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.
Jason Hickey is the Lead Environment Artist for Ryse. He played RPGs with his twin brother from a very young age onwards, and it was their childhood dream to make games together one day. After studying Animation in college, they both got a job at a small gaming studio, after which Jason moved on to Crytek.
“My role changes dramatically depending on what stage of productions we’re at,” he says. “Aside from some art direction responsibilities I mainly make sure that my team has all they need to create beautiful environments and that the rest of the Ryse team has what they need from our department to be able to do their jobs properly. I also spend a lot of time checking the quality of our assets, making style guides, and ensuring that our work contributes to making Ryse the most beautiful game on the market.”
“The team consists of a bunch of industry experts, and everyone displays extremely high quality. When they are given a task it’s really not that hard to direct them to do amazing work. We communicate a lot with each other to solve problems and mentor each other. Every new artist is assigned a mentor so that they can learn the game plus the tools of their trade and integrate into the team. I always try to make sure everyone is happy with their work, their role, their seating position, and their peers.”
“As a Lead it’s always a juggle between keeping on top of everything, spotting potential problems in the future, and taking action to make sure we tackle these problems as a team; ideally before anyone realizes there is a problem. If I’m doing my job properly I’m keeping the team motivated and making sure we’re as productive as possible whilst still having fun!”
The interdisciplinary aspect of Ryse and working at Crytek is ensuring just that. “The reward you get for solving your team’s problems – whether personal or professional – is fantastic,” Jason smiles. “Pushing people to achieve their potential and helping artists grow is something few people get to do, and it’s really worth all the hard work you put into the job. You get to see how your work and effort can pull the team through difficult times. You also get to see your ideas come to life. You come up with ideas together and watch as their talent puts it into reality. The artists here at Crytek are incredible and the overall quality is outstanding. I also enjoy working with the other disciplines. As a Lead you get to see other aspects like cinematics and design, and you really feel you have a positive impact on the project; sharing your ideas and seeing the best of them make it into the final game.”
Crytek’s art standard is a high one, and it’s up to Jason to make sure his artists reach their potential within that standard. “I really want to make sure the artists all feel comfortable with their schedule and workload. Managing everyone’s expectations and cultures means you have to be able to listen and be understanding in any situation. I’m always second-guessing myself if I have done the best for the guys in terms of direction, quality control, and management.”
“Concerning Ryse, my biggest challenge was getting such a large team on the same page to make sure we had a consistent product. Personally, this was my first Lead job on a project of this scale and ambition, so it was an extra challenge! But in the end the team here is incredible and once we were all on the same page it totally worked out; I learned a lot about game development. We had and have highly ambitious goals and we had to make it work on a completely new console, with incredibly detailed environments and in a genre which Crytek hadn’t done before.”
Seeing everything fall into place during the final stages of development was the real prize for Jason. “Ryse is absolutely beautiful,” he says. “The characters, the environments, the lighting and all the details are incredible. It’s a visually stunning game that realizes Rome in a totally new way. […] And the cinematics are really cool: the camera work is movie quality. At times I forget I’m watching a game! The execution moves make me laugh, because they’re so awesome to watch with lots of variation among them. It makes me, and hopefully the players, feel very awesome.”