Crytek's co-founder and president Cervat Yerli has opened the inaugural Lyon GDC with an incisive tour through the design and production of the studio's second game, Crysis, revealing how the German studio's team iterated in order to innovate and gain input from players.
Key to the design of Crysis, which he directed, was advocating a variety of methods designed to involve gamers and turn them from passive participants to active players doing heroic deeds - an attempt to differentiate the title from other shooters on the market, said Yerli.
Crytek chose to aim for believable environments to help bring about this immersive gameplay, Yerli explained: "We wanted to push player expression. Usually a player has certain basic functions. For us it was important to allow a player to become the gameplay."
The studio invested a lot in first creating a believable environment and designing the "visual communication" of the title's 'Frozen Paradise' (the game's working title), by building a vast portfolio of reference materials garnered during a research trip to Tahiti. "Reference building is one of the key steps," said Yerli. "Usually it is too short on other productions."
Building a vast database of detailed material to help build the game world was compulsory for gaining player buy-in, even when it comes to details which some would consider peripheral and unnecessary, he added.
"Once a player dives in and grabs the environment we can stimulate him to buy into the fiction. It's important to set the believability of the world - to obtain this you must go beyond your simple objectives," said Yerli. He added that Crysis' environments aren't just populated with animals and wildlife because it looks pretty - it helps aid player immersion by including elements "that are relatable".
When it came to the gameplay in Crysis, Yerli said there was "no compromising" on the design, which was targeted to take the environmental involvement and make players feel like they were part of the detailed gameworld, not funneled through objectives as in other first person shooters.
"Any given shooter a player has a certain playstyle - they require that by design. So what we wanted was to let the player decide that," he explained. To allow this, the team devised the game's Nanosuit, the 'Feature IP' that players wear in-game. The aim of the Nanosuit was to "allow players to act and react" because in most games "hero characters only react".
The Nanosuit was only devised about a year into the game's production proving, Yerli said, "that you don't need a good feature from the beginning, but as long as your tools help you iterative and integrate that idea you will succeed flawlessly."
Yerli also took keynote attendees through the game's production pitfalls, singling out an ambitious art and animation pipeline and attempt to create a branching storyline as areas where "we fell into some traps".
For the former, Yerli wanted to get rid of enemy character 'footsliding' and implement better AI in Crysis because it helped contribute to building a believable gameworld - some technology was built to make enemy characters fall and stumble, as "the imperfection of humans is what we want to achieve, not the perfection", but in retrospect he said he would have done things differently given the massive investment in time that building such advanced pipelines demands. He said the team "shot very way higher on animation technology, but we learnt that R&D can not be as long as the development time".
And when it came to creating a branching storyline, the team had planned to create a "truly non linear" plot which changed based on player behaviour but eventually created "a branching monster". "No one understood it," he said, saying that eventually a more linear plot was chosen.
The mix of successes and slight failures added up to his ultimate conclusion: "Don't innovate too much for the sake of being cool."
"It's important to maintain but also iterate your vision throughout the production of game," explained Yerli, saying that a key element to good design was knowing how to strike a balance between a high concept and day-to-day implementation of it - especially when it comes to communicating that back to a team of developers.
"You have to keep on iterating so your vision actually works," he said, adding: "You must give developers goals which - and this might sound unfair - that are almost unachievable, that push them and raise the bar.
"Every developer is an interpreter of your vision. The vision has to challenge the developers, otherwise it is just a task to them."