If you've been playing big-budget action video games over the last couple of years, you've probably noticed a few trends. The graphics have gotten better. The animations have become more lifelike. The explosions have gotten more explosive.
And more recently, amid all those improvements, has come a trend that's even more earth-shattering and important: Video games have discovered the bow and arrow.
Call it the "bowification" of video games. Far Cry 3. Crysis 3. Assassin's Creed III. Tomb Raider. In just the past six months, we've had four high profile games include a bow and arrow as a primary weapon. In an impressive bit of reverse evolution, it seems video games have finally discovered the bow and arrow, decades after they discovered the assault rifle.
All this goes along with pop culture's more general bow-obsession, with Katniss Everdeen using her archery chops to survive The Hunger Games and Brave's Merida besting each of her suitors in an archery contest, Robin Hood-style. Way to be current, video games!
A few notes: First of all, cossbows don't count. Sorry, Dishonored! I'm going to focus on four games that are pretty recent, as they represent the current height of video game bow-and-arrow design. So, I've left off games like Turok, Wii Sports Resort, and any of the Zelda games. I've also left off a few games where the bows don't really have a mechanical component to them—my bow and arrow in Guild Wars 2 operates pretty much like a gun; same thing with Diablo III or Torchlight II. I am including Skyrim, because that game is interesting and its iteration on the Elder Scrolls' bow and arrow design is cool. If there are other video game bows you think are worthy of recognition, I hope you'll mention them in the comments.
Here we go, ranked from last to first:
#5: Assassin's Creed III
How it works: Aim and fire with the Y/Triangle button.
How you cancel a shot: Press B/O.
How you aim: You select a target using the aiming feature, then Connor does the rest for you.
One hit? One kill with most humans, but not with animals.
Better than a gun? No, not in this case. The Assassin's Creed III bow is silent, which is good for taking out guards quietly, but in general it's inferior to the game's pistols, particularly the moment you've been spotted. Aiming and firing simply takes too long to be effective.
Upgrades: None to speak of.
Fakest thing you can do: The more I think about it, the more I think that Assassin's Creed III's bow might be the most realistic of all the video game bows on this list. Which unfortunately seems to have contributed to it being in last place.
Greatest moment: There's something to be said for hunting from the treetops in Assassin's Creed III, and the bow always felt at home in the woods.
John Rambo says: "Your worst nightmare."
Overall Opinion: The bow in Assassin's Creed III just doesn't feel very good to fire. The auto-aiming is strange and doesn't allow you to track a moving target, and as I've noted before, pressing "Y" (or triangle) to aim a weapon feels a bit like standing on your tiptoes to reach something in a high cupboard. There's a lack of satisfying impact, as well.
#4: Crysis 3
How it works: Zoom with the left trigger, pull the string back with the right. Release to fire.
How you cancel a shot: Click the right thumbstick.
How you aim: You don't actually aim along the arrow, but rather using crosshairs on your HUD combined with a green line indicating the arrow's trajectory.
One hit? One kill, provided you've got your draw-strength up for the bigger baddies.
Better than a gun? Without question. It's so much better than a gun, in fact, that it makes the guns totally pointless and throws off the balance of the game.
Upgrades: Your bow comes outfitted with all manner of special arrows, so they don't really qualify as "upgrades." But Prophet's bow can fire regular arrows, explosive arrows, thermite-tipped arrows that explode on a delay, and arrows that deliver a deadly electric shock.
Greatest moment: The sound design on the Crysis 3 bow makes up for its odd feel—the tension of the arrow combined with the thunk of impact makes it clear that this thing is really a deadly future-weapon in the guise of a bow and arrow.
Fakest thing you can do: At first I was going to say that having your arrows designed so that they'd show up on your heads-up display for gathering was unrealistic, but actually, that's exactly the sort of thing that some military weapons-designer would probably do.
