All Your History: Crytek Part 1 – Cryating Worlds

While he was in college, Cevat Yerli decided to try and make a game engine.  He was a Turkish programmer going to school in Germany.  Always an avid gamer, he wanted to bring his own ideas to life.  But even as ambitious as he was, he knew he couldn’t build an engine or a demo on his own.  So he enlisted his brothers, Avni and Faruk, and also turned to the internet to find similar talents around the world.  This was a tricky process, since few people they contacted really believed a couple of kids could make a AAA game engine on their own in college.  But over time, they pulled a strong team together.  Eventually, the Yerli brothers managed the impossible and created a working demo of a first-rate engine they’d built themselves.  They called the engine CrySpace, for a demo of a game they called Silent Space.  But this achievement wasn’t enough for the Yerlis.  In September Nineteen Ninety-Nine, they founded their own company in Coburg, Germany.  Over the years, and against all odds, Crytek has emerged as one of the industry’s pre-eminent developers, consistently making iconic games with graphics so good, it makes other studios want to Cry.

Cryating Worlds

Because the college kids hadn’t done enough yet, they went on to make another engine, which they called CryEngine, for another demo, which they called X-Isle.  The guys thought that this demo looked so good, so advanced, that they were willing to try and make their reputation with it.  So in 2000, the Yerli brothers got on a plane to Los Angeles and went to that year’s E3 convention.  With only the English he’d learned from watching Hollywood movies, Cevat Yarli tried to convince the industry’s biggest figures that a couple of students had created, on their own time, the next biggest engine in the gaming world.

As insane as that sounded, it was actually true.  The CryEngine was capable of rendering extreme draw distances at fantastic detail at a smooth framerate.  The demo itself, X-Isle, showcased a luscious jungle island filled with dinosaurs, simply because the Yerlis thought dinosaurs were awesome.  When the representatives for high-end graphics card company Nvidia saw the demo, they were blown away.  They were so impressed, that they licensed the demo for the reveal of their newest, most powerful card, the GeForce 3, at that year’s European Computer Trade Show.

It was exactly the break that the guys needed.  All of the sudden, they weren’t a couple of college students without a prayer; they were the talk of the town, a company that had come from nowhere and wowed graphics enthusiasts the world over.  Never lacking for ambition, Crytek and their growing team began work on not one, not two, but four projects: the space-shooter Silent Space; Engalus, a wild post-apocalyptic sci-fi action-shooter; X-Isle, based on their dinosaur island demo; and a never-revealed project.  Oh yeah, and they wanted them all to be on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and PC.  That’s all.

Only trouble was, none of these projects actually had funding from a major publisher.  That changed in July Two Thousand Two, when Ubisoft announced that they had contracted Crytek to turn the X-Isle demo into a full product for the PC.  The game was later renamed to Far Cry, running the CryEngine, from Crytek.  Noticing a pattern here?  As for their other early projects, none of them ever saw the light of day.

Meanwhile, Far Cry changed quite a bit in development.  Originally concepted as a dinosaur game, at some point the dinosaurs went extinct.  In their place were gun-toting mercenaries and feral mutants.  The player would take on the somewhat uninspired role of an ex-Special Forces operative trying to rescue the fair lady.

But in the end, it wasn’t the story that got the gaming press excited.  It was the CryEngine itself, quickly becoming the groundbreaking masterpiece that the X-Isle demo had hinted at.

Originally slated for a late Two Thousand Three release, the game missed that window.  Eventually, March Two Thousand Four was given as the new release date.  Already under pressure to actually finish their game, in February the studio got raided by German police.  An ex-intern had informed the cops that Crytek was using illegally pirated software to make their games.  However, after the raid, the police determined that Crytek did in fact have the correct number of licenses.  It was all an unnecessary distraction for both the team and the press.

Much, much, much worse was the news that same month that German director Uwe Boll would be directing a Far Cry movie.  Technically this should have been a good thing: a game that hadn’t even been released yet looked so impressive, that the movie rights had been sold.  Unfortunately, Boll’s filmic output has been widely and consistently panned throughout his career.  He has unleashed such not-classics as Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne, and House of the Dead.  The idea of Boll getting his hands on Far Cry was not pleasant.

