The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 17

21 Gennaio 2013
Meagan Marie – Community Manager
Karl Stewart – Direttore Globale Marchio
Joe Khoury – Produttore c/o Eidos Montréal
Daniel Bisson – Game Director c/o Crystal Dynamics
Melonie Mac – CES Community Ambassador
Max Murray – CES Community Ambassador

[ 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. Meagan Marie here, your host for the Crystal Habit podcast, and this is episode number 17. I apologize if it’s a little noisy. I have a habit of taking Tomb Raider. Taking the podcast on tour along with our appearances at shows. We are currently at CES in Vegas. Our first segment of the podcast is actually really exciting, because it’s going to dive deeper into the recently revealed Tomb Raider multiplayer. I’m going to talk both to our game director and one of our Eidos Montreal multiplayer producers about the general philosophy and even some of the specifics about the implementation of multiplayer in the game. After that, we have two community members, Max Murray and Melonie Mac, who are out here representing our community at the show. They are going to do my job by grilling Karl in our Take Five segment. So! I hope you enjoy.

[Musical interlude]

Segment 1: Multiplayer

MEAGAN MARIE: I’m extremely excited to be here today, because I have two brand-new guests on the podcasts. I know you guys are usually stuck with Karl and I and maybe a special guest from the studio every once in a while, but now I have Dan and Joe here. Joe, how do you say your last name?


MEAGAN MARIE: Like the amazing food that I love?

JOE KHOURY: No, that’s curry. Although that’s pretty good too. My name means “priest” in Arabic, because I’m Lebanese. Priest, I’m a priest.

MEAGAN MARIE: We had not met you before, because you were a producer at Eidos Montreal, and we’ve had to keep you hidden away for like two years now. And then Dan, you’ve also been kind of hidden away at the studio, working hard. You’re our game director on Tomb Raider, working out of Crystal. Thank you guys both for being on the podcast.

JOE KHOURY: Thanks for having us here.


MEAGAN MARIE: So first off, can we start with some introductions? Joe, why don’t you go first, and we’ll do just a quick “what have you done in the industry, what do you do at Eidos Montreal?”

JOE KHOURY: I don’t need to say my name again, because we talked about that and the whole priest thing. I’m a producer at Eidos Montreal. I have been in the industry for I think about 10, maybe 11 years. I was at EA before. I worked on games like Medal of Honor. I worked on Army of Two. More recently, I was in China working on a fantastic project called American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns. I was a fan of that franchise before. When EA told me to fly over to China, it wasn’t a very tough decision. Then I came back and that was two years ago. We’ve been on Tomb Raider ever since, trying to keep it quiet the whole time. It’s been tough.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. I’ll ask about that later.

JOE KHOURY: Yeah, it’s been very tough. It’s a very exciting project to be on. I’m sure that you all know about the other presence of studios in Montreal, so we had to be careful about who we talk to and what we talk about.


JOE KHOURY: But now that we’re out in the open.

MEAGAN MARIE: Now we get to have you on podcasts and shout it from the rooftop and share. How about you, Dan? What’s under your belt? Some big projects I know.

DANIEL BISSON: My full name is very hard to pronounce in English because I’m French-Canadian. I come from Montreal, but I was transferred to Crystal Dynamics as game director on the single-player. Before I started working at Eidos Montreal, I was at Ubisoft working on Assassin’s Creed, Rainbow Six, games like that. Then they got me to work at Eidos Montreal for Tomb Raider. At first I was working with Joe a little bit, establishing the vision of the multiplayer. I worked on the single-player too.

JOE KHOURY: Dan was in a perfect position, because he got a chance to touch both the multiplayer and the single-player. Which is great to have, because we worked with Dan in the beginning to make sure that we had something that was parallel and fit well with the single-player world. Then we wished Dan the best of luck while he went and helped out Crystal on the single-player.

MEAGAN MARIE: So Dan, were you one of the points of contact or the liaison between the studios, then? Is that part of what you did?

DANIEL BISSON: Yeah, I was the point of liaison at the time. They got me working on Tomb Raider. When I came to Eidos Montreal, Noah and Darrell talked to me about doing multiplayer. Something as unique as possible, something that didn’t feel like we rehashed it from other games. I was like, “Okay, let’s see what we can do.” I worked with Karl Stewart establishing what could be original and fit with Tomb Raider. Also, I was working with Joe on some of the single-player maps in there. It was kind of like.

MEAGAN MARIE: Jack of all trades.

DANIEL BISSON: Jack of all trades, exactly.

MEAGAN MARIE: Let’s ask the big question. Why did we include multiplayer? Why did we decide that this was the time and the place and the right game to introduce a multiplayer component?

JOE KHOURY: You can start that one, Dan, because I don’t.

