The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 14

24 Settembre 2012
Meagan Marie – Community Manager
Karl Stewart – Direttore Globale Marchio
Rich Briggs – Membro del team di Crystal Dynamics

[ La trascrizione italiana di questo podcast non è attualmente disponibile. Contiamo d’inserirla prossimamente. Scusandoci per l’attesa, postiamo nel frattempo la trascrizione inglese. Qualora vogliate offrire la vostra collaborazione, vi preghiamo di contattarci via mail; il vostro supporto sarà molto apprezzato.]

MEAGAN MARIE: Hello everyone, this is Meagan Marie, your host for the Crystal Habit podcast number 14. We’re actually going to keep this podcast episode a little bit shorter today. Everybody is crazy busy for different reasons. I’m about to head out of the country for 25 days, taking Tomb Raider on the road, and everybody’s got some interesting things on the horizon, including Karl. Maybe he’ll share that personal tidbit with you little bit later in the podcast. So for our primary segment on the show, I’m going to talk to Karl, as well as a new member of the Crystal D brand team, about what it means to close out a game and to ship a game. As we recently posted all over our social media channels, we hit the six-months-til-launch milestone on September 5. We’re all very excited to be on the home stretch. After that, we’ll end with a quick Take Five, and that’ll close out our how. So, enjoy.

[Musical interlude]

Segment 1: The Final Six Months

MEAGAN MARIE: Welcome to the first segment of the podcast. Now, like I mentioned, I am here with Karl, who everybody knows. We also have a new member of the Crystal brand team here, Rich. Would you mind really quickly, before we dive into anything, introducing yourself so everyone knows what you do here?

KARL STEWART: Who is this man of mystery?

RICH BRIGGS: Hi, everyone. My name is Rich Briggs, and I am the new Senior Brand Producer on the Crystal Dynamics Team. Very excited to be here. Previously was at Electronic Arts. I had three main roles there. I started in marketing. I worked on a couple of franchises like The Sims and Battlefield. Then I moved over on to the Dead Space team, where I was a producer on Dead Space I and II. Then I wrapped up my EA career on the Origin team, and that was a business development and marketing job.

KARL STEWART: And then we stole him.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. This is why I think you’re a good person for this podcast segment. You’ve got some nice titles that you’ve closed up there. We’re going to be talking about the long road to launch. But first, I think that this is just a fun little personal tidbit to share. Karl has not been away from his phone. It has been tethered to him every moment for the last couple of days. Do you want to share why?

KARL STEWART: It’s always tethered to me. I never let it go anywhere.

MEAGAN MARIE: It is! But more so than ever, I see you looking at it.

KARL STEWART: Yeah. My wife is 37 weeks pregnant in a few days, so I could get a phone call any second now to say, “Get your ass home, quick.”

MEAGAN MARIE: And so, every moment, you’ve got it with you.

KARL STEWART: Every time she calls me, even if she asks me what I fancy for dinner, I answer it in like three seconds. And she says, “You never answer your phone! Now all of a sudden you dive on it!” This morning when I got up. We were on a call, I got off the call, and she started having contractions. I thought, “Here we go.” And then about 20 minutes later, she stopped having contractions, and she’s like, “Nah, go on, go to work.”

RICH BRIGGS: I think that’s dedication, Karl.

MEAGAN MARIE: It really is!

RICH BRIGGS: I’m impressed.

MEAGAN MARIE: When I was at Game Informer, I was working on the Gears of War 3 cover story, and one of the PR ladies was text messaging me, answering e-mails on her Blackberry, from labor, in the hospital. Someone finally messaged me and told me that she was doing it, so I said, “Nope! I am not responding to any more of your e-mails.”

KARL STEWART: I do remember, when my daughter was born four years ago. I was working on a game called Monster Lab. That was just one of those titles we had in our portfolio that I was looking after. I remember my daughter was born at about 1:00 in the morning. I got in the car to drive home at maybe 3:30, 4:00, to go pick up some clothes and have a shower. On my way back, I don’t know what made me do it, but I kicked into gear. I picked up the phone, I got on a conference call, and I started talking to some of my colleagues about it. They said, “You’re up early.” I said, “Yeah, my daughter was born about two hours ago.” And they said, “WHAAT?!” And they just hung up. That was it. I was like, “Hello? Hello?”

MEAGAN MARIE: Intervention. Not allowed anymore.

KARL STEWART: “We are not talking to you, you doofus.”

MEAGAN MARIE: So we appreciate you coming in for the podcast, and if you have to check out.