John Rambo Says: "I could have killed 'em all, I could've killed you. In town you're the law, out here it's me. "
Overall Opinion: Prophet's bow in Crysis 3 is sort of a "bow in name only." Sure, it looks like a tricked-out compound bow. Yes, it fires arrows. But it's so powerful and futuristic that it's almost entirely removed from the more primal appeal of the weapon itself. Furthermore, because the bow can be fired while cloaked, it throws off the precarious balance struck by the first two Crysis games and makes Prophet overpowered.
How it works: Aim with the right trigger, release to fire. Hit the left trigger to toggle slow-mo, if you have the ability. As a demonstration, check out this TOTALLY SICK VIDEO I just shot today. I was going to grab a screenshot to show how the bow works, but I happened to fire this arrow and... yesssss.
My first thought was "I can't believe no one saw that." Then I checked the corner and saw that I'd accidentally hit the record button and captured the whole thing using Fraps. Victory! So, I thought I'd share it here. (And okay, maybe it's not actually that hard to do—it does kind of look like the bird relocated so that my arrow would hit it. But I felt pretty proud, so. Anyway.)
How you cancel a shot: Press X, a welcome addition to the Elder Scrolls series, as in the past you'd have to fire into the ground and then pick up your arrow.
How you aim: Right along the arrow, with a zoom-in if you've purchased the required perk.
One hit? Rarely one kill, unless you're up against a weak enemy or you're firing from stealth.
Better than a gun? There are no guns in Skyrim, though video game marketers seem fond of suggesting that there are several other games that satisfy that particular fan desire…
Upgrades: The most important upgrade is the ability to slow down time while aiming, which is a boon for those who play this game with a controller, in particular. However, thanks to the game's crafting system, you can upgrade your bow in all manner of other deadly ways. My Daedric bow shoots lightning arrows, for example.
Greatest moment: Picking off an entire roomful of bandits without alerting a single one. The "bang!" sound of a successful sneak attack is never less that satisfying, and it's only heightened by the goofy way the ragdoll physics can take over once they go flying. It's also fun to peg a dragon in midair with an arrow, partly because it's such a difficult trick to pull off. Unless you're me, as evidenced by that amazing video I've already talked about too much.
Fakest thing you can do: You can upgrade your bow so that it fires lightning and traps souls! God, how unrealistic.
John Rambo says: "It's in the blood! It's natural! Peace? That's an accident!"
Overall Opinion: While Skyrim's combat is generally not on par with the other games on this list, I actually like the bow and arrow a lot. It never quite has the stopping power I'd like it to when I've got a troll charging at me head-on, but when sneaking, there are few weapons in the Skyrim universe as deadly and satisfying.
#2: Far Cry 3
How it works: You aim with the left trigger and pull the string back with the right trigger.
How you cancel a shot: There isn't a consistent way, unfortunately. You can switch arrow-types if you've got an additional arrow assigned to the D-pad, but that's an unsteady workaround at best. I have memories of being able to inconsistently cancel pulled arrows, but haven't been able to recreate that in my game. If there's a way, I'm not sure what it is. Meaning that I wind up shooting my arrows into the ground and grabbing them. You got so much right, Far Cry 3!
Update: Since enough of you guys pointed out that in theory it's totally easy to cancel a shot, I thought I'd give it an even more thorough test. Looks like this issue is only on PC, or even just my PC, and it's inconsistent. I'm able to get "R" on the keyboard to cancel the shot every time, but "X" on the controller is inconsistent at best. Often it won't work at all. So, good on you for the most part, Far Cry 3—the issue isn't with your design but appears to be with your PC controller setup. Your bow is still pretty cool, though.
How you aim: You can get either a red-dot sight or a more advanced hunter's sight, which accounts for drop-off. I never quite mastered the way aiming works, but I did always use the hunter's sight, even though it was more difficult to see what was going on.
One hit? One kill.
Better than a gun? Not really. The bow is arguably better for silent takedowns, but it's hard to top a powerful silenced assault rifle or sniper rifle, particularly if you've unlocked the later weapons in the game. That said, it's certainly cooler than a gun, and holds its own.
Upgrades: You could eventually either make fire-arrows or explosive arrows. The explosive arrows were oddly underpowered, and often it took more than one to blow up a vehicle or kill a guy.
