At the annual Eurogamer expo in London last week – where a small section from next year’s mucho anticipated Tomb Raider reboot was playable on the show floor – we sat down with Crystal Dynamics’ Community & Communication Manager Meagan Marie to chat about (amongst other things) Lara Croft’s character, the influence of Uncharted and Batman Begins, and the decidedly adult nature of Lara’s new adventure…
The game is looking really terrific. Is it still on track for release in March?
Yeah. We’re in a very good place right now. We’ve got less than six months to go until launch, and you can play the game all the way through… I just did that myself before I left to come here. So we’re just really polishing, fixing, balancing, making sure that it’s the best experience possible. We feel really good about where we are right now.
Tomb Raider was essentially rebooted – successfully – back in 2006. Why another restart?
This is something that people will disagree on, but we don’t consider that one a full reboot. There were some story differences, but the canon – the plane crash, Lara’s mum and so on – some of the canon had carried over into Legend. So this was really an opportunity for Crystal to definitively take the reins of the franchise and put their mark on it. When we say reboot, this is the “full stop”. No canon from the past games will carry over, So Lara’s not going to go on to meet Vern Croy or Amanda; it’s going to be her origin story. It’s still going to be a Tomb Raider game, and Lara is still very much going to become Lara Croft… but you’ll be there to see that evolution this time.
Will that evolution be complete at the end of this game? Or will it span a longer timeline than that?
I think that you’ll definitely see the seeds… you’ll see Lara becoming that strong-willed adventurer that everybody loves. You can even see it early-on in the game. I know that because of what we’ve shown so far, some people have asked if this is really Lara Croft, and I really do believe it is. She’s still intelligent, articulate and ambitious, and those are some of the traits that I loved about the classic Lara Croft. She’s still physically capable too – she’s strong – so she can definitely take care of herself. The difference is that this Lara is straight out of university, and she thought that she was going on an archaeological expedition and instead ends up in this horrific situation… so she’s untested and unsure of herself, and doesn’t know what it means to be a Croft, I suppose. You see her start to become this character that we all know and love, and as a hardcore, classic Tomb Raider fan, it’s really rewarding. You’re seeing something that you didn’t have access to before. Very cool.
This has frequently been likened to Batman Begins. Was that comparison present at the genesis of the project?
Absolutely. Batman, and Bond. They were the two major influences on Tomb Raider. We looked at the gaming space too, and we wanted to be competitive within the action adventure genre, and make sure that we uphold those really high standards. But inspiration wise, it was Batman and Bond. Taking these iconic characters that so many people grew up with and identified with, and re-imagining them in a way that’s true to the franchise… so you get to be there when Bond orders his first Martini, or Batman first puts on the mask. Being there is very important. We also take a lot of inspiration – especially tonally – from survival stories. Real survival stories. What people will do when they’re put into life and death situations… that exploration of the human spirit was really important to us as well.
The demo that I just played had a provisional PEGI certificate of 18. Are you gunning for an adult rating?
It is most certainly a mature game. We’re not being mature just to be mature, because obviously Tomb Raider has been a teen-rated game in the past and it has a very decent younger audience. The issue is that, when you’re using survival as the wrapper for the entire narrative and the gameplay and everything, we couldn’t do the things that we needed to without having that mature rating. It was the narrative and character growth that dictated the rating, not the other way around. So for example, Lara’s first kill…taking a human life should be a horrific, life-changing thing. I think I would probably be retching on the ground also, it should be a very powerful moment. And to pull back, or water that down, wouldn’t do Lara’s character arc or the narrative justice.
I actually just played that part. It was amazingly effective…
First time I played it I got incredible chills, and had to sit there for a while, taking it in.
Who would you say this game is actually aimed at? Tomb Raider fans or newcomers?
Both. I don’t think that there’s necessarily a ratio that we’ve assigned to it; our overall goal is just to make sure that we’re not throwing out what made Tomb Raider great. We would be doing ourselves a huge disservice if we just decided to keep the name, and take the franchise in a direction that doesn’t make any sense. So we still have the pillars of what made Tomb Raider in 1996 great. We still have the exploration and traversal, the combat and then the puzzle solving… they’re just all re-imagined through that layer of survival. Again, Lara seems different because she’s young and untested, but spiritually she is still Lara Croft. I think that long-time fans, even if they’re a little bit sceptical at first… I’m heavily entrenched in the community, and a lot of the fans are very excited about this new direction: about being in for the evolution of Lara. I think this is going to be the perfect opportunity to capture those people who maybe played Tomb Raider 2 and then dropped off, or have never even played a Tomb Raider game.
There’s no globe-trotting is there?
No. The entirety of the game takes place on the one island because we wanted to have a static, stable foundation for the narrative. While I love seeing classic Lara globetrotting all over the world – it’s part of her identity – it didn’t really make sense for the origin story. We want the persistent location, and we want it to be a character in itself. That being said, there’s a ton of diversity in the island. It’s a really huge place, with different types of cultural relics and terrain, and even weather. There’s lots of diversity; it is not a grey game.
The sequence that I just played was fairly linear. It opens up later on doesn’t it?
It does. We don’t use the term “open world” because that usually means… you know, Red Dead where you choose your own missions, and that’s not the case. It’s very much a linear narrative – we want to tell a very, very specific story, because Lara’s evolution is that important. We need to make sure that people stay on the path in that regard. The beginning is more linear, but that’s because it’s the introduction. After that we open up the world and we have a fast-track travel system, so when you discover these base camps you can upgrade Lara’s weapons and skills, and then travel back to any other base camp. Why we allow people to do that is because in some areas of the island, some sections will be gear-gated. So we don’t want Lara’s growth as a character to just be narrative-driven. In the very beginning, you might see a place and know that there’s something up there… but you can’t get there because maybe Lara doesn’t have her climbing axe yet. As you upgrade your weapons or Lara learns new skills, you’ll be able to then fast-travel back to these areas and explore whole new sections that maybe she wasn’t able to get to before. Some people are just going to want to plough through the story, but classic Tomb Raider fans are going to want to explore every single nook and cranny.
Sony’s Uncharted series has been frequently mentioned as an influence…
Our influences actually were primarily cinematic; so Bond, Batman and then some of these survival stories. That being said, I love Uncharted personally. It’s a fantastic game, and I think that right now it is one of the defining games in the action adventure space. With Tomb Raider we want to deliver the best game that we can – the best game of our careers – in that same space…. but there is nothing bad about being compared to Uncharted. It’s such a phenomenal series.
Tomb Raider is currently due for release on Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3 on Tuesday, March 5th 2013.
Watch the E3 2012 trailer for Tomb Raider below: