The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 19

23 Aprile 2013
Meagan Marie – Community Manager
Brian Horton – Senior Art Director
Noah Hughes – Direttore Creativo
Kyle Peschel – Senior Producer

[ 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.]

Nota! Questo podcast contiene Spoiler sul finale di gioco; se non avete ancora terminato Tomb Raider, vi consigliamo di rimandarne l’ascolto ad un secondo momento.

MEAGAN MARIE: Hello everyone, and thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Crystal Habit podcast. It is episode 19, and it is actually our first episode post-launching of Tomb Raider. Meaning we are going to break down the game with Kyle, Noah, and Bryan in a special, singular segment this episode. However – this is your one and only warning – it’s going to be a spoiler-heavy episode. So if you have not finished the game yet, I recommend bookmarking this podcast and coming back to it later. We’re going to talk about everything from spoilers to Easter eggs to art direction and so on. So for those of who you have finished, I hope you enjoy this, and I hope you find it an interesting discussion. For those of you who have not, get on it!

[Musical interlude]

Segment 1: Chatting with Brian, Kyle, and Noah

MEAGAN MARIE: All right. Thank you for joining me today, gentlemen! We have Noah, we have Brian, and we have Kyle here. We’re going to talk about all things Tomb Raider. I gave a massive spoiler warning at the beginning of the segment. Everything is fair game, okay?

NOAH HUGHES: All right.

BRIAN HORTON: Shame on you if you haven’t played Tomb Raider yet.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. I said, if you haven’t played it, save this, bookmark this, and come back at a later date. We’re going to go through a lot of very interesting things. So, first off, the most important question of the podcast. Have you guys gone on vacation yet? Have you guys enjoyed yourselves and gotten a little bit of relaxation time? Noah!

NOAH HUGHES: I had a vacation at home. I’ve been gaming a lot and planning a summer trip, maybe.

MEAGAN MARIE: What have you been playing?

NOAH HUGHES: Most recently, BioShock Infinite. I had a lot of fun with that. But over the vacation, I was hitting things like The Sims. I was catching up on Dishonored.

MEAGAN MARIE: Stay-cations are good for that.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. I had a stack of things to play. It was awesome.

MEAGAN MARIE: All right. How about you, Brian?

BRIAN HORTON: I took a little break around Christmastime, but I have yet to take my vacation. I’m hoping to take one soonish.

MEAGAN MARIE: Soonish. That sounds good. What about you, Kyle?

KYLE PESCHEL: I definitely did. Loaded the family in the camper and went up the Oregon coast. Went camping. Survived.

MEAGAN MARIE: In the wilderness, Tomb Raider style?

KYLE PESCHEL: Absolutely. Built a fire in the rain, all the classic stuff.

BRIAN HORTON: See, Kyle, you can have fire in the rain.

KYLE PESCHEL: You can, and we did it. It was hard.

MEAGAN MARIE: All right. So we’re going to start with a few favorite questions. Fans were actually really interested in this, in hearing this from you guys. So, quickly, we’ll just go around in the circle. What was your favorite location in Tomb Raider, and why? Noah?

NOAH HUGHES: I think the opening vista right after the den escape, just because it tells such a story of the island’s history in one visual go. It’s also such a contrast from the claustrophobic den that you’re coming out of. I felt that it was an impactful moment visually.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Brian?

BRIAN HORTON: I loved the village hub the most. It was the first hub we made in the game. The reason I like it is, it’s one I think where we truly exploited the idea of seeing it in different states. You see it one time when it’s all rainy and dark. Then you come out on the vista after going through that plane crash and it’s all sunny. It really was a pretty cool thing. A validation of all the hard work of making the hub.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Kyle?

KYLE PESCHEL: Shantytown. The start of act two. You’re diseased. The pestilence. The fact that it’s just so nasty and you don’t want to be there. It was just awesome, what was expressed. It feels like all of the mechanics of the game came together in one place, cohesively. The few people who re-traverse back. There’s the re-traversal combat there, if you fast travel back and you’re in there and there’s guys talking about stuff. Like, “What, the story’s further in?”

MEAGAN MARIE: About Sprinkles! The rat named Sprinkles. My cat is named Sprinkles. I think that’s the funniest thing in the world. I always go back and they’re like, “Where’s Sprinkles? Where are you?” Anyway.

KYLE PESCHEL: Maybe that was intended.

MEAGAN MARIE: I do blog about my cats a lot. But yes, I thought that was funny. I also remember, when you first showed me that section, Lara used to get a lot more muddy and gross in that area.


MEAGAN MARIE: If you can imagine it being grosser and more horrific than it already is.

BRIAN HORTON: She was unclean.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, that was not. It was a very visceral.

KYLE PESCHEL: Yeah, it was very diseased.

BRIAN HORTON: Meagan, you can answer these questions too, by the way. What’s your favorite?

MEAGAN MARIE: Radio tower. The radio tower, the top of the radio tower.

KYLE PESCHEL: Do you have a fear of heights?

MEAGAN MARIE: Yes, I do, but it’s so beautiful. It’s pristine and it’s bright and you have that interesting juxtaposition of being in this gorgeous mountain scape, but also your life is on the line. It’s a really cool moment. I love it. On to our second favorite – favorite combat sequence! Noah, go.

NOAH HUGHES: Oh, gosh. Favorite combat sequence for me would probably be the. Well, since you’ve already given the spoiler alert, the bridge and the windy chasm at the end, where you first really, I guess, have the onslaught of oni that you have to fight. Though part of it’s just because you’re facing a new enemy, but you also have your legs as far as the combat systems and stuff. I see people get really creative trying to rise to the occasion. They’re like, “All right, I’ve gotta fight this crowd of Oni on the bridge. What am I gonna do?” They bust out all of the things that they’ve earned and bought over the course of the game. If you’ve got the exploding arrows, you bust those out. You get to basically feel like the ultimate warrior on that.

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s funny, because I got kind of ballsy with the Solarii towards the end. I was like, “Yeah, I can tackle these guys!” Then you get to the Oni and I was just hanging back, really cautious and nervous, because it’s the first time you encounter them. I was totally terrified of them the first time I came up against them. How about you, Brian?

BRIAN HORTON: We had a level called Return from the Chopper that I absolutely love. That was one of our worst levels in the game at one point, and it turned out to be one of my favorite levels in the game. The reason that’s so cool is, a mountain climb, when you’re bound. You have these guys in the forest and they’re powerful. They have the flashlights and they’re hunting you. Then Return from the Chopper is cool because you get to hunt them. I played that super stealthy. You can play it along multiple paths and succeed. To me, it’s the best expression of our mechanics and using hiding and taking opportunity kills. I just loved it. It’s awesome.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Kyle?

KYLE PESCHEL: I would go with what Brian said as well, because that level, having worked on it. I think the thing I really liked about it is, that level changed so much over development, as Brian just alluded to. It really hit things hard. But if I have to choose something unique I guess I’d have to gut check and go for the bridge, the windy chasm bridge. Little-known fact – we built that first. That was like the first combat thing we ever built in this game. To see that level from the very first pre-production ideas to shipping in the final game, and how little we altered the intent of it. I thought it was really cool.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. I remember when I was at Game Informer writing the cover story, I said, “I need to see some combat.” You guys sent us a video of that area.

BRIAN HORTON: That’s how long it’s been in development.

NOAH HUGHES: That was the second version of that.

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s been cool to see that and see how much it’s changed. But yeah, that was one of the earliest, or the earliest levels.

BRIAN HORTON: It was the first big combat expression we did. Back when Oni had wood armor and stuff like that, when we first did it.

MEAGAN MARIE: I think my favorite is. Is it the fast way down? Right before the beach, when she’s having the battle on the ship? When I

All: Oh. Skyboat! [laughter]

MEAGAN MARIE: When you come down the gondola, and the fog clears and you see that thing, I was just like.

KYLE PESCHEL: Brian and I worked on that so long and had so many.

MEAGAN MARIE: When I saw that, I was just like, “No way. There is no way this is going to happen.” It was so epic.

BRIAN HORTON: I got no end of shit for Skyboat. I’m not kidding. Because I was one of the ones who said, “We should do a Skyboat.” Everyone thought it was crazy. It’s great that you liked it.

MEAGAN MARIE: It was so unexpected.

