Crytek is building towards the future with virtual reality

by Will Mason • June 22nd, 2015

Depending on who you ask, VR at E3 was either very exciting or very disappointing, an example of a technology that is arriving ahead most of the content that will ultimately power it into consumer’s hands. We saw glimpses of that content at E3, with current best in class games like EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale showing us the potential of the medium. But perhaps the company that impressed me most with their VR content at E3 was Crytek. Yes, that same Crytek that is known for pushing boundaries with amazing graphics is making the push into VR, and it is not a small one either.

At GDC we got our first glimpse into what Crytek was thinking about with VR with Back to Dinosaur Island, a beautiful first person experience that put you face to face with a T-Rex. At that time we learned that Crytek had a 50 person team working on VR, a number that suggested one thing, Cytek was building a full fledged game for VR. That suggestion was confirmed at E3 when we learned the company was working on a VR title called Robinson: The Journey

Poster Art for Robinson The Journey

Poster Art for Robinson The Journey

It is a move that on the surface seems risky, especially for a company with some recent rumored financial issues, but for Crytek’s director of production, David Bowman, “it’s more of a risk not to [jump into VR].”

Bowman, and the rest of the Crytek organization see VR as a vital component of the future. “It’s going to change the way we view entertainment,” he says, “[and] if you want to be relevant in four years in game development, you have to have a VR solution.” Which is why Crytek is hopping in with both feet into the deep end of the VR pool.

For Crytek and Bowman it is about championing the next generation of entertainment and continuing to push boundaries. “At Crytek we have always been pushing the limits of what we can do,” he says, “but VR excites us as a team in a way nothing else has before.”

Robinson: The Journey will serve as Crytek’s centerpiece entry into the VR world.

Bowman calls Robinson a “exploration experience” saying that it – like a number of ‘games’ in VR lies outside the classical definition of the genre. “I want to call it a game because we are a game company but [long pause] we need a new word, theres a spectrum between the fully passive experience (movie watching) and the fully interactive game.” Bowman says that Robinson lies somewhere on the game side of that spectrum.

In it you will play a young traveler who is searching for survival on a mysterious planet. Bowman didn’t want to reveal too much about the game’s plot but said it will mix elements of exploration, puzzle solving, decision making and danger together into a unique experience. Oh – and it will likely be filled with dinosaurs and other uniquely fascinating creatures.

Robinson is “inspired by,” both of the Back to Dinosaur Island demos but Bowman stopped short before saying whether or not the demo shown at E3 was a preview of Robinson itself – instead standing by the “inspired by” rhetoric. Either way, even if the game looks half as good as the stunning tech demo Crytek showed at E3 this year, Robinson will be a title to keep a very close eye on.

When asked, Bowman said Crytek is looking to support every available platform as they want to see the industry grow as a whole. Given the properties of some headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive to create full ‘room scale’ VR experiences, I asked if they were looking into making Robinson a full room scale experience. According to Bowman, room scale is “one of the many solutions” that Crytek is playing with, but did not confirm whether there would be any room scale elements to the game’s final design.

Back to Dinosaur Island II was home to one of the most stunning vistas I saw all week, including my real world drive up the coast of Big Sur.

Back to Dinosaur Island II was home to one of the most stunning vistas I saw all week, including my real world drive up the coast of Big Sur.

One thing we were able to confirm however is that the game “will absolutely run on the recommended specs” that Oculus provided – giving us an early answer to the presumed ‘Can it run Robinson?‘ question. As long as your computer can run VR – it will be able to run the game.

That’s not to say, however, that Crytek won’t be pushing the boundaries as per usual. For users with more beefy rigs Bowman suggests “we will look to go beyond” what is currently possible with the recommended specs.

So how long will it take for us to finally see the game? It is hard to say – the typical development cycle for a AAA level game is about two to three years, but according to Bowman “[Robinson’s] development time will be very aggressive.” Bowman wouldn’t comment as to how far along in the development process Cytek was but it would seem their major push for VR didn’t start until recently.

“We started off looking into [VR] last year, as a very small tech team.” That team’s goal was to explore CryEngine’s fit with VR, and in doing so they put together Back to Dinosaur Island as a tech demo. The response to that demo, both from the public and from the team internally seems to have pushed the desire for development further – leading to the announcement of the full on title. “From GDC to now our team got bigger,” Bowman says, adding, “it is growing aggressively.”

It may be a while before we get our hands on the finished version of Robinson – but developers won’t have to wait any longer to flex their muscles with CryEngine, which announced support for the Oculus Rift last week. But Oculus is only the start, as the team is going to add support for every major headset. The company is also exploring innovative new ways to use VR within development, but they are too early in experimentation to go into much further detail. “As we find advantages to [developing within VR with new input devices] we will add those, but for now the keyboard and mouse will remain your primary development tools.”

If Crytek is able to match the wonder they achieved with their tech demo, it could easily be one of the early seminal pieces of VR content – one that could possibly push the boundaries of what is possible within the headset to new levels. It will be exciting to watch this project continue to mature – and see how Crytek’s big bet on the VR industry pays off.




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