We all remember Lara Croft as the third-person action game that took us through a behind-the-shoulders viewpoint of Lara Croft and her exploration of various locations of archaeological interest.
But as the Tomb Raider
series matured over the years, things started to get stale, and thus was victim to rather awkward ways of modernising the franchise. Namely, Angel of Darkness
. Even following Crystal Dynamics' excellent reboot with Tomb Raider Legend
, the studio couldn't keep the momentum going - something producer Forest Large freely admits in regards to its last title, Underworld
So, as we wait for a potential comeback of the 3D adventure game, Crystal Dynamics are exploring other ways to spice up the franchise. This is the first step - a digital download titled Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
. Taking on an isometric top-down view, players guide Lara and tribe leader Totec throughout many aztec-influenced locales and puzzles to beat an ancient force.
Forest Large is the producer on this new title, and was happy to answer some questions for SPOnG. Read on...
SPOnG: What's the setting and story behind Lara Croft's latest adventure?
Lara Croft has been in Central America in search of the ancient artifact known only as The Mirror of Smoke. Many years ago, an epic battle was waged for control of this mirror between the armies of good and evil.†The fearless leader Totec rose against all odds to defeat the evil overlord Xolotl and banished him from the world. Totec then entombed himself within the Temple of Light with the Mirror.
Fast forward to the present. Lara is in Central America, and after weeks of searching, she finally finds the long lost Temple of Light, but unbeknownst to her she had been followed by a mercenary called ĎVascoí who had been hired to retrieve the mirror.
Moments after Lara finds the Mirror, Vasco bursts into the room with his band of mercenaries. Vasco manages to steal the mirror from Lara, and within moments he is killed by Xolotl, who returned from his banishment with the Mirror now out of Totecís protection. Xolotl then flees the Temple of Light with the Mirror.
Lara and Totec must work together to find and defeat Xoltol before the sun rises, otherwise he will harness the power of mirror to plunge the world back into eternal darkness.
SPOnG: The Tomb Raider series has been met with apathy in recent years, and this game appears to be the first move in a 'reboot.' Why do you think this player apathy occurred, and how will Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light address that?
As for how the apathy occurred, I think there were a number of factors there. The franchise changed hands when it came over to Crystal Dynamics, and some of the fans were lost there. Also, the last game was not the critical success we had hoped it would be.
We read the reviews from the last game and took in the feedback from the fans and the public, and from there we decided what we wanted to do better, while also trying to create a whole new gameplay experience (co-op, isometric, digital). For this game, we wanted to be sure to nail pacing, improve combat, and have puzzles on a smaller scale so that every part of the puzzle can be seen on screen at once.
Since we were creating a game for the digital space, we also decided that we would focus on bite-sized gameplay chunks so every aspect of the game is more immediately accessible and pick-up-and-play, and put-down-and-pick-up-later. Even if a player is only able to fit in five minutes of playing, we wanted them to feel like they could accomplish something in those five minutes.
We changed the ways the teams were structured as well. We emphasized cross-disciplinary daily reviews so every team member provided input into all areas of the game, and I think this really helped to boost the overall quality of the game. Before we ever brought in external playtesters, we had been our own playtesters.
SPOnG: If Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is not being acknowledged as part of the main Tomb Raider series, what is the aim of developing this title?
To try new things! This is the first ever co-op with Lara Croft, and it is the first time we designed gameplay and art for an isometric camera. This is also our first Digital release. Really, this project was all about stretching ourselves and trying new things.
SPOnG: The game will feature an isometric viewpoint with arcade gameplay. Besides these changes, are we looking at gameplay and scenarios that we'd expect to find in a core Tomb Raider title, or are you going for a different experience here?
While keeping in the tradition of balancing puzzles, platforming, exploration, and combat, we wanted to make sure we delivered on each of these while tailoring this game for the digital space. As I mentioned, puzzles are not epic, and they are not cerebral, but more about experimenting with the environment to solve a puzzle through more action than thought.
Combat can get pretty frantic as we can get lots of enemies onscreen at once. It really is about a different experience but still honouring and showcasing what players love about games with Lara Croft.
SPOnG: The co-operative gameplay and isometric viewpoint seems like a very retro way of presenting the game. As ironic as this sounds, given that Tomb Raider in itself has inspired many contemporary games, has there been any retro games that have influenced your level and game design here?
We are fans of Contra
SPOnG: Is this the only Tomb Raider project in the pipeline to rebuild Lara's profile? Should we expect to see a full disc-based Tomb Raider game soon after?
I canít comment on that, but I can say we are committed to AAA pillar releases.
SPOnG: Tomb Raider is now a Square Enix franchise. What has the publisher transition been like, and has the acquisition affected the development or direction of the series?
Itís been great! We have been given a tremendous amount of support and encouragement not only from Square Enix Europe (our publisher), but Square Enix and Square Enix America as well.
Getting to exchange ideas with developers in the Square Enix group is fantastic. There is a lot of communication between studios, and already we have been comparing notes and sharing pro tips.
SPOnG: With the Tomb Raider series exploring the downloadable market, would there be a chance of re-releasing the original PlayStation One games onto the PlayStation Store or other platforms?
I havenít heard anything about that. It is an interesting ideaÖ.
SPOnG: Thank you for your time.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light will be hitting digital download platforms on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this Autumn.