Locations to ExploreJeremy Heath Smith
Managing Director/ Tomb Raider Cocreator
Getting a feel for locations is an integral part of being able to build them. A team of level designers went to Paris for a couple of days to take lots of photos and hang around some galleries and museums. The whole point was to ensure Lara would fit into these environments. One of the many skills our environment builders have is to be able to see Lara doing her stuff while they are standing in the location.
To help them with their task, we had a guy who was in charge of all the concept art. He would take one of the designer's ideas and turn it into a sketch. This has been a huge step forward for us in the way we develop games. We did hundreds of sketches of locations and rooms that the level designers would then use to model the maps.
Much of the inspiration for this was driven by the game's story. Because we introduced a slightly darker edge in this Tomb Raider, it enabled us to add a more gothic feel to our graphics. There are hints of Tim Burton, for example. The edgier feel made the task of actually coming up with ideas for areas so much easier. Once you have the location, breaking it down into areas is the fun bit. This is when we really start to pile in the story elements using the areas that make up the key location.
The great thing about creating a video game is that you can map it out on paper before you go near a computer, and this was our approach at the start of the project. Breaking down the two central locations into the playable areas is the key to how the game is formed, and it needs to be locked down early in development. Otherwise, you can suffer from huge "content creep." The reason we were able to reduce the number of levels, as mentioned previously, with only a small amount of pain was because the game had been well planned from the concept stage and therefore was flexible enough to be able to withstand such a substantial change.
A strong story can drive the locations, and we have always had a strong story. The team has always seen the direction the levels needed to go in, and what was for sure with this Tomb Raider was we did not want to just be in the whole "tomb" thing. We knew we wanted to bring Lara out into the street for a while. I do think, though, that after this game has shipped, we will all end up in the Prague Asylum with Kurtis.
Gameplay With StyleAndrew Thompson
We knew we wanted to expand the distinctive Tomb Raider style of gameplay while at the same time expanding everything Lara could do. The first thing to be addressed was control. The old digital system had to go in favor of analog control. This allows Lara to negotiate the environment in a much more fluid way. For example, whereas before Lara would "walk to the edge, take a step back, and then run and jump," she now has the option of a much more direct run at a gap that needs jumping. If you miss the edge, Lara can grab onto it, allowing her to pull herself up and try again.
It was also clear from the start that we wanted to add a stealth function. The various gameplay styles would depend on the location the player was in. The Paris streets, for example, have an RPG feel, whereas when exploring the Louvre, evading guards and deadlier enemies, the stealth option comes into its own. The stealth option is something that complements Lara's abilities, rather than something that's forced upon the player, as in other games with stealth elements.
To maintain the traditional Tomb Raider element, we had to have at least one seriously puzzle-laden realm, and this comes beneath the Louvre, in a fictitious subterranean area called the Tomb of Brother Obscura. The entire area is filled with traditional traps, puzzles, and death-dealing contraptions, requiring some serious athleticism of both body and mind!
The much more severe tests Lara must go through this time around incorporate an in-game attribute upgrade system. The necessary skills are attainable in specific in-game situations that will affect Lara's ability to handle climbs or death-defying leaps. Most of the basic moves are covered in the training area built into the first level of the game, but the skills needed to complete many tasks can be upgraded throughout the game. For the first time in a Tomb Raider game, areas that are inaccessible initially can be revisited after the player, and Lara, have evolved.
Most of the second location in Prague, the Strahov Complex, is very much action-based. Lara has to take on the very worst in bizarre creatures, mutated henchmen, and heavily armed troops. She'll still need to keep her wits about her, though, as a trap is never far away!
A great deal of consideration was given to incorporating camera placement in the various levels. How the camera would act during gameplay was important, whether it would cut or blend between the cutscene and gameplay cameras. Similarly, the maps and levels needed to be constructed bearing in mind how the camera would navigate the geometry and follow the player.
In summary, we set ourselves the task of bringing a fresh and updated control method to the player that makes full use of the additional controls the PlayStation 2 pad offers. We were determined, though, to ensure that the die-hard Lara player would still recognize the system and appreciate the evolvement that was undertaken.