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Next Tomb Raider set for release in 2010? June 25, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Future Games.
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Thanks to the diligent sleuthing of Gtkilla of Tomb Raider Forums, we might have a possible release window for the ninth major ‘Raider installment in the Lara Croft series of games.

Following the hype surrounding Toby Gard’s re-appointment as Lead Designer at Crystal Dynamics, Laraverse has yet again uncovered a possible clue pointing to the inevitable Tomb Raider 9. Chris Conway, Senior Programmer at Crystal D, has listed “a Tomb Raider game scheduled for release in 2010 or later” under his professional experience in his Plaxo profile.

We actually prefer the “later” bit, but at least a 2010 release breaks Lara Croft’s string of yearly outings. Give the girl a break.

Thanks, TRC!


Toby Gard gets Lead Designer title for unnanounced Crystal Dynamics game June 18, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Future Games.
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Toby Gard, original creator of Lara Croft back in the ’90s, is now Lead Designer at Crystal Dynamics for an “unnanounced project”, his LinkedIn profile details. Let’s do a quick recap, shall we?

Tomb Raider Fanboy’s May sleuthing pointed us to Underworld senior environmental artist Caleb Strauss also listing an unannounced project he’s working on at Crystal D. And just yesterday, Team Lara posted a job opening for the next Senior Art Director for their next triple A outing. Need we scratch our heads?

Thanks to amiro1989 for the heads up over at Tomb Raider Forums.

Game Developer scores exclusive Tomb Raider Underworld postmortem June 17, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Underworld.
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Tomb Raider Underworld is Game Developer’s June-July game cover for 2009. The US-based gaming trade publication goes in-depth with Crystal Dynamics on the challenges and the successes of the Redwood-based studio developing the game.

Eric Lindstrom, former Creative Director at Crystal Dynamics, opens up about the earliest decisions about the Tomb Raider sequel and why and how they changed it later on. “Tomb Raider: Underworld was originally planned as an ‘easy’ sequel to the previous game in the series, using the same toolchain — but it never quite works out that way. Eric Lindstrom describes the process, highlighting instances in which the team wasn’t able to avoid known problems.”

You can hop on to the official Game Developer site to get yourself a copy in print or digital format.


Wanted at Tomb Raider dev house: Senior Art Director for AAA title June 16, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Future Games.
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Following last week’s layoffs at Crystal Dynamics, the team is now looking for a new Senior Art Director for “one of the most prestigious AAA franchises in the industry” who will “continue the long tradition of visually stunning and award winning titles from Crystal Dynamics.”

It’s no secret Crystal D is officially the new Tomb Raider team as anointed by Eidos. All signs point to another Tomb Raider game in development. Definitely more on this as it develops, which it will…eventually. Meanwhile, you can hop on to Future Games for a round-up of everything you need to know on the next ‘Raider title.

[Gamasutra via TRC]

Tomb Raider dev house faces another workforce cut June 10, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Eidos.
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Following last January’s workforce cut at the Tomb Raider dev house, Crystal D yet again faces another round of “resource-focusing”. This time, 25 employees are being laid off. Eidos cites the company’s “continued drive to focus resources at the studio” — as they did last January — as the reason for the layoffs.

“We can confirm that Crystal Dynamics has made a reduction of approximately 25 people at the San Francisco studio. This decision is a reflection of the continued drive to focus resources at the studio. We would like to thank all of the employees affected by this difficult decision for their hard work during their time at Crystal and we wish them all the best in the future.”

Let’s see then just how focused the next Tomb Raider game will be.


Combat: Why the next Tomb Raider should have 0% of it May 19, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Fan Pulse, Future Games.
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Combat. It’s what’s been holding back Tomb Raider for the last three games in the series. Almost always, this aspect of the game is panned by professional reviews — and reasons vary: sometimes because it’s repetitive, totally unnecessary, or not well executed at all from a mechanics standpoint. It’s not the focus of the game either, and that’s something both the fans and the top man at Eidos agree on: “Tomb Raider is not focused on combat; it’s about puzzles, exploration, and discovery.”

