A couple of days ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nicolas Schulz, principal rendering engineer at Crytek’s main studio in Frankfurt. Nicolas shared with us some new information about the PC version of Ryse and CRYENGINE itself. In addition, Nicolas shared some of his thoughts regarding current-gen consoles and PCs . Kudos also to Crytek’s Jens as without him this interview wouldn’t be possible. Enjoy!
DSOGaming: Before we begin, please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Nicolas Schulz: Hello everyone, my name is Nicolas Schulz, I am a principal rendering engineer at Crytek’s main studio in Frankfurt. During the development of Ryse: Son of Rome for Xbox One and later on for PC, I was to a large degree in charge of the rendering technology used for the game.
DSOGaming: Crysis 3 was nominated as our most optimized PC title in 2013. Will the PC version of Ryse: Son of Rome be up to the standards set by your previous game, and can we expect even more PC graphical options to tweak/adjust this time around?
Nicolas Schulz: To achieve the quality level that we desired on the Xbox One, we had to continue optimizing the engine after shipping Crysis 3. Techniques like SSDO or Realtime Local Reflections are a fundamental part of the Ryse rendering pipeline and we had to make them efficient enough to run well on lower spec hardware. We are making heavy use of some DX11 features like Compute Shaders, which however, perform better on some hardware architectures than others, so there will be some noticeable performance gaps between different desktop GPUs. Regarding the available custom graphics options, they are similar to what we had in Crysis 3.
DSOGaming: Crysis 3 PC is still considered one of the most beautiful games on any platform. So, do you consider the PC version of Ryse: Son of Rome to be on par with – or even surpass – Crysis 3 PC?
Nicolas Schulz: Ryse represents the latest evolutionary step of CRYENGINE and we improved our rendering pipeline in almost any respect during the transition to the next generation. While Ryse is naturally more advanced from a technology perspective, Crysis 3 has a very beautiful and unique artistic style, so it is up to everyone to decide by themselves which visuals they prefer.
DSOGaming: Can you go into more tech details about the graphical features of Ryse: Son of Rome? (number of simultaneous light sources, Parallax Occlusion Mapping and Screen Space Reflections support, whether it will have a full dynamic shadowing system, Global Illumination solutions, what size textures do you use on the highest settings, how many polygons are your average and most detailed characters, etc.)
Nicolas Schulz: One of the major upgrades that we made for Ryse is the transition to Physically Based Shading (PBS) which helped us to achieve more believable surface materials. This transition meant fundamental changes not only to our rendering pipeline but also to our entire asset creation and lighting workflows. Indirect lighting including reflections is an essential contribution for PBS, so Screen Space Reflections in combination with environment probes have become an integral part of the rendering pipeline. Due to the vastly increased memory on the new consoles, we were able to increase our texture resolution to an average of 512 texels per meter, compared to 256 texels per meter in Crysis 3. Polygon counts for in-game characters are around 40K for the first LOD and going up to 85K for hero characters.
DSOGaming: Tech wise, what’s the key graphical feature of Ryse: Son of Rome that you are mostly proud of?
Nicolas Schulz: Besides the quality of surface materials and character faces in particular, there are also some great advances in realtime simulation. All of the Romans have simulated cloth and Marius has a plenty of physicalized details on his armor that behave convincingly as the player moves.
DSOGaming: CRYENGINE rivals Unreal Engine 4, Frostbite, Dunia, FoxEngine and AnvilNext. Do you feel that it has what it takes to rival them? What’s your future plans for it tech wise? And what new graphical features will you introduce in order to give developers the tools to create truly next-gen visuals?
Nicolas Schulz: With the Crysis series and Ryse we have shipped some of the arguably most advanced titles in respect to technology, so CRYENGINE has definitely proven to be a very powerful engine. Besides further enhancements to the overall image quality, a major focus will be on workflows and pipelines to make the engine more accessible to everyone and improve production times.
DSOGaming: Ryse: Son of Rome will support Mantle. Can you tell us the benefits of using AMD’s latest API? Do you believe it can co-exist with DX12 that is almost upon us?
Nicolas Schulz: Ryse is entirely based on DX11 and is shipping without Mantle support but this won’t have any negative impact on the experience.
DSOGaming: On September 4th, you announced the PC system requirements for Ryse: Son of Rome. A lot of our readers were troubled about the recommended VRAM requirement (4GB of VRAM). According to Marcel Hatam, however, 4GB of VRAM are recommended for 4K gaming. So what kind of GPU (and VRAM) will PC gamers need for 1080p at max settings?
