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Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and the gateway to next-gen – interview

Tuesday, 21st January 2014 07:56 GMT By Dave Cook

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition executive producer Scott Amos explains to VG247′s Dave Cook why the project is more than a mere port, how it gave Crystal Dynamics a foothold on PS4 and Xbox One, and why it bodes well for Lara’s future.

”We now have a very solid footing, everybody’s aligned and behind us. If they weren’t we wouldn’t have been given the resources we were to pull off a new version for Xbox One and PS4, let alone the stuff we’re doing elsewhere.”

New console cycles are undoubtedly refreshing for developers. To cite a few examples; they give content creators more processing power to play with, increasingly efficient creation tools and a blank canvas for new ideas. However, as we saw with the launch of PS3; with its laborious framework and complex infrastructure, new hardware can pose a range of new, often costly challenges to studios.

In Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, developer Crystal Dynamics has found itself in a fortunate position. I recently spoke with executive producer Scott Amos about the next-gen release, and how it has given the team a window into PS4 and Xbox One technology without the risks that commonly come with launching a brand-new title on emerging hardware. It has given his crew the knowledge and technical understanding of the new machines in preparation for future projects, that much is clear.

“We’ve gone and squeezed every ounce that we could from the custom chip-sets and the graphic processors that were designed for 360 and PS3,” Amos explained over Skype. “Whereas the hardware now, that is more general architecture, although it’s a different set-up for Xbox One and PS4, it’s more similar in a sense. There certainly was a learning curve on what we can and can’t do well, what improvements we can make. This is not a finished engine for us by any means.

“This is the first time for us getting the engine up and seeing how far we can push the line on all the new things we’ve added. What it’s done is help us learn a lot of ways of not to do things. And now for our future products and future platform we have an amazing start and advantage. We know exactly what we can and can’t pull off and how we can do it differently to last time.”

Amos explained that while the Tomb Raider reboot already exists for PC and last-gen formats, the Definitive Edition includes a lot of new tech under the hood. He stated that it took, “a tonne of new technology,” to get the new engine to run on PS4 and Xbox One, enable asset transferral, implement new shading and lightning techniques, as well as the integration of new particle systems and physical simulation mechanics. “It was certainly a stepping stone for us as a studio into the possibilities of what next-gen could be,” Amos added.

The clue’s in the title; this is the ‘Definitive’ edition of Tomb Raider, encompassing all of the game’s DLC, the digital companion comic, bonus outfits, and all the technical trickery to go along with it. It is not – as some members of the gaming public have suggested – a straight port of the PC version on ultra settings, although the concept did start at Crystal Dynamic’s small PC team.

Amos explained, “We’ve always had a very small, couple-of-man team who got the PC version up and running and that was a good starting point for us to look at because it was closer to the next-gen consoles. But there’s certainly stuff on last-gen, the infrastructure and systems that we had there, we had to pool some of that as well. We really took last gen and PC as our starting point. We had to write new systems for lighting effects. We had to write a whole new back-end infrastructure for multiplayer because the stuff from PC or last gen didn’t work on next gen. We had to come up with a new solution for how we connect people in multiplayer.”

“This was us as a core team leading this,” Amos added. “We pulled the other two studios in because we needed that knowledge to help inform our future decisions about what is and isn’t possible. We have a better understanding of what we hit and what we didn’t even come close to. If we’d done this a year ago we would have done X, Y and Z differently. Those kind of things, they’re not secrets, but it’s about getting that experience quickly and it gives you much better informed decisions for future stuff.”

Crystal Dynamics has made no secret that Tomb Raider is the start of a new chapter in Lara’s story. There will be a sequel. The time spent on creating this Definitive Edition may seem ill-spent if you have no intention of going back to play the game again, but considering that the studio now has that base understanding of Sony and Microsoft’s systems in place, it can only bode well for the eventual follow-up. I asked Amos for further information on the new project, but he wouldn’t be swayed.

