The next game to feature gaming's most iconic female will see a change in direction from the main Tomb Raider franchise, with an isometric approach and digital download distribution taking focus.
In fact, when he sat down to speak with CVG, Crystal Dynamics' global brand manager Karl Stewart was keen to emphasise that this is a completely separate outing for Lara. We also got onto the thorny issues of piracy, DRM and the future of gaming more generally.
Where does this fit in with the Tomb Raider series and the main games?
We made the decision that this is a complete standalone story. It's got nothing to do with what's gone before, apart from the fact that it's Lara Croft and it's in a Tomb Raider universe and that it's got all the sort of pillars of puzzle solving, exploration and combat.
In terms of story the only thing that we're saying is that over the past fourteen years she's been on these huge epic adventures, and during that time she's seen these artefacts that she always wants to go and look for. This is just one of them. She keeps this journal; you'll see when you boot the system up it's all about that journal, you'll see that everywhere. But in terms of story, it's a complete standalone.
Why did you decide to do this kind of an off-shoot all of a sudden?
18 months ago when we went through that whole kind of restructuring of the studio we wanted to take risks and be a bit more bold, you know, try and look at how we could not necessarily stretch the IP, because I think over the last couple of years it has been stretched in its own right with ports across whole platforms.
I think this was an opportunity to see how we could extend the character, try something new, bring in new aspects. Like we've never done co-op so for us it was like, "Here's an opportunity in a smaller game with a unique experience to be able to bring something like co-op in, have people talk to each other."
So the decision to go in this direction was very easy when you start to add up all those cool features that we've wanted to do, and ultimately they come with risks in a disc-based game. So this kind of bite-sized gameplay chunk in-between the big pillar releases is an opportunity to be a bit more risky.
You talk about this being more character-centric but it's still obviously an action-based game. How have you implemented these character elements and how does that philosophy affect the game?
Up until now it's been a solitary game and you can still play that. You can still play single player and one of my pet hates and one of Daniel Newberg our creative director's pet hates is to have this horrible AI character follow you around. So we don't have Totec follow you around, we try and get away in the single player from having that horrible AI.
But for us being able to get to a different emotional level, co-op and having an additional voice... You've never spoken to somebody about a puzzle, so you've never been Lara and come to a situation and gone, "Ok what do you think, what do I think? Let's work together".
So even just that aspect alone gives us the opportunity to give a whole new dimension to the character and bring it to life. You know, you're not just sitting there at the end of a puzzle going "Hey! There's nobody here to cheer!" So now bringing in co-op gives us the opportunity to try new things.
Lara Croft is one of those characters that you could see a silhouette of and you'd know it was her. Do you feel you've been able to transfer that successfully?