15 August 2011

Karl Stewart (Global Brand Director) with a life-sized statue of Angel of Darkness' Lara

Now before you begin reading the article and shower me with glass bottles, I want to stress one this - I don't have a favourite company. That is the absolute truth! I love Tomb Raider and I'm glad that there are more games, movies and news on the horizon to enjoy. I know that there has been a few Core vs Crystal debates out there, but hopefully this article will be something new. It isn't about a straight battle of Core Design against Crystal Dynamics with score boards and points, it's about how the companies reacted to each other, how the fans reacted and how Crystal is trying to return to the Golden Age of Tomb Raider with the new reboot.

Tomb Raider's Golden age was during the mid nineties. She was the heroine that every game company wanted and there was enough merchandise to encourage collectors to gamble their savings into the lottery with dreams of at owning, at least, a percentage of what was on offer. The games started off strong, with the new heroine already making her mark in the just the demo of the first game. Companies wanted Lara on their merchandise and Core Design was in a good position of owning a blockbuster game and having enough money to relax a bit after their previous titles. Unfortunately as the new century ticked over, Lara's fame had dwindled slightly. In 1999, Core had killed Lara in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation but nevertheless tried to continue her legacy with Tomb Raider: Chronicles. The game only mention of the actual present day Lara was a short cutscene in which Von Croy held up her backpack in a Traditional -Zelda "I HAVE THIS SWORD!" style before showing the fans the closing credits. It wasn't clear if she was alive or dead, or if Von Croy was just extremely jelous of her backpack for the entirety of the previous adventure but the game was the beginning of the end for Lara's reign.

Core Design saw the large fanbase and knew that Lara had to return, they also wanted the protagonist to be improved upon in a game with a deeper storyline and richer graphics. After several broken release dates, they launched Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. The game sold strong, but it didn't receive flattering scores by reviewers. Eidos then decided that after the game the Tomb Raider copyright should go to Crystal Dynamics in California who announced plans to reboot the franchise. The game and the company switch was a catalyst for many sections of the fandom splitting into groups, there were those who took sides against the company leading to numerous forum threads like "Core vs Crystal" to be formed, there were several discussions about if rebooting an icon was a good idea, AoD lead to the creation of groups who either approved or disapproved having TR contain secondary main characters. And most of these groups still remain even 8 years after Angel of Darkness' release.

I've played the classic games when they were released but formed Guns and Grapple during Crystal's era. When I was researching about the series there was a negative view of Angel of Darkness. It's hard to replay and enjoy a game that so many others hated....But I noticed something. It wasn't as bad as it was stated to be. There were hardly any bugs and even though the controls were difficult to work at first, like with most games, it soon became second nature. OK it wasn't the shining gem of the Tomb Raider franchise but to be honest after the strong start to the series how could any TR game compare to picking up the original for the first time and playing it. I have to admit, the game had holes, the team at Core was smaller than Crystal and yet were pressured into releasing a game only two years after Tomb Raider Chronicles with better graphics, more variety, a long story, and larger level design, also this was their first go with Next Gen. Of course they couldn't deliver what they promised! I don't could Crystal back then either. However AoDs was always negatively portrayed by the media and so the game was seen as a failure. Even now, the latest interview with Crystal's Global Brand Director mentions how Angel of Darkness was a disappointment, despite it being almost a decade ago and there's been three pillar releases since then.

Promotional render for Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) by Core Design

I've usually steered clear of writing an article about this argument, whenever I get an idea to write something like this it's usually laden with foreboding. However a thread posted at the Tomb Raider Forums caught my eye, the thread was thrown away by many as being another repetitive Core vs Crystal thread...But it holds a truth. Since the switch of hands for the copyright of the franchise something began something, both companies felt as though they needed to prove to the fans who was best, and recently this led to small jabs at Angel of Darkness...It's the only plausible reason why we still talk, as a community about the switch. Here's my reasoning behind it:

Core were the creators, but in 2003, they made a mistake which forced Eidos to move the copyright over to Crystal Dynamics. Crystal knew that they now had to create a series of epic games and they must have felt a lot of pressure since they were working on the next instalment of Tomb Raider, they had to prove to gamers, fans and reviewers that the series can still continue with a different company at the helm. However during this period, Core Design wasn't over...Not yet. The company became defunct in 2006, however they were still working on a Tomb Raider related project...In fact the same project as Crystal...Tomb Raider Anniversary.

