Senior Art Director Brian Horton on Tomb Raider
GAME NAME: Tomb Raider
DEVELOPER(S): Crystal Dynamics
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Action Adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): 5 March 2013
Last week we had the pleasure of chatting with Brian Horton, Senior Art Director at Crystal Dynamics, about the upcoming Tomb Raider. We discussed everything from new features to enemies, as well as sources of inspiration from other gaming franchises.
Stevivor: This Tomb Raider is said to be ‘reboot’ of the franchise. Why was this decision made rather than just continue with another sequel to past games?
Brian: We felt as a studio that we’d taken the three stories that we had done as far as we possibly could in that version of Lara. We felt like her character arc had taken that full step and turn, and we believed that we had an opportunity to do something dramatically different. We felt that in-order to do it in the best way, was to do an re-imagining of the entire franchise. We look at the character, the world and say, “what can we do and how can we take this classic action-adventure formula and reshape it for a modern gamer?”. That’s how we wanted to approach it.
Stevivor: In deciding to reboot the franchise, were there any challenges that were present during the development of this game?
Brian: Absolutely. We wanted to make sure that when you saw the first image of the new Lara, that it still felt like Lara Croft, but new. That’s the razor’s edge in how far is ‘too far’ and how far is ‘not far enough’. I think we struck just the right balance to try and bring a young Lara Croft that’s just a little bit more emotionally-rich and has room to grow into the hero that we want her to be.
Stevivor: What new features can we expect to see in the new Tomb Raider?
Brian: You’re going to see a lot of new features! Our goal was to take your traversal puzzle-solving and combat and make them a little bit fresh and new. So in traversal, we have a new analogue steer system that feels more organic and natural to navigate. We have a puzzle-based system that’s more physics-oriented (for example, a fire and water relationship), using physics in a very intuitive way to solve our puzzles. As we are traversing and navigating our new world, you are going to be collecting salvage and earning experience points. These experience points can then be used in our ‘campsite’ system to upgrade the character, her tools and weapons, which is all new for us as well. In our combat, there is a whole new emphasis on third-person action style that is much more over-the-shoulder and moving away from the traditional lock-on, but still retaining that fluidity of motion. This makes Lara a much more capable and ferocious fighter.
Stevivor: The theme of the game from the trailers so far seems to revolve around this idea of ‘survival’. Is the concept of searching for ancient relics and artefacts still present in this game?
Brian: It’s definitely going to pay a huge part. It’s one of the ingredients you don’t change in a Tomb Raider game – giving that history and giving Lara a mystery to unlock. The emphasis though is not her going on this island to find a trinket. Lara’s emphasis at this point, is just to survive and get off the island. Along the way you will uncover a mystery and a culture that will have a very rich feeling of a classic Tomb Raider vibe, but yeah, the main goal of this game is not to find relics.
Stevivor: What sort of environments and locations can we expect to see Lara in for Tomb Raider?
Brian: It is one island, but throughout the island there are multiple ecosystems and layers of history. At the start of the game when we come out from the shipwreck and onto the beach, we’ll see ships and vessels from all eras. You have the ancient Japanese layer of history, you have an age of exploration/kind-of Portuguese layer of history, a World War 2 layer of history, and this modern civilisation that has cultivated on the island which harps back to a gorilla-band of fighters – something that you might see from Apocalypse Now for example. All these sorts of cultures clash, and as you travel throughout the island you’ll see layers of history playing, co-existing together, and even some are living apart from one-another, to the point where each area feels unique but yet still cohesive as one.
Stevivor: Will there be any co-op or multiplayer game types? If not, why was this decision made?
Brian: Crystal’s focus has been to make the best single-player experience we possibly could. Tomb Raider’s strength has traditionally been in its single-player adventure and that’s been Crystal’s mantra – let’s make the best single-player game we possibly can. That’s where our focus lies.
Stevivor: What sort of enemies and challenges can we expect to face off in Tomb Raider?
Brian: One of the most interesting enemies that I find, is the island itself. It is a place with inherent risk, and it’s a hostile place – there are wind/weather systems that present challenges for the player, not just as an obstacle but also as something that she [Lara] can use in some ways and learn to master. In addition to that, her main enemy combatants will be the scavengers – a band of ship-wrecked survivors as well, all helmed by this mad-man, ‘Mathias’. Her crew get wrapped-up in their drama and needless to say, they aren’t very good people!
Stevivor: From what we’ve seen so far, Lara in this Tomb Raider is shown as being quite vulnerable and not the tough character we’ve seen in the past. Why was this decision made?
Brian: We wanted her to grow, and the best way for her to grow is to start off in a place where she is less empowered. One of things about Tomb Raider, was it got to the point where nothing seemed to touch her - she was unstoppable and unflappable. To start her off in a more vulnerable spot, more naive to the world and how to negotiate challenges like this, gives her a lot of room to grow. It also gives us a lot of opportunity to grow with her – as we use the campsite to upgrade her abilities and make those choices, you are also seeing her character change and grow as well. That was our opportunity to really show character growth and depth, and that’s why we made that decision.
Stevivor: A lot of gamers have commented about the similarities between this game and the Uncharted franchise. Is there anything that the developers have drawn inspiration from other franchises?
Brian: I would say Half-Life 2 is probably a pretty strong franchise that we’ve taken inspiration from. Batman [Arkham Asylum] was another one. When Arkham Asylum came out, while we were doing early development, it really blew us away – it was such a great game. When I say that, you think about Batman, especially Arkham City, where it created these open spaces that you could make decisions in – you could go directly for the story or you could mess around a little bit, and we’ve got some similar things. We found a really good niche in the marketplace, with physics-based inspirations from Half-Life and the gear-gaming structure like in Batman. We’ve really carved something pretty unique and there’s no one game you can point to that has all the ingredients we have.
Stevivor: What’s your favourite aspect of the game?
Brian: My favourite aspect of the game is really that mix of ingredients that allows me want to have a bit more control over my play-style at work. I can go in to one situation and play it a couple of different of ways and get a different outcome – be a little stealthy and take out enemies by separating them or I can go in full-force. I love the fact you can choose how to upgrade your character based on your preferences. It’s that extra level of choice that we’ve never really seen in a Tomb Raider game that I’m most excited about.
Many thanks to Brian, Crystal Dynamics and Namco Bandai for giving us the opportunity to discover more about one of 2013’s most anticipated titles!