2 October 2015

 [Minor Spoilers: Although the piece focuses more on Crystal's approach to tomb design rather than detailed examples and locations.]

A little introduction: a few weeks ago, as part of the E3 Ambassador Program, I wrote an article for the official Tomb Raider blog (and which I can now post here) about the reemergence of tombs in the latest installment of the franchise. After listening to fan feedback from the previous game, the team at Crystal are expanding these areas making them more complex and captivating. For the piece I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Wajcs, Senior Designer at Crystal Dynamics who gave amazing answers.

It's an element of the upcoming game that I am seriously excited about, and I loved having this opportunity to talk about it. Read the article below:

A Return to Tombs

For Lara Croft, her journey across Yamatai was one of survival, which tested her determination and strength to their limits. The struggles she faced through the game shaped her, turning her into the character that many of us grew up with. Her experiences made her more determined, and kindled an interest to learn more about the secrets of the world. The next game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, continues Lara’s story and takes her to new locations in search for new truths, new challenges, and excitingly, new tombs.

Community feedback from the previous game highlighted an interest for bigger and more complex tombs, an element which Crystal Dynamics seems eager to deliver on for Lara’s next adventure. To understand Crystal’s vision for tombs in the upcoming game, I recently spoke to Jeff Wajcs, Senior Designer at Crystal Dynamics.

Instead of encountering tombs as a means to escape enemies or as an optional puzzle, in Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara will be intentionally and actively seeking out these areas. As Wajcs explains, “besides just having more tombs in general, we have a new philosophy for critical path tombs. Every critical path tomb throws one ‘big problem’ at Lara. She needs to solve a series of puzzles in order to chip away at the ‘big problem,’ bit by bit. We also refer to these as ‘nested puzzles.’” These areas combine elements of puzzle solving with traversal and combat challenges, which enables Crystal to “balance the pacing without compromising the puzzle theme of the level”. image
The game will also see the return of challenge tombs. These tombs focus on a single puzzle and a single goal. While smaller than those encountered on the critical path, they are still packed with goodies to entice the player. Lara will be able to collect a number of resources in the tombs, which can be used in the game’s new upgrade system to improve Lara’s weapon and ammo, increasing the level of variety in the gameplay.

“There are ton of new skills this time around, and several of them can only be acquired by completing Challenge Tombs,” Wajcs reveals. For completionists, some Challenge Tombs will hold maps containing the locations of other collectibles outside of the area. “So no matter what kind of player you are and what kind of gameplay you like, Challenge Tombs will have the right reward for you.”

Previously many of the Challenge Tombs were stand-alone areas of exploration, which the player would venture to in search of a reward. This is an element which the team has been focusing on and improving upon for the new release.

“One of the biggest improvements to the Challenge Tombs has been in the story department,” Wajcs explains. Even in these optional areas, Lara’s fascination with archaeology will be growing, and the player will not only collect rewards but discover more about the location they’re in. “Each Challenge Tomb has a history for the player to discover, both in the documents left there but also in the environment itself. Each tomb feeds into the broader mystery that Lara is trying to figure out. The environments are certainly much more exciting as a result.”
Rise of the Tomb Raider sees the return of many features from the previous game, but thanks to next gen technology and graphics, the potential for tombs and puzzles has been greatly expanded. In addition to the scale and the realistic, yet magical appearance of these tombs, the team has been working on creating real-world puzzles to bring a new level of immersion to the title.

“The most challenging aspect of designing a tomb is always tying in the fiction. The days of random pressure plates and gigantic wall switches are long gone,” Wajcs says. One of the improvements made with the tombs is an expansion of the use of physics. “Water is one of my favorite things to use for puzzles, and you’ll see a lot of new next gen materials and FX on display. Lara will need to use the different physics of water to solve a wide variety of puzzles. There are changing water levels, water currents, water used as weight, water powering machines - there’s a lot.” image

The game is also promised to be accessible to players who have yet to play the previous title in the series. The return of the Survival Instinct feature teaches new players how to assess and manipulate the environment.
“Every puzzle can be solved without Survival Instinct, and players that enjoy being challenged by puzzles can definitely go without it. Lara will provide more hints the more Survival Instinct is used, so less familiar players can rely on it more,” Wajcs says. “The presence of Survival Instinct is actually what allows us to include the harder puzzles in the game that we hope our longtime fans will appreciate.”

Wajcs also teased about the challenges that Lara will be facing, as she’s now a more experienced adventurer. “Of course, now that Lara actually wants to get into the tombs, the tombs themselves have to try even harder to keep her out. We’ve prepared a bunch of new traps and hazards that only Lara Croft could survive.”

[Transportation, lodging, and E3 badge provided by Crystal Dynamics and Xbox as a part of the E3 2015 Ambassador Program]


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