KYLE PESCHEL: Brian, I have to admit, I was so in Brian’s face about that level every day. We worked on it together. In fact, at one point in time, I remember, anecdotally. We drew Tinkerbell in one of the screenshots.

BRIAN HORTON: I was Peter Pan. They put my face on Peter Pan, and then Tinkerbell in it.

KYLE PESCHEL: To try and get the idea to change.

MEAGAN MARIE: I feel like there’s a secret vault of Brian photoshops that we need to discover.

BRIAN HORTON: We don’t want to show the other one.

KYLE PESCHEL: It was awesome, but I have to say, it did really come together.

MEAGAN MARIE: It was so unexpected, but at the same time, within the world where the scavengers are reappropriating things, it kind of made this weird sense. It was just crazy. It really was one of your OMS moments.

KYLE PESCHEL: It was the culmination of what built Shantytown, right? The fact that they as a people are resourceful. The fact that they’re lugging these giant machines up there and smelting ‘em down.

BRIAN HORTON: Noah doesn’t like it.


NOAH HUGHES: Of course I do! That was one of the classic. Having said that. [big laughs] I loved the idea. Having said that, it was a little too far in its initial incarnation.

MEAGAN MARIE: In its initial incarnation, okay.

BRIAN HORTON: I like the politically correct Noah.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about, Noah, favorite non-Lara character?

NOAH HUGHES: Ah. Favorite non-Lara character. That’s a tough one. It’s between Roth and Whitman. I think I’m going to have to go with Roth. Roth is just such a manly man. He’s such a father figure. He’s rugged, but he’s also sensitive. You can tell he really cares for Lara. For me, he kind of sums up that “man I can look up to” kind of a guy.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Brian?

BRIAN HORTON: I’ll take Whitman, because he’s the character you love to hate.

MEAGAN MARIE: No, I just hate to hate him.

BRIAN HORTON: No, I loved Whitman.

MEAGAN MARIE: He’s so weaselly!

BRIAN HORTON: He is weaselly. He’s our Burke. He’s the guy that you just want to love to hate.

MEAGAN MARIE: He serves a purpose, but I don’t have to like him.

BRIAN HORTON: No, I don’t. I like that I hate him. People honestly hate him. They hate him early on. We actually wanted people to hate him early on.

MEAGAN MARIE: Very successful.

BRIAN HORTON: I think we did our job there.

MEAGAN MARIE: That vest, too. I don’t know why that vest makes him look untrustworthy.

BRIAN HORTON: Exactly. All deliberate.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about you, Kyle?

KYLE PESCHEL: Ah, I’d probably actually go for Vladimir. I think he has the least amount of screen time of anybody in the whole game and leaves the biggest impact. Right when he jumps down from the rocks and he’s searching out and looking for them and he’s so controversial right out of the gate with his presence on screen.

MEAGAN MARIE: Most certainly, he plays one of the largest plot points in the game.

KYLE PESCHEL: Yeah. Just for the impact per minute on screen, I think he hit it.

MEAGAN MARIE: I think that for me, it was a close tie between Roth and Reyes. I love, love, love Reyes. I love that she’s flawed. I love that she snaps at Lara out of grief, but then apologizes for it like a mature adult. That’s one of my favorite things out of the entire game. But Roth got me with the sacrifice line. When he said that sacrifice line I was like, “All right, I gotta respect you. You’re an awesome guy.” That was it for me.

BRIAN HORTON: Noah worked hard on Reyes – Noah and the writers obviously. They worked very hard to get Reyes just right. It was tough, too. It was not an easy job.

MEAGAN MARIE: Some people, they say that they don’t like her because she’s mean. I look at her and I think that she’s human.


MEAGAN MARIE: She’s going through this incredibly horrific experience. She just lost someone who meant so much to her. You’re entitled to a little bit of bad behavior in that scenario. But I like that she was an adult enough to apologize for it. It was really close, but it comes to Roth, because he’s so fundamental and influential. So how about favorite weapons? This is one where I polled the community. There was a clear winner. I’m sure you guys know what it is. How about you, Noah?

NOAH HUGHES: I’d like to be original on this one, but I gotta say the bow. I guess maybe, to make it more interesting, I could pick a bow. I know Brian’s favorite bow, so I’ll pick the. I like the stick bow, because it really expresses the pure survival themes that we were going for. It’s your first experience of feeling what it’s like and getting the hang of a weapon and stuff.

BRIAN HORTON: That’s a good one. I’ll have to be unoriginal and say the bow. You just can’t beat it. The reason it’s such a powerful weapon is because it’s a tool. She does so much stuff with it. She can burn stuff. She can pull stuff down with the rope. Out of my favorite ones. As long as it can be on fire, the fire arrows, and I can pull stuff down with the rope, that’s my favorite one, whichever one does that. The recurve bow, the one that’s the Japanese bow, that’s the one that we do first. I would say that’s my favorite bow.

KYLE PESCHEL: Axe. Heck yeah. I even carried that thing around the office. I even modeled that thing. I made one out of MDF for us to be able to do mocap with. The first time I saw that axe, I was like, “Hell yes.” I literally made one out of wood for the guys to be able to do mocap with. I don’t know. There’s something about how angular and aggressive it is, and personal. I like it a lot.

BRIAN HORTON: It’s a tool as well.

MEAGAN MARIE: I have to say bow. But I did a Facebook poll and it was, without question, everybody loves the bow. They love the options for stealth. They love the options for the tools and traversal. That was great to hear. Okay! Last one. Favorite game quote. I actually already gave this one away for me, but how about you, Noah?

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah, I think the sacrifice line is probably one of my favorites, so since you stole mine, I guess I’ll throw out. I like Lara’s, “Let’s hope we don’t become murderers, Dr. Whitman.” Just because it’s a small glimmer of a little bit of.

MEAGAN MARIE: So much foreshadowing.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. But it’s also not taking. It’s not purely serious dialogue, which is important to get from Lara. Obviously I think everyone responds well to Lara’s outrage when she first gets the grenade launcher.

MEAGAN MARIE: Oh, yeah. That one has been turned into so many GIFs. People use it as their forum signature. That’s amazing. I love it.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. I have to give props to Stafford on that one. That’s one of our in-game lines, but it really. It’s one of the moments where you connect with Lara, where you’re feeling the exact same thing that she’s feeling at that moment.

MEAGAN MARIE: I love it. How about you, Brian?

BRIAN HORTON: It’s not really a line. It’s an exchange. I’m gonna qualify this, because. It’s the point when Sam is being held by Mathias and Lara’s confirming some of. “Mathias, why are you doing this?” He’s like. He basically is telling her. He almost sounds rational in some way, about realizing what he’s doing. “What have you done, Lara, to do this?” He’s questioning her motivations and why she’s done what she’s done. To me, I think that was a really cool moment. It’s my favorite moment with our antagonist, and there aren’t as many as I’d like. That one moment there was, I think, the best Lara/antagonist exchange. I liked that.

MEAGAN MARIE: That scene was my second-favorite exchange or dialogue in the game, when Lara thinks Sam is going to burn and she turns and says, “Look at me, Sam. Look at me.” And your heart just stops for that second. That was super powerful. How about you, Kyle?

KYLE PESCHEL: I would have gone for the sacrifice line, absolutely. I think it’s unparalleled as far as impact and insight and life lessons. I love that heavy stuff. If I have to choose something else, I would say that I really like how Jonah calls her “little bird.” It just feels fluid.

BRIAN HORTON: That goes all the back to Brad, I think. Brad Santos, the early, early writer.

MEAGAN MARIE: There are some funny fan comics that have Jonah calling things “little bird” and calling Lara “little bird.” She’s not behaving and he’s like, “I’m getting really tired of you, little bird.” It’s hilarious. The fans have definitely adopted that one. All right. Now we’re going to get into our questions from the forum members. We’re going to go through these a little bit faster because we have a lot of ground to cover. Lots of questions regarding Ascension popped up after people reading The Final Hours. This one is for you, Kyle. Was Tomb Raider ever an open-world game? Did we ever go full open world? Or is that more for Noah?

KYLE PESCHEL: I don’t know how you want to qualify that.

NOAH HUGHES: We looked at some technologies. We’ve seen the horse. Especially when the horse was involved, we were looking at a world that was on a larger scale.