DANIEL BISSON: Yeah, I’ll start that one. I think one of the most important things is. We were talking about. Okay, Tomb Raider is about survival. The new Tomb Raider, it’s about survival. It’s an origin story. We wanted to do something about. How can a hero be created or be born by pushing the limits of a human being when they’re facing a threat? There was some success with Guardian of Light. People loved it. I loved it. I played Guardian of Light at the time and loved playing with my friends and things like that. We said, “Hey, one idea is that.” A lot of games out there right now, when you finish the game, you’re like, “Okay, I’d like to continue in this universe. I’d like to continue in that world.” Because it’s a very rich world. When you play this game, the single-player, it’s a very rich world. There’s a lot of detail attached to it. A lot of things that you feel connected with. You’re like, “I want to continue!” A lot of people are talking about the game among each other. They share in the experience. We said, “How can we push that into Tomb Raider? How can we do what we did on Guardian of Light? How can we expose that rich universe and extend it and make sure that when people play it, they can share that experience and say, ‘Hey, that was pretty cool’?” One of the most important things for us was doing that. Let’s be able to play that experience, that unique universe, with friends. This is why the first mode we worked on was Rescue, where one team is working together, like co-op, toward a common goal, and the opposite team tries to prevent them from achieving this goal.

JOE KHOURY: For me, it was a little bit. I don’t know. I could say it’s more of a personal experience for me, because we first started without. Let’s be honest. I play the single-player first and foremost, because I want to be able to answer that question myself. I wanted to see what we were doing. I had a pretty good idea — just by hearing what Noah and Darrell and the guys had to say about single-player — of what the general theme was, the theme of survival. When I played the game, the original concept that you’re on an island with a few of your friends. That’s single-player. Lara has friends that are stranded with her on the island. Right off the bat, well, okay. You survive alone, or you can use your friends. That theme right there opened a door. I’ll say it right out. I am one of those guys that doesn’t believe that every single game needs multiplayer. But this one felt like, with the theme of surviving together. The difference between killing and getting points just for killing versus this idea. You obviously get points rewarded for being kills, but you also get rewards for working together. For doing what Dan was saying, like bringing a medpack back in our rescue mode and just helping each other out. Specifically, in Rescue, there’s a moment where a scavenger can harm you. You’re down, but you’re not completely dead. But a friend of yours can come in and rescue you and they get points for that. Depending on your friends and getting that communication going between players – “Hey, I’m down, come give me a hand!”. There was a lot of opportunities. Plus, you add another layer, which is an opportunity for the island itself to be a threat. Lara is on this island, but there’s a lot of things she doesn’t know about. We wanted to expose that more through multiplayer, because multiplayer happens in one specific area. We wanted the player to explore, find traps. What we refer to as small game-changers, which cause. There’s environmental effects. There are things that the player can trigger that change the match dramatically from one leading team to another. All that stuff is things that we wanted to explore that I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of in other maps. There’s obviously destruction in a lot of other games. But for this one, we felt that the island. Just look at screenshots of single-player. It looks scary as it is.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. The island certainly does sound like a threat. It looks like a threat.

JOE KHOURY: Yeah! Add to the fact that there are people that have been there for a while that have had a chance to set traps, that have had a chance to explore and settle in. You have an arena where one team is there trying to survive, and the other one is trying to eliminate the other team. To us, it’s a pretty good base to start building multiplayer. It goes back to what Dan was saying. Communication and getting players to.

DANIEL BISSON: I remember, when we started first pitching these ideas, game-changing and using the environment as a tool for the player. I remember that. It was scary.

JOE KHOURY: It was very scary.

DANIEL BISSON: Joe was freaking out. It just didn’t seem possible to do that.

JOE KHOURY: Yeah. Because you should have seen what he was saying. We’re going to get the whole level to fall apart and stuff like that. [big laughs]

MEAGAN MARIE: Think big.

JOE KHOURY: That’s what I like about Dan. Dan was always the person to get me to dream. Unfortunately, with our experience, we know that you start up way up there, and then you come down some times, just a little bit lower. But we still try to aim high.

DANIEL BISSON: When we were talking about that asymmetric experience, having the scavengers be invaders and the survivors working together, people were afraid of that. People were really afraid. Not a lot of games out there were using that type of experience. The game-changers, using the environment in multiplayer, having an environment that involves. You have an impact on that. Not a lot of people are doing that. This is something that was scaring a lot of people in there when we started talking about it.

JOE KHOURY: With reason. [laughter] With reason.

DANIEL BISSON: It was very painful to do, but it paid off in the end. When you’re playing, this is why a lot of people like it. What they love is that it feels different in a certain way. I like to be an invader. I like to play the scavengers. I like to grief players. [laughter] You know me.

JOE KHOURY: Yeah, Dan is a trash-talker. Numerous times I wanted to slap him with the game pad.

DANIEL BISSON: I love griefing people.

JOE KHOURY: Here’s another thing I will say, though. It is a blast to work on a multiplayer game. When we test the game, when we test our progress, there’s always. Whether it’s changes that we’ve made, or changes in the way it plays, it’s always fun. It’s always a different experience every time we test our changes. So yeah. We’ve had some matches that were pretty tight. Trash-talking. Frustration. It’s all part of the process of putting your heart into it.

