- Ascolta “The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 16“
26 Novembre 2012
Meagan Marie – Community Manager
Karl Stewart – Direttore Globale Marchio
Brian Horton – Senior Art Director
[ 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: Hey there! This is Meagan Marie, and I recently realized that I start every podcast off almost exactly the same. So that was my slight attempt at bit of variety. We have a really exciting podcast for you today. I’m going to chat with both Karl Stewart and Brian Horton, who’s our art director on Tomb Raider, about the recently revealed Tomb Raider box art. We’re going to dive into the process of creating and collaborating on this imagery that’ll be seen worldwide come launch day. After that we’re going to jump into an extended Take Five session with Karl Stewart. I know many of you have some pressing questions about the details of our collector’s editions or pre-order incentives now that we’re starting to roll those features out. So! We’re going to give Take Five a bit more time and attention today. Thank you for tuning in to the Crystal Habit podcast, episode 16. Hope you enjoy!
Segment 1: Karl Stewart & Brian Horton
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright everyone, thank you for listening. As I promised, I have Karl and Brian here. We’re going to talk about something that I find personally fascinating, which is designing the cover of Tomb Raider. It’s a huge, momentous thing.
KARL STEWART: Dun-dun-diinnnn!
MEAGAN MARIE: It was a really time-consuming process. It was something you guys were working on for a long time. So, first, thank you for joining me.
BRIAN HORTON: Sure, it’s great to be here.
KARL STEWART: It’s good to be back on a podcast. Feels like it’s been a while. When was the last time I did one?
BRIAN HORTON: It has been a while.
MEAGAN MARIE: You were off having a baby the last time, or rather your wife was.
KARL STEWART: I did. I’m back to my fighting weight now.
MEAGAN MARIE: You’ve got your pre-baby shape.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah, now that your empathy weight is over.
MEAGAN MARIE: All right. Well, we’ll start with you, Karl. From a very broad standpoint, what makes a compelling cover when it comes to video games? What are the things that need to jump off the shelves?
KARL STEWART: In the case of Tomb Raider, much like some of the other games I’ve worked on, it has to tell a story. It has to bring the context of what you’re selling to life. You have to look at it and kinda go, “I get it. I understand that. It’s emotionally driven. I want to play it.” That’s the key thing. We want you to look at a box and go, “I wanna play that game!”
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes.
KARL STEWART: I’ve worked on a few where. Pony Friends, for instance. I don’t know whether, after doing that cover, I was as happy with people saying, “I want to play that game.” But for us, Tomb Raider. It’s important that we created something which depicted a moment in time, of the game, that we had built the campaign up to at that point, the narrative up to that point. As everybody’s aware, we’ve been very strict in how we’ve introduced you to Lara. We’ve shown how she’s growing within the world, how she’s becoming stronger. Now we’re at a point where the cover depicts a character that is about to embark on one of the best adventures ever. You couldn’t look back and go, “Okay, well, the image of her as a tourniquet on the beach, with the climbing axe, holding the bandage.” To us, yes, it’s a great image, and it’s one of the most iconic images of the entire campaign, but looking at that image, it didn’t communicate a strong female lead in the way which the cover that we have right now does. It really is.taking the player and taking the viewer on a journey. The box should be that last piece of the puzzle, to make you feel like this is the world you want to be in.
MEAGAN MARIE: I’m interested in diving a little deeper. From your past experience working on games, either of you, are there specific things that resonate stronger with consumers, like eye contact, faces versus body shots, and so on? Is there anything you guys have noticed that stands out?
BRIAN HORTON: I think it’s a little less scientific. What we found is. We knew it when we saw it. That kind of thing. We went through a lot of iteration. It’s not just a matter of, you have this idea. Everything Karl said is correct. No matter what our cover was, it had to have those ingredients. It had to exist in this moment of time. It had to have an emotional element. But when it comes to how you realize that, there’s a thousand answers that could have done that. What we had to do is find the right combination of ingredients that were going to be both familiar to the people that were paying attention, but also brought something new. That was our goal. What are those ingredients that bring something new? But as far as a formula, saying “This is what always works on a cover,” I think that range is. I know some of my favorite covers don’t have any characters on the front. It could be very simple. Like the Half-Life 2 box. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s a rad cover.” But that’s a different take. What we knew we had, one of the strengths of this franchise, is that Lara is the strength of this franchise. We have invested a lot in her. For us, we felt like Lara needed to be on the cover, but how we presented her, and the way we presented her. One of the things we chose to do, which we’ve done in the past, is we didn’t have her make direct eye contact. That was something we made a conscious decision about. But she has a very specific expression. She has an intent in her look and her pose. Those are the ingredients we knew we wanted to have. No matter what, she had to have a certain. You had to imagine there was something going on inside, that she was contemplating what she was going through and what she was about to do.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s interesting, because retailers used the temporary black box with the Tomb Raider logo on it in their placeholder pages for a long time. For a while some people thought that our box art was just the Tomb Raider logo.
KARL STEWART: We’ve got to give you a bit more detail than that.
MEAGAN MARIE: That really would have been a missed opportunity. You’re right. Lara is what people identify with.
