An evening with Crystal Dynamics and Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider, a pretty historic game full of fond memories for all of us, but over the years it’s lost its way a bit with each title losing a bit more of its charm along the tiring road of sequel after sequel. With this problem in mind Crystal Dynamics set about creating a fresh take on Lara Croft, adding some realism and giving Lara back her edge Christopher Nolan style.
However, the newest entry into the series didn’t start out as a reboot, I now know this as I was lucky enough to attend a rather cosy Bafta event where a lucky few were treated to an exploration into the world of Tomb Raider’s development. Lead by Darrell Gallagher and Creative Director Noah Hughes of Crystal Dynamics, a small studio from california who have been in charge of the Tomb Raider series since 2003, it was clear they were set on making a sequel to the average Tomb Raider:Underworld initially however it soon became obvious that this would be a fruitless carbon copy. They were stuck, that is until they gathered some inspiration from Hollywood, as just around this time the reboot was becoming the next big thing with huge titles like Casino Royale and Batman Begins becoming smash hits.
“Bond and Batman faced the same challenges as us, They were iconic characters who had to be refreshed and modernised for a new generation. These stories were a reaffirmation to us, that we could do this.”
This idea of re-inventing Tomb Raider and Lara herself wasn’t an alien concept as Crystal Dynamics had produced a hugely succesful and yet hugely different Tomb Raider experience in the form of Guardian of Light
“We took some really odd steps with it. It still had the Tomb Raider DNA, but it was a top-down dual-stick shooter. We loved working on it and the reaction of fans showed us that people were ready for something new. That was very encouraging.”
This has so far turned out to be the direction that Lara needed, a re-infusion of life bringing her up to date with titles like Uncharted and Assassins Creed.
After the welcome exploration into the world of Crystal Dynamics and Tomb Raider’s new genesis, a handful of fans were ready and armed with some questions for Noah and Darrell as well as the games script writer Rhianna Pratchett.
Did you ever feel obliged to add Multiplayer into a previously solo campaign exclusive title and was this because everyone else was doing it?
We didn’t feel obligated to do anything at all, we only wanted to make a great game and do what’s was right for the title. This wasn’t Tomb Raider’s first steps into Multiplayer as we initially tried that first with Guardian of Light. We wanted to do something different and it worked and that journey gave us the tools to take multiplayer through to Tomb Raider. This was no obligation it’s just where we were already going, we didn’t want a title just to say here’s the Halo Killer and neither did we want a Multiplayer experience at the expense of the single player adventure, but this has new edges with traps and map traversal, it’s just another step in the evolution of Tomb Raider.
How do you handle character progression differently?
Using Hubs along with finding new gear and physical progression they all show a change over time. Hubs would give players a reminder of the overall emotional state, with the settings changing to the mood. Injuries affect gameplay too so we don’t just show you that Lara is injured, we make you feel like she’s not 100%. Building her skill set was a challenge as the pace had to satisfy a film style, giving enough action and adventure yet maintaining a speed that didn’t remove important steps that Lara had to experience and take in order to grow.
Why choose Rhianna for the writing role?
Hiring a writer is stressful, we worked with a lot of very talented writers but no one caught Lara right, even though they were good story tellers. Rhianna’s first tests just seemed to click and we quickly aligned with a Lara that has a voice
How do you deal with the violence in the game, essentially creating a disconnected narrative?
I think you have to realise it’s a game first and foremost, so there’s a small amount of forgiveness there and it’s an active medium so people expect to be active within it. We try to make the whole experience cohesive with the narrative through character reactions and essentially we’re just trying to create some escapism, it suspends your disbelief. It’s not real and that’s ok, were not making a Documentary
We tried to bridge that distance from narrative by changing Lara, no more of that little miss quip attitude and every kill feels serious, even down to her first animal kill. It shocks her and she finds it hard to deal with. Throughout she wrestles with the idea that she can’t take that action back.
By adding a fair amount of spoon-feeding in this new Tomb Raider would you say your dumbing it down and why?
We’re playing a balancing act all the time and for some people it just wont pan out, we’ve tried to balance it for our hardcore fans while making sure no one is stuck in the same area for two hours. I’m sorry for any fans we may lose along the way but we feel like we’ve done our best at making a balanced game. All features are of course opt in, such as the map for example. If you need or want it, which some gamers will, then it’s there. We did our best to appeal to both types of gamer, there are secrets throughout, places we don’t tell you about. If you want to get lost, we can’t find you if you don’t want to be found.
So after a great night with Lara it’s clear that Tomb Raider is going to be one of the biggest if not most interesting game released this year and will mark a great step forward in the franchise.
What do you think? Excited to see a brand new Lara for 2013, or sad at the editing of a gaming icon? Let us know in the comments below!