Q&As// Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light: Producer, Forest Large

Posted 19 Jul 2010 17:30 by
We all remember Lara Croft as the third-person action game that took us through a behind-the-shoulders viewpoint of Lara Croft and her exploration of various locations of archaeological interest.

But as the Tomb Raider series matured over the years, things started to get stale, and thus was victim to rather awkward ways of modernising the franchise. Namely, Angel of Darkness. Even following Crystal Dynamics' excellent reboot with Tomb Raider Legend, the studio couldn't keep the momentum going - something producer Forest Large freely admits in regards to its last title, Underworld.

So, as we wait for a potential comeback of the 3D adventure game, Crystal Dynamics are exploring other ways to spice up the franchise. This is the first step - a digital download titled Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Taking on an isometric top-down view, players guide Lara and tribe leader Totec throughout many aztec-influenced locales and puzzles to beat an ancient force.

Forest Large is the producer on this new title, and was happy to answer some questions for SPOnG. Read on...

SPOnG: What's the setting and story behind Lara Croft's latest adventure?

Forest Large: Lara Croft has been in Central America in search of the ancient artifact known only as The Mirror of Smoke. Many years ago, an epic battle was waged for control of this mirror between the armies of good and evil.†The fearless leader Totec rose against all odds to defeat the evil overlord Xolotl and banished him from the world. Totec then entombed himself within the Temple of Light with the Mirror.

Fast forward to the present. Lara is in Central America, and after weeks of searching, she finally finds the long lost Temple of Light, but unbeknownst to her she had been followed by a mercenary called ĎVascoí who had been hired to retrieve the mirror.

Moments after Lara finds the Mirror, Vasco bursts into the room with his band of mercenaries. Vasco manages to steal the mirror from Lara, and within moments he is killed by Xolotl, who returned from his banishment with the Mirror now out of Totecís protection. Xolotl then flees the Temple of Light with the Mirror.

Lara and Totec must work together to find and defeat Xoltol before the sun rises, otherwise he will harness the power of mirror to plunge the world back into eternal darkness.

SPOnG: The Tomb Raider series has been met with apathy in recent years, and this game appears to be the first move in a 'reboot.' Why do you think this player apathy occurred, and how will Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light address that?

Forest Large: As for how the apathy occurred, I think there were a number of factors there. The franchise changed hands when it came over to Crystal Dynamics, and some of the fans were lost there. Also, the last game was not the critical success we had hoped it would be.

We read the reviews from the last game and took in the feedback from the fans and the public, and from there we decided what we wanted to do better, while also trying to create a whole new gameplay experience (co-op, isometric, digital). For this game, we wanted to be sure to nail pacing, improve combat, and have puzzles on a smaller scale so that every part of the puzzle can be seen on screen at once.

Since we were creating a game for the digital space, we also decided that we would focus on bite-sized gameplay chunks so every aspect of the game is more immediately accessible and pick-up-and-play, and put-down-and-pick-up-later. Even if a player is only able to fit in five minutes of playing, we wanted them to feel like they could accomplish something in those five minutes.

We changed the ways the teams were structured as well. We emphasized cross-disciplinary daily reviews so every team member provided input into all areas of the game, and I think this really helped to boost the overall quality of the game. Before we ever brought in external playtesters, we had been our own playtesters.

SPOnG: If Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is not being acknowledged as part of the main Tomb Raider series, what is the aim of developing this title?

Forest Large: To try new things! This is the first ever co-op with Lara Croft, and it is the first time we designed gameplay and art for an isometric camera. This is also our first Digital release. Really, this project was all about stretching ourselves and trying new things.

SPOnG: The game will feature an isometric viewpoint with arcade gameplay. Besides these changes, are we looking at gameplay and scenarios that we'd expect to find in a core Tomb Raider title, or are you going for a different experience here?

