Tomb Raider [Interview] – Writing the intimate story of Lara Croft
In part one of a two part interview Tomb Raider’s global brand manager Karl Stewart we discuss the idea behind the ‘reboot’, the reasons for taking story to a point which focuses on a young Lara Croft and how the story and the gameplay co-exist and compliment one another.
Part two of the interview sees us discuss the game’s open-world elements, those elusive tombs and the already infamous “attempted rape” comment.
Next week we’ll also be publishing our hands-on impressions from a hefty 30-minute portion of the game. Yes, it’s the bit that includes that moment.
IncGamers: This Tomb Raider is being branded as a ‘reboot’, to many publishers and developers that seems to mean ‘FPS’. Did you never think of that?
Karl Stewart: [Laughs] Good question. Funnily enough there wasn’t any talk about us doing that. Obviously, everyone throws a bunch of ideas at the board when we were thinking about this game but I don’t think the first-person angle was one we ever took seriously. [Laughs].
You wanna be able to see Lara, right? That’s one of the big things about Tomb Raider, you want to be able to see her movements, her fighting and exploring. You want to be able to see the emotion on her face through all of that, that’s a big part of the drive.
[Laughs] Good question, though.
IG: So from your very initial stages of design you always had the intention of telling the story of a young Lara?
KS: Yeah, when we first started looking at where we wanted to take things in late 2008 we had that idea of going back to the very beginning and telling that story. The difficult thing with that was working out how to tell that in a way that brings her personality out.
In previous Tomb Raider games Lara would travel around the world and not have much interaction with other people, so you never really got to know her as a person. We had to figure out how you create a location which allows you to get to know her a bit better and allows you to interact with other people to really see the depth in her character. That was always a key pillar of what we wanted to do.
Then we looked at bringing in other people to compliment her. For example, at one stage we had a little girl that was a survivor like Lara and that you would have to protect along the way. We decided to drop that aspect because we realised this game should all be about protecting Lara and seeing her struggle with the situation, rather than watching her protect someone else. The little girl angle just ended up diverting attention away from where we wanted it.
IG: Any other ideas that were left on the cutting room floor?
KS: We had some other crazy stuff that we dropped like mysterious horses that were on this island, but we always came back to the idea of Lara surviving and keeping things “real” – rather than magical. Keeping it real lets us bring in emotional situations like Lara’s first kill that feel more involving than they would if you had a bunch of fictional beings wandering around.
Making Lara feel more human also helps bring those moments to life as this isn’t the caricature that we’d known before. It now feels like Lara is the kind of person you could meet on the street and actually know her, which allows us to create moments that are more realistic and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
IG: So the main goal was to make things more intimate?
KS: Yeah, a lot more intimate. When we talk about survival we don’t want to get too close to the idea that we’re a simulation. This isn’t a game where you’ve got to drink your own pee to stay alive, it’s more about the struggles she goes through from the minute she regains consciousness on the island.
It’s about the person and the experience that she’s going through. That’s what immerses you in the story and it makes it easier for us to tell that kind of story because of the intimate nature of the gameplay.
IG: How far does the survival go? How much of the gameplay is you keeping her alive, for example?
KS: We’re still an action-adventure game and we want to be able to say that this is an “action-survival” game; Lara is having to explore and fight but she’s also having to salvage what she can. Further into the game she’s having to use certain equipment in a specific way that is in essence survival, but we keep things in the macro, rather than the micro.
The micro stuff of having to find health packs all the time and find food is not really much fun in a big action-adventure game, so we’ve stayed away from that.
Survival to us is more about Lara’s personality and the emotions and psychological dramas that she’s going through.