Kristoffer Waardahl

Kristoffer Waardahl, Crytek Hungary studio head

A producer at one of the world’s most cutting-edge development houses says its high-end graphical approach is the future of mobile games—not the simple, flat style of Angry Birds.

By John Teti • June 13, 2012

The German studio Crytek is known primarily for its Crysis series of first-person shooters and the high-end CryEngine graphics software underpinning those games, which Crytek licenses to other studios. Both the games and the engine have a reputation for existing on the leading edge, squeezing every last glittering pixel they can out of console hardware and PC graphics cards.

So it was a surprise when the studio unveiled its latest project this year, a cute, cartoony puzzle game called Fibble: Flick ’N’ Roll that starred a globular orange alien and his adorable buddies. Even stranger, the game was designed for phones and tablets, not the latest, hottest high-tech iron. I’ve played the game quite a bit, and it’s a lot of fun. But still, what gives, Crytek?

Kristoffer Waardahl is the head of Crytek’s Budapest studio, which created Fibble. A former environmental engineer, Waardahl decided 10 years ago to parlay his software expertise into a games industry gig. Prior to this year’ E3 trade show, he spoke to Gameological about the rationale behind Fibble, the artistic legacy of Crytek’s games, and why Crytek places such emphasis on the drive for better, faster graphics.

Gameological: I think that a lot of people probably expected Crytek to keep making high-tech first-person shooters until the end of time. And then you come out with this cute iOS puzzle game, Fibble. What’s the common thread throughout your games? What’s the soul of Crytek that shows up just as much in Fibble as it does the Crysis games?

Waardahl: I think the easiest one to point out is the visual fidelity. At Crytek, we have always tried for visual excellence, so apart from the passion of the game designers and how we build the games, if you want to find one common thing between the Crysis series of games, and our other high-end stuff, and Fibble, it’s really that we’re pushing the graphics and pushing the envelope and technology on every platform possible. That’s the absolute truth about Fibble as well.

Gameological: Was there a little bit of you coming into this iOS world and saying, “We’re going to show ’em how it’s done”? Was that part of it?

Waardahl: [Laughs.] Well, that’s a very bold statement, but we felt that mobile gaming is just so huge, and it’s really growing. We love and we play these mobile games almost every day, and the technical evolution of these platforms is so rapid that now, when you look at what’s out there, we felt we could deliver our trademark visuals to a broad audience on mobile. Show people that we are not only capable of the console stuff and the PC stuff, but also can make something truly amazing come alive on a phone and a tablet.

Gameological: You’re so much more polite than I am, Kris.

Waardahl: I’m not sure about that.


Gameological: You’ve made games for consoles that are fairly powerful, at least compared to the iPhone, and you’ve made games for high-end PCs. What was it like making a game for a phone? How was that challenge different?

Waardahl: A lot of ways. The core game development, I will say the process we use and the framework, that’s not really that different. The people who use these devices are different, so we have a different audience. Especially with puzzle games, there was a lot of stuff we had to learn about designing these challenges and making sure you have a nice learning curve, and people understand what you’re trying to tell them.

The touch-enabled controls are great, and that is a new thing, because on PC, you’re used to having a keyboard and mouse and a controller for consoles, but here you have a gyro and an accelerometer and the touch-screen, and you can do crazy stuff with this. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities and then try to keep your sanity level enough so you don’t go too insane.

Gameological: What kind of audience did you have in mind for this game and what kind of audience did you have in mind for, say, the Crysis line of shooters?

Waardahl: Well, for Fibble, we are looking at a very broad audience. Gamers like it, we think families will love it, kids will love it, teens will love it. People like puzzle games. People like cuter characters and more cartoonish things. People like to see what a game can look like on an iPhone, like tech people, they’ve really enjoyed it as well. The game is fun, easy to learn. It has a lot of difficult puzzles in it as well. So, we think we have a very broad audience for Fibble.

When it comes to shooters, can I say the regular shooter audience? It’s a pretty well defined genre by now. People who like cool stuff and the high-end. I think shooters are perceived as prestigious games by themselves.

Gameological: Did the same artist that who designed the super-soldiers and the terrifying aliens in Crysis design the chubby little creatures in Fibble, or did you have to bring other artists in?

A little less slime and ectoplasm, a bit more cute.

Waardahl: No, they’re actually the same guys, even though they had to change their mindset a bit. A little less slime and ectoplasm, a bit more cute. But yeah, it was the same team. It’s so much fun to do this because you can set a personal challenge. Right now, it’s not about how many teeth you can fit into a skull, it’s more about how we can make something that looks like a ball move and feel cute. That’s a huge animation challenge. It’s much harder to animate a ball or a pillow than it is to animate something that has extremities and that is a biped where you can reference modeling from humans.