Forest Large: While keeping in the tradition of balancing puzzles, platforming, exploration, and combat, we wanted to make sure we delivered on each of these while tailoring this game for the digital space. As I mentioned, puzzles are not epic, and they are not cerebral, but more about experimenting with the environment to solve a puzzle through more action than thought.

Combat can get pretty frantic as we can get lots of enemies onscreen at once. It really is about a different experience but still honouring and showcasing what players love about games with Lara Croft.

SPOnG: The co-operative gameplay and isometric viewpoint seems like a very retro way of presenting the game. As ironic as this sounds, given that Tomb Raider in itself has inspired many contemporary games, has there been any retro games that have influenced your level and game design here?

Forest Large: We are fans of Contra and Gauntlet.

SPOnG: Is this the only Tomb Raider project in the pipeline to rebuild Lara's profile? Should we expect to see a full disc-based Tomb Raider game soon after?

Forest Large: I canít comment on that, but I can say we are committed to AAA pillar releases.

SPOnG: Tomb Raider is now a Square Enix franchise. What has the publisher transition been like, and has the acquisition affected the development or direction of the series?

Forest Large: Itís been great! We have been given a tremendous amount of support and encouragement not only from Square Enix Europe (our publisher), but Square Enix and Square Enix America as well.

Getting to exchange ideas with developers in the Square Enix group is fantastic. There is a lot of communication between studios, and already we have been comparing notes and sharing pro tips.

SPOnG: With the Tomb Raider series exploring the downloadable market, would there be a chance of re-releasing the original PlayStation One games onto the PlayStation Store or other platforms?

Forest Large: I havenít heard anything about that. It is an interesting ideaÖ.

SPOnG: Thank you for your time.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light will be hitting digital download platforms on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this Autumn.

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Spongbobster 20 Jul 2010 11:53
"Forest Large: I canít comment on that, but I can say we are committed to AAA pillar releases."

Why the non-committal answer I wonder? That's not exactly encouraging.
If they lost fans after Underworld, releasing a simplified retro handheld game is hardly going to reboot the franchise.

What's frustrating about Tombraider is seeing the other great games that have clearly been influenced by it but repeatedly being disappointed with how the original franchise seems to drift further and further away from what it used to do best in its failed attempts to match these newer superior titles.

I've got nothing against Crystal Dynamics, but it's difficult not to feel like Tombraider is a wasted resource languishing where it is while developers like Ubisoft, Naughty Dog and Rockstar continue to innovate and excite with their releases and demonstrate what could be done with it in the right hands.
TR Fan 27 Jul 2010 18:52

Releasing a simplified retro handheld game is hardly going to reboot the franchise,,!!???
whats with that??,,
are you even informing yourself,,??

its only a Spin off games ,,where they experiment on innovative ideas,,
and its wise coz its not so risky for them,,and
they are indeed creating TR9 FYI ,,

this little title allows the team to have more time creating the pillar games (TR9) to its perfection while leaving the fan not so bored waiting,,,,,,
and dont worry TR9 will not going to be an arcady style game,,its been confirmed,,

Wait until you saw TR9 comes and you might eat your word about them,,

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deleted 28 Jul 2010 21:59
The problem is Tomb Raider showed us what could be done with 3D gaming al`a PS1, remember your first time standing upon the Pyramid and T Rex appearance, playing it now with its major glitches and tearing graphics is terrible but back then a sense of wonderment and grandeur was obtained along with teh ability to move in a 3D space, hunting peices of puzzles and run and jump timing it was great, sadly its we have gotten used to lush graphics and a wonderful environments, just look to gears or mass effect etc, but games like Uncharted have recaptured that sense of exploration in massive environments with the action working perfectly, i just wonder why Tomb raider cant get its feet back on the ground where the last actual good game was Tomb Raider 2!!
TC 30 Jan 2011 04:54
I don't like isometric games at all! I was looking forward to a great adventure and instead got a sims version of Tomb Raider. Please bring back the down to the 3d ground effects that we loved over the years!
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