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.
Harald Zlattinger is a Senior Technical Artist for Ryse. He always wanted to work with computers, so he specialized in multimedia and soon realized that technical tasks and 3D modeling was most comfortable to him. Having had an interest in videogames from a very early age, it seemed like the logical choice to start working in that industry. Harald first worked on BattleForge at Electronic Arts, and then moved to Crytek’s Ryse team, following his passion to improve games’ visual quality.
As a Senior Technical Artist, Harald is mainly responsible for the technical aspects of animations in Ryse. “Every day is completely different,” Harald explains. “There are days where I can fully focus on tools for animators, days where I am more like a full-time support and service provider for people in need, or other days where I spend a lot of time with the coders developing and iterating on new features which an animation-heavy next-gen game like Ryse needs. For a new feature to get added to the engine, Tech Art means helping out with planning the feature and providing test assets. All in all it’s very exciting and there are surprises every day.”
“This variety in my work makes it such a good position, and being responsible for huge parts of the game is very satisfying and a big reward when everything comes together and all the efforts show. I am given a lot of responsibilities and this involves working with many people from different areas. I have to work together with animators, character artists, environment artists, level designers, programmers, or the effects department. There are always overlaps and situations that have to be solved as a group of individuals. This makes the job also more challenging because you have to be prepared for the different needs of all the areas you are dealing with – from creative to very technical.”
Having a large team and working on a rather sizeable project means that a certain team structure is required in order to be successful. “The keywords are ‘ownership’ and ‘communication’: the better the communication works, the easier the collaboration will be. Sometimes we use the skills of some people to plan and delegate, while others can spend their time in creating assets or features. People are generally responsible for what has been assigned, but at one point the work overlaps and everyone will work together, especially when there is a lot of tech involved in certain tasks.”
“There is no room for being a lone wolf in a game production,” Harald continues. “Even the most separated task will not and cannot be done alone. Tasks can sound simple and easy to achieve but in the end require a lot of time, effort, and knowledge. Delegating parts of your work when you own an aspect of the game is essential. Managers for the teams learn to figure out the skills of each individual and try to split up the work in the most efficient way. If you can work on something you like, you will be happy at work. If you are happy with your work, you don’t even perceive it as work. These are very idealistic thoughts and in a game production you will of course do a lot more than only tasks you like, but this shows why figuring out the skills and favors of each team member is so important.”
Although – like any other job – Harald faces certain challenges, he chooses to see them in a positive way. “Of course a project of this size has its specific challenges,” he says. “Whether it is thinking of a good directory structure for organizing all the files, planning tools for characters or whether it is planning how much time you spend on tools, new tech or support, you always have to plan ahead sometimes without knowing in which direction a project goes.”
“Everyone also needs to be on the same page in the end,” Harald continues. “This sounds very trivial but can be challenging. Often even the same words can mean something very different in another area of the game. As a Technical Artist you have to understand all the meanings of the same words chosen by different departments. Especially when communicating something to two different departments at the same time, it can get very confusing. But we have great teams working on Ryse, and everyone’s communication and working process has been fine-tuned for a great workflow, so these challenges are perfectly manageable!”
“Pushing the games into next-gen means that each part of the game requires more memory, so the challenge was to have some characters play the same animations but add variation with different techniques like additive or partial layered animations, to make them move differently. We ended up merging character skeletons and changing the behavior of others. The team can be proud of what’s been achieved here.”
Having seen the development of Ryse so closely, Harald is most impressed with how the game has turned out. “When I think about outstanding features I think of the facial technology, the combat system, and the beautiful graphics,” he smiles. “Ryse’s faces have very high detail, beautiful shaders, and supporting features like blendshapes and wrinkle maps. And the best about that is that we are using the same faces throughout the game as we are using within the cinematic sequences. We have them all running in real-time, which makes the combat more believable and mixes into a very rewarding and immersive experience.”
“Crytek is known for the graphics quality in their games. The boundary is always pushed further and each game looks even better. Our art and level design team really did its best to make the visual experience a very pleasant one. One day I was walking by a PC where I saw a scaffolding still. At first I thought this is a reference picture until some birds flew by the camera. This was when I realized I was looking at a portion of the level in our engine. Most of our assets have such high quality and believable textures; it looks very realistic and pretty. On top of that I like the story a lot and cinematic sequences really bring the story across in a way known only from movies. I am looking forward to immersing into the world of Ryse myself!”