KARL STEWART: To add to Brian, every game is different and every story you tell is different. The iconography of the franchise is very different. I’ve worked on. My remit right now is 36 games that I’ve worked on, every single front of box on every single one of them from a publishing capacity. I can tell you that each one is different in the way it’s treated and the way it’s executed on. An example of that is, we were doing Age of Conan. We sat down with the artists and we brought in an agency down in LA. We worked on this image for probably about four months. If anybody saw the image, it’s the one where Conan’s charging towards you with a sword in his hand and he’s got all his people behind him. To us, that was an MMO world that we were creating. But then I had an epiphany one night. I thought, “You know what? This isn’t iconic. This is just a scene. This isn’t conveying.” He may be looking at you, but there’s too much going on. It’s a beautiful render. It would do great on a cover, but you know what? When I think Conan, I think “sword.” It’s all about him and his weapon. We completely, within two weeks, shifted our entire roll across to putting a sword on the front of it. That was it. That was all that had to go there. That was the depiction. Whereas when I did Batman, it was like, “What else are you going to put on the cover?” It has to be Batman.
MEAGAN MARIE: Batman should be present.
KARL STEWART: It has to be Batman standing there going, “I am this big-ass dude and I’m going to kick everybody’s ass.” That’s the thing. There’s tons of games, whether it be Reservoir Dogs, whether it be racing car games that we worked on. Each one is different. Each one has to be treated with respect to the story and the iconography and the story you want to tell, the position you want to put it in against its competitors as well.
BRIAN HORTON: The last thing I’ll say on that. There is something that is common to the best covers, and they are iconic in some way. Karl used that word. An icon could be a logo, but it could also be a figure. Something that’s bold.
MEAGAN MARIE: Easily identifiable.
BRIAN HORTON: Easily identifiable, yeah. Something at a glance. If it’s too busy, it tends not to be a great cover. Those are the things that we had to balance when we were doing the art.
KARL STEWART: I think ours. When we were working on it, we went through many. Like 50 or 60 different images. Then, when you get down to the final image that you like, it goes through a hundred iterations. Every single time, what was amazing. It was not like, “Is the fabric this detailed? Is the water this perfect?” It was, “Is she conveying the right emotion in her face? Is she standing with the right pose? Is she holding her arm in the right way that we want to convey that story with, that she’s about to embark on a journey?” To us, the iconography in the image is not just about the pose that she’s in. It’s about the situation. We want players to look at that and say, “I want to understand what she’s gone through. I want to be a part of that journey.” The iconography can be a symbol of a sword, a static image, but it’s equally as iconic when you look at it and you feel an emotion. Something stands out at you. That’s why, throughout the entire game, that’s one of the things we’ve tried to focus on. Making sure that when you play the game, when you put the controller down. It’s an iconic game because it delivers on something which you may feel you’ve never seen before or experienced before. That’s the character growth and the arc of Lara Croft, in a way in which. I’m at a point now where the game is done. We’ve played it so many times. I’m so excited for people to play it. We’ve had some journalists in, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but it really does deliver on some emotions which will just. It’ll make people so happy. I think the image conveys that. When people play the game, they’ll look at the cover and say, “That works hand in hand. It really does.”
MEAGAN MARIE: So the tourniquet image wasn’t quite right. Did you try it out? Did you go through a process of putting it on the front of a box.?
KARL STEWART: In the early stages of saying, “Okay, we’ve got this image we have to create.” Despite what some people may think, it’s not as easy as going, “That’s a cool-looking image. There you go. Put it on the front of the box.” We went through lots of focus testing. Both internally, externally. We went through the fact that you had to go through a process of. We look at things from a micro level. We’re a part of this game every single day. What we think is right generally is, because it’s our game. We know what we’re doing. But there are certain things that we just feel like. It’s too important a decision to make without going outside the studio and asking those questions. So for us, we created a range of images. Some close and personal, more visceral in the world, more about exploration, dynamic movement. We had a full portfolio of images. We took them out and did some focus testing with them in a couple different territories. We asked people what they liked about them. The ones, originally, that we would have said, “That’s great! Look at her with the climbing axe doing this.” People came back and said, “No, I want to know more about her. Look at how intense that situation she’s in.” The tourniquet did an element of that, but what it showed in focus testing was. “I feel like I’ve seen it too many times. I feel like that’s something that’s become an image which is iconic for Tomb Raider, but it’s not iconic for the story that you’re trying to tell right now.” After all that focus testing, we came back and sat down. Brian, myself, Darrell, Brenoch, and the team. We started to look at other executions. Taking the learnings from the focus testing. Because there are no clear winners. There’s only interpretation. There’s only people saying, “I like that, but I don’t like the arm, I don’t like that.” We have to take all that and try to jumble it all up and come up with the answer, in a way. Once you’ve done that focus testing, then you try to say, “Okay, we’ve gotten guidance. We know the basic areas we have to be in. We’re achieving our pillars. Now we take it internal.” Once it’s internal, then it goes through the filters of. We’ve had that feedback, but now it’s our game and we’re trying to portray our vision.
BRIAN HORTON: I would say, on the tourniquet image. It did resonate. It did test well. But a lot of it is because people understood it and they recognized it. The thing that we knew is. There had to be an evolution, too, just as we’ve been evolving the story. That moment in time was not as appropriate for what we wanted to say as what we ended up with. The other thing is, we had an image that we thought was really strong of her back. Just looking at her as she’s preparing for something, preparing for combat. Climbing axe in one hand, bow in the other.
