It seems like everywhere you look, there’s a reboot going on. Last year, theatres were full of them – James Bond and Batman both came back in the latest instalments of their recently rebooted franchises, while Spider-Man too got a fresh start.
It’s no different in video games. With the medium starting to reach its figurative adulthood, some franchises are having to reinvent themselves.
So it goes with Tomb Raider, which made its debut on the Sega Saturn way back in 1996. Since then, the game’s star – adventurer Lara Croft – has become something of a pop culture icon, akin to Bond, Batman and Spider-Man.
On March 5, Square Enix is releasing the latest chapter in her saga, titled simply Tomb Raider, a prequel of sorts that promises to explore how Croft became the female equivalent of Indiana Jones. The game will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Darrell Gallagher, head of California-based Crystal Dynamics, sat down to discuss the franchise’s new direction (the following transcript has been lightly edited for length and continuity):
Why do the reboot?
For us, we felt that after finishing Tomb Raider: Underworld [in 2008], that was a natural closure point. We started looking at the landscape and how the brand was perceived and realized we were dealing with some challenges that made a reboot necessary. At that point, Tomb Raider had been around for 13 years and we were among the oldest gaming franchises there is.
Video gaming is such a new medium, not many people have had to deal with the same sort of issue. So we looked at other media and two good examples are James Bond and Batman. James Bond just celebrated 50 years with a billion dollars at the box office, which shows that he’s just as relevant as ever. But growing up, James Bond was very different when I was young, he was Roger Moore in the ’80s. You look at him now and that’s my granddad running around, but when you were a kid he was cool. Today’s Bond is very different and we felt we needed to tackle the character of Lara Croft in much the same way. How do we make it for this generation rather than the first PlayStation generation, and how do we continue it for another 15 years and hopefully 50?
Why do it now for the current generation of consoles when the next wave is just about here?
When we started four years ago, we had an even worse sense of when the next generation would be. We couldn’t make that decision back then.
The other part is, you never really plan on a project taking four years, but we took the time we needed to make a game that we felt was special and deserving of the term “reboot.” Those two things combined to put us into 2013.
So what have you done to Lara Croft to modernize her?
People really knew her as this ass-kicking, wise-cracking, very capable tomb raider, but they didn’t really know who was underneath that. That story has never really been told because it wasn’t the type of story that was told in 1996, when this was first launched.
She’s not flawless at this point, and a much more relatable and believable person. She’s someone you could go to the pub with or could see hanging out with. She doesn’t have a butler or live in a mansion yet. She still comes from the same family background but I think part of it was making her more vulnerable and approachable.
The character is still the character we have today. She may not know that she has her abilities, and that comes through in the course of the game, but that inherent inner strength is there. We’ve made her feel like she’s learning, that she’s not perfect, that if you were in that situation, you might end up the same way.
She started as this buxom character that was marketed mainly to young men. Is that an albatross that will always follow her?
There’s obviously a long history of baggage around a brand like this. I think the same could be said about the other franchises we talked about. There was the versions of Bond you liked and disliked, and I know which Batman I walked out of.
When Batman Begins came out, nobody was really talking about the one with Mr. Freeze in it. We hope that after people play through this, they’ll have a different view of [our] franchise.
There are other franchises that do similar things to Tomb Raider’s exploration adventure brand of gaming – Uncharted being the most notable – so how do you differentiate it now?
Obviously they’re great franchises and I love playing them, too, so hat’s off to them. We started moving in the direction we’re moving a while ago, I think the first Uncharted was out at the time, about four years ago, and Assassin’s Creed had just come out. What was interesting is that we felt we needed to move away from our past whereas some of those franchises have used the DNA of Tomb Raider.
Mechanically, we have a very rich world and a huge variety of experiences in the game, from puzzles to exploration to combat sequences to stealth to full-on combat. The hub is a semi-open world, not full open, but there are large exploration spaces with tombs and collectables.
Some of the things that make it feel different are obviously the character, the story we’re telling is unique as well. You start as this newcomer, this naïve 21-year-old girl, and you end up as this hardened tomb raider at the end. That’s something you don’t see in every game. It’s a story that’s worth telling.
We see a great deal of different genre films and they can all co-exist together if they have stories worth telling. For us, this is a story worth telling and that’s what makes it unique.
What about the multiplayer?
Yes, that was announced in January. We wanted to continue this universe and fiction so, whether it’s part way through the single player or after in multiplayer, you can jump in and it has all the trappings of Tomb Raider. There’s a survival theme running through it, we have vertical traversal and weather effects and level design, which makes for impressive map design. We have a wide range of mechanics so we’ll hopefully get some replay value out of it for the consumer.
This is the first player-versus-player in Tomb Raider. This was a fresh challenge.