Interview: Crytekâ??s Cevat Yerli

Over the next couple of weeks, Develop will be embarking on a special series of interviews with some of the world’s largest and most celebrated independent developers.

Today we start with the Frankfurt-headquartered Crytek, an outfit that boasts a consortium of studios stretching from the UK to South Korea, a workforce pushing 500, and a handful of acclaimed games including the landmark 2007 PC title Crysis.

Of course, labelling Crysis a game from 2007 is akin to calling the mobile phone a device from the eighties. Even today, Crytek’s seminal FPS can make heavyweight PCs ache from running its immensely powerful engine.

CEO Cevat Yerli, ever fixated on the future of the industry, speaks to us ahead of his appearance at E3 about the next steps for Crytek’s newest engine, its new Free Radicals, next-gen consoles and the recent Pirate Bay ruling.

CryEngine 3 is being publicised as a far more flexible engine than its predecessors. Do you feel that it was a necessity to embark on console development?
Cevat: Yes, but it wasn’t just to ensure profitability. Frankly, this was a personal challenge for us. We have been told before that the CryEngine 2 looks great but we’d never have this kind of stuff on consoles; and so that was a challenge for our R&D guys to prove them wrong.

There were obviously business reasons for this, but this was also about challenging our technical team. We don’t just want to replicate the CryEngine 2 onto consoles; we want to add to it.

Console development priorities have been the number one reason why people have pulled away from CryEngine 2, and I think our new engine business will go through the roof.

CryEngine 3 is also designed to be compatible with the next generation of hardware, but that may not arrive for a number of years. Are you worried that, as technology moves so fast, by the time the newest consoles arrives, CryEngine 3 will be struggling to look new and relevant?
It is very important that the technology can be used in next-gen systems. It was something we included to take away fear from the developers, because a lot of people are afraid of what will be next-gen and how much it will cost.

We also have the same fears. We say we cannot afford to be victim of the expenses and timing of next-gen. Very often, developers are the victims of cycle transitions because information comes too late, and new platforms become too difficult to work for. So we looked at the situation and thought about how can we make this streamlined so people can upgrade as smoothly as possible.

I mean, if you look at Crysis right now at the highest possible specifications and highest configurations; I give you my word – that’s already next-gen. The amount of data, content, pixel shading per-pixel, the amount of lighting, shading, openness – I don’t think that any console game is technologically close right now.

Next-gen games will be about more openness, freedom and fidelity. This is the Crysis experience today, but when next-gen consoles arrive, we will be updating our tools accordingly.

But many are saying new consoles wont arrive for at least four years. Surely you are hoping that new consoles will arrive soon if you want the CryEngine 3 to be relevant for next-gen systems?
Maybe we have more than a hope [laughs].

Peter Moore said recently that there’s “no inkling of any new development being done” on next-gen systems.
Even if not, the PC development community will be improving. So if worse comes to worst, if there are no new consoles in 2012, what you’ll see is a game that looks kick-ass on PC, and runs flawlessly on consoles.

But if new consoles come, we’ll be prepared for that. We want to take away the fear only. The licensing fee for CryEngine 3 does not include next-gen development, so developers can tier their investments appropriately. If next gen suddenly comes, they can update the engine and be ready to go.

We look at it as providing developers with a head-start on next-gen development, without compromising plans for developing games today.

What were the objectives in mind when building CryEngine 3 for other developers to license, and how will it deviate from the competition?
What we are looking at is the limitations of artists, the problems for designers, the best technology available, and how we can reduce the burden and tedium that sometimes is inevitable when designing games day by day.

On that last point, for a second, when I say ‘burden’ and talk about tasks being really tedious, I mean that there are some tasks when designing a game that are absolutely no fun. Things like exporting data or moving around content and waiting for some pre-computation.

CryEngine 3 is giving developers full control over their work in real-time, so developers are actually going to have less hassle and more fun building the games.

