Confidence of Crysis: Crytek Interview
Senior designer Bernd Diemer tells us what makes Crysis different, and why the developer isn't ready to announce console versions of the shooter.
Inconsistency in design is a problem people knock their heads into every day while playing games, and Bernd Diemer, senior designer at German game house Crytek, doesn't like it.
"The most glaring thing in games," Diemer told us recently, "is when objects don't behave as you expect them to, like a door which doesn't open and it's not visible to the player why the the damn thing isn't opening. That's frustrating."
Making a game that does what you would expect it to at all times sits at the heart of the design process behind Crysis, the latest shooter from the white-hot development studio probably best known for its island-borne exploits in PC shooter Far Cry.
That game showed that the team, based in the millennium-old city of Coburg, in central Germany, was able to carry through on a consistent vision. More than a few people swore that Far Cry had stolen some of the thunder from Half-Life 2, and Crysis has by virtue of its looks already positioned itself as one of the must-play games on the new Direct X 10 PC platform.
Announced nearly two years ago, Crysis has mainly built up buzz through its highly realistic graphics, an inevitable consequence of a design philosophy that aims to envelop you in its unreality while convincing you that all you see is real - even when the alien-heavy storyline screams that it's anything but. To do that, things must behave accordingly.
"If it moves like a tree, if the leaves move and it looks like a real tree, it has to break. If I drive a car into it, it has to fall over, and if it's lying on the ground, and I drive the car into it again, it has to break again," Diemer says, with more than a hint of a smile on his face.
Making that happen fell to the programmers who, faced with this central challenge, had to devise new procedural generation routines that would allow the game to calculate on the fly how the game should react to you.
The approach brought its problems, issues that stretched deep into the game that had to be solved to keep up the illusion. Diemer tells of a particular testing cycle where early players of the game were let loose with the game's realistically behaving trees, the ones that break when you smash them.
Some of the games testers saw that you could pick up pieces of broken foliage and wondered whether you could do the same with enemy characters. So they did it. The result was that the team had to go back in to tweak the enemies' artificial intelligence so that they would react accordingly when picked up.
"Most innovation in Crysis comes from our goal to really follow through to the last detail, to pay attention, to look at the tiny little details and keep pushing so that it comes to its logical conclusion," says Diemer.
Wood breaks as you smash into it, he explains, so huts, which are made of wood, must break up when you smash into them. And inside huts are real items that must also be damaged as you destroy the hut. The whole process is fully detailed by the laws of physics and has been designed to be realistic. But, Diemer says, "we tweaked it so it's fun".
As a result, you can throw cars around, but they won't easily flip over, and enemies, once shot, will fly back a few yards, like they do in the best Hollywood action movies. Diemer admits that the military nuts will take umbrage with this disregard for proper ballistics, but, he says, "you shouldn't forget that cool stuff is what games are about".