Trapped beneath an imposing dome, and choked by creeping vegetation, the New York of Crysis 3 is almost unrecognisable. In the shadows, Prophet stalks his enemies using high-tech weaponry and defences - with you in control.
After a hands-on preview of the slick sci-fi shooter, nzherald.co.nz met with producer Mike Read - part Kiwi, part Canuck, all business - to discuss some of the challenges of developing the game for high-specced PCs and ageing consoles simultaneously, Canada's increasing influence in the gaming business, and how fans might be able to create their own Crysis adventures in the future.
For Crysis 3, have you developed with PCs in mind and then scaled down for consoles?
Crysis 2 was really Crytek's first entry into the console market. We didn't really know what we were getting into at the time. But we were like "we want to give this experience to consoles, how do we make our engine work on it?" The tech was being developed and the engine being ripped apart while the game was being developed. It's a hard thing to do. There are lot of companies who have done it and they always tend to miss the mark on certain things.
I think on Crysis 2 there were a lot of marks that were definitely hit, and there were a lot of things we wished we could have done. At the same time it helped us in our licensing side and how we were able to push the engine forward. Even though a lot of people felt like it was a step back, it was actually a big step forward for Crytek in a lot of ways.
What we learned out of Crysis 2 was how to develop for console in tandem with how to develop for PC at the same time. You know what the limitations of consoles are going to be two years out, it's not going to change, whereas PCs in a two year time period are like "okay, we have new hardware two months before launch - how do we support that?"
We really want to deliver a great gameplay experience for Crysis 3 across consoles and across PCs as well, but we're able to push that much more on the PC side.
The current-generation of consoles - Wii U aside - has been running for a long time, does it lead to any frustration during development?
I think at some points it definitely does, knowing you have to remove something because you don't have enough memory in there or you don't have enough processing power to make up for it. When you're developing for consoles you really have to go 'what do I have to sacrifice to keep the frames up but still make the game look really awesome?' It's really that balancing act that we have to play.
Our developers develop with Xbox, PC, and PS3 all at the same time. When you see it on PC all the time and then you look at it on consoles, it's almost like "wow, it's like it's almost not up to it." That's not to say it doesn't still look really good. We are doing some new things on consoles but PCs are able to take that much further and help push the tech forward.
In a crowded shooter market, is there any benefit added from having to cut features, perhaps like having to focus on points of difference?
There's a whole host of things. The way we approached Crysis 3 was not from needing to boost one thing or another, but boosting up all of these things to bring them up to a level that's at par with everything else that's out there. Some people were like "for a third instalment you should completely break the game down and start from scratch" but that wouldn't be Crysis if we did that.
We defined an IP five years ago and we need to advance that. We're telling a story and we've always meant for this to be a trilogy. Now we're at the point where we're going to end this off, and we're going to end this with a pretty big bang.
Once you wrap this trilogy up, it will kind of become community property. How do you feel about that?
It's pretty cool. This is the whole thing with game development that's changed over time. It used to be "okay, let's lock the developers in a dungeon, we'll have a dude standing over them with whips and just beating them up" but that's expanded out now. Game developers are now out there playing games in the market, talking to people in the market, and talking to other people.
This is something I've said about MMOs for a long time too. After a game is out there and it's been out for a certain period of time, you as a developer almost don't own it anymore. It becomes property of the people who love your games.
Beyond that, maybe we can take an SDK (software development kit) and say "here's all the Crysis assets that we ever did, here's a free engine" and you can build on top of that. We have a lot of guys in our studio who came from the modding community. Our lead level designer used to do modding and map design for Counter Strike. He's very much in support of it and I think a lot of us are.
The future opportunities for the franchise and where we can go in opening that up and finding some opportunities are definitely cool.
What is it about Prophet that works for you?
If you look at Crysis 1, 2, and 3 you go through three different characters. You have Nomad in the first one, you have Psycho in Crysis Warhead. When you look at the dialogue in the character interactions, they were very minimal. In Crysis 3 you're really going to get the dynamic between the characters, especially since you have this 30-year relationship that Prophet and Psycho have had. There's definitely more of a grounded kind of story behind this.
I think James (Meredith) who plays Prophet is one of our strongest characters. It matters who you put in the suit, but at the same time people see the suit and recognise that. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with the cinematics and how the story will come together.
What do you think of Canada's increasing profile in the games business?
Montreal and Toronto are really starting to put a ton of tax incentives in place to beef it up. Montreal, with Ubisoft moving in there, has really been the pioneer of that. Vancouver used to be on the forefront of it with Electronic Arts, but that kind of levelled off. The Government's support in Quebec and Ontario has been massive. It's not a place I'd go back to yet.
I think it's good for tech companies. Quebec offers tons of incentives for these companies and I know everybody's looking there, and in all of these markets. I mean, I came from Atlanta, Georgia - really an unlikely space for tech companies and video games, but has been doing a lot of stuff with entertainment, specifically, to boost that up. Hi-Rez, who does Tribes: Ascend, is based out of there, [and] CCP Games who I worked with prior on EVE Online and DUST 514.
I'm not opposed to it. I think it's a big industry and it's only going to continue to grow. I think that competitive side is going to continue to be big.
You spent some time in the music business - what did you bring from there to gaming?
When I came into the music industry in 2001, they didn't really embrace technology like they should have. In the video game side of things - and I've been a big lover of games probably longer than I have been into music - there was a lot to be learned, especially in terms of innovation.
That was the problem that the music industry ran into. They didn't innovate and now all of these labels are amalgamating. They can't figure out what to do with the music or how to deliver music, and Apple's walking away with 30-40 per cent from every song that they sell. They fell into a position that was just wrong. It was sad to see.
I loved the music but I didn't like the business, and I think the move to video games has been pretty awesome for me.
What attracted you to gaming?
I have been playing games for a long time. I had a PC in my room called a Texas Instruments TI-99 from the time I was three to four years old. It was a cartridge-based machine that had programming books and stuff.
That was my first gaming experience, and then my parents brought an Intellivision into the house. I had tons of games for Intellivision, my friends had Coleco and Atari 2600.
I got a Nintendo Entertainment System when they first came out - the deluxe edition with ROB the robot, the Zapper and played tons of games there.
PCs entered into my whole thing later on and I became fascinated more, not just with the games but with the people who made these games and what was it like to work in these companies. It was interesting that after working for the airlines and the music business, I learned a lot of lessons from those industries before I came into the video game industry.
I think I have a unique perspective, but being a huge fan of games is a huge one for me. I play too many games. My wife hates me.
*Crysis 3, developed by Crytek and to be published by Electronic Arts, is scheduled for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on February 22. A console beta will be playable from January 29.By Troy Rawhiti-Forbes @TroyRF Email Troy