Crystal Dynamics on Lara Croft's new direction

Q&A: Developer's global brand director explains the thinking behind the new co-op focused, arcade-inspired, isometric downloadable take on Tomb Raider.

This summer, Lara Croft is set to star in a decidedly different type of adventure--a downloadable-only isometric action game. In recognition of this change of direction, developer Crystal Dynamics has decided not to use the famous "Tomb Raider" moniker in the title. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is set to break away from the franchise's formula.

Crystal Dynamics is eschewing the third-person platforming roots of the series to provide an arcade-inspired adventure viewed from a fixed isometric perspective. The game will also focus on cooperative play, with a second player able to assume the role of Mayan tribesman Totec in order to help Lara on her quest. Karl Stewart, global brand director at Crystal Dynamics, recently took time to explain why it was time to take Lara in a new direction.

Karl Stewart, global brand director at developer Crystal Dynamics.

GameSpot UK: What was the reason behind the move away from the traditional Tomb Raider experience? Was it due to negative feedback of the more recent games?

Karl Stewart: Last year we decided to take stock of the studio and evaluate our future. We'd just come off the back of a successful trilogy with Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld and felt it was time to look hard at ourselves and that of the Tomb Raider intellectual property. We felt it was about time to get away from creating one game and one experience and porting it across all platforms. We also felt that we needed to shake it up a bit (or in this case, a lot, depending who you talk to).

We set up two teams within the studio, one clearly focused on the next pillar release and one focused on looking at bold and creative new ways of developing the IP. After a few months and tons of ideas from creative director Daniel Neuberger and his team, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was born. We felt that the digital space offered us the flexibility to try new and exciting things along with keeping our Lara Croft experience directly focused on our core audience--[gamers on] the PS3, 360, and PC.

GSUK: How is the two-player cooperative gameplay going to work?

KS: As you know, this is our first co-op game within the Lara Croft universe and we felt that now was as good a time as any to try it out. Our goal was to really create two games in one here. The core fans who love playing the game on their own will be treated to a unique experience where we reequip Lara with all the tools needed to have her very own adventure. Although we have to say, you play the single-player without the clumsy AI following you. Daniel was adamant that he didn't want to have the player get frustrated by having to rely on a second character in this mode, so he decided to drop Totec from the single-player campaign and build a story that worked him in on a different level.

To build this single-player experience and make sure that it was completely unique, the guys on the team went back to the drawing board on a number of the key puzzles and rebuilt them from the ground up for the single-player mode. As for the co-op mode, internally we've coined the phrase "true co-op," as we see this game as a co-op adventure where you really and truly have to work together to be successful. The ability to play co-op both online and offline allows fans of the IP to come together in a new and unique way to talk to each other about solving a puzzle and discuss directions to go in. I’m excited to hear what the fans think when we launch.

GSUK: Recent action adventure hits like Assassin's Creed and Uncharted have taken cues from the Tomb Raider series. Have you learnt anything from them in return?

KS: As a studio we're delighted to see the bar constantly being raised…that's what's so special about this industry, every few months something new appears that makes you go "Wow." It keeps you on your toes and keeps you driving hard.

As a studio, we learn from many different sources, not necessarily just the titles you've mentioned. For now, though, the focus of this team is to make sure that Guardian of Light is the best it can possibly be.

GSUK: What role does story play in the game?

KS: The story has a big part to play, although I have to say it may not be as immersive and deep as the stories in past titles we've done. This time around, Daniel focused on crafting a story that gives the players an experience that is still indicative of the Tomb Raider universe and one that is built on the foundations of Lara Croft and her adventures but at the same time created for the arcade space.

GSUK: Have you considered taking the Lara Croft IP in any other directions or to other genres?

KS: We're open to looking at how the IP can work in a variety of different areas; hence, having a second team driving toward looking at how to be bold and take risks. Depending on how well this game does, we'll make the decision on the next evolutionary steps for the IP. Our focus right now is on making Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light the best game we possibly can.

GSUK: Karl, thanks for your time.

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Discussion

84 comments
wollettl
wollettl

For decades developers have honored the history, style, format, and character of heroes like James Bond, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, etc. Name any other hero who has been dismantled and restructured the way Lara has since Chronicles was produced. And my point is, Edios started meddling with a hero who was just fine the way she was. 'Successful triology', he says. I beg to differ and his comment pinpoints the problem, namely, Eidos and Crystal Dynamics are not in touch with reality. Lara Croft fans liked Lara the way she was in Tomb Raider I,II,III,Last Revelation and Chronicles. And, the problem I have with Square Enix's version is that I don't want to watch Lara - I want to be Lara. I can't be Lara when I'm hanging from the ceiling.

rebfaction
rebfaction

As a Tomb Raider fan based on what I seen so far now this is crap. I have every TR game made and love them all to me Tomb Raider Underworld is the best one and I am still playing it. I know the changes may bring in new players but in doing so this may lose some old ones. O ya this is a great idea after Underworld a step backwords some brain storming wake up this is not the 1970s.

