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Q&A: CryEngine 2's Gain, Crysis Consumers' Wait?

Crytek’s development director Harald Seeley has been talking to Gamasutra about the Crysis developer and its CryEngine 2, revealing that the game's delay is due to the "50 to 100 percent longer" it's taken to build the much-awaited PC first-person
When it comes to game developers selling their in-house technology to others, there's really only one reason - cold, hard cash. With the price tag on a game engine now measured in the millions of dollars when you throw in royalties, who'd want anything more? Crytek's development director, Harald Seeley [pictured], for one. "We enjoy playing other company's games, but we just wish they looked a little better," he grins, playfully. "It's not that we want to see everyone using our game engine. Whether they license our engine or improve theirs, it doesn't matter. We want every game looking this good." He looks over at the screen where Crytek's PC shooter Crysis runs in its full DirectX 10 resolution glory. "The whole industry benefits as the bar gets raised," he adds. "And it's fun to be on the raising end, not the chasing end." Of course, to a degree, Seeley's playing the role of devil's advocate. He's sitting in Crytek's GDC booth, while outside crowds of developers stand around gawping at the on-the-hour tech demos. It's the first time the German developer turned middleware company has publicly shown off its CryEngine 2 and it's getting a great response. But the reason Seeley's here isn't to impress the locals, it's to sell CryEngine 2 licenses to the industry's biggest publishers and developers. "Every player in the market is at least going to come over and kick the tires," he says. In fact, this morning, the first games licensee was announced. Tetris man Henk Rogers' new MMOG company Avatar Reality will be using CryEngine 2 for its game Terraformed Mars. "I hope before too long we'll be announcing a couple more deals," Seeley says. "We're not being real aggressive about it. We want people to take their time and make sure it's the right tool for them. We're going to pick the right people to work with. Not every studio will benefit from CryEngine 2. It takes a lot of talent to make a tree look that good. It's not just about the engine. It's about dedication and artistic vision too." Learning from Far Cry It's not been a straightforward process for Crytek to get to the stage where it's working on the highest profile PC shooter of the year and can afford to pick-and-choice its engine clients, though. Despite being founded by the three Yerli brothers in 1999, it wasn't until 2004 that the release of FarCry put the company on the map. "Far Cry was definitely the learning experience," Seeley, who's only recently joined Crytek, says. "It was the first game the company ever did, and it was the first game some of the people in the company ever did too." The process of trying to sell the Far Cry engine [CryEngine 1] to other developers proved more problematic than selling the game to punters however. "We weren't ready to go into the licensing business with Far Cry. We were too young a company, too small, and didn't know what it would take to make our engine work in a completely different type of game," Seeley explains. "I wouldn't say we failed the first time with Far Cry but it wasn't a huge success. There's only a handful of games using the technology and that's a shame because even now, a game based on the Far Cry engine looks competitive with most of what's out there. That's a lot of missed opportunities." It's the work that's gone on during the three years since Far Cry's release that's created the platform for Crytek to make the most of its opportunities now, and be able to offer both Crysis and CryEngine 2. "The engine has been rewritten from the ground up. The architecture's completely changed," Seeley says. "On the surface, it doesn't look very different, but under the hood, it's a much different engine. Far Cry was known for its outdoor environments. We've extended that even further and added technology for really good indoor environments too." It's not been a process without knock-on implications though. Working on CryEngine 2 has impacting the development of Crysis. "I would say it's taken us 50 to 100 percent longer to build the game [Crysis] because we were building the engine alongside it. If we had this engine at the start, we could have been out last year for sure," Seeley reveals. More subtle, though, will be the impact of the company's future commitment to more mundane, if critically commercial, issues such as support. "Having learned from the experience of Far Cry, we know it [support] will take a very experienced team," Seeley says. "We can bring new people in, but they will have to deal with the learning curve before they can take over the reins, so in the short term, we'll have to take some of our best people out of production." Quick Tools, Good Game But despite such reorganisation and time complications, Seeley reckons simultaneously building an engine and a game has given Crytek a huge advantage. "With Far Cry, we had to stand out from the competition. We didn't have strong intellectual property," he says. "If you're Madden Football, or Doom or Unreal, it's different, but we had to come out with a game that looked so outstanding the IP was almost secondary." "Then the situation becomes, 'It looks great but how's it going to play?' We realised we had to make really good editing tools. That's let us make great games because we can iterate so much faster. I can't tell you how many times we started over on the levels for Crysis. The suit [Nano Muscle Suit] gameplay is a prime example. When we first showed the game, the suit wasn't a major part of the gameplay. But it became apparent it was something people enjoyed, as well as being something we could make more use of, even though it broke a lot of levels. So we threw out what we'd done, and redid it again, over and over. The only reason it's possible is our editor is so powerful and flexible. In a matter of two, three, four weeks, you have an entirely new level." And it's this sort of capability CryEngine 2 clients want to get their hands on, because as Seeley's sagely points out, if they don't, they'll have to do the work themselves. "If you don't license this engine, you'll have to go through the same thing we did, and that's going to blow up your budget more than licensing our engine will," he says. Seems like, at the end of the day, it really does boil down to cold, hard cash after all. [Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based in Manchester, UK. He's more a t-shirt and sneakers than a nano muscle suit man. ]

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