All Your History: Crytek Part 2 – Crytical Stage
With only one game, Crytek had leapt from a gleam in the eyes of its founders, the Yerli brothers, into one of the hottest development houses in the industry. Far Cry, and its proprietary CryEngine, had blown critics and audiences away with its jaw-dropping graphics and solid gameplay. But after achieving all that, Crytek chose to leave Far Cry behind and pursue a new franchise. In the meantime, and still with only one game to their name, they moved their headquarters to Frankfurt, Germany, and founded new studios in Kiev, Ukraine, and Budapest, Hungary. Clearly, the guys had faith that they were the next big thing. And indeed, the main team at Frankfurt was hard at work on the new game and its new engine. In time, their new game would come to be a byword for bleeding-edge graphics, a standard by which hardcore gaming PCs and graphics cards would be judged for years. In the aftermath of Crysis, Crytek would emerge as one of largest independent studios in the world.
After a six month delay, Crysis finally released in November Two Thousand Seven. After Far Cry’s unexpected success, hype was pretty high around the new game. In particular, the screenshots and videos for CryEngine 2 looked almost unbelievable. Everything that had been amazing in Far Cry looked a generation or more better. Still, Crysis was an untested property, and it was possible that Far Cry had just been a fluke. Plus, the game was exclusive to the PC, narrowing its potential market. On top of this, Fall Two Thousand Seven was a busy time for PC shooters, with hits like 2K Boston’s Bioshock and Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare already out. Could their game, which had cost an expensive fifteen million euros to make, stand out in the crowd?
As it turned out, the answer was a resounding yes. In fact, Crysis became something of a flagbearer for the hardcore PC crowd. In their eyes, Crysis had remained true to the computer, as opposed to its multiplatform competitors. In addition, CryEngine 2 was everything it had promised it would be, a staggeringly gorgeous engine that could deliver a level of detail other engines could only dream of. This reputation as the must-have title for anyone calling themselves a PC gamer helped the game find success even amidst the heavy-hitters.
Critics praised the game as a true gameplay successor to Far Cry as well. It took the open enemy encounters from that game, once again forcing players to think through difficult encounters and then letting them execute their plan in any style they chose, whether stealthy or guns blazing. Crysis also introduced the Nanosuit, which gave players a number of special powers that each used some of the suit’s finite energy supply. Carefully managing their energy while still battling their foes became a central part of the experience. It was the thinking man’s shooter. In other words, it was a first-rate game with bleeding-edge graphics. That’s a good combination.
If there was one problem, it was that the game was so focused on the hardcore crowd, it left those with older machines behind. Crysis quickly gained the reputation of being unplayable on weaker PCs, although this again made it more appealing with to those with hardcore rigs. In general, the first game that went into any power machine was Crysis. In fact, it was estimated that somewhere around a billion dollars worldwide were spent upgrading PCs in anticipation of Crysis.
Despite its expensive development cycle and its uniplatform release, Crysis still ended up profitable. So, Crysis was a critical darling that turned a profit. But Crytek founder Cevat Yerli later said he was disappointed by it. Clearly, his ambition hadn’t tempered with age.
Part of the problem was that success in the PC world was a double-edged sword. In April Two Thousand Eight, Yerli revealed that Crysis was on top of the piracy charts — yes, there are charts for piracy. He stated that, because of piracy, sales of PC games were four to five times weaker than console games. As such, Crytek would be making multiplatform games from then on. Piracy had killed Crytek’s wish to remain PC exclusive. He later stated that the sales to piracy ratio was one to fifteen or twenty. Under those conditions, it’s no wonder he wanted to make the jump to consoles.
Despite these disheartening numbers, Crytek pressed ahead with their master plan. In July Two Thousand Eight, Crytek bought Black Sea Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria, renaming it Crytek Black Sea. The interesting thing here is that Black Sea has only made real-time strategy games to date. While no announcements have come from the studio since the buy-out, an RTS running the latest CryEngine seems a strong possibility.
Meanwhile, the multi-studio model proved its value in September when Crytek’s studio in Budapest released Crysis Warhead, a stand-alone expansion pack. All around, the game was actually considered an improvement on the already-excellent original. The graphics looked a little better and even ran a little better on older machines. The story, too, was considered stronger, if shorter. Even the multiplayer, never Crysis’ strong point, was considered much more fun and full-featured than before. With its success, Crytek showed the industry that starting so many new studios so quickly wasn’t just vanity. It allowed the company to produce more product in less time at the same quality. As if to drive the point home, in November Crytek opened yet another studio in Seoul, South Korea, although this studio would be more focused on convincing Asian developers to license CryEngine, rather than making its own games.
A much bigger expansion was Crytek’s February Two Thousand Nine acquisition of Free Radical Design. Free Radical had been founded ten years earlier to great fanfare, since it was the new studio from the team that had made the legendary GoldenEye. Unfortunately, Free Radical never repeated the success of the Double-Oh Seven game, and their highly respected TimeSplitters series couldn’t find the same appeal. But when they went into bankruptcy, Crytek swooped in to save the day. Crytek knew full well how talented the Free Radical team was and acquired them outright. Free Radical was renamed Crytek UK, and the team immediately got to work on the multiplayer portion of the Frankfurt studio’s next game.