People who make games usually enter the industry thinking that it is going to be fun, and so we try to maintain those expectations, because when developers are enjoying themselves it ultimately means better quality. That’s our philosophy and that’s how we try to always improve things.

If you look at the real-time capabilities of our engine, nothing can compare to this.

When can we expect to hear about Crytek’s next console title? Will there be any unveilings at E3?
Might be very likely [laughs]. I cannot promise anything.

How far are you deviating from the FPS genre?
Time will tell [laughs]. I cannot comment any further, but we have quite a few development teams, and it should be clear to the public that we’re not going to completely focus on all FPS games.

There does seem to be anticipation and excitement surrounding a possible new TimeSplitters title.
I am very happy about that excitement.

There are usually two ways people look at the Free Radical purchase. The first is that over sixty jobs were saved. The second is that another UK studio is owned by a foreign company, which will further wane the strength and sustainability of the UK development sector. How would you respond to the latter?
The latter statement is nonsense. There is no way we are going to do anything negative to the UK development community.

If someone has that concern they should ask the people that are actually there. We have provided the team at Crytek UK a structure and a future that clearly shows improvement.

We are working with Free Radical on things that they always dreamed to do. We are providing the team a roadmap and the chance to grow, which is why we were picked as a partner, and not anyone else.

Frankly, when Free Radical was up for sale, we heard that our offer on the table wasn’t the biggest in the short-term. But we offered the most value in what we planned and how we were going to treat the studio, and that’s why we were chosen.

By the time we acquired the group, it had a bit more than forty people, but today it’s already at over sixty with the developers that had left looking to come back. These developers coming back are based on what the people inside Crytek UK had said about us, and some people had already signed up with other studios before dropping plans and re-signing back with us.

So, I really don’t understand that concern.

The areas of complaint aren’t necessarily aimed at Crytek or its own policies, but the fact that the UK has lost control of another one of its studios.
We are going to channel our engine business there. We are going to export our engine business sales there. We are going to build tremendous value in that area in the UK.

For us Crytek UK is not just a development studio, it will support and licence our engine business. We have future announcements ahead as well, and you will see how much value we are adding to the UK studio.

What are you hoping to obtain from Crytek UK? What were the ideas for the studio when you had made a bid for it?
I was really impressed with their development talent, and it was effectively a 100 per cent console studio, whereas Crytek in Frankfurt is clearly the exact opposite.

When I went up there the first time it was just console, console, console, and no PC. There were more consoles than I’ve ever seen. So with us developing the CryEngine 3, we saw it as a perfect fit for our future plans.

What I expect is that the team will kick ass on consoles.

The financial strength Crytek amassed before it purchased Free Radical came from PC development. Was it inevitable, though, that Crytek had to also engage in the console market?
Crytek will never turn its back on PC games. PC development is a very valid business today, but I get asked from so many people why we had not been working on console games.

I see PC gaming market today going through a transitioning of business models, but not experiencing a problem per se. The average PC user became much more social, much more aware of online communities, much more accepting towards free gaming.

Interestingly, we see the exact opposite approaches used by the Eastern and Western development regions. The East innovated with business models far more than on actual game content, while in Europe and the US innovation comes through content rather than business models.

Retail on PC may be decreasing, but I think that a marriage of new content and new business models is inevitable for the system PC.

The current state of the PC is still, however, plagued by piracy. What were your thoughts on the recent Pirate Bay ruling?
I was really happy, to be honest. I feel it is the beginning of something and a step forward. I think we’re going to see either more tracking sites shut down, or more severe punishments for those involved.

Frankly, piracy is the reason why retail games are falling in popularity. Right now there is a mental shift in people about how they consume media, and if you think about the problems with piracy in light of this, inevitably you find that there needs to be a solution that requires people to look at PC gaming differently.

The fact that I can illegally download a game right now, for free, faster than I can buy it, is truly an issue. There’s a whole chain of problems there, and a business model change is needed for this.

Piracy has been a problem for years, but what we are seeing now is more and more people looking at buying and consuming media online. These people want to be served their content differently, and I think you have to cater to that.

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