Ryse: Son of Rome is one of the launch titles for Microsoft’s Xbox One video game console. And it’s one of those gory titles that will turn your green Xbox One screen to bloody red. The Crytek title has been in the works for a long time and got a reboot in its current form about two years ago.
In the game, you play Marius Titus, the son of a Roman general who is following in his father’s footsteps. The fictionalized story follows his career and the choices he makes. And it also shows off the graphical power of the Xbox One. We caught up with P.J. Esteves, game director at Germany’s Crytek, at Microsoft’s showcase for its new games at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles last week.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Esteves.
GamesBeat: So where are you guys making the game?
P.J. Esteves: Frankfurt. Well, actually, it’s Frankfurt plus other resources from various parts of Crytek.
GamesBeat: What’s some of the backstory here? You’ve been working on it for a while, right?
Esteves: Yeah. The original-original concept is something like six years old. It’s gone through several iterations. The last major addition was the Kinect part. Now we’re here with a third-person action-adventure.
GamesBeat: What’s it like to work on something like this for so long?
Esteves: I’ve only been on the project about two years myself. When it came to Frankfurt I took over the project with a bunch of other guys.
GamesBeat: We saw something of this about that time, maybe two years ago. It was a 360 game at that point.
Esteves: Yeah, it was a 360 Kinect game at that point. It was mostly a fighting game.
GamesBeat: Did you reboot it in some way, then, and take it in a different direction?
Esteves: I don’t think it was really a reboot. We just iterated our way towards this. With our engine, we can iterate very heavily. I keep telling people that the hardware isn’t a problem. We work with that just fine. It’s more an issue of — the example I always give, you put 100 people into a room and you say, “Row the boat.” Everyone’s going to row the boat in a different way. One of the design challenges with Kinect is that you have to train people to row the boat in roughly the same way so that they can play the game.
So what are we building here? Are we building a game where we have to teach people how to row a boat, or are we building an experience where you can just get immersed in it and enjoy the game? We built a lot of successful prototypes. We had a good navigation model and a good handle on the combat system, but we reached a point where we had to get serious about it and get it out the door. It came around the time where Microsoft said, “Hey, we’ve got this cool hardware. What can you do with it?” It was a partnership the whole way, landing where we are.
Esteves: At Crytek we’re constantly pushing this technology, no matter if it’s an iPhone or an Xbox One or the PC. The general idea is that now we can push more. We can have more particles. We can have more characters on screen. We can have more burning arrows. [laughs] When you have a big fire in the background, all these arrows coming at you, and then the boulder impacts, it’s just more of everything. We’re also pushing quite a lot on facial. We have cloth simulations and physical attachments and that sort of thing. We’re really trying own this “six feet to six inches” idea.
GamesBeat: What’s the backstory to the character himself?
Esteves: You play Marius Titus, who’s a Roman legionnaire. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a general. What winds up happening is he sees his family killed in front of him, massacred, and what follows after that is a quest for revenge. He ends up in the depths of Britannia, and then he has to come back to Rome to finish it off. The general idea is that it’s about the arc he goes through at the same time, as he goes from being a warrior to being a general. It’s about that transformation process.
Esteves: We’re trying to strike a balance between what we call the lone wolf — your typical third-person action-adventure gameplay — and then being part of the legion. That manifests in several ways. You’re fighting on the battlefield side-by-side with your soldiers, and you have some features where you can order them to help you out, like with arrow volleys or manning the catapults. Then you have the direct control, where you’re selecting formations and calling the shots. You can see that here when you hear Marius telling you, “Arrows incoming!” you put up your shield. Then he shouts, “Hold! Hold!” We’re trying to nail down all these different feelings of being part of ancient warfare.
GamesBeat: With the controls there, it seems like you’re trying to be very precise in the timing to coordinate all these soldiers.
Esteves: We’re all core gamers here. The controls need to be tight. When you play the demo and you see the arrow volleys, if you don’t block, your guys are going to die. That’s the idea.
Esteves: We’ll be talking about Kinect more later on. There will be a cool set of features we think core gamers are going to appreciate. As for the rumble trigger, we were this close to getting it into the build. It’s a super cool feature. We just couldn’t pull it off and get it feeling quite right for the show. But you’ll see that coming on a little bit later.
GamesBeat: Do you have a more directed path through the game, or are we going to have a fair amount of choice in how we pursue objectives?
Esteves: It depends on the level and the encounter. Some of them are a little more linear. When you watch the demo, though, it may seem very linear, but when you play it, you realize that you can roam almost anywhere on this battlefield. We’re trying to keep it very focused, but we still want to give the player some choices.
GamesBeat: Do you have any particular details about timing and things like that?
Esteves: We’re a launch title. You guys know that. Besides that, I’m just the design guy. They just tell me when to finish it up, and that’s when I stop.
GamesBeat: How large is the game altogether? If this is one level, what length are you aiming for altogether?
Esteves: This isn’t quite a full level. It’s just part of a level. But we’re not talking about that too much yet, because the game is still in development. We don’t have a final estimate on time yet.
GamesBeat: With six years in development, I figure you should have something to show for it.
Esteves: Man, if we were making this game for six years, I would deliver you the magnum opus of action-adventure games. [laughs] It’s only really been two years for what you see here.
Esteves: That would be amazing. “Hey, here’s an unlimited budget. Make a game about the entire empire, beginning to end.” I would totally sign up for that.
GamesBeat: By the way, how closely are you looking to stick to history here? I get the impression that it’s partly historical and partly fictional.
Esteves: It’s historical fiction. The idea is that we picked the best parts that we liked out of Roman history. It’s such a vast span of time with so many cool parts in it, we tried to pick what we really liked and boil it all down. More important, though, we tried to nail Roman culture. You’ll see things like aqueducts and those awesome giant ships, the triremes. Wherever we could, we tried to stay true to the cultural details of the Roman time period.