The Escapist Show: Crytek

By Shamus
on Jul 23, 2009
Filed under:
Movies


The Escapist Show: Episode 38: Crytek

You know, seeing this guy talk about his work really changed my perception of Crytek and, by extension, Crysis. I still think their pursuit of graphics spectacle is self-defeating, but I was glad to see it was because the guy has a genuine passion for graphics, and not because they thought it was the key to great sales. I thought it was hilarious that he began by talking about the fact that his favorite games were always the ones that didn’t run on his computer, since Crysis has now become the poster child for that very problem.

I do take issue with his praise of the AI they have. I think it is and was the weakest aspect of their games. (Aside from the difficulties in running them.) The fact that sticking your elbow out from behind a fern at 100 meters will result in every single foe in the area zeroing in on you and then flawlessly tracking you through the foliage is a major frustration. The fact that they can hear your footsteps three rooms away and then know that they are the footsteps of an armed foe (and not one of their own guys) is another glaring shortcoming. They’re not particularly good at flanking you or working together to flush you out. They’re drooling morons with superhuman eyes and ears.

It’s also interesting to see how deliberate the play of Far Cry was. They made it big, bright, open, and unscripted because other games (I’m sure they were thinking of iD Software) made games about fighting in dark tunnels. Looking at Far Cry, you can see what parts of the game they cared about and had a passion for (lush outdoor visuals, action set pieces, dynamic encounters) and which ones they thought were unimportant. (Story, dialog, acting.)

And yes, the graphics are pretty amazing. It’s five years old and Far Cry still looks great.

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From the Archives:

  1. JKjoker says:

    And yes, the graphics are pretty amazing. It’s five years old and Far Cry still looks great.

    AND a lot of games released after Crysis look a lot worse but need even more gpu and cpu power, like GTA4 and Saints Row 2

    i think their problem is that they havent been able to find (or havent tried) a Raven to actually make a good game out of their engine

    Their bitching about how PC gamers suck and consoles are awesome when they utterly failed at marketing Crysis making everyone believe it needed NORAD’s 2050 mainframe to run at 20 fps knowing it was a complete lie thinking all pc gamers masturbate thinking about the $2000 they would have to spend in hardware with a new game (as long as you accept playing in medium or low with a few things in medium/high the game scales pretty well, the default low, medium, high settings suck tho, you need to waste a lot of time tweaking you options) and cockblocking features that ran perfectly in Directx9 so that Microsoft could have their Directx10 orgy completely kill any possibility of me having any sympathy or pity about them, may they burn in developer’s hell

  2. Henebry says:

    Their bitching about how PC gamers suck and consoles are awesome when they utterly failed … may they burn in developer’s hell

    Now that was a rant. You tell ’em, JKjoker!

  3. Legal Tender says:

    I wonder if you could elaborate further on the super-senses issue with the AI, Shamus?

    I don’t mean a more detailed description of it but rather what it takes to fix it from a programming point of view.

    I remember you wrote a little something about AI behavior. I can’t find that post but it left me thinking of…procedural AI? You know, give the AI grunts a set of behaviours and then let them loose on the world.

    What can be done about super-senses? I mean, is there a setting, something like AIdetection=1 or AItrackingtrfoliage=1? and then you adjust them to 0.8 so foes will ignore you or can’t aim if you are behind obstacles?

    Us ignorant masses need to know!

  4. MadTinkerer says:

    “AND a lot of games released after Crysis look a lot worse but need even more gpu and cpu power, like GTA4 and Saints Row 2”

    That’s because the former is actually designed for the system it’s running on, while the latter two are sub-par (well GTA4 is, I don’t know about SR2PC) console ports. It’s been the same since the days of Virtua Fighter PC and Final Fantasy VII PC.

    Exceptions to the ports to PC = inferior to native PC rule are games like World of Goo, Braid, various Sonic Collections and other 2D games. Also looking forward to Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. For one reason or another, 2D ports usually lose little to nothing in the translation.

