Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

"There's always somebody in the room smoking crack."

This summer, nearly 18 months since the launch of Tomb Raider: Underworld, we're going to see a different side to Lara Croft.

Yes, she's back, and yes, she's running around tombs again, but this time she's not running around shops on the way there, and she's unaccompanied by her traditional Tomb Raider headline.

That's because Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a download-only game for PC, PSN and Xbox 360. An experiment of sorts - developer Crystal Dynamics asked a small team to find a new outlet for the Tomb Raider heroine - the result is a co-operative action-adventure co-starring some dude with a spear.

Crystal Dynamics' brand overlord Karl Stewart is treading on unfamiliar ground, but he's confident his team are onto something. Eurogamer sat him down for a good talking to.

Eurogamer: This game has been called an experiment and a stopgap for Lara's next big release. Is that accurate?

Karl Stewart: When we started it was an experiment. We split the studio into two 18 months ago. We had two teams: one focused on the pillar release - their big baby - and the other one was experimental and looking at how we could be more bold and risky and try new things.

We looked at tons of different places: handheld, Wii, DS and online platforms. In those early stages we were very experimental, trying new things. Now it's gone past experimental. Now we're headfirst into building something that's compelling and new.

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This week, Totec has been walking a political tightrope.

Eurogamer: What experimental things were you doing with Lara?

Karl Stewart: There's always somebody in the room smoking crack. When you get that amount of people in one room and ask them all for their idea you get some hare-brained ideas. But some of them will go on the back burner and may see the light of day. She's a real unique character and we have the opportunity to take her to new places.

Now, given the amount of work we've done on previous Tomb Raiders, we need to be fresh, to create something new. And this felt right.

Eurogamer: Those experiments are still alive?

Karl Stewart: To be honest, most of them are locked up in a draw. We made a decision when we were going down this road that the entire studio's focus was firmly on two products. This is taking up all of our time for this team. There's nothing else we're working on apart from this and our pillar release. But when we're finished with this we'll see how well it does and we might see what's down the road. Right now there's nothing in the works apart from these two games.

Eurogamer: How much are you gambling on Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light?

Karl Stewart: Ultimately making any game is a risk. You can mitigate this by doing tons of research: NPD, Nielsen. But in the case of arcade gaming it's an area that's locked off; if we sell a game I'm certainly not going to say how much we sold. It's all anecdotal data. In terms of risks then, this is a huge risk for every studio. You're putting a team onto something that you have to believe in your heart of hearts is the right direction. In terms of financials, that's a huge risk.

In terms of the space, what are we if we don't take risks? We don't want to continue making the same games that we've always made.

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Is that Steve Backley?

Eurogamer: Is the Guardian of Light team very big?

Karl Stewart: We don't normally reveal team size, but it's a pretty moderate-sized team. It's certainly smaller than anything you would have on a pillar release. A lot smaller.

Ultimately you have to have the key people: the creative directors, the tech guys, the lead designer. Having a small team we're able to communicate much more freely; we're able to fix a lot of things on the fly, and make decisions. The days of building a game by committee are absolutely gone.

Eurogamer: Will there be any crossover between the studio's two projects?

Karl Stewart: No, no. We made a decision that the two of them are completely different beasts. Guardian of Light is an arcade game with the arcade consumer in mind. Going forwards, we don't want to confuse. This direction has to be communicated correctly. The other title we're working on is built specifically for that [other] audience.

Eurogamer: Is Guardian of Light a sneaky way to return to puzzles and a more 'human' Lara without the mass market going mental?

Karl Stewart: In everything we do, irrespective of if it's a digital game or a pillar release, the heritage of Tomb Raider has to be there, because what is it without that? Just a generic game. We know who Lara is and what it is to be a Tomb Raider.

In this case we decided to have Lara in co-op. This will be the first time players have spoken to each other at the same time as trying to solve a puzzle. We've been very solitary in the past. Now you can come across these things that have been in our DNA in the past and talk to other people about them and have some fun. That's new, that's big for us.

Guardian of Light has been built with a critical and non-critical game path. The arcade gamer who likes to play from start to finish in one sitting without doing those hardcore puzzles can. There's no puzzle that dumbfounds you so much you put the controller down and say, "I'm done." But for the Tomb Raider fan you can choose to go into some Challenge Tombs and pick up some additional perks that will help you play the game in a unique way.

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