Unearth the thoughts of Karl Stewart, global brand director of Crystal Dynamics, as he discusses Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
What made you take a fresh approach with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light compared to previous Tomb Raider titles?
We finished Tomb Raider: Underworld and the studio felt like we had got ourselves into a position where we were just porting games across lots of platforms, diluting our focus. General manager Darrell Gallagher took over at that time and his whole mantra was about building unique experiences for the audience, and not getting hung up on building one big pillar release that tried to target everyone. So we split the studio into two teams, with the larger team working on the pillar release and a smaller team which could be a little more nimble in the way they could approach games.
For us to gain focus for the future and help bring Tomb Raider and Lara Croft back to where she needs to be, we needed to create unique experiences for that audience. So rather than making a game on a platform we didn't feel comfortable on for the sake of a large installed user base, it was about building something which would allow us to continue to push new boundaries.
What made you decide to develop the game for PlayStation Network?
The biggest platform for Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series over the last 15 years has been PlayStation. She was first on PS one with Tomb Raider, and has been hugely successful on the PlayStation platform ever since. We really believed this was about knowing our audience, and to be able to build a downloadable game for PlayStation Network using the capabilities of our game engine and the power of PlayStation 3 to deliver something new was really exciting. So PSN allows us the opportunity to continue delivering the same quality we've had in the past and going forward.
Was there anything specific you learned from the previous Tomb Raider games that has helped you in the creation of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light?
There were two things. The first was we learned to be bold and take risks. We felt like we became a bit too complacent about where Tomb Raider had been and were continuing to develop a story which was getting deeper and deeper, and some players felt they couldn't attach themselves to it any more.
The second thing was to stick with the pillars of Tomb Raider. The game's been in production for 18 months and over that time we dipped back into every single past Tomb Raider game. We realised that if you're creating a game it should be no different when you're delivering a good experience, regardless of the technology. It should still have those pillars of exploration, puzzles and combat. For us the most exciting thing was to take those factors and do unique things with each level, so it's no longer about spending 20 minutes on a puzzle you can't complete, now it's about getting by them in five minutes if you just want to carry on and beat the game. The Tomb Raider fans who are more accustomed to longer puzzles have been the first to come back to us and say "thank you, this is great!", as it's giving them the same experience they expect from a game on Blu-ray Disc.
So were you worried about the fan reaction to being a bit different from previous Tomb Raider titles?
It was quite liberating to try something new and break into a different space. The team have all worked on Tomb Raider titles, so we always knew we wouldn't lose sight of who we are. We had to make sure we didn't build something people don't feel comfortable with or don't recognise. When you take Lara Croft and drop the Tomb Raider name nothing changes in respect to expectations. You still have an iconic character, so you need to deliver the pillars of what makes that character.
So it was quite liberating but, at the same time, we were very lucky that the guys who worked on it still had that same passion to make sure it provided that Tomb Raider experience.
Were there any big challenges you encountered developing the game?
The biggest challenge we came across during the early part of development was the game engine. It was predominately a third person, over the shoulder style which turned into an isometric viewpoint. The development team spent weeks getting stuck in, and when they figured it out, they were able to do so much more with it, such as getting more happening on the screen. We've never had so much action on the screen in a Tomb Raider game, ever.
Another challenge was looking at online functionality to make sure it would be the best experience possible, because for the first time we've got online co-op, so a lot of time and effort has gone into that.
Can you tell us more about the new levels, puzzles and other playable characters that will be available as downloadable content?
During testing we found that once people discovered ways to beat the puzzles they were going back to beat their previously set achievement times. So we made a decision through downloadable content that we'd build brand new levels but take some of the hardest puzzles in the game and bring them all together.
The first three packs are combat, exploration and puzzle packs. Inside each one are four unique levels from sections we've previously built, and after that there will be two character packs. We can't say which characters yet, but we're dipping back into the Eidos archives and we think people will be very happy to see who they are.
Is there anything else you want to add about Lara Croft?
Download the trial from PlayStation Store and you'll be surprised! I think the biggest thing about this game is that it feels very different. By the time you finish the free trial it's a whole new experience, and something we're really excited about.