Feature Article

The Softer Side of Ryse: Son of Rome

A river of blood runs through it.

by

If our pop culture view is any indication, ancient Rome was a violent and troubled empire, characterized by beheadings and gladiatorial bloodthirst. The trailers and demos for Ryse: Son of Rome do little to discredit our mental images of Roman ferocity; it would be impossible to calculate how many gallons of blood are spilled within them.

Struck by these displays of murder and brutality, I recently spoke with Crytek's director of cinematics, Peter Gornstein, and animation director Martin L'Heureux. I asked them about the brashness and the bloodshed on display. Is Ryse's primary dictate to be loud and gory?

Apparently not, according to Gornstein. He acknowledges that Ryse is violent, in part because it takes place in an incredibly violent time period. But the game isn't about brutality--it's about drama.

"I don't think we want to create spectacle of violence," Gornstein explains. "I think more we want to create cinematic spectacle, and you know, amazing sort of visuals. Of course, our game has action and that's not entirely coincidental, and we're trying to be visually wowing, but it's certainly not our intention to dwell on violence for the sake of violence."

"We try to push in every direction," L'Heureux adds. "When you look at some Roman movies, you see some violence, and some of them are actually extremely violent. But the thing you remember at the end of the movie is story, right? Of course the violence is there as a vehicle for the story, as well, we try to push and maximize on that, but it's not really all about that."

I can't imagine playing a game that maintains these kind of visual histrionics for long period of time, however. Bloody or not, sensory overload can make the acrobatic animations and colossal explosions seem boring and commonplace when they're erupting in our faces time and time again. Based on Ryse's previous showings, I was convinced that the upcoming Xbox One exclusive was about chest-pounding victory and viscera-strewn battlefields. Crytek, however, wants us to know that Ryse is more subtle than they may have first let on.

Gornstein, for his part, understands that grand spectacle isn't effective when it isn't balanced by quiet moments. "That's why for the journey that Marius Titus goes on," Gornstein says, "what we've put together is a full animated feature film that's sort of interwoven with the story. We get to know Marius as a full three-dimensional character. We see him struggle with emotions, we see him, you know, sacrifice for his comrades, all that is interwoven. And we have… I wouldn't say long, but we have substantial scenes that build the characters, not just Marius, but main story characters. And through that stuff together is interwoven a full feature film. So these character-building moments are in there to ensure that the pacing feels right. That you're not just… a ten-hour orgy of combat. We want to get that balance of combat, story, character, and moments."

The answer gives me pause--and Gornstein is quick to pick up on my misgivings. Does Ryse just want to be a film? What is Crytek doing with Ryse that allows it to tell this story in a way only a game could tell it?

We think it's really important for the audience to empathize with the character, to give the character a real personality.

"Well the difference is that you get to play the main character, right?" says Gornstein. "It's in making a visceral experience. We think it's really important for the audience to empathize with the character, to give the character a real personality. Make him a human being to kind of identify with. We spent hours working with Martin on the animations, we try to make as fluid an experience as we could going from the gameplay to the cinematics. The visual fidelity in the cinematics and the gameplay is completely identical. You have facial expressions throughout the whole game, right? It's not like we have, 'oh, now we have a new game character that doesn't react, doesn't have emotions, and then we cut to the cinematic and it's a whole different level of fidelity.' We have it consistent through the whole game."

L'Heureux adds, "It's also that everyone around Marius, if you're looking at the way characters are reacting, as Marius is engaging in combat, the fidelity, the level of complexity you get in facial expressions on the enemies around Marius is the same as you would get in cinematics. So that bridge is… we're crossing that bridge very close."

Gornstein concurs. "We really try to make it like an interactive movie where you basically sit down and you… I mean, it's a game, obviously, but we want the story moments to feel seamless as you get into them. And then we have some really really talented actors, I think when you see the final work, we're really proud of the way it looks and plays."

So who is this Marius Titus? In trailers, we've seen him roaring in victory in a gladiatorial arena, bashing in barbarian skulls with his shield, and crushing heads underneath the heels of his massive boots. Obviously, a trailer isn't going to tell us all we must know about a story or its protagonist, but I don't know who this man is, or what makes him different than the other helmeted heroes we've met over the years in our games, films, and literature.