I was curious about Square Enix’s involvement in the Definitive Edition project. After all, the company did state that Tomb Raider was regarded as a failure in one of its financial reports. It was a quote that puzzled VG247′s team at the time. We always assumed it had sold quite well – over four million units by August 2013 to be precise. I asked Amos for his thoughts on this particular issue, if only to help bring some clarity to the table.

“When it happened it was right around the time of the Game Developers Conference in California,” he recalled. “We were all saying ‘it’s getting great reviews and people seem to like the game’. The best news I can give you is we’re definitely in the black at this point so there’s no doubts about profitability or whatever – we’re making a profit on the game so there’s no doubts in my mind where the game is at both critically and commercially – it’s clearly set up for where we’re going right now with the Definitive Edition and where we’re going in the future versions of the franchise.

“This is a game that is one of the tent poles in the overall Square portfolio. Regardless of comments; whether it was just the way it was phrased or just commentary on the fiscal year results, at the end of the day, everybody here at Crystal and everybody at Square is behind us with a tent pole game we are relying on for the future. Certainly things have changed at Square with a change of leadership as to who’s running the shop and where things are going. We now have a very solid footing, everybody’s aligned and behind us. If they weren’t we wouldn’t have been given the resources we were to pull off a new version for Xbox One and PS4, let alone the stuff we’re doing elsewhere.”

That answers that one then. Crystal Dynamics has clearly won big on Tomb Raider, and it’s refreshing to see the team charging onward with its new-found momentum. This is a team that has been given a rare chance to safely step through the gateway into the next-generation without betting the farm on a risky project. It can only bode well for whatever form Tomb Raider 2 takes.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition will hit PS4 and Xbox One on January 28.

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39 Comments

  1. tenthousandgothsonacid

    30 FPS ? Not this gen mate. No sale.

    #1 11 months ago
  2. Erthazus

    New consoles are really weak. They can produce 1080p with current gen games but with next gen games it will be all the same as always.

    720p or 900p at best where open world titles looks like shit and where corridor shooters will look good (Games journalists will say that they look fantastic graphically) and everything will be in 20-25 frames per second. Exclusives will look beter then most third party titles and probably all of them will be in 1080p.
    Tomb Rider will be the same as a PC version on “high” settings in 1080p and 30 frames. Woo

    Nothing changes. Zero evolution over the last gen. Especially when we are at the age of Oculus Rift and 4K transition with G-sync monitors.

    #2 11 months ago
  3. Llewelyn_MT

    Sooo, they neither managed to reuse existing x86 code on the new x86 machines, nor did they find the way to port the new code back to the PC. Since no other cross-gen title had such problems I presume they either are not very good at coding or they really did nothing at all, just rereleased the same old game.

    #3 11 months ago
  4. undermyrules

    Tomb Raider 30fps next gen edition ahhaahahahah fail…..#pcmasterrace

    #4 11 months ago
  5. Dave Cook

    Frame-rate means nothing if the game is good. The belief that 30FPS makes for a lesser experience is nothing but nonsense.

    I mean, the original Mario Bros. stutters and lags on my original NES, but it’s still better than a ton of 60FPS games out there today. Fact.

    #5 11 months ago
  6. evilashchris

    Makes a massive difference to me! I’d much rather have 60fps and a little less graphical whoop. This link is pretty good to see the difference http://boallen.com/fps-compare.html

    #6 11 months ago
  7. Ireland Michael

    @6 Eeeeeeh…. to a point.

    I’ll take a 60FPS Burnout over a 30FPS Need for Speed any day.

    In games where precision isn’t a priority, 30FPS suffices just fine, but it certainly isn’t irrelevant. 60FPS can and does allow for better gameplay.

    #7 11 months ago
  8. Erthazus

    @5, Except that Mario does not require 60 fps or even 30 fps because it is a 2d sidescroller where you can’t even turn your camera and it is not as complex as Tomb Raider.

    Tomb Raider on the other hand is a TPS where you need to move your camera around and at the same time you walk/run/shoot stuff/shoot different enemies with different animations/shoot obstacles and physic-based items.

