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She's baaaack. Well, she's back again. But Tomb Raider: Legend (PS2, XB, XB360) marks short-shorted blueblood Lara Croft's first sequel that's both new and improved. We asked Morgan Gray, producer at developer Crystal Dynamics, for the postgame story on her makeover, starting with the most important question of all....
EGM: Months ago, you said you wanted a realistically proportioned Lara, but those things are still huge, dude.
Morgan Gray: What we were doing went just beyond her breasts, to get to the heart of the issue. [Laughs] She actually is slightly smaller. What we were trying to shoot for was not just a reduction in cup size but an overall "aliveness," a bit of a change to her overall musculature and the general proportions of her body, leg size to arm size to hip size, and then back size. We didn't, obviously, take a drastic approach to the body, but we did make as many attempts as possible to sort of un-blow-up-doll where she'd been going. We [also] tried to put a lot into her face, her expressiveness. So her cheek structure, her eyes, eyelashes, the width of her lips-little minor things that haven't seen a lot of light in the press, maybe because we haven't really talked about that too much.
EGM: We asked the ex-Core founders [Tomb Raider's original makers until publisher Eidos handed the series to the folks at Crystal] what they thought of Legend. They were diplomatic, saying they were sad they're not part of the process but sure you're capable of starting fresh. Did they give much feedback?
MG: Well, early on they were very helpful, giving us the assets that they had so we could mine through them. Other than casual conversations, or shared pints at [the annual E3 trade show], it has really been more of two separate houses.
EGM: It must be awkward dealing with them, though. It's like Lara was their girlfriend, but now she's yours.
MG: Yeah. Let's not bump into each other at a party. But it's kinda like in comics, right, when a writer and a penciler team take over a book from another team.... I mean...we're both developers and we both work for a mother organization, so there's a practicality of business there. I'd have to assume, for them...there comes a point where you're kind of happy to do something new. You know? And obviously...we're really happy to be working on Tomb Raider, but there's a huge debt of gratitude and respect that has to go to Core. So it is a little awkward, but it's not an adversarial relationship at all.
EGM: And of course you guys got Lara Croft creator Toby Gard back for this game. How much of his influence do we see in Legend?
MG: You see a lot. So obviously, one of the first things Toby did was really help us on the overall look of Lara. Toby worked with our early animation team, and worked with our writer on the creation of the storyline-not specific lines of dialogue, although he did help to sort of Brit-ify our Yank-speak. "That's good slang, but that's slang from like 15 years ago," he'd say. And then he was pretty instrumental in helping to bridge the art-to-flesh technical gap for our animation system that actually runs Lara. The whole concept of fluid movement was something that Toby championed from a systems-formation level.
EGM: Why the cliff-hanger ending? We were hoping developers would avoid those after Halo 2's abrupt finale.
MG: We didn't really consider it a humongous cliff-hanger. We felt like we tied up threads with [the] Amanda [character] to a decent degree. We tied up threads with the pieces [of the sword]. The big one we didn't tie up, obviously, was the thread with [Lara's] mother. We're talking about getting into Lara's characterization, why she does what she does. She has one line in the Himalayan Mountains where...she says, "This is what it's always been about." Ergo, her whole tomb raiding, her whole collecting of artifacts-it's always about trying to find a way to come to grips with, understand, and/or reverse what happened to her mother.... So the mom story thread for us is...where we're going with the series now. It's a cliff-hanger, but for us it's also the thread that ties the next few outings for us, if we're fortunate enough to be able to make a few more.
EGM: Speaking of which, we've criticized Eidos and Core for rushing out a Tomb Raider every year. Now what's the plan for the series? Will we raid another tomb in '07?
MG: One of the things we don't want to do is to just plop 'em out to hit Christmas. I think that was one of the things that hurt the franchise, because you can't take any risks then. It means you're not gonna innovate, because you gotta whip up the next one. I can't talk about the release dates for the future. I wish I could be like [Doom developer] id and say, "It'll come out when it's done," but we're definitely not trying to race it out. I mean, there's a lot of time and money invested into trying the ways to get another Tomb Raider game out there that people could really enjoy. We think the way to capitalize on that is not to fall back into old habits.
EGM: Old habits like the dinosaurs? We want them back!
MG: [Laughs] There's plenty of time for dinosaurs. Again, there's a lot of classic [elements] that we knew we had to get into the game, and we're definitely not opposed to dinosaurs coming back.
EGM: It's great to have a Lara that's fully analog now-her moves are on par with Prince of Persia's. Did you turn to that series for inspiration?
