My first honest reaction to Crytek's announcement that Ryse was coming to PC was that it must be a quick way to generate some revenue after all its recent troubles. That's not the case, according to senior producer Brian Chambers.
During a hands-on demo I asked Chambers about the decision to bring the game to PC and whether it was simply a ruse to rustle up some fast cash. "Revenue is always good," was the reply. "But at the same time we've been working on this for months, it's nothing we've pulled together. I've personally been on this project as a senior producer for months."
While it is the same game mechanically – the console-styled combat adapted adequately to a mix of left/right mouse button attacks and space bar blocks – there's been plenty of work from a more technical perspective. "It's important that it's not just a port," says Brian. "We didn't go, 'let's just shove it on PC and be done.' We dug into it and did a lot on the engineering side to actually get it to 4K. So it's the first 4K game to come out of Crytek."
On top of the pixel boost there has been other technical improvements, he explains: "We've dug in on the technical side as far as the anti-aliasing approaches we've taken. We've come up with new solutions, SSAA – or Super Sampling and Anti Aliasing. We've done other things such as native UI resolutions so you can scale it however and everything still looks crisp and clean. And then, as you would expect on PC, we've made it so that it's all configurable so the user can tweak the settings as they need to work best with the hardware that they have."
But the idea that this might be a quickly ported cash-grab is something Chambers understands given the recent funding issues that saw Crytek's UK and US developers go unpaid and ended in the closure of Crytek UK, huge restructuring of its Austin Studio (effectively closing it too) and the sale of the Homefront 2 IP to Deep Silver.
"We knew we were going through a period where we were making choices to transition to self publishing and games as a service. We were well aware that the transition was going to be felt a little bit."
"We were aware what was going on," says Chambers of the troubles, although being based in the company's Frankfurt office he was unaffected. "We knew we were going through a period where we were making choices to transition to self-publishing and games as a service. We were well aware that the transition was going to be felt a little bit. The communication was there and we were aware of the situation." It's a different message to what's been said by Crytek UK employees who allegedly cited a lack of communication on numerous occasions. "It's hard for me to speak directly on that not being in the studio," he replies.
The reasons behind the issues have been the 'transition' to a free-to-play model with "games as a service" according to Crytek co-founder and CEO Cevat Yerli. It's something Chambers thinks could be a more stable prospect for studios in the future. "It's a different approach" he says. "I've been doing this for 20 years. You know: one and done and it's on the shelf. You high-five and have a party and you move on to the next and grind on that for a few years – working with the publisher and getting milestone payments."
That has its risks, with rising costs meaning games that don't hit targets can quickly put a studio in serious jeopardy. (The recent closure of Airtight Studios has been largely attributed to the poor sales of its last title, Murdered: Soul Suspect.) "In those scenarios if a game is not successful and doesn't sell well, the studio's not seeing the back end, whatever deal they had set up," says Chambers. "They're also not then prepped in a positive way to grab that next project potentially, because now people may look at them and say 'oh, well that last game didn't sell so well, why should we come to you?'"
As he points out: "developers build games out of passion, but the other side of it is a business. You invest money and hope to get a return. If that game doesn't sell what are you left with? I've seen a lot of studios that's happened to; they're out of cash."
The idea of "games as a service" could potentially then offer another solution if players of free-to-play titles "slowly put in a little bit of payment that could turn into a steady stream of revenue that's fairly solvent," he explains. "That's ideally what you want. That's going to pay the bills, that's going to keep the lights on and then anything on top of that would enable you to make some risks or try something new."