Amid widespread peanut-gallery criticism that next-gen graphics just means more dark, muddy hallways, Crytek president and CEO Cevat Yerli says that his company's CryEngine is an honest attempt to bring bright colors and open stages to the fore.
The first edition of the engine, Yerli explains at the GC Developers Conference in Leipzig earlier this week, took 20 R&D engineers three years to build.
Discussing CryEngine 2 in the Gamasutra-attended talk, Yerli recalls, "When the R&D asked me if I wanted greater realism or greater interaction in our worlds, I said, 'let's make it easy and put both together'... You can imagine their faces when I said this."
It took four years, and was "extremely challenging, but successful," he says.
Yerli says his company won't update the engine until 2011 or 2012, or even later, based on his predictions on when new hardware platforms may emerge. So how to design for the future?
He identifies a trend in GPUs migrating from highly parallel graphics processing units to general purpose computing, beginning to to include more abilities such as processing physics, while CPUs are getting more parallel.
"This has been supported and will be supported by things like DirectX and its upcoming eleventh version," says Yerli. "In one way or another, you have to be prepared for competition between the hardware and target your work accordingly."
"We think PS4 may come in as soon as 3 years, but honestly, nobody knows, not even Sony. We think Xbox might come a little later."
Yerli predicts the maximum resolution for gaming from now until 2012 will be 1920x1080 at 60 frames per second. Year-over-year graphical gains must decrease, then, and games will begin to rely on artistic style, physics and AI for realism rather than graphical sophistication, a sentiment echoed by Nvidia's Tony Carillo
in our Gamasutra interview today.
"At the same time, if we want to have new games and graphics past that point, we'll have to look at new methods, such as alternatives to rasterization, such as point-based rendering and ray tracing."
Yerli says "the future will start" for Crytek in 2009 when they begin to develop CryEngine 3, "but will only become visible in 2012."
So while devs can be expected to focus on physics, AI and special effects to impact players for the next few years, Yerli sees many creative opportunities beyond 2012. "Through new APIs new rendering methods will be available, mixing and matching new techniques such as ray tracing with rasterization is possible, and new visual development directions will rival CGI feature films," he predicts.
But there are some challenges, he says, to the onward march of visual sophistication, some of which can already be seen in the current climate, like the switch to a scalable parallel codebase or managing tech across multiple platforms -- "Expect more of it!"
And the cost of developing assets can also be expected to continue rising. "Everything you do every year costs 50 percent more, so you need to think how to improve tools and pipelines, to remove bottlenecks and optimise the process to make output better and cheaper."
The next CryEngine, says Yerli, will "exceed the quality and quantity of Crysis
by 3-5 times by 2012, but at a non-linear, flat cost development."
So while Crytek researches alternative rendering methods to flatten the cost of asset development, he advises, "Style development and visual identity is going to be key in the future. If you want to differentiate your game, art direction is going to be important."
"New platforms will offer new visual development opportunities through alternative approaches - next-gen consoles will truly bring a renaissance of real-time game graphics to the mainstream," Yerli says. "The challenges are going to be about scaling - your code, content, pipeline and organization. If nothing changes, tools must adapt."
"The future is bright but challenging -- games are shining and bright, the markets are growing, but more demanding. In 3-5 years games will appeal to the mass more than ever before."