Interviews// Tomb Raider, Part 1: The Origins

Posted 21 Aug 2012 16:42 by
Crystal Dynamics has proven once already that it has the chops to reboot the Tomb Raider franchise, with 2006?s Legend. After a successful quadrilogy of exploration and artifact-searching, the Californian studio now wants to make the series its own. So it is going for another reboot - one that?s much more dramatic.

Controlling a young Lara Croft, before she makes the leap to becoming the titular ?Tomb Raider?, this origin story seems to spend a lot of time focusing on the rather unfortunate situations that befall the heroine. In actual fact, the entire segment forms a very small portion of the game - the first hour or so.

Global Brand Director, Karl Stewart, spoke to me at Gamescom at length about the fresh new direction for the franchise.

SPOnG: Could you give us a brief overview of what you?re showing at Gamescom?

Karl Stewart: What we?re showing is what we call ?the crossroads? or ?breaking points? of the journey. We?ve spent the best part of the last two years introducing the fact that this game is an origin story. The player is taken on this adventure where we take this young, innocent girl and bring her to the point where she?s no longer Lara Croft by name, but Lara Croft by nature. She?s an adventure hero.

And to get to that end point - that moment where you feel powerful - we bring the player through this particular introductory arc. Last year we showed how she?s thrust into this situation on the island, shipwrecked, left for dead - and gameplay-wise it teaches you about the building blocks of the world. Who she was, and really how she has to escape from these scavengers who want to kill her.

Now, we move you to a point in time where she?s managed to break free from that first situation, but now she needs to move inland and see if there are any survivors. She starts to learn and grow as a character. She has to hunt, and the game introduces you to the XP system, which has a light RPG feel to it.

We also start to introduce you to the real turning point, where she has to kill for the first time. And rather than just plonk the character in this situation, give her two guns and say, ?you?re a cold blooded killer?, we want the player to feel like they?re engaged with the character, see how she?s motivated to do things.

When she kills for the first time, it?s quite a horrific moment. It really is through the breaking point of the character, where she has to be motivated for the rest of the game to save her friends. So it?s a very powerful piece of content that, to us, really sets up the first hour of the game, to the point where you now know that she?s going to become this action adventure hero. But it?s not just about giving her two guns. It?s about taking her on a journey.

SPOnG: So this all takes place in the first hour? It must have been a difficult balance, when making an origins story - to spend time re-introducing the character without focusing on it so much that you end up boring the player.

Karl Stewart: Yeah, it?s a balance. As you say, you want to get the player into the game. You want to have fun, be the action adventure hero, fight to survive, learn how the combat system works and so on. So it is a fine balance. Originally, we probably had this segment at about 90 minutes - it came down to 30 minutes and then it came back up to an hour.

As you constantly build the game and iterate, you find that balance naturally - to be able to say how much is too much, and how little is not enough. It?s taken us a while to get there, but we believe it?s the right amount of time now to be able to engage you enough.

E3 2012
E3 2012
SPOnG: Most game developers - even yourselves with past Tomb Raider titles - show a lot more of their games then you have with this one. In the last couple of years, you?ve only teased us the first hour or so. Is there a particular reasoning behind that?

Karl Stewart: We?ve spent a long time creating this vision, and from the day I started, I?ve felt that rather than just showing everything, we communicate as broadly as possible. In the past, it?s been a case of presenting a game at a show and expecting everybody to have seen it, showing brand new stages or elements with each consecutive show. And that?s not the case - it takes a long time to get a message out, to make sure that people understand the vision.

And it?s so important to ensure that happens now, as we re-imagine a much-loved franchise. It?s not about rushing it out the door. It?s about communicating the right pillars, and making sure people understand that we love Tomb Raider and we?ve made sure the formula of Tomb Raider is there. We?re trying to create something unique and special. That takes time to digest and understand. It?s not something that can be rushed.

We also want to make sure that we set the foundation so that when you get to the moment where you raid your first tomb, or you have your first main puzzle, you feel like you?ve got such an understanding of the journey, that they become iconic elements of the game. They become moments that you treasure.

If we simply showed you a tomb, you?d want to ask, ?How did she get there? Why is she there? What does it mean to her?? You know, raiding tombs and exploration is going to become Lara?s addiction. I want to feel the weight of that situation come to life. We have to make sure that we get that communication across as much as possible before we just say, ?boom, there?s the rest of the game.?

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
SPOnG: I?d like to go back to a time before you guys decided to reboot Tomb Raider. From my understanding the last game in the series, Underworld, was well received by critics, right? Seemed to do well. So why the reboot? Did you just feel like you needed a fresh challenge?

Karl Stewart: I think what had happened was, we inherited Tomb Raider from Core Design and we were given the responsibility of bringing this franchise back from the ?highs? of Angel of Darkness [laughs]. When we took on that task with Legend, we only refreshed it - we still inherited a canon that already existed.

All the way through the process of Legend, Anniversary and Underworld - and even Guardian of Light - we really said to ourselves, ?we want to put our mark on the franchise, we want to create something unique and special that can stand the test of time as much as the first sixteen years have.?

How do you keep a long-standing franchise strong after so many years? This is another problem we had to deal with, and it?s our belief that this is a challenge for other franchises. I studied a lot of brands - I did Batman: Arkham Asylum with Rocksteady before this, and back then Batman games had traditionally been shit. We spent a lot of time with Arkham Asylum trying to make sure we communicated that project was a whole new vision too.

It was the exact same with Tomb Raider. I went and researched, looked at what was relevant to consumers and how it wasn?t just about the games we play but the entertainment we?re digesting. Batman Begins showed how to re-imagine a franchise. James Bond was relevant up to a stage with Sean Connery and Roger Moore traveling the world and getting the girl, but as time progressed those pillars didn?t mean as much to the audience. They were being subjected to The Bourne Ultimatum and... mediums had moved on.

And what had happened with Tomb Raider was, when I started looking at the re-imagining process with the rest of the team, was a similar thing. We realised that Tomb Raider had reached the point where it was successful, but the audience share had shrunk down because other games had started to come in and really push the boundaries of what engines were able to do. When you look at games like Uncharted, Assassin?s Creed or Gears of War, everybody?s saying that those titles are raising the bar.

We believe that not only did we want to re-imagine Tomb Raider to tell the story of a young girl, but also to look at how other mediums were influencing gamers, their interactions with games, the narrative and how the story plays, rather than just feature set and quality.

Stay tuned for Part 2

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Eva 21 Aug 2012 20:48
Yeah, right. You could have done a reboot without changing Lara's bio. She used to be iconic, now she became a nobody.
Ostercy 22 Aug 2012 11:59
@Eva I agree. She used to be a British icon and now she's ordinary, whiny and humourless (and maybe not even 100% British).
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