Lara Croft Speaks: The Crystal Dynamics Interview
Friday, January 30, 2009 12:39 PM
We bring you the first part of our exclusive interview with Crystal Dynamics on the development of Tomb Raider: Underworld.
Crystal Dynamics is one of the most dearly loved game developers, first amassing fans with the Legacy of Kain series and then for bringing Lara Croft into the 21st Century with the PlayStation 2 entry, Tomb Raider: Legend.
Today we present you with Crystal Dynamic's answers to our burning questions, where your creative (to say the least) user-submitted questions will follow next-week.
Thanks for joining us at Gamezine.co.uk and congratulations on your latest Tomb Raider instalment. So tell us, what three things are essential to a Tomb Raider game?
Crystal Dynamics: Tomb Raider games are all about ancient ruins, the mysteries they contain, and the experience of exploring and discovering lost or forgotten artefacts within them. And of course, Lara Croft herself!
How long was Underworld in development?
CD: Tomb Raider: Underworld was in development for just under three years. Some of the team had actually started to work on the project while waiting for Tomb Raider: Legend to be approved for manufacturing.
What makes Underworld stand out from previous Tomb Raider games?
CD: Tomb Raider: Underworld takes everything that makes a Tomb Raider game unique and does it bigger, more detailed and more intricate than ever. The experience is more immersive, more beautiful, and more exciting than any of Lara's prior adventures.
How do you successfully balance the action and platforming in a Tomb Raider game? Has the team's opinion on this changed over time, since Underworld appears to be more exploration based than previous Crystal Dynamic Tomb Raiders?
CD: The balance between action and platforming depends on your definitions. Platforming can be action, especially when your ledges are crumbling or tigers are chasing you on a balance beam!
We did put more traditional "climb and find" gameplay in Underworld compared to Legend, and this was a natural consequence of opening up the levels more and making them less linear. We wanted the experience to emphasize discovery, which is more toward the platforming side of the equation, but this doesn't have to be the case in all Tomb Raider games.
Character animation has seen great leaps and bounds in recent years. What is that makes Lara Croft's animation stand out from other videos games on the market?
CD: We used motion capture for the first time in Underworld and the feedback has been fantastic. We actually motion captured the movements of an Olympic calibre gymnast and it really does show. We also spent time in areas such as foot locking so that Lara physically connects to the game world more believably than ever before.
How has Lara's new moveset furthered gameplay possibilities and and influenced Underworld's level design?
CD: The philosophy of 'What Could Lara Do' was established early on, and it guided the movement-set expansion and this in turn heavily influenced the level layout. Players can do so much more now, that if you took away the balance beam walking, wall kicks, wall climbing, etc., Underworld would look very different than it does now.
How do you go about creating puzzles for Tomb Raider? Do a small number of people brainstorm crazy ideas? Or do you research real architecture and folklore to base them on?
CD: Puzzle design comes from everywhere. The Mayan calendar-puzzle was inspired by real myth, some brainstorming sessions resulted in some great ideas, and sometimes someone simply came up with a great idea all on their own!
If our ideas didn't quite work according to playtests, we made changes until it made more sense. But we had a fairly rigorous methodology that broke down how people think about puzzles to guide their creation.
Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune has been compared to the Tomb Raider series. What did you think of the game?
CD: I enjoyed Uncharted a lot. It's a very different game, though, more like Gears of War on an island, with far less puzzles than a Tomb Raider game. I liked it, but the only real similarity with Tomb Raider was that it was set in the jungle and involved the search for an old treasure!
Why is Tomb Raider better?
CD: Tomb Raider is mostly just different from Uncharted to be honest. Tomb Raider is a much better exploration and discovery experience, and I personally think it looks better on the screen, but these were artistic choices.
As much as I liked run-and-gun through the jungle taking out guys with headshots, the personal tastes of our designers were more interested in discovering new and amazing places, figuring out how to master them, and being rewarded by making incredible things happen. In those terms, Tomb Raider: Underworld excels.
What has the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hardware allowed you to do that wasn't possible before?
CD: Most everything you see that makes Tomb Raider: Underworld look and play differently than past games is due to the current generation's platform capabilities. From the level of detail and interaction, the lushness of the environments, visual and audible effects, and also the sheer scale of the surroundings.
Finally, what five words best describe Tomb Raider Underworld?
CD: Excitement, Discovery, Choice, Awe, and of course...Epic. :)
So that's the first half of our interview with Crystal Dynamics. Of course all of the information you couldn't find in other interviews will follow when your user-submitted question are answered next week. Be sure to come back.