The original Crysis was an interesting game in that it effectively put you in the boots of a superhero. In a Ghost in the Shell-meets-Iron Man fashion, you donned a futuristic “Nanosuit” that let you toggle between four different features: armour, strength, speed and invisibility (or “cloak,” if you prefer), each with their own effects on your abilities.
For example, turning on strength would allow you to jump higher and punch harder, but another subtle effect it had was allowing you to steady your aim and offset recoil from your machineguns. It also let you lob grenades farther. Similarly, speed let you run faster, but also had the added benefit of faster reloads and longer jump distances, all of which were left for you to discover by yourself.
This helped set Crysis apart from a lot of other shooters at the time, not only because developer, Crytek, smartly integrated an element of discovery into the suit, but also because it afforded you with the ability to play the game at your own pace and in a style you were comfortable with. Whatever your approach was, the more you played and experimented, the better you got.
With Crysis 2 scheduled for release on March 22nd, we had a chat with the game’s executive producer, Nathan Camarillo, to find out how Crytek are trying to keep the sequel interesting, and what changes or improvements have been made since Crysis.
Let’s talk about Nanosuits, since that’s really the core of Crysis. In my opinion, you guys modeled it so the character can be like a superhero. When you were developing, were there any abilities you wanted to add that just wouldn’t fit within the game?
Executive producer, Nathan Camarillo: In the original Crysis, you had these momentary suit powers that you could turn on, and they were all singular powers. If you wanted to sprint, you could move fast, but if you wanted to power jump, you had to really quickly switch to strength and then jump. So, it was really hard for you to layer actions on top of each other, even though, intrinsically, you wanted to do that.
So with Crysis 2, what we wanted to do is make the suit more usable and more accessible to do really, really awesome moments. To create these action moments or superhero moments. So, all of the speed and power actions are now contextual. Jump versus the power jump is “tap” versus “press and hold.”
Same with melee, and then we added some new ones like sliding and ledge-grabbing — all to make the suit more powerful by default and give you quick access so you can get to those actions quickly — and then layered stealth and armour on top of those; so you can move quickly and sprint while being invisible. That was something you couldn’t do in the original Crysis.
So, for us on Crysis 2, it wasn’t about adding more powers to the suit. It was about making the suit more usable overall. But then, we have modules, which we created in Crysis 2, and modules give us new actions that extend the style of gameplay even further, based on how you configure them and which ones you’ve acquired and you’ve activated on the node. So, it gives you more actions like doing an air-stomp to smash enemies or giving you ways to track enemies by seeing their footprints or seeing that they’re cloaked.
We added more abilities rather than more powers to push the gameplay styles even further, so you can customize and configure the Nanosuit the same way that you can customize your weapons in realtime by switching on scopes and attachments on the node.
Those are passive abilities, right?
Yeah, yeah. Modules are all passive abilities, except for the air-stomp, which is a contextual action.
When you were in Power mode, you could also throw grenades farther in the original game. What sort of subtle effects do you have in Crysis 2 that are new?
I encourage everybody to explore because we haven’t documented all of them. We don’t teach them all the subtle things through the tutorials. But for example, when you’re in Armor and you’re zoomed in with a scope or iron sights, and you press what would be the “sprint” button, you can stabilize the weapon. The muscles of the suit get tighter and then stabilize the weapon.
There’s lots of small features like that. If you kick a car, and you want to kick it quickly versus if you press and hold the kick, it kicks it harder and farther. There’s a lot of little subtle nuances in there. If you grab an enemy or object, the longer you hold them before releasing the trigger, the more powerful the throw is. There are lot of small things in there like that, that I encourage everybody to play with and find.
These are the nuances that will give you the advantage in single player and multiplayer when you use them and remember to use them.
All of the suits powers deplete energy. In the first Crysis, if you were cloaked for a while, then switched to another power, you would deplete your energy really fast. How did you balance energy usage for Crysis 2?
Lots and lots of playtesting, lots and lots of multiplayer. The team played multiplayer everyday, soliciting feedback and fine-tuning the maps and the routes and the energy and the suit usage, and the same with single player.
We play the game all the time. We’re always tweaking it. Does this feel right? Are these distances okay? You know, for metrics like the layout of the map, a lot of things are very strategically placed so that you can get from point A to point B and it’s planned that you can get about that exact distance and have just enough energy to uncloak and hide behind something to get your energy back, and then move to the next object or next hard piece of cover.
So, there’s lots and lots of playtesting and tuning and discussion of game metrics of distances and space and making sure the levels are built the right way to support various jump heights and distances and ledge grabs.
It’s interesting that you talk about level design. So, would you say it’s less about giving you more energy and heightening the recovery rate and more about making sure the distance is correct for when you’re jumping?
It’s both. You have to do both, all the time. You know, as you’re playing the build of the game, you might say, “Oh, I’m moving too slow; let’s speed the guy up by 20%.” But that can have huge ramifications for the whole design of the level because suddenly all these little metrics you laid out are now different.
Say you want someone to be able to get from point A to point B by jumping, and that used to be a challenging jump, and now it’s super-easy. Or people can get to places inadvertently that you didn’t want them to get to. So it’s a lot of prototyping of level spaces and collaboration between the design department and world design department.