MEAGAN MARIE: I can’t wait for that, too. I played a couple of times. I played with our PR representatives, and they were slightly surprised by the mouth that I have on me. [laughter] I have to mute myself when I play multiplayer, because I. I get a little bit vocal sometimes.

JOE KHOURY: As it should be.

MEAGAN MARIE: But it’s a friendly. I’m not trash-talking other players. I’m just like. “Crap!” But not “crap!”

JOE KHOURY: Trash-talk ‘em. Don’t hold back. The thing is that, all these situations sometimes are things that might not happen at that moment. A player might set a trap and you’ll get killed 30 minutes later by hitting that trap. Then you’re like, “What just happened? When did you have time to set that trap up?” It’s stuff that lives within the world. It’s not just about, “Oh, I know you fired a gun at me and I died.” Now it’s a trap that killed me that you set 20 minutes ago.

MEAGAN MARIE: Wonderful. So, Joe, when it comes to the team that’s working on multiplayer at Eidos Montreal, there wasn’t necessarily a history with Eidos Montreal working on multiplayer.

JOE KHOURY: Absolutely.

MEAGAN MARIE: But you guys did bulk up the staff and make sure that you had that pedigree working on the team. Can you speak to that a little bit?

JOE KHOURY: Sure. Again, we touched on the fact that Montreal has a lot of talent. There’s a lot of great studios that have released some great games. We named a couple, between Dan and I, but at the same time there are guys that have worked on multiplayer-centric games, like Rainbow Six, a game that Dan worked on, and a bunch of other games. We had the luxury of having a very wide choice of people that we could bring in to the team. It was important for us to give Tomb Raider the value that it deserves by not necessarily settling in with people that might have worked internally on some other titles. We wanted to really build a team, of course, from people that have worked on other titles such as Deus Ex. I think it was important for us, especially on the senior staff side, to get guys that have experience in multiplayer and co-op games. That have had a chance to design games with numerous players at the same time in mind. For us, it was very important to build a team just for that and not a transitional team. It was also important for Eidos Montreal, as a whole, to develop multiplayer experience. Whether you agree with it or not, it is an emerging game mode in the industry as a whole. If it’s done well, a lot of people that have praised certain games specifically for their multiplayer. There’s others that obviously have had multiplayer as a box sticker, but for us, that was never the idea. We never had talks with Crystal and Darrell and the team over there to basically do something just to say that we did it. There is no other reason. Nobody forced us to do this but ourselves and the feeling that we had something special to do. There was no other reason to do it, besides the feeling that we wanted to do something and we could do something. Directly, as a result, we hired people to do it. We had people that worked on, again, great games like Assassin’s Creed that have either come from outside of Montreal as well. We recruited specifically for that, just to grow the experience in multiplayer. And specifically designing a game for players playing together, whether it’s co-op or specifically one-on-one or eight versus eight, 10 players, 12 players, matches going together. I have to say, we were lucky to be in Montreal, because we were able to ramp up the team in time to do something. Multiplayer has been in development for two years. It’s not something that came up a year ago. We gave it the time, and like Dan was saying, the thought behind it. It’s not just saying, “We’re going to do team deathmatch and a couple of other generic modes and ship it with the game.” That’s not how we did things. That was part of the conditions for us to do it. So we give it its right value.

DS: The thing to remember, also, from the beginning is that Darrell. At the time he was like, “I don’t want you guys to do something that feels tacked on” Because there’s so much passion to this franchise. Not just from the fans, but also among the people working on the project. There’s a lot of pride related to that. At the time, Darrell was like, “I want us to put the same care into the multiplayer that we would be in the single-player.” I remember that at the time. We were talking about that. That’s why we sat down and thought about, “Okay, this is not like a publisher whiteboard with a checklist of features we want.”

MEAGAN MARIE: Tick the box.

JOE KHOURY: Absolutely not.

DANIEL BISSON: We never had that. We sat down and said, “Okay, what can we make that’s unique, that will be meaningful for the franchise? What feels like an extension of the single-player?” That was very important for us.

MEAGAN MARIE: Because it wasn’t an idea early on. Wasn’t it shelved at some point early in conception, because we didn’t think that. Obviously Darrell wasn’t willing to split the focus of the single-player team.

JOE KHOURY: And rightly so, rightly so. If you want to do something with as much heart as what we’re talking about, you cannot expect a team that’s putting so much heart into a campaign, story-driven single-player to just at some point break that and work on a multiplayer game, which is usually more systemic. For us, the idea, and rightly so. Darrell says, “Get another team with as much heart as us to make it. Have them feel out what could be unique about it.” Meagan, you’re a Tomb Raider, Lara Croft fan, and we are as well. Would you ever want to do something where you don’t feel like it does the franchise right? I personally don’t want to do that. I grew up with Lara Croft, just like a lot of us. I do not want to see that franchise go anywhere but up. I want to have the same memories I had in 1996 today. That means playing a mode that is not necessarily. Lara is in it, but it’s not all about Lara. It allows me to have memories similar to the ones that I had when I played the first Tomb Raider, but this time it’s between me and my friends. 10, 15 years down the line. I’m being a little bit hopeful and optimistic, but who knows, right? You had a fantastic match where you remember a trap that took you out while you were doing this, and this moment develops. It was really important for us to say, “We want to participate in this franchise in the right way.”