Greatest moment: Hunting actual animals, actually. Some of the most enjoyable side-missions in Far Cry 3 were the advanced bow hunts, where you'd be tasked with taking down a deadly jungle beast using only the bow and regular arrows. Usually it involved finding a good vantage point and hitting shots from far enough away that the tiger/leopard in question wouldn't be able to find you. But these sequences effectively captured the thrill of creeping through the underbrush, bow in hand.
Fakest thing you can do: Make an explosive-tipped arrow out of a hand grenade while under duress in the wild. Look, I get that Jason Brody has become something of a badass while on this adventure, but.
John Rambo says: "You know what you are... what you're made of. War is in your blood. Don't fight it. You didn't kill for your country. You killed for yourself."
Overall opinion: The bow in Far Cry 3 is a cool, empowering weapon, and easily the game's defining mode of dealing destruction. While silenced sniper rifles can generally get the same job done from a longer range, the bow itself was my weapon of choice for the majority of the game, particularly when hunting.
#1: Tomb Raider
How it works: Aim with the left trigger, pull back the string with the right trigger.
How you cancel a shot: Let go of the left trigger. Okay, hold on. This is the only game on this list to adopt this method of canceling a shot, and it deserves mention, because it's great. Initially, I was uncomfortable canceling shots this way, but only because it felt so unfamiliar. As it turns out, this is a very natural, subtly brilliant way of doing things. It's a much more accurate amalgamation of what you'd actually do if you decided you didn't want to shoot an arrow. You'd release the string.
How you aim: Down the arrow using a crosshair.
One hit? One kill, as long as you're sneaking or can score a headshot. In combat, it depends.
Better than a gun? Absolutely. The bow is a silent killer, has a ton of non-combat uses, and is wicked powerful and accurate over long distances.
Upgrades: By the end of Tomb Raider, Lara's bow has become something of a swiss army knife. It can fire regular, flaming, and explosive arrows, sure. It can also fire a rope that can manipulate objects in the environment and even attach to cliff-sides and set up ziplines. Coupled with her automated rope-retractor, she can demolish large chunks of wood and access new areas. She also uses her arrows as a makeshift melee weapon, and to skin animals after hunting. After a couple of days on the island, Lara's bow is no longer the sad little wooden thing she pulled off the corpse at the start; it's a wicked-looking high-tech compound bow with a counterweight and nasty arrows.
Greatest moment: There's a sequence near the middle of the game where Lara enters a large wooded area at night. It's full of guards. The first time I played this bit, I was able to creep through the woods, silently picking off guard after guard until none were left standing. It was probably my favorite sequence in the entire game—Lara Croft as deadly predator, dealing death with a bow and arrow.
Fakest thing you can do: While I value the utility, I'm not at all convinced that a bow could fire a rope-arrow into a cliff face firmly enough to let me peg that rope and climb across a chasm.
John Rambo says: "When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing."
Overall Opinion: Turns out there's a reason that Lara's bow has been featured so prominently in Tomb Raider's promotional materials—the weapon feels inextricably tied to Lara in the new game, and between the two of them, they can overcome almost any obstacle. The bow has a marvelous feeling of physicality to it, including how Lara can only pull the string back for so long before her aim starts to shake. The decision to give players the ability to hit "up" and flick Lara's lighter, igniting the arrow, was inspired. I found it telling that in the game, I used Lara's bow whenever possible, even when it wasn't the most powerful option, unless I was getting rushed by enemies on either side. Even then, whipping out a machine gun or shotgun just felt wrong somehow.
So, Tomb Raider wins it by a neck. Far Cry 3 put up a good fight, but while that game does have some very fun bow-hunting, the bow itself doesn't match Lara Croft's weapon in all its upgraded glory. My Skyrim bow is all well and good, but falls short in heated combat. Crysis 3's bow is barely a bow at all, really—more of an overpowered killing device—that may be to some players' taste, but it isn't to mine. And Assassin's Creed III's bow, like so many other things about that game, is better in concept than in execution.
