5 October 2015

[Possible Spoilers! We don't go in depth into enemy types, story or levels however the interview does touch on them. Like the Return to Tombs article, this interview focuses on Crystal's approach to Lara's next adventure.]

During E3, I had the opportunity to sit down with Noah Hughes, Creative Director at Crystal Dynamics, and talk about Rise of the Tomb Raider.

The interview was at the end of a crazy, packed day. It started with the Microsoft Media Briefing, on screen interviews (eek!) and featured a working lunch, a working dinner and finally a XBOX press event which ended around midnight. Originally I had planned to focus on the interview throughout lunch; smoothing down some of the ideas I had jotted down on paper and getting some serious writing in. Unfortunately that didn't quite go as planned; I was told in the morning that there was some trouble collecting my E3 badge, so the time put aside had a new focus. But I did have some time to work on it.

Given the atmosphere in the room, and that it was rolling into the evening, I wanted to have a relaxed conversational interview about how Crystal approached Lara's next adventure rather searching for an exclusive. It gave us the opportunity to talk about the game and the development process in a different light, I hope you'll enjoy it. Noah was absolute pleasure to talk to and it's clear right from the moment he entered that restaurant that he has a passion for the series and genuine interested in the community. You can read the full transcript below.


G&G: How do you feel about the world seeing the first bit of gameplay for Rise of the Tomb Raider?

Noah: Well, I'm always very excited to finish the game, E3 is a little bit before finishing so we're still hard at work at Crystal, but feeling really good about what we've got to show and excited to finish it. I think generally it's always invigorating to go to E3 and see positive feedback from fans. Everybody at the office is excited to, basically take the next couple of months to close it out and put it in a box.

G&G: Thank you for decoding the question then! (I stumbled a little at first). So when did you start production for this game?

Noah: Y'know that's actually that's a good question. I don't know. It was after we finished the last one, but to varying degrees you start thinking about the game even before you finish the first one. So, one of the things we joke about is if something doesn't make it into the first one that 'aw maybe we can get that into the second one'. So there's always natural ideas and patches that you want. But also you get to do also a blank slate and say 'okay, well what do we want to do?' So pretty much as we started clearing our minds for the first one, we started putting together exciting ideas for the first one but also more importantly, starting to understand where we wanted Lara to go next. That's always the centre of our pre-production; what's Lara's next adventure? What's her next location? What's her next myth?

G&G: How do you even start thinking about creating a new Tomb Raider game? That feels like a huge undertaking! 

Noah: Yeah! I mean, there are parts that are tough and parts that are easy. So, somethings that are tough are trying to understand if we look at the character in the reboot and we look at the Lara we all know and love, there's sort of this question of how do we step her towards that. And that's a little bit harder because it's specific to her character and her arc. Then there's fun and easy questions like 'what places in the world would be cool to visit' and 'what myths would be cool to explore'.  So we basically put those two things together and tried to brainstorm both exciting adventures and important steps for Lara.

G&G: Talking about myths, how did the team go about researching them? (Asked by Kelly, Archaeology of Tomb Raider)

Noah: Yeah, I think we looked at...Well, one of the great things- I can't even imagine a time before the Internet and libraries, and things like that. We very much immerse ourselves in research both traditional which is books, and also online. But it's also really fun in the sense that we can bring out the map of the world and say 'where do we want to go today'. So, part of it is taking the ideas of Lara's current interests, so when we talk about all the millions of places that Lara could go, where would SHE want to go next? We started to make sure that her important parallels between her first journey and her second journey; this current chapter as it relates to her understanding.

So one of the things you'll see as a through line between the two games is myths about immortality, and in the first game we had the myth about an immortal Queen. And in the next game she is chasing the myth about immortality, that she's partly trying to take something she'd glimpsed in her first adventure and try to understand where if anywhere in the world does this truth exist? And that's one of the things that I like about the Tomb Raider myths research is that it's not just random it's trying to understand what are the underline commonalities the myths of multiple cultures. And part of what we try to do is say what is a common thread between what she experiences on Yamatai and what she might experience in her next adventure and how will that help explain to her the world that she lives in.

G&G: So, will the game explore multiple myths tied with that common trait? (Asked by Kelly, Archaeology of Tomb Raider)

Noah: It does! We've announced Siberia as a location and Syria as a location, and as you know sort of based on Japanese myth. So, we try to find commonalities between different myths within these cultures, so you'll see some amount of common thread that transcends any one culture.

G&G: Watching the demo, something which really impressed me was when Lara was walking across the cliff edge and you can see the snow parting as she was walking. How did the team ensure that they captured that level of realism in her interaction with the environment?