KARL STEWART: By the time people listen to this, I will probably have my second child. Or my wife will. I won’t.

MEAGAN MARIE: I’m sure she’s hoping.

KARL STEWART: Yeah, she’s ready. She’s ready.

MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, so. Getting back to the topic at hand. We recently hit the six-month milestone for launching Tomb Raider. That was really exciting. We’re launching on March 5, 2013.


MEAGAN MARIE: Now, because this is the first time I’ve worked in a studio. I’ve been at Crystal for about a year and a half now. I’ve not launched a triple-A game. But you guys have launched games. So you know what it’s like. That road up to launch and what it entails for the different departments. How our campaign will be ramping up. I’m interested to talk to you guys about that first. You mentioned Dead Space. Are there any other particular games that you worked with, Rich, that were big campaigns or that you can add to your roster as far as experience?

RICH BRIGGS: Yes. I think the Battlefield franchise were some of the biggest games. Battlefield 2142 was a big one. I was involved on a few of the expansion packs on Battlefield 2, and also on Battlefield: Modern Combat. But more recently, The Simpsons Game was another big one, before I moved over on to the Dead Space team. It’s definitely. I would say the crunch mode goes in phases. Different departments are gearing up at different times. The dev team, I think, is just about always in crunch mode.

MEAGAN MARIE: Always. I get that impression too.

RICH BRIGGS: You get the marketing and the PR teams and the brand teams. They really start to kick into high gear around this time frame. You’ve sort of been stoking the fires all along, but now you’re getting to the very executional part, where you’re really trying to engage your audience. It gets pretty fun.

MEAGAN MARIE: And Karl, we know, obviously. Guardian of Light and Batman. What other games have you shipped?

KARL STEWART: Age of Conan, Kane & Lynch. Couple of Tomb Raiders under my belt, from Legend, Anniversary, Underworld.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, a couple of them under your belt.

KARL STEWART: It’s almost like. Over the last few months, did you ever see those guys on those Friday shows who start spinning plates? And they start with two plates, three plates, and they keep spinning them? And then they add 10, 15, 20? Then they go back to the first one to make sure it’s okay? We’re in that phase right now where there’s plates that started spinning six months ago, and they have to keep going. Like The Final Hours, and all of a sudden, now we’re looking at announcement spots and TV spots and screenshots gotta be captured. Before you know it you’ve just go 150 plates spinning. Now you’ve got a team of guys all trying to find out what the priorities are to get each one tone. That’s partly why Rich is coming on to the team. Sitting down and going through every single asset and looking at all of our programs and helping get to the bottom of what comes next and who starts what when somebody’s finishing stuff off. All the territories are clamoring for content right now. They’ll continue to all the way through launch. It’s a very important time in the campaign, because as we’ve seen, when the publishing side of our business finishes one game, they move over to the next game. We just shipped Sleeping Dogs, as everyone’s aware of. Great success to United Front Games and the Square Enix team. But as soon as that game landed on the shelf, the following morning all the phone calls were like, “Okay! All attention is on you now.” The last few weeks have been inundated with phone calls and e-mails and getting geared up for this next six-month run-up to launch. It’s really exciting. It’s actually the most exciting, but nerve-wracking, part of the entire campaign.

MEAGAN MARIE: That’s the thing. I think that some people don’t realize how many plates are spinning behind the scenes. We have to stagger releases and announcements, but there are obviously going to be a lot more partnerships and announcements and assets leading up to launch that have been in the background, in the oven, for quite some time. So I’m excited to share more of those, obviously, as we go.

KARL STEWART: Sure. We don’t want to spoil anything, but.

MEAGAN MARIE: What do you guys say? What’s the general mood? And this doesn’t even have to be just Tomb Raider. It can be different studios or franchises. What’s the general mood when you’re on this last stretch of the road? The last six months leading up to launch. Is it usually pretty stressful? Is it like you’re over the hardest part and now it’s just bug-fixing and polishing? What’s the general mood, usually?

KARL STEWART: I think it all depends on your release window. We’re fortunate enough that we have March 5, so. We kinda get to start thinking about when and when not to put assets out over the holiday season. We’re able to stay away from that noise that’s going on. But if you’re launching a game right in the middle of November, you’ve got all your trade shows happening at the time when you’re planning assets and you’re out there talking to retail. So there’s so much going on. Whereas we’re in the March window, so we’re talking to retail at the moment. We’re planning our assets. We have a little bit of a different schedule each game. So each one is different. There’s never a formula. I don’t just sit there and go, “Da-da, we’re launching on March 5, therefore there’s a formula I worked out all the way back.” We don’t. Because right now we’ve got brands and we’ve got yourself, Meagan. You guys are going to fly around the world soon, at a time when we should be sitting working our asses off. But we’ve got shows to support and I’m going off to have a second child.

