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Originally an engine optimized for high-end PCs, Crytek is adapting its CryEngine for new platforms. Biz dev boss Carl Jones tells Gamasutra how the engine itself "becomes a platform, even a service."

Kris Graft, Contributor

March 19, 2012

8 Min Read

Being the prettiest face isn't going to cut it anymore, particularly if you're in the video game engine licensing business. Frankfurt, Germany-based Crytek made its debut in 2004 with the release of Far Cry, a first-person shooter whose spectacular graphics and sandbox-style gameplay showed off the studio's game development chops. But while CryEngine is known best for its sharp visuals and ability to handle large environments, Carl Jones, director of global business development at Crytek, said emerging business models (free-to-play) and new platforms (browsers and mobile) are driving CryEngine's evolution as not only a tool to make photo-realistic games, but also as an engine that's a service. What kind of evolutions has CryEngine undergone in the last year? From a tech perspective, it kind of goes in three directions that will basically unite in the future. So now it's about DirectX 11 and high-end PC, because the new PC architecture that's out there right now gives us a whole lot more to play with. And we think the benefits of building that stuff will apply to future platforms, even as we move into the tablet and mobile space. The high-end GPU with a really powerful processor is going to become more ubiquitous as an architecture, and that's something we want to push with the PC market that's out there. And we hope that helps us with other platforms in the future. So that's one strategy -- keep pushing the high-end. The second strategy is online. We've always had an engine that's very appealing to developers making online games. MMOs or MMORPGs are half of our licensees. ... Legacy-wise, we had a PC engine in 2007 when a lot of people wanted console engines. So we went where the market [for PC] was, and that was in MMOs. ... And we're really glad, because we feel that certainly the future is online. More and more games are going into social gaming -- and I don't mean casual, I mean games that you play with a lot of other people in an online environment. I think all platforms are going to move towards that paradigm of gaming. We're looking at getting CryEngine more online, looking at browsers, looking at trying to unify experiences on various online platforms, using browser tech, and looking at ancillary things in online games, like in-game shopping, buying items, and making that as easy as possible -- good lobby support and that kind of thing. So CryEngine is becoming more than just a graphics engine, but a platform to support new business models. Absolutely. It's very easy to see the graphics in CryEngine, and that is a focus. It's something we push. We've always been really proud of our tools, and now it's really about moving the tools, as you say, more into a platform view, that the engine becomes a platform, or even the engine becomes a service that engages you in a platform that already exists. Those are things we're looking at. The third strategy is broadening our platform, in general. You can see our first ever mobile game, Fibble, running on tablets. And our intention is to extend the number of platforms that CryEngine runs on, and make that as easy of a development process as we can for developers. Back to the browser initiative. Is Warface [Crytek's free-to-play FPS] in a browser? It's running at the moment on a client-server. With the browser technology we have, we could [run Warface]. We can certainly see the engine running, we can connect a lot of game systems in through the browser. But right now we don't have the appropriate platform to deliver it. Client-based, plug-in based, is where we are today. We are looking for ways around that. The options are out there, but none of them are right. Flash is one way, Native Client is one way, HTML5 is another way. No one of the three does everything you need. So there's a kind of wait and see process, but there's also some technology we're working on ourselves that hopefully solves that problem. How far are you from a public CryEngine 3 in a browser? Well, we can give the early technology out to developers right now, but we wouldn't see that used to release a game right now. But certainly we can show developers how we see it, how we approach it, and how we use it as a testing platform. We can do that right now. It's always difficult to say when it'll be done, because we like to finish things when they're quality-finished, not time-finished. So I don't know. I would hope towards the end of this year, people can start seeing browser-based CryEngine games, but we'll see. There are other things that will have to happen first. Has the emphasis on licensing the engine changed much since a year ago? It's not changed in the way that Crytek does business. We had a very good year last year, and we did a lot more engine licensing business than we had done previously. I think there's more appetite for using middleware. I think we managed to prove all our CryEngine plans on console by releasing Crysis 2 on consoles, and everyone was able to see the results were really good. So that kind of shifted a bit of perception. Up until that point, understandably, people were like, "Well, prove it. We've seen it running on a tech demo, we've seen it running in video, but you've gotta prove that now with a game." When Crysis 2 went out [on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC], I think we were pretty happy with the results from the technology, and I think everyone who saw it realized that we weren't making false claims about what was possible on those platforms. So that changed things a bit. We are looking at different ways with the engine in the future, because we see that the whole landscape of development is changing, and there will be a need to change business models for engine licensing moving forward, but we'll have to see. There's a lot of changes moving forward in terms of platforms that people are making games for, business models that people want to use. Crowdfunding has come up, and that's a really interesting way to change the normal way of making games. All these things need different models from their technology providers. So there are a few things that will change as we move forward. So Crysis on consoles -- did that have an ulterior motive maybe? Was it meant as a proof of concept for your engine licensing business? Well, I wouldn't go that far, because I mean, as much I'd like it to have been a demo for my side of the business, it was certainly a nice side-effect [laughs]. I think it was a really good challenge for us -- everyone said we can't do it, let's prove them wrong. Everyone said, "You will never get Crysis 1 to run on console." Who was saying that, again? [Laughs] You can Google it, and I'm sure you could find a lot of quotes along those lines. We just wanted to prove it could be done. We have great faith in the scalability of our engine and our technology, and the ability of our teams. But really it was more about introducing a game brand to a group of gamers who hadn't really seen it. So there was a benefit there in saying, "Hey, if you're interested in the backstory and where this came from, then you can play this version too." It was a happy side-effect that it proved out the technology on those platforms as well. But to be honest, I think Crysis 2 did that in a handstand. Of course, this is from my standpoint, but across all platforms, it's the best-looking game. What we're proudest of is that we got that parity [across Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3]. You have those comparison articles that go online, and we managed to achieve parity and a high quality bar at the same time. That was very important from the industry side. The move to mobile -- how has the transition been from the tech side? The challenge has been getting the engine small enough. There's a lot that the CryEngine can do that maybe you don't need when making a mobile game. So a lot of the challenge was coming up with a streamlined architecture for the platform. The good thing is that the devices are really powerful, and you can do really nice graphics on them, as you can see in [Crytek's first tablet game] Fibble. So while it's always a challenge to match the quality bar that we've set for ourselves, the more interesting challenge was to trying to figure out how to streamline some of the systems that were originally built for PC, and then for powerful consoles, and now we have to get this running much more efficiently [for mobiles]. So that's been the challenge for each tool and feature set, and develop it so it's really, seriously streamlined for a mobile device.

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