Congrats, Lara. Take a bow. You are currently the video game archer to beat. At least until it turns out there's an awesome bow and arrow in BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us. Which, given the industry's current bow-happy state, wouldn't surprise me in the least.
Despite what Nintendo would likely call its own best efforts, the Wii U has struggled to attract third-party game makers. Some developers might tell you that's because the Wii U is underpowered, but Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli told a different story to VentureBeat this week.
When asked about the Nintendo console, Yerli offered up the following:
We did have Crysis 3 running on the Wii U. We were very close to launching it. But there was a lack of business support between Nintendo and EA on that. Since we as a company couldn't launch on the Wii U ourselves—we don't have a publishing license—Crysis 3 on Wii U had to die.
It's a shame when games fall victim to the politics of business, which sounds like what happened. But if the Wii U can indeed run the technically impressiveCrysis 3, who knows what else is possible on Nintendo's latest system?
The full interview goes into the nitty-gritty of Crytek's upcoming free-to-play shooter Warface, and it's certainly worth a look for those interested in the German studio's wildly varying business models.
Crytek head Cevat Yerli has come out in defense of his studio's latest game, Crysis 3. In an interview with Gamasutra, Yerli says that the game is "so far, our masterpiece," and that he feels it's better than both Crysis 2 and the original Crysis in all aspects.
He blames the game's tepid reception on the fact that gamers have fatigue with this console generation and with sequels, and says that because the first Crysis was such a different sort of game for its time, it had a bigger impact, which has caused gamers to remember it more fondly than it deserves.
While I agree that history has warped our view of the first Crysis a bit—it's a fun but uneven game with some glaring flaws—for the most part I just don't agree with Yerli's assessment. I found Crysis 3to be mediocre in almost every way, a short, unfocused, un-engaging game that fell short of both of its predecessors. Crysis 2 was a well-constructed quasi-linear shooter that made up for its personality deficit with enjoyable, balanced combat and polished production. Crysis 1, while uneven, at its best was yards beyond either Crysis 2 or 3. Though I do agree that the first Crysis had a lot of problems that are easy to ignore in favor of focusing on those great opening chapters.
Yerli goes on to say that while Crysis 3 had triple the budget of its predecessors, the only way it could secure that budget was by going multi-platform. But developing for the Xbox 360 and PS3 along with PC held them back.
"The consoles are eight year old devices. Of course, in one way or another, they will limit you. It's impossible not to be limited by a limited console. By definition it's the case. So if it were PC only, could we have done more things? Certainly, yes. Could we have afforded a budget to make a game like Crysis 3 PC only? No. People have to understand that this is a journey of give and take."
That must be frustrating. Visually, the PC version of Crysis 3 is miles beyond the console versions, but the core of the game—the size of the levels, number of enemies, and basic design and artificial intelligence—remains the same. While a PC-only version of the game may indeed have been cost-prohibitive, it's not hard to imagine what Yerli and his team could have done had they been able to make Crysis 3 for the PS4 and the next Xbox, rather than the current generation of consoles.
As it stands, the game is still technically impressive in a lot of ways, but it'll likely be remembered as an end-of-generation footnote as we make the leap to new, more powerful consoles. Timing is everything, I guess.
Built with CryEngine2, the original Crysis raised the bar for PC gaming graphics in 2007 with stunningly detailed visuals that crippled even the fastest of rigs. Looking back at our first Crysis performance article, which was based on the game's demo, the fastest GPU available at the time (the GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB) struggled to average 30fps when running at 1920x1200 with high quality settings on DirectX 10.
Given how punishing the first game was, we were excited to explore 2011's CryEngine 3-based Crysis 2, but it was quickly apparent that the second installment wouldn't be a repeat performance. Not to say it didn't look better, but relative to Crytek's first title, the sequel didn't really set any new benchmarks. It was just another computer game that made great use of DX9, though DX11 was eventually patched in.
Fast-forward two years and Crytek has given us another opportunity to hammer some hardware with the arrival of Crysis 3 this month. Like the second title, the third installment has been built with CryEngine 3, though that doesn't mean you should expect lousy PC features, as the engine has been updated with improved dynamic cloth and vegetation, better lighting and shadows, and plenty more.