RICH BRIGGS: Very inconsiderate of you.

KARL STEWART: Very inconsiderate!

MEAGAN MARIE: We’re lucky to have you here.

KARL STEWART: So there’s no formula. There’s absolutely no formula. I think every game is different. Really it all depends on when we analyze the data, which we’re doing a lot of right now. We can see games that are into their third and fourth iteration, they have such an installed base. They’re able to kick into a different type of campaign, putting out different varieties of assets, whereas we’re telling a re-imagining story. We’re telling a very different and unique story that takes time to build up an understanding of, over a series of months. I think every campaign is very different.

RICH BRIGGS: It’s very different. I would say that I think two of the constants are. At this stage, a lot of what you do becomes very consumer-facing. A lot of the work that you do is now open for public consumption. I think on the other side, the other constant is that now is when. I think you’re right, it is very stressful. But I think it’s also a very exciting time. There is the light at the end of the tunnel. Speaking from a dev side, you’re getting ready to show something that you’ve put blood, sweat, and tears in for the last X months or years. You’re ready to show that to the world, just about. So I think that excitement is really palpable in a studio. And then on the marketing side, again, even though every campaign is different, you’re still getting close to that big unveiling, where you’re going to have an advertising campaign. Your launch trailers are coming out. What are you doing on all these different fronts? It’s really going to be coming front and center. I think it’s a really exciting time, because you know that you’re just about there.

MEAGAN MARIE: Just about there. Here’s another really general question. I am looking for really broad answers, because we established that there is no one formula for a certain dev team. But how does the focus shift when you’re at that stage where you’re nearing launch? How does the focus shift for certain parts of the team? The dev team is obviously still heads-down. They’re still polishing, still fixing, still making sure the game is the best it can be. But what about QA or the art teams? I know that we’re going to have Brian, our art director. He’s going to be coming over to help us on our side, because he’s done. The art direction of the game was established a long time ago. He’s done on that front, for the most part. But how do those roles shift? Is it pretty organic, or do people have their rigid routines still?

RICH BRIGGS: I think it’s a mixture of both on the dev side. I think it’s great that we’re in a position where we do have the time before launch and the months to put in to the polish, because that’s what can really make or break a game. I’ve been on some projects that shall remain nameless, where alpha was separated from beta by two weeks, and beta was separated from final by one week, and final was separated from ship by six weeks. Literally just the manufacturing time frame. That means polish is nil. That’s not a situation you want to be in. So I think, right now, the dev team. They’ve got their heads down. They’re like, “How do we fix this?” Anything that’s a bug that’s been niggling at you. That’s where you’re getting down to those C bugs. The As and the Bs are taken care of, now you’re down in the C bugs, the polish bugs that really make consumers say, “Wow, this just feels right. That experience is great. QA is going to be ramping up, because they’ve gotta figure out how to crunch bugs. People are going to be transitioning over like you said. Brian coming over to help where he needs to be. I think there’s that mix of. Yeah, there are some tried and true, this is how people migrate, and there’s some organic. Okay, this is where I feel like I can fill a hole. Lemme jump in and lend a hand.

KARL STEWART: And there’s the lifecycle of a studio as well. We don’t just work on one project, and as soon as it’s done people start walking out the front door. People are slowly migrating on to the next thing. As we’ve mentioned in previous podcasts, and we’ve interviewed Scott Amos. We have an unannounced project we’re working on. Most of the guys will start ramping over that in a period of time. Start getting that up to speed. There’s a life cycle to the studio, where you’re always thinking about where that team is going next. Certain things like right now. Art is done. If somebody’s in there doing anything to art, there’s a problem. Therefore there’s an entire art team that’s available to go and support us and our needs. Some of that art team are also moved over and starting to help set up some of the early stages of the next game. There’s a constant life cycle that goes through inside the studio, which is pretty cool.

MEAGAN MARIE: Karl, this is one for you. I’ve had some people wondering, are we going to start to see more of some of the other development team members? Producers, or other people that have previously had their heads down so much that they were inaccessible. Are we going to see more of them as we get closer to launch?

KARL STEWART: Definitely. One of the focuses from the beginning of this campaign was that we’ve analyzed other games that we’ve worked on and we’ve found out where our weaknesses and our strengths are. Generally a weakness is that you start pulling the team away from what they’re supposed to be focused on. You’ve got countless dozens and dozens of people inside the studio all working on different teams, and you’ve got people like Noah who touch so many different departments. Taking him out of the studio for three or four days to go on a press tour is actually quite a big deal. It means that a lot of people sit there spinning plates waiting for questions to be answered. What we’ve tried to do throughout the campaign is utilize the team, i.e. myself, as much as possible out there, communicating. I’ve been there from the very beginning. There’s probably not a question I couldn’t answer, but. Rightly so, there’s a point in time where people will be very bored of listening to me over and over and over again. And as we start getting into this phase of the campaign, not only are we ramping down for development, because we’re coming into that home stretch, we start freeing up these people to be able to start coming out. Because we’ll be getting 10 times more requests. As we know now, we’re planning our next big PR drop, and we want to make sure that we maximize the amount of exposure as much as possible. As a result of that, we have to quadruple the amount of people who’ll be out there talking. You’ll start to hear from a lot of people, including Dan Bisson, who as people may remember stood up on stage there with Darrell and demo’d the game. Dan came in probably a little over a year ago or thereabouts from Montreal. He’s worked on a ton of games, from Assassin’s Creed to Rainbow Six. He’s working on one specific feature, which we’ll start talking about later on. He’s from back in the days on Assassin’s Creed. He’s brought a wealth of experience, and he’s the type of person I want to be out there now, talking and making sure that he communicates a lot of the features and a lot of the systems that we haven’t gotten under the hood on.

MEAGAN MARIE: Our messaging and all that is going to change in a bit as we progress. We’re going to start digging deeper. We still haven’t hit that fine line where we’re not going to spoil everything, because if we dig as deep as the fans want us to dig.

KARL STEWART: Yeah. I think there’s a.

MEAGAN MARIE: They say they want us to dig.

KARL STEWART: There’s the three sizes. One, it is a re-imagining, so as everybody knows, I’ve been talking about how we got to this point, and how we’re setting the foundation forever. I’m not going to go into the whole thing again. But then there’s the feature standpoint. There’s actually the game. What’s the game all about? How do I play it? What’s the uniques? People have started to see us talk a little bit about that, especially around Comic-Con, where we gave some people the opportunity to get their hands on the sticks. But then there’s the side of. How far or how much is too much? We get a lot of the fans and a lot of people asking us questions about. Really, do you want me to answer them? Do you want us to get into that phase where we’ll start to spoil stuff? The answer to that, to me, is no. So there’s a fine line. We’ve gone through that phase, everybody knows, 18-plus months of me talking about the same thing over and over again and expanding on it a little bit more each time. But the next drop that we get into later on this year, we’ll start to talk a lot more about the systems and about the features and really get under the hood of. Where’s the tombs and tomb raiding? Where’s the exploration? Where’s the combat? That’s important to us, that we communicate that. But it all had to be done at the right time. We know from playing the game over and over and writing the story and being so immersed in this world. We could not come out on day one and basically say, “Here’s Lara raiding her first tomb.” Because you wouldn’t understand who she is. You wouldn’t know her motivation. You wouldn’t know her personality. So it means that when we do show it to you for the first time, you’ll feel like. “Okay, that’s an iconic moment, and I’m going to remember that for a long time.” We’ve put a lot of backstory around who she is and what it means to her.

MEAGAN MARIE: Here’s another question. We actually have some very PR- and marketing-savvy fans, who are analyzing our campaign. [laughs] They have a question, moving forward. What’s the aim, moving forward and ramping up to launch, in terms of our PR campaign? A lot of them are like. This is Lara Croft! She’s not just an iconic video game character, she’s an iconic hero in the action space in movies, and it deserves to be a big blockbuster entertainment release, versus just a video game release. Do we have a sort of motivation moving forward, or standards?

KARL STEWART: There’s two ways we look at Tomb Raider. They’re rightly so, in the sense that. We’re releasing a game and we have a date on the calendar for that game to come out. That’s March 5. But at the end of the day, nothing finishes on March 5. The game is just out there for people to play. We will continue that campaign all the way through. As you know, we’ve got movie. We’ve got an announcement coming up with a comic book partner. We’ve got so many things going on that the franchise continues. So, therefore we have to make sure it’s well-paced. We don’t want to get to a point where we bring out loads of assets leading up to the end of the year and then we’ve got nothing to say. Everything is very well-paced all the way through. And of course, by the time the game launches, we want people to feel like, “Yes, it’s not just about the story of a young girl.” It’s setting an iconic character back on that path where people want to be a tomb raider. People want to be Lara Croft again.

MEAGAN MARIE: And hopefully there will be the attraction, not only from, like you said, the gaming space. It’ll expand beyond that.

KARL STEWART: Yeah. It is a franchise. It’s lived for 16 years. As much inside video games as it has outside, in many different iterations. A lot of the planning that we’ve been putting around Tomb Raider for the last 18-plus months is about not just setting the foundation for the game, but for the franchise as a whole. It’s about making sure we have those partnerships that, after the game comes out, there’s still content there for people to be able to get their hands on.

MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Alright. Now we’re going to get a little bit more specific. What is the final month of launch like for you guys? Are you sweating it? Are you on phone calls with global partners every day? What’s it like leading up to launch, that close, when you’re really that close to the finish line?

RICH BRIGGS: Well, I think at that point you are in high execution mode. Again, everything is very consumer-facing at that point. The dev team, by that time, is on a much-needed vacation somewhere, hopefully. Sipping a cool drink with an umbrella in it. I think on the marketing and PR side, and the community side, that is when you are trying to drive everyone to a fever pitch. That is when you want awareness to be highest. So it is the culmination of all the different campaigns that you’ve done. A marketing and a PR and a community plan is in many ways. It has phases to it. At that point, you are at the peak. And to Karl’s earlier point, yes, there’s going to be a life cycle management to it, where you’re sustaining the campaign post-launch. But at that moment, a month before, you want your awareness as high as you can. You want people checking out your trailers. You want people running into the store to pre-order. That is where all hands are on deck.

MEAGAN MARIE: Is there a point in time where all of the cards are on the table prior to launch, and you have to kind of just wait? Or is it until the last minute, even the last day, you are making those.

KARL STEWART: A lot of it’s handed over. We are, from a studio standpoint, creating everything and making sure that all the preparation is in place. Then we hand it to the territories. They’re the ones who will see it right up to launch day. There’s a point in time that if we’re still as busy as we are in October as we are in February, there’s problem. Because it means that we haven’t delivered everything.

MEAGAN MARIE: It needs to be dictated out at some point.

KARL STEWART: By the time we get to the middle and end of December, we’re talking eight-plus weeks away from launch, there should be a period of time where we’ve ticked all our boxes to say, “Right, review builds have gone out. We got all our interviews set up. We’ve got assets ready. TV spots.” We’ve gotta submit our TV spot for classification and review in December. We’re at a period where, the next two or three months, we’re going to be working on all of that. Our advertising campaign and print ads have to be done and out in December to be able to go into magazines in January. If we’re as busy in February as we have in December, we have a bigger issue. [laughs] Our focus should have shifted really to making sure that we’re just raising awareness and we’re sustaining. We’re monitoring and sustaining and trying to make sure there’s no issues, and if there are, we’re there and we’re available and ready to jump on them. But the October-November-December are really our biggest months. That’s where a lot of the work that we’ll be seeing for the following eight-plus weeks all gets done and delivered and checked.

MEAGAN MARIE: So it’s a great time to have a baby and go away for 25 days.


MEAGAN MARIE: Because I’m going away for 25 days. [laughs]

KARL STEWART: And that’s why we say that there’s no formula. It all depends on when you release. We’re releasing in March, and unfortunately you’ve got Russia. They’re asking me to be in Singapore and Australia in December. It really is just timing.

MEAGAN MARIE: Ramping up.

KARL STEWART: Yeah. If you were shipping the first of November, then pretty much the day you should be getting everything ready is when you’re supposed to be at PAX and you’re supposed to be at Comic-Con and you’re supposed to be at Gamescom and all the rest of them. There’s never a great time, is there?

MEAGAN MARIE: I get the impression that making games keeps you busy. It seems to be a fair assumption.

RICH BRIGGS: It does, it does.

MEAGAN MARIE: So how about the day of launch? What’s it been like for you guys in the past? The day. Do you just sit? Do you just watch feeds? Do you try to sequester yourself away?