    Then there’s things like Valve’s Source Engine which has dedicated versions for PCs and consoles. It’s is the proper way to do multiple platforms, and everyone gets a good version. (Of course, console owners sometimes are short-changed by not being able to play mods, and the “real” version of Team Fortress 2, but that’s an issue with consoles, not Valve.)

  5. EMK says:

    In my opinion, graphics are there just not to get in the way of playing. Graphics have to be good enough to immerse you and make things easily distinguishable, but not so good that they get in the way of gameplay. Best graphics are when no one pays much attention to them. Half life 2 and Far Cry was pretty close to “best graphics”, but Crysis took it a bit too far.

  6. RTBones says:

    I think I’ve talked about something similar in a previous post. I think way too much emphasis gets put on graphics. While I do want the game to look good, if the gameplay is garbage or (particularly) the AI is either stupid or superhuman, I will get bored with the title. Also, the game could be great, but if my midrange machine pukes because the graphics requirements make supercomputers cringe, its just as bad. I think EMK has summed it up pretty well — you want the graphics to be good enough to immerse you, but not so “good” that they take away from the experience.

  7. JKjoker says:

    @Legal Tender: there havent been that many improvements on anything in games other than graphics, AI actually got worse because as environments got more complicated the usual simplistic AIs just cant handle them and look like they were cheating the rules the game imposes to the player

    i guess one way to improve it would be to calculate the foliage density in a box directly in front of the target and assign a “cover” value (modified by the density of stuff in a cone between shooter and the target and distance) that has to be compared to how visible the target is against the things in a sphere around him including how much he is moving (“camouflage” value ?) and thats just vision, what about sound and even smell (a lot of non human enemies would use smell to track things down)

    then there is the problem of when they lose sight of you, and when they do, do they go look for you in the last place they see you or they try to guess where you moved ? guessing is hard in a complex 2d map but in 3d they would also have to consider the z axis (specially if you allow things like super jumping or sticking to walls)

    there is also the problem that the console processors are designed for graphics procesing but little else and AI calculations can get pretty heavy

  8. radio_babylon says:

    @4

    a little nit-picky, i know, but… world of goo isnt a console port. it started its life on the pc as an experimental game project called “tower of goo”. it then turned into a full game, and THEN got ported TO the consoles.

  9. Rutskarn says:

    AI has always been a sort of punchline when you’re talking about video games. Very few games could be said to have great AI, and most of those just had fewer hilarious gaffes than the rest of the pack.

    Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game where I haven’t yelled at the AI. This is partially because AI is really friggin’ hard to improve and nearly impossible to perfect, and partially because developers usually have other priorities.

    Egregious offenders that come to mind are the pack of bemused, slack-jawed morons in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, the bumbling incompetents in Left 4 Dead, and the spastic, wild-eyed psychopaths in Bethesda games released after Morrowind. To be fair, the former two games probably aren’t even that bad–it’s just that in single player, you’re always surrounded by AI.

  10. Kdansky says:

    Farcry had an interesting difficult option, which I think was called “Self-adjusting”. If you performed well, the game got harder, if you took a lot of damage, foes would shoot worse. Note that there is no save-function, only checkpoints. I only have my own single run through the game to compare to, but I think what happened is fairly obvious.
    So what happens: If you attack an enemy encampment, they will all run at you the moment you shoot your gun (because that is supposed to be “clever”).

    A: If you survive, you have just killed 10 enemies without taking more than 99% of your health as damage. The game realizes how awesome you are (doing 1000% of average HP damage while only sustaining 99%) and increases the difficulty for the next camp.

    B: You get killed. The game reloads. That’s it. The difficulty is not changed.

    C: You somehow manage to take a lot of damage while not killing all enemies, but still you survive. The difficulty decreases.

