Interview with Toby GardBy David Jenkins
Confounding Factor was formed in April 1997 by Toby Gard and Paul Douglas. Coming soon after their outstanding success as the creators of Tomb Raider and the iconic Lara Croft they were quickly signed up by Interplay for a multi-title, world-wide, publishing deal.
Now based in Bristol, England the team is well advanced in its work on Confounding Factor's first game. Now re-monikered as Galleon this third-person action adventure will cast players in the role of Captain Rhama Sabrier; legendary mariner, warrior and cartographer.
Due for release in Winter 1999, the game is expected to be one of the biggest releases of the year and a sure-fire Christmas number one.
Toby Gard was responsible for the design and original concept of Tomb Raider. Not only was he lead graphic artist for the game but he was also responsible for the creation of Lara Croft - easily one of the most recognisable videogame characters in history.
He, together with Tomb Raider's lead programmer Paul Douglas, left Core Design amidst some controversy to set-up their own development company. Now Gard and Douglas together are recognized as one of the most critically and commercially successful European developer teams working today.
History will judge Tomb Raider to have been one of the most influence games of its generation, how exactly does that make you feel? Does it bother you that Lara Croft herself has become more famous than the actual game, and certainly more so than Paul and yourself?
I can't say that it does bother me to be honest. After all, who is more famous Bob Kane or Batman? At the end of the day we're creating entertainment and hopefully entertainment that people will really enjoy. I think I'd be a lot more upset if no one had liked Tomb Raider enough to really get into Lara's character.
How do you feel about the constant sequels to Tomb Raider? Judging by the last one, and what's been seen of the next, the innovation that marked the original seems to be almost completely lacking. If you had been involved in the sequel would you have approached things in the same way?
People are only interested in playing sequels if they haven't had enough of the first one or if they haven't played the first one and hope that the sequel will be better. In order to keep both audiences happy you can't stray too far from the original concept but at the same time you have to add enough freshness to keep people from saying that it's just a rehash. Which I'm sure you can appreciate is a difficult balance to obtain. As for what I would have done with the sequels? I think I would have concentrated on fixing some of the gameplay problems that we never had time to address in the first one.
You're on record as saying you're not really happy with some of the sleazier aspects of the Tomb Raider marketing machine. Do you take the relative failure of other copy-cat "cybertarts", such as Niki from Pandemonium or Red Lotus from Deathtrap Dungeon, to mean that OTT computer babes are not an automatic draw. What was it about Lara that worked so well and does this mean there'll be no semi-naked women in Galleon?
It was never the intention to create some kind of 'page 3' girl to star in Tomb Raider. The idea was to create a female character who was a heroine, you know, cool, collected, in control, that sort of thing. The problem with those other games is that the female characters are actually there for purely exploitative purposes. I know you could argue that Lara with her comic book style over-the top figure is exploitative, but I don't agree. I think it's ridiculous to say that portraying stylised people is degrading. You can represent an over the top hero figure by augmenting characteristics like a jutting jaw, wide shoulders, thin waist etc. and that is not degrading to men. It may well be a stereotype, but it seems to me that people are overanalysing this whole thing. It's pretty simple, if women in a game are only there to be the equivalent of quiz show floozies then they are being portrayed in a sexist way. When it comes to Galleon there are all sorts of women in the Galleon world, just as there are all sorts of men.
One can't finish talking about Tomb Raider without asking the most obvious question: why were so many of the enemies in Tomb Raider endangered species? Is cruelty to animals a hobby of yours or did Ralph Harris run off with your wife or something? Can we expect a bunch of dolphins to cop it in Galleon, or perhaps a spot of whaling as a sub-game?
Errr… yeah. I'll give you that one. Well the explanation's dead simple really. I wanted the game to start of with enemies that were reasonably realistic so that the player could begin to believe in the Tomb Raider world and hopefully be more surprised when it all went weird at the end. The problem was that we knew it would be really hard to put in lots of believable human characters because they'd be so immobile in comparison to Lara. I'm also not keen on just mindlessly killing humans in games anyway. So it had to be dangerous animals. The problem is that any animal that's dangerous to humans we've already hunted to near extinction. Maybe we should have use non-endangered, harmless animals. Then you'd be asking me, "Why was Lara shooting all those nice Bunnies and Squirrels?" You just can't win can you?
Why exactly did you leave Core? Were there any specific reasons, or did you simply feel you now had the means, and the recognition, to go it alone? Do you regret anything about the decision now?
Paul and I left Core Design because we wanted to do something new. Partly it was a wish for more extensive control over marketing and PR decisions and partly it was because we felt that we were no longer being given the creative freedom at Core that we had enjoyed while making Tomb Raider. I enjoyed my time at Core Design and I was sad to leave, but it just felt like a good time to go it alone. I don't regret that decision at all.
Like it or not but you were lumped in with all the other teams that left big companies, such as Bullfrog and Rare, the same time you did. Was there something particularly offensive going on at the big software house at that time or was it all just a coincidence? How do you think the companies reacted to it all? Are they now all holding onto their internal teams like grim death?
Our decision to set up on our own was not influenced by any outside events so it is a coincidence. The truth is I have no idea how the big software houses reacted.
What are you thoughts on the traditional way development teams work. Are external teams necessarily better than internal ones? What's the optimum size for a team working on an interesting, original, game?