It shows

And it does show, really, that it’s not the focus of any Tomb Raider game, so much so that what’s supposed to be an evolution of gunplay and combat throughout the ‘Raider series culminates in its abysmal iteration in Underworld. For one, 1UP puts it that “it always feels like a chore that simply distracts from exploration […] They’ve managed to make combat less interesting and less fun than ever.”

Eurogamer seems to give an explanatory note for 1UP’s gripe. It’s the “rubbish” AI, they say. “You begin to notice something’s wrong when you find yourself shooting six tarantulas as they emerge from the exact same spot in the scenery and follow the exact same trajectory across the wall. Later on, sharks, panthers and tigers all pose a bit of a challenge, and are all satisfying to shoot in the face, but then there are the two-legged enemies. They all look the same, follow the same attack patterns and are incredibly stupid. The men with guns on the ship have never heard of taking cover, nor even moving out of the way when being repeatedly shot in the chest.”

Meanwhile, CVG stomps on the overall mechanic of the combat system, saying that “there’s no cover system to speak of, and her melee attacks are spectacularly useless. Nine times out of ten she’ll clumsily fly-kick straight through an enemy, leaving you open to a volley of health-shredding gunfire.” It’s so “awful” that CVG has gone so far as to advise players of Underworld to “ignore the combat.” A step-by-step guide even follows: “Go to the Options menu, then Game Tailoring, and set enemy health to Low. Think of the shooting bits as an inconvenient, but necessary, distraction.”

IGN, pointing out the adrenaline system and the difficulty (or the lack of it), states, quite simply and direct to the point, “While combat still isn’t the primary focus of the game, it occurs frequently enough in a level to stand out as a weakness.”

The fix

It’s either this world or that. No pulling off a Hannah Montanah, no getting the best of both worlds. With every resource devoted to building the combat system, time spent on polishing Lara’s world, her environment, and the peril that comes with it, is wasted.

Instead of hiring a concept artist who specializes in creating Lara’s gears, guns, weapons, a techman who gets into the details of collision detection, the sequencing of gunplay animations, and a lead combat programmer who ensures that all contributions are in place to at least have a playable combat system — why not hire more people who can work in collaboration on the technical aspects of exploration, Lara’s animation, the direction of real-world peril, and the visual fidelity of the world Lara’s in?

The fix is this: Let go. Like a grudge you’ve unconsciously nurtured against that heartbreaker, just let it go. Let it go like you would a nasty habit you’ve developed in the past year on a January 1st. Focus on what really matters: the aspect of you — err, rather — of Tomb Raider that undoubtedly deserves the greater attention. More so than crushing shoe-sized Thai bugs, pumping lead into albino arachnids, exchanging bullets with Lindstrom clones, and, yes, even Lara herself.

Environmental peril

What then would be the sense of danger in Tomb Raider?

While the vertigo-inducing, vertical-scaling ways of Lara Croft are enough to give us that tingling feeling, why don’t we take it a step further, by looking back, far back into the ’90s? Tell me, Team Lara, what happened to real dangers of boulders running into and after Lara, chasing her down a tunnel filled with spike pits and swinging blades? The age-old handles that crumble at Lara’s softest touch? How about the crushing floors that open doors into pitch-black abyss? You had them. But they weren’t enough.

The danger that Tomb Raider offers belittles what cover-based combat does — the combat system that almost every single third-person game is now trying to emulate. The peril of Tomb Raider is in the environments. Ones that Crystal Dynamics barely had, but still had — albeit in a far more superficial level — in their last three games. These environmental dangers should feel real and of consequence. They should challenge the players, but never frustrate them.

It’s always been said that combat serves as punctuations amid strings upon strings of words, of solitary exploration, and of cerebral puzzle-solving in ‘Raider world. Instead, why not punctuate the immersion with sections much like Legend’s Nepal? — That part that required the player to do acrobatic combos to survive the crumbling structures on the face of the snowy mountaintops? How about the timed section in Anniversary’s Atlantis where, unless you pulled off the precise string of acrobatics needed of Lara, you would always end up falling into the lava pit (picture above)? The fire room in Anniversary’s Greece should also bring up some memories of being challenged, as should Underworld’s sinking ship, had the environment been more consequential on Lara’s health bar.