    Problematically, C never happens. You either die or kill everyone. Which means that the difficulty will steadily increase. Halfway through the game, enemies will start shooting at you with pistols and flawless aim (which should be impossible if guns work for them as they do for you, where you have some random small angle of deviation) from a distance where you can barely make them out. WITH YOUR BINOCULARS. On lower resolutions, they can still be a single darker pixel, killing you in seconds. What fun!

    But even worse: They also get more health. Somewhere in the last third or so, where mutated monsters (oh, sorry, spoilers) appear and try to rip you a new one, my last savepoint is in a hallway that sports two of them. If I unload all my big guns into them while they charge at me (takes them a few seconds, while I pump out a magazine of an automatic shotgun), not even one dies. If I then circle them, run the other way and hope that no more monsters appear (which is proven untrue quickly, but bear with me) and hope that they don’t manage to kill me (one melee hit only takes 60% or so of your health), then I can kite them through some rooms and hope to take them out. Theoretically. In reality, I run out of ammo about when the second mutant falls over. That means I only have to get through the rest of the level without using guns. Against more mutants…

    The “best” AI I can think of on the spot would be Warcraft 3. They gave it more than decent micromanagement “skills” (a machine can click really fast, that helps), they gave it a choice of semi-randomized, but completely fixed build orders (it can choose between routes, but while following a build order, it will always do the exact same) and the allowed it to see the whole map and choose a build queue that would be strong. It knows your units, therefore it can build anti-air if you have aircraft, ranged if you have melee and enough siege if you build towers. Yes, it’s cheating, but it works very well. There is no game AI I would honestly praise besides that.

    Oh, this got long.

    @Rutskarn: Go and play more Morrowind. Then write about it. NOW.

  11. James Pope says:

    I sort of wish that graphics would automatically adjust depending on how much I cared about looking at them in the game. Games already do this with flawlessly executed cut scenes sometimes, but I’d like a game where a tree wasn’t important until I bothered to look at it for a while and then I might notice more details. Sound too. When combat’s happening and everything is a fast moving blur the extra details just get in the way of processing the movement anyways, but I’d love it if a game could just generate the random details of existence and ah.. prettify things when the gamer took the time to look at them.

  12. Carra says:

    That attempt to be funny before the actual interview happens really was *not* funny. Pathethic really, just show the damn interview.

    And some companies have to invest heavily in new graphics. Else we’d still be stuck with 90s graphics. The more progress the better! As long as the games are scalable and run with lower detail on a lower range pcs I’m sure we all like better looking games.

  13. Rutskarn says:

    Kdansky:

    Actually, bit of a problem there as far as “playing more Morrowind” goes. I binged way too hard on it in my first few days and built up a massive buffer of screenshots and gameplay.

    So, basically, I haven’t touched it in weeks because I don’t want to get any further ahead of myself. The gameplay from the Let’s Play is a couple weeks stale already.

    Moral of the story: don’t do a Let’s Play of anything you love too much. It’s hard to stop.

  14. Bret says:

    I know the feeling Ruts.

    I know the feeling.

  15. tourist.tam says:

    Funny how there is no hw dedicated for the kind of processing AI would require to be challenging and not mind numbing, compared to Graphics hw.

  16. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Ugh, the Escapist Show.

    I wish, someday, they’d learn that they simply aren’t funny, and that if they took themselves and their show seriously they’d be much better at their jobs, ie being a gaming news source.

    I mean, why did a horse threaten a bunch of kittens, who then got killed by an evil panda?

    That makes no sense, it isn’t funny, it’s in the middle of the end credits so only weirdo’s who watch credits (like me) would see it, it doesn’t add anything to the show… so why is it there?!?!

    Ugh, whatever, thinking about it makes my head hurt, so I’ll just go watch some more Unskippable, at least they know what a joke is, or more specificly, what it isn’t.

  17. JimminyJoJo says:

    haha well he got it right- Crysis was a great game and it didn’t run too well on my machine. I guess I could give it another try now that I’ve upgraded, but there are so many other great games. That’s the problem with games like that- they are intended to be run on more powerful hardware, but when that time finally comes along, guess what… there are other games to play and your game already had its shot.
    It incredible how much fun it was at 15 frames per second though!