Noah: Yeah! A couple of things. One is that, we started with the story but once we were inspired by Siberia as a location, that we knew snow and ice would be important and also we were making a game on a new generation of hardware for the first time. We wanted to basically take environmental detail and express that in sort of next gen technology kind of ways. So actually snow is a really fun way to do that; I know it kind's of sounds silly but, when I first got that technology where I could walk around and draw shapes in the snow, and there's something so cool about the character affecting the world in that way. It was fun for us to work with programmers to try to realism the environmental technology that would allow us to really place Lara in these hostile environments. So, it started with kind of the story but it ended up being a technology feature exercise.


G&G: Can you talk a little bit about the tomb aesthetics? Did the team have any real life sources for inspirations or references?

Noah: Yeah, as you know it was really important for us to, especially hearing feedback from the first game, to push tombs in all their awesomeness which to me is lots of facets; it's amazing places you wouldn't normally go but it's also these hidden, secret locations with dangerous traps and awe inspiring reveals and all of these things. So for us, tombs were important in both digital and gameplay design. But a lot of the mythology comes from Byzantine backgrounds and visual design, so actually we did a lot of -- as we did on both games -- we had a lot of artists travelling and taking pictures and trying to inspire ourselves by the real architecture and even murals and paintings and stories and all of that. Yeah, definitely both from the Byzantine background as well the Russian location, in both cases, we really tried to do on the ground research as well as, sort of, fictional inspiration research.

G&G: Could you talk a little about the type of enemies Lara will face in the game?

Noah: Hmm, I think we're not talking too much about the enemies. The two things to recognise are that Lara does cross paths with Trinity who is a secret organisation with unclear goals... as of yet. But they operate on the same level as Lara so she will face, essentially a race to the lost city with this ancient and secret organisation, Trinity. We also inspire ourselves with myths of the cultures and the locations, so we have more to share about the enemies in the future.


G&G: What aspect of the game are you most excited about people checking out when the game is launched?

Noah: I think I'm... two parts....three parts... It's hard! I think I'm very excited about tombs, and that's not because that's your line of questioning, but as a fan it very much hurt me to not have delivered on that as much as people wanted to experience. I'm very excited about going back to tombs in the main story context but even, also in our last game, a lot of people appreciated our challenge tombs, and I think we do better with the main tombs as well as our challenge tombs. So I think we have a lot of Tomb Raiding for people in the game, and that's very exciting to me.

I think another thing that's awesome is, we had survival mechanics in the last game, I think we have the chance to very much evolve those, so it was kind if the first time in a Tomb Raider game where we had fully pushed into survival land. We have a more mature survival system which make it fun to explore environments and become more competent and more powerful and geared up.

And then the third thing is probably just the next gen. That it is actually exciting to have new technology that I always focus on the story and the character but I also, I just, new technology allows us to do new cool things, so that's been fun.

G&G: So, I'm someone that completes the game but likes going back to just find those hidden items in the levels. Will there be collectibles in the game?

Noah: Yeah! We have at least as much and probably a lot more to do in this game than the last game. I think one thing people will find is there's the main story is at least as long, probably longer, and then the secondary content is more robust. We have at least as many, and probably more, collectibles like documents and relics and mission givers, and being able to infuse the narrative into our secondary missions and thinks like that. So, I'm actually very excited, and I think probably, one of the things I'm most proud of is that, as a game, it exists as an exciting roller coaster ride but it's probably most fun as a world to just explore every nook and cranny. I believe that for players like you, there will be even an improvement than the last game.


G&G: I think we have time for one more question... So, the game is coming out on November 10th, it may be a little early, but because you've been hard at work on it for the past few years. Have you been thinking about any celebration plans? Something to look forward to when the work is completed?

Noah: Well, I think everyone looks forward to resting at the end, but there's a buzz around the office just because we've just got so good reception and feedback from the last game. And we feel that we can, realise a good sequel, as well as fix some things that people wanted. For me, it's exciting to just get to the light at the end of the tunnel and say 'oh, I think we've done our fans a service'. But in terms of what we do, I think most people will probably sleep for two days and then not talk to anyone for a week after that, or maybe that's just me.
G&G: After all the work, all you want to do is stare at the wall for a bit.

Noah: Yeah, you know how it is! But I'm very excited for the game, as you know, it's a lot of work to make a game, so everything goes into this. Until you're done, all you're trying to do is make the best version of it that you can.

A huge thanks to Noah for taking the time to do the interview!

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



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