Tomb Raider Multiplayer Interview - "We Know Exactly What You Guys Went Through"
Written Friday, January 25, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Tomb Raider is being re-invented; with a new-look Lara, a new origin story and a new, gruesome aesthetic. But that’s not the only thing that’s new about the British heroine's latest outing. Multiplayer is also being introduced to the series for the very first time, courtesy of Deus Ex developer, Eidos Montreal.
In this interview with producer Joe Khoury, we got the chance to ask why the 17 year-old franchise is adopting multiplayer, how it ties in with the game's single-player campaign and how it feels to spend two years of your life working on something that many fans don't really want.
Before we get into that, however, we highly recommend that you read our hands-on preview with the game’s Rescue mode. It’ll help put some of the more specific information discussed later on into more perspective.
First question, and rather an obvious one, why multiplayer?
Obviously. First question I get at every interview *laughs*.
For us to answer that, I could say why not? Right? But the idea, for us anyway, was to investigate if it COULD work, because it’s a franchise that stands extremely well on its own with Lara’s story in the single-player.
But at first, Crystal Dynamics - focusing specifically on single-player - had an idea about how players would play co-operatively in multiplayer together, because they did Guardian of Light before.
So as soon as the re-imagining of the new Tomb Raider came to be, there was an interest in doing multiplayer, but with everything that had to happen on Lara’s side and the single-player storytelling side, they didn’t want to split their resources.
That’s where investing in another studio came to be, because there were some pillars in the game - both high level and lower level - that could make for an interesting multiplayer experience. That’s where we came in.
We had talks with Crystal, evaluated what was being done in this re-imagining, and making sure that if we were to do it we were to do it right. Because we’re fans of the franchise too and we didn’t believe in just doing something for the sake of doing something.
So the major themes of survival, the theme of Lara being stranded on an island, with shipmates on the island that she has to re-group with and these scavengers that are on the island preventing you from leaving. .. and the island itself being a threat - we felt that we had some interesting tools to work with.
And then going down a level lower, looking at the mechanics that are in there - like the axe climb, the bow, the weapon variety that we have, the traversal, zip-lining up and down - made for another layer that would be interesting for variations in every match.
So all of these elements came to be and then we said well, it could be something that’s fun, especially if you take into consideration the environmental effects and all that stuff. It could be a stepping stone for people that have played the single-player before and enjoyed the single-player campaign and then maybe wanna play a little bit more and have some experiences with their friends.
And that’s how it took off.
The community response to the multiplayer announcement was interesting. A lot of people were surprised. It means that you’re starting from a position where some people are skeptical about it, before they’ve even seen it. How are you going to win them over?
We’re going to win them over because we went through that same thought process. Being in Montreal, we have tons of opportunities to work on great projects as well. If we didn’t feel that strongly about this and knowing what we know today and making the choices that we’ve made, we’ve answered the questions that provide players the answers when they play it.
Originally, we really had to think hard on how to do this right. And think about how to make it feel different and how to give it enough spice for it to feel like it belongs in the same world.
Multiplayer is the kinda stuff that you can only really judge when you sit and play it. As much as I can tell you that this is the goal of this mode, this is how you do it on this map, it’s really about just playing it. And hopefully, when people start playing it there’ll be enough people talking about it in the right way that they’ll invite their friends and have some experiences that will encourage more people to join in.
What’s it like from a personal point of view? It must be hard to work really hard on something for two years and discover that some people are against even the idea of it.
Yeah, we were expecting it. Because again we knew that it was a franchise that people have very fond memories of. I still have memories of Tomb Raider 2 in 1996, so it is different, it is new, it is stepping into a new generation of gamers as well.
But as you can tell by the way I am reacting, I’m not surprised and I am looking forward to seeing their actual reactions when they play it. And there’ll be people that will love it and there’ll be people that will maybe move onto something else, but generally speaking we set out to do something that was fitting for the franchise that would allow players to enjoy playing as some of the characters they’ve gotten to know in single-player. And if that’s what they want then hopefully we can deliver that.
Do you think that a game like Tomb Raider, with a campaign that isn't vast like an RPG, can perform well on its own without multiplayer?
Yes, absolutely. I think that this Tomb Raider specifically can perform, hopefully will perform, perfectly on its own. And that’s what people want. People want to know how Lara becomes what she becomes. And there’s so much depth and heart put into that. I think that story in itself and the path the player takes will make the single-player stand on its own, hopefully, very well.
And then, when we come into play, it’s not necessarily... it's an extra layer of gameplay, a very different layer of gameplay, that the players will talk about in a different way than they talk about the single-player.
Single-players are going to talk about what they went through with Lara, they’re gonna see her become the hero that she. In the multiplayer they’ll talk about the moment-to-moment experience they’ve had, a very tight match that they’ve had, imagine like a sports event, how tight you are, how on the egde of the seat you are - your favourite team is down two goals and all of a sudden then come back and tie it up.
