We talk to brand manager Karl Stewart about why it decided to restart the franchise, comparisons with reboots in other media, and the Metroid-like progression.
It was halfway through Tomb Raider: Underworld that you wanted to do this reboot. What triggered it?
"I think on the honest side Tomb Raider had been around for so long you sort of get into that funnel vision of, 'Here's what our game is and this is what it stands for'.
"When we as gamers get excited and start playing other games, and start looking at other entertainment mediums like movies and TV shows, we start to realise we need to shake it up a bit, we need to make our game fresh.
Tomb Raider has been and will be very successful, but I think it reached a point in time when we needed to do something very different, very new and very unique.
"Given the successes of other entertainment properties, such as Batman and James Bond subsequently afterwards, we saw the potential to be able to go back and tell our origin story that could be very special and very unique, and would allow us to be able to bring a different perspective to the franchise that could help set the foundation for the next 10, 15 years."
You specifically mention movie reboots - did you style it around how movies reboot characters and franchises?
"No, I think the studies that I did personally when I moved up to the studio to work with Darrell [Gallagher, head of Crystal Dynamics] personally on where we go with the franchise, I did a lot of studying on things like Batman, James Bond, Superman and the Hulk, and to be honest there isn't an exact science or formula to it because each property is different in a unique way.
"You take Batman for instance, it's got comic books, it's got video games, movies and cartoon shows, and all the rest of this stuff, so therefore it's ingrained into people, they know.
"Whereas James Bond and it's just been movies. James Bond has been around for so long as a character and he's been culturally relevant at a point in time, like in Licence to Kill, and getting the woman at the end, and then you move that forward 20 years and you give it to Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton and you try and do the same thing and people go, 'Nah, that feels cheesy.'
"They had to change it up and make the personality of the character shine and show James Bond getting his ass-kicked and nearly dying. That was just their example of rebooting and how they did it in the first 20 minutes, they set the tone of this character and throughout the movie they evolve it.
"Whereas Batman was the first third of the movie, but he had to become Batman. So for us it wasn't a case of looking at the properties and going, 'There's a formula there', it was a case of people understanding. People know what we're trying to achieve is more about bringing a very different perspective, but still making it familiar, yet different.
"I think we take inspiration from many [things]... there has been great successes, but there are also terrible failures. How many Hulks have there been? Even now when I watch The Avengers now I want to play or even watch a Hulk movie, because they've set it up in a great tone, to be able to say this is quite possibly the future of their franchise for the Hulk because they've just taken a different perspective.
"There's definitely no formula, but we did do a lot of research I can tell you, meticulous research on what people have done."
It also sounds like the reason why this was rebooted was because audience expectations have changed?
"Definitely. When we look at the time we launched Underworld you had some really great games out, like Assassin's Creed and Gears of War, you could see where the bar of triple-A was going, and you can see when you compare apples to apples, one was awesome and one was kind of cool, and the fans loved it and continued to love that style of game but we realised that we probably couldn't continue down that path
"We needed to - I wouldn't say just change it up just for the sake of changing it up - but we needed to sustain the future of the franchise, and that meant raising the bar."
Is this reboot like a precursor to the existing Tomb Raider games or a complete new start?
"No, this is a complete start from fresh. Again, the great example when we talk about Batman, is Adam West, George Clooney and Michael Keaton, they're the Batmans of yesteryear and now you watch Batman and it's still inherently Batman. but it's a fresh approach to this new timeline for him.
"Lara is the exact same, we kind of know that Tomb Raider 1 all the way through to Angel of Darkness and Legend, Anniversary and Underworld, that was a Lara of our time. That's what people love.
"Tomb Raider 1 is very different from Underworld so you can see how they've moved on but they kept the storyline, they kept the character style.
"For us we want to make sure that people see we've kept what inherently makes Tomb Raider Tomb Raider, but we've made it relevant from a day one scenario, from now on this is the girl you will see. When you take the examples of James Bond, Batman, it's very easy to see that you can still be the character, but you just make it culturally relevant for today's audience."
You've mentioned the future of the franchise. With everything you're doing in this game. are you very conscious of the character designs and the decisions you make, and that there might be repercussions later? Is there a case that you have to get it right now?
"I think when we talk about setting the foundations it's very important that we do things such as making the character feel more human and look more human.
"We don't believe you can portray emotional and intimate experiences like we have with the first kill with a caricature from yesteryear. Then even down to small things when we talk about Roth or her parents or anything like that, we have to be very careful that we don't get away from what we're trying to present on the screen, but also that there's the plots in there that we can expand when we want to expand them.