    60 frames per second is an absolute standard for any game that requires more then just jumping and going at one direction.

    Since 2D sidescrollers gaming has evolved and technology evolved at the same time.

    #8 11 months ago
  9. Luciferous

    I love the whole 60fps argument that goes on and on and on…

    For a multiplayer title it can make all the difference, but for a story driven single player experience? It make so very little difference. for one 30fps is a solid standard across all TVs.

    I would rather have some be visually stunning and run consistently at 30fps, than something look like slick shit all over my screen that stutters when the engine is tested too far.

    Personally I can’t wait for this definitive edition with Lara looking closer to her concept art.

    #9 11 months ago
  10. CyberMarco

    I don’t remember all this “60fps shit” during the PS1/PS2 era of gaming. When did it happen?

    #10 11 months ago
  11. Tormenter

    @10

    shooters caused it.

    …or rather shooter players.

    #11 11 months ago
  12. Pytox

    @10 since pc is being able to run 1080 60 fps stable for quite a long time since 2007 already or longer

    #12 11 months ago
  13. SplatteredHouse

    :/ just another S-E PR fluff piece. I’ve been reading this stuff in headlines for the last week.

    #13 11 months ago
  14. CyberMarco

    @12 For a price of a kidney, back then obviously.

    #14 11 months ago
  15. Llewelyn_MT

    @13: Ditto.

    @14: For a price of a current generation console right now.

    #15 11 months ago
  16. CyberMarco

    @15 Not really, you can’t build a PC for 500$/€ and play games at 1080p@60fps with mid/high settings.

    #16 11 months ago
  17. FoureyesZero

    Battlefield 4 1080p 60 fps on ps4 lower resolution on xbox one but still 60fps.
    It proves that it can be easily done.
    Anyone making a 30 fps game on next gen is stupid.

    #17 11 months ago
  18. Llewelyn_MT

    @16: Sure you can. At least mine can do it for games like The Witcher 2 and Tomb Raider on medium.

    #18 11 months ago
  19. bradk825

    I am just itching for them to get moving on Tomb Raider 2. I’d like it next week please.

    #19 11 months ago
  20. RussellGorall

    PC elitists… don’t blame the consoles, blame the developer. This is a quick cash grab for Square Enix, which is why they keep doing pieces like this.

    #20 11 months ago
  21. Panthro

    They only chose not to do this on PC because it would be pointless, no one would re-buy it since the graphics are already superb and almost the same as the ‘definitive version’ on the new consoles.

    It makes sense for all the console gamers to buy it for the graphical upgrade, it makes no sense at all for them to release it on PC, it would just be wasted time and money.

    #21 11 months ago
  22. Riseer

    Laughing so hard over the Pc elitist,30fps is fine as long as it doesn’t drop.Uncharted 2/3 ran great if TR runs like those 2 games i am fine with it.

    #22 11 months ago
  23. One-Shot

    I don’t get how people can say obviously factually incorrect things (oh wait internet, duh). PC will always be my primary gaming machine, but this looks a lot better than TR on ultra and they have literally explained all the new work they have done. Kind of sad people are going to spit on the hard work these people have done to make themselves feel better about what they are playing on. I am going to get this on PS4 even though I own it on PC, and can’t wait to do so.

    #23 11 months ago
  24. Panthro

    30fps is fine yeah, but 60fps is a lot better.

    http://www.testufo.com/#test=framerates

    #24 11 months ago
  25. Spider Law

    @23 +100000

    #25 11 months ago
  26. monkeygourmet

    I think the main problem is if your big ambition is 30fps, it’s a slippery slope to sub 30fps & screen tear…

    There is not a huge margin for error…

    #26 11 months ago
  27. Panthro

    @23

    I’m not saying it doesn’t look better, they have obviously put there time and effort in upgrading the last gen version but IMO I have no idea why you would pay an extra 60$ just to play the game with a few extra graphical features.