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s one of the exciting things from a community perspective that I love. Tomb Raider has traditionally been the isolated single-player experience. What I’m excited about now is that people have that option to extend the experience and play with their friends. They would share online and on forums and on fan sites, share their single-player experiences, but it was inherently sharing. It was becoming social, because they would talk about it. Now they have the option to play with each other and form more memories in addition to the single-player experience that they’ve come to love. I think it’s really exciting. I’m seeing a lot of people get excited in the forums. They’re already trading tags and planning what characters they want to primarily use. It’s neat to see that they’re going to be able to take that.

JOE KHOURY: Owning that character or that character.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. There are going to be so many rivalries that start up on the forums. “Let’s settle this in a match online!”

JOE KHOURY: “I’m Lara!” “No, I’m Lara!”

MEAGAN MARIE: I have one question that I think is actually really interesting because. Some studios have done it before, some games have done it before, but splitting the responsibilities between two studios is interesting. Obviously the responsibility is single-player versus multiplayer, but how did that work from a logistical standpoint? Did you guys have constant meetings, people flying back and forth? What resources were shared, and so on?

JOE KHOURY: I’ve always said, to all the guys at Crystal, that we wish that we had more. We always want more. Communication is key when you’re doing something like this, because you really want to make sure that both teams are on the same wavelength. From the get-go, the vision of single-player was set very strongly. We understood exactly what they were trying to do. We still had weekly calls. I still have calls to this day with Crystal on a regular basis. We had calls at some points specifically geared towards the whole design, towards art, towards production, towards all mediums. Having Dan as well in the beginning. Being able to touch base on both was pretty important. But at some point you get so deep into whatever game you’re doing, whether it’s single-player or multiplayer, that you. I wouldn’t say you lose track, but you focus really closely.

MEAGAN MARIE: Tunnel vision.

JOE KHOURY: Yeah, exactly. People like myself, being a producer. My job is to keep communicating. I’m not necessarily in the tunnel as much as an artist or a level designer. For us it was important to keep talking. I have, again. Right off the bat I pick up the phone and call guys at Crystal to ask them things. It’s been fantastic, really. They were extremely helpful, whether it’s with assets, because we do reuse assets from single-player to multiplayer. Whether it’s finding a specific mesh problem that we’re having that perhaps works for single but not for multi. Again, I think the most ideal situation is two teams in the same building. In our case, we’re two teams in two countries. [laughs] And opposite sides of the continent, too. It was still a great collaboration. We had a great time. I think it reflects well on both of us how much heart is coming out both in the single-player and the multiplayer sides.

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s interesting, because while you guys did use the Crystal engine and we shared assets.

JOE KHOURY: We shared the engine as well, yeah.

MEAGAN MARIE: You guys made brand-new maps. I don’t think people realize that these maps are not in single-player. And just to give you guys some props, the fans that I’ve been reading and looking at online, they love your map designs. They’re screenshotting everything and saying how gorgeous everything is and how they can’t wait to play in these spaces. Those are totally new. You guys had some freedom to create really cool levels.

JOE KHOURY: We had to, because the modes that we had — and Dan, you can probably pitch in on that one as well – were not modes that we were capable of implementing correctly using a section of a map that existed. We needed to create our own turf, our own arenas, because they had to support a mode that had to prevent spawn-camping, that offered different routes to the player. We can’t necessarily take a section of a map and all of a sudden implement traps, spawn zones, drop zones for the medpacks, or all these other elements that allow multiplayer to be unique. We couldn’t do that by copy-pasting, necessarily.

DANIEL BISSON: The biggest challenge we had, even for me, when I went to Crystal, is that some of the mechanics were still being built out as we were doing the multiplayer. One of the responsibilities I had personally was making sure that people from Montreal, while I was at Crystal, got the information about all these mechanics and other things. One thing that’s important is, that’s why they had to do new maps. It’s because even though they share the same mechanics, even though they share some the same tools, because of the modes, the uniqueness of the modes. You can play co-op, you can play invaders and things like that. The single-player maps were made for Lara, for a single set of skills and abilities. Suddenly you put eight players in there with different types of abilities, on different sides. That’s why the maps had to be. At the time, we even reused a few at the beginning, the maps from single-player. It didn’t work.

JOE KHOURY: Yeah, we did. Crystal did have a fantastic choice of maps to begin with, when we started. We said, “Well, let’s see if we can potentially reuse a bit.” It just wasn’t working. We thought that it would not necessarily be to the best of each mode’s experience to try to fit a mode in a map that existed. Plus, it’s a huge island. For us, we want the player to believe that there are some areas they didn’t explore in single-player. It was a lot more rewarding for us to allow the terrain to be modified or to be built specifically for a multiplayer mode. Also, going back to what Dan was saying, the mechanics had to be slightly modified. This is where someone like Dan was important. Sometimes the player’s forgiveness in single-player is not the same as in multiplayer. You expect quicker reactions. We had to go back to Dan sometimes and tell him, “Okay, our run has to be different.” Another example is our axe climb on the walls. It’s a little bit quicker. Multiplayer is okay, but when you have four other players trying to gun you down and you’re sitting there axe-climbing a wall.