MEAGAN MARIE: Slightly more aggressive.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah, more aggressive-looking. What we found is that people didn’t. They couldn’t relate to it. Once again it came back to the emotion. It was the right action, but not the right emotion. All those things were super informative. We would be remiss not to have done the focus tests. I’m really happy we did. But to Karl’s point, we didn’t get one image out of that focus test that was like, “That’s the one. Let’s do that.” We got, “Well, these are the ones we kinda like,” and we made our own gut decisions. That was a combination of all of us. Darrell, Karl, myself, and Bren. We’re sitting around, like, “Okay, this is what we think we need to do.” That final step you take has to be an internal one. You say, “Alright, this is what our gut says.” That’s what we went with.
MEAGAN MARIE: I know we don’t have it in front of us right now, but I have to imagine — especially for Brian — it’s burned into the back of your mind. Can you break down some of the features? It’s amazing, if you go on a forum. Some of the fans have broken down every aspect and said, “This is what they’re trying to convey here and here.” It’s interesting. Could you speak to some of the elements that you incorporated? The items on Lara, the look, the pose? What was the motivation with those?
BRIAN HORTON: What was pretty exciting is, once we had a sketch done. Bren had done an amazing rendition sketch.
MEAGAN MARIE: Just in case somebody doesn’t know who Bren is, do you want to introduce him?
BRIAN HORTON: Bren, Brenoch Adams, is our principal concept artist on the project. I’ve worked with him from the very beginning. He was instrumental in helping design Lara and the look of the world. He’s been my right-hand guy on this project. I owe a lot of the success of the art direction to the collaboration with him. Bren’s the guy. When Bren had done the sketch, which we had all collaborated on the goals for, we intentionally had to manipulate some stuff that we had in our source material from the agency. One of those things was, we knew that we had to have the bow. It’s something that we decided early on. This was going to be our iconic new weapon. The bow was in there. We had the climbing axe on her, strapped to her side. We had the pistol in there as well. As far as a weaponry loadout, we wanted to have that combination of those things. Those are the things we knew were important. But what’s more important than her loadout was the overall pose and attitude. That had to be correct. We wanted something that was stoic, but it wasn’t stiff. There’s still a little break in her gait. She’s not completely straight up and down, like classic Lara Croft with the arms out. She’s got the one arm clutching the wound. That’s another thing that sort of. It looks and feels like the tourniquet. When you look at that, it has the same feel as the tourniquet image. But if you look at it, she’s not grimacing in pain. She’s steeled. She’s ready.
MEAGAN MARIE: At this point in time she’s evolved.
BRIAN HORTON: At this point, this is a wound. She’s human. But she’s already looking ahead. She’s already planning. “Alright, I’m gonna take on whatever is in front of me. This is nothing compared to what I have to deal with.” All those ingredients together, and then the context of the cave and the shipwrecked beach. Those are all ingredients that metaphorically tie to the island itself, a representation of the island, but also the mental state that she’s in. There’s a light out there, but she’s surrounded by this darkness. That was all very conscious stuff. It’s subliminal, and it is a depiction of a person in a cave with a shipwrecked beach. But it also has that feeling of oppressiveness around her. Yet there’s that one light behind her. She’s the darker figure against the light. All those ingredients, to me, speak to that story. That emotion. Karl, do you have anything to add to that?
KARL STEWART: No, exactly what he said. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: Everybody’s felt like it is very poignant and impactful, most certainly. I personally love it, and I know the fans do.
KARL STEWART: What’s great is it’s been weeks. To listen to you talk like that, it was.
MEAGAN MARIE: You could tell. There was very much a vision.
KARL STEWART: I remember those morning meetings where we were getting super detailed. We like to get really uber-anal, as they say, on this.
BRIAN HORTON: Besides all that metaphor and all of that detail, it had to work just as an iconic image, too.
MEAGAN MARIE: So much is balanced.
BRIAN HORTON: Even though that emotion is first, second, a very close second, has to be that pop and read. Do you get it? Can you get it at a glance? Does it feel like Tomb Raider?
MEAGAN MARIE: That’s interesting, because one of my next questions was. This is incredibly different from any past Tomb Raider covers.
BRIAN HORTON: Right.
MEAGAN MARIE: Was that intentional?
BRIAN HORTON: Yes.
KARL STEWART: Yes, definitely. It was intentional, but it was also making sure that we kept the signature elements that we’d begun to tell this tale, this story on. You can look at a girl standing there holding her arm, but when you start to add in the ships in the background, the thematic of the entire scene and lighting, and then the bow and the climbing axe, it becomes a signature. It becomes everything that we’ve learned about this girl up until now. We always hoped that we’d get to a point in time where an image. You’d look at it and go, “That’s Lara Croft. That’s Tomb Raider.” I believe we’ve done it in this one. If we had put that image out on the very first day, people would have said.
BRIAN HORTON: Who is this?
KARL STEWART: Who are you trying to be? I feel like this has been a culmination of the last two years, getting to this point now where people look at it and convincingly think, “That is Lara Croft and I want to play that journey.”