Gornstein tells me that Marius begins this tale as "a regular guy like you or me." And from there grows Ryse's story of revenge. "He starts off as a basic recruit in the army. And as he returns to greet his family in Rome, you know, he finds them slaughtered by barbarian bandits. And that kind of sets him out on the journey where he goes to the furthest regions of the empire to wreak his vengeance. Of course there are twists along the way that you discover. What's mainly interesting is that Marius is portrayed as a real character and he takes a beating, right? He's not a super hero. We want to make it feel like when you get hit, you feel the pain of the hit. It's not just, you know, a Rambo-type scenario. He's definitely more of a real human being with emotions that, you know, when I take a beating, I can feel it."

So you can smash their heads against the wall and what it is, it shows the character is able to improvise.

And so we return again to the language of violence, a language Ryse is fluent in. Just a few moments ago, Gornstein has told me that Crytek does not want to dwell on violence for violence's sake, yet here is a main character defined by vengeance, and by how much pain he can endure. I'm still not sure who this man is--I only know what purpose he serves in the plot. Gornstein reassures me that Ryse's cast of characters will be developed beyond their surface attributes. Gornstein says, "It's about having three-dimensional characters, not just Marius but the surrounding cast. So we make sure every story character has a personality that makes them seem more than flat 2D characters. We really put a lot of effort into just visually giving them [personality], but also the way we [motion-captured] them with voice, and with face, and you know, we did one-to-one with the actors. And you know, their personality, what they bring to the stage, I guess you could say, I think it really shines through. And putting that on top of having an interesting story with a main character who has real three-dimensional problems that he's struggling with and combining that with a surrounding supporting cast, that also is more than just black and white. I think that mix creates an interesting ensemble that tells a story that goes beyond, you know, a two-dimensional, usual hero's journey."

In spite of Gornstein's promises of a well-developed hero, I remain skeptical. The story always wraps back onto Marius' bloodthirst; I still have no sense of who this man actually is. So I ask L'Heureux how the gameplay could be used to further develop Marius Titus and the world that surrounds him.

"Well that's very simple," says L'Heureux, and my ears perk up. "As you're playing, right, you can be in the middle of an arena, you're fighting, and obviously the type of stuff you can do in the middle is affected by what you have around you." And the violence--the thing that Ryse isn't all about--becomes what it's all about anyway. My excitement wanes, and L'Heureux continues. "That's when you're standing, when you're fighting, when you're doing executions. But if you end up pushing the character, for example, against a corner, or a crop, or anything, and the way you finish your opponent changes. And actually you feel like you're part of the environment."

And so my search for the third dimension in Crytek's Roman epic may be a lost cause. At the very least, it's clear I need to be ready to speak Ryse's language, and so I give myself over to it. Ryse: Son of Rome is likely to be an epic spectacle of blood-coated iron, and that's OK.

Gornstein's addition to the conversation affirms that it's best to let go of any pretension. "The environment comes as a set of tools that you can vary the way you attack and execute your opponents," he says. "So you can smash their heads against the wall and what it is, it shows the character is able to improvise, use the environment around him to fight."

And so now we can all be at ease. When the chat focuses on fighting, the game takes clear shape. Elaborating on the combat, L'Heureux says, "When we started looking at Roman fighting, the first thing we did is study what the Romans were doing back then. And you start realizing quickly that the Romans fight in a very defensive way, which is not very heroic. So we start looking more into mixing different fighting styles. And at the end we realized that the more we were borrowing from different styles, the more rich the fighting was becoming. So for instance, we all know that with those crazy armors and swords, you don't just start jumping up in the air and doing a crazy flip, but we said at the beginning, 'oh no, we can't do this, we want to do something real, it has to be a true experience.' And at the end we realized, actually, it's still good to see Marius jumping in the air, and smashing his shield down at the barbarians, you see? So we starting exploring more ways of moving. We started to make things more flexible and we started borrowing movement from more fighting styles and made it more rich in the fighting."

