Tomb Raider Dev on Lara’s Violent Reboot: ‘Let’s Be Bold’

During the run-up to the launch of Tomb Raider, another instance of Lara’s struggle that was mentioned by developers but isn’t included in the game was one of a near-sexual assault that Lara fights off. That controversy was mostly a miscommunication, Gallagher said, but the resulting backlash didn’t really affect Crystal Dynamics’ approach to the subject matter of Tomb Raider either.

“We felt that the commentary around that part of the development, and it’s well-worn at this point, we felt that it had to do with, well one: a miscommunication from our side, and two: not full contact in terms of playing the game start to finish,” he said. “From our standpoint, we actually did feel confident and remain confident about the divisions in the game we had, and we felt that that would naturally play out when people actually got their hands on it and played it from start to finish. So it was certainly a bump in the road when you see that kind of discussion going on, and we were confident with what we had and it wasn’t changed because of that. And thankfully when people did get their hands on it from start to finish, and play through the game and see any of the things that were well-worn and discussed in context, I think the feedback we’ve gotten is that it wasn’t really the flashpoint that it was first made out to be.”

Experiments in Expanding the Franchise

A big part of the innovation the studio tried to bring to the game was multiplayer, something Crystal Dynamics has been looking into doing for the Tomb Raider series since around the time it was working on Tomb Raider: Underworld. Gallagher said the team’s attempts at pushing itself and pushing the franchise first manifested itself in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, which yielded information and technology that would make its way into Tomb Raider, and that multiplayer had been on the team’s mind from the beginning. While multiplayer was part of the game’s early designs, Gallagher said, Crystal Dynamics actually asked Eidos Montreal to spearhead that portion of the game.

Instead, CD focused on the single-player experience of Tomb Raider, and the emotional origin story that would entail. Creating a deep, emotionally resonant narrative and one that builds on the core Lara Croft character, while also showing her growth and evolution through the story, was one of the team’s major design commitments throughout the game, said Creative Director Noah Hughes. Likewise, making an impact with players was a big part of the underlying goal.

“One of the things we tried to do is that if you could measure an impact on players, that we were trying to move that needle,” Hughes said. “And so we do that in a lot of ways, right? We do that through gameplay that when you finally save up enough to buy an upgrade that you’ve been waiting for for half the game, that’s a moment of triumph that would move that needle. But we also look at more sort of visceral responses that people have, that when we create claustrophobic situations and support that with the lighting and the mood and the music, and Lara’s performance, or similarly vertigo, a sense of height, and really make sure that the camera is selling and that the visuals are selling that precarious situation that Lara’s in, those really do move the needle. So if we look at trying to create an experience that has people feeling along with Lara, that we definitely leveraged some of the sort of base human responses that made you feel connected to the experience.”

Gallagher and Hughes said the sense of emotional gravity and survivalism was that the core of the Tomb Raider design from the very beginning, and while it was responsible for the game’s ultimate move to being a Mature-rated title — instead of Teen, as previous entries into the franchise — that move wasn’t something that concerned the team.

“I think we felt quite clear in the direction that we were developing the game,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t really want to compromise on that, which is why it ended up moving to Mature. We didn’t start by saying, ‘Let’s make this a Mature title because that’s what we think will be a cool thing to do,’ or anything. It was actually the opposite way. Noah was talking about the lens of survival, and that became really the filter that drove us. We found that we wanted to find an anchor point that we could develop around for the game, and really hang our hats on that. …I keep coming back to the journey versus the destination, and these stories of survival, of Aron Rolston, of other incredible stories of humans that have been on these incredible journeys and lived to tell the tale — that’s what we felt was really engrossing about making this story.”

Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise so far has garnered mostly very positive reviews. A number of gaming outlets have had high praise for the game’s story and characterization, as well as its survival and combat mechanics. It would appear that the studio’s gamble on innovation has paid off.

March 5 sees the release of Tomb Raider on PC and consoles, and you can expect Game Front’s review of the PC version of the game to follow in the coming days. Until then, check out the Game Front YouTube Channel and Walkthrough Channel for lots of video coverage of the title.

This article was a collaboration between Mitchell Saltzman, who took part in the interview, and Phil Hornshaw, who composed the article. Check out more of Mitchell’s work on the Game Front YouTube Channel and follow him on Twitter at @gamefrontmitch. Read more of Phil work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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