Crysis 3 interview: Crytek producer, Michael Elliot Read

PC World tracks down Crytek producer, Michael Elliot Read, to talk about the return of Prophet

After a cliffhanger ending in Crysis 2, Crytek is following up with a third title in the series. Cutting edge graphics, fierce gunplay and intelligent AI are the hallmarks of the Crysis series, and Crysis 3 is set to follow in the footsteps by ramping it all up by another notch. The game naturally takes advantage of the current PC hardware available on the market, allowing hardcore players to jack up the visual settings in the game to experience the title in full 1080p glory. Crytek has not forgotten the current generation of consoles in the process, with Crysis 3 once again gracing the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at a respectable 720p. Even this late in the console cycle, Crytek has managed to squeeze out extra performance from the hardware to deliver a gripping first person shooter adventure that looks to recapture the excitement of the earlier two titles.

After going hands-on with Crysis 3, PC World sat down with Crytek producer, Michael Elliot Read, to talk more about the game:

After seemingly committing suicide in Crysis 2, Prophet is back in Crysis 3. Why was it important for Prophet to be the protagonist again when players assumed the Alcatraz?

Crytek producer, Michael Elliot Read (MR): Without giving away too many details on the storyline, Prophet was a predominant character in the original Crysis. He also had a small role at the beginning and end of Crysis 2. There are hints scattered throughout Crysis 2 as to how this has come about, and I think some people have already caught onto it. Some more of those hints will be provided throughout the story in Crysis 3.

Like Crysis 2, the third game uses New York as its battefield. Though, unlike the second game, this time it has deteriorated into a post apocalyptic setting. What are the challenges in re-imagining a real life city like New York in this way?

MR: When you look at Crysis 3, it’s a mix of two settings. When you look back at the first game you have an open jungle, and the second game had an urban environment. Between these two settings, we wanted to pay homage to the earlier instalments by mixing these two elements together for the third game. It’s probably been one of the biggest challenges we’ve had in the development of the game. There is no fixed art style throughout the game. There are broken down buildings and nature, but when you go and traverse through each of these levels, you’re going to find that they’re very different to the way they look and feel. You’re going to find various ways it will be dynamic in the gameplay. It’s all tied into one and lending itself not only to what you see in the visuals and environment art, but to the gameplay itself.

Crysis 3 features two sets of enemy factions, the alien Ceph and human CELL troops. Has it been challenging in balancing the characteristics of these two factions to ensure that they are both balanced yet challenging for the player?

MR: Actually, the more challenging part has not been the balance between the Ceph and CELL but the AI systems. We though we did the AI systems quite well in the first Crysis, and we wanted to do more in Crysis 2 but we didn’t quite hit the mark on that. So we’ve come back with Crysis 3 and taken a look at the AI systems, and combining the systems from the two earlier games and stepping them up in many different ways. For example, in the ways they react to certain scenarios and how they move around after your throw a grenade at them. It all ties into the gameplay side and how we want to create a more dynamic experience between the way you experience the game and the way I do. There are themes kind of assigned to each of the levels, but as people come into it, what we’re seeing is more dynamic ways to play through the game and achieve objectives.

Prophet’s bow plays a big role during combat in Crysis 3. Have you seen players use the weapon in any interesting ways during testing?

MR: Originally when the bow was brought in, it was something that tied in well to the hunter theme and cloaking mechanism. When we brought in the bow, the designers really thought it would be this really silent, tactical weapon that tied into the Nanosuit’s mode. What we’ve seen people doing is experimenting with it in armour mode, in mid-air situations, and not just sitting in the background and sniping enemies with the arrows. Which is still done at the same time, but it’s interesting to see it has shifted outside of that realm of being just a silent tactical weapon to being the frontline to experimentation.

Crytek has recently been saying that the CryEngine 3 in Crysis 3 is using 100% of the power in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Considering Crysis 2 was already a nice looking game, was it a lot of work to squeeze out the last few percent of performance from the consoles?

MR: It’s always a challenge, especially when you’re working with PC hardware and seeing how far you can push that. Then coming back to consoles and looking at the different levels to ensure the game experience is a good one the entire way through. Of course there is a give and take that happens when you are developing for consoles, and when you get to a certain point that it’s running at a great framerate, there might be a framerate drop and we have to identify that to see what we can remove and whether that will drastically affect what’s happening in the game. We have been really meticulous about going through these things with consoles and balancing them out. The challenge with consoles that developers have is going through the extreme certification process that Microsoft and Sony each have to deliver a final product to the consoles.

So how has development of the game for PC been different to consoles?

MR: It’s challenging in some ways, but at the same time you have a fixed hardware platform where you know there are not many variables in each of the versions of the consoles that have been released. Usually it’s different hard drive sizes, but we generally know what kind of hardware is in them, where the challenge with PC is the sheer number of hardware configuration you can have and how to balance that all out. One thing that we have introduced is the minimum recommended specification, and the thing that stands out is the mandatory use of a DirectX 11 capable card. That kind of minimises things down a little, but also allows us to push the current generation of PC hardware and not only where it is right now, but beyond that.

The original Crysis from 2007 remained a PC exclusive for many years, but Crytek ported it to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 last year. Are there any plans to do the same with 2008’s Crysis Warhead, which was also remains a PC exlusive?

MR: I don’t know if that was ever considered. I’ve never talked about that and I’ve never brought it up. When Crytek did the original Crysis for consoles, one of the things I asked them when I joined the company was why they went back and did this. The primary reason was to see if they could do it. It was also a good experiment for them to see if they could do it. It also gave them a bit of experience in how to port it from CryEngine 2 to 3, as well as how to make it work on consoles and balancing that out. And in the end, they achieved that.

So any chance of Crysis Warhead getting the same console treatment?

MR: That’s an interesting question that I don’t know if it was ever thought of at all with Crysis Warhead. But it’s definitely something I’m going to go back and ask about. I totally did not think about it. [Laughs]

Crytek’s breakout hit was Far Cry for Ubisoft, with the sequels being developed internally by the publisher. Do you have an opinion on the recently released Far Cry 3?

MR: I personally have not played any of the games in the Far Cry series, but I work with a lot of the guys on the Crytek team who worked on the original game and some of the expansions. I think what Ubisoft has done with the series has been quite interesting and refreshing to see. It’s cool to see that Ubisoft has taken a franchise that Crytek helped to build in a different and unique direction.

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out PC World's complete interview archive.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World
Topics: Crysis 2, Playstation 3, XBox 360
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