Plus, PC gamers won't have to wait for graphical extras. Crysis 3 launched with high-resolution textures, DX11 support and plenty of customization options that set it apart from the diluted consoles builds. The result looks incredible and we get the feeling this will prove to be the game that folks who are heavily invested in multi-GPU setups have been waiting for. Here's hoping we aren't woefully disappointed.
We'll be testing 18 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations from AMD and Nvidia, which is considerably less than the 29 we tested for Far Cry 3 because even with the medium quality preset activated, there are almost no low-end graphics cards that can play Crysis 3, even at 1680x1050.
The latest drivers will be used, and every card will be paired with an Intel Core i7-3960X to remove CPU bottlenecks that could influence high-end GPU scores.
We're using Fraps to measure frame rates during 90 seconds of gameplay footage from Crysis 3's first level, "Post Human." The test starts as soon as Michael "Psycho" Sykes hands you his backup weapon, we then simply follow the party leader until the time runs out.
We'll test Crysis 3 at three common desktop display resolutions: 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, using the DX11 mode. For the very high-quality test, we'll set the "overall quality" in the video quality menu to very high while also setting the SMAA level to 1 (low). The high and medium-quality tests will also be conducted with SMAAx1 enabled.
Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (3072MB)
Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 (3072MB)
Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 Boost (3072MB)
Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 (3072MB)
AMD Radeon HD 7870 (2048MB)
AMD Radeon HD 7850 (2048MB)
HIS Radeon HD 7770 (1024MB)
HIS Radeon HD 6970 (2048MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 (4096MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 (2048MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 (2048MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ti (2048MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 (2048MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti (2048MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 (1536MB)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti (1024MB)
Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 (1536MB)
Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition (3.30GHz)
x4 4GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 (CAS 8-8-8-20)
Gigabyte G1.Assassin2 (Intel X79)
OCZ ZX Series 1250w
Crucial m4 512GB (SATA 6Gb/s)
Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 64-bit
Nvidia Forceware 314.07
AMD Catalyst 13.2 (Beta 6)
High Quality Performance
Ramping up to high quality, the GTX 680 landed square on the 60fps mark when testing at 1680x1050, while the GTX 670 followed with 55fps and the HD 7970 GHz edition was forced into the 4xfps territory with the GTX 660 Ti. It seems like the non-Ti GTX 660 or the HD 7950 are about as low as you'll want to go, as both were near the 40fps mark with the Nvidia card on top by 3fps.
At 1920x1200, Crysis 3 kicked the GTX 680 10fps below our ideal and the GTX 670 joined AMD's flagship in the 40fps range—albeit with a 5fps lead. The HD 7970 GHz Edition averaged 41fps, narrowly beating the GTX 660 Ti by a single frame.
Crysis 3 is barely playable when running on high at 2560x1600, with the GTX 680 and HD 7970 GHz Edition barely offering 30fps. If you want play with these settings on a single-GPU card, you'll likely need Nvidia's new GTX Titan.
Very High Quality Performance
With the high quality preset being so taxing, we wondered if there was any point in testing on a more intensive setting. But we did, and things aren't pretty—or, well, they're too pretty. At 1680x1050, the GTX 680 managed 44fps and stood as the only card to exit the 30fps range, which is populated with the GTX 670, HD 7970, GTX 660 Ti and HD 7950 Boost, though anything below the HD 7970 GHz Edition is pushing it in our opinion.
Not much needs to be said here: the GTX 680 is your only hope of achieving playable performance, barring the Titan or a multi-GPU solution.
This is the resolution I typically game at with one GTX 680 and, naturally, I like to crank everything up. That's not an option here. We'd be interested in seeing how a pair of GTX Titans in SLI perform.
MaLDo, creator of the exceptionally pretty Crysis 2 graphics update and spotter of Crysis 3's ropey optimisation issues, has released a new tool for Crytek's latest PC punisher. OnTheFly lets you easily tweak Crysis 3's CVAR values in-game with a single button press. New shortcuts let you hide the HUD, tweak Depth of Field, and load a selection of custom presets. It should be perfect for keeping your frame rate high while your rig's assaulted by the sheer graphical powerhouse that is the first level's moving ropes.
