Aion interview: CryEngine scales perfectly on different PCs
PC Games Hardware interviewed the producer of Aion: The Tower of Eternity about the technical background of the CryEngine based MMORPG.
Aion: The Tower of Eternity is a MMORPG developed by Ncsoft. In Korea the game was released in 2008 already and it will now hit the European and American markets. Currently the release is scheduled for September 25, 2009. One of the most important and most interesting features of Aion: The Tower of Eternity is that it is based on Crytek's CryEngine. The system requirements have been already been revealed, but PC Games Hardware wanted to know more about the technical background of Aion and interviewed the producer Brian Knox.
Brian Knox: Choosing an engine that has been developed and run through a complete development cycle can provide a great advantage in starting an MMO. Creating an MMO can take many, many years to develop, and having a solid starting base for an engine can allow you to focus time and resources in other areas. CryEngine was a good fit for Aion because it does a fantastic job of expressing rich, vibrant colors. Each engine has its own unique color spectrum. CryEngine's capabilities were a good match with our art direction.
PCGH: Crytek has already developed a second iteration of the engine, the CryEngine 2. What were the reasons against utilizing this more advanced engine built? Could one possible reason be the fact, that the CryEngine 2 is very hardware demanding, and that its requirement are too high for an average MMORPG player?
Brian Knox: Aion is a game that appeals to many different gamer types. We needed an engine that could accommodate a large number of players across the spectrum of hardcore gamers to casual gamers. CryEngine 2 came out during the development of Aion. Given the fact that we used CryEngine as a base and heavily modified the system to work best for Aion, it would have been challenging to achieve the additional modifications necessary while in development. It was important to us that we had a stable engine that could scale to different hardware specs, and CryEngine provides just that.
PCGH: Did you do any technical modifications to the engine to tailor the technology to the demands and requirements of your game (technical as well as content)? If yes, which parts of the CryEngine do you reprogram/rebuild/alter and which parts remain completely untouched and why?
Brian Knox: The main reason for modifying CryEngine is that Aion is an MMORPG and the CryEngine was not originally developed for this type of game. One of the key challenges of an MMO is that it is impossible to predict the number of players that need to be displayed on the screen at any given time. It was necessary to make structural changes to optimize the engine for this type of dynamic game play. We optimized many different areas, from the way the terrain is displayed, to enhancements of the particle system, to memory allocation that allows for the extended play sessions that are typical with MMO gaming.
PCGH: When developing Aion were you aware of the fact that MMORPG players do generally not tend to upgrade their PCs with current very powerful hardware? How did you try to realize that the technology you licensed from Crytek does run well on older machines with less powerful hardware? Did you alter the scalability by adding more options to downgrade the visuals?
Brian Knox: We spent a great deal of time on art direction and the creation of the art in the game. For example, we worked specifically on the textures in Aion, which provide a substantial increase in the visual quality of the game. We took advantage of certain elements of the engine's technology, such as the use of polybump, but the general mantra was that art quality and direction were key. This emphasis achieved a high visual quality with a low resource cost. It also makes scaling the engine down for lower spec machines easier. I believe users will be very surprised with how good Aion looks on the lowest settings.
PCGH: When developing, do you try to leverage very modern technologies like Dual-GPU-Rendering/SLI- or Crossfire-Systems)? In other words: As far as overall performance is concerned, can players increase it remarkably by buying a second graphics card or a card with two GPUs?
Brian Knox: Both Crossfire and SLI are supported in Aion for the gamer that wants to get the most out of the game in terms of visuals and performance. Aion was designed to look and perform at its peak on average to high-end machines. While performance may increase in some areas, the visuals will look great on all systems.
PCGH: CryEngine comes with an inhouse developed physics part. Do you utilize Crytek's powerful physics engine in Aion? Will there be any physics in your game? If no, what are the problems integrating physics into a MMORPG and why have you decided to do without? If yes, do you even utilize advanced physics and will physics have a strong influence on gameplay (could you please give examples)?
Brian Knox: We use physics to a small degree in Aion. In an MMO, the use of physics puts a huge amount of stress on the client and server. Every piece must be synced between client and server, and with thousands of players interacting, there is a huge amount of network traffic. For these reasons, we stayed away from overusing physics.
PCGH: It is a fact that the first iteration of the CryEngine does not support DX10/DX10.1. Have you anyway decided to modify the render part of the engine and integrate support for the Vista-API into your renderer?
Brian Knox: As an MMO progresses, technology and enhancements are added with each update. However, we currently do not have any plans to incorporate DX10 rendering API in Aion. We believe we have a beautiful game that is capable of running on a great deal of machines.
PCGH: Taking your experience with the game in China and Korea (beta testing) into consideration, could you already give a hint to our readers what hardware will be required to play the game with all detail in 1.680 x 1.050 (no FSAA/AF) and 1.680x1.050 (4-8x FSAA/16:1 AF)?
Brian Knox: What is great about Aion is that the game can look beautiful on many different levels of computer. I have seen single core machines with 2GB of RAM with a two-year-old graphics card run Aion on max settings. We are running beta event weekends with thousands of players and have no NDA in place on the beta events. I would really encourage you to log in and play the game on a variety of machines to see how it handles in person. The fantastic fluidity and performance of the game is very hard to describe in writing. However, you can also check out the system specs here: https://secure.ncsoft.com/cgi-bin/Store.pl?dnv=3853553653&action=viewItem&item_id=131.
We heeded Brian's advice and took part in one of the Aion Beta weekends. In our gallery below you can find screenshots we took while testing the game.
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