MEAGAN MARIE: Brian, we’re getting specific on the cover. Some astute fans have noticed minor differences [laughter] between the cover image and Lara’s in-game outfit. Specifically with the necklace, her belt being a little thicker. Can you speak at all to those?
BRIAN HORTON: Yes I can. Let me give you a little context for this. When we decided to do this cover, there was a lot of discussion about how we’d do the final treatment. One thing was, we’ve been using Visual Works for our renders. We did want to include Visual Works, but we also took a step that we haven’t done in any of our previous campaign images. We actually incorporated photography. We hired a model. We wanted there to be that extra layer of reality to this image. So when we had an opportunity to, we worked with an amazing studio. By the way, we haven’t even talked about them. Ignition has been an amazing partner in this. They are the house that put this cover together with us. That agency does a lot of fantastic photography for films. They worked on the Batman campaign. They’re just amazing. I flew down there a couple of times for a couple of shoots.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes, I remember you prepping for those.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. We didn’t quite capture it in the first shoot. We had to do a second shoot. But what was great about that is, we were really trying to make sure that the details were as accurate as we could get them in photography. We didn’t have an official costume. We had to sort of make an amalgamation of one. That’s why you’re seeing some inconsistencies, like for instance on the necklace and on the belt. Now, what I’m happy to report is that once we got the Visual Works render back, which was originally only supposed to be the head and the hair, they gave us a full body render. I was able to get some ingredients from the Visual Works model and I’ve got them composited in. You’ll see a slightly different version in the final render. The belt is closer to our original belt. But the necklace is not. That’s just some clarification. A little bit of a tease for those that are looking for it.
MEAGAN MARIE: Really paying attention.
BRIAN HORTON: You’ll see a slightly different variation on the belt. That did a couple of things for us. One, it got it closer to the model, and two, it gave her a bit of a better proportionality. It made the torso to leg ratio look a little better. Those are the reasons we made that decision after the first release of the image, to say, “Alright, what can we do to plus this up a little bit?”
MEAGAN MARIE: So that’ll be changed on the physical, the printed version on the shelf.
BRIAN HORTON: On the final printed version, you’re going to see it. Now, this is just for. This will be for those listening to the podcast. That’s the first time we’ve announced that.
MEAGAN MARIE: Well, I know that they very much appreciate us going into the behind-the-scenes, because we don’t speak to that much. I’m not sure that anybody knew that photography was an element in it.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. What’s great about the photography is that it gives you that extra level of nuance that’s really hard to get in a CG model. Even goosebumps and stuff like that.
MEAGAN MARIE: Oh, did you make her freezing? Did you spray water on her? Speak to the shoot.
BRIAN HORTON: Okay. So the shoot was fun. We had an amazing model. I am going to be bad because I can’t remember her name right now. But she’s a really talented model. She went through two full days of being soaked to the bone. We’d keep spraying her with water. And we’re talking about minute pose changes. Millimeters make a huge difference in these full-body shots. I have thousands and thousands of pictures, and we had to scrub through them, both Ignition and us, and say, “Which ones are the right ingredients?” What we ended up doing is, it wasn’t even one photo. It was an amalgamation of a couple of different ones. “We like the legs from here, the upper body from here.” We were able to Frankenstein together. I’m talking about minor stuff. Very much in the same position, just small little changes to make sure that we can get the right ingredients and really capture the essence of what was in Bren’s original sketch.
MEAGAN MARIE: So it went from sketch internally, to photographing with Ignition down in LA, and then you composited the photos. What did Visual Works do on top of that? They render the head directly on top of it and composite it? What was the next step?
BRIAN HORTON: One small thing. It started with an Ignition idea that we modified and did a sketch over. Ignition had done some proof-of-concept kind of stuff. Then we did Bren’s sketch, and then we did the shoot. Once we had the shoot and the pose locked from a photograph, we sent that over to Visual Works. They matched that pose and the lighting. In fact, Ignition sent us detailed lighting information. The temperature and position of all the lights and stuff. So Visual Works could simulate that in their environment. They did an awesome render. Then I worked with Ignition to composite some of that to get the final look that you see on the cover. It was pretty cool.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that some people just assume there’s some really talented guys like you and Bren, and you just worked a weekend and came up with an awesome image. It’s very interesting how many steps are involved.
BRIAN HORTON: It takes a village.
MEAGAN MARIE: What do you think the time frame was, working on this? The meat of it. I know you guys had to have been considering it as far back as you’ve been working on creative, but the core time frame for executions.
BRIAN HORTON: Four months.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s not a fast process.
KARL STEWART: That’s four months, but then there’s also the months before where you’re constantly thinking about it and getting ideas together. But after we actually started, start to finish, four months.
MEAGAN MARIE: Karl, one more question for you. This is kind of a side note, but I’m interested. Because we’re an international brand, a global brand, are there any considerations you guys had to make in terms of this image being appropriate for all audiences, for all territories?
KARL STEWART: We have to consider it and we have to be very careful that we don’t upset people. But at the same time, we are developing a story and a narrative which we have to stay true to. The smaller little things are. The blood couldn’t be too red, because in certain territories they don’t like bright red blood. But to be honest, the image has been adopted worldwide very well. There haven’t been any issues at all. Obviously if you’re doing any image, you have to consider different territories and different nationalities and how people will take in the image and what it says to them. What it says in America might not be the same thing it’ll say in the Middle East. Our games are going to be sold all over the world, so we have to be careful about how we present an image. There is consideration put in, but I think we were lucky enough to say that when we nailed this one, it did everything it needed to do. There were minor tweaks that had to be made, but not very many.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay. Any final thoughts, gentlemen?