KARL STEWART: Day of launch. I tell you, when I ship out. All my friends got together and it was. See if I can remember the date. August 18, 2009, I think was the date we shipped the game? The night before, they rented out a portion of a restaurant and I turned up. They said, “Turn up at 7:30.” They’d been there since 7:00, and they were all in this portion of this restaurant with Batman masks on, drinking and having beers. Some of them were fully dressed up as Batman. So they had a Batman mask. I proceeded to have a few drinks, and then we went to the midnight opening, all dressed as Batman. It was at a local store, and it was just one of those cool things, to think that. “I just spent the last couple of years working on this, and now the culmination is, I’m standing at midnight outside a store.”

MEAGAN MARIE: Dressed as Batman.

KARL STEWART: And the GameStop manager, who I still see every now and then, he sort of remembers that we all turned up. We weren’t drunk, we were just all very happy. We were excited to be there. And he shouted out to everybody in the store that I was in the store. I ended up spending the next half an hour signing different things. That was a really cool time, because you feel like. This is it.

MEAGAN MARIE: You’re holding it, you’re holding all the work.

KARL STEWART: 300-plus people queued up outside the store, and all of our posters were in the window and our game’s in the store. They’re trying to hold people back and give them their tickets out early. That’s a great way to end a campaign, to step back and look at it and think, “I was a part of this.” As are the couple of hundred people who worked on it, but you were an integral part making this happen. That’s a pretty cool thing.

RICH BRIGGS: I think my answer changes based on what part of my career I experienced that in. To Karl’s point, on the dev side. At that point you are just basking in the moment, right? You still may be doing interviews. You may still be answering questions that are coming up from the community side. I don’t think anyone truly is ever just sitting back and doing nothing.

MEAGAN MARIE: I’m just going to go in a cabin in the woods somewhere.

RICH BRIGGS: Yeah. But I think on the dev side, that day of launch, it really is just about reveling in the glory. It’s that culmination of something you’ve been working on for a year and a half, two years. Whatever the time frame may be. But then on the marketing side. I think you can still be pretty busy, because you can be saying. “What’s going on with this trailer? Is everything going where it’s supposed to be?” Tracking dashboards. Everyone on the executive side is going to be saying, “What’s our day one numbers look like? How many views are we getting on YouTube right now?”

KARL STEWART: “Why are they beating us, they’re not coming out until three months after?”

RICH BRIGGS: It really is interesting to see that ebb and flow of. Some departments are able to take that breather, and then other departments are still running and gunning. It’s great, because that, to me, that’s where the organization comes into play. That’s where you have a well-oiled machine that can support everyone at different times. Then, when the marketing guys are going crazy, it’s been my experience that the dev team is stepping up and saying, “What do you need? How can we help? Can we get you this other screenshot? Can we get you this other interview? Now we’ve got time. How do we help you with the launch?”

KARL STEWART: We’re in that phase now. We’ve got Brian, as you mentioned. Brian’s going to finish doing what he’s got to do on Tomb Raider, and he’s now over helping in support and working with us, to make sure that we get our assets done. It’s great, because it means that. Having Brian Horton means that we manage to keep that consistency that he’s built up in the game across all of our assets. It’s a time when Noah soon will be hitting the road with us, and there you get the creative director, he can only do so much on the game, and then he’s done. Same with Dan.

MEAGAN MARIE: There’s gotta be a point where you’re like, “Don’t mess with it anymore! It has to be finished!”

KARL STEWART: Generally it’s hard, because as soon as. Well, people have seen that we’ve been on the road for so long now, but as soon as they’re free, we start making use of their time. And just when they thought, “It’s done! No more things I can do in the game!” all of a sudden somebody says, “Hey, by the way, you’re heading off to Russia next week.” Or in Brian’s case off to London for Eurogamer. And they’re like, “D’oh! Just when I thought I was finished!”

RICH BRIGGS: They pull me back in.

MEAGAN MARIE: Being honest, I am so excited and also completely terrified for launch.

KARL STEWART: Trust me, so am I. [laughing]

MEAGAN MARIE: I am so excited, but at the same time I also realize that as a community manager, which is so forward-facing, it’s probably going to be the busiest day of my entire career here at Crystal.

KARL STEWART: Yeah, think of it from your perspective.

MEAGAN MARIE: My job is going to be the hardest after launch.

KARL STEWART: Exactly. Day one is going to be one of your busiest days, because you’re now going to get everybody who’s played the game listening to this.

MEAGAN MARIE: Our community will hopefully have expanded a hundred-fold.

RICH BRIGGS: You just won’t be able to keep up with the outpouring of congratulations and I-love-this-game e-mails that you get. That’s what I’m predicting, at least.

KARL STEWART: And people will not be tweeting abuse at me, but saying, “Thank you for not spoiling it! I actually really enjoyed it!”

