The shooter market is a competitive place to be in, and at its heart is online multiplayer. Time and effort is spent building never-ending entertainment spaces, but that alone isn’t enough to stand against the popularity of Call of Duty or Halo, which dominate the online FPS scene.
Back from the brink of closure, local Nottingham studio, Crytek UK (formerly Free Radical), are determined not to be ignored by the FPS faithful. Crytek, their owners based in Frankfurt, Germany, have set them to work on the multiplayer portion for Crysis 2, the follow-up to one of the mostly technically impressive PC shooters in recent times. We had our first hands-on back at GameCity last October.
Crytek UK has incorporated the game’s premise for futuristic super-soldiers directly into the multiplayer in an effort to bring something new to the online FPS experience. We spoke to Crytek UK managing director Karl Hilton to hear what’s changed since the company’s rebirth, how he feels about the competition and what his thoughts are on the ‘need’ for downloadable content.
It’s been two years since Crytek stepped in to save Free Radical. How has the studio changed in that time?
Karl Hilton: The big thing is we’ve moved offices. We were in four separate buildings originally over in a business park. Now we’re in the middle of town which is great. We’ve got a really hi-tech office with all the latest stuff that we need in terms of networking. It’s nice to be in the centre from a cultural point of view.
In terms of how we work, I think the cultures of Crytek and Free Radical are very similar. And certainly that’s one of the reasons why Crytek were very interested in us. When they came round and spoke to us, they figured that we fitted in quite well with the way they like to do things.
What is it like working with a German company? Do they do anything differently?
KH: They had a very similar idea about video games to the way Free Radical operated. So there’s not been a major cultural shift in that sense. It’s good to have a parent company, it gives us a bit of security. On top of that, they’re in a separate location from us, but we have very good relations. So it’s good to have someone who can grab builds of the game and give us their feedback, and we can give them our feedback on their part of the game. They’re doing single-player and we’re doing multiplayer, so it’s really good to have a sounding board to bounce off of.
Did you see the original Crysis when it came out in 2007?
KH: Oh, yeah. The CryEngine’s a phenomenal piece of technology. I was working a lot on the art side at Free Radical, so we’re looking at Crysis and what they were doing with Far Cry before it. The original Crysis was a big competitor for Haze. We were both doing jungle-based games, so we were looking at their technology quite a lot.
How did the team feel about bring asked to create the multiplayer for Crysis 2?
KH: From our point of view, we felt it played to our strengths. They knew we could it, we knew we do it. It was a nice little challenge to have. And we were bringing our console experience to a company that was primarily PC-based before. So we felt we were adding some value and at the same time becoming part of something bigger.
EA studios Danger Close and DICE worked on different parts of last year’s Medal of Honor reboot. What sort of issues are involved with two studios making two separate parts of a game like this?
KH: I suppose it will be different for every project. For us, it’s been very smooth because we have a 100Mb link to Frankfurt, so we swap and share our assets very quickly and easily. We have good lines of communication with them, video conferencing and stuff. And, actually, although the mechanics are based on the same thing, we design the multiplayer gameplay and their doing the single-player story. So, from that point of view, they pretty much left us to get on with it. They pull builds off regularly and give us some feedback on what they think, but ultimately it’s our call on how we do it.
More developers are choosing to include online co-op or elements of story in multiplayer – like Resistance 2, which gave players combat scenarios that were connected to the events of the main story. Are you doing anything along those lines?
KH: It’s tough when you’re doing online play. What we try and do with the multiplayer is fill in some of the surrounding areas. Elements you see in the single-player you get to revisit in the multiplayer and maybe get a different take on it. It’s about filling out the world a bit more so if you played the single-player and you then go back and play multiplayer some levels are completely different – here’s another part of the city and here’s what happened to it – that’s an interesting story in itself. Ultimately, multiplayer needs to be about tactical gameplay, so we don’t want to bog people down with any exposition about what’s going on.
Publishers have waited to release their title after Call of Duty as everyone was expecting it to stream roll anything that came out close to it. How do you feel about the competition?
KH: Call of Duty’s a big competitor, obviously, they’re at the pinnacle in terms of quality. We think we are too with the CryEngine. So they’re a big competitor, but we’re offering something slightly different because of our setting and our slightly sci-fi nature and the nanosuit super-soldier concept, which is unique gameplay that we bring to multiplayer, which isn’t in things like Call of Duty or Medal of Honor. We hope that will make us stand out above the other games.
Before Free Radical went into administration you were working on TimeSplitters 4. Is there any possibility that that project could continue?
KH: The TimeSplitters IP is with Crytek now, so it is a possible thing in the future. I can’t talk anymore about those things at the moment, but we’ll carry on making first-person multiplayer games. What we do next, we’re discussing at the moment with publishers. We still own a lot of the Free Radical IPs and we could go down that route if we chose to.
There’s a growing trend of publishers pulling out smaller downloadable releases, such as Dead Rising: Case Zero and Dead Space Ignition to get players excited about upcoming major releases. What do you think about that?
KH: I think it’s becoming more expected all the time. If you’re confident about the quality of you’re product, then the best way of marketing it is to let people have a go at it. Certainly that’s part of why we’re here showing Crysis 2 – let people get their hands on it, find out if they like it. And hopefully when the thing’s in the shops they’ll come back and buy it.
There’s an argument whether you go down more episode content as well, that’s a potential pattern for the future. It’s a bit too early to say whether that’s going to work.
And how do you feel about the idea of paying for online multiplayer or it being a separate product altogether?
KH: I think if you’re offering something original and different there’s certainly potential. Micropayments are very popular. People have got used to the idea of spending small amounts of money to buy iPhone apps and games, so if you can add value, and it makes sense for us to do it, then it’s a good way of extending the longevity of a game. Particularly, adding on additional packs. Downloadable content is becoming more and more important these days. And you can take that down to an even smaller level with weapons or characters perhaps.
This is what makes the industry interesting, because it changes so much, from year to year. Things that you thought five years ago were a definite cert’, maybe they aren’t now, new things come along. You just have to try and stay on top of it all.
Because of Call of Duty and other shooters, do think there is an expectation from the audience for you to make maps for Crysis 2?
KH: I think it’s down to the quality of the game. If people are enjoying the game, they’ll want to carry on playing it, and in that case we should be supplying new content for it. So if the game is good enough to justify it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time. Obviously, we think Crysis 2 multiplayer will be excellent and we’ll want to support it before we go off and do the next one.
What do you hope people see in Crysis 2’s multiplayer that they may not immediately notice?
KH: I think it’s the suit abilities that people will really enjoy. It’s getting to use the suit and understanding how you can work that into the tactics of game, that’s what will make it stand out, and make people play it differently as well. I see some of our guys who are really good players who don’t use it as must because they have other ways of playing. But then there are other guys who spend their whole time using the powers and bring themselves up to another level. It’s a really good chunk of gameplay that you can bring in.
Crysis 2 is out March 25, 2011 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.