The utility lets you create your own graphics presets, but MaLDo says the ones he provides are plenty pretty, enabling Global Illumination and high distance view even on low. You can also instantly modify the weapon FOV, which Crysis 3 apparently resets after every respawn.
MaLDo is keen to point out that the modified executable is not a crack, so won't bypass the game's DRM. He does, however, warn that the utility is only meant for singleplayer use, and that taking it into multiplayer may result in a ban.
You can download OnTheFly from here. See the full selection of shortcuts it enables below.
O - Hide HUD (Maybe you want to take some beautiful screenshots) P - Show HUD (Maybe you want to locate enemies after taking screenshots :P) I - Modify weapon FOV (Crysis 3 resets weapon FOV after every respawn) 6 - Reload low quality preset 7 - Reload recommended quality preset 8 - Reload ultra quality preset 9 - Activate normal Depth of field 0 - Activate ultra Depth of field T - Activate slowmotion Z - Deactivate slowmotion.
A game most famous for its beautiful visuals can be beamed directly into your eyeballs, thanks to some clever modding for the Oculus Rift. Modder Nathan Andrews, who previously worked on Half-Life and Black Mesa mods for the VR device, has started cracking into the CryEngine and produced a neat proof-of-concept video to prove it.
PC Gamer reports that the mod is incomplete, as it lacks things like a crosshair and iron-sights. But he has the mod up and running, at least, in both Crysis and Crysis Wars. He also mentioned that he's ported the mod to CryEngine 3 "if anyone is interested in building a game from the ground up with VR support."
We're probably witnessing the way humanity ends. When aliens are picking over our bodies and wondering how we died, they'll discover it wasn't famine or nuclear war. We all just had VR equipment strapped to our heads and no reason to leave our picturesque tropical islands. Still, what a way to go.
Well, actually not the future. The present. See, when first they announced the Oculus Rift VR headset, I thought, "Oh, virtual reality. I liked The Lawnmower Man. This should be weird."
Then, modder Nathan Andrews got the headset working with Half-Life 2, and I thought, "Oh, wow. Okay. I'd love to use this thing." Now he's done the same thing with the original Crysis, and watching the above video, my feelings are somewhat more refined: "Yep, I still want to play this thing. Also, I miss the first Crysis."
Behold, independent head and arm movement. Nifty. Andrews notes that he hasn't yet modded the crosshairs to track properly, which is why his aiming is a bit off. He's using a Mag II gun controller, which he says works well. If you want to see what it looks like with him wearing it, check out the Half-Life 2 video linked above.
So how far would you guys say we are from full-on Far Cry 3 cybersex here? A month? A couple months? Like, four months?
"Nanotechnology offers unprecedented possibilities for progress—defeating poverty, starvation, and disease, opening up outer space, and expanding human capacities. But it also brings unprecedented risks—the specter of devastating wars fought with far more powerful weapons of mass destruction." - Chris Phoenix, Director of Research, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.
When you step into one of the games in the Crysis series, you step into something called a "Nanosuit." It makes you a stronger, better soldier.
The Nanosuit is supposedly made up of a material called CryFibril, also referred in the game as Nanoweave or Nanofiber. CryFibril is the single most important component of the suit, as it is the medium for the various Nanosuit functions. In Crysis 2, the CryFibril got a major overhaul, making the Nanosuit lighter, stronger and more energy efficient.
Someone at Crytek must have been doing their homework because CryFibril looks suspiciously like a recent real-world breakthrough in nanomaterial technology.
Rise of the digital battlefield—war v2.0
Medical and military scientists alike claim that nanotechnology will transform the future as we know it. With the global proliferation of nanoscale technologies, from the research bench to the consumer market, it is both inevitable and fast-approaching. The question remains though, what will the future landscape look like? The answer really depends on who you ask.
