Changing Perspective – An Introduction to Ryse: Son of Rome

“Ryse: Son of Rome” has come a long way since being revealed in a very early form at E3 2010.

Back then, the game was still known as “Codename: Kingdoms,” and only hinted at the bigger picture of what we would soon set about bringing to life. At E3 one year later, the name “Ryse” was out in the open and a more in-depth trailer revealed it to be an Xbox 360 exclusive built primarily around Kinect-controlled combat.

Since then, things have obviously shifted again; with today’s “Ryse” having built from those early iterations and evolved into an Xbox One launch title. So, how exactly did the game come to shift from first-person to third-person, from Xbox 360 to Xbox One, and from being primarily played with Kinect to being played primarily with controller? 

Firstly; the shift in perspective and control methods. “Ryse” certainly started out as a first-person game, and we were toying with various ideas as to how we could blend the point-of-view with the potential of Kinect. There were various suggestions on the table, and that ultimately led to the creation of three prototype versions of the game – one played exclusively with Kinect, a second that combined Kinect and controller, and then one final version that was not only played with controller, but that also showed our lead character, Marius, on screen.

Every version had its fans within the company, but over time we saw people were increasingly leaning towards the third, controller-based, prototype that showed Marius on screen. This also tied in neatly with the fact we were now imagining “Ryse” as a much more cinematic, character-led experience. Our earlier vision of a more on-rails offering just didn’t seem compatible with the ideas for the game we were now committed to. And so, with all that in mind, we presented this reinterpretation of the game to Microsoft. They shared our excitement and agreed that a shift to third-person perspective and more controller-led gameplay was the right path for “Ryse”.

Next came the move from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. In the first instance, the jump became a possibility simply because our decision to change the game’s perspective and control scheme naturally meant it would take longer to finish. There was a lot of work to be done; work that seemed likely to make “Ryse” a very late entry into the Xbox 360 catalogue of games.

Of course, initially, Microsoft hadn’t laid out any plans for their next generation console, but we knew it was coming. With that in mind, we started developing “Ryse” in its new form as if it was going to be a next-gen game. One major advantage we had on this front was the fact we use our own technology in CryENGINE. We were already developing a very high-end game, and the leap to the new system was one we were confident of being able to make. That, combined with our expertise of working for PC and console, meant we were used to being versatile during the development process.

Ultimately, our inkling that “Ryse’s” completion would dovetail nicely with the arrival of Microsoft’s new console came to pass. From Microsoft’s side, they could see that what we were doing with the game was a jump forward in terms of visuals and tech, and they were as excited as us by the possibility of seeing the game released on Xbox One.

It’s been a long journey for “Ryse: Son of Rome,” but one that ultimately has a kind of logic to it. Many of the original ideas for what the game should achieve have survived, and the adjustments along the way have always been about taking steps forward. We’re thankful that we’re not in a situation where these changes were forced on us for negative reasons, but rather that they represent the growing ambition of Crytek as a company and the increased belief in “Ryse” as a game that really push boundaries and take players somewhere new.

When it comes down to it, the most important aspect of the project has always remained the same. Because whatever the system, whatever the scale and whatever the challenges in our path, “Ryse” is a continuation of Crytek’s commitment to making the best games we possibly can for players. Some things never change!

First person to Third person – The Tao of “Ryse” Combat

Crytek established its name in the industry for a few reasons, one of those reasons being the success of the first person shooters we developed. As you can know there are hundreds of things that go into making a first person shooter feel right, and we have a large team that has spent years honing their crafts. With the green light to turn
“Ryse: Son of Rome” into a 3rd person combat game we had some learning to do. We had never done a 3rd person camera during game play, we never really had to focus on the responsiveness needed for a player’s locomotion set, and up until now had never done a game focused on hand to hand combat. As with first person shooters, there are hundreds of things that go into a combat game to make it feel right.

We’ve iterated on a tremendous amount of things over the years and built up the team with the expertise to truly make “Ryse” a combat game that gamers will not only enjoy playing, but will challenge them, piss them off at times, and reward them heavily if they get it right.

Combat – Rhythm and Flow

Combat in “Ryse” was built to feel good… Each action flows seamlessly in an out of each other. Marius is not some brute that hacks his way through combat. He is a virtuoso with his sword and shield, moving from enemy to enemy with precise and calculated blows. Flow was important to us, we wanted the player to be able to set up his opponents and viscously plow through them one after another with limited to no beats in between. The better the flow the player can pull off, the higher the rewards. Try a little too hard, go for that one extra hit without banking it in and you could risk losing it all.