KARL STEWART: Ah. Only that I am very bloody happy with what Brian and the team managed to create. [laughs] We’ve been working on this as a team for years now. Absolutely years. To see it start to come together – not just in the game, but also in our materials as we’re presenting them. We try and keep the highest quality in everything that we do. People can see every single asset we put out is very well-thought-out and planned. This image really does everything and more that we want it to do. If you had told me three years ago that this would be the image, I would have said, “Yes, lock it in there and then.” But it’s a journey you have to go on. I’m very proud that we got through it.
BRIAN HORTON: All I would say is, as I was saying. It isn’t the work of any one person to make a cover like this. It is a bunch of talented people, including even consumer feedback. All this stuff is important to make a great cover. I’m very happy to hear the response. We’re pleased that we actually can hang it on a really great game. If, at the end of this, we had a great series of images and it wasn’t hanging on something that we believed in, it would ring a little hollow. The same care and attention we put into this image, the team puts into our game. It all comes down to the team. If it wasn’t for what that team is able to do, we couldn’t be doing what we’re doing today.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that’s a good note to end on. Thank you so much for joining me. Karl, you have to stick around so I can grill you for Take Five, or maybe ten today. But thank you, Brian. Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend and your upcoming travels to show off Tomb Raider. That’s exciting. Alright! Thank you guys.
KARL STEWART: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BRIAN HORTON: Cheers, guys. ‘Bye.
Segment 2: Take Five
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, Karl, thank you for sticking around. We have a lot of questions this time, because we just made a lot of large international announcements. [laughter] So it turns out people have questions.
KARL STEWART: Yeah, I know. I’ve been getting no sleep getting them all together.
MEAGAN MARIE: And because you have a new baby.
KARL STEWART: Yeah, that too.
MEAGAN MARIE: Dangerous combination. Triple-A game and two-year-old child.
KARL STEWART: Very dangerous combination. I am running on fumes right now.
MEAGAN MARIE: And coffee.
KARL STEWART: I go to sleep at 3:30, I wake up at seven and go to the office.
MEAGAN MARIE: You can sleep after lunch. Maybe?
KARL STEWART: You can sleep when you’re dead.
MEAGAN MARIE: [laughs] Okay, let’s get started, because we do have a lot. This one is probably the most important question, one that we’ve been. We really wanted to find the right venue to address it, because it is an issue, especially in North America, that some PC gamers are concerned with. Why did North America opt not to offer a physical PC edition of Tomb Raider, in favor of digital download?
KARL STEWART: There’s two things to cover off here, which will be great. This is a great venue to be able to talk to this. We are responsible, as a studio, for developing the game and making sure that we position it correctly as a franchise. We’ve spent a long time doing that. But once the game is developed, we have publishing departments all around the world. We have Square Enix LA, Square Enix America. We have Square Enix Europe, which has an export department catering from Russia to China to you-name-it. Then we have Square Enix Japan, who look after those territories. When we develop the game, we then ask those territories to help define the best way to be able to position that game in the market. I work very closely with all of the teams around the world, myself and the teams here, the brand team. We have daily calls with serious amounts of follow-ups, hence I’m up until 3:30 most mornings doing conference calls at midnight from my office at home. But those teams are tasked with coming back to us with the decisions that have to be made about the best way to put our game out and how to sell it. In the case of the PC side, we looked at it from a European and a US perspective. In Europe, the game is still very much widely a retail PC SKU. It holds up very strongly in sales. You have to have it. It’s part of the DNA. Whereas what we’ve found in North America is that PC sales have slowly but surely started to move into the digital space. There is a fine line between producing a boxed copy at a certain quantity before it actually starts eating into its own costs. You think, “Is it worth producing?” There’s distribution costs. There’s production costs. There’s all these things coming into play that. You have to make a decision as a business. I believe the decision was right. The decision to turn it into a digital PC version and distribute it that way means it’s accessible to more people. Like I said, it’s a tough decision to make, because we’ve always done a PC version of the game, but we believe that this is the right decision, and it’s one that. I have to support my teams around the world in whatever they decide they want to do.
MEAGAN MARIE: Following up on that question, a quick little side note. Will North America be the only territory not to have a physical PC edition? We’ve only announced the editions in North America and Europe so far, correct? Are we still establishing other territories?
KARL STEWART: No, I think it’s safe to say that. North America – and when we say North America, just so we’re clear on the responsibilities, North America is Canada, the rest of North America, and also South America.
MEAGAN MARIE: So South America will also be doing digital downloads.
KARL STEWART: Exactly. That covers the remit of their responsibility. Then, in Europe, there’s the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and then the export markets and so on. They’re making the decision that they want to create a boxed PC version, which is great. They’ll also have a version on Steam. I have no doubt that it’ll also be on some other digital outlets as well, to make the game as successful as possible. The difference is, in North America they felt that it was a SKU that they didn’t need to put out that way, because the digital version. They want to put the weight behind that. In Europe they want to do a boxed copy. So throughout Europe you will see boxed copies popping up all over the place. The final list. To be perfectly honest, it’s not because I know anything different, but I’m not going to go quoting different territories, because from an export standpoint it wouldn’t be fair to start blurting out different countries the game is going to be sold in. I need to see the final, final list in front of me.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s a long process. It takes a long time to deal with retailers.
KARL STEWART: Yeah, it’s a long process. There’s also 70-something different versions. It’s absolutely crazy. What we will do — and I can say we promise that – is in the very near future, we will give Meagan the information to post on the forums so you can get a full and concise list of every single territory.
MEAGAN MARIE: Put together one thread we can keep updating.
KARL STEWART: Exactly.
MEAGAN MARIE: We’ll try to make it easier on you guys.
KARL STEWART: It wouldn’t be right for me to just sit here and start blurting out territories and SKUs and who and who not. They’re decisions that are, again. As I say, I trust my sales team to be able to pull all that together. Once we have it locked, we will publish it.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Okay. Speaking of Steam, this is something that’s very exciting. We get a lot of questions about it. Will Steam utilize Steamworks?
KARL STEWART: Yes, there’s a plan to use Steamworks. We’re going to make an announcement pretty soon on exactly to what extent, but yes, it will. We love the idea of cloud-based saves. If I play it at home on my laptop, when I come into work I want to be able to continue it. I want to have all of the benefits that offers. More on that soon, but yes, it will incorporate Steamworks.
MEAGAN MARIE: How about PC system requirements? I know that’s something that a lot of. People want to know because they want to pre-order. They’re deciding, “Should I get it for my 360? Is my PC strong enough?”
KARL STEWART: Of course. What I’d say about PC requirements. I’m sure everybody has heard this a million times before from other developers as well. You build the games in tandem, but you will allow yourself some more time on the PC SKU, purely because there’s a smaller submission timeline for it to go to master. What we mean by that is, there’s a period of time when we have to lock off our console versions. We have to submit them to either Microsoft or Sony, and they have to review the game. Then there’s a back-and-forth. Generally that takes anywhere from six to eight weeks, all’s said and done. Could be shorter, could be longer. We can put the PC version up on Steam 72 hours in advance. Or any digital versions for that matter. If there’s something that needs to be patched, we can patch it as often as need be. Hopefully you never have to do that, but as we all know, on day one there’s normally just a nice little update to fix some little tweaks. With the PC version. You’re kind of afforded a little bit more time, and as a result of that, what we try and do is make sure that we lock down the goals and the core elements in our console version, and then we come back to the PC and say, “Okay, here we’ve afforded ourselves this much time. Let’s up-rez all the textures. Let’s get framerate running smoother. Let’s do lighting a little bit more detailed, because we have ourselves some time.” That all comes back to specs. We need to make sure that the game is running optimally first before we turn around and say, “Here’s the CPU you need. Here’s the graphics card you need.” We are working very closely with our partners at AMD to make sure that some of those questions are being answered sooner rather than later. We want to make sure that people can go out and not only pre-order the game, but also pre-order their new graphics card from AMD that we’re working with them on, to be able to make sure our game’s optimized for it. I love all that stuff as much as the next person, but I want to make sure that it’s right.
MEAGAN MARIE: We just want to wait until the information is as accurate as possible.
KARL STEWART: Exactly. There’s a lot of information. When you look at all those lines of system reqs, it’s like, “Oh my God.”
MEAGAN MARIE: It really is overwhelming. But we’re working on it, most certainly. This is another one that we got because we do have such a global fandom. They’re very aware of what goes on in other territories. Why are there differences between the North American and European collector’s editions? The digital versus physical, CD drive versus patches. Is this another thing that’s just up to what territories feel their consumers will like most?
KARL STEWART: Yeah. So I’ve worked on the North American publishing side for quite a number of years. I will say, there has never been a collector’s edition that I’ve worked on that has been identical. It’s for many reasons. It’s down to the amount of units being produced, the cost of shipping, and the cost of creation, all the way down to consumer likes and dislikes. Generally a lithograph that works in one territory might not work in another. A free giveaway in one might not work in the other. What I try and do from a brand standpoint is make sure we lock down some of the key things. With this collector’s edition, I was very sure on. One, I’ve been working with Play Arts Kai for a number of months — probably 18 months in total – to create this new Lara Croft statue. I always had it that that was going to be in the collector’s edition. Irrespective of where you bought it and who you bought it from, that was in the collector’s edition. The second element is the survival tin. I always had this story in my head where. When I did Batman I created the Batman case. It looked like the Batarang and you opened it up. With Conan I created this huge book that was almost the book of Conan. You opened it up and there was this one page that told you the poem, and when you opened that everything was under it. To me it’s about telling a story. Once you have the story told on the outer shell and the core elements of the core item defined inside of it, then you can get into the specifics. For me, my goals are the survival tin, because I wanted to try and have everything in this tin that people can keep. This hinged tin that feels like it’s washed up on a beach after the shipwreck, and what would have been in it is maybe the items that they would have. Bits of food, some water packs, a first aid kit. To me, that was a cool thing. I thought, “Let’s house it all inside of that.” So that was a global thing. Then there was the Play Arts Kai statue. Apart from that, then. And the game.
