Tomb Raider Reboot Exclusive Interview.in
Tomb Raider makes its much-anticipated return this week when it releases worldwide on Tuesday, March 5.
It marks a fresh departure for the gaming icon, looking at the heroine's very first adventure as she's shipwrecked on an island in her early 20s and must adapt quickly in harsh surroundings to survive.
Attempting to reboot such an established, iconic franchise is brave, but one that has paid off, as our five-star review shows.
We spoke to developer Crystal Dynamics and lead writer Rhianna Pratchett about how this new Lara was realised, why a reboot happened and the steps it's taken to get there
Why reboot Tomb Raider?
The core reason behind Tomb Raider's reboot was to ensure the franchise would remain relevant for today's audience. This was something that Crystal Dynamics felt had to happen even as it was developing Tomb Raider: Underworld.
"I think as we look at properties that are around as long as something like Tomb Raider, I think there's a natural obligation to evolve it for today's audience," creative director Noah Hughes told Digital Spy.
"I think we recognize from a creative side, even before we finished Underworld, to make sure that we were keeping things fresh for the audience.
"We really started with that inspiration of making sure we're evolving enough to stay current and realise the potential of Lara - there's no reason why you can't make a Tomb Raider game that's relevant, so that became our goal."
Global brand manager Karl Stewart added that seeing other film franchises experiencing a resurgence in fortune thanks to successful reboots made the team see even more potential in starting over.
"Tomb Raider has been and will be very successful, but I think it reached a point in time when we needed to do something very different, very new and very unique," he said.
"Given the successes of other entertainment properties, such as Batman, and James Bond subsequently afterwards, we saw the potential to be able to go back and tell our origin story that could be very special and very unique, and would allow us to be able to bring a different perspective to the franchise that could help set the foundation for the next ten, 15 years."
Seeing Underworld launch around the same time as Assassin's Creed and Gears of War, franchises that really upped the stakes when it came to action and adventure, meant the team knew it had to raise the bar in order to "sustain the future of the franchise".
Horses and escorting a child - the new Tomb Raider could have been so different
While an origin story is clearly an easy way to reboot a franchise, the studio wasn't always set on that path. In fact, they were happy with just a sequel that took Tomb Raider in a new direction.
As Crystal Dynamics entered pre-production on a new Tomb Raider project, the team experimented with all kinds of new ideas to see where they could take Lara Croft next.
"We took a very agile approach to development and had teams sprinting against different ideas so we could get a lot of coverage," said Hughes. "That inspired us, where we saw things we liked and things that wouldn't necessarily work."
Codenamed 'Ascension', this very early phase of development initially retained the well-known, pistol-wielding design of old Lara and saw her square off against mythical beasts, using fluid and fast movements to traverse the world.
Some of the most interesting ideas were horse riding and escorting a child, features which obviously didn't make it into the final product.
"[With the young girl] it felt difficult - and especially when we started to talk about an origin story - that we wanted to make it about Lara," said Hughes.
"As much as we wanted other characters in the world to highlight relationships, we didn't want someone with Lara all the time. We wanted to focus on Lara and Lara's independence and isolation, and that would be difficult to do with another character around all the time."
Having a horse to ride, meanwhile, would have changed Lara's relationship with the world around her.
"The scale for traversal gameplay as a human and the scale for what's interesting on a horse is very different," said Hughes.
"At some point we may look to solve some of those problems, but we wanted to focus on Lara's traversal as a character, first and foremost.
"So we wanted to be able to build spaces that were really designed around less horse-sized movements and speeds, and more using Lara's fun movement mechanics of running and jumping and using her tools to get to places and things like that.
"So it's more a matter of centring the world design around her as a character."
However, there were some early ideas that did make their way into the final product, such as the climbing axe and the bow.
The team also looked into location-specific hit responses on towering mystical beasts to hinder their progress, which were then downsized to work with human foes.
Making Tomb Raider an open world game and what "trade-offs" that would have was also discussed, but ultimately the team scaled back for open exploration built around a hub.
"There's all kind of things we may have not have taken that full prototype forward, but we learned things from it and rolled it into the game going forward," Hughes added.
Bring on board Rhianna Pratchett to create a credible story.
It soon became apparent that to reinvent Tomb Raider was to make Lara Croft human again, and not just a seemingly invincible action hero that could escape any situation.
The best way to do that is to tell her story from the beginning with her very first adventure.
"The idea that Lara had been celebrated as an icon, but from a human perspective had been reduced to an icon," explained Hughes.
"Part of our inspiration for bringing freshness to the franchise was to bring her out as a character.
