Share via Email It didn't start as a reboot. That was one of the interesting revelations during last night's Tomb Raider event at Bafta. Crystal Dynamics, the California-based studio, which has been in charge of the iconic series since , originally envisaged the latest title as a sequel to 's, Tomb Raider Underworld. But then along came Casino Royale and Batman Begins and the whole concept of an origins story started taking shape. These stories were a reaffirmation to us, that we could do this.
Crystal Dynamics took on the franchise when original developer Core Design fumbled the poorly received sixth instalment, Angel of Darkness. After completing a trilogy of fairly traditional sequels, Crystal decided to strike out, producing the downloadable spin-off title, Tomb Raider: We loved working on it and the reaction of fans showed us that people were ready for something new.
That was very encouraging. Do we keep the backpack, do we keep the shorts, the pony tail? Is she still British? All of these were asked. Internally, there was huge debate. I hear people say this was a game built in a focus testing lab, but that's not the case.
This wasn't a game overseen by a bunch of suits at Square Enix who came in with clipboards and said, 'this is what you're going to do'. It didn't happen like that.
We stuck to our guns, we believed in what we were doing. He took an early trailer of the game to the company's office in London and showed it off. It reveals a very different version of the young Lara on an island setting — all with a voice over introducing the origins concept: When the video ends, Gallagher says, "I think we nailed it".
The project was instantly green lit. It showed Lara, freshly graduated from university, on a ship bound for the South Pacific — her first expedition as a budding archeologist. The vessel is wrecked in a storm and we see Lara struggling onto the shore of an island, wounded, scared and alone. The trailer set in place the mood of the game, something Crystal Dynamics characterised within the studio during the early stages of development as 'a survivor is born' — a phrase that would go on to become the tagline.
According to Gallagher, the designers then started to draw inspiration from real-life survival stories. They read Alive, Piers Paul Read's famous account of a plane crash in the Andes, and studied interviews with Aron Ralston, the climber forced to cut off his own arm when trapped by a falling boulder in Utah.
The ambition was to create more of a human hero, rather than the "ice queen" portrayed in some of the earlier games — and the risible movies. So they broke the concept down into different areas: What they wanted to achieve with Tomb Raider was a gritty story of guts and human instinct, a cross between Rambo in First Blood and Ripley in Aliens. The company started experimenting with game mechanics, pitching Lara against the environment. During his talk, Gallagher showed a very early prototype video at a time when the game was still going by its working title Ascension , of Lara leaping between grey-scale rock faces — at one point carrying a child on her back — and strafing flat-shaded polygon enemies; she's also seen riding a horse across a beach.
They pushed the idea of dynamic traversal, the ability of players to control Lara even while jumping, the ability to pick your own path through the world. The designers came up with the idea of the island's gear boxes, which provide Lara with new equipment, thereby increasing her exploration abilities and opening up new channels of exploration from the key hubs.
With combat, they moved from a lock-on based system to a free-aim third-person shooter mechanic, but to reflect the survival theme, the odds were stacked against Croft — apparently, it's not about dominating opponents any more, it's about desperate fights for life.
As for the puzzles, physics has become a central component. We wanted to bring to bear the emotional power of story and the engagement and emotional investment of gameplay — we wanted you to feel like you were on this journey with Lara. The team based the island setting on the Dragons Triangle, an area of the Pacific ocean synonymous with lost and wrecked craft, and it is filled with messaging. Those dilapidated galleons on the shoreline, aren't just there for visual effect, they symbolise the idea that nothing escapes this place.
The shiny, showy twin pistols are gone, replaced by scavenged shotguns, a climbing axe and, of course the bow. Pratchett then fleshed this out into a longer treatment, and finally a script — a process that took months of iteration.
The designers then created a spreadsheet aligning key story beats with puzzles, combat encounters and equipment pick-ups, eventually producing a colour-coded timeline of the game, showing the prevailing emotion of each sequence.
This provided artists with a handy reference point when actually building the game: We wanted to make sure it was all paced correctly through the duration of the game.
Once we had the blueprint we could make sure the whole team worked to the same framework. It'll be fascinating to see how this determination to deliver a story about self-discovery translates into actual gameplay.
After effectively four years in development — a process that involved not just Crystal Dyamics but also the Square Enix facility in Montreal and other studios around the globe — the world is curious about this return of a nineties icon, but it is also skeptical.
Lara has a lot to prove, not only in the game, with its hostile island filled with murderous mercenaries, but in an industry where the notion of narrative gaming has moved on. And let's face it: