Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Remnants: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

As explained in the Remnants: Sleeping Dogs post, remnants are a shard of what once was and still is. The Sleeping Dogs remnant was a potential major characters who was cut down to passing by NPC. Here we are dealing with something a little different.

Tomb Raider is an anthropological gold mine of video game design and theory. The development of the game is more like a roller coaster than anything else. Check out Tomb Raider: The Final Hours if you're interested in seeing the scope of its history. I'll only focus on a small few that interest me, so that the word count on this post doesn't exceed several thousand.

Tomb Raider tells the origin story of Lara Croft, and it's damn good. After Tomb Raider: Underworld, the developers, Crystal Dynamics, went right to work on another title. When it first started the game focused on Lara stranded on a Japanese island surviving against undead monsters, as she helped a psychic little girl uncover the local mysteries. The game was to focus on survival, like Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Shadow of the Colossus-esque battles. Crystal Dynamics received the feedback that the system was not fun and confusing. Instead of wiping the slate clean, many of the levels and systems were kept intact, except with their original context ripped out.

Bonus bush XP, no easier way to say it. A survival system was in place when the tone of Tomb Raider was more horror. Lara would have needed to scour for food from animals and plants, most likely for health regeneration and a stamina meter. The change to a more The Most Dangerous Game story see's no need for it. Now the game ramps up the action from one set piece to another, yet has hunting and gathering be a part of it. Shooting dear and scavenging berries leads to experience points to level Lara up, nothing more. In one level, I found a hidden path leading to a dead end. At the end a berry bush waited to greet me. The way it was designed would have been a perfect little spot of a health pack. An integral aspect of the previous build is now relegated to Bonus bush XP.

What I imagine is a more recent remnant than the bushes, the title screen's strange effect. When loading up, the screen freezes for a few seconds as black lines start popping up. This is not a problem with the video card, it's an intended effect, and is exclusively before the start screen. My best guess to why it is there is to the video camera Lara carries around. A beat up camcorder that gives backstory on the crew of the Endurance before they crash on the island. It only appears for the first half of the game and is never used again. I bet the camera was to be a slightly bigger plot device in giving backstory, but eventually was shrunk down. The effect at the beginning of the game was cool, so Crystal Dynamics chose to keep it. Rule of Cool may be the answer here.

When it comes down to it, Tomb Raider's story and writing is at a B-movie level. Strange as Rihanna Pratchett, daughter of Terry Pratchett, is the lead writer. One look at her previous works signifies she can write, so what explains Tomb Raider? As it turns out, she was brought into the development cycle when things were already planned. For what they're worth, writers have very little power in what they can change. In the video game industry particularly, creation begins with the programmers and artists, not often the writers. This is no way an excuse for the lackluster effort on Tomb Raider, but it does give context to a few things.

I have now talked about Tomb Raider too much. Check out a few previous posts back if you're interested in some Tomb Raider multiplayer tips.