September 7, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless
[On occasion, I may be reading my Gamasutra colleague Chris Remo's excellent weblog, and ask nicely to yoink one of his posts for GameSetWatch. This post -- dealing with his chat to the Crytek folks about their custom-branded Crysis-related PC -- is one of those.]
About a month ago, I reported that EA was planning to market a Crysis Warhead-ready PC. I have now learned that the machine—which, at least among the Crytek staff that specced it out, is called the “Warhead PC”—will be officially announced next week.
In my original post, I pegged the price to be between $600 and $800; as it turns out, it’s almost exactly in between, at $699, and it will apparently be coming in a single SKU. It will be sold by UltraPC, and unveiled by EA. Crytek, Nvidia, EA, and UltraPC were all involved.
I spoke with Crysis franchise producer Bernd Diemer, who explained the history behind the machine. ”When we started working on Warhead, we decided performance was a big issue,” he said. “So we said, ‘Guys, we’re going to build a PC which has a maximum price of six or seven hundred dollars, and it has to run Warhead in high spec at an average framerate of 30.’ We built that PC—Crytek in the Budapest office [where Warhead was developed]—and we put it in the middle of the studio, and every review was on that machine. All the milestone presentations we did for EA, for the Yerlies [founding brothers Cevat, Avni, and Faruk], for the team, all the new prototypes, we showed on that machine.”
Eventually, they began referring to it as “the Warhead PC,” and used it as a way to force efficiency and optimization: if frames were dropping on the Warhead PC on a high graphics level, the team would tweak the game to better scale to the hardware. (I can attest to the results, having played through a full level today and being impressed by the consistent framerate and visuals, before being told it was a “Warhead PC.”)
“For us, it was really helpful, because we sort of had a hard cap,” Diemer told me. “You couldn’t say, ‘It works on my computer, looks great on my machine.’ No no no, this is the benchmark, guys. If it sucks on this, the whole thing sucks. For us as a team, that was really valuable. We had a tangible border we could bump our heads into.”
The Crytek team originally planned simply to give the Warhead PC’s specs to EA to use for the recommended requirements, but eventually Nvidia got involved and it became clear that there was no reason that such a machine couldn’t simply be sold straight to consumers looking for an easy entry (or re-entry) into PC gaming.
Though I don’t have every nitty gritty hardware detail, I did get the machine’s most important specs:
I snapped a picture of the Warhead PC I used today. It had no external branding, and it wasn’t clear whether the final version (which can be preordered next week and will ship alongside Crysis Warhead on September 16) will, although a Crysis-themed desktop background will be preloaded. It’s a visually conservative rig, but I appreciated that there weren’t a dozen obnoxious blue neon lights swirling visibly through a plexiglass window—we’ll see what the shipping machine brings.
As Diemer was sure to point out, ”EA’s not getting into the hardware business, and Crytek isn’t either.” Rather, the companies are trying to practically combat the idea that to play high-end PC games at high levels of detail, you need to spend in excess of a thousand dollars. “The biggest thing for us is convenience,” Diemer added. “We want to make PC gaming convenient.”