Crytek's powerful game engine in focus
Anyone who’s seen the luscious Crysis screenshots on these pages or plastered over the internet barely needs an introduction to the CryENGINE.
Despite having been released almost two years ago, Crysis – and, by extension, the CryENGINE technology powering it – is so cutting edge that it’s still seen as a high-end benchmark today.
But that was CryENGINE 2. Revealed early in 2009, the latest version of Crytek’s behemoth engine – the cunningly-titled CryENGINE 3 – takes that industry-leading DirectX 9 and 10 engine to the next level: consoles.
“CryENGINE 3 is all about high performance on PS3, Xbox 360 and a broad range of PC specs,” explains Carl Jones, CryENGINE’s director of global business development. “We’ve always wanted to make products for consoles here at Crytek. Finally, the PS3 and Xbox 360 are able to run the quality and complexity of content we require, so making the engine run on these platforms was the logical step.”
The engine’s multiplatform support is so comprehensive, says Jones, that licensees won’t need parallel development teams for each platform. But the focus hasn’t just been on consoles: the engine also runs on a huge range of PC specs, ensuring that those with older rigs aren’t left out in the cold.
The 60 R&D engineers dedicated to the CryENGINE’s development haven’t just been working on new platforms, though: the engine’s Sandbox editor has been significantly updated to provide real-time editing and development on all platforms, plus hot-updates of assets to automatically bring source material changes instantly into the engine. Road and river building tools, plus vegetation and terrain placement tools, significantly facilitate the generation of startling outdoor environments. Meanwhile, the engine’s lighting system has been dramatically improved with a new deferred shading solution and real-time global illumination.
There’s a lot to CryENGINE beyond just the graphics, though: there’s a full modular AI system, for example, that offers characters with sensory systems, a visual scripting system, and dynamic pathfinding with automatic navmesh generation. A full proprietary multi-threaded physics engine is also included, with full interactive and destructible environments and advanced rope physics.
Don’t think the tech is just limited to tropical island-based first person shooters either. “CryENGINE 3 is genre agnostic to a great extent,” Jones explains. “Whilst there is not much point using the power of the engine to drive a casual game, we don’t see a limit to the genres that could be built – as long as the game requires incredible, high quality graphics and gameplay to match, CryENGINE 3 is perfect for the purpose.”
In fact, one other area in which the CryENGINE has traditionally been popular is the massively-multiplayer area, particularly in the Far East.
“Online gaming is without doubt the future of gaming,” says Jones. “Where you draw the line at ‘massively’ multiplayer is a matter of opinion, but we can see most – if not all – games involving communities of players in the future. Products such as NCsoft’s Aion prove the power of CryENGINE technology for these types of games.”
As such, the engine is firmly geared towards MMOs, with environment sizes limited only by development budgets: it features intelligent streaming technology that takes full advantage of the host platform, utilising data clustering, compression and multiple CPUs.
Essentially, CryENGINE 3 is a much more rounded engine than its predecessor, and one that will make significant headway in the middleware market.
Jones adds: “Developers looking to make truly awesome looking games on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC need look no further than CryENGINE 3. It is finally possible to achieve the quality of gaming seen only before in Crysis and Crysis Warhead on consoles.”
One interesting aspect of the CryENGINE is how much effort Crytek has put into supporting it: in addition to all the usual documentation and forums, licensees receive a free week of on-site training from the developer’s own in-house expert staff, known as the ‘Start Up’ week, which helps studios accelerate their initial experiences with the engine and get to the prototype stage much quicker. A further week’s schooling can also be taken at the firm’s Frankfurt headquarters, where they can work with the engineers that created the engine to ensure that they’re using its full potential.
Crytek is also in the process of building up a network of local support offices through its various studios, with additional outlets in Japan, China and the US to be established this year.