GamesCom 2012: Our Tomb Raider Interview with Meagan Marie
“Everyone seems to be tied up at the moment, but our Community Manager, Meagan Marie should be available for an interview here in a minute.”
“Oh…um. Ok. That…that sounds great,” I reply.
As if it wasn’t hot enough already in Cologne! I proceed to sweat even more than I already was. I didn’t know what to expect for my first interview ever. Here I was in Cologne, Germany getting to experience what it was like to be part of the press at GamesCom! I was led into an empty room and sat down to wait. I was expecting to sit down with a developer from Crystal Dynamics, ask the questions that I had ready and go with the flow. My small amount of confidence was demolished by the news that I would be interviewing someone that I considered a celebrity!
So yes, I had the amazing privilege of sitting down with Meagan Marie, the Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics to talk about the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot…and I was absolutely terrified. I quickly discovered, however, that my nervousness was completely unwarranted. Meagan Marie was amazing, extremely friendly and totally disarming. It was obvious that she was excited about GamesCom, and very passionate about Tomb Raider. She was also very very caffeinated. I went from visibly shaking to laughing and having a blast within minutes.
So here it is, for your entertainment and enjoyment, my interview with the one and only Meagan Marie!
Can you explain how the new Tomb Raider has evolved from the classic Tomb Raider games?
We are trying to absolutely keep the core of what made Tomb Raider great back in 1996 and just update it. At the heart of the experience, we are still going to have the same pillars of gameplay, but we’re reimagining them through a lens of survival and that’s probably the one definitive thing that is the most unique about this game.
We look at the pillars of gameplay which are combat, exploration and traversal, and puzzle solving and we update those through a more modern, mature, and emotional story. How do you make combat feel like it’s desperate and an act of necessity instead of an actual sport? How do you make traversal and exploration feel like it’s motivated by the will to live and will to survive? Same thing with the puzzle solving. How do you move that from the more slightly contrived concept of levers and pressure plates, you know, that sort of really structured puzzle solving to a more of an organic situation for a resourceful Lara to analyze and find her way through? That’s probably the biggest change, but at the core we are definitely trying to retain what makes Tomb Raider and Lara Croft great.
I’ve heard people actually using the term “survival-horror” when talking about the direction of the new Tomb Raider. Do you feel Tomb Raider fits somewhere between an action game and a survival based game?
I’ve definitely heard the same thing, that some people are thinking that we’re moving more into the survival-horror space. We consider it more survival action-adventure; basically action-adventure through that lens of survival. We’re not using scare tactics and creatures to try and frighten you as maybe in a traditional survival-horror game. The game is absolutely terrifying in some situations, but it’s more because of these scenarios that Lara Croft finds herself in because the island is very hostile. It’s not just Lara either. The rest of her shipmates are going to find themselves in these perilous and unfortunate situations. The survival lens that you’ll be looking through does make some semi-scary situations for the characters.
Have you played the demo yet?
No, not yet. I’m hoping to get in to see it today before the lines get out of hand.
Oh, you have to later! Some of the new features we are really excited about are the light RPG elements and hunting; things that haven’t traditionally been in classic Tomb Raider games and it’s our way of updating it and making the game more modern. In the demo we have a little hunting area where you can gain XP and you can use that XP to level up what we call survival skills. Then there’s also a ‘salvage system’ that allows you to find salvage and upgrade and change equipment. It’s something that’s very fresh to the Tomb Raider franchise and we’re really excited about it.
Speaking of the hunting aspect; will there be any hunting situations that might backfire on Lara? Maybe some competition from a more dangerous animal?
Well we have some wolves who are pretty ruthless, and what’s great about the wolves is that’s kind of a classic element that’s brought back. Right in the first Tomb Raider you have wolves attacking you almost instantly in the game, so I love that aspect of it. We’re not going to reveal too much more about the enemies on the island just yet other than the very persistent wolves. There’s deer and…and (sigh)there’s rabbits…(sadface)there’s little bunnies.
