The first part of my epic chat with Crystal Dynamic's Karl Stewart focused on the nature of its Tomb Raider reboot, and how the studio is angling its origins story. In this second part, the attention turned to the recent controversy surrounding the E3 gameplay trailer. Read on...
SPOnG: You mentioned Lara goes through really big transition when she makes her first kill. There was obviously some controversy over that earlier in the year. Were you surprised by that particular reaction?
Well, it was a mixed one for us, because at one stage, obviously, somebody said something they shouldn?t have said. Used a word they shouldn?t have used. And that word had nothing to do with our game. That was a personal perspective on it. And it made us realise that, not only have we got an iconic brand that?s always at the forefront, that people want to talk about, but... it was disappointing to say that least that the people talking about it had both never seen the game and had never played it.
After meeting journalists who had played the game, they came back and found that what we?re trying to do with storytelling is push the boundary. We?re trying to get the player to a point where they feel the situation, feel the emotion, so heightened that they?re almost there in the moment.
It?s certainly not our intention to ever go down the road of putting the franchise in the position where it gets questioned like that. There is close physical contact in there, but I think we do it at the level where you feel it?s almost... it?s got a sense of realism to it. It could or could not happen.
But it?s about the situation. It?s about somebody being pushed to their limits to have to kill for the very first time. We believe that we?re looking at movies and TV shows that do this on a regular basis, and they push the emotional buttons to make the viewer feel like they understand the motivation or the seriousness of the situation.
And for us, we just... we?re taking games to that edge. And because we?re taking it that far, people are asking more questions. They?re realising that video games are starting to mature a little bit more, and the narrative is getting to a point where it?s not just about how beautiful you can make an explosion, or how lush you can make a wall. It?s how immersive you can make the story.
SPOnG: What do you say to the argument that, yes video games have matured, but perhaps the medium simply can?t tell such stories no matter how hard developers try. Would you agree with that?
No, I think the big difference our medium has is that you?re in control. You sit and watch a movie for 90 minutes or you sit and digest a series of a TV show in 13 episodes... I don?t see why video games can?t push the same emotion that you can get from those other mediums. It?s just a challenge we have to overcome.
Some games are doing it very well, lately you?ve seen the likes of Heavy Rain
that... well, it made me cry. I played it and it brought emotions to the front that I?ve never felt in many other games before. You can have those eureka moments, where you solve and puzzle and say, ?oh my god, I did that?, but all of a sudden when you?re that deep into a story, playing for 10 hours plus, and you realise, ?wow I?m living this?, I think that?s something as a game developer we should be seeing more of.
We?re investing so much into these games that it?s not just about the graphics and the beauty as I said, but the quality of the story. It?s just a challenge, as with everything - right now we?re at a point in time where we?re trying to bring narrative, immersion and emotion to the forefront in the way we are... it?s a topical subject right now.
SPOnG: People did react negatively to the use of that particular word, but there was also a number of people who were particularly disturbed by the implication that players were meant to enjoy the fact that Lara was going through these situations, rather than immerse themselves as a player.
I hope our communication didn?t come across that you should enjoy those moments. I think it?s simply the severity of the situation that?s very important to us - like I said, that immersion of feeling like you?re almost there.
We spent a lot of time, especially at the beginning of the game, trying to make sure that we put the building blocks in place to be able to go through those experiences. The first time you kill a deer, pick up the bow and arrow, protect yourself from the wolves and then get attacked - it?s important that we get to a point where you feel motivated, and you?re not presented as just this cold-blooded killer.
We certainly don?t take enjoyment in doing that with Lara. From that perspective, male or female, we want to bring a heightened sense of emotion and closeness to the situation that allows the player to feel like they now understand the motivation and that they have been given a reason why they have to use force, save their friends and get off the island.
The big thing is, when you play that first hour and you get to the moment where the first kill is, you realise that the narrative is so deep, that for us to hear people say there?s an element of enjoying the torment... you know, it?s all far from it. Although you would generally enjoy playing a video game, it?s more about trying to heighten the tension in a situation to a point where you feel motivated.
SPOnG: The scene in the trailer was included as part of a transition to becoming the Tomb Raider and being able to kill. Is it risky to do that in game trailers, where the gaming community at large tends to react instantly to things without understanding, or being given, the context in relation to the rest of the game?
I think from our perspective with the trailer... I worked on that trailer from its very conception all the way through, and my view on it was that it was our first gameplay trailer. I didn?t want to treat it like any gameplay trailer, I wanted to treat it like a movie trailer.
We hired a studio in LA who are famous for producing some of the best trailers out there, Ignition. They?ve worked on titles from Inception
and Total Recall
. That?s what they do best. We sat with them and played a large portion of our game, and we made a decision to make the trailer like that.
In terms of video games it may be the case that people are used to just seeing the story unfold over time. But we understood that, generally, the very first trailer you see for a movie grabs and engages you. Adds all these different kinds of questions that make you wonder what you just saw.
We?re just trying to do the same thing. We?re trying to bring in questions and elements that people feel engaged in and want to know more about. It was just, that scene in particular... when the trailer came out, there was no real question. It was getting great reviews, lots of buzz, and people weren?t asking any questions about it. But, as soon as the controversy started, people reflected on the trailer. I think it was only after everything happened that people began to question in retrospect.
SPOnG: You spoke of modernising Lara Croft and getting away from the Core Design elements that you inherited. Do you feel that you?ve truly made Tomb Raider your own now?
The key thing is that we?re re-imagining it, but we?re not forgetting who we are. There is a model there that we?re sticking with, to make sure that the formula of Tomb Raider
is always there. We?re just putting our creative spin on things to make sure it is something that we?ve worked on.
If we had been a brand new studio then it would have been out of the question, but the fact that we?ve worked on four - we?re trusted to be able to take the franchise in this new direction. And I think, being given that trust - which is a real honour to be able to do it - we just can?t forget who we are.
There are pillars that have made Tomb Raider
very successful, and what we?ve done is re-imagined those pillars - but when you play it, you?ll still feel that this is Lara Croft and this is Tomb Raider
. It?s just a Tomb Raider
for this age. We?re making it for people of today who can say they can relate to that. It needed to happen - the longer the Tomb Raider of yesteryear would go on, the less relatable the character would have been.
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.