KYLE PESCHEL: Populating it with interesting things was hard.

NOAH HUGHES: We really wanted to focus on Lara and her traversal mechanics. Making sure that we landed a world that was fun to explore as Lara, first and foremost. In the end, we went with that scale, but we did play with different scales and different open-nesses earlier on.

MEAGAN MARIE: We actually get questions quite often, including this one from Gumy in the forums. They ask, “Would you ever make Ascension its own sort of game or spin-off?” I think we know the answer to this, but does somebody want to tackle that?

NOAH HUGHES: Not likely. Obviously there were a lot of ideas that we were kicking around during those phases that we carried forward. We may even percolate some back again and carry them forward. But probably never in the form that we tested back then.

MEAGAN MARIE: There’s a reason we went in the direction we went, I would expect. Here’s one for you, Brian. Early concepts should Lara with short hair. Why did you guys explore that.

BRIAN HORTON: Part of a re-imagining of a character is, what is. We had to find out what was important to that character. What could we change that would have a reason behind it and could also make an emotional impact? The short hair was one of those statements. That would be a drastic thing to do, to see Lara with short hair, whether she’d cut it or whether it was short when she started. I was always a big fan of her having a moment where there could have been a motivation for her cutting her hair. But that didn’t make sense for us, so we ended up leaving it as it was.

NOAH HUGHES: Actually, if you think back, I think part of it was. It pre-dated the origin story idea. We were thinking of a sequel, but we still had that aspiration to really shake up Lara to her core on some level and re-evaluate who she was as a character. It became a symbolic way to sort of. To cut off a symbol of the past.

MEAGAN MARIE: Like in Final Fantasy IX, when Garnet cuts her hair. That was a huge moment.

BRIAN HORTON: Now BioShock’s done it, so. Spoiler alert!

MEAGAN MARIE: No offense, but I think we would have had quite a fan reaction if we’d cut her hair in this game. We have another question along the same lines. Weeman asks, “During the development process, how many designs or models of Lara did you go through?” I’m assuming we’ll have to make an estimate. But he also asks, “Was it intentional to make Lara look like Camilla?” Which is more of a coincidence than anything, correct?

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. What’s kind of cool is, we went through a lot of permutations on Lara. It started from a point where she was very much like the original Lara, in the earliest stages, and then she got much more realistic, or based on. We had some scans that we were using as a basis. It was not enough of what she was. Then we sort of pivoted back to something that was more drawn to her iconic triangle. The eyes, lips, and nose. But all those things were important stages for us to get to where we got. As far as a likeness to Camilla, we had that model done before Camilla was cast. But what ends up happening when you capture performances. You can’t help but. Actually, when we looked at the casting, we said, “Wow, she kind of looks like Lara.” Unconsciously, that probably affected us. But she was the right person for the job. When her performances were captured, that gets puts in by animators and they use that reference. You can start to see a bit of Camilla come through that.

KYLE PESCHEL: I don’t think that people really know, though. Outside the major shifts in Lara that we did, from the early, early work and pre-production to what we saw now. Daily, we were changing her. Every day we had those reviews, for like two weeks. We would show a history of every head next to each other as we were sculpting her out to look right, to figure out how to get to the proper result. Literally, we’re talking dozens of Laras, if you want to qualify it under that standard.

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. Cam was a trooper. He went through these daily review sessions and did an amazing job.

MEAGAN MARIE: Here’s one that we get asked fairly frequently, Noah, LaraFan25 asks, “At what point was the lost fleet narrative removed from the game?” We did promote the game as. The Endurance crew was looking for the lost fleet for quite some time.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah, that was something in. Probably around alpha, when we had a full draft of the story in place, we were able to start to get playtests and feedback on the story that we had. What we realized is that we were. It was fairly ambitious in terms of the number of things that players were trying to resolve. It was a thread that just never got resolved. What we wanted to do was focus that early bandwidth, where at first we were talking about them looking for the lost fleet, and instead really start to build the mythology of Yamatai and the myth that we would eventually rely on to tell the rest of the story. In some ways, it was just making it a leaner and meaner version of the story. The lost fleet was just sort of the odd man out. It was essentially a MacGuffin that went nowhere.

KYLE PESCHEL: It was a good edit.

NOAH HUGHES: It was part of our cleanup in the alpha stage.

MEAGAN MARIE: Rai asks, along a similar line, “A lot of the past Tomb Raider games had a focus on finding a specific artifact. Was there ever a point in the game where Lara was looking for something specific, or she needed to find a specific object in order to escape the island? Or has the framework always been how it is?”

NOAH HUGHES: There’s some fun history there. One of the artifacts that made it all the way to the end, but maybe didn’t have the significance that it could have, was the general’s sword. That sword also came from early mythology explorations that we did around the.

KYLE PESCHEL: Well, the three relics, right?

NOAH HUGHES: The mirror, the sword, and the gem. It’s a mythology that we were going to play up much more significantly. But part of it was also recognizing that we did want to focus on, to some extent, the human aspect of the mythology, rather than just the physical baubles that come along with it. We were talking about human motivations and human powers and the conflicts that arise from that. It’s not to say that artifacts won’t have their place in these stories, but it’s just to say, for this story, they weren’t the most important thing that, ultimately, the queen and her history became.

MEAGAN MARIE: LaraFan25 actually had quite a few very good questions, so kudos to you. “Was there a need for Lara to regularly eat at one point in time? When was that removed from implementation?” Because obviously we motivated the hunting mechanic with XP and so on. When did you guys decide to take out the food meter or hunger meter and so on?

NOAH HUGHES: There were multiple versions of it. Very early in development, we played with hunger. That was in conflict with some of our pacing goals. When we were exploring the island at our own pace, feeling like you were also in the middle of starving to death was a difficult pacing balance. But it did actually persist a long time after that as part of a health system. It really wasn’t until partway through development that we removed it from either health or hunger.

MEAGAN MARIE: We have a lot of fans who debate this back and forth. They’re like, “Yeah, we agree with you guys taking it out, because it would just really suck to have to survive all of this and then die because you can’t find food.” I died of starvation after surviving all of this!

KYLE PESCHEL: Having seen the mechanics being built, it was one of those things that was a lot. We weren’t able to fully realize what it could have been. What we found is that if you were the type of player who already struggled with combat, at the end of it, hunting for food, you would also be the type of player who struggled to find it at that time. The blood was in there and it was like. The intensity of trying to find it – because we had this screen effect going at the same time, and the heart rate and everything. If you struggled with the game, it really made the game dreadfully punishing during those long play sessions. If you were good at the game, you didn’t really feel that same thing.

MEAGAN MARIE: But it was somewhat restrictive as far as accessibility.

KYLE PESCHEL: At that time, yeah.

NOAH HUGHES: Thinking about it as a mechanic, I think the way we feel as a team is just that we didn’t land a version that we liked. It’s still an interesting design space for us, to just understand how survival mechanics are fun in a game. It’s something that, I think, in some ways, we didn’t find the answer we liked, but we are excited about where we can take survival as a gameplay mechanic.

MEAGAN MARIE: This one is for you, Kyle. I have to be totally honest. I didn’t know what OMS stood for for the longest time. Then I heard you say it.

BRIAN HORTON: Kyle’s now famous on the internet.

MEAGAN MARIE: .and I thought it was hilarious. So can you talk a little bit about how long OMS – which is Oh My Shit – has been a mantra in Tomb Raider? Were these sorts of moments always something like a goal for the game, these huge set-piece action-packed moments?

KYLE PESCHEL: I don’t think they were always a goal, but I think within six months. I came in for this game, and about six months into the game is when it started to become more and more forefront. One of the big important things is that it’s not just about the over-the-top moments. We have run-outs where everything’s falling apart. We have high-octane moments where your adrenaline’s pumping. But it’s also about those really close, intimate moments. I would think about when she’s falling out of the plane, in the middle of the descent. The radio tower is another one. The Rambo hallway in the den. There are these places where it’s about the change-up, the relief in understanding that something larger than life is happening in this moment. Larger than life doesn’t just mean explodified everywhere.

BRIAN HORTON: We talked about OMS also being an implosion, too. It’s an internal thing for Lara. It feels oppressive. It’s something that affects you on an emotional level.

MEAGAN MARIE: Her first kill is certainly.

