Interview: Crytek talks Fibble and pushing boundaries in mobile graphics

'Let's just go crazy and see what we can achieve'

Interview: Crytek talks Fibble and pushing boundaries in mobile graphics
| Fibble

Crytek has spent the past decade building up quite a formidable reputation when it comes to cutting-edge FPS gaming on PC and console.

Given the company's history, then, it's rather a surprise to see that the firm's first mobile title, developed by Crytek Hungary (Crysis: Warhead), isn't a first-person shooter, but in fact a casual physics-puzzler starring a friendly alien called Fibble.

We caught up with studio head of Crytek Hungary Kristoffer Waardahl to talk about the reason for the decision, if the CryEngine that powers titles like Crysis will appear on mobiles, and the company's future plans for mobiles.

Pocket Gamer: Fibble's not quite what I would have imagined from Crytek...

Kristoffer Waardahl: It's better, right? [laughs]

What prompted you to make a mobile game? The driving force, as it were?

Well, actually all of us love and play mobile games besides doing all the AAA stuff and blockbuster stuff, so it's always been something we do and play. We've been talking about doing mobile for many, many years.

[The mobile industry] is huge, it's growing. After a while we said, 'okay, now we have platforms that are really high end'. When we started seeing that you can start to deliver console-quality stuff on mobile - that's when it became really interesting.

Now we feel that this generation and the coming generation of mobile devices are really living up to what we would like to deliver on mobile.

Do you have any extra features for owners of the latest iPad? What about support for earlier models?

It's Retina-enhanced. We also have a few goodies in there - it's going to be much prettier then it is on iPad 2.

But it's still gorgeous on the iPhone 3GS - that's something we worked really hard on so that'll you get a console experience no matter what you play it on.

It's an iOS-only title. Why did you decide not to support Android?

Currently it's iOS only, but we're also working on an Android version. It's not that we chose deliberately to favour one platform over the other: it's just the iOS version came out first.

When you began working on the game, did you start out by deliberately thinking 'we're going to make a casual game', or was it more a case of thinking about the mobile titles you enjoy playing?

It was kind of a mix of both. We had wild sessions of blue-sky brainstorming where we came up with everything - all kinds of games. But we agreed it should be more like a puzzle game, and we had this idea about Fibble within Crytek earlier on.

So Fibble is not brand new, as it was, as he existed in Crytek for quite some time.

Do you mean the character?

Yeah. It was not the same character, but it was a character - he was very funny, pretty cool. Then we had an idea about rubber ducks - I have no idea, don't ask me why!

Rubber ducks, bathrooms, circling around the Fibble guy. So then we started evolving, came up with helpers and friends, and it started snowballing, essentially. That's how we ended up making this 3D action-puzzler.

I notice there's a strong focus in Fibble on character and backstory, with separate biographies and detailed cutscenes - an unusual choice for the genre. Was this an important element for you?

Absolutely. We wanted to create something that not only raises the bar for casual gaming, but also to deliver the quality we want to have.

How can we tell the story? This is mobile - normally people don't expect cutscenes, but we want to do cutscenes, so let's do them.

And these are real time - they're not streamed or anything. They're just rendered on the phone. Everything is done with our own technology.

I thought they were pre-rendered!

No! [laughs] That was really a challenge as well. But we thought, 'Let's do this! Let's just max them out and really see what we can cram into 240 megs or so.'

Was there ever that temptation to go for the more traditional, for the genre, 2D cartoony graphics?

No, no, absolutely never. We asked, 'what can we do?'

Can we do HDR [High Dynamic Range]? Okay - let's do HDR. Can we do GI [Global Illumination]? Okay, we can approximate it, so let's do that. Can we do motion blur, tone mapping? Yeah - let's do all that stuff.

It's something we said from the beginning - let's just go crazy and see what we can achieve.

Is it a fair assessment to say that even though Fibble isn't running on CryEngine, your experience with the engine has gone into powering the game's graphics?

That's a fair assessment. It's a CryEngine that powers Fibble, we just don't have a number for it yet

It depends on your terminology. It's still Crytek, it's still us, it's still our people. This is our mobile technology and this is the first teaser about what's going to happen in the mobile space.

10 or so years ago people said that you couldn't do an FPS game on consoles because of the poor accuracy of joypads compared to the mouse.

With that in mind, do you think there will be a point where you can comfortably control an FPS on a touchscreen?

It's a valid question. Interface designers found that you could make a good control scheme for shooters on consoles.

However, I think it was Halo, where they tried having console guys play against PC guys, and you could see that 'medium'-level PC players would kick the ass of high-level console players in the same arena. You could see there was a fidelity loss, a precision loss.

But in its own environment, [joypad controls] work fine and are awesome.

I guess we'll find out a cool way to play shooters on tablets as well, I don't think that' a big problem. The question is what the end user actually expects on a tablet.

You have all this cool stuff - touchscreen, gyroscope, multi-touch, GPS. A game should be really designed for that device.

Where do you personally see the future of gaming platforms going - will there be a convergence of devices?

That's the crystal ball question! Well, I totally think the console entertainment experience is just too awesome to be radically changed in the next couple of years.

If you have a big-screen TV, massive surround sound, a device that can consume 800W - that's a very special experience, a very cinematic experience.

I don't think there's a need for that to change, and I think people will still want that for many years to come.

The question is: how do they want that, how do they access that experience, can they take it with them? Can they share it? I think that's going to change. Everyone will start working on how to take that content with them somehow.

But when I play on my phone, I want to do something else currently. I might be in an airport, it's very busy, I just want to hang back.

The convergence will happen, but it's not something we should expect next week.

Speaking of that big game experience on the go, are there any plans for the PS Vita?

Jens Schaefer, Crytek PR: Generally we don't rule anything out, but right now we don't have any plans.

But there will be more mobile and tablet games in the future from Crytek?

Kristoffer: [Fibble is] definitely not a one-off. It's the start.

It's a game we're really proud of, and we hope you guys really enjoy it, but this is just the beginning.

Many thanks to both Kristoffer and Jens for their time. Fibble is out now for iPhone [buy] and iPad [buy].
Will Wilson
Will Wilson
Will's obsession with gaming started off with sketching Laser Squad levels on pads of paper, but recently grew into violently shouting "Tango Down!" at random strangers on the street. He now directs that positive energy into his writing (due in no small part to a binding court order).