I'm not entirely sure what the optimal size of the team is. We had a core team of 6 for Tomb Raider and we're looking for a maximum of 10 for Galleon. Much bigger than that and someone or some people would have to spend all their time organising everyone instead of working themselves.
What about finding the right team members? Did you have any trouble yourself when setting up the company? How did you cope with the difficulty of putting together a small team of people from scratch and how did you avoid the inevitable clashes of ego and personality?
Putting together the right team is the most difficult thing we had to do. It took us almost a year to gather the team of 7 we have now. Luckily we have an incredibly talented and dedicated team. When it comes to ego clashes it's all a matter of being reasonable at the end of the day. There's nothing wrong with a good logical argument over game elements as long as the people involved are mature enough not to get into a strop, lose their temper or storm out.
The concept of Britsoft seems rather flawed, as there doesn't really seem to be any universal constant in the content of most British games. Do you think British software is distinctive enough, or are we trying to hard to beat the Americans and Japanese at their own games?
Well, Japanese software is distinctive because of the way that the Manga style permeates Japanese artwork so completely. In America and Europe we enjoy a far broader range of artistic influences. Consequently British games are very varied in style. I think that's a really good thing. If you wanted to classify what Britsoft produces you wouldn't be able to pigeon hole it because there are so many unique visions out there.
That's true to a degree but there was never a chance that something like Duke Nukem 3D came from any country on Earth but America. Even things like Command & Conquer and EA Sports games - with their rawk guitars and glitzy presentation - are identifiably American. With a very few exceptions there doesn't seem to be a lot of games around nowadays that are so identifiably British. This must be a conscious decision on the parts of developers, surely?
I can't really speak for anyone but myself on this, but I'd say no. I can at least say categorically that I don't think about whether a game is going to be British enough while I'm designing it.
What can we expect from Galleon, your first game as Confounding Factor? What interests you in terms of gameplay and graphics at the moment, and what sort of goals will you be pursuing in those regards?
What you can expect is for it to be different from what other people are doing, different from Tomb Raider and hopefully pretty amazing. We're still a year away from completion and have a long way to go before the game is in a playable state. It is a third person game but we intend to achieve far more with it than we could have hoped to achieve in our last game. In making Tomb Raider we learned an awful lot from our mistakes and even the parts that worked well, we know how to improve them. Galleon is not a progression from Tomb Raider, It is simply what Tomb Raider should have been.
Did Tomb Raider fall far short of your original vision then? Were there some gameplay elements that perhaps you didn't have time to fit in, but which will now be appearing in Galleon? Also, one has to ask but just how much of influence was Prince of Persia? It does seem to have a lot in common with the basic gameplay mechanics.
Tomb Raider turned out pretty damn well because we specced it fairly low. Gameplay elements In Tomb Raider were deliberately kept simple. In Galleon we have a much more flexible system and so we can have a greater variety of gameplay elements. Prince of Persia was an enormous influence. It was the first and still one of an incredibly small minority of games where the main character is believable, because he moves seamlessly in his environment.
Perhaps it's just the pirate setting bringing to mind Monkey Island but will the new game be a straight action game or will there also be a more cohesive storyline and proper puzzles - the sort of things you seemed to be experimenting with in TR, but which appear lost from the sequel. Do you feel there is a danger of console games being dumbed-down for the mass market? It seems a long time since we've had a popular game that actually requires much more than a couple of brain cells.
Yes, Galleon is all about story and puzzles. It's going to be like an adventure game but with far snazzier action elements than TR.
Do you make anything by the fact that Tomb Raider II was number one on the PC last Christmas (beating Quake II) whereas on the PlayStation it was actually second to FIFA 98. Does this say anything profound about the users or does it simply prove that all PC owners are spotty geeks and that Lara is the closet they get to a real woman? How much attention do you pay to the demographics of the various hardware users and how much truth do you feel there is in the traditional images of PC, PS-X and N64 owners?
I think market research can lead you astray so I don't pay much attention to it at all really. I'm a believer that if a game is accessible, captures the imagination and is well executed then it will do well. The trouble is that basing your predictions of what sells in the computer games market on last year's figures is practically useless. Things change so fast in just six months. Also I get the feeling that it's a bit of a self fulfilling prophesy that console owners want just action and PC owners want just strategy. Its because publishers and developers buy into that kind of nonsense that the two markets are so flooded with those types of games and so lacking their opposite. Seems to me that many people choose whether to buy a PC or a PlayStation mainly on the relative cost and whether they have needs for a PC for other purposes. There is no reason to believe that someone who has bought a PlayStation wants to be limited to playing a certain type of game. I think its the same for the other platforms too.
What do you make of Sega's Dreamcast? Core were famous as being very loyal to Sega - was that just a corporate thing or did you developers feel the same way about the company?
The Dreamcast is exceptionally good, and if Sony doesn't do something about it fairly swiftly then they deserve to be utterly trounced by Sega.
Finally, who would YOU cast as Lara in the Tomb Raider movie?
Carol Vorderman. No! Salma Hayek. I think she's the only woman in the world with the figure for it. It would probably be best to computer generate her though or pick one of the female Hong Kong action stars, at least they'd be able to reproduce the moves.
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