DravenLaVitt
DravenLaVitt

When are they going to take the time and give us a new TR game that looks worth the effort?? They keep putting out these sloppy tomb raider games that are too short and too easy

Zackarias-313
Zackarias-313

The original Tombraider and its "Anniversary" remake were the only ones in the series with actual substance in my opinion. This new take on the series is at least unique and would even better if you had the option the switch between the new overhead view AND the standard 3rd person view that's been standard for this series. Lara's a hot beeatch!!

Dual_Pistols
Dual_Pistols

Looks like a fun little game to me, and it has co-op! What more could you want and expect from a downloadable game? This is really good! People have been paying 1200 friggin MS Points for (for example) the game Braid until recently. Braid! How can the same people who purchased that game say that this one is too expensive? Insanity! Bring it on, can't wait. ;-)

wahyudil
wahyudil

how about dating game with Lara Croft , hmmm ...

MatzeEdend
MatzeEdend

uh huh....... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The old formula has worked well up to this point, why change it? This makes it look like Diablo with guns. The platforming style puzzles was what made Tomb Raider an adventure...

dr_jashugan
dr_jashugan

How about a final game for Soul Reaver, eh? :shock:

o0MrCheesy0o
o0MrCheesy0o

As awesome as it looks I won't be buying it until it comes out on a disc. I hate paying for DLC :/ Anyone else feels this way?

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

[quote="Karl Stewart"]Depending on how well this game does, we'll make the decision on the next evolutionary steps for the IP. [/quote] It's how business works, but it stinks sometimes. Although he's not directly saying it, I get the impression that if "Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light" doesn't sell to expectations that they are not going to continue down the DLC route and may only stick to the main retail titles. I think the DLC + Retail plan of action is great. It allows the team to continue to evolve the detailed canon of Lara Croft through retail and introduce innovative and new ideas into the DLC versions. Even if Guardian of Light "fails", I would like to see them take a second shot. Publishers need to give credible devs the chance to put new ideas out there and see how they are received by the public. We can't always depend on the indie studios to come up with all the innovative ideas. _

Chancellor23
Chancellor23

If they'd really like to try something new and engaging, how about "Lego Tom Raider"?

lonewolf1044
lonewolf1044

Laura Croft Guardian of Light looks good, but the series is getting long in the tooth and should be retired temporarily until a new angle is carefully thought out.

RadicalToenail
RadicalToenail

One question that I wish would be answered:

If it's download-only, will it be cheaper?

PublicNuisance
PublicNuisance

Yay co-op :( A feature I find truly useless as I get no enjoyment from it.

high344
high344

I'd prefer an fps mode over this the Mirror's Edge kind. Just no running and lots of shooting, and lots of mirror's that reflects for the sore eyes.

TheDromader
TheDromader

The trailer looks very..... average. And come ON, how many times we must be tortured by Lara? Give us friggin LoK 6 already or stop making games altogether, since it seems that Tomb raider is the only franchise you got besides that. OR just make a compleatly NEW game altogether! Like, it shouldn't be too hard to think of a new character, story and gameplay, right?

jimmy_83
jimmy_83

i don't wanna to judge on tomb raider game i will wait Intel they release it and then i can tell how good is it but any way tomb raider always have new style but we all know we love the old once which means tomb raider 2 and 4 the last revelation was the best but we will see new tomb raider and i hope for good.

Lone_Warrior_66
Lone_Warrior_66

I don't know... this seems like a really wacky attempt to revitalize the Tomb Raider franchise. Too bad, Lara deserves better.

eal-zubieri
eal-zubieri

@The_crapgamer your tag say it all .

MonitorWizard
MonitorWizard

I knew that there was a good reason to be concerned when Square-Enix bought out Eidos but I expected that Lara would be turned into a teenaged girl and placed into an turn-based RPG with some pretty boy stealing her limelight,not a two player isometric shooter co-starring a Conan the Barbarian for the 21st century.

karloss01
karloss01

to hell with lara croft! Get to work on Legacy of Kain 6!

Heathcliff
Heathcliff

Much of Lara's sex appeal will be lost here. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll replay Underworld instead.

Mafia217
Mafia217

wait what? a Tomb Raider RTS? lololol

gc88
gc88

this game looks cool

lamprey263
lamprey263

I liked Underworld a lot, I think one of the bigger reasons it failed to sell better was because they picked a horrible release window for it, they basically released it within the 1-month window between mid-October and mid-November in 2008 when games like Dead Space, Fallout 3, Fable 2, Little Big Planet, Resistance 2, Motorstorm 2, Gears of War 2, Left For Dead, Mirror's Edge, Endwar, Far Cry 2, and so on... it's really hard to make a game like that sell amongst all the competition. Still though, the series needs more of a makeover than they've given it in recent years to draw in new gamers, I think they really need to abandon the game as a 3D platformer and go more for more of a refined action game with better combat mechanics.

browersr
browersr

Looks to be on par with the Lego series minus the actual Lego treatment of the characters. Probably would make a wonderful little Wii game. If they decide to do a real TR game I will be back otherwise I couldn't have less interest.

halomonkey1_3_5
halomonkey1_3_5

if you cant catch a fish then change your bait. if this is any good then us "hardcore" gamers shouldn't have any trouble playing it. but wait, it looks to "kiddy" to be a hardcore game...so maybe its not crystal dynamics who are the sellouts...