  18. LintMan says:

    Writing good AI is quite hard (read: “expensive”), and unfortunately, I think it’s a lot harder to sell as a key feature, compared to, say, graphics, or even story. Even just pathfinding can be hard to do quickly and well.

    @3: Like Kdansky said, I think part of the AI “super senses” problem was just due to the game’s difficulty ramp-up curve. Things like sensitivity to noises or sight detection range probably do have a number parameter that can be adjusted up or down easily enough. But adjusting this number doesn’t make the AI smarter or dumber, it just makes the game harder or easier – and that’s not the same thing.

    A smart AI soldier wouldn’t need super senses to be challenging. Instead, it would act like a real person: maybe it would take cover and call in backup, or try to pin you down while others flank you. Ie: work together with its allies. If the hears footsteps two rooms away, it shouldn’t automatically know it’s the player unless, say, it is actively chasing you. But it you’re shooting up one end of a camp, everybody in the camp should damn well know about it and be reacting to it: maybe some leave their post or barrakcs to set up an inner perimeter to defend. Maybe some race to help their comrades requesting bckup. Maybe some retreat to buildings to protect their leaders/assets, snipe from a high window or roof, or set up an ambush in a tight hallway.

    But that stuff can be extremely hard to make an AI actually smart enough do on its own, in a dynamic situation, so when developers attempt this stuff, it is usually tightly scripted behavior based around particular areas and setpiece locations. The Medal of Honor games do a lot of that. When done well, this can be great fun, but when you replay, it all happens the same way as last time. And when the player isn’t at the specially scripted areas, the AI is as dumb as ever.

    If the AI is less scripted by specific location and instead more situationally aware, where it can make decisions based on not just where it is, but what is happening, what its priorities are, what it is able to interact with, and what its allies are doing, then you can get more “emergent behavior”, the buzzword developers like to throw around these days. Cool stuff if they can actually make it work, but largely what this seems to boil down to right now is stuff like “different foe factions will fight each other if they happen to cross paths”.

    And the cherry on top of the difficulty and expensive of making a good game ai is that even if you did, many players wouldn’t even notice, and many others will find some weakness/gap/flaw/bug in the AI that they will ruthlessly exploit, and then bitch on the net how bad the AI sucks. Especially it you’ve touted how good it was.

  19. rofltehcat says:

    Maybe binding groups of enemy soldiers into squads would make improving the AI a bit easier?
    Many of you are bringing up stuff like suppression fire and flanking as examples for good AI and I’d love to see that kind of behaviour, too.
    But sometimes it really looks like the individuality of the enemies really prevents this. To work together they first of all have to be aware of each other. Now what would make more sense? Putting 20 individual soldiers into each camp that will move in on you like zombies or putting 4 squads, 5 men each into a camp?

    Ok, so let’s imagine this under a game design aspect. I guess the easiest way to make them stay together would be assigning a leader that tries to stay between the other soldiers. The other soldiers try to move not too far away from the leader, so he could have some sort of radius that doesn’t allow them to move too far away. And maybe an inner radius so the other soldiers don’t bunch up around him too much.
    So now we got a group of 5 enemies that are forced to stay together, their overall direction determined by their leader. Every individual soldier should be diving for cover by themselves of course. If they don’t use cover this won’t work at all.
    Then some basic behaviours of them inside their squad and their ‘classes’ could be implemented, like:
    If there are 2 or more enemies behind one piece of cover then the mg gunner starts suppression fire and the assault guy moves out of the cover to lob a grenade over.
    Or… enemy mg gunner trying to pin the whole squad down: When he stops firing for a moment first the normal rifle guys start shooting at his position, mg gunner moves out of cover, starts shooting his position with suppression fire, rifle guys move slowly forward and the sniper guy moves sideways into a bush.
    Which scenario needs to be done should be determined by the leader of the group, so you don’t get a chaos where every single soldier tries to find out what scenario they are in now.
    But I guess this could be too complicated again… though I think sticking them together in squads would really make it look much more coordinated.

