What tech are you guys using right now? I can't remember if Crystal is still using its own engine.
EL: Definitely. We couldn't be showing the good stuff we're showing if it wasn't a combination of the engine that we built for Legend -- or that we had since before Legend -- and retooled for the next generation stuff with the new render engine and the new physics engine.
We've refactored a lot of the code and added a whole bunch of new layers onto it. It was a combination of both our legacy code and all the work we put into our proprietary engine that lets us show as good as we can.
There is a big debate right now, I would say, between licensing tech and rolling your own. A lot of people feel that if you license, you can get to prototyping right away, but a lot of other people feel like, "Well, why would we pay someone else to do something that we can do better and tailor for our game?" Where do you feel you are on that line?
EL: It's different every time. What's really important is for you to sit down and determine what's valuable early on in your preproduction. There are certain types of gameplay that you really need to prototype early, and you're going to be able to get that in an engine which you can get off the shelf.
In fact, you can even pursue a strategy of both, because a lot of times you're prototyping gameplay on the screen and not the code itself. So making an internal engine is a huge undertaking, and is very difficult to do in parallel with game development. So it really has pros and cons both ways. You just need to establish what you need to do and follow that course.
But for you guys, you seem pretty committed to doing your own right now. I've been very interested to see those companies that feel that way. Insomniac is another. It's a bit more of the old guard "can do" attitude, in a way. Do you see that being how you're going to do it, going forward? Your own tech, that is?
EL: We're building up a codebase and have been building up a codebase that we intend to go forward for a long time throughout the organization. We've actually broadened the penetration of our codebase into all of the studios of the organization.
The more that we do that, the better off we are, because we have put so much functionality into this code as it stands, and we have a greater understanding of it because it's internally generated.
We're in a really good position now. Starting that effort today? It's pretty daunting. I might have a different answer if you asked me if I would like to start that, than I am now saying we're already at the part where we can pull the fruit off the tree now.
You're doing content sharing within the Eidos studios? Are you getting stuff back from other groups as well?
EL: We're doing code sharing. We're starting up content sharing, but we're early on, so we're probably going to be providing more than we're receiving at this point.
Do you have to have a dedicated team dealing with that?
EL: Oh yeah. We have a huge technology group in the building that is dedicated to this engine.
I've seen them. Would you ever consider licensing it?
EL: I would! (laughter) I don't know if we currently have plans for that. I would doubt it, but you never know.
It seems to be an intriguing side business for many of the people that are going that route these days. But then there are people like Insomniac that are trying to do some free kinds of sharing. I don't know how you feel about that sort of stuff. It feels like a lot of people don't have the time to do that sort of real, free, creative tech side collaboration, but it would be really great if someday we could get to a place where all the tools were really similar. With a movie editing suite, you know what to expect.
EL: Absolutely. The day we get plug-and-play in each others' tech and toolsets, we will be able to turn around games faster or make them better without all of the ramp-up time. That'll be huge.
That's the day creativity will rule.
Eidos/Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider Underworld
With a game like this, there's so much fan expectation. How do you measure that against what you really want to do creatively with the series?
EL: Luckily, I'm one of those fans, so I don't have to worry about coming in cold and not understanding the values of the franchise. So all of the fans want to protect elements that they love, and I'm right there with them.
I want to protect those things too, but things have to evolve, and that's why we really did the analysis of "What does everyone like about tomb raiding? What do they like about Lara Croft adventures?"
It's not in the details. It's in the feelings. And by bringing modern gameplay to generate those feelings, it makes me happy, and it makes a lot of the fans happy from what we've seen so far on the forums.
Figuring out what people want from the experience, is that where that sliding scale of combat versus exploration came from?
EL: It is. That was one of our riskier propositions going in, because it could very easily lead to kitchen sink design, if you're not careful. People are not in the business of designing games. They're in the business of playing games. We're in the business of designing games.
But I believe that there should be the latitude for people to be able to personalize it and emphasize the type of play that they wanted.
That will appeal to more fans, because there are plenty of fans out there who have very strong feelings about the combat versus the exploration. To give them the ability to tailor that experience is a part of making people happy with the Tomb Raider game in ways that they couldn't before.