MEAGAN MARIE: “I’m glad you didn’t give away this part!” So, alright. I’m very much looking forward to it. I expect a lot of. I was going to say pizza, but maybe we should settle on something healthier than pizza come launch week. I expect a lot of food catered in, so we can just stay and work and put our heads down at our desk and enjoy the road leading up to launch. Alright. Any final thoughts?

KARL STEWART: Ah. No? Just checked my phone again, making sure I haven’t had a text message or a phone call telling me that my baby’s being born. No, it’s good.

MEAGAN MARIE: Alright. We hope you guys are just as excited as we are about the final six months. So! Thanks for listening!

KARL STEWART: Thank you very much.


[musical interlude]

Segment 2: Take Five

MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, Take Five. I am excited for this.

KARL STEWART: Dun dun dunnnn!

MEAGAN MARIE: I actually have quite a few more than Take Five, so we’ll see how many we can get through.

KARL STEWART: Looks like Take Ten.

MEAGAN MARIE: It actually does look like that. Okay, so here’s a really important one, and I’ve been really noncommittal about it online. When is the next Final Hours coming out @CrystalDKarl?

KARL STEWART: Go hit Karl up and ask him. So I reviewed cut number three last night, late. Gave my feedback, and we’re currently working on getting it locked in. So I would say. When’s this podcast coming out? In a week?

MEAGAN MARIE: Probably Friday.

KARL STEWART: Probably Friday, so. Give it probably two weeks or thereabouts? You’ll see it out. We’re very excited, because it was recorded down at Nerd Machine in San Diego at Comic-Con. And although I look at it now and I kinda feel like, “Oh, Comic-Con feels like it was so long ago,” for the amount of people that weren’t at Comic-Con, it’s actually really cool to see people playing our game and see how many people turned up. Just the world that happened around that week we were down there. Yeah, it’s exciting. Very exciting. Noah’s in it, and Rhianna, and a couple of others. Zach does a great job.


KARL STEWART: A bit of Camilla in there. And John Stafford, all the people who were on the panel. So yeah, it’s very exciting times.

MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Speaking of Camilla and Rhianna, people say they want to speak to them more. Are we going to be highlighting them any time soon? Are we going to be throwing them in front of some cameras or asking them some questions?

KARL STEWART: We are. It’s obviously got to be the right time. We did some interviews with Camilla down at Comic-Con, when we had already just put the first Final Hours out. That was a great opportunity. But Camilla is a busy person as well. We have to make sure that we book her time accordingly. She’s currently busy, as everybody knows at this stage, working away on Gray’s Anatomy. We also have her in the studio every now and then recording some more bits and pieces for us as pickup. Probably the easiest way to do it is that over the next couple of weeks we’ll have Rhianna, because obviously the Final Hours is coming out. We’ll have some exposure from Rhianna. She’s going to do some interviews for us. I would love to try and find a way to be able to get her to chat to the community. Maybe you can find some unique way, Meagan, of doing a realtime Q&A. Which would be cool. And then, really, we’ll start looking at the big opportunities to be able to, obviously, get Camilla to get out there and talk about another part of the game that we’re actually talking about. She spoke very well about what we’ve been showing for the last 18 months in her time in front of the camera, but obviously she’s been a part of every single step of the way, bringing Lara to life on screen, so. When we get into this next phase later in the year, where we start talking about tombs and exploration and combat, it’ll be great to get Camilla out there in front of press again. I know everybody’s chomping at the bit to talk to her, and I get a lot of requests to chat to Camilla, so we’ll see. We just have to work around her schedule and make sure that it fits inside of our PR timelines. Let’s just say you’ll hear a lot from them between now and the end of the campaign.

MEAGAN MARIE: In that final six months that we just got done talking about.


MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, so here’s a question kind of related to Camilla, but it expands upon that. Is all of the V/O final at this point? I know we’ve had a little bit of some people commenting specifically on the Russian V/O and how some parts may be slightly off. Is there anything you can expand upon on that?

