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.