DemiNite
DemiNite

if tomb raider follows the footsteps of uncharted then it will become a successful game

VirtualTofu
VirtualTofu

No. Just no. The TR series gets worse with each game.

klownluv
klownluv

this new guy just killed Tomb Raider.. BrazilianBud i have to agree with you a bit underworld was not the best but i still was a great game...hope this new guy they got working in there falls down the stairs and breaks his legs...

Fenixx
Fenixx

This looks like a Champions of Norrath/Baldur's Gate/Diablo kind of thing. As much as I may have enjoyed playing those, this is definitely not the proper genre for a Tomb Raider game. Sure they say that they aren't calling it a Tomb Raider game because it's something different but that still doesn't make it right. You can't pull Kratos out of God of War and stick him in a tennis game and think you got a good idea. They say they decided to change because of negative feedback....the only negative feedback as far as I know is all the glitches and flaws because they rush the games and don't make them quality. The actual gameplay, the exploring and platforming, is what keeps people coming back to these games because it's so much fun. Improve the combat and don't make it like a last minute idea, get rid of all your game testers cause they suck at their job and get some people that know what they are doing, then maybe you wouldn't have any negative feedback. Oh, and don't make any dumb exclusive deals like you did with Microsoft, essentially cutting off more then half of your fans since Underworld sold better on PS3.

Slagar
Slagar

"the Lara Croft universe"? "true co-op"? Somebody please kick this guy in the nuts. Honestly this game looks like it could be fun, but it comes at the cost of watering down an iconic brand. If Crystal Dynamics actually did a good job on the real TR games, then we wouldn't have this sudden urge to take an "exciting new direction" for the franchise.

IWKYB
IWKYB

Zidaneski I agree...people who don't clearly aren't into women.

Zidaneski
Zidaneski

Whats the point if the camera is not directly behind Lara!?

dukerav
dukerav

Wont knock it until I try it as others might/are. I most likely will give the demo version on Live a go, and if I like it will give it a buy. Personally I don't see anything wrong with changing things up every once in a while; It's not like Crystal Dynamics will be doing nothing but Tomb Raiders of this type from now on.

SpedKnight
SpedKnight

the games haven't been doing to hot...that's why they are changing it...i personally dont think it looks to bad. but its smart on their part

Waldkrieger
Waldkrieger

What a load of crap this game looks to be. Completely uninterested. This is NOT a proper Tomb Raider game in my book.

gamebubba
gamebubba

What the hulk!!!! This game looks horrible!!! I would think Crystal Dynamics would have been smarter. : (

Zloth2
Zloth2

Yeah - pretty obvious that they have gotten tired of making games for serious gamers. Why do that when you can work half as hard and sell 10 times more copies to the casuals? In other words: SELL OUT

ahpuck
ahpuck

It kinda looks like Diablo, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If the game is good and the price is right, i'll give this game a go.

BigBacon87
BigBacon87

The_crapgamer PSN is equal to Xbox live it has been since about 2008. I play games online daily without any issues and I don't have to listen to 12 year olds try to lip me off. Both my roomies have 360's. One is dead after 5 RROD's sitting in a box the other collects dust in someones bedroom because none of us care about it. The 3 PS3's in the house get used all the time. There is a reason for that. Xbox sucks. Get with the now or stay outta the way.

Icehearted
Icehearted

@Biorges Too true. I've always figured game writing to be a sparsely considered issue anyway, basically one of the programmers or some amateur hack puts together a plot only they can fall in love with and they cram it into the game haphazardly. Maybe storytelling is by and large an afterthought? This isn't much different, imo than the big changes they've made to other game franchises, just doubtful this will be very successful.

WalterPeck
WalterPeck

GameSpot UK: What was the reason behind the move away from the traditional Tomb Raider experience? Was it due to negative feedback of the more recent games? Karl Stewart: We knew that with the release of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Uncharted 2 that there was no way we would be able to top that, ever.

The_crapgamer
The_crapgamer

@GBPackersrule I own a PS3, your welcome to add me. I have given PS3 titles pretty good scores, I just prefer online games and PSN usually takes my scores down a bit because of it's lackluster online and voice chat service. I've enjoyed a few titles from Sony but overall I do think they made a lot of mistakes this generation, clearly you don't go from first to last and from 150 million consoles sold to 35 million because you did all the right things. I just happen to enjoy the 360 more. I do in fact use the PS3 for Blu Ray and Media ONLY. I was not neglected and don't care what you or anyone else thinks. It's a relevant story and I agree with the story. The few people I know with a PS3 only use it for Blue Ray or media, certainly not the online or games. BTW...Packers don't rule...lol

Pewbert
Pewbert

I really enjoyed Tomb Raider Underworld/Anniversary/Legend. I was a big fan on the series when it first came out 10 years ago. For me, this is sad news. Nothing wrong with sticking to a certain formula if it's working!