The game creators at Crytek are avid storytellers who are practicing their craft as pioneers in VR gaming. They have always been driven by the desire to produce the most advanced visual gaming experiences, regardless of the format, which can be witnessed in the versatility of their industry-renowned game development engine, CRYENGINE. They saw the massive opportunity that VR presents early on, and set out to build a framework for exploring not only the technical challenges of VR, but also the creative ones. “We see the potential of a new media and immediately start imagining stories that we can tell with it,” explains CRYENGINE Creative Director Frank Vitz, “That leads us to the development of software methods, animation tools and rendering modes that feed back into the storytelling, and, the next thing you know, we have what already feels like a full game. It’s ‘just a tech demo’ but it feels like a glimpse into a whole new world. That is what inspires us. When we see people’s reactions to the demo, their thirst for more, well, we know that we are on to something big.”
Crytek’s first VR gaming foray is a mammoth undertaking – to recreate a prehistoric Earth, replete with dinosaurs and Jurassic vegetation and terrains, and fully immerse players within this bygone world. “People are always looking for something new, an experience that is outside the scope of what is possible in their everyday life,” says Crytek Executive Producer Elijah Dorman Freeman, “Dinosaur Island was an obvious choice for us as a stage for VR; who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to live in a world populated by dinosaurs? This is a meme that has been resurfacing periodically since the first scientific discovery of dinosaur bones almost 200 years ago. And that is just one example – we will see space stories, historical recreations, underwater adventures; VR offers us a portal into worlds of infinite possibilities, worlds just waiting to be imagined and explored....”
It is obvious that Crytek is serious about the potential of VR entertainment. The company has two teams working on VR innovations: One is a dedicated demo team that is organized like a game production studio. They are exploring the experience space of virtual reality, solving navigation problems, inventing new ways of interacting with virtual worlds, figuring out how to tell a story and make it fun. Freeman is the Executive Producer on this team.
The other group is the CRYENGINE development team, led by Frank Vitz. They are responsible for the integration of VR technology into the engine itself. The Oculus SDK, for example, is one software interface that Crytek has integrated, which gives their developers using CRYENGINE direct access to the Rift Head Mounted Display and various rendering parameters.
“What both teams learn and develop is being integrated into CRYENGINE to be shared with our licensees,” notes Vitz.
A lot of the traditional rules and techniques of game development just don’t apply to the new space of VR, so Crytek’s teams must find novel and inventive equivalents as they navigate the Wild West-like atmosphere of the VR landscape.
For example, the traditional rules of cinematic composition don’t apply when you are free to look in any direction. This changes the role of the director. He or she has to focus on the situation, the 3D arrangement of the scene, invent new ways to attract the player’s attention.
The most obvious and compelling aspect of a good VR experience is the sense of “presence”, the feeling that you are in a real place, not looking at a projection on a screen or a monitor. As Vitz expounds, “We believe that a really great VR experience will make the player feel that they are not just observers, but also part of that world, that they can interact with it, that the things they do may change the course of events in the world.” “And, most compelling,” Freeman continues, “is that the world is aware of them; creatures react, characters look at them and what they do matters. Of course this is true of traditional video games as well, but the immersion of VR makes it all the more compelling.”
Delivering on this promise of a totally immersive and completely compelling VR experience is a tall order, but Crytek has already received an overwhelming response from developers who have seen what CRYENGINE can do for VR and want it for their projects. Dario Sancho and Valerio Guagliumi are the two main rendering software engineers who have been leading the charge for a VR-optimized CRYENGINE. Sancho enthuses, “Our experience in stereoscopic 3D, combined with the engine's rendering power and ability to deliver high resolution images at a high frame rate, means CRYENGINE offers a degree of visual fidelity that many people feel is foundational to a compelling VR experience. We can't wait to see what other CRYENGINE users create now that they have VR capabilities at their fingertips.”
Freeman expands on Sancho’s enthusiasm and describes how Crytek’s early VR adventurers are at the forefront of boundless VR discoveries: “The growth in the VR industry in the past two years has been explosive, and this is just the first glimpse of the possibilities. There is a sense in the VR community that we are explorers, going out in all directions, building new ships, and bringing back tales of distant lands. And we see this period of expansion continuing exponentially. It’s going to change the whole nature of games and interactive entertainment. This has us really excited, because Crytek is right at the epicenter.”
Hardware manufacturers have a huge role in accelerating the technological advancement necessary for VR and enabling the ‘presence’ that VR developers require. After all, the ability to present compelling worlds is fundamentally driven by the power of the modern GPU and its ability to render high fidelity imagery at high frame rates with low latency. AMD understands the challenges and they have taken a bold direction with their LiquidVR initiative. Valerio Guagliumi confirms, “We are integrating LiquidVR directly into CRYENGINE, which will allow us to take advantage of its innovations in low latency head tracking, scalable multi-GPU rendering, VR device compatibility and support for exotic peripherals.”
As Crytek crafts the future’s virtual worlds, Vitz concludes by describing the eagerness of his CRYENGINE team to collaborate with AMD on bringing to fruition the limitless possibilities of VR: “LiquidVR is going to solve many of the problems of ‘presence’ allowing us to focus on delivering the power of CRYENGINE to build worlds and tell stories.”
Sasa Marinkovic is Head of VR Marketing for AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.