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.

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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
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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.
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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