Then, on top of that, keeping consistency between single player and multiplayer. The single player guys are constantly talking to the multiplayer guys and multiplayer level designers are communicating and collaborating.
Speaking of level design, in the first game you could hide in the grass if you wanted to be stealthy. Since Crysis 2 is set in an urban environment (New York), how do you have stealth within the game?
You always have the Cloak obviously, but we also wanted to keep the concepts of hard cover and soft cover. If you look at a lot of cities on the planet right now, there’s a big movement toward making everything green. Not just from an energy point of view but like planting more trees within cities or on rooftops or in parks. You know, more rooftop gardens, more city gardens. Cities are becoming greener; like visually greener.
With the game being set in 2023, we used to that our advantage in New York and extrapolated fictionally a little bit further ahead. Maybe there would be more trees available in New York in parks, and larger trees. So, bushes and whatnot are very prevalent, so we get that safe feeling that you can hide in places and move from point to point and be a little bit more hidden. That was an important thing for us.
Or somewhere in between hard and soft cover, like fences or hiding behind a car and looking through the car windows. There’s lot of little things like this that a city provides that we’re able to put in and utilize to get the same feeling.
Aside from stealth and sniping, what else do you think an urban setting adds to the game?
The added dimension of verticality and layers within a gameplay space, especially when you’re able to do what we’ve done, visually, with the catastrophic tedium of the city being invaded by aliens and there being seismic activity and natural disturbances to the planet in the game fiction.
We’ve been able to make the city uneven. You know, like undulations in terrain and broken pavement and broken water mains. This all feeds into an urban jungle concept that includes the things you asked about, like soft cover and trees and everything else.
We wanted to take the visual analogues from when we developed Crysis 1 levels and take that into Crysis 2 to create a jungle-style gameplay feeling in the urban environment, but we also have the added verticality of a city. So, being able to jump into subterranean areas like sewers or access points of subways. Having street level. Having buses or trucks or cars that you can jump on top of or slide under.
Then, having buildings of one or two or three storeys that you can go in because the fronts have been damaged and you can use that as an interior space or a shop or a store. But at the same time, working your way up through the space and scaffolding — here’s always construction going in the cities — that you can use to get up to higher places and get up on top of small buildings and really plan your attack and move around in space quite fluidly.
That’s the more strictly urban environments. Then we have the really heavily-destroyed environments as well throughout the course of the game where there’s giant sinkholes or uneven terrain because of seismic activity, so we really play with the vertical aspect of gameplay spaces a lot.
Then you have all the tools you get in the city, like cars can be used in multiple ways. They can be kicked. They can be used as cover. You can shoo the gas tank and use them as a giant explosion. There’s tons of little tools all throughout a city. Pieces of cover…mobile pieces of cover. You can pick up something and throw it and then use it as cover. There’s tons of fun things to do, like picking up an umbrella and beating guys down with it. It’s all just for fun; all just the sandbox gameplay.
We’re talking about an “urban jungle.” In the original game, there’s a lot of vivid scenery…a jungle itself. You can just kind of sit back and walk through it and enjoy the scenery. There was a tempo between hardcore shooting and “peaceful jungle-walking” if that makes any sense. Does Crysis 2 have a similar balance?
Yeah, we do that a lot. So, we have a concept called “action bubbles” and this is the big open spaces where all the action takes place and it’s pre-formed and you can play how you want to play. We just give you an objective — we tell you need to do something in that space and give you a lot of tools to do it, but you play how you want to play.
You can play stealthy, you can play action hero, you can play predator. You can play however you want to play. And after those action bubbles, then we bring the space in a bit, like how the original Crysis was. We funnel you into where we want you to go next. You transition from space to space, and you experience some cool visuals or choreographed moments where we want to tell you a story or see this cool event happen.
There’s always a lot of beauty within the game. There’s 18 missions and from beginning to end; there’s a lot of visual variety in the city. You know, day time, night time, sunset, dusk, construction. It’s just a visual treat to see the game from beginning to end and big spectacles like Times Square that you would expect. There’s just a lot of variety in there that I think people would have no problem sight-seeing.
The Nanosuit’s such an interesting mechanism. What other kinds of genres would you like to see a super-suit in, if you weren’t making an action-shooter game?
Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. I’ve been working on first-person shooters all my career.
Really? I mean, take the suit. The suit’s a character! You could make a super-suit game with…a track game. You could make anything.
Yeah, yeah. You could. You could, but I’m just saying my mind is always completely focused on first-person shooters. You know, this is what sets Crysis apart from all other first-person shooters, especially right now. Most games, you’re just a plain soldier with some body armour and a weapon, and that’s the prevalent percentage of all games made right now.
You know, I don’t know that I would want to see a lot of games out there with super-suits because that starts to dilute what sets us apart from everybody else. We’ll probably see more super-suit games, but you know, right now I’m just glad that we’re one of the more prominent ones [laughs].
Crysis 2 is due out on March 22nd in the U.S. and March 25th in Europe for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is being published by Electronic Arts.