A Chronological History of Crytek / 5th of August 2014
Crytek is a name that has become synonymous with breaking new ground in video game technologies, a tech company turned video game developer, and as of now, it is a very talented and diverse one at that. From seemingly out of nowhere they have grown exponentially to become one of the biggest and best companies in the industry, and with their proprietary CryEngine, will surely remain a driving force in propelling games forwards across the years to come, but where exactly did they come from? And how did their rapid expanse come about?
In 1999, Cytek was born. Faruk and Ani Yerli had completed their studies and found employment whilst younger brother Cevat was putting the final touches to his own degree, and after graduating, teamed up with his siblings to found Crytek as a virtual company (Crytek.com), pulling resources from across the globe from a team of forward thinking individuals, none of whom had ever met before. Not long after this though, the physical company, Crytek, is founded in Coburg, Germany where the team create the very first iteration of their famous gaming technology, CryEngine.
The Yerli brothers took their tech on the road, attending a variety of trade shows, including the European Computer Trade Show at the Olympia in London, where their demonstration would catch the attention of NVIDIA, who would offer the fledgling company its first commercial deal. In 2001, Crytek would produce the X-Isle: Dinosaur Island tech demo to showcase the potential of NVIDIA’s new GeForce 3 graphics card. The demo depicted a picturesque tropical island which could be explored from a first person perspective, allowing the user to move in and out of water as they surveyed what was, a visually stunning world of dense vegetation, beautiful real time reflections and highly detailed, 3D dinosaur models. Inevitably, it would alert Ubisoft to this incredibly talented team, and inspire them to offer Crytek a deal to create their very first game, FarCry.
In 2002, the company would begin licensing its technology out to other developers, starting with Korean firm, Wemade Entertainment, who were followed the subsequent year by fellow countrymen, NC Soft. Also in that same year, Crytek took its Cry Engine to the Game Developers Conference in San Jose for the very first time, showcasing the trailblazing work that the developer was doing, highlighting its polybump tech, stunning real time lighting effects and an ability to render large scale maps without the need to fog distant horizons. These were, naturally, enjoyed by gamers lucky enough to have systems capable of running the company’s debut release, FarCry, which emerged in March, 2004 to universal acclaim. Selling more than 700,000 units within the first four months of its release, FarCry would go on to achieve an average rating of 89% and sell a massive 2.5 million copies by the end of 2007, a momentous achievement that affirmed Crytek as being one of the most exciting companies in the games industry.
Later in 2004, EA and Crytek would enter into an agreement that would see the publisher assume distribution rights for a new IP that Crytek were to produce, leaving the FarCry property in the hands of Ubisoft. It might have seemed like a risky venture for the young developer, but the series that they would go one to produce, would be none other than the sci-fi themed, first person shooter, Crysis. And it was here that the company that we know and love today truly came to the fore.
With the additional revenue garnered from the EA deal, Crytek was given the opportunity to expand and evolve, and 2006 would see them open up a new studio in Kiev, whilst back in Germany, the company headquarters were shifted from Coburg to the beautiful city of Frankfurt am Main, where they still remain today, housed within a striking office complex at the heart of Germany’s cultural capital. As they headed into 2007, there was a team of over one hundred working on the first Crysis game, and in that year, the company would witness further growth as Crytek expanded into Budapest with the opening of Crytek Hungary. In March of the same year, they would further cement their position as a leading light in terms of gaming technology as they once more took to the GDC and announced the incredible CryEngine 2, the proprietary tour de force that made the jaw dropping spectacle taking place on the fictitious Lingshan Island a reality. Whilst only three years previous, developers were impressed with the expansive 1km draw distance that the first CryEngine could afford them, they were floored by the now 16km draw distance that Crytek’s new engine was capable of delivering, along with a vast array of additional features and improvements including; incredible animation, motion blur, realistic water, dynamic shadowing, stunning lighting (including a day/night cycle), depth of field and physics based destruction. Remarkably, the demonstration that the company gave back then is almost as impressive today, which is truly testament to company’s desire to progress the technology behind interactive entertainment.
In November of 2007, the blockbuster FPS, Crysis, was finally published, and it was to the levels of both critical and commercial acclaim that this genre defining experience deserved, garnering an incredible Metacritic rating of 91% and becoming one of PC gaming’s biggest selling releases to date, with sales topping 1.8 million by the end of the year. Figures for the title would rise to over 3 million mid-way through 2010, cementing the multi-platinum, multi award winning game as a sophomore success for Crytek, and providing them with a strong foundation upon which to create one of the finest series’ of shooters available. It also provided them with the capital, and the impetus to expand into Bulgaria, acquiring Black Sea Studios in Sofia, and converting them to Crytek Black Sea in 2008.