My previous article about nanotechnology in video games—specifically, the Metal Gear series—took a glimpse at how nanotechnology could completely revolutionize the future of warfare. Using some not-so-far-fetched science, soldiers and machines can be integrated into a massive command-and-control network with the help of computers, epidermal electronic sensors and wireless communication systems. The central combat environment would provide detailed battlefield information and control to commanders in real time, in what Colin Milburn (nano culture researcher), dubbed the "Digital Battlefield". Or maybe more appropriately: War—the video game.
"Taking inspiration from the Future Warrior 2020 program, we developed the Nano Fibre Suit [a.k.a Nanosuit) that can enhance strength, speed and armour levels. The player can max the speed and dash across an open field, change to the strength setting and silently punch out a sentry." - Bernd Diemer, Senior Game Designer, Crytek 2006
Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit?
Crysis 3 is the newest installment in the Crysis series. For the unfamiliar, Crysis 3 is set in the near future (2047ish) and follows the adventures of Alcatraz Prophet, a soldier equipped with a nanotechnology-inspired battle suit, aptly named the Nanosuit. Prophet must protect the human race from complete extension from the Charybdis, a race of technologically-advanced aliens that are dead-set on our destruction. The Nanosuit comes fully-fitted with three primary combat modes: Armour, Power and Stealth. These modes allow Prophet to battle the Charybdis with superhuman abilities. Let's take a peek behind the curtain and delve into the science of the CryNet Nanosuit.
Coincidence? I think not—CryFibril on the left and nanoscale carbon (graphene) on the right
CryFibril—fabric of the future or is it already here?
Graphene (pictured above) is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon arranged in a repeating hexane pattern that has some really amazing mechanical properties. It might not look like much, but the discovery of graphene in 2004 was a big deal. In fact, the researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize just 6 years later, which is almost unheard of. So what's so special about this graphene stuff anyways?
Well in short, graphene is one the strongest materials ever manufactured. It has a breaking strength 100 times greater than steel and weighs thousands of times less (10,194 times less to be exact). Graphene can be rolled up into tubes, called carbon nanotubes, which are even stronger than graphene sheets. Carbon nanotubes can then be spun together and woven into fibers which are much more flexible and useful as engineering materials, making them the ideal fabric for the Nanosuit. If you can believe it, carbon nanotubes are even harder than diamond. So it comes as no surprise that research is already underway towards developing carbon nanotube composite body armour for police and military applications as well as building an elevator to space, just to name a few ideas.
Graphene can be rolled up into a tube just like a sheet of paper and spun into super strong carbon nanofibers, the perfect material for an armoured Nanosuit.
"From shape-shifting armour to fabric that can turn away microbes, as well as bullets to new power sources, the defense industries are launching major initiatives and planning for Nanotechnology. The basic research in Nanotechnology conducted at these centers will provide the foundation upon which real world applications can be built." - Kevin G. Coleman, Senior Fellow, Technolytics Institute
In a pinch, Prophet can divert power to the CryFibril Nano suit armour to temporarily increase protection from incoming high-speed objects, blunt trauma and energy blasts. This process, called Armour Mode, supposedly tightens up the suit's outer weave, which decreases the suit's power upon impact, rather than valuable health.
Interestingly, there is a real world nanomaterial counterpart currently under development called D30 gel. This protective nanogel is a dilatant non-Newtonian fluid, which is a very fancy way of saying it is flexible when moving slowly, but rigidifies upon impact, before quickly returning to its flexible state again. These types of materials behave very strangely. Check it out on YouTube, you won't regret it. Studies have down that D30 gel can absorb much of the energy from a shock or impact, greatly reducing the damage to the wearer. It is already in use in protective sports equipment and is coming soon to a battlefield near you.
Shock-absorbing nanogel (D30), real life Maximum Armour
When Prophet needs to quickly sprint across the battlefield, leap to cover on top of a Pinger or toss a wrecked car at a pesky group of Ceph, Power Mode is the way to go. Power Mode uses up Nanosuit energy for as long as it is active and grants the player superhuman strength.