BRIAN HORTON: That’s one of those moments. Those are our boutique kind of gameplay. It’s not in our normal loop of gameplay.

KYLE PESCHEL: And they’re not all QTEs or something like that. I would say they were part of the very first pre-production. When you look at her escaping the World War II installation and the engine’s chasing her down the hill, that was one part of the team’s work then, when we had them named a little differently. But it was also when we went into the den and did some of the Rambo hallway work, that was also part of that very beginning and they were there. They were there from the very beginning of what we built to ship. Maybe not the very first incarnation of what the game could be.

MEAGAN MARIE: Why was Steph’s character not in the single-player story? Now that Steph is a playable character in multiplayer, everybody is interested in who she is. Obviously they remember that, at one point in time, Lara exclaimed that the body in the scavenger den in the beginning was Steph. Why did you guys decide to remove her, Noah?

NOAH HUGHES: That’s very similar to the lost fleet discussion, which is. It happened around the same time. It was just another character that we had to track. One thing is, Lara’s performance in the den. The players didn’t know Steph enough for Lara to really be over-dramatic about losing a friend. They didn’t have that connection with Steph. It was weird to come out of the gate with that personal reaction from Lara when the players didn’t know the character. But then also, we had a lot of names to track. It was just another named character that the players were trying to follow.

MEAGAN MARIE: So what was Steph’s fate? Did you guys come up with an internal idea of what happened to Steph? Did she not make it off the Endurance?

NOAH HUGHES: She never made it off the boat, no.

KYLE PESCHEL: But she made it into multiplayer. She’s got a yellow shirt.

MEAGAN MARIE: She did. She’s very easy to see in multiplayer with that yellow shirt.

KYLE PESCHEL: Good thing you didn’t go for red.

BRIAN HORTON: Jonah and Steph are the worst multiplayer characters. Huge with a red shirt. [laughter]

MEAGAN MARIE: Along similar lines, were there any other scrapped characters aside from Steph? Did we have any characters that had some sort of a role and never made it?

BRIAN HORTON: We had this really cool idea at one point of having characters that were going to be friendlies, characters you could interact with instead of shooting them in the face. That was really compelling to us. We had this one guy called the Hunter. We had another guy called the Fisherman. We had another one like. I called her the One Female Scavenger. There are no female scavengers, but she’s this one woman who survived and was somehow a part of a group that would have been a scavenger. Those characters were cut, because once again, from an expression standpoint, we couldn’t get the idea of where they fit in our game and to make sure they were meaningful or believable to the same level as our cinemactic characters, so they were cut.

MEAGAN MARIE: The Hunter, I remember seeing that. The Hunter was in the level after the downed chopper and Roth dying. He had you collect pelts and do some sort of a fetching quest from that point in time. I remember seeing that. But I didn’t remember hearing about the female scavenger. What was her story? Why was she not sacrificed?

BRIAN HORTON: She had a really rich story. This might be another topic for another day, but there was definitely some cool story behind her, what her deal was.

MEAGAN MARIE: Again, along similar lines, we can go through this quickly. Was there anything that wasn’t necessarily a character – a feature, an environment, an object, a weapon, anything – that you guys had in early in the game that you were bummed was taken out.

KYLE PESCHEL: Heck yes. My tilting pillar. We had it in pre-production. One of the coolest things about our mechanics inside the game is that we had the ability for Lara to be in an axe climb. Imagine she’s attached to one of those giant finger mountains in Cliffs of Insanity. She runs. She swings her axe. She connects to the axe climb surface. She’s climbing it. While climbing it, it actually, by force of her hitting it – which is a touch unrealistic – it starts to move forward and fall down, turning into a horizontal, flat running surface. She transitions from axe climb to the running surface, and if you stayed on it long enough, it would actually be a slope slide and eject you down as it continued to fall. We had it. It was in. And then one day it went away. Probably once every three weeks I would relaunch it, and one of the guys on the team would solve it. It’s almost like, “There’s always money in the banana stand.” “Well, there’s always that falling column we could do. That’d solve this situation.” Never made it in.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about for you two? Is there anything that didn’t make the cut that you were bummed out about?

BRIAN HORTON: The only thing I could think of. Well, no. I would say the thing that didn’t make the cut, which I’ve talked about before. We had a turret sequence that Kyle and his team worked on for a long time. I just lament that the team put so much effort into it. But it was the right cut.

MEAGAN MARIE: I was going to ask about that in full in another question, so we might as well dive into it now. We do detail some of it in The Final Hours, but what was the reason this epic turret endurance beach scene was removed?

BRIAN HORTON: Kyle, do you want to cover it, or do you want Noah to cover it?

KYLE PESCHEL: Up to you, Noah.

NOAH HUGHES: We could probably speak to different aspects of it. I think, in the end, we didn’t make a fun version of it in time. That was part of it. We struggled to get the right version, in the end. If we had the right version, it would probably still be in the game. Having said that, I also think, tonally it was a little bit difficult. It was very. We already push Lara to 11, sort of, on the volume scale. In some ways the turret was one step farther in the Rambo, big firepower.

KYLE PESCHEL: I’ve got some other color for this. I think what’s so successful about our combat system is Lara in motion. She’s a character in motion. What a turret does, it keeps you planted.

MEAGAN MARIE: It’s a shooting gallery.

KYLE PESCHEL: Yeah. It took it out of the character of who she is and what makes her cool and special. That’s why I don’t feel bad. I feel bad for the time invested, but I don’t think it was the right tone at that point.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. It’s not Lara’s flavor of combat. That’s the bottom line. I think the team did a great job making the version that they did. We just didn’t have time to finish it.

MEAGAN MARIE: We’re going to get into some general questions. Did the game ever start off differently than how it did? I know we have the little cinematic intro with Lara washing up on the beach. Was there anything before that, ever? A lot of fans want to know that.

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. We had this thing called Chaos Beach, which ended up being. Well, we had two things. We had the Endurance.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. Playable Endurance.

BRIAN HORTON: This is a really interesting story. As we were making the playable Endurance, Visual Works was starting to build out the trailer, which featured.

NOAH HUGHES: The opening intro trailer.

BRIAN HORTON: Which featured the same thing, which was the crash of the Endurance. We were having a hard time getting that up and running and getting it to quality, and we saw this and we’re like, “Why would we want to do this twice? It’ll never live up to that level.” So it was a good cut for us. When Dan Neuberger came in, he made the hard choice. “Hey, guys, I don’t think we need this.” Then we had this thing called Chaos Beach, which was right after that, where you were going to have a small playable sequence on the beach before you got knocked out. Those are the two opening cuts I can think of.

MEAGAN MARIE: Sounds like they were good ones. Okay, LaraFan25 asks about ziplines. Where did the idea come to incorporate ziplines, and was that essentially a replacement for Lara’s grapple that she’s had in the past?

KYLE PESCHEL: Actually, the bow rope would be the closest thing to solve the traversal-based things that the grapple was solving. Ziplines were just more rapid descents. At least in the first implementations. When we sat around and talked about it at the time, the bow rope was named the answer to some of what grapple was providing. It allowed you to tug things. It allowed you to span distances. It allowed you to make decisions on where you wanted to traverse to. Ziplines were more pre-placed abilities to descend quickly.

BRIAN HORTON: That can be a semantics thing, too, because you can create a zipline. You can create a line that goes down.

KYLE PESCHEL: Touche. From a design perspective Noah might have more to add there.

NOAH HUGHES: I was trying to remember the chicken or the egg on that, in terms of. I seem to remember we played with ziplines even before you could make your own. Or did it come out of the bow rope?

KYLE PESCHEL: The mountain village was the first time we saw the zipline. It was rough to get down after you’d fought the wolf. People would have to traverse down and they’d actually get lost heading back down to Roth, because somehow they couldn’t grok the world from that perspective. That was the first time we saw it in the game.

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah, but it definitely is. I think it serves that function, for sure.

NOAH HUGHES: Where we got excited is when we thought of being able to make your own. And to your point, Kyle, having that be one of the evolutions of our traversal creation mechanics. Like the grapple was.

