Before speaking to some of the key members of the Shadow of the Tomb Raider development team at Gamescom, I was given the opportunity to play one of their newly designed deadly tombs. In front of the development team.
The tomb was centred around what I rather unaffectionately called the “spinning blade death thingy”, a huge totem with a number of blade arms sticking out at various angles. Players had to avoid its arms, then sprint deadly obstacle courses around the edges of the totem to eventually shut it off. It took me quite a while but did give me the chance to explore just a glimpse of the highly anticipated game before it launches on September 14th for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks to be every bit as big and exciting as the previous games in the reboot trilogy, with a new location and culture to explore in a larger hub. Sitting down with game director Daniel Chayer-Bisson, and Arne Oehme, the level design director, I asked exactly how they’re iterating on the on a franchise old enough to drink in most countries.
Why have you introduced a much larger hub space in Shadow of the Tomb Raider?
What happens in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is Lara is seeking this place and expecting to find a tomb and an artifact but instead finds it full of people so we’ve taken great care to make sure they have their own aims, their own life, their own society. They’re not just waiting for her to come to help them or something. There are a lot of opportunities in that for Lara to talk to other people and find out what they need.
It’s a bit hard for her to work with people after being alone for so long crawling through tombs – which is her comfort zone – so we get to see a lighter side of her and her humour can come out. There’s even some awkwardness that comes out which is quite charming, so we wanted to give Lara and the players a chance to explore and enjoy this with larger spaces.
From the gameplay side, it's where we can evolve the game most. These spaces gave the most breath for the player, the most agency so we could expand the game around these open areas and give the player more to explore, more activities and the human side reflects what’s at stake for Lara in the story so naturally that’s something we wanted to soak the player in – to experience that humanity and realise what is at stake.
How did you make the game feel so authentically South American?
That was an interesting challenge because this relates to the culture of Paititi. And it is a fictional culture, it has its roots in Mayan and Incan and Aztec cultures but it's basically a fictional culture that gave us the opportunities to create a visual language around Paititi which refers to these origins but also brings out the uniqueness of Paititi. And with these challenge tombs – which we call Deadly Tombs now – are almost like trails that challenge Lara. They were built to cull the unworthy, and the visual language of Paititi gives us the opportunity to give each tomb a unique character. The spinning blade death thingy is almost like a character in itself.
Each tomb is going to have this sort of character, this avatar that tells a bit of a story.
With Lara Croft now officially the Tomb Raider, what will her arc be this time around?
So she starts Shadow of the Tomb Raider at the height of her powers, she has all her weapons, all her skills. So the question we’re asking now is what does that mean? How is she going to express that heroism?
So we’ll see that she’s powerful enough to make some pretty incredible mistakes, and in this game, it’s the challenge to figure out how I’m going to move forward after creating the apocalypse - just a small problem.
After making such incredible mistakes how does Lara define herself going forward, and maybe letting go of the idea that it's about being the fastest and the strongest. There's a complexity to the world and sometimes trying to do the right thing we can make mistakes and still need to move forward.
Has the cultural shift in the way we look at ancient cultures, and the preservation of artifacts affected the way you’re depicting Lara this time?
Yeah, in the first two games she picks up the artifacts and smashes them on the ground so that nobody else can use them which is exemplary bad behaviour. So this is definitely part of the growth of the character.
It's also something that will be very familiar to players of games. As players, we like to run into environments and try everything and try to break everything and it’s all about our own progression.
I think it’s a lot of fun in this game to look at that and say ‘Was that the wrong thing to do?’ but there is a still a way forward and there are still things to discover and that’s part of what we mean about her becoming the ‘Tomb Raider she is meant to be’ because it's more than just doing the actions but the meaning and intention and care behind them.
Thank you for your time.