MEAGAN MARIE: It needs to be a little bit faster, yeah.

JOE KHOURY: It needs to be a little bit snappier.

DANIEL BISSON: A funny thing is that we also inspired ourselves with some of the mechanics that came up. Like the fast climb. We have an upgrade for that in the game now, inspired by a thought from the multiplayer. So I think the collaboration was a good one. You feel. Even in the single-player for past games, you feel there are similarities between those past games and the new experience. But also, when you go to the multiplayer, you feel the same thing. You feel the similarities in themes and other things like that from the single-player. But also the feeling of liberation that you have when you’re playing with your friends.

MEAGAN MARIE: So, one last question, then, and we’ll wrap up. This is one that I went back and forth on personally. The question is, why make Lara so difficult to unlock? The context is. When I first found out that we were doing multiplayer, part of me was like, “No. Do not let Lara be playable. I don’t want people to run around and have lots of Laras and so on.” Then the other part of me was like, “But I want to play Lara Croft! I love her.” So I think that we’ve found the perfect hybrid. Can you guys speak to why Lara is kind of the BAMF character that takes forever to unlock?

JOE KHOURY: Because it’s Lara Croft. She is the coolest character. Not to take away from the other characters we have, which are also pretty cool, but let’s get real here. Lara Croft is the character that you’re going to want to play. There is a level-up system in the game. You progress. You get XP. You get salvage, which is basically our currency in the game, to upgrade and stuff like that. But at the same time, we want the players to aim for something. Lara Croft is aiming pretty high.

MEAGAN MARIE: And so when you see someone playing as Lara, you know that they know their stuff.

DANIEL BISSON: You know they’re special. “Oh my God, this is Lara Croft.”

JOE KHOURY: Stay away.

DANIEL BISSON: You have the same feeling that you have when. Even if you weren’t playing multiplayer, you’d be like, “This is Lara Croft.” When you play multiplayer, you have the same, like, “Oh my God!”

MEAGAN MARIE: You know to watch out for that person. [laughter]

JOE KHOURY: Here’s the funny thing. We’ve been testing multiplayer with the right progression for about a month and a half, two months now. There’s not a lot of people on our team that have Lara Croft. We reset our profiles every time. Sometimes we don’t but, 60 levels is not something you get.

MEAGAN MARIE: I am not going to get any sleep, to make sure that I have her unlocked within the first week of launch. I want her.

JOE KHOURY: That’s the goal. If you put in the time, you’ll see. The ramp-up is pretty quick. You’ll get good quickly and you’ll be able to unlock Lara quickly. At the same time, you’ll feel like you’ve aimed for something, something that’s rewarding, the pillar of this franchise. For us it was important to let the player know that Lara is special and that you’ve got to work your way up to get her.

MEAGAN MARIE: Okay. Great! Well, thank you both so much for being on the podcast. I think that this has been really interesting, and I know that everybody’s been wanting more context about the decisions. So thank you. I’ll let you guys get back to your busy schedule, because we’re at CES right now.

JOE KHOURY: Thanks, Meagan. A pleasure.

DANIEL BISSON: Thanks again.

[Musical interlude]

Segment 2: Take Five

MEAGAN MARIE: Alright. Hey, everyone, we are still at CES. I have special guests here today, because I’m going to be lazy and not do the Take Five myself. I have Melonie and MAX, who are community ambassadors for CES. Say, hello, guys.

MELONIE: Hi, everybody!

MAX: Hello.

MEAGAN MARIE: First off, are you having fun?

MAX: Oh, yeah.

MELONIE: I’m having a blast. Time of my life.

MEAGAN MARIE: What do you have in your lap?

MELONIE: Right now I have this Tomb Raider Xbox controller, signed. I am super pumped.

MEAGAN MARIE: I’m excited for you guys to use those. It’s awesome having community members out there. We did fun things like gondola rides and all this neat stuff. Now, I get to let you do my job, too.

MAX: Oh dear. Once in a lifetime.

MEAGAN MARIE: Which is to grill Karl. So! I picked some questions because I wanted to balance it out.

KARL STEWART: This is worse, because now you don’t give me 10 questions and I go pick five. Now I have to answer the five questions that are thrown at me.

MEAGAN MARIE: That’s why I love it when fans ask you questions. You have to answer!

KARL STEWART: Now it’s like, “Pass. Next.”

MEAGAN MARIE: So we’re going to start with a hard one.


MAX: Yes. The first question is: Will there be a demo?