  20. unitled says:

    The thing that’s always puzzled me about the supposed ‘intelligent’ soldiers in FarCry is their worrying habit of shouting what they’re doing just before they’re doing it… “Flanking on the right!”, etc.

    It reminds me of a scene in Red Dwarf where Kryten has to sneak up on a possessed Lister… “Here comes your surprise, Sir” “Surprise me now!” “You may get an unpleasent sensation of Chloroform…”

    Anyway, I think what Crytek are doing is fine; it’s merely the pushing of pure graphical showiness. And, although their games can’t be played by the mainstream (at least for a few years), the technologies they develop eventually filter down to the rest of us.

    It’s like Formula 1; you couldn’t possibly drive an F1 car down the street without killing yourself, but the technologies they drive are taken up by the rest of the automobile industry if they prove to be successful.

    It does make it a bit difficult to swallow when they start complaining about how they’ve been hard done by when it comes to sales figures, though…

  21. Martin Annadale says:

    Aren’t they selling their engine to other studios? Or is that market saturated with Unreal?

  22. JKjoker says:

    @Martin Annadale: i think its not console friendly and thats a big deal for publishers (they said the next crysis engine will be, but i doubt they can pull the same texture quality), that new mmo Aion is the only game i know other than crysis that uses the cry engine

  23. chiefsheep says:

    @Rutskarn

    Any chance of a link/pointer to your Morrowind writings on Let’s Play? (if Shamus doesn’t mind).

    My first visit to Let’s Play today has destroyed any hope of meaningful work today (thanks for that!), but I’ve yet to find your thread (and I’ve searched on LP and googled).

  24. Bret says:

    It’s on his site, Chocolate Hammer.

    Of course, Ruts is far too modest to mention this himself (sarcasm)

  25. Zel says:

    I just happened to replay Far Cry not long ago, so it’s still fresh in my memory. The AI is not that superhuman, at least not in normal difficulty. I could successfully lose my pursuers in several tight spots by running in the jungle and then crouch or crawl behind a tree and move slowly out of the way. What doesn’t work is to keep running, which sort of makes sense as a running guy is gonna leave obvious marks and will be much easier to spot and follow.

    Sure, the AI is nothing compared to a human player and can be easily predicted with a bit of practice, but it’s still much better than the average AI one gets in a FPS. And contrary to my previous beliefs (from a previous very painful experience on “easy”), they’re not that invincible or cheating after all.

    @unitled : it’s nothing exclusive to Far Cry, soldiers in F.E.A.R, another game praised for its AI, announced their actions clearly too (“Flank right”, “Flush him out”, “Call backup!”). I think it serves a double purpose : help the player anticipate a tricky situation (who likes being sneak shot in the back or blown up by a grenade?), and showcase the AI decisions so the player can appreciate their limited but existing sense of tactics.

  26. Bobby says:

    @rofltehcat:

    AI soldiers commenting on what they do is an old trick that dates from HL1. You see, if they don’t do that players usually don’t notice the AI is being smart, they just think it’s acting randomly and don’t notice the patterns. The comments thus are extra feedback to make clear the AI is being clever.

    Works the other way though, if you make your AI soldiers comment on what they do even though they act randomly then the player will assume they’re clever buggers. In fact HL1 mostly relied on that principle.

  27. […] Crawl GameplayA while back I had a post that criticized the AI of Far Cry, and in the comments Legal Tender asked: I wonder if you could elaborate further on the super-senses issue with the AI, […]

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  1. […] Crawl GameplayA while back I had a post that criticized the AI of Far Cry, and in the comments Legal Tender asked: I wonder if you could elaborate further on the super-senses issue with the AI, […]

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