How do you foster that sense of exploration? I can think of things -- like coming out from an enclosed area into a stunning vista, or something like that -- but do you plan for these kind of moments and areas of discovery in the exploration? How do you make that happen?
EL: I'm a senior designer at Crystal. I've been a lead designer and game designer for a long time and my role on Tomb Raider as creative director was heavily design-oriented. I'm a designer, but my job is really to be the advocate and caretaker of the experience as a whole.
That sense of discovery, those vistas that you find, that feeling of freedom and constraint... because Tomb Raider is as much about where you can't climb as it is where you can climb to figure out how to make sense of your environment. That was very important to guard and to promote that experiential goal set.
So we wanted to start the game in a place that would really drive that home, so the beginning of the game starts with her on her yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea -- not a stone wall to be seen -- and the player is told, "There's a ruin down on the sea floor somewhere. Go find it."
Does that mean they can swim all the way to Italy? No. But there's a feeling of openness. There's a feeling of epic exploration that is very much Lara Croft's realm, but is a fresh, new, exciting feeling.
How do you create that illusion of freedom without letting the player feel like, "Oh, this is like GTA -- I can just go off and do whatever," while still keeping their eye on a goal and keeping them focused? Letting them feel free, while following the cues that you want them to follow...
EL: We often use the words "exploration" and "discovery" than "freedom," because it's not an open world in the sense that people mean "open world." When you go into a new exploration space, we don't have dot-to-dot paths that the player can follow. There's just an exploration space, multiple connected areas, and multiple puzzle and combat elements that are used like ingredients in a larger recipe.
What players feel when they go into that space is very important, so making them feel like they're driving the experience... that they're the ones determining what they want to explore, and the reason why is that it feels free, even though you're not in a wide-open city with the ability to go anywhere you want.
There are a lot of logical boundaries. You want to open this ancient door that's not been opened for two thousand years, and once you solve these puzzles, you open it, and you go on to the next area, and there are more challenges there. So there are logical constraints that drive it forward, but people still feel free, because they're the ones determining how they go forward.
For me, I've liked the exploration and wished that I could be in the space without combat. Do you think you could ever make a combat-less Tomb Raider? It'd be more like Ico or something like that.
EL: It's funny you should mention that, because there's a feature in the game called Player Tailoring that we haven't talked about a lot yet. It's exactly what you're talking about for which this feature was created. It's not about difficulty. It's about people having different ideas about what they want exploration and discovery to be.
So for the players that really like the hard-driving action Hollywood experience, there's a help on demand feature where you can ask Lara, "How do I solve this puzzle?" And she'll tell you, because you don't want to spend 20 minutes or an hour trying to figure out this puzzle.
You just ask her and she tells you, and you can do it and get on to the next thing. There are basic difficulty levels that people can choose from, but they can access the help on demand if they really want the action and excitement and don't want to butt their head against the puzzles.
Conversely, for people who really want there to be a puzzle experience and, "I really don't want to spend so much time fighting these predators and these enemies," you can actually turn that down. We don't have the ability to turn it off completely, because we think those punctuation points are important for the overall pacing. But people can de-emphasize them to give them more of the overall exploration that they're looking for.
How do you feel about the sex appeal issue? It seems to me that the critical tide has turned somewhat against "sexy lady in video games," these days. I think perhaps the fan base and consumer still demands a bit of that sexy stuff, but how do you feel about that?
EL: Well, she is definitely a sexy woman, and if you put her in a lineup with other female video game characters, you can see that she is one of the least sexed-up of the whole lot.
Even though sex appeal is a part of her character, it is not a part of her personal essence. It's not a part of her motivation. We have very simple rules about how we portray her and how we dress her.
She's sexy because people think strong, independent, attractive women dressed well are sexy, and we don't have to add anything on top of that to go over the top, which I think is the mistake that other characters make.
The game is obviously called Tomb Raider and not Lara Croft, but obviously she's the focus. Do you think you could make a Tomb Raider game that didn't star her? Or would it just be a totally different game?
EL: I think you could make a game that satisfies a lot of what people want when they go to a Tomb Raider experience. I don't think it would be a Tomb Raider game without Lara Croft, but I think there are ways to enter Lara Croft's tomb raiding world without her necessarily being a prime focus. It's something that we should look at going forward, but I for one am very glad that Tomb Raider: Underworld is a Lara experience.