We had the chance to interview Meagan Marie, Community and Communications Manager at Crystal Dynamics about the new Tomb Raider game while we were at the Eurogamer Expo 2012.
There are a lot of changes to Tomb Raider in terms of gameplay, story and art design. The whole game looks new. What prompted this change?
After finishing the trilogy of Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary and Underworld the team was at a point where they felt that they just needed to stop, re-evaluate and kind of see where the franchise stood in terms of familiarity and how the gamers felt about it. In that time, Guardian of Light was produced and it was a fun little one-off but while that was going, the team was really looking at the franchise and seeing what needed to be updated in order to bring Lara Croft and Tomb Raider into the modern gaming space. We’ve done lots of research and testing and that helped the team to realise that Lara had become somewhat disconnected and people weren’t really able to relate to her. She was more like a superhero and not necessarily a person that you could identify with on a very personal level. What the team is really excited about is that while it still feels like a classic Tomb Raider game, in terms of what made the previous games great, the exploration, the combat and the puzzle solving are new and fresh. There’s the tonal difference that you noticed and it is mature because it wasn’t really possible to tell the story of survival being in the teen-space and pull back some of those moments – like the first kill, taking the first human life – wouldn’t be possible in the teen-space.
How hard or easy was it to change Lara Croft from the “perfect woman” into someone who still looks beautiful but, at the same time, more like a normal woman?
That was extremely difficult and it was a job that quite a few people had to take on and it wasn’t something that we’ve taken lightly. First of all, her physical appearance has to be different so obviously our art director re-designed her with his team to make her look beautiful but like somebody that you see on the street for example. Anatomically speaking she’s more proportional but she still has her characteristics. The goal here was freshness but at the same time, familiarity. She still has those things that make her feel like Lara. Specifically the relation of the eyes to the nose and the “m-shape” of the mouth and the brown hair, obviously. The other part to it, the non-physical part, was writing her as a believable female character. A human character, someone who shows fear and pain, someone who is uncertain of themselves at times. That’s been a challenge that not only our writer, Rhianna Pratchett has tackled, but it’s been a collaborative effort that it’s believable because that’s such a huge priority for us to make sure that people can identify with Lara and relate to her so they can understand her motivation moving forward.
The “internetz” say that the game will look a lot like the Uncharted series. Did you get the inspiration from that series or did something else inspire you?
(Laughs) Well, genres are so iterative on each other in this action/adventure-space. Obviously, Tomb Raider was inspired by Indiana Jones and then Uncharted was inspired by Tomb Raider. Looking at the current game in the current space, obviously, we’re going to be inspired by the best in the genre and Uncharted is fantastic. With that being said though, our game is actually very different; especially in tone. This is a survival story and it has a very emotional part to it. Most of our inspiration came from other facets of pop-culture. The two main ones that we reference are Batman and James Bond because those are the two iconic characters that everybody knows but they were kind of turned on their heads and were re-imagined through origin stories and they gave a whole new level of accessibility to those people who haven’t necessarily known the characters before. So you get to see Bond asking for his Martini and Batman putting his mask on for the first time and you get to be there for those iconic moments. Also, inspiration was taken from survival stories, like Aron Ralston’s when he was stuck in that canyon. Stories like that, and showing what people have to do, are capable of doing and how they can surprise even themselves when they’re in a life or death situation, were the primal inspiration for us.
You could’ve gone a lot of ways with the game. Why an origin story?
We think that it is important that if we want people to relate to Lara, they have to be there as her personality is forged. Being there for those defining moments that really forged her into the character that she eventually becomes is a really pivotal thing moving forward and it will give people the ability to be able to connect with her in a new way that, hopefully, will carry through future iterations.
Is the game going for a totally realistic feel or are there going to be any kind of fictional things mixed into the game?
There’s two things to mention here: the gameplay and the island. In terms of the island, let’s just say that we’re not going to go into it because we want you to experience it yourself but there’s something mysterious about it. The gameplay, we tried to make it as realistic as possible without taking the fun out of it. At the beginning of the game, and in the demo you were playing, Lara is hungry, she needs to eat and she needs to find shelter. We motivate that through an XP-system but you’re not going to have to monitor a hunger meter later on and make sure that it’s full as that’s sort of a resource management thing and that wouldn’t be fun. However, we want to use mechanics and want to ground the experiences in reality. she is still probably stronger than the average person in terms of what a video game character can take because after a certain amount of falls maybe a normal person just wouldn’t get up any more. We really wanted to make sure though that it feels much more grounded in reality than the past games.
Are there going to be any characters that hardcore fans would be able to recognise at all from past games? Considering that it is a total reboot, I’m talking about characters that are there in all of the games, like Lara’s father or mother maybe?
(Laughs) In terms of family, we’re not going to go into that because if we do go there, we want you to experience it through the game. I think that the one character that most people will find very similar to the past games’ Von Croy is Conrad Roth. He is her mentor and having that older, sort of semi-father-figure mentor is something that will relate to Von Croy from the earlier games. The people that are with Lara are really cool and we haven’t dug into it yet but they’re really diverse in terms of age, gender and in terms of what they’ve done in their life experiences. What I really appreciate about it is while there’s still that sense of isolation that makes it “Tomb Raidery” (in past games Lara was in these huge environments and could feel the awe of them), you do learn a lot about her through other people. You’ll be able to interact with those characters and learn more about them and then also learn more about Lara Croft through the experiences and stories.
Will there be any multiplayer or co-op at all?
(Laughs) Crystal Dynamics is entirely focused on single player.
Do you have any DLC plans or are we going to hear about it later?
We did announce at E3 this year that we’re going to have an Xbox 360 timed exclusive DLC. We haven’t said what it is yet or anything along those lines but what I want to stress, when I say that, is that we very much look at DLC as something to compliment the game like the “cherry on top”. We would never clip off the ending and say “To be continued…”. You don’t rent the movie to see the end of the movie that you saw in the theatre. So it’s going to be a complimentary add-on. You”ll feel very fulfilled at the end of the game.
In an earlier trailer of the game, we saw when Lara gets captured and someone attempts to rape her. It made people feel a little bit like when they saw the airport shooting scene in Call of Duty. Is it something that you feel was a necessary thing to include?
Specifically on that subject, we’ve released a couple of statements about this and we’re trying to keep our communications very succinct on that. What I would like to stress is that that moment is actually more about her first kill. So up until that point, Lara’s been really reactive to what’s the island’s throwing at her. She’s just trying to keep taking the punches and her crew mates are not very well off either but she was just trying to stay alive. She realises after she has to take her first human life that she has to be proactive and that’s a really defining moment. Every time I see it, I get chills. (Laughs) She basically realises that if she doesn’t start taking offensive actions, not just her but her friends are going to be captured or going to die. When you play the game, if you’re not successful in that struggle against that enemy, Lara will die and it’s game over. You really have to play it to have the right impact on you. The goal of that scene is to show how traumatising it is for Lara to take a human life.
We would like to thank Meagan Marie for the great chat.
Keep an eye out on GodisaGeek.com for the Preview of the new Tomb Raider as well as the eventual Review. Tomb Raider is due for release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC on the 5th March, 2013.