Also, in 2008, and developed by Crytek Romania, the company released a full, stand-alone expansion to Crysis, in the form of Warhead, which itself would garner a Metacritic rating of 84% and sell a more than positive 700,000 units. In this expansion, players controlled the character Michael “Psycho” Sykes and played through a series of events than ran parallel with the campaign of the original release. In addition to this, the extra time that the developer spent with the company’s tech yielded improved graphical fidelity and ensured that through superior optimisation, the recommended specifications for the title were lower than those that the original Crysis demanded. A criticism levelled at the original game was its lack of multiplayer, a fault that this new game also addressed with the addition of Crysis Wars, which was itself very well received. Another successful year in the company’s history was rounded off with the opening of another Crytek studio in Seoul, South Korea, and the use of the company’s engine in the smash hit MMORPG, AION, developed by respected Korean developer, NC Soft. The title would go on to amass more than 3.5 million subscribers in Asia alone, prior to launches in both North America and Europe where it would eventually adopt the free-to-play payment model.
In Nottingham, England, Free Radical Design, creators of the much loved Timesplitters series found themselves in severe financial trouble following the critical and commercial failure of their Playstation 3 exclusive FPS, Haze, before Crytek would step in to acquire the studio, rebranding them Crytek UK. At the time of the acquisition, the level of staff at the studio had plummeted to as little as forty, and having entered into administration, it appeared as though the doors were to be closed on the much loved developer for the last time. The following year, after investment of some $50 million, Crytek UK were moved into brand new offices where they would be able to grow and flourish, supported no doubt by the strong relationship that Crytek had forged with the city, via sponsorship of the Gamecity festival and through recruitment opportunities afforded to graduates of Nottingham Trent University, a haven for both art and technical students.
The following period would be a very strong one for the company, with showcases for the new CryEngine 3 at GDC demonstrating its unrivalled performance on console platforms, with a video highlighting the key additions to the engine, including procedural destruction and deformation, blend shading, improvements to the AI and physics systems, hit reactions and a new dynamic cover system. It was, of course, a mere glimpse of what was to come, as in March of the following year, Crysis 2 was released on PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 to rave reviews, garnering a solid Metacritic rating across all three platforms, whilst seemingly performing two ostensibly impossible feats; the first, was to create an experience that offered a stronger level of graphical fidelity over the original Crysis, itself still used to benchmark PC gaming systems. And then secondly, they somehow managed to get that same game to run on the then antiquated hardware of the two main console platforms. A miraculous feat mirrored with the use of the original game’s famous catchphrase, “can it run Crysis?” being used as the name for the sequel’s first achievement or trophy. This was the first outing for the engine, and the first time that Crytek UK had worked on a Crytek IP, creating the solid multiplayer component of the game that came on disc, along with the excellent campaign mode to ensure that Crysis 2 had substantially more to offer beyond its obvious visual allure, which was itself rather strong. With that first console project out of the way, the team turned their attention back to the original game, and utilising the power of CryEngine 3, were able to deliver a version of this to both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms, these were only available as downloads, though as Cevat Yerli stated in an interview with Now Gamer, the console version of the game is not simply a port of the original release, but rather a “remastered edition” which implemented new lighting techniques and the control setup from Crysis 2. In short, it was refined to make it a better experience and attract a whole new audience to the original game, which in turn would ready them for the impending launch of Crysis 3.
In 2012 though, Crytek would explore avenues frequently discussed by them, and Cevat Yerli in particular, the mobile and free-to-play gaming platforms, the latter touted by Mr Yerli as being the future of the gaming industry, as he told Joystiq in 2012, “I think that over the next two to three years, free-to-play is going to rival retail”, even going as far as to predict that it was likely that every Crytek release would adopt the same payment model within around half a decade. 2012 saw the release of the company’s first free-to-play game in the form of Warface, which was released in Russia in partnership with the Russian internet company, Mail.ru, and was primarily developed by the Seoul team with support from the Frankfurt headquarters. In the same year, it was announced that the game could very well be heading to consoles in the near future too, however, it would be nearly two years before Warface finally emerged on Xbox 360, though critics were not entirely favourable with their scoring for the title, seeing it emerge with a Metacritic rating of just 60%.
The company’s first mobile entry was a cutesy, physics based puzzle game, Fibble: Flick and Roll, a game that would hardly win any prizes for originality, but it still prominently displayed the company’s knack for creating technically impressive experiences, in this case, creating one of, if not the finest looking mobile game available on the market at the time. Ultimately, it may have been a by-the-numbers release, but it certainly announced that Crytek could also be a major contender in the mobile market. 2012 was also rounded off with yet more company growth as they opened the doors to the Shanghai studio in August, it was the seventh Crytek studio, and it would go on to play major roles in CryEngine licencing, and providing the localisation and development of Warface for the Chinese market-a role that it will continue to do so, made even more important by the lifting of the console ban from mainland China.
