Geoffrey Long
Ryse: Sword of Damocles   Ryse: Sword of Damocles   Ryse: Sword of Damocles
The challenge

One of my last projects at Microsoft Studios was a digital interactive graphic novel for the Xbox One launch title Ryse: Fall of Rome. How could a digital comic make a meaningful transmedia connection to a console video game?

The solution

The Narrative Design team partnered with IDW to produce Ryse: Sword of Damocles as both a physical print comic book and a digital webcomic. Given the short turnaround time and limited resources available for this project, we kept our ambitions relatively humble, while still experimenting with the form. By the time the project was finished, we had built three central innovations into the digital comic.

First, we inverted the approach usually taken by most digital comics when zooming into a panel-by-panel "close reading" (what Comixology calls "Guided View"). Instead of a "pan and scan" approach, where a virtual camera moves across the existing art created for the print comic, we treated each panel of the print comic as a window into a bigger "widescreen" experience. Every panel was created to fill the screen on a tablet device, and that art was then cropped down to fit the panels in the print edition. As a result, when going into the panel-by-panel view, the user would actually see more art.

Second, we tinkered with extremely subtle animations and effects in the comic. We felt that a core experience of comics was the user's being able to control the speed of the experience themselves, which was something that motion comics tended to violate, but we did want to include some kind of richer animation. So we left the control of the panel-to-panel transitions in the hands of the reader, but we built in some very subtle animations (like passing clouds) that would be charming without disrupting the user's immersion.

Third, and perhaps most interesting from a transmedia mechanics point of view, we expanded on a mechanic previously used by Fable to tie the console games to a series of casual games. Before Fable III launched, gamers could play a series of "Pub Games" on XBox LIVE. Any gold the gamer earned in these games would be available to the gamer when they booted up Fable III for the first time. We wanted to experiment with a similar mechanic for this project, so we effectively turned the comic into a hidden object game. When the reader spotted a golden object glinting in the background of a panel, they could tap on it and be rewarded with gold added to their account, Fable-style, in the game.

For Ryse: Sword of Damocles, I not only served as the transmedia designer, I also storyboarded out the entire first issue so we could convey our vision for the experience to the eventual artist without feeling too prescriptive. Those deliberately ludicrous Marvin the Martian-style sketches in the behind-the-scenes art at the end? Yep. All me.

Ryse: Sword of Damocles premiered at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, which checked a very cool item off my personal bucket list.

The team
Story Rich Bryant & Robert Ferrigno
Art & Front Cover Sami Makkonen
Colors Esther Sanz
Letters Gilberto Lazcano
Edits Tom Waltz
Executive Producers Rod Lopez & Dana Fos
Narrative Design Director Eric Nylund
Technical Innovation Lead Producer Beth Dmetrescu
Technical Innovation Producer Elbert Perez
Art Director Chad Greene
Production Designer Claire Hummel
Transmedia Designer Geoffrey Long
Executive Sponsor Ben Cammarano



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