KARL STEWART: So. There actually will not be a demo. There’s a very good reason for not having a demo. When we made the decision to tell the story from day one, it’s all about the experience you have from the very beginning of the story. On most games that have demos, they can just dump you straight into a portion of the game and you can play 30 minutes and you can say, “That’s a great experience.” But for us, if we were to dump you for 30 minutes inside the game, it would actually have to be far enough along that you will have gone past the first kill, gotten a weapon, and now you’re fighting people where you have no idea who they are or what your motivation is. The decision not to do a demo was one based on. It’s an origin story. We want players to be able to experience it from day one, all the way through those first big loops of the character arc. That’s the actual reason.

MAX: Okay. That actually makes sense.

MELONIE: It does.

KARL STEWART: Because you don’t want to spoil it. We get a lot of people saying, “Tell me what happens in the middle of the game! Why is this.” And I think, “Do you really want it spoiled?” If I give you a half-hour of gameplay two hours in, you’re going to go, “Uh, I didn’t want to know that. I wanted to experience that for myself.

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s kind of a bummer. I know people have been asking for this for a long time and it’s good to get them an answer finally. But there is a very good reason. We really just don’t want to spoil the experience for you.


MELONIE: Alright. The next question here: Will you be able to download and purchase the soundtrack separately?

KARL STEWART: Yes, you will. We have been working with Something Digital, which is a company that. One of the biggest companies in the world, actually, for the digital distribution of soundtracks. We have two soundtracks. One will be associated with one of our pre-orders. Actually, no, collector’s edition. Have to make sure I get that right. You will be able to purchase the entire soundtrack from Something. If people don’t get their hands on the collector’s edition, they can go to that website and download it.

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s a really beautiful soundtrack.

KARL STEWART: Actually, the collector’s edition. There’s 10 or 11 tracks. The actual full soundtrack, the director’s cut, is 16.

MAX: Interesting.

KARL STEWART: So if you buy it you get the whole lot. Or you can buy individual tracks. We’ve broken them up, so if you buy the collector’s edition and you don’t want to go buy the entire thing, we’re breaking it up so you can just buy those extra six tracks as a separate package.

MEAGAN MARIE: Next question?

MAX: Why doesn’t Lara ever put on a jacket?

KARL STEWART: Uh. Because it’s not that cold. [laughter] It might rain, but it doesn’t get that cold. No.

MEAGAN MARIE: This is one the fans wonder about. They wonder why she doesn’t scavenge something from bad guys or the.

KARL STEWART: You know, there’s not really a valid reason as to why she does or doesn’t. It’s just one of those things. When you build a character, you don’t want her changing halfway through, changing clothes. We just made a decision that there’s no real need for us to have to go and do jackets and scarves and hats and, “Oh, it’s cold, put some gloves on.”

MEAGAN MARIE: I think that the interesting thing, though, is that because she has one default outfit throughout the adventure, you get to see that wear and tear. You get to see how the island’s affected her. If you changed it up you wouldn’t have that persistence and seeing how tough of a journey it’s been.

KARL STEWART: And also, the Aviatrix and the Hunter skin, those all have jackets and bits and pieces. You’ll be able to wear a jacket if you want to wear a jacket. [laughter]


MELONIE: Why did you change the story from the Kublai Khan to searching for the Yamatai?

KARL STEWART: One of the benefits of us starting the game so early and making the distances between alpha to beta as big as we did. I know at one stage we said, “Hey, we hit alpha!” and everyone was like, “Well, if they hit alpha, that means there’ll be six weeks left to beta and the game should be ready in November.” Well, when we put ourselves in a position where we had large amounts of time, it meant that we could bring in an array of people to not only play the game, but also scriptwriters to read the script and see if we tied up loose ends. We actually reached a point where the philosophy of the Kublai Khan was something we said at the beginning of the game, and. Players were playing it and saying, “I don’t really care too much for the Kublai Khan. The whole Yamatai, the sun queen, and the idea of the island is actually far more interesting.” So in the scriptwriting process, we just went back in and said, “Look, we want to deliver the proper experience. If we start something, we want to finish it. We want to tie off all those loose ends.” The Yamatai was a better subject matter for us. It was always in the game. Obviously the whole story had many different facets. But we found that we had too many strands of story going off. The lost fleet was something that just didn’t need to have there. That’s why the development process having so much of a gap between vertical slice to alpha, alpha to beta, beta to UGM. It allows us to go back in and look at the script and re-record new lines and look at the story and make sure we’re tying everything off. The last thing we want is for you to start the game and go, “Oh, she starts out looking for something and then she never really finds it.” [laughter]

MAX: A neverending story.

KARL STEWART: Exactly. So for us, we thought, “No, we want to tie off all these loose ends before the end of the game.”

MEAGAN MARIE: Excellent.

MAX: Will Lara’s bow always disappear when she switches weapons?