Such are perils of the environment — ones that Crystal Dynamics showed they themselves can deliver. There should be nothing to stop them from giving the fans more of these, and less of the panther-kicking action of late. Give us real danger from the environment — ones that test our ability to control Lara with utmost precision and our capacity to keep our cool during instances of extreme time pressure. Give us that, and then we start completely ditching gunplay.

BUT THEN, with all this inspired fantalk of having 0% combat in the next Tomb Raider game, one important question would have to be asked: What would her twin pistols be for then? Answer “nothing”, and you might just get a ‘Raider innovation right at your fingertips. Answer “something else” with a critical-enough mind, and you might just get the same.

Colin O’Malley on possible involvement in ‘Raider 9 May 14, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Future Games, Music.
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Colin O’Malley, the man behind the epic (!) orchestral score for Tomb Raider Underworld, isn’t quite sure if he’ll be working on Tomb Raider music for a second time. “I’m not sure if I’ll be involved in the next game or not,” the Emmy-nominated composer has told Fanboy. “I don’t think that decision has been made yet.”

There has been no official word on the development of Tomb Raider IX, but Eidos life president Ian Livingstone have somehow hinted that it’s at least gone past pre-production phase, saying that “there are some remarkable things we’re doing in the next Tomb Raider to make you say, ‘Oh Lara, I love you so much!'” While Lara’s ninth game may very well be underway, crafting the musical score for the game would only come once a playable build is in place.

In an earlier interview with Tomb Raider Forums, Legend composer Troels Folmann shared that before doing the score, “I read all the conceptual documents, story scripts and played the game.” Scoring a game would undoubtedly entail having to see the game in motion, and it would make sense if Crystal Dynamics has yet to make a decision on the music and the composer for the next ‘Raider outing.

In his official website, Colin O’Malley writes that scoring Underworld “was a bit of a departure for me, as the score involves a lot of non-traditional ambience and sound scapes.” A core element of the score, he shares, “is a choir I recorded with a small group of composers in Salt Lake City, Utah.” He adds that “the choir was heavily processed to create an ominous, watery sound that fit well within the ‘underworld’.”

As Team Lara stealthily works on certain “remarkable things,” we are left to just hope for the best of the franchise. Question is, do you think Colin O’Malley will achieve that best that Crystal D can offer? Think back, play back, listen back…to the wonders of the score of Tomb Raider Underworld, then have your say.

World, meet Crystal Core Game Studios May 13, 2009

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Crystal Core is an independent UK-based game studio. Newly-formed and working on their first title, Degeneration Theory: Cataclysm, Crystal Core is a “small team of talented individuals work collectively to build videogames for the masses.” Being an independent studio, they say, “allows us to create anything that we feel gamers of today will enjoy.”

Well, we’d undoubtedly enjoy a certain game that would live up to the team’s name… Should be one to pull off a Hannah Montana — getting the best of both worlds, that is. Oh, and you’ve got to admit, the mash-up does make sense.

Hop on to their official site for more info. Not much there yet, but it’s a start.

Team Lara lists “Unnanounced Project”; Buzz Monkey readies for “next smash success” May 13, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Future Games.
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Caleb Strauss, senior environmental artist of Tomb Raider Underworld, has listed an “Unnanounced Project” he’s working on under Crystal Dynamics in his May ’09 professional resume. His involvement in the mysterious project, as his description puts it, includes “pre-production development, 3D world environment modeling, documentation, contribution to art pipeline and workflow, and mentoring.” Strauss worked on the “modeling, blending, collaberative polish work for materials and lighting on underground Chapel and hallways” for Beneath the Ashes chapter of Underworld. He also did the “blending, polish modeling, and final lighting for Father’s Secret Study” for the same TRU add-pack.

It’s no secret that whatever unnanounced project Crystal Dynamics is working on is bound to be Tomb Raider; that is, following the mandate given by Eidos to the Redwood-based team to solely focus on the franchise. But, could this “Unnanounced Project” be really? What else could it be?

