What goes on within huge teams of artists, developers, and managers? What are the ups and downs of game development? What challenges are associated with a new generation of hardware and graphics? Revelations of Ryse is a short series that aims to provide an inside look at the development, teams, and planning of Crytek’s Xbox One release title Ryse: Son of Rome, due November 22nd 2013.
Yannick Boucher is one of the Project Managers for Ryse. Games have always been his biggest passion, and with a funny twist of fate his hometown of Montreal became one of the main game development hubs in the world, paving the way for his videogame career. He then joined Crytek in 2012 because he wanted to be part of a team that really pushes the limits of quality in their games.
Project Management for Ryse (and any game for that matter) is a long, winding road with many twists and turns. “It’s all about good communication and tracking,” Yannick begins. “Making sure that the information flows freely through the team; making sure that each department is aware of what the other departments need from them so that the production can run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. On Ryse it’s a very broad-ranging role, which means I somehow end up having my hands in many jars at the same time; every day is different for sure.”
“The bulk of my job is about interacting with the leads, directors, and other managers, so all in all it’s a little over a dozen people,” he continues. “We have regular ‘sync’ meetings together, where we let everybody else know what our department is working on and what we need. We keep track of our work, our needs, and our dependencies in a central location, and we keep updating the group as necessary. One basic way to make sure we communicate effectively is to not rely too much on emails. If a thread starts going on for too long, it’s time to get up and talk face to face.”
To stimulate important things such as productivity, communication, and team spirit, the entire Ryse team gathers every Monday to show off what amazing work they have done throughout the previous week. “It makes everyone proud of their work and aware of everybody else’s awesome work,” Yannick smiles. “We use that time to talk about our goals for the coming days and weeks. That’s just one example. We also make use of an internal sort of social network, where everybody is encouraged to post their work-in-progress or random experiments they’ve been doing, and get some feedback on it. It’s a really cool, informal way to bounce ideas off one another.”
The fact that Ryse is being developed for new hardware is not only pushing the boundaries of the teams involved, but also the boundaries of time. “Usually I need to have the latest information so that what I communicate to the group is accurate,” says Yannick. “But things move so fast when you’re producing a game, and sometimes some elements or some decisions will fall through the cracks, or won’t have been thoroughly thought out. It’s part of my job to catch these and make sure they are addressed and communicated properly. Also, since there are so many different challenges to tackle, being able to prioritize is definitely key.”
Dealing with the unknown territory of a new console and a new game brings its own set of challenges along. “Ryse is a big combination of ‘new’ for Crytek: new IP, new console, new type of gameplay – since it’s not an FPS – and a new team. Making all these things come together and work smoothly is a challenge in that all of this is running and growing at the exact same time. That means that we sometimes need to tackle the challenges associated with each of these elements all at the same time. It’s a bit like laying out the canvas at the same time as you’re painting.”
But challenges are a healthy part of development and ensure that Ryse will be the immersive gaming experience the team and Crytek are aiming for. “There’s a lot of really amazing things to love about Ryse,” Yannick says. “For starters, thanks to our new version of the CRYENGINE and our incredibly talented artists and coders, we are pushing the Xbox One’s graphics capabilities beyond anything that’s ever been seen, right out of the gate. Our main character, Marius Titus, is possibly the most detailed main protagonist in any game. Our character models are incredibly detailed, with some of the most advanced facial animations ever seen in video games. Our environments are gorgeous. We have really solid combat mechanics coupled with our unique cinematic executions that will really make you feel connected to the battle. All of this is wrapped in an intricate and intriguing story of revenge, featuring an unforgettable cast of historical characters!”
With such praise, will Ryse be a successful project in Yannick’s book? “Ha, the million dollar question,” he laughs. “The official project manager answer is that a successful project has to be shipped ‘on time, within budget, and with the intended scope/quality’. And while this is true, and it does apply to games we make, there are many other factors that make a project successful; one of the main ones is ‘what are we learning, what have we learned?’. The more we can share our experience and our skills with one another, the more successful we’ll be on this project and the next. So yes, Ryse will definitely be a success for us! A successful project is also one where we learn, often through trial and error, what are the best ways to deliver an awesome game. So we do our best to share our findings and to always keep them close, so that we’ll always get better and better as individuals and as a team. And of course, we need to have fun! We signed up to work in the videogame industry because as hard as it is to make a game, it’s also a lot of fun. Personally I like to lighten up the mood whenever I can!”
“To me, being able to see the bigger picture of the project, of the game, as you’re interacting with a lot of different people making it come together – that’s the best part of my job. The fact that I’m working on very different kinds of issues from day to day means there’s never a dull moment!”