That’s the kind of talk that we want. And as players evolve, as they level up, the matches get a little trickier, you start to get used to the maps, you start to see the different options you have every time you play, and again more stories come up.
You mentioned something earlier about how the multiplayer was designed to stay true to the re-imagined single-player. Could you expand upon that for me please?
Yeah, we felt that the mechanics that worked very well in the single-player could be elaborated on in the multiplayer.
So axe-climbing, instead of there being two directions that you can axe-climb in, we’ve got four directions that you can axe-climb in, or maybe different paths on different maps that offer you different levels of verticality, different options to take on every map, and at the same time the weapon choices that we bought in from single-player as well.
Basically all these pillars that we thought made single-player so interesting and different and fresh, we were able to start with that bed for multiplayer as well.
So the pick axe again, you can use it to hide in multiplayer. You can use a pick axe on a pillar to hide yourself while your enemy sits there and looks for you. So using mechanics that have worked in single-player to offer variety in multiplayer.
We played Rescue today [here’s our hands-on write up - Ed]. What can you tell us about the other modes that you’ve got lined up?
Right now, nothing. No. The focus that we have right now is on Rescue, on Team Deathmatch...
You have announced other modes though.
We’ve announced them, but we haven’t expanded on them. So you know there’ll be some that are easy to jump into and some that are a little more objective-based, but trust me we’re excited to see how people will react to those as well.
But right now it’s our first step and we wanna take a look and embrace our reaction to that first step.
Going back to Rescue then. We played two matches during our demo earlier. I felt like it’s more immediate to play the Scavengers, because you just have to shoot people...
That’s not just what you’ve gotta do.
You have to shoot 20 people, that’s the objective.
But you’ve got to finish them off, or you don’t get the points.
Ah, yeah you’ve got to finish them off, that's right.
So that’s a big risk and reward. If you want all 20 points you’ve got to go up in person, while the downed player still has his weapon and can shoot you back. It’s the secondary weapon, the handgun, but it’s still pretty lethal when he has a straight aim on you. So it’s a very tight situation where you might be able to finish him off...
Yeah, I got killed by a downed player a few times. I’m interested in that process of balancing though. Is it just a case of sitting down and playing it, and tweaking as you go?
No. I wish it was that simple. We have eight map systems, which other people have as well, where we look at where people are struggling or having a hard time getting through a particular area. The ideal map is something that looks like there’s a good spread of difficult points and easy points and once there’s a choke point in some area, you can maybe feel that frustration settles in. And the little adjustments that you have, allow for completely different results.
So yeah for sure, there’s a big part of it which is changing, testing, changing, testing... sometimes you get so caught up in that day-to-day stuff that you need to take a second opinion. That’s where play-testing comes in.
One of the other interesting things is the various traps that are littered around the place. I got squished a few times.
Yeah, the spike traps.
Right. Yeah and I got hung upside down by a noose. Are the traps going to be the same across all the different maps or will you have different ones?
Yup, we’ve got different ones for different maps. We take the general environmental theme of each map to design some of these traps. There are some that come back, so the snare trap might be available, the spike trap might be available on certain maps, maybe not on others. We don’t force them into areas where we feel they don’t belong.
On the other hand we do set different traps that might have different results on different maps.
Are you allowed to tell me about any of them?
Not yet. But I like the curiosity. I wanna feel like there’s an interest there, for sure!
The other slightly different thing is the ability to call in sandstorms. Again, is that on every map and across every game mode, how does that work?
There’s a game-changer on every map. And don’t ask me what it is because I want to keep that a surprise too.
Triggering the game changers is also a surprise in that it encourages exploration, so even in a situation where it looks like it could be obvious, what the effect might be, actually triggering it is something where trial and error might be a good idea.
What about post-release support, what have you got lined up? I’m not talking about DLC, I’m talking about event-based support to keep the players coming back?
That’s a good question. We probably will. I can’t really define what yet but odds are we’ll definitely have things like that.
OK, so last question. And please understand that the line of questioning I’ve pursued is because the community reaction has been so strong. If you could send the naysayers one message, tell them one thing to win them over, what would it be?
Very simply put: We know exactly what you guys went through in the way that you initially reacted and what you thought about the idea at first. And know that, after we’d gone through the thought process, we did break it down a lot deeper than just saying it has multiplayer.
A lot of thought has gone into the modes and maps and everything, even if at first it just seems like a simple multiplayer mode we highly recommend that you give it a shot, give it a try. In between single-player sessions, get some friends together and see. See how tight the games are, how they feel about it and once you’ve done that we’d love to hear how you feel about it as well.
Joe, thanks for your time.
Tomb Raider is out on March 5th, 2013.