Timing for moves is crucial to stay alive and perfect timing will be rewarded. For every perfect push, perfect deflect, attack, and execution you perform, Marius will close the distance to enemies faster, and kill quicker. There are no prescribed combos since all of your moves are available to you at any time, giving you maximum creativity in how you want to dispatch your enemies. You’ll find different combinations of inputs will kill some enemies quickly while the same input on other enemies could get you killed.

As you attack enemies and finish them off we frame the next opponent for you. You could be surrounded by five Barbarians, as you execute one the next one in range is perfectly framed allowing you to seamlessly attack in his direction. Continuous flow from enemy to enemy unlocks new abilities and higher tiered executions and rewards. The player exerts his rhythm and flow over that of the enemy and if an enemy lands a hit on you then he’s broken your flow. Players who bring the fight to enemy will reap higher rewards then ones who sit back and defend all of the time.

Combat – Brutal and Intense

“Ryse” combat is to be deadly, life and death, it’s intense and emotional, personal, powerful and brutal. Through the use of camera work and realistic facial animations we wanted to push for the realism of a life and death combat situation, to capture the emotion of the player and his opponents. The cameras had to feel dynamic; they had to frame every single shot like a cinematographer would have done, frame the faces and action while seamlessly moving from enemy to enemy without cuts. This had to harmoniously work without compromising gameplay, and if done successfully would actually enhance the player experience.

These ideas culminate in our execution moves. It’s during these executions when the face of your enemy shows the true emotion of what you are about to inflict on them.  When the camera frames the movement of the sword, shows the shock and anticipation on your enemy’s s face, then moves through for the kill blow it creates a truly brutal, realistic experience. We put a tremendous amount of development time into the facial animations, writing all the code from scratch, and pushing the rigs and pipeline further than we ever had. “Ryse” has facial fidelity with full performance capture running real-time during combat. Meaning the faces you see in the cinematics are the same rigs running real-time in-game. This gives us the ability and edge to create believable enemies that portray emotions during executions.

We determined early on in development that the camera work plays a big part in the readability of showing the emotions we were after, and smooth interpolation in and out of each move is key our free-flowing combat system. Through the clever use of camera effects, color grading, depth of field, shake, dirt, and water, the player will get an added sense that they are immersed in the action. At the end of the day it had to feel like it was shot by a person holding a real camera, and the enemy’s eyes had to have emotion and weight to them.

Combat – Life or Death Struggle

While in development we made a conscious choice to avoid creating linear combat scenarios you find in some fighting games where the enemies line up and attack you one by one. The enemies in “Ryse” will work together, move in, surround you then launch multiple attacks from all angles, they will truly want to kill you. During battle you won’t simply knock out your enemies, you’ll finish them. Through mastering perfectly timed moves you can take out enemies tactically by wearing them down and setting them up for 1 of over 100 unique executions. Every execution you perform in “Ryse” is a window to player-driven rewards; rewards that the player can quickly manage and switch via the D-pad while still engaged in combat. The amount of reward you receive per execution is tied directly to how successfully you’ve hit the timing window, but you’ll always come out of it with something.

Execution rewards:

  • Health: This one is self explanatory.
  • XP: Unlock your path to upgrades a lot faster with this choice
  • Focus: Build up focus at a higher rate and own your enemies outright.
  • Damage Boost: Up your damage output and take out your enemies faster.

Another tool players will have in combat is Focus. By selecting Focus executions you’ll slowly build up the ability and can trigger it at any time. Too many enemies around you, need some breathing room, build up your “focus” and fire it off to slow everyone down. Be careful how you manage it though, it uniquely affects each enemy type for only a short period of time.

In “Ryse” we put the emphasis on quality enemies versus massive amounts of cannon fodder. You’ll come across numerous enemy types throughout the game each with unique attack patterns. Think you’ve figured out an enemy and things are getting too easy, try taunting them and see what happens. They’ll visibly get more angry and aggressive, but killing an enemy with a raised agro level will benefit your XP and score.

Combat – Soldiers, Warriors, and Legends

Mastery in “Ryse” is about getting into and maintaining your flow of actions, dealing with a dynamically challenging enemy, and executing them one after the other. You choose how you want to play, and you’ll be graded along the way. Core gamers will find “Ryse” is a game that will challenge their skills and abilities when attempting to dominate a dynamically challenging enemy; they’ll take the time needed to reach Legendary status. Casual gamers will find “Ryse” has an accessible combat system that is easy to get into and enjoy while still being challenging, intense, and entertaining, they may only reach Soldier level. However people play; we believe that they’ll truly have a unique experience as they “Ryse” through the ranks.

More to come

The above is a taste of what “Ryse” combat has to offer and we’ll have a lot more to share in the weeks and months ahead, so stay tuned and we’ll see you on the road to launch!

-Brian Chambers, Senior Producer at Crytek, and Patrick Esteves, Design/Gameplay Director at Crytek