Gameological: What did you use as your inspiration? Did you look at cartoons?

Waardahl: Actually, the first inspiration was rubber ducks. Don’t ask me why, but that was the first inspiration. I think people on the team had rubber ducks when we were kids, and maybe some people still do. Actually, I have one on my scuba gear. We looked at the rubber ducks and said, “this is nice. How can we make something which is as lovable, as universally recognized as a cute thing as a rubber duck?” That’s how we started with Fibble.

Actually, Fibble as a game is way older than this iOS game you guys can play now. We had a lot of different characters for Fibble planned within Crytek for some time before we started this. So we looked at that, we took our own creative stuff and iteration as usual, and we ended up with Fibble as it looks now.

Gameological: Does the development of technology drive the ideas for you, or do the ideas drive the development of the technology?

Waardahl: I would say it’s more about ideas driving technology, because technology is an expression of passion, and it’s a tool, so we always use the technology to realize our ideas. That’s the more dominant way it happens.


Gameological: I ask that question because a lot of the big games on iOS have very simple technology and very simple art, like Angry Birds or Doodle Jump. So why bother making an iPhone game with these detailed 3D renderings, and these beautiful visuals, and these elaborate physics? Was there ever a feeling of, “Well, jeez, why are we going to all this effort?”

Waardahl: Because we can. [Laughs.] No, but that’s a Crytek way of doing things. It’s really, how far can we go? How far can we reach into delivering something that no one has seen before? We also think the mobile market is maturing, and 3D will become very common. You don’t see 2D games now on Xbox that much, right? I think this is going to happen also on iPhone, and we want to be among the pioneers here as well. To champion this kind of gaming and this kind of fidelity.

Gameological: Why is that fidelity so important? Do you find it more immersive or more real?

Waardahl: Yeah, it’s part of, I think, aesthetic enjoyment. It’s nice to look at, the same way you enjoy a beautiful animated movie from one of these big companies. You look at it and say, “Wow, that was great. That looked fantastic. Did you see the dragon? Did you see the alien? Did you see this?” I think it helps not just immersion in the whole game, but also gives you a nicer experience as a whole.

Gameological: Why did you, personally, get into the games business instead of films or other software development?

You don’t see 2D games now on Xbox that much, right?

Waardahl: Me personally? Well, for me it was very easy. I’ve loved games since I was born. Working in the games industry was always a secret passion I had. I had some other careers before I started in games, but I was always creating games and playing games. So when I had a change to actually work with games, I took it immediately. For me, it was never question if I should do something else. I did other things because they were also interesting. But this is a passion. This is something I love to do.

Gameological: Was Crytek your first gaming job?

Waardahl: No, I worked at other companies before Crytek. Other stuff I did before I worked there, I worked as a chemical engineer for a very different line of work—paper and pulp industry, mainly.

Gameological: Games is a little more exciting, I would imagine?

Waardahl: Yeah. It’s definitely more rock and roll than paper and pulp. Although that has its—well…

Gameological: No, go ahead. Tell me about paper and pulp.

Waardahl: Paper and pulp?

Gameological: Yeah.

Waardahl: The great thing about that, and we were mainly designing scrubbers—these are high-density cleaning units for environmental purposes. That’s a very different feeling when you accomplish something that’s actually doing something really good, and it helps the environment, helps people—helps millions of people to get fresh water. And it’s a more persistent achievement, in a way. Some of the stuff we designed and we built, they’re still working today. I could go to a factory and point out to you, “Do you see that chimney that’s connected to that condenser unit? We built that, and it’s still cleaning there today, so it’s making the world a better place.” That’s a nice idea.


Gameological: Well, let’s talk about that in relation to games. Your games have a relatively long shelf life on account of their technology is so advanced. But do you think people are going to be playing Crysis 20 years from now? Do you think about your legacy?

Waardahl: I’m usually quite optimistic when it comes to the future, so I think if people like something, they will keep on doing that. The question is how we will enjoy playing games in 20 or 30 years from now. That’s a very different question, but I don’t think it’s frustrating because the legacy also goes on. That’s why we try to build franchises and values which last longer then just an individual product. I think Crysis as a brand is really cool, and I think people will remember it for a long time.

Gameological: Are you guys getting ready for E3 now?

Waardahl: Yep.

Gameological: Do you ever get tired of having to preview your work to the press and to the players over and over again? Do you ever wish you could just say, “Look, we know how to make these games. Just leave us alone, we’ll do a good job, and you’re gonna enjoy it”?

Waardahl: [Laughs.] Maybe you should ask Jens [Schaefer, the Crytek PR manager sitting in on the interview]. He works much more with the press than I do. On my level of engagement, it’s actually really good fun.