KYLE PESCHEL: I think Noah was spot on, to add to that one time. You were spot on when you were saying “Carve your own path” as one of the early messages. The concept of making your own stuff with the bow rope was in line with carving your own path. It just felt like an answer. Whereas, at that time, coming off of Underworld’s grapple. Underworld’s grapple was just sort of, you pressed a button and it went somewhere. You didn’t really feel like you made a choice. It just kind of happened. In fact, several times you’d just have to leap out into the abyss and press this button and hope that it grabbed something.

MEAGAN MARIE: All right, Brian, this is one we do get quite frequently. I think it’s one for you. Why does Lara not put on a coat when she’s shivering at night?

BRIAN HORTON: Um. Well, there’s one logical place where we really wanted her to have a coat. Okay. At night, in the first campsite, when she’s shivering, we deliberately didn’t want her to have a coat at that point. In the level that. I don’t know if we call it Amelia’s Camp in the game, but one of the early parts of the game. We wanted her to.

MEAGAN MARIE: We call it that in the artbook, so it’s out there.

KYLE PESCHEL: Coastal Forest.

BRIAN HORTON: Coastal Forest, sorry. Coastal Forest. But in the World War II SOS, we wanted her to have a jacket. It’s one of those things that would have made perfect sense, for her to salvage something and put it on. We had one we were building, and it just wasn’t built in time for us to put it in the shipped product. We didn’t have a good way to deliver giving it to her. That’s really it. It’s one of my sad things that I wish we could have done in the game, to have that coat available in the story.

MEAGAN MARIE: But it was a consideration, which I think is something that’s worth putting out there. It was something you wanted to go for. I just change her into the Aviatrix jacket whenever I’m in that section.

BRIAN HORTON: That’s what I do.

KYLE PESCHEL: You’re resourceful!

MEAGAN MARIE: It makes sense contextually, to me. So Ninja asks, “From a game design standpoint, what is the draw of quick time events?” I think that they’re interested in why you do that sort of engagement instead of just doing a cinematic.

NOAH HUGHES: The one thing to acknowledge is that. We’re not crazy about quick time events either, right? So to start with, any answer we give is not in defense of quick time events.

BRIAN HORTON: There are better examples of them in our game, and there are worse examples of them in our game. We have the analog reach, like reaching for a pillar or reaching for the bow. I think that’s an example of a better one.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. For me, I guess, the pure button-parroting, Simon Says sorts of quick time event. Hopefully their days are numbered to some extent. But obviously, all of these are trying to balance situations where we’re delivering an experience that wouldn’t be the same within them normal mechanics. Rather than taking away control from the player for no reason, we’re ultimately trying to deliver something like the first kill – which could be done in normal mechanics, but to some extent wouldn’t have the sort of intimacy and cinematic presentation that it does as a quick time event. I think the trade-off for losing a sense of agency as a player and, in some cases, failing for something that didn’t feel like a gameplay mechanic. These are all down sides as well. As game designers, you’re balancing dramatic presentation and things like that with the loss of control. For me, I do. To Brian’s point, there are times where we take away some control, and I think ultimately the game is better for it. But there are also times where we take away control or put in a quick time event and the game isn’t better for it. It suffers from it. We’re learning.

MEAGAN MARIE: That’s a very honest answer. I appreciate that. So, Rider asks, “How difficult is it to balance a game in regards to combat, puzzles, and so on? What do you say to the sentiment that the puzzles may be a little easy for classic Tomb Raider fans?”

NOAH HUGHES: That’s another one of those pieces of feedback that really resonate with us as a team. We have to balance a certain amount of accessibility and playability for our core path puzzles. But especially with the optional puzzles and hidden tombs and things like that. I think we had every opportunity to create some meatier puzzle challenges. I think we’ll rise to the fans’ cries of.

MEAGAN MARIE: I think that the foundation is there now. You guys have done some really cool experimental work, and now it’ll be interesting to see how that can be pushed.

BRIAN HORTON: What’s cool is, I don’t think they’re complaining about the kinds of puzzles we did, as far as having physics and all this stuff. What they want is more intrigue and more steps and stages.

MEAGAN MARIE: More grandiose.

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. I think we’ve heard that feedback, for sure.

NOAH HUGHES: And challenge, right? In some cases it’s scale that we love about classic Tomb Raider puzzles. In some cases it is challenge. Some people want to sit there and scratch their heads for a little longer before they’re able to solve something. Our hope is to recognize and cater to that broader range of puzzle challenge.

KYLE PESCHEL: I think that not everybody knows this about the game. Some of them, if they’ve read some of the in-depth materials. To the “how hard is it to balance?” we are extremely taxing on a guy like Noah as a team. We’ve got 80 guys running around making content. We are all looking for answers. Noah sat down with some of the key members of our team and literally made a spreadsheet. Every column represented a minute of our game, in an ideal playthrough. Your average player playing the game. That spans multiple hours. In every minute, he had to write down what is experientially needing to happen in that minute. He tracked intensity, type of encounters, learning of gear items. How long has it been since you got the axe? Should we remind you that you’ve got the axe? All of this, in a way that I’ve never seen done before in my career, and he spent the time doing it. It drastically pointed out rough edges in our game, early on in alpha, and it allowed us to refine the game. In my opinion – I don’t know what your perspective is, Noah – it’s one of the more prevalent tools that brought the experience balance to what it is today, and it was well worth the pain that was invested in all of that. It helped everybody understand where we were and where we needed to go.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. Ultimately, it’s a tool that helps respond to stuff that comes up in more intuitive ways for people, too. If people look at it and say, “Hey, I feel like the balance of combat to puzzles is heavy in the combat direction here,” rather than randomly picking a couple levels, we can zoom out and more strategically sculpt the balance between our gameplay pillars. For us, that’s something that we iterated on throughout the development process. But then what’s exciting about releasing a game, and then ultimately getting to improve upon our formula, is taking into account the broader feedback that we get. We’ll go into the next game with a similar tool, which is to really map out the balance of these pillars, but we’ll take into it the wisdom of the Tomb Raider 9 experience and all of the feedback we got doing.

KYLE PESCHEL: Experientially, it points to the craftsmanship, I think. Prior to making a game like this, everybody’s like, “Oh, yeah, you could do that.” You don’t quite understand all the tools that go into really, truly crafting that. If anything, as a developer it’s allowed me to respect competitive titles even more, and the effort that somebody must have to go through. What does it look like to make a true triple-A experience? What are all the fine details that lead you to those answers?

MEAGAN MARIE: I’m going to ask to see that document. That sounds awesome. I think the next two are actually for Brian. Why don’t Lara’s weapons always show on her back?

BRIAN HORTON: So we had a. We made a decision to make sure she didn’t look too cluttered. For instance, if she was to have her bow, a shotgun, and a machinegun all on her back, it would look ridiculous, right? What ended up happening, though, unfortunately, is. We probably could have ended up doing a bow and another weapon in a slot, but since we had the quiver in there, the bow and the quiver both occupy that slot. We chose that there would be one back weapon mounted at all times. Unfortunately, what ended up happening is, if you pull out your pistol the bow disappears or the back weapon disappears, because we were switching that out. That was one of those things we didn’t catch. I should have caught that. That’s why we don’t always have a back weapon out. But the other reason we were doing that is just trying to make it a little simpler. We called it the last one on deck. What was the last weapon you had on deck? That would be showing on your back. That gave you a little more feedback on what was the weapon you had last, what you preferred.

MEAGAN MARIE: For your play style and so on.

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. Ultimately we’d like to show as much as we can on the character. There’s a point where it can look ridiculous.

MEAGAN MARIE: You have to sacrifice that sort of empowerment for the reality of it. I can see that might be a little bit odd, if she looks like Rambo trudging around.

NOAH HUGHES: The other thing is to limit the amount that you can carry. That was something, in the end, that we didn’t want to do either. We felt that it was more fun to have access to a weapon for each situation versus having to make that choice of just one weapon or two weapons you’re going to bring with you.

BRIAN HORTON: And you can’t not have the bow, right?

MEAGAN MARIE: Agreed. This is another one for you, Brian. What is the significance of these white symbols and so on that the Solarii would scratch all over?

BRIAN HORTON: One, we needed to have some visual language that we wanted to use as a means of saying that the Solarii were here. There was some kind of symbology they were using. “Hobo glyphs” was one of the things we used to call it. There was this idea of someone being on the street and being able to mark, “Hey, this is a safe house.”

MEAGAN MARIE: And that’s a real thing.