KARL STEWART: In some cases, yes. That’s purely just an engine thing. That’s not because we wanted to have no bow. When she comes into tight spaces, such as. There’s the radio tower. Between the time where she realizes the lever is broken and she gets to the outside radio tower base, she goes through that steam channel. One of the things that bugs us is that when she’s crouched down and trying to shimmy through. When you have the bow on her, it actually disrupts the animation to have to then get her to bend in a really awkward way that the camera doesn’t like because the bow has to not clip stuff. Before you know it, because she has a bow, you’re having this almost. She’s lying on the ground doing the shimmy to crawl. So for us, there’s situations such as that where we decided to take the bow out. As soon as you hit the D-pad up or down, it pops back, depending on the machine. Also, from an aesthetic standpoint, we didn’t want you playing from behind Lara and having a bow, a climbing axe, and a shotgun and everything there. It’s just natural for us to be able to say, look, let’s let them disappear. They come back instantly as soon as you hit the D-pad.

MAX: Right. So you can get through areas smoothly.

KARL STEWART: Yeah. That is partially the honest reason. If you were to have a bow.

MAX: In real life it would be a lot more difficult, less graceful.

KARL STEWART: Less graceful. You’d probably take the bow off and hold it in your hand and shimmy through. There are just situations like that where, for us, given the opportunity to be able to turn stuff on and off, we want to try and keep the animations fluid and keep the feeling and the sense. When you go through that steam chamber, it’s really about her not wanting to touch stuff, because it’s so warm and steam is hitting her in the face and she has to crouch down. It’s a really deep, telling moment, when she’s coming through there. To have a bow, she’d be like. If that was me, you’d be like, “GODDAMN BOW! GET OUT OF THE WAY!” and all of a sudden the moment’s gone. The bow got stuck on a pipe and you can’t move forward. [laughter]

MEAGAN MARIE: String broke, knocked it off.

KARL STEWART: D’oh! Gotta go find another string before I can go kill somebody.

MEAGAN MARIE: Do we have any more left? How many do we have?

MAX: Yes, we do. One.

MELONIE: One more question. What happened to food caches?

MEAGAN MARIE: Originally, in one of the early builds, there were food caches that you could burn out of those little sacks.

KARL STEWART: Yeah. Again, it was one of those things that. When we started to get stuck in to the game and say, “Right, what makes sense? What are people playing in focus testing? What do we want to be able to resonate throughout the entire game.?” We’ve always said that we’re a survival adventure game, but we’re not about foraging for food and berries and drinking your own pee and all of the usual. [laughter] It was one of those things that we just didn’t feel was necessary anymore. As you start playing the game in the development process, you start. Here’s the thing. When you’re making a game, it’s not like making a movie or making a TV show. When you’re making a movie, everything is cut without the viewer seeing it. Then all of a sudden an editor sits in a room and he pieces it all together and he makes the movie. The first time it comes out is the first time it’s in a cinema. You don’t see the bits that they tested. They went, “Oh, this might work,” and then they said, “Nope, don’t like that, take it out.” Whereas in developing video games, from E3 last year we’ve been showing code. We have to show code when you’re out there demoing the game. You get to see stuff during our process. You get to see stuff and think, “Huh, there was something in this in June, and then they got rid of it.” As developers, we just thought, “Well, that isn’t working for us.” We may have showed it a year ago or two years ago or two months ago, but there are points in time where we had to bite the bullet and just tell people that. If it was a movie, you would never have known that there was stuff in and we cut it. In video games, you guys are like detectives. [laughters] You see and hear and smell everything.

MEAGAN MARIE: Internet Matlocks is what I like to say.

KARL STEWART: So it really is just about the development process and what’s going to go in. What works and what doesn’t work. We don’t want to throw stuff in a game just for the sake of it, and we certainly don’t want to have something in where it’s like. It’s holier-than-thou. “Oh, it was in there from day one so it has to stay there.” If it doesn’t fit, it’s gotta come out.

MELONIE: That’s good. I think something like. With surviving through intense battles and exploring the island as a whole, you don’t want to die because you’re hungry. [laughter]


MELONIE: It’s like, are you kidding me? I survived this battle and then I died because I’m hungry.

KARL STEWART: Right. Or you’d be halfway through a battle, being chase, and it’s like, “Oh, my tummy’s grumbling. Can you all stop for a second? I’ve gotta go and find myself some berries to pick.”

MEAGAN MARIE: I think we found a good balance. So! I’m going to give you guys a freebie. Do either of you guys have a question, since we’ve got Karl on the line and he can’t run away?

KARL STEWART: Oh, Jesus, what are you doing?

MELONIE: Does this apply to single-player and multiplayer questions?


MELONIE: Yeah, I actually had a question about multiplayer. I noticed when we were playing. For example, the little sandstorms and stuff that obstructed your vision. I thought that was awesome. Are there going to be other environmental elements in the game that will be similar to that?

KARL STEWART: Yes. [chuckles] I’ll elaborate. There is. The sandstorms. To us that’s almost like a trap. That’s an environmental thing that goes on. If you can get to it, you can turn it on. Then it helps obstruct your view. There’s a beach map, like a beachside bunker map, where there’s thunder and lightning going off. As you run around, you and your buddies can all get together and say, “Okay, first thing we’ll do is let’s set the traps.” You lift these huge pylons up. If the opponents get anywhere near it, they get electrocuted.

