The CryEngine is a sign saying that what you're about to play will look stunning. The gaming engine came to fame with the original Crysis, spawning the now-defunct question of whether or not your PC build could even handle the graphical demands of the game. Those days have passed. Crysis 3 came out four years ago, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the CryEngine isn't getting some use. The company's booth at GDC showed that the engine is still being used in upcoming titles.
However, there's a new frontier in the form of VR, and the demo at GDC, titled Return to Dinosaur Island, showed fans that the same jaw-dropping graphics engine can be implemented for virtual reality. A second act for the demo was also shown at E3, further cementing CryEngine's place in VR development.
In fact, Crytek's director of production, David Bowman, said that so many people were impressed with the demo at GDC that it's now being turned into a full VR game titled Robinson: The Journey. In a phone interview with Tom's Hardware, Bowman talked more about the development process for the game as well as Crytek's overall commitment to VR.
Aside from the numerous praises about the tech demo, the development for Robinson: The Journey was also spurred on by the fact that virtual reality is actually starting to become, for lack of a better word, a reality. Oculus dropped a Q1 2016 release date for the consumer version of the Rift headset, and Razer's OSVR is starting to send out its new Hacker Kit head-mounted displays to developers.
Early development of the game started out as numerous prototypes of the demo. However, the building blocks for a full game development were already in place and included a story, characters and the environment. All that was left was to use the Return to Dinosaur Island demos as a jumping-off point for the full game.
Surprisingly enough, the process of developing a VR title isn't that different from making a game for the PC or consoles, at least on the technical side. The real challenge comes in the game's design area.
Unlike traditional games, VR puts you in control of the camera so you can look at any possible angle in the virtual space, and elements such as the camera's motion and scaling have to be limited in order to prevent motion sickness. It's hard to take in the artificial view when you're nauseous and want to vomit all over the living room floor, so Crytek is taking measures to control that aspect while still giving you the freedom to look around. Again, every step of the process involves numerous prototypes in a VR environment to ensure that everything is in proper working order before the final build. This seems like a trivial part in game development, but VR is uncharted territory, so extra precautions have to be taken to make the game run as smoothly as possible.
Then there's the question of platform. With multiple companies making their own version of a VR headset, Robinson: The Journey has to debut on the platforms of the biggest names in virtual reality. Bowman said that Crytek is working with three specific groups: Oculus, HTC and Valve, and Sony, or in other words, the Rift, Vive and Morpheus. They've all had their share of the spotlight, with HTC and Valve's Vive recently joining the fray in March.
However, that doesn't mean that the game will be exclusive to those three headsets. Crytek is willing to work with as many VR-related companies as possible. Bowman wanted broad coverage in the industry so the game can be played on as many HMDs as possible. Even companies that don't develop HMDs but deal with VR in different ways, such as 3D audio and hand tracking, are approaching the company to see how Robinson: The Journey can benefit from their products.
In the end, it's an exciting time for Crytek as it pushes forward into the unknown. The entire company has a little over 600 employees, but only 50 of them are actually working in VR development. The CryEngine is already used in consoles and PCs; moving to VR is just another way of giving the software a diverse spread.
But there is a bit of caution as to whether or not virtual reality will really take off, or if most people will think of it as another fad, like 3D TVs. The team behind Robinson: The Journey is keenly aware of that challenge, but they're relying on the biggest names in the new industry to promote the game. If it succeeds, Crytek will undoubtedly expand the VR development team; if not, then at least there's still the use of the CryEngine in traditional game development.
There's no release date for the game, but when it's finally out for consumption, we'll see if the CryEngine's magic can amaze us again in virtual reality.
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