Gameological: I talk to a lot of developers who get frustrated when they have to put together yet another pre-release build for these events. So what do you enjoy about it?

Waardahl: This is where we can actually interface with our fans, and with the world, and the people who are actually going to buy our stuff. So I think it’s super important that we do the best job we can and to show people what we’ve been doing for six months, one year, two years, three years—however long we’ve been working on it. It’s an opportunity which very few people have.

Gameological: Do you incorporate feedback from previews into the final game, or do you have a pretty clear vision of your own that you just carry straight through?

Waardahl: Ooh, that’s a trade secret. [Laughs.] Nah, just kidding. We have a very clear vision of what we’re trying to do. However, if someone comes up with something kick-ass, why shouldn’t we [incorporate it]? If it’s possible in the given time frame. That being said, when we have people in our community and we have fans, we are incorporating some of their visions into the next Fibble update as well. So, if people come with valuable feedback which actually improves the whole game, we are all for that. There’s nothing that says we have all the best ideas. We usually do, because we’re awesome, but in the case we are not, well, you know.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

197 Responses to “Kristoffer Waardahl, Crytek Hungary studio head”

  1. Enkidum says:

    Isn’t the actual gameplay very Angry Birdsy, although the graphics are not?

    Also, another excellent interview. Y’all are making games journalism seem like a respectable profession.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    I can’t wait to see what CliffyB and David Jaffe do for the iOS platform!

  3. jarviscockblocker says:

    Huh, Budapest mentioned at Gameological. Now I can die a happy Hungarian.

  4. stakkalee says:

    Seconded on the interview kudos – I wanted to hear more about paper and pulp! (Seriously!)

    Also, Mr. Waardahl mentioned above, in regards to visual design, about not focusing on ‘how many teeth you can fit into a skull’; is that just a designer saying, or is that some sort of industry-specific challenge that laymen wouldn’t necessarily know about?

  5. George_Liquor says:

    PC gaming lament time: It’s a sad state of affairs that Crysis remains the high water mark for PC graphics quality five years after it was released.

    • Ramon Mujica says:

       Actually, that’s a good thing. The more complicated graphics become, the more time, money and people it takes to make a game look good.

      I would be happy if games don’t get any better looking than they are already.. with a good art direction, a game can look better than real life.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Nerts to that. I’m sick of the state of the industry being dictated by aging consoles. I realize that complex graphics do not a good game make, but they can sure help.

    • Merve says:

      Honestly, I’m fine with that. Crysis looks great, and I don’t want to have to spend money upgrading my PC.

      • Justin Strong says:

        This is accurate. The non stop arms race for superior graphics is a big part of what made consoles so much more appealing to consumers for gaming than PCs in the first place. Why buy a dedicated console when they already have a computer? Because they think they have to make a big investment in hardware every time a big new game releases. Crysis has a ton of problems as a game, and a lot of what I’ve read from Crytek leads me to believe that’s because everything they do is based around having an awesome visual engine (to the point where the game is almost an afterthought), but I don’t see any reasonable way to critisize what the game looks like.

  6. JokersNuts says:

    Sounds like these guys are all about style over substance, and the stratigic thinking of, “what kind of character will broad audiences find irrasistably cute and lovable” makes it seem as if they are trying to work from a formula instead of insperation.   And to say 2D games are dead, even on Phones is just arragent and narrow minded. 
    I’ll take Braid or a Mega Man over Crysis anyday. 

    • Yeah. “No, but that’s a Crytek way of doing things. It’s really, how far can we go?” This pretty much explains why Crysis (both of them) were overrated as shit. So much potential, so little use of it in the actual games.

    • Ramon Mujica says:

       If Capcom doesn’t announce Mega Man 11 this year, I’m going to mail them a piece of my own poo.

    • Goon Diapers says:

      YES. There is actually a resurgence of 2D games recently which I love. 3D doesn’t necessarily make things better. Angry Birds would not be a better game in 3D.

      And Megaman is definitely more fun than Crysis.

    • Merve says:

      You know, I’m fine with Crytek’s thinking on this. If they want to make visually stunning 3D mobile games that go for aesthetics over gameplay, and if there’s a market for those kinds of games, then all the more power to them for pursuing it. It’s not as if they’re destroying the market for cute 2D games in the process.

  7. Phillip Collector says:

    Crytek baffles me. They put the focus of their games on cutting edge visuals and very little else and as a result we get a slew great looking, generic playing first person shooters.

    You would think that at some point they’d wise up and put more time into creating a better story or a better gameplay hook. Case in point, the upcoming Crysis 3. How’s this game different than Crysis 2 or any other FPS for that matter? Well this time you have a bow and arrow. Oh…okay…great. At least I’ll know it’ll be a great looking bow and arrow.