MEAGAN MARIE: Rather important.
KARL STEWART: That’s the main thing. And then after that we just left it up to the territories. I had many calls back and forth where we looked at costs and timings and production schedules and if we wanted to do X item, how long it would take. Then Ops gets involved. From an Ops standpoint we had to have everything delivered to a certain place at a certain time. And then also. We’re so close to the game. I need to be able to let the marketing teams around the world also give their input and have something to be a part of. It’s a team effort, as Brian had mentioned in one of our previous chats about the cover. Everybody should be able to come back and say, “Hey, you know what? This is the territory I live and work in. This feels right for us.” The difference is only because there’s many different moving parts. It’s a decision that gets made as a team, as to what is the best thing. I’m sure I want to get the European one because I love the idea of the dry bag. This survival dry bag is a cool little thing. It just didn’t work out to be in the North American ones for a couple of different reasons. We’re not doing it over here.
MEAGAN MARIE: But we have these cool little patches to sew on to stuff.
KARL STEWART: Yeah. There’s patches, and the lithograph, and they got the soundtrack, which we’re going to be announcing. When does this go out, Meagan?
MEAGAN MARIE: Probably Friday. Not yet. Not quite yet.
KARL STEWART: Doh. I can’t get into it, who the person is. I was going to give it up. World exclusive.
MEAGAN MARIE: Nope, nope.
KARL STEWART: But yeah, they have the soundtrack by [beep][beep]. We’ll see. I’m very happy with where we are with the collector’s edition. But we didn’t try and change them for any other reason than the ones that I just said.
MEAGAN MARIE: It was not a trivial decision.
KARL STEWART: It wasn’t trivial, yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: All right. Next question. Speaking to pre-order bonuses, collector’s editions, and so on. Some people are starting to get worried, because they don’t see the collector’s editions or pre-order bonuses for their specific territory. Should they fret?
KARL STEWART: No. Don’t fret at all. I have many calls with the teams around the world about where we are in the stages of announcing different things. What I will say is that. In an organization as big as Square Enix and with as many retailers and territories as we do cater to around the world, it takes a little bit of time for things to be able to get locked and get communicated and get distributed. For instance, in North America and the UK and Germany and France, it’s very easy to turn around and say, “Right, let’s lock in this offer.” We talk to the retailers. But when we start looking at territories further afield, we have distribution partners. They only have specific windows to get into retailers. Sometimes it’s a little bit slower getting stuff up on a website than it is doing it here when we’re in control of it. So what I will say is, do not fret. The export team and the teams around the world are working hard, tirelessly.
MEAGAN MARIE: Tirelessly!
KARL STEWART: We have the guys in here 24/7 working on various different assets. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of stuff being created.
MEAGAN MARIE: A lot of localized images.
KARL STEWART: We’ve built our website to allow you to be able to dip in and find out where these territories are. For instance, in probably the next week or so, I believe we turn on a tab which basically says “Rest Of World.” When you click on that, it’ll bring up all the flags of all the countries around the world. When you click on your flag, it’ll bring up a list of all your retailers and it’ll give you a link straight back to their website.
MEAGAN MARIE: So we’re working on it, most certainly.
KARL STEWART: It’s quite an undertaking.
MEAGAN MARIE: It is, it is. An exciting process, though. So another question for pre-orders. A couple of people have wondered, “If I order a version that has a character skin, will Lara wear it the whole game, or can I choose when she’s going to wear it?”
KARL STEWART: You can choose when you want to wear it. You can go into a menu and swap it out at any time.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay. I think people have already started to identify with Lara’s new outfit, and so they’re like, “I want to see the new one! But I want her to be able to wear the old one too!”
KARL STEWART: Yeah, you can swap them out. We’ve built it into the menu where you’ll be able to.
MEAGAN MARIE: Pop in, pop out.
KARL STEWART: I think depending on where you buy it, what combination you do, you’ll have the menu built where you can have several outfits. You can just change them as you play through the game.
MEAGAN MARIE: Very cool. I’m excited about that one. So now we’re out of the territory of pre-orders and all that. We’re getting into some of the regular questions. This has been a busy month. We have a couple of people wondering, will we ever show off the different comparison shots, screenshots, for PC versus PlayStation 3 versus 360. Is that something we would do?
KARL STEWART: Yeah, that’s something we have on the calendar for the New Year. You always do that. What I will say is, we don’t go out of our way to put three screenshots together and go, “Here are the differences.” I don’t think that’s fair on anybody, because PC guys get to have the highest-res textures. They have unlimited memory in a way. There’s differences to every one. We’ll leave it to you to draw the comparisons. Don’t expect us to put out a gallery of.
MEAGAN MARIE: Spot the difference.
KARL STEWART: “Here’s the three of them! Spot the difference!” That’s not going to happen.
MEAGAN MARIE: But it is something that we’ll.
KARL STEWART: It is something that we’ll do. The same screenshots, of course, will be released for all three platforms, because we are trying to present the game to those three audiences, to make sure that they make a fair decision on which platform they want to buy for.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Someone else asks, can you play the game from beginning to end without using the RPG system? I don’t know why they would not want to use it. It’s awesome.