It's when L'Heureux starts talking about the executions that Ryse's aspirations become most clear. "So say you have a guy in front of you… two, three, or four in front of you, and one guy coming, charging at you from the left back corner. And you can attack forward, going back, and you can do that seamlessly. And we created a quadrant system that allows the player to just actually target his opponent, and being able to keep that flow and that pressure as you're fighting. And of course, all that to bring down your enemies to a state where they're in a state of, pretty much, of being dead. Which leads to an extra level, where at that point you get into the execution."

The execution is the big thing.

"The execution is the big thing," L'Heureux says, "because a lot of people thought OK, an execution is just an execution. But actually within the execution itself, it goes actually deeper where you have a timing press that will actually give you rewards. So that as you're fighting, even during the execution, you still need to keep on going."

Indeed, the execution is the big thing, given a hero whose primary characteristic is that he can take a beating. I want to believe he really is a regular person, like you or me. But it seems that Marius Titus' softer side has a sharp, bloodied edge.

Discussion

269 comments
carloscanalesv
carloscanalesv

Gamespot will rate it badly due to gratitious violence & offensive portraying of women ;)

willishod
willishod

War in the ancient world was incredibly brutal and violent. So why is this game getting criticism for this when people have loved TV shows such as Starz's Spartacus and the film Gladiator for their representation of this in violent action scenes where gore was a major feature (not saying people only liked Gladiator for the action). The brutality of the combat in Ryse is meant to add to the atmosphere and immerse the player in the desperateness of war. It is meant to encourage the player to have an opinion and feel something about what they are doing. Those feelings may not always be pleasant but is it not more troubling that people constantly run down civilians and shoot police officers in GTA without any misgivings or feeling anything negative.

ahpuck
ahpuck

God of War's ugly little sister. I knew Ryse was a GoW ripoff, I just didn't know it was this much of a ripoff, that first trailer. I was laughing all through out. I rather play the real thing, actually, I'm tired of GoW, too.

nejijr
nejijr

I wanna see a actually gameplay not a trailer because trailers can make any game look good. This game is pretty and everything but to me the combat looks weird it does look like a fun game tho

Pupchu
Pupchu

How can people be excited over this..?! It's made by Crytek, a group of developers who only care for graphics.

iowastate
iowastate

the problem here is game that is geared towards toddlers is replacing three games that had fan bases of all ages.

first the Virtual Magic Kingdom then last month Pirates of the Caribbean online and Toontown were closed up by Disney and all three of these games were award winning MMOs that had people of all ages playing....thousands of paying subscribers, many if not most of them were families.

I personally know of people who grew up playing either Pirates or Toontown or both of these games spending much of their spare time from elementary or middle school on through to colllege years.

one girl started at 10 and got married less than a month before the games closed .      I played both games and there were people from all over the world on both.    Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Australia, China, India, South American, South Africa, U.K.

the veterans of the wide worlds of the older games are already disappointed in what we have seen on Infinity

phoenix5352
phoenix5352

I will buy a xbox one just for this game and the next halo.

isshiah
isshiah

This is the type of game I've always wanted to play. I loved wearing the roman type armour in the last two elder scrolls games.

masfima1
masfima1

This game is shaping up rather nicely imho

thall785
thall785

This game looks good 900p all you want fanboys but knack with all the power of gddr5 melted a ps4 and we've all seen it. i bet microsoft has the more durable console this time

Cronyk
Cronyk

this is either going to be incredibly good or incredibly mediocre..... fingers crossed its the former

mmamedic
mmamedic

I wish this was on PS4 also, I am not going to put a 24/7 camera in my house just for this game.

hippiesanta
hippiesanta

by judging at the topic ..... it sounds like Elton John on steroid

lorider25
lorider25

Graphics look good, but my gut is telling me it will be mediocre with QTE's I'm going to call it right now. 6/10

Alucard_Prime
Alucard_Prime

This will probably be the first game I run on my X1. Really want to see how it turns out.

apnance
apnance

Really love the idea of this game.  I hope the early naysaying is wrong.

huerito323
huerito323

This is actually the most interesting launch game of either console. I'm a sucker for the Roman times setting. 

dantcm
dantcm

A must buy for me. I am a long time fan of the Roman Civilization, and i will fully benefit from this game by immersing myself into it fully.

howiex89
howiex89

Looking forward to this. Hope they can pull it off. 

velvethammer2000
velvethammer2000

I'm actually really excited for this one. There's no question that this is the best looking launch game of either system... but I'm wondering what the gameplay will be.... So far the reviews have been mixed. Regardless it looks like it's worth a purchase.

fullyilly
fullyilly

I swear, there is no other game that has me as excited as this. 