    • Citric says:

      Crytek games often seem like an advertisement for their game engines rather than games. Like a big flashy “look at our technology! You can use it for your project!” billboard.

      • Phillip Collector says:

        That’s exactly how I feel about them too. An yet…who DOES use the Crytek engine. No seriously, who? I can’t think of anybody else.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       I dunno, yes and no, I suppose. Have you ever been to an art museum where they’re showing a bunch of Renaissance paintings? You’ll come up to your umpteenth painting of some idealized scene of Late Antiquity featuring nudes (because, at some point, all Renaissance painting is idealized scenes of Late Antiquity featuring nudes) and you’ll be kind of impressed by the scale and level of detail in the work, along with the attention to color and all that. It’s not novel, because, again, you’ve just walked through a whole freaking gallery of this stuff, but it’s definitely impressive and awe-inspiring.

      I guess, in summary, I’m always pretty impressed with Crytek’s work because it’s not an awesome setting or story, but it is a great looking bow and arrow–perhaps the best looking bow and arrow in gaming.

      • Phillip Collector says:

        Eh I’m sort of the opposite. When I’m at an art museum I’ll look at a few Renaissance paintings but then very quickly it all becomes white noise to me. Then an Abstract Expressionist painting from the other gallery will catch my eye and I’ll quickly leave Antiquity behind.

    •  I don’t think that’s entirely fair. The first Crysis was pretty innovative in its openworld setting and freeform gameplay, enabling you to take multiple approaches to different situations. It was no Deus Ex but it was certainly a lot more flexible than the run-and-gun corridor shooters of the time. Plus, it was always nice and sunny. Don’t see that much in shooters.

    • Justin Strong says:

      To be honest, I don’t think Crytek is really a game developer, at least not in the traditional sense. I don’t think a company could still be this short-sighted, backward-thinking, and ignorant of industry trends and still expect to be a successful developer. I think what Crytek actually wants to do is develop engines for people who actually know what they’re doing, but you can’t just make a tech demo without money. Problem is, unless you’re established, you can’t get money without a tech demo proving you can actually deliver what you promise. So, instead of pitching an engine that can be sold to other developers, Crytek pitched a game that would serve as an elaborate tech demo that would have some larger commercial viability if the engine didn’t catch on. Crysis sold reasonably well (mostly as a benchmark tool, but who’s counting), so EA naturally sequelized it, and now Crytek is a developer, trying to come up with ideas to be a viable competitor when they really don’t know how to do that, and didn’t want to in the first place. It’s just a theory, of course, but I think it sounds logical. Even their naming conventions came off that way.

      Of course, it doesn’t explain Far Cry. But I hated that game.

      • Merve says:

        Oh, Far Cry: the epitome of a whole bunch of very, very good ideas executed very, very badly.

      • Phillip Collector says:

        Word. The gameplay always feels secondary to the visuals. They’re amped to show the world their pretty new shiny toy but they don’t know what to do with it so they’re like, “eh I guess we’ll throw in some random military dudes and um…some aliens. Why the fuck not?” But more importantly check out our shaders and lighting!

  8. And he’s a totally objective party, too! Doesn’t at all have a vested interest in pimping cutting-edge 3D!

  9. Brainstrain91 says:

    When I read the blurb for this article, I thought “that’s a strange thing to say.” And I’d like to say it was because this guy is kinda dumb, but he’s obviously not. Just an optimist to a fault, I guess. No, 2D gaming isn’t going anywhere, you dummy.

  10. Baramos x says:

    Yes, the blurb makes little sense. 2D game graphics, or rather, cartoony/unrealistic graphics often end up seeming timeless in comparison to “ultra-realistic” graphics like those seen in Crysis, which often look drastically dated within five years (just look at a PS2 game in comparison to a PS3 game. The difference is astounding). Cel-shaded games like Zelda: Wind Waker or Borderlands will probably look pretty good for several decades to come, and of course the simple 2D graphics of say, Super Mario World are pretty timeless. Crysis will probably look quite dated in the next gen, or less…

  11. rvb1023 says:

     Wow, didn’t realize there was this much dislike for Crysis, which stands as pretty much the pinnacle of the modern day shooter for me.  I guess I fail to see what makes it so generic.  And yeah, Crysis 2 was pretty meh but that’s what happens when you take the benchmark of what PC gaming can do and try to squeeze it on to consoles.

    As for 2D games I take it as sort of a mixed blessing.  They do harken back to a simpler time when games were a lot more straight-forward but also on average worse.  In this day and age, anyone with a bad idea can make a boring indie game.

  12. longly333 says:

    The AW77 Dominate Hoodie features French terry fabric made of 100 percent cotton for an ultra-soft feel against the skin. The waist and cuffs are made of cotton ribbing with stretch for a snug, comfortable fit that holds its shape.