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Far Cry

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Crytek

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'Far Cry' - Developer Q&A

by Rainier on Feb. 20, 2004 @ 9:51 a.m. PST

Q : Your name? Your role in the development team?

Christopher Natsuume, Lead Producer over at Crytek

Q : You said Far Cry proposes a unique range of view. What does this exactly mean? What is your goal behind this concept?

A: The "goal" was never long range gameplay in itself. We started with the idea that we wanted a completely different feel in the game, and we determined that a massive outdoor tropical environment was something that had never really been done well in a FPS game. We had seen too many games with dark corridors; we created a beautiful widely appealing outdoor environment for Far Cry, a contrast to the current market FPS games. Because of this decision, long range gameplay, non-linear level design and adaptive AI grew as an organic design need. It was either that or create "indoor" outdoor sections, where the player is still confined in a box, even though he is supposed to be outdoors, and this was not appealing to us.

Q : Can you please tell us how far this range would represent in real world?

A: The horizon, essentially. But in a game, this can be substantially over a thousand meters. More importantly, it is so far that even on a high resolution monitor your enemies are essentially a pixel until you use some sort of long-range viewing device, like binoculars or a sniper scope. Much more long range than this didn't really make much sense to us.

Q : Could you please explain what will be the implication on gameplay then?

A: The gameplay adjustment is more than just being able to shoot extreme ranges (which you can do). More importantly, it means that this whole massive area is open to the player for exploration. We can give the player a lot more freedom in where they go and what they do, because they can see further and make long-term strategies. Also, getting across these spaces takes time, so we have a more urgent need for vehicle use, and this makes for even more gameplay options.

Q : Does that mean that there will be none or only few in-doors environments?

A: Not at all - we have indoors, but even there we have gone larger, open spaces, interspersed with small creepy spaces that provide contrast. But the majority of our game is outside. If you went to a tropical island, you wouldn't want to stay indoors the whole time, would you?

Q : What was the technological challenge of such a long range?

A: Most obviously, more view distance means more to draw - which traditionally means a lot of memory and CPU usage. We have solved this through using an optimized height-map terrain mixed with geometry that uses our PolyBump technology, occlusion culling, and active LOD (Level of Detail) technology to draw only what is necessary.

Less obviously, we had a serious challenge in creating an AI that worked with the kind of player freedom allowed by these spaces, and which could respond to long range threats and use vehicles dynamically as the player does.

Q : Binoculars aside, what kind of long-range equipment and weapons will be utilized in Far Cry?

A: Well, we have some long range weapons with scopes, as well as a motion tracker and sound enhancer to let you find, hear, and kill things from a long way off. We also have some mounted weapons that work at long ranges, and some vehicles that allow you to go a long way in a hurry.

Q : Do enemies benefit of very long range weapons too? If yes, how the player will be able to prevent long range attacks?

A: Absolutely - it's a major part of the game. The world is full of hard and soft cover, and the player has radar he can use to help him identify threats. Using these in combination he can minimize long range threats until he can position himself to take them out. But attacking and being attacked from range is a major part of the overall game.

Q : Does long range means that player can go anywhere he can see?

A: It is a mantra for our design team: "If it looks like you can go there, you can." We have followed this very strictly, and despite the pain and suffering it has caused the design team in our level design, it is one of the most critical decisions we have made in defining the overall feel of the game.

Q : Can you please explain the history of Polybump technology? How did Crytek have the idea to develop Polybump technology?

A: When we were in early development, we knew that we would face issues in putting together the kind of massive terrains and environments we needed, especially with interesting and detailed characters, unless we found some innovative solutions to rendering. Cevat Yerli, the founder of Crytek, worked back in January 2001 with Marco Corbetta and Martin Mittring - two key coders here - in developing not only the PolyBump technology, but the Dot3 Lightmap technology that works with it.

Q : Could you please give us more explanations about this technology? How does it work? What are advantage and risk this technology included?

A: The key idea to PolyBump is deceptively simple. First we make a very high poly model - most of our characters are about ~400,000 polys, but some go up to a million or more. We then take that mesh and transform it into a complex "normal map" - which is a map showing how light should reflect off of all of the details properly on a per-pixel basis. We then use that normal map as a sort of "lighting calculation texture" on a low-poly model - in the case of most of our mercenaries 2,000 polys. This means that as we move this model beneath a real dynamic light, we see the light change as though all the original details were actually in place, when the model is actually much simpler. The end result is a character (wall, machine, vehicle, etc.) that looks like it was a million polys, which is actually much simpler. This means we can use a lot more of them, in an environment, and more lights with them as well.

The big drawback, of course, is that this only works when we use real dynamic lights - because the details of a PolyBumped object are essentially built from their interaction with the light. This is why we developed the Dot3 Lightmapping technology, which is a new way of using traditional lightmapping technology with per-pixel lighting to create a vivid lighting model that still lights the world with an infinite number of lights that can express the PolyBump normal maps. Lightmaps and Bump-Mapping were mutually exclusive to each other, but our patent-pending dot3-lightmap technology makes this possible.

Q : Polybump mapping technology is quiet impressive. Which way do you plan to utilize it in the game: do you want to create extremely detailed characters, or to bring a really big bunch of enemies moving on the screen?

A: Yes and yes. The beauty of PolyBump is that we can do both. We are very close to the limits of visual acuity on your monitor with our characters, and we can still have a dozen or more of them actively moving around on screen - even in massive environments with a great deal of detail.

Q : How does the engine manage such huge maps in real time, regarding the quality of textures? Does it limit the treatment of physics for mapped objects?

A: The big maps are an issue, but the more important issue with the current technology is not how much stuff you have on screen, it's how many times you draw it, essentially the fillrate problem. Most special effects, such as alpha blended particles or vegetation, reflections, blur, and especially dynamic lighting creates second, third, sixteenth, etc. passes on each pixel - meaning that the computer has to calculate what to draw on that pixel numerous times. It's called overdraw, and it is the real limiting factor in massive environments with lots of vegetation and special effects like ours. We sort this out through judicious use of certain shaders in certain environments, and tech-friendly level design.

As for physics, we have a sort of Physics on Demand system, which only activates "physicalized" objects when interacted with. This means that the limiting factor in "physicalized" objects is not how many there are on a level, but how many there are in an area where they might all be activated at once and interact with each other. Since this limit is a hundred or so relatively complex objects, we can pretty much fill the whole world with "physicalized" stuff.

Q : Polybump allows very detailed facial expressions: should we hope to have NPC interventions in-game?

A: The characters in the game all have complex facial structures, and use them in facial expressions and to talk to each other, but in all honesty, you do a lot more shooting than talking than Far Cry. We do have some places where you will interact and work with NPCs though, such as the lovely photographer Val and the mysterious scientist Doyle.

Q : Thank you for your time and the answers!

A: No - thank you. It's the hard core gaming audience and the press that keeps it informed that allows innovative games like Far Cry to be made. Without you guys, we'd be making database software dreaming of making something this cool...

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