The first thing that Crystal did when they got the copyright was to reboot the series, technically the second reboot if you're counting Angel of Darkenss. Since the games would be in new hands it would be classed as a  reboot to the series anyway but promoting it as "rejuvenation" of the franchise meant that they intended to change the classic Lara. They wanted to bring Lara back to her Golden Age and to do this they created a link to the previous classic games, namely the original Tomb Raider. Tomb Raider Legend was the first of a trilogy which would later lead onto Tomb Raider Anniversary and then Tomb Raider Underworld. Crystal stated they wanted to bring Lara back to where the original games were taking her, but go more in depth on her new changed biography.

Fans of the original had an issue with a new company changing the biography, mainly because if you change how Lara became the heroine they played in the games, even though it will be a very similar character it wouldn't be the same to them. One of the things that Crystal changed was the plane crash which led Lara to becoming more independent and realizing her dream of adventure.

After the release of Tomb Raider Legend, a trailer leaked onto the internet about an upcoming TR game called Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition created by the guys at Core Design who had been apparently told by Eidos to start work on the game as a celebration of ten years of Lara Croft. The project was later scrapped and a new Anniversary game was announced, this time by Crystal. This is where I believe that the Core vs Crystal arguments truly began. Legend was the first of Crystal's series, it wasn't showing truly what the company could do since you can't judge something like that based on the content of one game compared to six games. Yet it was both companies making the same game which caused issues. Fans who met Lara with Core's game were probably glad to see the old company making a new game, not saying that Crystal is bad - far from it, but if you thought that your favourite developers wouldn't work on your favourite franchise again and then there's an announcement that they are, you're going to be happy.

Concept Artwork for Core Design's planned Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition 

It's similar to what's happening with Max Payne. Those who know me know that I love Remedy Entertainment, they are the developers of the first two Max Payne games. The only franchise in my opinion to have bullet time in their games which worked well and I thoroughly enjoy the writing in all their games. Yet a couple of years ago Remedy handed the copyright of MP over to Rockstar who is making now Max Payne 3..The character revealed in screen shots isn't looking like the protagonist I left in New York a couple of years ago. The company later went on to make Alan Wake as well as introducing me to an awesome band, so I can't really complain. However I still feel somewhat protective over the first two games and the classic (it feels weird saying that) Max. This is what it's like for Tomb Raider, the fans who came into the series with the Core Design games has a loyalty towards Core. In the MP scenario, if Rockstar turned around and said that the games had "lost it's luster" and that the only thing to do was a reboot, I would have a huge grudge against them.

Now I love Crystal, but I'm apparently not the only ones who have noticed the small remarks they've been giving about Angel of Darkness. The forum thread which caught my eye was mentioning little jabs they made at the classic games, more specifically AoDs. The issue that some fans seem to have with this isn't that AoD is being called as a failure it's because another company is calling it that. The phrase "No one picks on my little brother but me" seems to have some relevance in this situation. Crystal thinks of both companies are under the "Tomb Raider" name (which is kind of true, but that's not how it's always seen, especially just after they announced reboots) and saying that AoD didn't work out was admitting to an earlier mistake on their series part not blaming Core, which isn't how some fans are hearing it.

The Tomb Raider Legend 2006's reboot of Lara Croft

With that being said Crystal's only path was to do something new with the franchise. They needed to have a Lara which was reminiscent of the original but at the same time they needed their own mark in the series. They wanted to bring in a new audience, with that they wandered away from the levers taking favor in pressure plates, rooms of puzzles were replaced with one major puzzle per level and a much deeper feeling of exploration. Lara had undergone a change, Crystal made her more human and emotional, a new side of Lara that the classic fans didn't see before. More games now focus on the protagonist and the storyline, we didn't know about Lara  that much apart from her biography by Core that most fans found online. The changes that Crystal made wasn't too drastic; Lara had the plan crash at the age of 9 not 21, her Father (now called Richard James Croft) was obsessed with finding his wife, and the adventure with Von Croy at Angkor Watt probably never occurred as well as some other details and events. Yet I feel the issue of why fans feel resentment towards the change was that there was change, the company decided that elements of the old Lara needed to be improved or removed.

The most recent change was Crystal's announcement for a complete franchise reboot involving cutting off all unnecessary promotions and advertising for the series. They announced the game through Game Informer (an American gaming magazine which didn't bod well with TR fans in Europe and especially in England where Lara was a British icon) with the tag-line "Forget what you know about Lara Croft, as of today, that's all going to change". For Crystal it was the only way to go from there, the only way that would mean an increase in sales and more focus from the industry. They couldn't necessarily go back to the classic game formula that worked for Core since their previous games moved away from it since Legend's reboot and they had a new idea about the direction of the franchise. They couldn't even stay with the Legend reboot since they had tied up the story arc with Tomb Raider Underworld. The only way was to adapt the series for what gamers wanted.

