Interview: Shortly after playing the opening “Crossroads” demo from TOMB RAIDER, we sat down for a chat with the game’s art director, Brian Horton, about creating a powerful introduction, Lara’s evolution into a shotgun-wielding badass and why she won’t be drinking any of her own pee to survive.
I was really quite taken aback by how harrowing the opening moments of Tomb Raider eventually are. After you get through the first section where you kill the deer, Lara has this horrendous half hour where she’s attacked by wild dogs, she wanders through a creepy temple and then has to escape from some frightening locals. Those moments are surprisingly intense. How much attention was placed on having such a powerful introduction?
We put a tremendous amount of effort on the first hour of gameplay. It was our goal to make sure everything that you do from very beginning to the point where you really start getting all of your basic abilities explained not only taught you a skill, but had some kind of story relevance to it.
So, there’s an emotional component, even the first time you cross the log, you feel the drama of that, right? Later you’re going to cross logs and it won’t be as big of a deal, but that first time you do it – it’s a big deal. And that’s what we tried to do from the den all the way through to that point where you kill the first scavenger, that’s our moments where every single mechanic or thing you learn is in some kind of dramatic context.
Well, I definitely don’t think I’d be able to survive as well as Lara. I mean, I missed the deer about five times at the start. But, one quote I picked up on from Karl Stewart – and it’s quite a funny one – he said: “This isn’t a game where you have to drink your own pee to stay alive.”
Yeah, classic Karl quote…
Did you ever consider heading down the survival route that far, or was Tomb Raider always going to be a mix between survival and action?
We always knew we were going to be an action game. Well, we knew we were going to be an action-adventure game. The survival tone is more of a filter than anything else and there are mechanics around survival, but it’s more rooted around character growth than anything else. So the survival is more of a context than it is a mechanic in the game.
Interesting. I’m not sure whether it’s more to do with how bits of the game have been shown, but if you compare something like the opening here with the action heavy section you demoed at E3, I was just wondering how you paced that build up from Lara’s fragility at the start to a shotgun-wielding badass?
There’s a bit of game in between the Crossroads demo and what we showed at E3, so we wanted to give you a little glimpse of the future, of how much she’s going to grow as a character and how badass she really will become. So trust me when I say that every step that we’ll take from this Crossroads demo to getting to that point is going to build up logically. There’s enough game in there between the end of this demo and where that takes place that you’ll feel justified and it will make sense how she got there.
And do you also show that through the skills Lara gains too?
Yeah, so we wanted to have a parallel between the story growth and the actual gameplay growth. The campsite and the system that we built with the campsite is actually a really good mechanism to do that because the player is going to have a little bit of choice. They’re going to be able to use their survival experience to gain new abilities that they can use to improve Lara. And then she’s going to be able to use her salvage that she gains from exploration to upgrade her tools and weapons. This will also be applied to the weapons. So the bow and other weapons she has in the game will be upgradeable as the player chooses based on their preference.