The first time you hunt we use it more for narrative and character development. You know you need to shoot the deer because Lara needs to survive; she needs food. From then on you can choose if that’s a mechanic that you want to build upon. You can stop and hunt to gain XP, you can stop and explore an area more. There’s a lot of rewards for exploration in this game.
So it’s a little less linear and more open for exploration?
We do have a very open system. We actually call it a hub system. This is another thing that’s new to our vision of Tomb Raider. Whenever Lara has discovered a new base camp, she’ll have the ability later to fast travel back to different base camps that she has explored. It’s a way of allowing the player to actually evolve with Lara’s character arc. When she starts off shipwrecked on the island, she is only armed with her wits and her will to survive. She has no tools. In the demo, she’s strung upside-down captured in this scavenger den. As she evolves and finds more tools, as she starts to learn and grow as a character, she’ll gain new abilities and be able to access different areas that you were unable to traverse the first time. The fast travel allows you to go back to these areas. Maybe you saw a point of interest which you couldn’t originally explore. You can go back and re-explore. We have these really big open hubs with lots of surprises to discover.
Can you tell me more about the storyline?
Well this is a reboot, not a prequel. This is a totally new story; the canon of the past Tomb Raider games doesn’t apply. She’s not going to meet the same mentors, the same people, and have the same adventures. This is a fresh perspective. She’s 21 come launch day, she’s fresh out of the University and on her first expedition. She’s aboard a ship called The Endurance and they are out off the coast of Japan to an area called the Dragon’s Triangle. A giant freak storm hits them, it cleaves the ship in two, and she’s washed overboard.
In the first trailer, it ends with Lara tending to her wounds and she’s surrounded by shipwrecks and plane crashes. Is there a subtle fantasy aspect to this version of Tomb Raider?
That’s one of the questions we get a lot! As you’ve seen in the trailer, she comes out on this shipwreck vista. She sees that there’s a lot more to this island than what meets the eye at first, because this vista is filled with ships and aircraft from all of these different periods of time and cultures. So there’s definitely a mystery at the heart of this island. A lot of people keep asking, “What’s the mystery of the island?” I’m not going to tell you! You have to play the game! It’s a very interesting stage and that’s one of the things that we really focused on, to have a single persistent location to have the story play out on. The character arc is easier to do in a single location. This allows for one stage for this drama to play out on. The island is a great backdrop for a lot of interesting narrative plot points. It’s very diverse, so the environments are really cool. Everything from the shipwrecks to beach areas to WW2 bunk areas; the island has a lot of personality.
I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted series. It seems like Tomb Raider is going for a little bit more realism when it comes to killing or taking a person’s life.
I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted series. I think any Tomb Raider fan loves Uncharted. But we’re really trying to motivate Lara’s actions. For combat, we don’t want it to feel like sport. We want to make sure that she’s motivated. And it’s a really fine line; it’s a hard thing to do. You don’t want the game to be slow, you don’t want the action to start too late in the game. She has to kill her first animal, and after that she’s captured and has to take her first human life, and that’s traumatic. I don’t think anyone could be the same after that. So you get to that moment where she has to become proactive instead of reactive. If she doesn’t, then the island is going to take the best of her. It’s all about motivating and making sure the combat feels like an act of necessity constantly throughout the game.
I’m guessing that’s also how the other friendlier characters come into play? Her shipmates for example?
Well, she definitely has a strong connection to some of them. Sam is one of the characters we introduced. She is one of the reason’s the expedition was funded in the first place and she’s very close to Lara. You’re also going to see that Lara feels somewhat responsible for going to this specific island. Lara is going to try and take responsibility and gets kind of aggressive defending them since she in a way feels responsible for them being put in harm’s way.
It’s interesting seeing the interaction between Lara and the other characters. As much as I appreciate all of the moments that have that sense of isolation, I really enjoy and appreciate the other characters and the way they interact with Lara. It gives you a more in-depth look into Lara’s character that we didn’t get in the past Tomb Raider games.
Meagan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me this morning, and thank you for giving us an in-depth look at the new Tomb Raider!
Yeah! Of course, you’re very welcome! I hope you enjoy the rest of your time at GamesCom!