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Crytek On Fusing Crysis 1, Crysis 2, And District 9

"a rainforest beyond a real rainforest and a city beyond a real city"

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Many people set their furrowed brows to maximum anger (known in some places as a warface) and rallied against Crysis 2. I wasn’t one of them. It was, in many ways, a far more directed experience than Crysis 1, but it was still far from being Modern Warfare in a snazzy pair of robo-pants. That said, when word got out that Crysis 3 was aiming to get back in touch with the series’ more open roots, I may have done a little dance. But then, mid-awkward-convulsion-shuffle-step, I halted with a sudden sobering realization: could it all be too good to be true? Fortunately, this entire series of events took place at a Crysis 3 event in San Francisco yesterday, so I immediately turned and asked director of creative development Rasmus Hojengaard. Here’s what he told me.

“It’s kinda in the middle on the [spectrum between Crysis 1 and 2],” Hojengaard began. “We still see huge advantages in having more condensed, controlled paths like in Crysis 2, and we also see advantages in going much broader whenever that supports the experience we want to convey. Obviously, we’re not gonna have big, full islands to explore like in Far Cry or Crysis 1, but we will definitely have areas utilizing our Seven Wonders of the Rainforest that support grand epic scale more than the [demoed] swamp theme does – which is kind of a claustrophobic and nasty place.”

“So we’re using advantages of either of these scenarios whenever it fits a story beat or gameplay experience or whatever we want to convey. And then, from a locations point of a view, we have an ability to push more on the actual premise of the location because this is an artificially grown rainforest. We can make it a rainforest beyond a real rainforest and a city beyond a real city. So our dynamic range is bigger than it was with either of the previous games individually.”

But is it really? I mean, if Crytek wanted a bigger “dynamic range,” why take yet another bite out of one of gaming’s quickly rotting settings: the Big Apple? Crysis 2’s New York City was nice and all, but Crysis 3 takes place 20 years after its predecessor. The world’s an entirely different place. Surely main character Prophet might be up for a little globe-trotting and sightseeing, right? If, however, there’s one point Hojengaard wants to drive home, it’s that Crytek isn’t taking the easy way out with a return to Crysis 2’s tried-and-true setting.

“One thing I want to underline is that we did not do this because it’s easier for us,” he emphasized. “All of the assets have been created from the ground-up. There is nothing left of the New York you saw in Crysis 2. As you saw in the demo, there’s no resemblance to what we did before.”

“I mean, the example I’ve used is let’s say there’s a war, and your hometown is bombed, and so is your friend’s. Going to see your hometown is going to be completely different from your friend’s because you already have a connection to that place versus a place you’ve never been before. Although it’s obviously not the same [with Crysis 3], it’s still a little bit of that principle.”

He went on to compare the decision to a long-running television series. Multiple seasons, he explained, give creators space to really explore certain characters and themes, which – when done well – create a strong sense of attachment in viewers. “We want to create depth and richness rather than breadth,” he explained, using the rapidly shifting settings of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield as points of reference.

Meanwhile, in terms of characters who aren’t made of buildings or armored squid monsters, Prophet’s leading the charge. He had something of a – to put it lightly – bumpy ride in Crysis 2, but Crysis 3 sees him back in control and possessed with the rather convenient ability to reduce the Ceph to incredibly unappetizing calamari with their own weapons. Interestingly,  that’s the end result of one of Crysis 3’s more apt influences: Neill Blomkamp’s fantastic directorial debut, District 9. So if Prophet’s slow crossing of a species gap seems a bit familiar to you, well, there’s a reason for that.

“We look at the protagonist of District 9 and the fact that he’s kind of this yes-man, and that doesn’t lead to any good for him until he takes charge of the situation and just gets shit done,” said Hojengaard. “So there’s a parallel, except that Prophet is a little cooler as a character. District 9’s character is a little goofy, but at the same time, he’s very interesting. We’re always inspired by stuff, and District 9 was a great movie. Whatever kind of loose ideas we can leverage and push even further, we do that. So it’s all about being inspired by all kinds of stuff and juggling that and making it into your own art. It’d be dumb as a creative developer to not look at all the other great stuff people do – whether it’s games or movies or books or whatever.”

At the same time, however, some influences are best ignored, and Hojengaard pointed out a rather large one: the grand majority of nerd culture’s entire history. I asked him why, in this day and age, it’s still out of the ordinary for a game to have a black main character – let alone a well-written one. His response was illuminating – though it raised just as many questions as it answered.

“The reason we chose Prophet is because he’s an interesting character and he has a really great kind of powerful presence,” he explained. “Whether he was black or white didn’t really play much of a role. We just thought he was the right kind of character to explore in this game. But I think ultimately the reason gaming is kind of dominated [by white male leads] is kind of a legacy thing from comic books. And people probably aren’t really conscious of it, but you just kind of carry on what has already been done for a long time. But there is definitely a discrepancy there and definitely a dominance of Caucasian characters.”

Which makes sense on some level, but utterly fails to excuse it. Rare is the gaming lead who’s anything other than a white male between the ages of 18 and 34, though recent years have, I suppose, made imperceptibly slight moves in the right direction with the likes of Assassin’s Creed III, Left 4 Dead, the Grand Theft Auto series, and a handful of others with generally diverse casts. Even so, are generally action-intensive games like Crysis counter-intuitive to the development of interesting, non-meatheaded characters  – race/gender/sex diverse or not? Sadly, before I could ask Hojengaard for further opinions on the matter, the extremely hurried ten-minute interview came to a halt. I’m attempting to follow up with him on a few other Crysis-related topics as well, so I’ll keep you posted when I hear more.

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