Sunday, 7 November 2010

Nablopomo and other aliens: Day 7

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a pleasant surprise for everyone when it came out in September.

It gathered praise not just for being a great little game in its own right, but for being an imaginative twist on the Tomb Raider series. That said, it's not technically a Tomb Raider game, it's a "Lara Croft" game, featuring an entirely new mechanic and - most interestingly - a second playable character.

I mention it because I read an article in Edge magazine about the creative possibilities afforded to developers by the bite-size platform of downloadable content.

"We see this as the option to do our equivalent of Pixar shorts," says Darrell Gallagher, GM of Crystal Dynamics. "In these short films Pixar really has the chance to try something new without the weight of expectations that comes with a big film. We felt there was a similar kind of freedom for Lara in the digital space, so we picked a few things we wanted to try, with co-op being the top one. There's just more room to experiment in general with donwload games, and we wanted to take bolder steps with the franchise."

This is extremely exciting, for a couple reasons. Firstly, for Tomb Raider fans, it means that the series isn't about to go stale (I for one was worried that it was at one point). For developers, it heralds a new age of atristic freedom. Publishers are less likely to keep their developers on a tight leash when the stakes are lower, as they are with downloadable content. And as for everyone else, there's a bright future of short, sweet and imaginative downloadable games to look forward to.

Gallagher continues: "The feedback loop between download games and our pillar releases is not just in terms of gameplay ideas, either. One of the things that was appealing about the Pixar model is that they were using techniques in the short films that they were going to apply to their next major film. They tried fur in a short before Monsters Inc, and water before Finding Nemo. They also try out new teams and new directors. I felt that the digital space allowed us the opportunity to do that, too. There were all these things we were interested in trying and his gave us a chane to see how they were received."

The screenshots here come from Katie's Tomb Raider site, which contains a fairly definitive collection of screenshots from Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and all the other Tomb Raiders. She's also written several stories about Lara, which I mention because this post is all about ingenuity. I tried really hard to come up with some ideas for (hypotheitcal) directions Crystal Dynamics could take Lara in this age of downloadable titles, but it turns out I'm just not a game designer. They could do worse than reading some of these stories.


  1. First, great job posting every day. I have hard time posting once a month. ;)

    As for Guardian of Light, I also enjoyed it immensely. I've been amazed and, truth be told, somewhat dismayed by some of the reactions I've heard. I think the main source of negative reviews stems from frustrated expectations. Despite Square Enix's relentless marketing campaign, which stressed that LCGOL is *not* a Tomb Raider game, some players didn't get that and expected a solitary run through the tombs with Lara. Those players were inevitably disappointed. It seems like people who kept an open mind had a lot more fun. No, it's not Tomb Raider, but it is a complete blast—especially the co-op game.

    I'm looking forward to TR9, whenever it may arrive, but I'm also eager to see what new and exiting downloadable games they come up with. I'd love to see Lara in other types of adventures, other genres even.

    I don't know if you saw it but back in May one of my posts asked readers to suggest ideas for other Tomb Raider spin-offs. My idea was a Lara Croft fitness game for Wii/Kinect/Move. Other players came up with things like Tomb Raider Fight Night (a la Tekken or Super Smash Bros), Tomb Raider Racing and various others. []

    So, yes, you're absolutely right about there being a wealth of ideas out there. Should the developers ever run out, all they need to do is ask the fans.

  2. Tomb Raider racing!!!

    I remember back in the late 90s there was friendly competition between Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. Each was an amusing kart-racer featuring characters from the respective series.

    Kart-racers have been slightly underserved in the current generation (especially on XBOX where's there's just the Sega one, at least the PS3 has Mod Nation.

    Anyway, Tomb Raider Racing. We'd have Von Croy in his retro Mercedes (or whatever it is he drives) Kurtis on his chopper, Natla with...wings...

  3. Further to this, did you know that GoL has a higher Metacritic rating than any other Tomb Radier on the site?

  4. LOL re the kart racing ideas. I'm a hardcore raider but even I might have to skip that one. ;)

    I didn't know about the Metacritic score but I'm not surprised. Guardian of Light probably has broader appeal than Tomb Raider and also a lower reach-to-grasp ratio, or whatever you want to call it. That is, the developers pretty much hit the mark for what they set out to do. With most Tomb Raiders, the designers' ambitions have been so high that the inevitable stumbles (technical glitches, etc.) seem more glaring.

  5. I think you're spot on as regards Metacritic. I was really encouraged by this interview.

    As much as anything else,it makes me optimistic for future full-length TRs because it means that more experimental ideas which might hamper the game if poorly implemented can be tested in the relatively "safe" (yet still commercial) space of the dlc market.

    I wouldn't be able to resist Tomb Raider racing, I'm afraid...

  6. I agree completely about smaller online games providing freedom to experiment.

    A lot of people (and by "people" I mean "boys bitching on the forums") are cranky about Guardian of Light not having online co-op right away. It isn't a big issue for me personally, but I think it's the only major problem with the game. I'm guessing whatever issues are standing in the way of PC and PS3 co-op will be worked out soon. Now I'm wondering if there will be online co-op in future Tomb Raiders.