Nicolas Schulz: That depends a lot on what framerate you want to achieve. For 60 FPS you will definitely need a high-end GPU. For 30 FPS our recommended GPU configurations will be sufficient. Regarding VRAM, we adjust our texture pool based on the available graphics memory. While the maximum pool size is used with 3 GB of VRAM, 2 GB are enough to achieve great quality. Below that, we have to downscale some of the heavy textures a bit.
DSOGaming: Ryse: Son of Rome was timed exclusive to Xbox One and ran at 900p and 30fps. The PC version, on the other hand, will support 4K and 60fps. Do you believe that current-gen consoles (Xbox One and PS4) are far behind high-end PCs? And did Xbox One limit the things you could achieve with Ryse? Would the game look more beautiful and more impressive if it was developed as a PC exclusive title as the original Crysis was back in the days?
Nicolas Schulz: The current generation of high-end GPUs is unfortunately still far from being able to reach 60 FPS at 4K resolution. Please keep in mind that with 4K versus 1080p, you have four times the amount of pixels that need to be shaded. This is very quickly saturating the available bandwidth. The consoles are clearly behind high-spec GPUs in terms of raw horsepower, however on the positive side, they share the same modern architecture which enables a wealth of interesting optimization techniques. Due to the console differences we had to work a bit harder on the final optimizations but I’m happy that we never had to sacrifice any visual quality.
DSOGaming: Xbox One’s architecture is said to be similar to the PC. Which obviously brings the question: was it easier to bring Ryse from Xbox One to the PC than – let’s say – a game from X360 to PC? And did this architectural similarity give you the means to further optimize the PC version of the game?
Nicolas Schulz: The similarity does definitely help, although back then the Xbox 360 and its graphics API were not that far from PC either. CRYENGINE being a multi-platform engine made the port relatively easy, especially since we always maintained a PC version for production and development. Most of the optimizations that we made for the Xbox One version do greatly help on PC as well.
DSOGaming: The first Crysis game was a title with unbelievable (for its time) visuals and physics. And while Crysis 3 looks incredible, it did not feel as ground-breaking – visually – as the original part. Will you ever create a similar game that will push the graphical boundaries to new heights or do you feel that something like what Crysis achieved back in 2007 is not possible today?
Nicolas Schulz: I think with its advances in material quality, lighting and the quality of facial animations, Ryse is extending the boundaries of realtime graphics quite a bit again. Generally though, as opposed to the times of the original Crysis, we as an industry have reached a quality level now where it is getting increasingly more difficult to really wow people. That said, there’s still enough areas to explore and we will definitely keep pushing the boundaries as much as possible.
DSOGaming: Lately, we’ve seen titles suffering from noticeable pop-in of objects. While some games have higher LOD levels, every game – more or less – suffers from it. What’s really puzzling us is that while dynamic tessellation basically solves this problem by varying the level of detail on the fly, no one has ever used it. What’s your opinion on dynamic tessellation and have you experimented with it in order to eliminate object popping?
Nicolas Schulz: Hardware tessellation does help with the polygon density problem to some degree but we also have other performance metrics to look at, like the number of drawcalls. For LOD meshes we are usually not just reducing the triangle count but also merge materials and submeshes to reduce drawcalls and improve the rendering costs on the CPU.
DSOGaming: Will Ryse: Son of Rome feature a FOV slider, as well as an option to enable/disable mouse acceleration/smoothing?
Nicolas Schulz: We won’t have a FOV slider as the field of view is adjusted dynamically by the game’s camera system. On the input side you have control over the mouse sensitivity.
DSOGaming: Thank you very much for the interview, any last words you want to share with our fans?
Nicolas Schulz: Not rendering related, but if you get the opportunity to play Ryse I’d say it’s very rewarding to master the finer points of the combat system and try to perfect your timing as you flow from one enemy to the next – that way you’ll earn maximum rewards, as well as maximum satisfaction!
John is the founder and Editor in Chief at DSOGaming. He is a PC gaming fan and highly supports the modding and indie communities. Before creating DSOGaming, John worked on numerous gaming websites. While he is a die-hard PC gamer, his gaming roots can be found on consoles. John loved – and still does – the 16-bit consoles, and considers SNES to be one of the best consoles. Still, the PC platform won him over consoles. That was mainly due to 3DFX and its iconic dedicated 3D accelerator graphics card, Voodoo 2. John has also written a higher degree thesis on the “The Evolution of PC graphics cards.”