Blending elements of the open world design of Crysis, with the more linear structure of Crysis 2, the visually stunning Crysis 3 arrived on PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 in February of 2013, and like its predecessors, it was greeted by a favourable response from both fans and critics alike, topping the charts in the UK and selling more than 200,000 units within two weeks of going on sale in the US. Sadly, though, its sales figures would fall somewhat short of Crysis 2’s success, despite Cevat Yerli claiming that the game was Crytek’s “masterpiece thus far” in an interview with Gamasutra, and he wasn’t wrong. From a technical standpoint, Crysis 3 is mesmerising, it pushes both consoles and PCs as far as is possible, shows a newfound maturity to Crytek’s storytelling and features a more open ended approach to level design that should have seen it score legions of new fans tired of the overly scripted shooters that dominate the market, however, this was not the case.
2013 had more to offer Crytek though, as they expanded yet further with the opening of their eighth and ninth studios respectively, these were housed within the Turkish city of Instanbul and in the USA too, in the city of Austin within the state of Texas, and both of these were officially opened in January of that year. Sony and Microsoft would finally unleash the next generation of video game consoles and accompanying the Xbox One at launch, was Crytek’s stunning action-adventure game, Ryse: Son of Rome, which was an exclusive to the platform. Ryse is a visually stunning spectacle that sees gamers take control of a Roman legionary seeking to avenge the murder of his family, and to preserve the honour and standing of Rome itself. Whilst being a fairly by the numbers hack and slash title, the mechanics are certainly solid enough to ensure that the game was an enjoyable experience, providing some support to the pull of its jaw dropping visuals, which were, and perhaps still are, the finest yet seen on either Sony’s Playstation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One. It was unfairly received by critics, however, and sales figures for the title have apparently been deemed disappointing, making a sequel appear unlikely, particularly disappointing as once more, the maturation of Crytek, in terms of story development, was again on show, and despite the limited variety in terms of its gameplay, it was a more than solid experience that deserved a successor to show what the developer had learned from their time spent creating it, and just how far they would therefore be able to take the fledgling series. For fans of the original, the wait for a sequel may indeed prove to be a particularly long one.
2014 has thus far shown that Crytek as a creative force is evolving and expanding almost as quickly as its staffing levels, with the release of its second mobile game, The Collectables. A graphically stunning, co-operative, team based isometric shooter for iPad and iPhone that employs an interesting feature whereupon players collect cards (either through gameplay or by purchasing them) to buff their characters with boosts to their abilities or improvements to their already impressive arsenal of weapons. Additionally, we have also seen announcements for a whole host of new titles; Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, Arena of Fate and Homefront: The Revolution. Hunt is a team based, third person shooter wherein players must combine in order to track down and slaughter an array of bloodthirsty creations, and massive bosses, whilst Arena of Fate is a 5vs5 arena brawler that allows its players to control a range of characters that vary from Little Red Riding Hood to Nicola Tesla, and given the success of other Mulitplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) titles, it is sure to be a commercial success for the company. Most interestingly though, is Crytek’s first entry into the Homefront series, an IP that they picked up from THQ, following the publisher’s demise, for just over $0.5 million. Little has been of the title thus far, but a section of the game (being developed in the UK) showed that Crytek are set to unleash the most graphically stunning open world game ever seen, but better than this, it promises to be a living, breathing world where events can occur entirely at random as player’s attempt to liberate the city of Philadelphia (itself the birthplace of American freedom), and wrest it from under the control of the Greater Korean Republic.
Crytek have shown themselves to be a company willing, and in fact, eager, to adapt to the times, to meet the challenges of an evolving industry head on. Whilst most studios might see danger in the rise of the independent developer, Crytek instead saw an opportunity, altering the licencing of its new, fourth generation CryEngine to an engine-as-a-service model, wherein studios can access Crytek’s technology and support by paying as little as $9.90 per month. They have embraced the rise of the mobile and free-to-play platforms as much as they have the mainstay consoles and PC, and it is this, along with a creative spirit that is currently showing no bounds that has seen them, across the mere fifteen years of their history, expand from the virtual company that they once were, into a nine studio powerhouse with 850 employees from across the globe. There are very few video game developers that I can find myself feeling genuinely excited about, in fact, there might only be one, and that, if you have not already guessed, is Crytek. Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The future depends on what you do today,” and it would seem that this is the dogma that Crytek adhere to, preparing now, as they always do, for the exciting developments that are yet to be.