Crytek’s Frank Kitson talks Crysis 2 with PSU

During EA’s world premiere Crysis 2 event this past Tuesday, we had the opportunity to talk to the game’s Senior Art Director, Frank Kitson, about all things Crysis. Some discussion topics included CryEngine 3’s cutting edge technology, Crytek’s cooperation with sci-fi writer Richard Morgan, the Nanosuit 2, and even Crysis 3. In short, it’s jam-packed with valuable details about what is shaping up to be one of 2010’s top titles. Check out the entire interview below.

PSU: To begin, what’s your name and role at Crytek?

Kitson: My name is Frank Kitson and I’m a Senior Art Director at Crytek.

PSU: In the presentation we were told a bit about the "urban jungle" aspect of Crysis 2. Can you elaborate on that? What exactly does that entail?

Kitson: On a low level it is primarily a visual thread that we took from the first game, which had dappled lighting, and a lot of the visual style that came out of the jungle environment. We wanted to carry that forward, and the reason behind that was to make what could be seen as a quite limiting environment — rectilinear buildings that could be perceived as slightly boring — into a more visually interesting environment. We wanted to present more influence of the environment, to produce dappled lighting within an urban environment, and so on.

On another level we wanted to take the vertical gameplay side of things and make a city like a vertical jungle environment, so we could literally tear things up, shoot lampposts up — just like you could shoot trees up in the first game — [allowing for] a much more dynamic and complex approach path through every level. Every action bubble will have the same sense of being like a jungle gym; you can move around, destroy things, and blast through poles and walls … it was just a visual thread that we wrapped up into something called "urban jungle."

PSU: Will players still have the same amount of freedom that they had while tackling objectives in the first Crysis? Will it be primarily a ‘sandbox’ experience, or are some areas more linear?

Kitson: Yeah, definitely. I think [within the] the levels you’ll see every attempt has been made to give the player the option to come in low, medium, [or] high, jump into the scene [or] play stealth, [or even] come around the back and have the AI adapt as much as you had in the first game. It’s a core part of the DNA of the whole experience.

PSU: What new weapons are featured in Crysis 2, and do you have a particular favorite?

Kitson: I can’t really go into that. The whole weapon line-up is something that they’re going to roll out probably in a few weeks. I know that they want to make the player experience and the shaping of your weapon much more integral to the experience. So, yeah, there are things to come, but I can’t tell you too much more at the moment.

PSU: Can you explain the Nanosuit 2 technology? How does it improve over the original suit?

Kitson: It’s actually just a reshaping of what you had in the original game. In the first Crysis, there was not much clarity given towards what advantages you would have to use the suit’s modes in shaping your gameplay style. To remedy this, what’s happening is the designers and Cevat Yerli (co-founder, CEO and President of Crytek) said, "Ok, we think the two clear cut winners are a stealth mode that has a really robust mechanic wrapped around it, [in contrast to] an armor mode." They’ve hung most of the gameplay around the two, pushing those features out a little bit more. You still have the other two, tactical and strength, so you can pick up cars and throw them around, but instead of four pillars you’ve got two pillars with the other [powers] wrapped around them. I think it’s just taking some creative liberty and trying to shape the experience based around those two (stealth and armor), in order to avoid a situation where the player goes, "Well, I got through that level, but I don’t really know why I used whatever I did." It’s really all about bringing more clarity to the experience.

PSU: Was there something that, initially, seemed daunting to develop (it could be a piece of technology, a gameplay mechanic, a particular environment, or so on), that you were ultimately able to achieve in the game?

Kitson: I would say the level of destruction. The uniform, widespread procedural destruction was a massive, massive challenge — not for me personally, obviously, but the engineers and the individuals responsible for architecting that on a console deserve huge credit. On the visual side, I’d probably say capturing — authentically capturing — the lighting, look, and feel of New York City, and trying to portray it in the many different ways that it’s seen in the game with a degree of elegance. We’re not just tearing up a great city just for the sake of doing it, even when it’s on its knees, it still has a degree of elegance and authenticity that we really work hard to achieve. It was tough, you know? For me, those are the two biggest things that I can point to.

PSU: And to what degree will the destruction affect the gameplay of Crysis 2?

Kitson: I think as you see in the demo, it’s just exciting being able to tear loads of stuff up, even as pure eye-candy. As you’ll see in other levels, destruction on quite a large scale — buildings sliding and collapsing, new avenues opening up, being able to blow holes in things — offers a pretty substantial opportunity for gameplay that, to be honest, didn’t exist in the first game.

PSU: Conversely to the earlier question, was there something that was initially intended to make it into the game that you ultimately had to cut?

Kitson: (Ponders) … No, I don’t think so, actually. I think that’s one of the things about working primarily with Cevat Yerli … he pretty much knows what he wants to do. I think bringing in Richard Morgan [was helpful]; he’s a big league writer, very professional. But, no, I don’t think there were any moments where we said, "Oh my God, we just can’t do that." It’s been pretty much, this is what he [Cevat Yerli] wants to do, so we’ll go about delivering it for him.