KARL STEWART: Let me see. Yeah, you know what? There’s probably one or two things that you get close to having to do. But I don’t know why you’d want to do that.
MEAGAN MARIE: So if you wanted to just plow through the story, skip finding all the salvage, skip doing bonus things for XP. You can.
KARL STEWART: You can.
MEAGAN MARIE: But there’s so many cool things to unlock in the game.
KARL STEWART: For instance, you’ve got to go into your base camp to unlock your climbing axe. Otherwise you can’t get beyond the Condors to get further in. There’s things that you gotta do. But then.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s up to you how involved you want to go.
KARL STEWART: Yeah. Let’s just say, if somebody did that, they would be scratching the surface of an awesome experience. That rich tapestry that we’ve built inside of Tomb Raider. Did I just use the analogy of a rich tapestry?
MEAGAN MARIE: You did.
KARL STEWART: Fucking hell. That world that we’ve built inside of Tomb Raider is about Lara’s character arc. So in order to see that really come to life and see how she’s gotten stronger and more equipped to deal with her environment and the people around her, you want to go in. We’re going to be showing off, soon. There’s a melee piece where. The awesome thing is, she’s able to upgrade to dirty tricks. It’s one of the upgrades. When she gets close to somebody and she knocks them down, she picks up the closest rock and she smacks them across the head. To see that happen, you’re like, “AAAAUGH!”
MEAGAN MARIE: I love the one where she ducks down and throws dirt in people’s eyes. That’s such a scrappy, fun move.
KARL STEWART: That’s the thing that brings a character to life. So I wouldn’t imagine anybody would ever play the game start to finish without doing any of it. If they did, hopefully it’s on a second playthrough to see what it’s like, and they didn’t just fracture the experience by trying to do that for the sake of it.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay. We’re almost there. Will there be some type of weather system in the game, or will it be unique to each sequence? Do we have persistent weather, or daytime and so on?
KARL STEWART: It’s a blend, to be honest. Here’s where we are. When you come in to an area, such as the night hub, for instance, where we meet Roth, for the first time, it’s raining and it’s nighttime. When you leave that space and you move on to, let’s say, the World War II area, and you get to a base camp and you think, “I have a piece of gear, I want to go back and unlock some things,” if it’s daytime where you are there, when you use your base camp to fast travel back to the Roth area, which was called the night hub, it will now be daytime. It’s persistent in the sense that you’ll be able to move around the world, and whatever you’re in, you’ll be in when you fast travel. It’s not dynamic in the sense that it’ll turn from day to night in front of your eyes. That’s not going to happen. But as you move around the world, because we’re trying to tell this story of the days and the week after Lara crash-lands on the island. The story is tailored to be driven around the thematic of the situation she’s in and the nighttime or daytime, whatever it may be. As you use fast travel, you will land back in that space at the same time and day state as you had last.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s really unique to see, because it gives you a chance to re-explore areas with different moods in that environment. It’s really nice. I enjoy it.
KARL STEWART: I love it. And to be honest, we can’t say too much in this, but. Journalists who have been playing the game so far have seen sections where they’ve come in, they’ve done something, they’ve defended themselves from the scavengers, and they’ve moved on. Then they’ve come back in and gone, “Holy crap, they’re back in here, but they haven’t just spawned in here. They’re actually working. They’re doing things.”
MEAGAN MARIE: They’re doing something different. They have a new goal.
KARL STEWART: It feels like a living, breathing world. They’re having conversations with each other about. Based on what they’ve heard about you further on in the story. It feels like these spaces are alive. That’s a very important thing to us.
MEAGAN MARIE: Final question. This is another tough one. Is the geocaching partnership still happening?
KARL STEWART: So. We had been working on an idea for quite a while, and due to time constraints, we decided not to go ahead with that particular geocache opportunity. We started looking at the idea we had originally and. Things evolve. A mechanic that may have worked two years ago may not be a mechanic that works now. So we have a subset of that which we’re going to be announcing in the very near future, that we’ve been working on with our team down in LA. I look forward to talking to you more about that when we’ve made the announcement, but at this time, we are actually not going to be working directly with geocaching. The situation and the mechanics just didn’t work out in the way in which we felt we needed to be able to deliver the experience to the fans.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay. Karl! Thank you. Do you know how many questions that was?
KARL STEWART: Ten?
MEAGAN MARIE: Twelve.
KARL STEWART: Oh, dear. That’s not Take Five.
MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you. You have made my life so much easier by answering these. So I very much appreciate it. Now, we’re going to go have turkey dinner at the studio.
KARL STEWART: Yes! We’re supposed to be upstairs right now, carving turkey for the team.
MEAGAN MARIE: I’m going to save, I’m going to close GarageBand — because that’s what I use — and I’m going to go eat some turkey.
KARL STEWART: Excellent. Thank you very much, all!
MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you everyone.
KARL STEWART: Happy Thanksgiving, even though you’ll hear this the day after. And for you guys outside of America, forget I said that.
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, bye-bye.
KARL STEWART: Thanks. ‘Bye.
MEAGAN MARIE: And that is it for this episode of the Crystal Habit podcast. For those of you in the United States, I hope you enjoy your long Thanksgiving weekend, and for the rest of you worldwide, enjoy your regularly scheduled programming. ‘Til next time.