Rise of the Tomb Raider's True-to-Life World
Grounded in Reality
The legwork done by Crystal Dynamics in researching locations for Rise of the Tomb Raider is impressive. Over the course of a few weeks, the team visited locations across Turkey, scouring for the perfect look and feel for their Lost City of Kitezh. Determined to lend a visual legitimacy to the in-game tombs, the team extensively researched Byzantine culture, melding their findings with a subtle dash of Greek architecture. After visiting cities including Cappadocia, Istanbul, and Ephesus--with a brief trip to Yosemite--the team pieced together their vision for Rise of the Tomb Raider's wild Syrian and Siberian lands.
(Shown above: the hills of Cappadocia, photo taken by Crystal Dynamics)
"The great thing about working on a game like Rise of the Tomb Raider is you have this world that is basically our world, something that you can relate to, and characters that are human and believable," game director Brian Horton told GameSpot. "But you want to take the player on this fantastic journey, and make them feel like they're going someplace that they couldn't normally go on a tourist trip. So we take things from the real world and we twist them to bring myths to life."
He continued, "In doing so, we have to do a lot of research. We really want to make sure that the foundations and roots of these myths have some kind of tie to the world that we know. We bring this fantastic Russian myth that we bring to life with Russian architecture--which has been influenced by Byzantine culture, this ancient Christian late-Roman period--and we wanted to use that as a fusion between what we see in the real world and what hopefully we can make our Kitezh to be. Real locations served as a blueprint for our designs to draw upon and bring legitimacy to the world that ultimately would make up our lost city of Kitezh."
What follows is a collection of never-before-seen concept art for Rise of the Tomb Raider, with detailed descriptions of what inspired each one.
The Flooded Archive
Brian Horton: We call this the Archive. This is one of our tomb locations. What we wanted to sell was that this is a place where a lot of the records of Kitezh were stored. We wanted to make sure that it had a sense of being in ruin and a creepy factor; the idea of it being flooded and in disrepair is a part of the aesthetic on top of the ancient space. The more Greek-inspired roots of Byzantine culture, which is really just late Roman, are the aesthetic point of contact.
Horton: The flooded archive was inspired by a library in Ephesus, an ancient Greek town in Turkey. That was the primary source of reference for this structure, along with a film called Agora. These were good points of inspiration because these places don't exist anymore. Agora featured a hybrid of Greek, Roman, an influx of different cultures. It was this mix and match of different cultural influences, including Egyptian.
(photo taken by Crystal Dynamics)
The Ice Tomb
Horton: These are the gates to Kitezh, a threshold the player must go through to get to the inner, lush valley. The inspiration for this was Hagia Sophia, a palatial Byzantine church that became Islamic when Istanbul was taken over. We were really interested in taking what was known as desert architecture and juxtaposing that against this wintery, frozen landscape. We did a lot of research on ice caves and we wanted to create a tomb that had that architectural mix in the ice. These caves are inspired by a type of volcanic ice caves with very specific formations that appear on ceilings. We created this space as a more of a rock cave with impacted ice.
The other thing that's important about this is that the path to the gates has been torn apart, so there's unstable activity. In the game, when the Soviets came into mine after discovering this location, cave-ins happened and put this whole area in disrepair. There's a huge gorge between where you start and where you need to go, and part of the story includes how you get across that gorge made by the Soviet's hasty excavation. Remnants of the excavation equipment are still in there as well.
Horton: Our goal, always, with Tomb Raider is taking something that's known and somehow finding a way to flip it and make it unique. The juxtaposition between the architecture and area is against what you expect to see. It was also cool to throw in ties to Syria, which is very much a desert location, so there's some sort of familiarity threading through those two locations. The biggest challenge in this is making it feel like an old, ancient space with this layer of Soviet history. How much Soviet occupation had happened in there, and how much of that is still your archeological find?
(photo taken by Crystal Dynamics)
Horton: This is the beginning of the sequence after the avalanche, where Lara finds the old camp. Internally we call this place Bear Valley. We wanted to really sell the hostile forces of nature, the danger of the avalanche's aftermath with those exposed broken branches and trees, and some hint at civilization. Instead of going straight into a wilderness, she's realizing that there is hope she's on the right track because she sees evidence of a camp. On the way she'll see those Byzantine and Mongolian ruins.
There were certain things we did research on site, but there were others where we just gathered research. We found so many references that informed our Soviet installation, great references for Cold War Russian archeology and the ghost towns left behind.
Horton: These are ruins that the local population currently lives in. You'll see stands and tents and shops with food. There's this local population and there's a Trinity invasion, and this particular scene shows an opening section to that sequence. We call these 'living ruins'; we wanted to show that a new civilization was living on the bones of an even older one. So even though they have ancestry with this ancient culture, they've evolved their ways and no longer occupy these ancient structures the way their ancestors did. They have a more nomadic quality to them.
Horton: This Syrian village was heavily inspired by a combination of Ephesus in Turkey and evidence of decayed ancient structures I found along my travels through Istanbul. We especially used those references for the building materials and the way the new grass grows over them. The areas weren't as well maintained.
(photo taken by Crystal Dynamics)
Horton: This is a vista of the previous villages. Lara will be at a vista point looking at this tower and the lower courtyard. It's her approach to these remnant ruins. There's an aqueduct and old towers, for which we referenced structures in Istanbul.
Horton: This is an old concept that informed our deluge scene, where Lara survives the Prophet's Tomb washout. We ended up adding more color to the palette, but we always wanted this exterior to look like Petra, a landmark where people carved a facade directly into a living rock face.
Sherpa Base Camp
Horton: This is a Sherpa base camp, the point of no return where Lara and Jonah strike out on their own as they make their way up the mountain. They've gotten as far as they can possibly go with their guides. We wanted to showcase the Arctic wasteland.
We looked at a lot of movies for reference for what it's like getting to the edge of the world, where dogs and sled crews don't go and you're on foot in rocky high places. In this instance here we knew we wanted to feel as remote as we possibly could. No civilization anywhere around. The only way to get where they needed to go was through the locals.
Horton: This showcases Lara at the top of one of her large climbs as she makes her way into the Archive location. There is a landmark that we see at the very beginning of the game: right before the avalanche, Lara sees this cathedral off in the distance. We see that again later in this level, and over and over again. This is her finally making that climb up to that location where she finds the Archive. It's one of those moments where we wanted to sell the drama of extreme weather on a very high location. It's one of the game's action spikes, where she's in a race against Trinity to find the next piece of the Kitezh puzzle.
Horton: This shows a bit of the more middle history of the area's remnant population. We were very much inspired by Russian rural constructions. We did a lot of photographic research on Russian communities even though this population actually comes from a migration from the south. Over time it feels like a Slavic-esque culture, with these very rural roots. We were inspired by the log structures. The building in this artwork is a church built in a flooded area of the valley, in the lusher portion of Siberia.