"We've studied a lot of movies and a lot of TV shows and that's where... TV shows are a great example because we take inspiration from, nowadays we live in a world where we can download a series, and it's like ten episodes so that's 10 hours.
"At the end we go, 'Holy crap'. The ups and downs, there's the plotlines, we didn't realise that this person at the beginning would become this person at the end. My favourites are Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, and we're trying to take that into a game.
"So we're like, 'Imagine you're doing season five and this game is just season one'. We have to make sure that there is enough in there for you to have set the foundation for the rest of those seasons, and that's very important to us.
"Even I - as developer - am watching it, and I know the decisions we have made to place certain things in there, right now people have no idea. That's what's great, right?
"And games out there have done it very well like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, where you kind of realise, 'Ah, I remember, I remember doing that before, and that makes sense. That's plot lines, that's what's awesome."
A big part of the old Tomb Raider games was the supernatural element. Does that feature in that game?
"No, we tried to pull back on that quite a lot to bring in more the mystery of the island and keep it as real as possible. You can see it play out there with these scavengers and the people who are here.
"They worship something, the Sun Queen and Himiko, which is their thing, but you're dealing with the scavengers, you're dealing with people that want to kill you given the first opportunity. So we try not to get into the fantasy, because that dilutes the realism that we are trying to portray in the character. It's important we keep that intimacy with the character and don't pull away from it."
I believe that this is the first time in the series that you've had a permanent location...
"Yeah, that was a very important decision for us, because Lara's globetrotting around the world and has met loads of people, and as a result you kind of love the fact that there are those kind of experiences but you never got to know her intimately, you never got to know her personality.
"So the decision we made to put her on this island was not only wanting to tell a great, deep story but also she has to deal with the same people on many different levels. So the interaction with those people shows many different facets of the character that we'd never seen before.
"It's also a great Pandora's Box for us to be able to say, 'When she goes to a certain place and when she goes there that will evolve', and you come back to it and you can say, 'Wow, I'm getting that story'.
"It's like a TV series being set in the same town, you don't move from town to town around the world, you keep it in that town, because you get to meet more people and understand and the story builds and builds. Having it move from town to town would just dilute what the hell is going on."
You've discussed gear gating for previous areas. It sounds almost Metroid-esque - was that a conscious choice?
"Yeah. We looked at the idea that we wanted to be an explorer, we want to be able to get out there and find other mysteries, and we tried to figure a way to be able to do that.
"We're not an open-world game so we don't really have the opportunity to just keep moving back, so gear gating was a great way to allow us to say, 'When you come in you have a focus of a story. We want you to move from plotline A to B to C, but you're building in these huge areas'. Why would you want to come back into them?
"Then we thought about the additional mysteries, we're trying to keep the equipment she has to a minimum and we're trying to make sure it's multi-faceted. So the climbing axe allows you to do about three or four different things, from prying open stuff to melee, climbing and protection.
"Then we thought, 'What if you could upgrade those things. and come back into those spaces?' So gear gating allows us to add a level of replayability, a second mystery going on in the island. As soon as we did it we were like, 'Damn, that's just like Metroid!' And there's tons of things in there like that.
"We take inspiration from movies and experiences inside of movies, such as the tunnel in last year's demo where she's come up close and she's got the fire behind her. Watch Rambo's First Blood and you get that sense that you've seen it somewhere before, so it feels kind of comfortable. You're like, 'I know that would happen', but it still makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck because [you think], 'This is awesome'.
"With Metroid I certainly wouldn't be as specific as to say we played Metroid and that was it, but we had a conscious decision of, 'How do we get back in and replay other areas?' And subconsciously you're like, 'I've done that, I've played that somewhere before and it works'.
"Then you're like, 'S**t, I remember that back from when we played Metroid, or Rez or Half-Life 2 or whatever it may be.'"
You announced timed exclusive DLC at E3. Why do that and what are the benefits?
"So obviously being up onstage at a Microsoft conference, obviously we've got DLC. We had the opportunity to sort of say, 'We're doing something unique [at Microsoft's press conference] and something more'.
"As I said, it's a timed piece of content. It's still early in the process for us, we haven't fleshed out the full stories and what we're going to do. What we're saying is you will be able to play the game from start to finish, and the DLC will not feel like it's a chunk of the game taken out. It will be unique to what's happening after the story.
"I think it's important to show people that we're actively looking at how to expand. In this day and age, people have an expectation and an expectation of playing DLC is one, so for us there's tons of mystery on the island, which - even in a ten-plus hour game - it's going to be hard to answer everything.
"So it's going to be great to be able to look at those experiences and how to bring them to life afterwards."
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Tomb Raider will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC worldwide from March 5, 2013.