"Some of the things that rattled around early in the process was the island, and recognising, with Lara's infinite resources and ability to succeed in any condition, that we wanted to put her in a condition where you weren't sure she was going to succeed."
After the initial pre-production phase - which lasted around a year to 18 months - Rhianna Pratchett, the acclaimed writer of Mirror's Edge and Heavenly Sword, came on board to help flesh out the story.
( YES TOMB RAIDER IS WROTE BY A WOMAN !!!! )
Pratchett was initially handed a four to five-page synopsis of the game's plot, as well as bios of six characters. From there, she worked between her home in London and Crystal Dynamics in San Francisco to help craft Lara's first adventure.
"We spent a long time working on the story arc of the game and strengthening that and the story and world bible," she explained.
While until this point Pratchett had worked on original properties, as Tomb Raider was a reboot the process of jumping on board something so established wasn't so intimidating.
"The good thing with how we're approaching Tomb Raider is because it is a reboot and a re imagining It was a little bit like working for a new IP," she explained.
"Initially I thought I was not the world's biggest Tomb Raider expert - is that going to be okay? - but they were pleased with that.
"They wanted someone to have some knowledge of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft but could look at the project with fresh eyes."
How do you reboot an iconic character like Lara Croft?
The reboot gave Pratchett and the team the opportunity to re-evaluate who Lara Croft was as a character.
"We could pick and choose what we wanted and develop what we wanted; there was a certain amount of freedom within that, we didn't have to be beholden to everything that had come before, but we could take on board what we thought worked and what we wanted to explore further," she explained.
Pratchett explained that working on a reboot and an origin story was "like working backwards".
"People know what Lara Croft is like, now we have to rewind her to when she wasn't like that and let that slowly unfurl," she explained.
"I know we were taking a little bit of a risk when Lara wasn't brandishing twin pistols and knew she could get out of any situation.
"We called that kind of Lara 'Teflon Lara'; she could get herself out of anything.
"Taking her back to a time when she feels more vulnerable - not because she's female, but because she's human in dire circumstances in the way any of us would feel if we were shipwrecked on a mysterious island. She is uncertain, and she does look to others for help."
The team decided to retain Lara Croft's core character traits - she is still brave, resourceful and resilient - but they're "buried underneath the surface" and emerge as the game unfolds.
"She's not immediately a bad-ass with twin pistols and quippy one-liners; she's not confident," Pratchett explained.
"She has a certain amount of confidence, she has that [you have] when you're 21. You're just out of university, you've just passed your exams, you think you know it all and you're suddenly thrust into the real world, and she's thrust into a rather extreme version of the real world.
"She's not confident about meeting those challenges because she's never had to before, so we're exploring that side of her and how those traits come to the surface."
She added: "We're keen to emphasis that all the great things about Lara - her strength, her independence, her love of archaeology are still there - but we want to bring them out during the game. They're brought out through her actions and how she faces up to these challenges."
Making Lara Croft human again: Introducing the island and crew members
Crystal Dynamics introduced two new elements to the franchises in order to bring Lara Croft's personality to the forefront.
One of them was side characters - her stranded crew members, some of whom she knew before the adventure began - and the other a single setting, an island on which Lara and her crew become stranded, and a place which hides ancient myths and dangerous savage locals.
"We spent quite a while looking at Lara's relationships with other characters, because there's quite a few characters in this game, which has not normally been the case with previous Tomb Raider games," Pratchett explained.
"So we're exploring her compassion and empathy, so she would just help anyone. [But] she has to come to the realisation that rushing off to help anyone who says they need it is not always the wisest move.
"Those characters were designed as motivation for Lara during the game, and they've underlined her as a human being, and her warmth and her caring side as well, which certainly comes out.
"They all help underline what Lara's going through, and they become sounding boards for how a character's changing."
She added: "They're not there all the time; there's moments where Lara's there on her own in the environment, and they were very important to have, because people associate that with Tomb Raider."
Pratchett added that the crew also offer their varying views on the island's mysteries and their dire situation, and what they should be doing next as a group to survive.
The island itself is a place designed to test Lara Croft and show how she would react and evolve in the face of incredible odds. Both real and fictional tales of survival were key inspiration points in helping to create the basis for a new, more grounded franchise.
Pratchett said: "We approached [the island setting] by different angles, but we were inspired by things like Lost, The Descent and 127 Hours.
"We wanted the environment to put up a great deal of tests to Lara, as well as animals and people.
"The survival against the environment is a great test for Lara."
Tomb Raider will be available for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC from Tuesday, March 5 worldwide.
Source Digital Spy.