Meanwhile, Buzz Monkey, known for the Wii and PS2 ports of Underworld and their contribution to the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, has also listed a “Top Secret Game” on their official website, touting it as their “next smash success.” While Buzz Monkey did work on the last three ‘Raider installments, there’s no saying for sure if this top secret game is indeed the inevitable Tomb Raider IX, as the company “offers full game development, co-development, ports, and consulting to both publishers and fellow developers” — not only to Crystal Dynamics.

On another side of the web, TRU technical artist David Suroviec seems happy about what “they” have done so far on “a project.” This new project has allowed Suroviec “to start working from a nearly clean slate,” as his work on Underworld, he’s admitted, wasn’t as flawless as he had wanted it to be, especially since it was his “first job ever.” Suroviec still works at Crystal Dynamics as a technical artist as his profile description puts it. In February, he wrote a rather teasing insight on his current project, which could very well be Tomb Raider IX: “My co-workers and I have accomplished so much so far and I am excited for what we have in mind down the road.”

Even Robert Moreno — former junior material artist at CD — has heard of the excitement in the Tomb Raider dev house. Moreno, according to his site, worked on “materials and textures of Croft Manor’s main hall” and “modeled and textured the clean and destroyed versions of Croft Manor’s exterior for cinematics” for Underworld. The TRU artist has spoken to Tomb Raider Fanboy, and while he was unfortunately one of the 30 CD employees laid off last January, he shares he still hears from his friends from the team and “they say the next Tomb Raider looks very promising.”

Well, will it be SO promising it will make us say “Oh Lara, I love you so much”? THAT, we’ll have to wait and see.

Definitely more on the game as things develop, which they will, eventually.

Laraverse round-up: Tomb Raider dev house is 43rd world’s most successful game studio May 12, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in Crystal Dynamics, Eidos, Future Games, Lara Croft, Underworld.
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The 2009 edition of book series Develop 100 has ranked the Tomb Raider dev house as the 43rd most bankable game studio of the world, beating the likes of Bandai Namco, Bioware, Bungie, Rare, and, yes, Square Enix. Published by Develop, Develop 100 ranks the world’s most successful game studios based on a variety of criteria, including critical success or review scores, industry standing, and sales data of their respective games.

Tomb Raider Underworld, the most recent title developed by Crystal Dynamics, only sold an estimated 1.5 million units as of January 2009 — a sales count, despite surpassing the million mark, deemed disappointing by Eidos for Lara Croft’s eighth outing. This was followed by 30 Crystal Dynamics employees being laid off “to eliminate redundancy and give the studio tighter focus moving forward” and a directive for a Lara Croft make-over for the next game. Underworld has since reached 2.6 million units sold, ranking the game sixth lowest-selling  of all nine major outings of the franchise.

The game, however, has received generally respectable reviews, garnering 75 out of a possible hundred on Metacritic, which has led Eidos to give Crystal Dynamics directive to solely focus on the Tomb Raider franchise. Ian Livingstone, Eidos life president, has hinted that Crystal Dynamics is already hard at work on the ninth entry to the series, saying that “remarkable things” being added to the game will make you say “Oh Lara, I love you so much!”

In February, a Crystal Dynamics representative said that “it’s too soon to say anything about the next game,” and while Lara’s next game does seem to still be tightly under wraps, Eric Lindstrom, former creative director at the Redwood-based team, hinted in November 2008 that there have been talks of adding a multiplayer feature to the next game.

This was substantiated by Crystal Dynamics’ March ’09 job openings, which included an Online Programmer, whose job is to collaborate with “designers, artists, and other programmers” — as the job description puts it — “to develop and iterate on an online functionality including areas like multiplayer, user content sharing, community features, game metrics, etc.” While there is no solid indicator of what Ian Livingstone exactly means by “remarkable things,” perhaps a safe bet would be the added functionality of multiplayer in the Laraverse.

As E3 2009 closes in, we are still left guessing if Lara will even be making an appearance at the expo. Of Eidos’ portfolio, only Deus Ex 3 has so far been confirmed to be shown at the event. While fans of Tomb Raider are no doubt enthused at the prospect of a ninth Lara game, Crystal Dynamics would do well to focus on the more essential part of making a game — its development, rather than its advertisement.

Stay tuned to Tomb Raider Fanboy for all the latest and newest and Lara Croft and Tomb Raider.