A promotional render for the upcoming Tomb Raider game (due out Fall 2012)

Games couldn't be just about shooting and jumping anymore. Perhaps that was one of the reasons Duke Nukem Forever didn't work so well, he was a 90s icon who returned trying to be exactly the same, the result ended with a game with a character which players were cringing at with every innuendo and pun. Of course Lara isn't like Duke at all, yet she also needed to change with the consumer's demand. She was strong, athletic, brave, determined, beautiful, but she also needed to be someone that the player can relate to after all she was a Lady who owned three manors and had tons of money so she's probably not easy to relate to.

Immersion is another key part, and something which the upcoming game is focusing on. I'll probably write another article going into detail about adding immersion to a game and the effects of it being done well but also downsides if it is done badly. Having a game fixed on a psychological aspect is a good way to make the game more gripping, however to have this and have it done well, the game really needs to be a horror or at the very least dark. And with that being said you can't really have a psychological game without an interesting and deep storyline riddled with mystery. It's something which Crystal is ever improving on and it's looking extremely promising and exciting in the upcoming game.

However on another side you have reboots and the effects on the fans...more specifically the classic fans. Personally I don't like reboots. I understand why they exist and why developers and film makers decide to reboot an franchise, but I believe there's always another way. Rebooting has always been the last resort reset button and it probably would be more effective in some franchises if only every franchise wasn't deciding to hit the panic button I'm looking at you; Max Payne, Batman, James Bond, Sonic the Hedgehog, Silent Hill and Dr Who. I love the upcoming game, but I hated the way it was announced specifically the tag-line, mainly because it implied that the series was dead but it was keeping the name so the die-hard fans would still buy it...Which is of course never their intention, and yet it could still be seen that way. I believe that it one of the reasons they dropped it later on.

Another argument against Crystal was their choice to choose XBOX360 over PS3. What's quite impressive about this is the patience of some of the PC fans who own neither an XBOX360 or PS3, however having a gaming computer is harder, since you have to constantly replace it every couple of years. Although their choice to have XBOX as their favourite console isn't so much of an issue and it's a weak argument to use to say that Crystal never cared about the PS3 fans. Core Design did the same except they favoured Playstation!

To make sure that this article isn't too long, I'm going to wrap this up with a few final points. First of all the Core Design vs Crystal Dynamics battle only still remains today because fans continue to have a perception that Crystal stole the franchise, which was never the case. The deal was made in 2003, after not just AoD failing to meet expected sales but Tomb Raider Chronicles. Tomb Raider had the ability to survive for years, and it was Eidos' strongest franchise, they felt the only way for the games to appeal to a wider audience was if they were seen to be doing something new with the franchise. Even employees at Core admitted that they wanted to move on, they even celebrated Lara's "death" in Tomb Raider 4 (from an interview in the GameTap Documentary).

Core Design were the original developers, they created a character which was an icon in the British gaming industry. They created six main adventures and launched the franchise with a love for the games. However due to sales Crystal were asked to take over and they had the even harder task of taking on a franchise with a huge fan base, along with responsibility and the request to not only make one pillar release but two simultaneously (Tomb Raider Legend and Anniversary). Both companies deserve tremendous respect about what they do and the amount of work and love they put into a game.

The latest released render for the upcoming Tomb Raider game. 

We all share the same passion for Tomb Raider, let's enjoy playing the classics but look forward to what's in store for Lara. 


  1. I thought Underworld, if it had been longer and if Toby Gard hadn't been allowed to insert Natla into the script, was a step in the right direct. I'm very dubious about the reboot mostly becuase there are so many survival horror games out there. I'm also annoyed at the (possibly false) perception that CD do not respect Core or the character of Lara Croft. I'm a Core fan and I think that even the worst of their games is better than CD's best game, and they have a nerve, to put it politely, to snipe at anything Tomb Raider that came before. I also disagree that the classic style of Tomb Raider - lonesome exploration and black humour - is old fashioned. CD proved how ill equiped they are to produce a classic game when they managed to fail to successfuly update TR1 with Anniversary; their only contribution after 10 years was dodgy characterisation and quick time, and they made the game much shorter and easier. That isn't evolution - that's dumbing down with an American flavo(u)r. I predict that one day there will be a move to "back to basics", where someone will chuck out all of the present reboots and get back to the classic style and ethos of game play. At the moment we are in the "Roger Moore" or "Adam West" phase of the Tomb Raider story.

  2. I’ve played through all of the Tomb Raider games and enjoyed the adventure and progressively more detailed architectural settings. I even take screen shots, souvenir photos, which on my stereo 3D setup make them "a place you’ve been to" instead of "a game you played". It’s a fun time away from the stresses of work, a true mental vacation. In contrast the reboot sounds horrid. If I want to deal with survival I’ll just go back to work.

  3. first photo.... -.-