    And the fact that it isn’t hitting 60fps is very surprising, and quite frankly a little embarrassing.

    @26

    They probably had fluctuations in the framerate trying to hit 60 so they decided to cap it lower than they had too, I can’t imagine why tough… The new consoles should be able to blast through the upgrades…

    #27 11 months ago
  28. bradk825

    @27 They are bound to sell some copies to some people who didn’t play it on 360 and PS3. Especially releasing it when they are. And there are some people, myself included, who absolutely repeat buy on this game because it was so awesome, and we want to play it again with all the DLC included and on the newer console.

    And why shouldn’t we be able to if they are willing to release it again for us?

    #28 11 months ago
  29. Panthro

    @28

    Console gamers aren’t supposed to care about graphics ;)

    You could pick probably all the DLC up for like less than $15 anyway if that’s all you want…

    I have it on 360 and PC, I played the 360 version first and loved it so decided to get a nice graphical upgrade on PC for £7 with the added convenience of having it on Steam for when I want to play it again… I can understand that, but paying like £40-£50 just to replay it again with some extra touches, nah fuck that haha.

    #29 11 months ago
  30. boiled lobster

    Why is everyone arguing about frame rates? Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a tech demo.

    “Amos explained that while the Tomb Raider reboot already exists for PC and last-gen formats, the Definitive Edition includes a lot of new tech under the hood. He stated that it took, “a ton of new technology,” to get the new engine to run on PS4 and Xbox One, enable asset transferal, implement new shading and lightning techniques, as well as the integration of new particle systems and physical simulation mechanics.”

    Releasing the same game with a new engine will allow them to test said engine in the real world. And this seems to be the whole point of its re-release. New IPs and sequels, of course, will be powered by a battletested (and hopefully more mature) game engine.

    “…everybody here at Crystal and everybody at Square is behind us with a tent pole game we are relying on for the future.”

    At this point whether the game runs at 30fps or not really doesn’t matter. What matters is that they throw something out there and get the wheels of evolution turning.

    #30 11 months ago
  31. Marvin the Paranoid Android

    @24 +1 I was going to post this link.

    #31 11 months ago
  32. Tormenter

    It just sounds like money for old rope.

    #32 11 months ago
  33. Hyperx64

    Um. Super Mario Bros. does run @ 60fps. So do the Sonic games. So do most 8 bit & 16 bit era games.

    #33 11 months ago
  34. One-Shot

    @27 Well I only played the story and not much else as far as side stuff, so now this is more motivation to go back. If $60 is too much than there are such a thing a sales and price drops. Also I take it you’re a game designer, you know with knowing just how supposedly easy it is to get a game to run at 60FPS on 2 month old hardware.

    #34 11 months ago
  35. Panthro

    @34

    I actually did a 2 year course on game design and have continued to learn and expand my knowledge from home so yeah…

    I’m not the most knowledgeable but I’m not completely dark to the facts.

    The PS4 and X1 aren’t getting TR at 60fps because they simply cannot handle it.

    http://i.imgur.com/j6phyZQ.jpg So you know I’m not bullshitting.

    #35 11 months ago
  36. DevilishSix

    So funny with the 60 fps or die comments, it is generally accepted that 30 fps will give a smooth experience and due to an effect called micro stuttering a higher framerate does not guarantee fluid animation. FACT

    #36 11 months ago
  37. Panthro

    You class micro stuttering as an ‘effect’?

    And what the hell does micro stuttering have to do with anything anyway?

    You can get micro stuttering at any frame rate, 30fps/60fps it doesn’t matter. FACT

    #37 11 months ago
  38. POOhead

    @37 you do realise mr devilishsix is the guy who made halo, he knows things and stuff

    #38 11 months ago
  39. Marvin the Paranoid Android

    @36 “it is generally accepted that 30 fps will give a smooth experience”

    I beg to differ.

    Have you checked out the link Panthro posted in comment 24?

    http://www.testufo.com/#test=framerates

    Does 30 FPS look smooth to you?

    #39 11 months ago

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