How can we rationalize this with some real world science? Well, we could talk about a powered exoskeleton like the Raytheon XOS. This would fit the bill in terms of Power Mode functionally but it is hardly a nanoscale technology. No, we need to go smaller, much smaller.
An international team of researchers lead by Ray Baughman at the University of Texas have come up with a nano-sized alternative. They have developed an artificial nano fiber muscle. These nano fibers are made up of ropes of carbon nanotubes which are twisted together into thicker yarns and set into paraffin wax.
The bundles of nano fibers can contract rapidly when exposed to heat or electricity, up to 200 times stronger than human muscle. The manufacturing process will have to be improved to weave larger fabrics, like our trusty Nanosuit, but the basic premise checks out.
Ropes of carbon nanotubes can be spun into thicker yarns forming high strength artificial muscles.
"Military camouflage outfits that blend with a variety of environments without needing an outside power source—blue, say, when at sea, and then brown in a desert environment—is where this work could eventually lead." - George Bachand, Team Leader, Sandia National Laboratories
Is there an annoying Ceph patrol up ahead guarding the objective? Need to sneak by a sentry and avoid being detected? No problem. Disappear from sight with Stealth Mode. This Nanosuit ability also drains power but makes the wearer invisible. The suit's surface can dynamically scan the surrounding area and modify its skin colour to match in real time. This is the principle behind active camouflage. Animals like the octopus, chameleon and sea horse have already figured it out. Humans, on the other hand, are still working on it.
One of the first experimental active camouflage prototypes came out of the lab of Susumu Tachi from University of Tokyo in 2003. They developed a camouflage system in which a video camera captures the background behind an object and displays it on a cloth in front using an external projector. It didn't really work very well, but it inspired others to try and make their own cloaking machines. There are several new approaches currently under development using metamaterials which can actually bend light around an object. This technology only works for extremely small objects, so what about our Nanosuit?
The secret behind Susumu Tachi's active camouflage prototype
Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin) have been working on a dramatically different strategy since 2009. The principle is to fabricate a material with differently-coloured lights attached to motors, which are embedded at the surface. These lights can be rotated and turned on and off dynamically to match the colour of the surroundings. Sounds pretty straightforward right? Well it is, until you scale it down to the molecular level.
Their motors are not electric; they are protein motors which run on tiny microtube rails. Their lights don't have bulbs. They are made up of quantum dot nano crystals. Quantum dots are highly fluorescent nanoscale metal semiconductors which can absorb and emit light of different wavelengths (colours). They are commonly used in nanomedicine as imaging and diagnostic tools due to their small size and favourable optical properties.
Now imagine millions of quantum dots that are differently coloured (red, green, blue) all moving around in controlled patterns at the surface of the Nanosuit. By controlling the intensity and position of these quantum dots, and with the proper video input to capture the surrounding environment, you could get very energy-efficient cloaking. While this technology is clearly in the early stages of development, it is an interesting possibility and one to consider for the Nanosuit.
"Video game traditions here shape the way that military nanoscience presents itself to the public... striving for a digital future where wars are rebootable and soldier's lives are replayable, thanks to the struggles of intrepid researches." - Colin Milburn, Nanoculture Researcher, Everyday Nanowars: Video Games and the Crisis of the Digital Battlefield
It is a wild, wild world down at the nanoscale, and scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface. Whether in our socks and sunscreen, or on the dystopian battlefields of the future, it won't be long before products made with nano technology are an inescapable part of our everyday life. I tip my hat at Crytek for coming up with an extremely cool (and more-or-less plausible) science-inspired Nanosuit.
No offence to Alcatraz, I think it is pretty clear that in this case, the suit makes the man.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Alec Meer)
OK, OK, I admit, I want an Oculus Rift and I will do unspeakable things to any human being of your choice in order to get one. (Er, better not hold me to that.) Stereoscopic 3D in games has left me either unmoved or with a headache to date, but these VR goggles are so much more than that. They mean videogames BEAMED DIRECTLY INTO MY BRAIN, or thereabouts and, as this video of an OR modification for Crysis demonstrates, they also allow the use of natural head movement to look around game environments. (more…)