Regardless, Far Cry did hit store shelves in March Two Thousand Four.  Crytek would have liked to have put even more time into the game, but they were under pressure from impending Doom: specifically, Doom 3 and its jaw-dropping id Tech 4 engine from the legendary id Software and its technical whiz, John Carmack.  It would release that Fall, and just after that, Half-Life 2 from Valve Software would release with its own powerful Source engine.  Both of these games were shooters geared towards the PC crowd.  If the CryEngine, and the PC-only Far Cry, were to have any chance of standing out, it would need to do it well before these monsters came knocking.

And once again, the guys from Germany pulled it off.  Far Cry was universally praised as the surprise of the year, a top-notch first-person shooter from a team that had never made a game before.  The engine was absolutely gorgeous, fully delivering on the vast draw distances, phenomenal detail, and lush lighting that the X-Isle demo had promised.  But it wasn’t just the graphics that made the game stand out.  The gameplay itself was found to be tight and focused, while the enemy encounters were open and allowed for different players to approach them in different ways.  The typical run-and-gun philosophy wouldn’t work here; gamers would have to think through the missions if they wanted to survive the intelligent AI and numerous foes.  Even for all that, it was still a fast-paced and adrenalin-pumping romp through a beautiful landscape.  With the exception of the rather ho-hum story, it was a top-to-bottom excellent experience.

If there was one complaint, it was that players needed to have a hardcore PC rig in order to actually run the game, especially at the higher graphics settings.  But provided the PC was strong enough, critics generally agreed that Far Cry was the best FPS to release in years.  The Yerlis had achieved their dream, and done it on their own terms.

And the industry took notice.  Four months later, publishing giant Electronic Arts announced that they’d signed a deal for an ongoing partnership with Crytek.  Crytek would be joining into the EA Partners program, in which Crytek would remain fully independent, but would publish their new games exclusively with EA.  Right around this same time, Microsoft entered early talks to purchase Crytek outright.  But when Crytek revealed that they wanted to make a futuristic military shooter, Microsoft passed.  With Halo and the upcoming Gears of War already in their pocket, the Xbox-makers figured they didn’t need another similar title.

The surprise here was that Crytek chose not to make Far Cry 2.  This was an incredibly risky move, since Far Cry had broken through and become an established property.  To abandon it and start again would be difficult, to say the least.  But Crytek put their faith in their reputation and ability, and set to work on a different game set in a different story world.  In January of Two Thousand Six, Crytek revealed that this new game was Crysis, which would be running their brand new CryEngine 2.  CryEngine 2 promised to be even more revolutionary than the original.  In the meantime, Crytek sold the Far Cry rights to their old publisher, Ubisoft, along with a perpetual license to the original CryEngine.  This way, Crytek made money off of the franchise one last time before abandoning it for good.  Ubisoft has continued with the IP, creating Two Thousand Five’s Far Cry Instincts, Two Thousand Eight’s Far Cry 2, and the upcoming Far Cry 3.

But because they weren’t ambitious enough already, Two Thousand Six also saw a number of changes to the company.  For one thing, they moved their headquarters from Coburg to the much more metropolitan Frankfurt am Main, one of busiest financial centers in Germany and Europe.  For another, they founded a brand new studio in Kiev, Ukraine, to support the main crew.  Then in Two Thousand Seven, they opened still another studio in Budapest, Hungary.  The hope was that one day, Crytek would have a network of studios around the world, each working on different kinds of games with different tones, but all united by the latest and greatest CryEngine from the Frankfurt team.

And speaking of the latest and greatest, the Frankfurt team was putting the finishing touches on Crysis, running their brand-new CryEngine 2.  And where the first engine was a revelation, for graphics enthusiasts everywhere, the second would become their rallying Cry.

Tune in next time to see if your PC can run Crysis

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