by Cry-Tom Sep 12, 2011 / 09:01
My name is Sten Huebler. I was Lead Level Designer for Crysis 1 and Lead Game Designer for Crysis 2. I am at Crytek for almost 10 years now. I started in December 2001 back in Coburg and have already worked on our debut title Far Cry at the time.
I was very impressed by the X-Isle demo Crytek released earlier in 2001. I had finished my university degree shortly before. My hope was that at Crytek I could make my way into the industry and work on a cool, inspiring game. The ideas behind X-Isle and later Far Cry were very much fitting to my personal taste, and it was a great opportunity to work with an international team, to be able to learn a lot and gain experience.
I have been working on Crysis 1 almost right from the start. At the beginning there was much documentation and design work, as I collaborated with our Lead Designer Jack Mamais on preparing the Game Design Document and Mission briefs.
Later on I was leading a team of Level Designers, crafting the levels of the single player campaign. I looked after the basic structure of the levels, the mission objectives, the integration of the story in the levels, how the levels connected with each other, the player leading, gameplay challenges and difficulty balancing.
Yes, already in the concept phase we have been thinking about it, trying to design the game to make sure it could be shipped on consoles as well. At some point during the development we noticed that a potential console version would take more time than we had estimated and focused out attention largely on the PC. We tried to make the best PC game we could think of, creating very large and open levels that could be played in many different ways.
Since most of our levels became quite large, I had doubts in the end if Crysis 1 could be ported to the consoles easily. I was afraid that a console version would have required us to rework the Crysis 1 levels to a large extent, possibly splitting them into several parts. Luckily this was not needed, as our engineers worked their magic. While developing Crysis 2 and rewriting CryEngine to the consoles we learned a lot and freed up the necessary resources to make it run. We also benefited much from the knowledge of our UK studio in Nottingham, which is mainly responsible for realizing the project. The guys there have a ton of experience and worked on consoles titles as the Time Splitters series before and have done a fantastic job porting Crysis 1 for the consoles!
All our efforts together allowed for the levels to stay as big and open as they have been on the PC version.
When CryEngine originally was created, it was very much built with the PC in mind. Many systems and parts of the architecture had to be changed and adapted to a console environment. This takes time, since we wanted to get it right and deliver a console experience living up to our own expectations, but also the expectations of our fans and community.
We were afraid that getting our console code ready could take too long, releasing Crysis 1 on consoles much later than the original PC version. So after Crysis 1 shipped, we immediately focused on Crysis 2 and developed it multiplatform right from the start.
After our work on Crysis 2 was finished and our technology is now ready for consoles, it was our desire to release Crysis 1 finally on consoles as well. Most of the work was done at Crytek UK in Nottingham and we are very happy in how it turned out. It’s not without reason that some of the technically most competent games are only released late in the cycle for a console generation.
Firstly we had to reduce the memory used by the assets in the game. We used smart algorithms to compress the used meshes for our geometry, the terrain height maps and terrain textures, the sprites that are used to display our vegetation in the distance and the animations used for our characters.
We also optimized how the memory was used and organized in our engine, which allowed us to increase the Streaming Buffer, which was very essential for making our large levels work.
Many of the effects now showcased in games are done via fullscreen shader passes. For example to convey motion blur, the render information of the whole screen is being processed with algorithms creating the desired effect. We already improved those algorithms in Crysis 2, but further optimized this for the Crysis 1 console version in order to save performance and processing time.
We refined the Occlusion Buffer we use to detect which objects we do not need to render since they would be occluded from other objects that are in front of them and used Reprojection methods to predict where the player might look next in order to avoid objects popping suddenly into place.
We also optimized our vegetation a lot. We reduced some of the poly counts and adjusted the used methods for blending the vegetation into each other and making it fade out on the edges. We also optimized many of our objects and vehicles in the game, tried to reduce the amount of textures and polygons to increase the performance where possible.
Of course we also had to optimize our levels as well. With more careful placement of the objects and the vegetation in the game, we were able to reduce the overall rendering time needed. We also looked at our AI counts and scripting, to prevent large amount of AI being active the player could actually not engage.
Luckily we had the opportunity to improve Crysis 1 for the console version with what we have learned from developing Crysis 2. The controls and interface are more straightforward, allowing the player to control the Nansuit smoothly to focus more on the game and action, without struggling with the controls. We drastically improved the lighting for all levels, updated and added new particle effects.
I think for a game that originally has been released almost 4 years ago, Crysis 1 stacks up quite well and matches up to current titles.
It’s an important part of the Crysis trilogy, providing a player a better picture of the Crysis universe. They will get to know Prophet from a completely different angle, unraveling the mysteries of Ling-Shan together with him and the rest of the Raptor team.
It features large, open levels that can be played in many different ways, with lots of stuff to explore in very interactive and destroyable environments with clever AI the player has to outsmart in order to defeat them. They can drive a wide selection of vehicles, use cutting-edge high-tech weaponry and even participate in an epic tank battle taking place in one of the valleys of Ling-Shan. Later in the game they will enter a massive strange alien structure and witness the island completely freezing over, changing the gameplay greatly and requiring new strategies in order to succeed.
I think it is a must for any Crysis 2 fan out there, that hasn’t played Crysis 1 so far.