NOAH HUGHES: That’s real, yeah. We actually did research on that.

MEAGAN MARIE: You were telling me about some of the research on it. It was really interesting. Safe places to sleep and where to get a meal.

KYLE PESCHEL: Cops don’t patrol here.

BRIAN HORTON: There was a Mad Men episode that talked about people that would use these symbols on the road, right? It was one of those things where we said, “Okay, that’s a cool idea.” We came up with our own visualization of what these things were. One of them was a side tomb. One of them was a spiritual place. One of them was a place where maybe they were doing some kind of. I can’t think of another one.

KYLE PESCHEL: Combat foreshadowing?

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah, yeah. We were using the symbols as a way for them to communicate to each other without. Technology was limited. It’s a way for them to communicate. It was also a way for us to mark to the player and allow them to know, “Hey, this is a place of interest.”

MEAGAN MARIE: Very cool. This is one that I actually thought was kind of interesting. Lara has faced a lot of formidable women in the past of the franchise. Was it a conscious decision to make Himiko. To create a female primary antagonist early on? Or did it just fit with the lore and so on?

NOAH HUGHES: It fit with the lore, primarily. One could argue that things maybe resonate on a more abstract level than that, but in a lot of ways, we were looking for areas that had interesting architecture and interesting mythology and interesting myths that we could turn into the supernatural element that would happen within the game. I think it was more just a convergence we found in Yamatai and in Himiko, a package of things that really fit.

MEAGAN MARIE: A happy convergence, then.

KYLE PESCHEL: Yeah. And as much as she is the villain in the game, I think there were other. We personified our villains in multiple tiers. I think she represents the island. She’s the spirit of the island. I like that about that. A lot of people have talked about the island itself having a character and sort of link Himiko with the island. I dig that.

MEAGAN MARIE: Speaking of those supernatural elements, then, was it difficult to figure out the pacing for introducing the Oni? Obviously there are games out there that have the surprise supernatural element, and that pacing is always a really hard spot to hit. Did you guys consider having them in much earlier, or were they always kind of reserved for the grand finale?

NOAH HUGHES: In fact, probably early on in the process, they did come in a lot earlier and a lot more aggressively. Even. Going all the way back to Ascension, there weren’t even human enemies on the island. Anything you’d encounter would be more from the mythological aspect of the island. Ultimately, we wanted to ground you in a survival story first, and then tease the sense of something deeper – those ancient mysteries – and then reveal that in a more impactful way deeper into the story. I think it was something that just, through balancing our character arc and our experience arc, but also really making sure that survival had room to breathe first. Then mythology was layered on top of that. But it is terrifying, to your point. It’s difficult to handle when you roll that out.

MEAGAN MARIE: But what works nicely is that you foreshadowed it up to a point. Lara was kind of in that position where she was a disbeliever. She was in doubt. Then you go along with her and you start to realize that something’s up. I think that that was a nice progression. I love this one. PomeranianPuppy – that’s someone’s name on the forums – he wants to know. This is a super spoiler, but everybody should know that by now. “Why did you kill off Roth?! My mum fancied him.” But more of a bigger question, “What did the deaths in the game mean to Lara? What were we supposed to take away from Grimm dying or Roth dying or Alex dying? Did any other characters almost hit the chopping block?” Big question.

KYLE PESCHEL: Lots of questions.

NOAH HUGHES: Zooming out a little bit, as a survival story, we did feel that some characters were going to die, just to express the lethal nature of the island. Lara was going to survive in the end, but not everybody was. That was important, just from a survival story perspective. In theory, each person meant something to Lara. There was a theme of sacrifice within the game. Roth ultimately did sacrifice himself to save Lara in that moment. From Roth, she got the dual pistols and things. You kind of had a certain amount of transference of leadership from Roth to Lara there. In some ways, Roth died so that Lara would have to learn to stand on her own. I think she was, to some extent, well along that path, but she still did feel like she relied on Roth to get them off this island. When Roth dies, it’s really that point where she realizes that it’s on her to get everybody off of this island, including herself. There was an important self-reliance that comes out of that, and an important transference of the guns from that. Hopefully there’s an emotional moment.

MEAGAN MARIE: Most certainly.

NOAH HUGHES: It’s sad to have to lose Roth in the process of that.

MEAGAN MARIE: The amount of GIFs I see on Tumblr of his death, and the people just sobbing – “BRB right now, crying” – I mean, people were very moved by that moment.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. But then the other ones were harder to make meaningful. Roth was the one that we worked hardest on. In some cases characters like Grimm were a bit more of a token sacrifice, to represent the lethality of the island and the scavengers. Alex is an interesting one, because Alex, for a while, actually didn’t die in the story. He came back. He survived the incident on the Endurance.

MEAGAN MARIE: What turned the tide on his fate?

KYLE PESCHEL: Ridiculousness. [laughs] Right?

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. In some ways. We didn’t effectively sell his return. It felt like cheating, like we sold it as a death and then he came back. It felt like we had kind of lied to the players through the story. Arguably, we may have been able to execute against that better, but.

MEAGAN MARIE: I think he had a memorable death. The little kiss on the cheek from Lara was sweet. He was noble. I think that was a good moment also. Sad, but. So, did any other characters almost die, or get considered for being offed at some point?

NOAH HUGHES: I think this gets into one of the other ones.

MEAGAN MARIE: Should we save that one?

KYLE PESCHEL: I think we should save it for now, but I think we should talk about it.

MEAGAN MARIE: We’ll save that one, then, because it has to do with a potential alternate ending. We’ll revisit it, surely. All right. Oh, that’s the next question. Were there any alternate endings to the game?

NOAH HUGHES: Oh, what a segue way.

MEAGAN MARIE: Maybe I arranged these in a certain order and then forgot. Let’s talk about that. Alternate endings! Who died on the original ending that I really liked a lot? Not that I don’t like the current ending or understand, but.

BRIAN HORTON: No leading the witness.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah, Sam didn’t make it off the island in the first version of the story. I think that was a big change. We talked about the lost fleet and Steph, but in the grand scheme of things, those were relatively minor changes to the story. But the ending was a lot different.

MEAGAN MARIE: And the reason for that. I have to admit, I really liked the original ending, but then I had it explained to me why it wasn’t necessarily a fair ending to the player. So can you speak to why the change was made?

NOAH HUGHES: On purely a storytelling level, it was an interesting closure to the story, that Lara ultimately had to sacrifice her best friend in order to.

MEAGAN MARIE: To stop Himiko from transferring power and so on.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. That was a much bolder choice at the end. It was impactful because of that, I think, for one thing. But where it felt unfair to the player was, they didn’t ever have any chance of succeeding. It was basically a forced failure ending. We sacrificed the sense of victory for that impact. In the end, it was more impactful for the player to feel victorious than to have a darker closure to Lara’s sacrifice lesson. I think enough people had died, on some level. As a character, Lara had already.

BRIAN HORTON: .learned the sacrifice lesson.

NOAH HUGHES: I think she had gone through everything she needed to to sort of move on to the next chapter of this. So it’s kind of like, in some ways, Sam didn’t need to die to get us what we wanted out of the story. The players felt better being able to “win.” It’s an interesting lesson in the rules of storytelling as they apply to the interactive medium. We really do have to be careful about the sense of winning and losing and making sure that we’re not forcing failure upon the player in ways that don’t feel unfair.

MEAGAN MARIE: One of the things I really liked about the original ending was seeing Lara carry Sam’s limp, dead body to the boat.

KYLE PESCHEL: Now it’s her limp, alive body.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yes. That’s what I like about it. You still got to keep what I thought was one of the strongest pieces, the most iconic pieces of that ending – seeing Lara carrying the body of her best friend, even though she’s just weak and so on. It’s a very unique visual. Being able to hold on to that and just change the context a bit was something I think was really powerful.

NOAH HUGHES: In the end, I think as much as it was also a more satisfying ending for most of our players, I really do like Lara’s universe to have Sam in it now, too. Now that we’ve ended the game the way we did, we have more characters in Lara’s world that mean something to here than we would otherwise.

MEAGAN MARIE: Here’s a question. This is actually something that someone brought up to me, and I didn’t notice it. Why does Boris have a stuffed. Okay, so Boris is the big tank guy on the Endurance. Why does he have a stuffed bunny in his pocket?