KARL STEWART: All I can say is that it’s never done until we really have to submit it. As Noah talks a little bit about in the next Final Hours. You get the game to a place where you play it, you review it, and then you realize that as you’re playing the entire experience from start to finish, some of the lines don’t make sense or some of the stories have loose endings. You want to tighten them up. There’s constant iterations all the way through the process. I know even right now, as far as we are into development, we still get John Stafford, Noah, and Rhianna dipping in there and tweaking new areas and looking at V/O. We have a session on next week, I believe, where the guys are back down there again recording. There’s obviously areas that, if they do get picked up, we’re very keen to make sure that we straighten them out. I know one of the comments has been about the Russian accent. I know for the Russian version, we’re looking at localizing it. We’re in the process now of seeing whether it’s going to be full Russian, or whether it’s going to be subtitles. Needless to say, if it’s full Russian, then obviously that line will be pronounced and spoken with the right dialect that it should be. But for now, we’re in that heavy-duty polish stage. What that means to us is that we’re going in and looking at every single aspect of the game and making sure that it makes sense. Obviously if it’s a big thing, so much can get done. At this stage there aren’t very many big things. We’ve already crossed all those hurdles. We’re now into the tweaking, but. It’s a great stage to be in, but. It’s polish time.

MEAGAN MARIE: I think you answered that well. Thank you. Here’s another one that has been fairly common, based off of the footage that we’ve shown off at Comic-Con and then Gamescom. Fans are wondering if there’s going to be a sense of fear in platforming. They noticed that you couldn’t fall off of ledges sometimes. You’d have to jump off of them, or you couldn’t fall off of a tree trunk. Is that something that’s indicative of the final game? Was that just for the demo?

KARL STEWART: No, that was. Partially that’s for the demo and the beginning of the game. Trust me, there’s a lot of verticality in the game, and there are going to be situations where you’re going to be on the edge of your seat making jumps. There’s leaps of faith, and if you miss you fall to your death. At the beginning of the game it’s about setting the story up, and obviously about making sure that we immerse the player. There are certain things that. You don’t want to be 10 minutes into the game and all of a sudden you take a left turn on a log and fall off because you were like, “D’oh!” Dying that quickly. But obviously it’s a fine balance. You don’t want to hold the player’s hand too much through every single scenario. So therefore, when you get further into the game, you will come across some hair-raising moments that. As I said, you’ll be at the edge of your seat and you’ll have to really think about it. Without spoiling them.

MEAGAN MARIE: Alright. We have a very prolific Tomb Raider fan artist asking. Will there be artbooks and concept sketches and so on? I know we get a ton of interest about seeing that iterative background stuff. In the forum Q&A you answered that we are proud of the work and the process that we did, and so we’ll definitely have behind-the-scenes stuff, but. I think they’re wondering about a tangible artbook.

KARL STEWART: We will. We’ve actually had a big kickoff meeting with our partner on that last week, who we’ll be working with. Brady Games. Brian, when he moves over, which I think he actually has yesterday or today, to our department. Brian’s going to be taking that as one of his core projects and seeing it from start to finish, because Brian is, as you know, the art director. He was a part of every single asset from the beginning. So Brian will be leading the charge and I’ll be reviewing and jumping in to give my two cents on it, but I’m a big fan of artbooks. I really am. So we’ll be doing that.

MEAGAN MARIE: You can never own enough artbooks.

KARL STEWART: Exactly. I’ve got so many. And in the next couple weeks, we’ll also be announcing where you can get an exclusive version of the artbook as a pre-order incentive as well. So watch this space.

MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Another question that I hear fairly commonly. Will you be able to turn off help icons and such, and will you make an achievement for not using survival instinct?

KARL STEWART: Um. I need to check all the achievements. I’m not sure whether or not I’ve got that in. I think it’s actually built in to the story. At some point you do need to check to be able to understand where to go and what to do. I don’t know whether there’s an achievement there. I think it’d be pretty hard to play the entire game without hitting it at least once.

MEAGAN MARIE: Even if just by accident.

KARL STEWART: Even if just by accident and button-mashing. And then for help icons. They only come up for a very short period of time. Again, I need to check, but I don’t recall. I’ve never wanted to turn them off, so I don’t recall seeing a button that allows me to turn them off. If there isn’t, I don’t think at this stage it would go in.

MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, well, I will let you go so you can get back to your cell phone.

Thank you very much. Holding it in my hand right now. Thank you. Bye-bye.

Segment 3: Outro

MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you guys for listening. Hope you enjoyed the podcast. Even though I’m going to be traveling out and about over the next month — I’ll be stopping in Eurogamer before going to Igromir in Russia and ending at New York Comic-Con – I’m going to try to do some pretty cool interviews over the next few weeks. So! I will do my best to maybe get Rhianna on. I know that you guys are interested in talking to her, and we can maybe do a community Q&A. Hopefully you’ll have that to look forward to. Until next time.

[Musical outro]