MAX: Oh, wow.

MELONIE: That’s intense.

KARL STEWART: The thing is, if you have set them and you haven’t told your friends that you’ve set them. Normally your friends are going to avoid them, but if they do get caught, they’ll die, and it’ll be your fault.

Melane: Oh my gosh.

KARL STEWART: So you have to work as a team. “I’ll put these pylons up! We’re doing this together! We’re doing this as a team! Don’t die! Don’t be stupid and get close to them!” But when you’re being chased, as you know, you’re not looking at anything other than, “How the hell am I going to get out of here?” Before you know it, you’re getting too close to these things. You go *zzzzp* like a fly in a burning light.

MEAGAN MARIE: Nice. There’s another one where I don’t even know if we’ve announced it yet, but it reminds me of a very specific scenario from Tomb Raider II that I think fans will love.

KARL STEWART: Spoiler alert!

MAX: Teaser!

MEAGAN MARIE: I walked into this map and I was like, “This environment is perfect!” It’s got a really cool environmental hazard. I think you know what I’m talking about. It’s awesome. Alright, did you have anything?

MAX: I guess I have a question. Is it completely polished and finished right now?

KARL STEWART: In terms of multiplayer, or in terms of the entire game?

MAX: The whole game.

KARL STEWART: So this build. Let me just get my dates right. This build would have been two months ago, so two months of work have still gone in. If I was to keep saying to the team, “Every week, make me a build that I can take out on the road,” they would be like, “Get the F out of here.” [laughter] This particular preview build least. Yeah, this is about two months old. So in the last two months, obviously, a lot of bugs have been fixed and a lot of tweaking has been done. In terms of polish, I would say there’s very little additional polish going in over that time, because basically what you’re trying to do is bug fix. You’re having thousands of people around the world play it and come back to these lists of what’s not working and clipping and you can’t jump here and you die there when this happens. Obviously sometimes you fix one bug and it opens 10 in other parts of the game. It’s quite complex. There’s a point in time where you stop polishing, just purely because you’re like, “Okay, if we keep polishing, we ain’t shipping a game.” But this one’s about two months old, easily. This is the one that we showed journalists in.mid-November, early November.

MELONIE: I think it’s impressive. I go to a lot of trade shows and play a lot of different demos. I pretty much expect bugs and glitches from earlier builds. What I’ve played from this has been very smooth. I haven’t encountered any serious problems. I’m really impressed.

KARL STEWART: Thankfully! [laughs]

MEAGAN MARIE: We did manage to fix the tea bug pose that everybody was talking about in San Diego. The people on the forums thought it was quite hilarious. But you will not be seeing it again. [laughs] Sorry!

KARL STEWART: Exactly. That’s the thing. Until the game is on the disc and it’s shipping, we have the opportunity to keep working on it, and of course we’re going to keep fixing it and keep working on things. Think of that movie analogy. At the end of the day, that editor and director who make a movie. You don’t see the things that were broken, that did and didn’t work. You just see the movie that’s on the screen. Video games are different. We have to give you hands-on. We have to show you the game. With that comes the fact that at some point in time, it goes out of our studio, our fingers are crossed somebody doesn’t do something. I remember the first time I ever put it in the hands of a journalist. The first person, at the top of the cliff looking out, what did he do? Just jumped off the cliff.


KARL STEWART: Literally just ran forward and jumped. He went ragdoll and fell down the side. I was like, “What are you doing?” He goes, “That was awesome!” He wanted to make sure there was no invisible wall. He says, “I hate that shit. If she’s gonna die, she’s gonna die.” And I’m like, “Okay.”

MELONIE: You’ll see a lot more of that. That’s kind of a legacy thing that Tomb Raider fans do. We’re a gross bunch.

MAX: Death videos.

MEAGAN MARIE: Well, thank you both. Thank you Melonie, thank you Max, and thank you Karl.

KARL STEWART: You are more than welcome. I’m glad you had some fun.

MELONIE: Yes. So much fun.

MAX: So much fun.

MEAGAN MARIE: I’m going to take them to a buffet after this, so they can experience a Vegas buffet.

KARL STEWART: Dun-dun-dun! Yeah, the buffets over here are interesting. Just remember, when your brain says stop, just stop.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. Or you’ll regret it later. Alright, well, thank you both. Karl, we’ll let you go so that you can. Are you going home tonight?

KARL STEWART: No, I have some PR meetings now, to start discussing reviews and what our plan is and timelines. Then I’m going for a beer.

MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, you deserve it. Thank you, guys, and have a lovely evening.

KARL STEWART: Thank you.

[brief break]

MEAGAN MARIE: And that is it for episode 17 of the Crystal Habit podcast. We’re getting close there on the final road to launching Tomb Raider, so if you guys have any specifics in terms of podcast segments you’d like to hear, you’re more than welcome to send them to We’re open for your suggestions. Until next time!

[musical outro]