KYLE PESCHEL: Easter egg!

BRIAN HORTON: That’s all it is. It’s just like, we liked the bunny.

MEAGAN MARIE: And so he’s got a little soft spot for.bunnies?

KYLE PESCHEL: It was just funny. Big guys can’t have feelings? [laughter]

MEAGAN MARIE: Well, big guys who like to massacre people?

KYLE PESCHEL: He was just doing his job. He goes home at night.

BRIAN HORTON: To give you a real answer, Cam, our character artist, said, “I want to put the bunny in his belt.” I said, “Do it.”

MEAGAN MARIE: Do you know what people think now? Have you seen this thread?


MEAGAN MARIE: People think that he killed Millie and Coco, because Millie had the stuffed bunny.

BRIAN HORTON: No, it’s not that.

KYLE PESCHEL: Story depth inadvertent.

MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, we’re putting that on the record. That was not the intent. He just likes stuffed bunnies.

BRIAN HORTON: It was really just to be funny.

NOAH HUGHES: The real answer is, because I didn’t notice. [big laughs] They snuck one past me.

KYLE PESCHEL: Did you not know?

BRIAN HORTON: That’s why it’s an Easter egg. We had to sneak it past Noah.

MEAGAN MARIE: And then the forums have to discover it, because they notice these things. All right. Here’s another quick question. Why did we choose to have a fake relic that Lara discovers, that was actually made in China?

BRIAN HORTON: I don’t know. Why do we have that, Noah?

MEAGAN MARIE: You’re smiling at him. I think you know.

KYLE PESCHEL: That’s a hard one.

BRIAN HORTON: Because it’s a fake. I think it was a knockoff? We really. [laughs]

NOAH HUGHES: Ah. You want the full answer? [more laughs]

MEAGAN MARIE: Yes, we want the full answer.

NOAH HUGHES: Well, because we got. We did our research after we made some of our objects. [laughter] So it turned out that we built one that came from nowhere near where it was.

MEAGAN MARIE: And so it needed to be an imported object.

NOAH HUGHES: But that was just creativity on Stafford’s part.

BRIAN HORTON: I think Stafford did a great job, by the way. We have to give huge credit to Jon Hamel and John Stafford for coming up with these stories around something that had already been built. Also, the mechanic of turning something around in discovery.

MEAGAN MARIE: I loved that.

BRIAN HORTON: That was another thing that Hamel really wanted to push. This one thing being fake. That was just a cool thing, to say that if you turn it, you discover something. I kind of liked how that turned out.

KYLE PESCHEL: Little-known fact about those masks. They didn’t have eye holes until four days before ship.


BRIAN HORTON: They were flat and black. It was Joel Crook who said, “Come on, put eye holes in there.”

KYLE PESCHEL: “This is the stupidest thing ever, that they made a mask you can’t see out of.” Boom, they went in.

MEAGAN MARIE: Doing polish until that last day.

KYLE PESCHEL: Literally, it was days before being done.

MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, this one I’m so excited for, Noah. People wanted to know this. Why is Sam’s last name Nishimura? It seems to be related to a certain media tycoon’s name in Tomb Raider Legend.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. It was definitely inspired by that. It was included more as an Easter egg than an intentional desire to pursue that character in the universe, but it’s also to acknowledge that. You look at something like Bond. They don’t bring everybody back from previous versions of the franchise, but they do. There are some key things in the world, some key characters in the world that they bring back. It was partly also just a gesture at. We recognize the world that came before. Part of what rebooting Tomb Raider is is celebrating our history. It’s just a little Easter egg to paint the Nishimuras back into Lara’s universe.

MEAGAN MARIE: I love it. Okay. So this is more of a technical question. Why does Sam have two voice actresses listed? Did we have two at some point in time?

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. First the voice actress and the motion actress were one and the same. At one point, we recast the voice and kept the motion from our original voice actress, Chieko. I believe she had done Himiko’s Japanese lines. Maybe that was part of the alternate ending? But there were actually some, in Himiko’s. Oh, no, in the storm voice. Basically, anything that was in Japanese and in Himiko’s voice was still truly voiced by our first voice actress, our first Sam.

MEAGAN MARIE: Very interesting. All right. So, we kind of went back and forth on this for a long time. What was the original meaning you guys intended to have for Lara’s necklace, before it became her first find? When she ran out in her penguin pajamas – which are now a huge thing in the Tomb Raider universe.

BRIAN HORTON: We didn’t have one. I think it was Noah and Jon, wrote it, right? You guys wrote the history. Or who all was involved in writing that, Noah?

NOAH HUGHES: It was the story crew. It was important to me that we gave it significance. It had. I think there were various things we thought about, various ways that we thought about giving it meaning.

MEAGAN MARIE: In some of the concept art, it looked like Sam was wearing it early on.

BRIAN HORTON: The original intention was that it was Sam’s relic. It was something Lara was going to get later in the game.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. She got it partway into the story from Sam. It was a part of that relationship that was no longer relevant to the story that we were telling. But at the same time, it was an item of value to Lara. I think in the end it actually filled a really important role, which was to highlight a little bit of Lara’s deep-rooted passion for archaeology. You picture her at this young age on this dig site finding it and you can really see the spark of the character who she’d become at that moment. To just kind of imagine how much this means to her.

MEAGAN MARIE: And then she’s still wearing it to this day. Okay. So we’ll end with a couple of questions on reception. I think this is a question that should be pretty easy to answer. Are you guys happy with the final product and with user feedback and so on? How are you feeling post-launch, looking back at everything? We can start with you, Noah, and then go around in the circle.

NOAH HUGHES: We’re really proud of what we made. I think, having said that. Specifically, to the fans, since we’re answering questions from a lot of the people that have been with us through this process, giving us both positive and constructive feedback. For me, I guess what’s really exciting is to see that people really are enjoying that experience. But that’s not to say that we also don’t. We also really understand how it can be better. For me, it’s feeling the satisfaction of having done what we did and being really proud of it, but even coming out of that, being so excited that, like, “Wow, now we’ve rebuilt this character. We’ve rebuilt this world.” Where we can go with it is super exciting to me.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about for you, Brian? How are you feeling?

BRIAN HORTON: I’m super happy with what we made. No matter what the score was. We felt like we did everything we could to make the best Tomb Raider game we could make. So as a team, we are stoked about it. It’s great. What I feel good about is, regardless of the critical feedback, if you listen to Tomb Raider fans and you listen to people who were never Tomb Raider fans, they’re both saying that they really like this game. That’s what we wanted to do, to make sure that we kept as much of our fan base as we could and also get some new ones.


KYLE PESCHEL: I think, just on behalf of all of the team. You go through this duality moment when you ship something. There’s this moment of, now all those things you wanted to change can’t be changed. They’re locked in stasis. You’re like, “Awwwww.” But there’s this other moment of saying, “It’s done. It’s complete.” It’s a chapter of your life as much as it is a chapter of Lara’s life. For a lot of us, this was a lot of time invested. This was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears along the way. To see that come together and to see people who are listening to this and people who are on the forums and out on all the media that we’re on enjoying it. That’s where the impact is. That’s why you create a lot of this stuff, to try to influence those people and let them forget about their normal day and enjoy something else.

MEAGAN MARIE: I try to send as much of the stuff on to you guys as I can, so that you guys are connected, but I’m going to jump ahead to a different question. Is there any sort of fan tribute or something that you’ve seen or a story or someone that’s really made you feel pride for having put this on the market? I’ve shown you guys things like how people have gotten the axe tattooed on their body. There are these really dedicated people, groups of fans that are so excited and proud of what we’ve done. Is there anything that you’ve experienced or seen that’s really resonated with you? It must have been pretty fun for you, and so painful, Brian, having to judge over. You had it narrowed down to 25 for you, but 5,000 pieces of art.

BRIAN HORTON: 5,000 pieces of art, fan art, that was generated for the contest.

MEAGAN MARIE: The DeviantArt constant.

BRIAN HORTON: .that DeviantArt and Meagan put together. It was truly impressive. You just flipped through that stuff and your finger gets tired. My finger got tired from scrolling through all.

