the energy dynamics work, breaking those down into armour and cloak, having completely independent bars. That’s been a huge hit with people. We did a closed alpha back in October, and people saw the pace of the game increase. We’ve also added in things like auto armour modules, which come in after a few levels in the game. These can be used in a perk slot, which will automatically flick their armour on. It’s kind of like training wheels. But it takes up a slot, and as you unlock more of these perks, you can start choosing which ones to use. It’s about getting used to those aspects of the game, and that’s what we had found was a barrier to entry. The maps themselves were also tighter, now they’re significantly larger than Crysis 2.
GON: Your Hunter mode seems to be inspired by a mod called The Hunted. Are you familiar with this, and was it an inspiration for your game?
Michael: I am not familiar with The Hunted, that’s probably something for my game designers and where they came up with the mode. I know it’s something that had been toyed with for quite some time. As you might know, Crytek UK is the former Free Radical studios, which is known for multiplayer titles like TimeSplitters. These were things that they had talked about for a long time and really wanted to get into the game. Eventually they started pushing that forward. He doesn’t like me using terms like Zombie mode or Infected, but there is inspiration from a lot of different things. The Hunter mode really worked well with the nanosuit, and having the bow there as well, just seemed to work.
GON: How do you balance the use of the bow while cloaked in Hunter mode, to stop it being hugely overpowered?
Michael: There’s a few things that tie into that. One is that you’re not fully cloaked, you’re slightly visible. There’s lighting and stuff that we’ve had to tweak for each map so the suit isn’t the most predominant thing, but is hanging back on the edge of your vision. Even walking through water will show where it is. In addition to that, all the Cell troopers have the ability to know when a hunter is near. There’s a clicking sound that gets louder and louder as the hunters get closer to you, so you know there’s a hunter near you and it puts you into a bit of a panic. It’s those kinds of things. We’ve seen games go in a number of ways, from Cell surviving for the entire game through to hunters dominating. It throws it both ways.
GON: When Crysis 2 launched, Aussies had massive problems with the matchmaking. Has this been a focus for Crysis 3?
Michael: Yes, there’s been a lot of stuff done on the back end and the way that we handle servers and technology, which has been influenced by EA’s experience as well. With Crysis 2, yes, there were a lot of complaints around the server technology and people having connection issues, not just in this area of the world, but pretty much all over the world, which we were never able to fully go back and resolve. Now we have the blade server technology which a number of EA titles are using, and PC gamers will have dedicated servers, which means servers anywhere in the world. There’s matchmaking on the console, I can’t really speak specifically on how that’s going to work, but I’m pretty sure that’s going to be a much more refined experience.
GON: People still make jokes about whether their PCs can run Crysis 1, but Crysis 2’s graphics options were basically non-existent. What are the plans for the level of configurability for Crysis 3?
Michael: There is a lot of configurability in Crysis 3. Let’s rewind a little bit, we basically had to take the engine, break it down and allow it to work on consoles and PCs. That was our first foray into the console world. We managed to do that with Crysis 2, but unfortunately there were some things that ended up getting left behind. One was the day-one high-res texture pack and DX11 support, both things that we really wanted to have there on day-one. Those are going to be there day-one for Crysis 3. In terms of options, we have full AA modes, sliders for pretty much everything, they’ll all be there in Crysis 3.
GON: Will it have a benchmark mode?
Michael: I can’t comment on that. Possibly, I’d have to look into that one specifically, but nothing I can comment on right now.
GON: We played the recent multiplayer alpha, and it was very demanding on even beastly PCs even on medium detail. Why was it so demanding? Is that going to be an indication of the hardware requirements we can expect of the full game?
Michael: The performance of the alpha, we were in an alpha stage where it hadn’t been optimized for performance. That was more of a technical test more than anything, to prove that our server back end was working and that we were able to support this properly. Also to get feedback from the client as well. Yes, there is definitely going to be a step up in hardware requirements, we’ve released the minimum specs and recommend specs. They’re relatively high. That’s what we’re moving forward with.
GON: Do you think aiming for relatively high PCs will be a benefit? We see so many games targeting low end systems and they miss some of the huge benefits of newer PC hardware.
Michael: If you look back on Crysis 2, people were like “this didn’t push my PC hard enough, and I didn’t have the options to do so”. We have a number of facets inside Crytek that we’re dealing with. One is the CryENGINE and things we need to do there. Not only pushing our own titles, but pushing support for our partners, and really finding out what we’re able to do and how hard we’re able to push that. Just because consoles are there and we have some eight year old technology doesn’t mean we should be holding back. We’ve really looked at that, and asked how hard can we push this engine, and I think gamers want a reason to upgrade their hardware. Crytek’s been known for several years to do that. Crysis 2 was a big challenge for us, having to pull back for consoles, to allow our engine to be a cross-platform engine, but now we’re not being held back by that.