MG: The Prince of Persia analogy comes up a lot, but one of the games I think really inspired a lot of us-I know Toby and myself specifically-was Ico. Not just in the movement realm, but how they captured the sense of awe, and magic, of their environments. That, to us, was one of our big, important things. We didn't want to just have levels. We wanted to capture moments within the environments where you would look and just go, "Wow." Trying to get that magic that we all felt when we first played Tomb Raider 1, like, "Hey! Wow, waterfalls! Gorgeous! The Sphinx-whoa!" You know? "I'm gonna go climb on that now!" It goes quickly from a sense of, wow to "I wanna play with that!"
EGM: We noticed, too, that-unless we just weren't timing it right-Lara doesn't seem to have quite the same fluidity that Prince of Persia does. We would jump up onto a bar and spin around, and in Prince of Persia you can just immediately hit the X button or whatever and swing to the next one, but in Legend, she has to go up and then do a full circle first.
MG: Our timing windows may or may not be friendly to some, but you can actually go from move to move to move to move within our timing windows. On the bars, actually, the minute she connects you have to quickly jump if you're going to do the next one. After a 45 degree down angle she's going to go through the full revolution, but before then she can jump right off.
EGM: We see that Lara's handstand and dive are back. Any new flourish moves?
MG: We call it the floor routine: If you actually start up a sequence of rolls-roll to roll to roll-and then begin jumping, you can chain up combos of her doing cartwheels and acrobatics and triple lindys.... Two rolls in a row are going to open up the path for you, and from there you can begin to play with trying to do a few alternates. From roll-roll-jump-roll, roll-roll-roll-jump, so on and so forth.
EGM: We really liked the King Arthur museum level. It was was one of the most interesting levels we've played in a while. You have the museum, you have the animatronics you can activate, then the whole driving of the forklift and using it in the puzzles-very cool.
MG: Thanks. That's actually one of my favorite levels. We had a concept, which we closely guarded when we discussed it, because our name for it is horrible, but we called it the "onion." Which is not a sexy PR term by any stretch of the imagination. The onion is one of the philosophies of our level design. Which is basically, you know, peeling layers to layers to layers to layers. We always wanted to start with, in a level, something that you could relate to, something real, like a real-world location. Players can relate to it. And then peel a layer away. "Oh, we're going slightly a little more fantastical." And then peel another layer and we're going slightly more fantastic. So you'll notice in our levels, we buried some of the more crazy, otherworldly things or super-science deep in the level, trying not to just hit people's barrier of disbelief. Then when we got to the London levels, the Arthur's grave level, we kinda went crazy with the concept of this whole Disneyland amusement park built over the tomb. That, to us, was like the onion pinnacle, tongue a little bit firmly in cheek, but we really felt at that point in the storyline that we were accelerating towards seriousness, a conclusion, the pieces are starting to come together, and we wanted to have a little levity moment before that, before diving in to the tail end.
EGM: The motorcycle stages-we're not a fan. What's up with those?
MG: They were just little minigames, basically, so we could play with the tempo. It wasn't like, "Hey, we're doing this big vehicle thing." It was just like, "Here's a small minigame, and sort of a nod to the vehicular Lara of days gone past." Early feedback is that they're too long in duration.
EGM: Yeah, we agree. Can you make them end sooner?
MG: They will keep going as long as there are enemies. So if you're killing enemies, they're ending sooner. If you're not killing enemies, they're taking a while.
EGM: OK, last thing: Will you finally reveal the nude code?
MG: [Laughs] Doesn't exist!
EGM: Oh, c'mon.
MG: Funny enough, when we build her costumes, she's partially naked, because we're forming over a human body and then adding clothes and whatnot. But it's like Barbie-it's not explicit. She's too proper for that sort of thing.
EGM: Still, you know her intimately. You've seen enough of her.
MG: In her, yeah, it's...anyone who's going to art school will know that that's not as cool as it sounds.
SOUTHERN OVEREXPOSURE: LEGEND'S LOST LEVEL
No rain forests were saved in Tomb Raider: Legend. In fact, the developers cut one overgrown South American temple where Lara would have tracked down yet another Excalibur shard. "We figured we were spending too much time in South America," Producer Morgan Gray says of the cut. "We're in Bolivia, [then] we're in Peru. We think we got this one covered." He adds that the nixed level did help pave the way for the super-science-inspired Kazakhstan stage. "That was a fun one for us," says Gray, "because we really felt like, out of all of Tomb Raider-dom, that was one of the more wacky levels that had been within the universe."