And because they hadn’t expanded enough yet, in November of that same year, Crytek opened another studio, this time in Orlando, Florida. Called RealTime Immersive, this studio would not focus on games as an entertainment product. Rather, RTI would focus on simulations and what are called “serious games,” using the CryEngine to do it. These products would be made on a for-contract basis for big business and the military. They might design Army training simulations, or model an oil leak in the ocean, all using the real-time rendering prowess of the latest CryEngine. While this studio is obvioulsy not well-known to gamers, RTI has become a hugely profitable wing of Crytek and has helped the company stay afloat even with all their expansions and acquisitions.
After this rash of activity in Oh Eight and Oh Nine, Twenty Ten was a relatively quiet time for Crytek. At E3 that year, Microsoft announced at its press conference that Crytek was making a game exclusively for them called Codename: Kingdoms. But only a live action trailer was shown, with no details about what the game would actually be.
In the meantime, the Frankfurt team was hard at work crafting Crysis 2, as well as CryEngine 3. The new CryEngine would be the company’s most ambitious yet, because this time around, they would not be sticking with the PC. The Yerlis had had enough of piracy, and felt it was time to go console. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were several years old by then, and the old hardware couldn’t even run CryEngine 2. So before beginning production on Crysis 2, the engine team had done two to three years of work just optimizing the engine to the point where it could scale down to consoles. The hard work paid off, and Crytek proudly promised that they could deliver a top-quality game across consoles and the highest-end PCs.
Originally slated for a Fall Twenty Ten release, the game was pushed into March Twenty Eleven to avoid the intense competition of the holiday season. Big as Crytek has become, it wasn’t yet big enough to compete with the heavyweights. When Crysis 2 did release, it did so on consoles and PC. Astoundingly, Crytek lived up to their promise once again by pushing the limits of both consoles and hardcore PC rigs, and looking gorgeous on both. CryEngine 3 was their third home run in a row.
The game itself was largely like its predecessor, but moved from a lush jungle to a concrete one. Set in a lovingly recreated and gleefully destroyed New York, gamers would once again don a superpowered Nanosuit to fight aliens. It retained its reputation as the thinking man’s shooter, forcing gamers to approach enemy encounters cautiously and deliberately. The single-player was praised as another great campaign from a studio that had quickly established itself as a powerhouse.
But Crysis 2 would also feature the most complete multiplayer experience in a Crytek game to date. This was the product of Crytek UK’s efforts, and the former Free Radical had put all their multiplayer expertise into it. It is generally considered to be by far Crytek’s best multiplayer to date. However, it still struggled to stand out against the establshed franchises, as Call of Duty, Halo, and Battlefield continued to dominate the most-played charts.
If there were complaints, they were mostly from the hardcore PC crowd, who feared that making the game and engine console-friendly had stifled progress. They were also upset by the loss of what had been their banner franchise, one of the last remaining PC-only shooters in existence. Still, after one week on the market, only fifteen percent of Crysis 2’s sales were on the PC. The remaining eighty-five percent were all on console. Given those kinds of numbers, it’s no wonder Crytek wanted to move into that space.
After the success of Crysis 2, the UK studio was looking for a project to call their own. They got it from an unexpected source. In September Twenty Eleven, publisher THQ contracted Crytek to make the shooter Homefront 2. The company leaders in Frankfurt chose the UK team to do it. A follow-up to the American invasion-themed original, the game is expected some time in Twenty Thirteen.
Meanwhile in October, the original Crysis finally made its way over to consoles. The whole game had been converted from CryEngine 2 to 3, allowing for the console jump. As an older game, it was released as a twenty dollar downloadable, and without any multiplayer. The move drives home the point that Crytek is done with PC exclusivity.
Going into the future, Crytek has a number of games in production from a number of studios. In Twenty Twelve, the main team in Frankfurt will release Ryse, a Roman combat game exclusively for the Kinect motion controller. This is the same game previously announced as Codename: Kingdoms. However, rumor has it that the title had begun production under the team in Budapest.
But very suddenly, development was moved to the Frankfurt team, and a large number of Budapest staff were laid off. The studio is reported to be focused solely on tablet games now. What caused the shift is unknown. Also unknown is whether or not hardcore gamers will embrace the Kinect, since it has largely appealed to casual crowds so far. But Crytek wants to prove that hardcore can evolve past the analogue sticks.
To that same end, Twnety Twelve will also see the release of Warface from the Kiev studio. Warface will be a free-to-play shooter, a business model that has so far been aimed mostly at casual players. But Warface will use CryEngine 3 and promises to be a fully-featured AAA action experience. Again, Crytek is betting that it can bring the hardcore crowd to a different paradigm. If they succeed, and if they can properly monetize in-game purchases such as better guns or equipment, they could be opening up a whole new market.
All in all, it’s been a pretty remarkable journey for a couple of college students. In twelve years, they have only release four games, but each one has been critically respected and technologically groundbreaking. What’s more, Crytek now runs seven studios around the world, making them one of the largest privately-owned developers in the world. Whether or not they can maintain that pace or size remains to be seen, but so far, every gamble they have taken has paid off. As it stands, they have made themselves one of the most recognizable names in the shooter space, and they seem poised to go toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the shooter market. And that is nothing to Cry about.
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