PSU: How was working with Richard Morgan? And will he be around for Crysis 3 or other Crytek games?

Kitson: Well it was phenomenal working with him. He’s one of those guys who understands narrative. He understands the relevance of shaping a story, giving a dimension of humanity to an experience, which takes it away from just being a run-of-the-mill shooter. He’s created a back story that’s not only believable, but has uplifted the game; it’s given it a real fabric, a real shape. I hope he’s around for Crysis 3, because he’s brought a new dimension to the whole picture. So yeah, loved working with him.

PSU: So is it safe to assume that you will be moving on to Crysis 3 after Crysis 2 is completed?

Kitson: Well, I mean, everybody in the studio would love to move on to Crysis 3. We hope and pray that, based on the success of Crysis 2, that there’s a reason to do Crysis 3. So yeah, everybody here would just love to do it.

PSU: How was the transition from creating a PC-only title to creating a multiplatform game that spans the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360?

Kitson: Personally, it’s been less problematic for me than for the engineers. It was months and months and many hundreds of man-hours put in to taking the core beauty that existed and still exists on the PC lighting engine, and migrating it to the consoles. I would argue the point that when you look at this level [on display today] and some of the other levels that we’ve done with the full game, it’s phenomenal. The engineers have made it easy to take a really sophisticated lighting model and move it onto consoles, and as you saw, there’s massive amounts of destruction and lots of visual beauty and styling, complemented by a great framerate. For me, it’s been a pleasure, because they [the engineers] give me the tools to work with. The engineers really deserve credit because they make that kind of stuff happen.

PSU: Do you foresee any disparities between the PS3 and 360 versions of the game?

Kitson: I think they’ll be indistinguishable. I think the intrinsic quality that exists in both of them [will come across fully]. You know, if you want to take a razor’s edge and shave the minor, minor points, the hardcore techies [may notice something], but yeah, I think they’ll be indistinguishable. There won’t be any difference.

PSU: With a lot of shooters nowadays, most notably Modern Warfare 2, they single-player has been … maybe not compromised, but rather compressed into a short experience, while the multiplayer takes a lead role. Can you comment on that in the frame of Crysis 2? And about how long will the campaign last?

Kitson: We built many, many levels; I’m sure not all of them are going to make, just purely because of confinements in the story and other factors. In the evolution and the building of a game, there’s always the editorial process where you trim down things to suit [the final product], but yeah, I don’t really know how long the game is going to be targeted for.

PSU: Can you share any details regarding Crysis 2’s multiplayer modes, or is that info still under wraps?

Kitson: It’s still under wrap unfortunately; I can’t really talk about it.

PSU: Worth trying, heh. Obviously you guys have worked incredibly hard to create a quality game, but in doing so you’ve also created a powerful game engine: CryEngine 3. Have you licensed that out to any other developers, and if so, which ones? If you know, that is.

Kitson: I honestly don’t know. I do know that there is a huge level of interest from colleagues, friends of mine, other companies, and people that I meet in the industry alike. Everyone would like to work with the technology [we’ve built], and I do know that approaches have been made, but I honestly don’t know about deals that have been secured.

PSU: So, how close is the game to completion, and are you confident you’ll meet your Holiday 2010 launch window?

Kitson: I think it’s been approached from a project management standpoint, from a very, very good point of view. We’ve worked out our key visual goals, we’ve worked out all of our budgets, the locations are known, and the level design and sandbox process is incredibly robust. Yeah, from my point of view, [the launch date] is not a problem; it’s just down to how long they decide to make the game, and whatever the window chosen by the business guys is. But definitely, the ability to do it, deliver it, is clear: we can do it, no problem.

PSU: Just one or two more questions. Will the game be supported with post-launch downloadable content, and what form might that content take — be it standard multiplayer fare, single-player additions, or maybe a combination of the two?

Kitson: You know, I’ve heard some discussions about that. More framed towards your earlier question about weapons (which is why I’m a bit hesitant), I know there’s a huge drive to augment the core experience, and be able to offer players the ability to shape the weapons that they would like to use. I think it’s all part and parcel of a plan. Again, it’s more tied into the marketing guys. You know, we built more weapons [than we know what to do with] — our weapons guys love it. As for how wide that opportunity is and what shape it takes, I honestly don’t know.

PSU: Anything else you want to add before we wrap up?

Kitson: For me, it’s been amazing to take what I view as a very rich visual experience and migrate it into a console architecture. Meanwhile, the whole team took a very mature story and shaped it into an epic experience on a mass market console, and it’s been an absolutely phenomenal experience.

PSU: Great, thank you so much.

Thanks once again to Crytek’s Frank Kitson for taking the time to talk so extensively about the game with us. Crysis 2 is set to launch on the PS3, 360, and PC this holiday season.