Crytek answers the call of Rome with Ryse

Developer takes a break from first person shooters to explore ancient Rome

Crytek has made a name for itself creating high intensity, cutting edge first person shooter such as Far Cry and Crysis. With Ryse: Son of Rome, Crytek is not only going back in time, but also branching out into third person action territory. Far Cry started life on PC and the Crysis series was on both PC and consoles, though this time around, Ryse: Son of Rome is coming exclusively to Microsoft’s Xbox One console. For that reason, the game is taking the developer into new yet familiar territory.

We caught up with Crytek producer, Michael Read, during Microsoft’s Xbox One showcase in Sydney to talk about the development of Ryse: Son of Rome.

How did the idea for Ryse: Son of Rome come about?

Crytek producer, Michael Read (MR): Ryse started off as an RPG and MMO that evolved into a title called Kingdoms, and then into Ryse as a Kinect title. A couple of years later, it became Ryse: Son of Rome, an exclusive title for Xbox One that is controller based. It was shortly after we had announced the game as a Kinect title that Microsoft began talking more about its new system, which is now known as Xbox One. So we went through a series of different demos, such as a Kinect proof of concept, to a first and third person demo. Through that, we ended up landing on what we thought was right, namely a third person setting as we had done before.

What have been the challenges during development?

MR: It is not a historically accurate game, but a fictional take. It was done for a number of reasons, such as keeping it fun and for where we can take the franchise in the future. However, it has still been very challenging on a lot of fronts. We’re building an engine at the same time as building a game, while at the same time Microsoft is putting together the console’s hardware and software. So there is a lot of moving parts on both sides, but we’re working very closely with Microsoft. We actually have them in full time with our team to help facilitate the changes that have been happening during that time.

How different is the gaming space now with the Xbox One?

MR: There is a big leap from the Xbox to Xbox 360, and the same thing is taking place with the jump from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. Simply put, when the Xbox 360 came out, the original iPhone had not come out. Technology has changed significantly since then, and game development has evolved as well, incorporating new pipelines and process in the way we deliver games, content and updates.

What do you think of the Xbox One's push towards being a living room hub?

MR: There is this convergence that I and other people have felt happening over time with video games, TV, and movies. Kind of like comic books wanted to be made into movies, and it took them a long time to really develop that relationship to the point where we have movies regularly coming out of that. People consume media in different ways than they did five or six years ago, from being spoon fed content to being able to choose what they want to experience. I play a lot of games and watch Netflix, so I see a crossover in media in terms of consumption. People are consuming a lot of media, but they are not focused on one given type. All-in-one type of platforms such as Xbox One can deliver that experience at homes with relative ease.

Is Crytek excited or intimidated by the increased processing power of the Xbox One?

MR: If you sit down and talk to our R&D guys, they will be always asking for more power. Coming in with the CryEngine, a successful engine for pushing high end graphics, as well as with all of the stuff we have been known for in our previous titles, we were ready for what the Xbox One had in it and to go beyond that. We were also ready to be part of the launch line-up and actually having the experience to help developing the box, tools and libraries that will go into that. It gives us quite a bit of a head start for our engine team to know the pipelines and the processes, to not only deliver that internally in what we can develop in the future, but also for our licensees.

Is Crytek prepared as a studio to make use of online functionality?

MR: There are a lot of elements that have been prevalent on platforms like PC over time. I think bringing all of that into an all-in-one console opens up new possibilities in the social capability and Cloud computing. There are a lot of ways that can go, particularly in terms of development and in the content we end up delivering. Without going into the technical specifics, there is a lot of potential, and not just in terms of digital distribution or having your save games in the Cloud, which has already been around for a while. It’s more about what we can do on the development side to deliver a deeper experience during gameplay.

Why did a third person action game instead of another first person shooter?

MR: We basically wanted to branch out. We are known for these big, lush outdoor environments with these kind of futuristic tie-ins, like the nanosuit in Crysis. Even the original FarCry was quite advanced for its time period as well. It’s more about [Crytek CEO and president] Cevat’s vision than anything else. He is the creative lead in the company, and he has been very involved in what we’ve been doing in Ryse specifically. It was a need and a want to try something different and go outside the box. We wanted to move into heavily cinematic third person action games from just doing first person shooters. It has been a much different experience for the company, and it is always a learning experience in game development as a whole.

Did Crytek foresee the Roman setting to be popular at this moment?

MR: I’ve heard a number of people see connections in the game ranging from 300, Spartacus to the Total War: Rome series, but there were a number of things that tied into this. We originally started off making the game historically accurate, but them we moved into a more fictional take on what we could deliver for the fun of the gameplay and the future of the IP, and where could potentially take that in a more fictional realm. There are definitely tie-ins, but when you play the single player campaign, you’ll see that there are a number of other influences that have come into it.

How has historical accuracy been ensured for the game?

MR: There are numerous historically accurate things, such as the architecture, the weapons, armour and even the fighting styles. These are all things we went and had historical lessons on. Some of the team went to Rome on tours, while weapons and fighting experts came in to teach our animators how these guys moved and fought, actually putting swords and shield in their hands.

How different was the research process for Ryse?

MR: I’ve done a lot of digging through some of the old files and looking back at some of the trips they did to Tahiti for Crysis. There’s a lot of similarities in the way they did that in going to Rome, and learning about the buildings and how they operated. It’s a very different process for Crytek, as we’ve never done a game like this before. There are elements that we have learned from the Crysis series. There is right and wrong way to develop games, but there is no formula to it. It’s not like one plus one equals two. It’s always a different combination of things each time.

Do you think you would enjoy living in the Roman period?

MR: I think about that sometimes, but it is hard to do that based on the knowledge we all have of the current world. Back then there was fighting and wars that were part of daily life, and I don’t know if I would personally like to live in an era like that. [Laughs] You look at shows like Game of Thrones and some of the elements that it took from different eras in history and injected it into the story, and I feel the same. But I think people are fascinated by the way the world was back then, the things that happen, and the things that we did. Personally, though, I don’t think I would enjoy it. [Laughs]

Any updates on the development of Homefront 2?

MR: All I can say is that it is looking awesome. [Laughs]

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out Good Gear Guide's complete interview archive.

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