Tomb Raider [Interview] – Lara’s new world and its dangers
In the second part of our two-part interview with Crystal Dynamics’ global brand manager Karl Stewart we talk about the experience of playing as the young Lara – what her world is like, what she can do within that world and the potential dangers she might face.
If you missed part one, in which we concentrate on the “reboot” idea and the way the story is told, you can find it here.
IncGamers: How does progression work in the open-world areas? Are there still linear goals within those areas or are you free to do as you please?
Karl Stewart: The big thing for us is that we’re telling a story, right. A story that has a path from A to Z, and you have to go through and experience those different plot points. We try not to go down a linear path of first you speak to this person, then this person and then you fight this person.
Instead we make sure to remember that this is a game about exploration, so the idea of creating these open hubs is that Lara can visit them many times over. You could be somewhere else in the game and then realise that there’s something else to do in an area that you’ve already visited, so you can go back and explore it again in a different way.
IG: But you’re not going so far as to call this an “open-world” game?
We’re not an open-world game, but it seems smart to us to build these areas that can be played multiple times and are non-linear. However, when you come into an area for the first time you have a simple objective that will lead to the next objective. So in that sense it’s linear on that first occasion, but there’s nothing to stop you exploring and uncovering secondary mysteries.
Those open hubs can also change. For example, some can be explored at night and during the day and things will have changed in the area depending on where you are in the story.
It’s hard to create an immersive story in an open-world game because you simply have too many choices to keep things flowing. We minimise that by giving you the set objectives, but in the interim there’s tons of exploration.
IG: So it sounds like there are plenty of ‘side-missions’?
KS: We’ve built it in such a way that there’s the core story, but Lara is an explorer at heart so as you learn more about the island you start to see that there are other mysteries to uncover.
You’ll find out that other people have tried to survive here before, in a similar way to what you’re experiencing with Lara. There’s also a lot of historical things to explore and learn about – World War II bunkers used by the Japanese military, for example.
In a way those extras put another layer of wrapping around the environment and the game in general, but they’re not key to finishing the game and you don’t have to get involved in them.
IG: With the ability to return to previous areas, the hunting, the levelling up, the younger character, there’s quite a lot new here. Do you think there’s a danger of subverting audience expectations too much from what people know as Tomb Raider?
KS: We’ve really tried hard to make sure that we’re a team of Tomb Raider developers, over 60 per cent of the team worked on Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary; we know what makes these games special.
One of the first things we looked at with this game was what formula it is that makes it so unique and interesting. We’ve kept that formula throughout the whole of this game. Reimagining something is hard, but once you’ve got the hooks of the story in you can start getting into the real game. Half an hour after that story is defined Lara finds her first tomb. That’s Tomb Raider, you know.
However, what’s changed is that you’re looking at this through the eyes of a different person. She’s still Lara Croft but her emotions are completely different from what we’ve seen before. The special Tomb Raider sauce is still very much there.
IG: We haven’t seen any tombs yet…
KS: [Laughs]There’s a special surprise coming up, but you’ll have to wait for it.
Think about the new Batman movies, the first third of the movie you don’t see him in a Batman costume. But, because of that, you really remember the first time he puts the mask on and it becomes a special moment. We want to get to that point where Lara feels familiar-yet-different before you get to experience that first iconic moment.
We want you to really remember the first time you ever explored a tomb.
IG: The whole ‘attempted rape’ situation that has been taken up so strongly by some publications… are you surprised how that came about and how it grew into such a big issue?
KS: I think there’s two sides to it. One, our executive producer misspoke. That’s not a word in our vocabulary and we’re certainly not trying to portray that element. However, two, we are trying to provide moments that make you feel for the character and feel for the situation she’s in.
I think what we’re trying to do in Tomb Raider has been done in movies and TV shows quite a lot, but because we’re a medium that provides up close and personal interaction there are a lot more questions asked about what we’re trying to do and how we’re getting away with it.
Our intention is to create an emotion that makes you want to kill this guy. In that moment, we never go beyond what we’re trying to do. If you fail that part of the game you will be strangled or shot, instead of Lara shooting him. We never take it anywhere, you just know that you have to fight this guy to get out of the situation.
What we’re trying to do is raise the bar of storytelling and immerse the player in that level of depth. I’d say that, unfortunately, some comments from people are made without actually playing the game themselves.
Too many people are jumping on the use of the word without seeing it themselves. It’s like reviewing a movie without seeing it, how can you do that?
IG: Do you think the reaction is perhaps a symptom of videogames still being a young medium?
KS: Quite possibly. As I said, it was something that was misspoken and then blew up. I appreciate why that happened, but it’s not a word that we ever use.
I wouldn’t say that we’re in any way immature as an industry. Heavy Rain made me cry, so I think we’re there in terms of story. Sometimes we cut close to the bone, but people really need to experience the whole thing to make a judgement.