Its so refreshing to see a game set in history rather than in fantasy. The story and characters look fantastic, as do the visuals that make them up. So epic.

Regarding the QTE issues, I have every faith that Crytek has listened to the complaints from the E3 demo, as lets be real about this, they are a business, they need to make money, so ignoring the opinion shared by seemingly everyone would make incredibly bad business sense.

I may well be wrong, but I genuinely feel that this game has got classic written all over it.

And as for that story trailer, good god, that was stunning. Crytek, I'm sure your engine is more than powerful enough to create a realtime version of this, so lets get a Ryse spin off in this breathtaking style please.





TashunkoSapa
TashunkoSapa

Yet we praise a game like Bioshock Infinite with original story and characters, but generic and tedious gameplay mechanics.

lilmcnessy
lilmcnessy

I've played it, it sucked. Constant quicktime events break immersion (although you don't have to do them but you do it anyway just to get rid of an enemy), characters get locked onto targets and it is hard to break the character from the combat and run away, camera angle issues and struggling to identify your character when you are surrounded and controls didn't make much sense.

Standalone88
Standalone88

I wonder,  how you can take this game seriously... after e3 presentation i still have bad memories... it was saving private rian's omaha beach episode, but with guys on wooden ships and in skirts and so i bet this game will totally be some blockbasters best moments copy...  who can fall on this...whoooooo)

focuspuller
focuspuller

@Pupchu I love guys that makes statements like this, as if to say graphics mean nothing to them. These are usually the same people who when they trash a game, they say "the graphics suck".


john1912
john1912

@mmamedic Your either stupid or have a really high opinion of yourself.  No one gives two shits about you.  No one wants to watch you play games, or listen to your worthless conversations.  Your not that important or interesting, I assure you.

Radnen
Radnen

@lorider25 Ryse doesn't have QTE's last I checked. The QTE's you remember were from an early demo at E3 because they hadn't finished the combat system yet.

apnance
apnance

@velvethammer2000 This game does look spectacular but I personally would give the best looking award to Titanfall atm.

cfscorpio
cfscorpio

Where did you play it? Also QTEs are a part of modern gaming. It's a way to make cinematic scripted sequences interactive. Did you have a problem with God of War's QTEs? They could have just had you hit one button and watch Kratos brutally slaughter on his own. Sounds like less fun to me.

cfscorpio
cfscorpio

Honestly that demo was pretty epic. Can't say it was fun to play because I haven't played it but it looked amazing.

howiex89
howiex89

@Standalone88 then gamespot came and impressions changed. but yeah stick to one old out dated presentation. 

Pupchu
Pupchu

@focuspuller @Pupchu If you played trough Crysis 1, 2 and 3 you'd know what i mean. Crytek's games are shallow.

thall785
thall785

@Cronyk @mmamedic why dont people get that they're already online 24/7 with a camera in their house that voice records?

josh7845
josh7845

@cfscorpio QTEs take away the organic nature of a video game and make the sequences feel heavily scripted and forced, thus breaking immersion. 

Pupchu
Pupchu

@focuspuller @Pupchu Bought the first one, got the second one as a birthday present a few years back, and i borrowed the third one.

focuspuller
focuspuller

@Cronyk @thall785 @mmamedic You mean kind of like that blinder that people put on when they buy a console even though console gaming in it's current form is out dated and PC gaming is a better quality and value even though those same console people pay more in the long run for less?

Cronyk
Cronyk

@thall785 @Cronyk @mmamedic People would "get" that they are already online 24/7 but they want their smartphones so bad they put a blinder on themselves. It's like a self-imposed state of ignorance. Problem is Kinect 1 didnt add anything to the gaming experience for the majority of people, so they feel free to bad mouth it. 

Ryse: Son of Rome More Info

First Release on Nov 22, 2013
  • Xbox One
Ryse is a gritty, visceral action game that draws gamers into the epic times of the Roman Empire.