KYLE PESCHEL: First world problems. [laughter]

BRIAN HORTON: From scrolling through all that art. I have to say, it’s amazing to see people embrace this vision of Lara. I think that if we won any battles at all, it’s just watching people say that this is Lara Croft. That was a huge, huge deal. Do you remember how nervous we were when we first launched Lara to the world? Meeting you. You said you were nervous, Meagan.

MEAGAN MARIE: Yes, I was nervous.

BRIAN HORTON: But Meagan was the first person we introduced Lara Croft to outside of our own studio. It was extremely. I knew she was a superfan. So seeing all these people embrace Lara, seeing all the cosplay of people that are embracing Lara, I can’t be happier. Couldn’t be happier with that. That’s a testament to all the hard work that Cam and Bren and Visual Works and all the people that worked on Lara put into that. Noah and everyone else.

MEAGAN MARIE: How about. This is kind of an evil question, because it’s asking you to sort of pick a favorite child. Is there one thing that you’re particularly proud of, one thing that you think you nailed, that really resonated, that you just walked away and thought that you did. Nothing could have been done better. What do you think that could be? Noah, is there anything that really sticks out for you that you’re particularly proud of?

NOAH HUGHES: Well, I think. Not to the extent that we can’t do it better. I think in every case, we can always come away. Kyle kind of talked about it. You ship something, you can always find ways that you could have done better. For me, it is what Brian just touched on, which is Lara. Re-characterizing Lara – visually, her voice, her motivations, her growth as a character – that was the most terrifying thing for me.

MEAGAN MARIE: Probably the same for you, Brian?

BRIAN HORTON: Mine is that, but it’s really being a part of a team. I’ve been in this industry nearly 20 years. I’ve been working on a lot of games. I’ve worked with a lot of talented people. But I’ve never worked with a team that was able to come together and work through all the hard times to put something out that I’m truly proud of. I can still enjoy, to this day, playing it. That’s a tough thing to do. So yeah, that’s what I’m most proud of.

MEAGAN MARIE: I’ve played it through five times now, and I love it. How about you, Kyle?

KYLE PESCHEL: I’d say the thing we couldn’t have done better would probably be the move to M. I feel like we were very tasteful in how that move happened. There was all sorts of discussions internally about what to make that look like. The fact that that went fluidly felt good. I’d say a close second to that was. Although there’s some feedback about how shaky the camera is, I think our camera really was a substantial step forward from games previously. The fact that feedback is pretty quiet about that, I take it as a positive. People can forget about the mechanics of a camera and just enjoy the experience the camera gives you a window into.

BRIAN HORTON: By the way, I want to give a shout-out to Remi Lacoste and Josh Harrison.

KYLE PESCHEL: Lee and everybody.


MEAGAN MARIE: I’ll be putting together a presentation based on his GDC panel, just focusing on the camera, so you guys will get to see that. But yeah, the camera is definitely. It’s one of those mechanics that if people don’t say anything. It’s a silent mechanic. Nobody notices it because it’s so organic.

KYLE PESCHEL: I wouldn’t necessarily say with any of those that we couldn’t have done it better, but I felt like we did it tastefully. It was well-done. I don’t think that if we had a few more weeks we would have really changed much more with that. We felt that those things were an expression of what we wanted to do.

MEAGAN MARIE: I think, personally, mine would have been. I could not be happier with how the team developed Lara, but secondary, it would have been that fluid cover system. I loved that. It was such an incredible. Just thinking about how combat has been in Tomb Raider and what it is now. The fact that it’s not just competitive with other games in the genre, but that it excels when it comes to that cover system. I love it. I’m so impressed with that. Okay, so we’ll ask a couple of very brief questions about the future. I’m prefacing this with. We cannot give any specifics about anything for you guys listening, but we can hint at a few things. So, simple yes or no, Noah. Did you hint at anything we may see in the future of Tomb Raider in this Tomb Raider? Were there allusions to stuff in the future?


MEAGAN MARIE: So go back and dig around and do your research. People in the forums have already got like a 30-page thread. No joke. They know more about any word or icon or anything that they have found in Tomb Raider, but now they know that they could potentially discover something interesting. That’s good to know.

NOAH HUGHES: They don’t necessarily know the location of the next adventure, but I think they’ve found the threads that will lead to it.

MEAGAN MARIE: Interesting. Hunter Wolf asks, “Coming off the success of Tomb Raider, what do you think is going to be the hardest challenge in making a bigger and better follow-up?” A lot of the questions below. People are asking, does Lara continue to grow as a person in future games? Will she keep her new look? Is the bow going to return? Is survival going to be a theme? That’s what I feel like is probably the biggest challenge for you guys. How are you going to approach that going forward? Big question.

BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. I think the biggest challenge we have is just to make sure that we’re keeping the spirit of what we did on this last game and finding areas that we’d like to improve and making sure that we’re doubling down on the things that we did well. That’s our philosophy in general. We just want to make sure that we continue making high-quality Tomb Raider games.

MEAGAN MARIE: What do you think that spirit is, of this current Tomb Raider? The things that are now so embedded in the Tomb Raider brand or in Lara that they’re part of her identity?

NOAH HUGHES: You mentioned things like the bow and survival. I think those really do have a place in the franchise beyond just one story, potentially. We’re, right now, just talking about what we will do next. Nothing we’re talking about is a final answer. But certainly the idea that, in the way that Kyle was talking about, the Mature rating. Survival really plays a role in tomb raiding. This idea that Lara. That in the deepest, darkest corners of the world that are hardest to find, these crazy things exist. We really want to make it an endeavor of survival for Lara to find and uncover these mysteries. I think that aspect of survival, of Lara versus these harsh and beautiful environments, is sort of part of the DNA going forward. I think, obviously, the bow is so popular that we would think about ways that that could be part of Lara’s stories in the future. But then it’s also to look at. You know, celebrating her progression as a tomb raider. In the same way we hear about puzzles in previous games, you also hear about it just in the context of tombs. Like, “I want to be the tomb raider!” And so as Lara gets survival under her belt, I think it does give us the opportunity to really grow her into the tomb raider that people want to see her become. I think there is still room between becoming a survivor to becoming a tomb raider.

MEAGAN MARIE: And so she’s not there. I think that’s a thing that some people seem to worry about. They’re like, “Oh, she’s a tomb raider now. She’s gonna show up in short shorts and so on in the next game.” That’s not the DNA of this vision that you guys have presented. She’s human and she grows and so on.

NOAH HUGHES: Yeah. I think she got a taste of tomb raiding in this story.

MEAGAN MARIE: She hated tombs!

NOAH HUGHES: I think she got her survivor badge, but I think she only got a taste of tomb raiding. Part of what’s exciting is to see how she fully earns her tomb raider badge.

MEAGAN MARIE: Awesome. I’m going to leave it at that, because we’re getting into murky territory otherwise. Do you guys have any final thoughts? This has been probably my favorite podcast I’ve ever recorded. Thank you, guys, for sharing some really cool behind-the-scenes stories and chatting with us for so long. Anything you want to go out on?

NOAH HUGHES: Thank you, Meagan, and thanks especially to the fans for going along on this journey with us.


KYLE PESCHEL: I think it’s a big thing for fans to know that we do check out the forums. We are in contact with you. We are looking at this stuff. I do read my Twitter feed. I am out there absorbing a lot of this stuff, although I’m more of a lurker than I am a commenter. But to know some of the internet names that are coming up about this and the things. We actually started to refer to stuff like the crab on the beach after the community. That started to influence some of how we think about that stuff. Thanks to the fans, really. Thanks for paying attention. We’re glad to have you.

BRIAN HORTON: That’s the last thing I would say. Keep e-mailing. If you ever send me a tweet to express how much you like the game, I always try to get back to you and say thanks, because ultimately what we’re doing wouldn’t matter without you guys. Thanks a lot.

MEAGAN MARIE: Great. All right. Thank you all three. It is Friday night, so have a lovely weekend.

BRIAN HORTON: All right. See you guys.

[cut to outro]

MEAGAN MARIE: So that is it for the Crystal Habit podcast. Thanks for hanging in there. I know it was a long episode, but I hope you found it as interesting as I did. I worked along these guys’ sides for the past two years, and I think even I learned a thing or two. Keep the questions coming. You can either direct them to our forums or leave comments below, and maybe we’ll have a chance to answer them in the next episode of the podcast. Until then!

[musical outro]