Crystal Dynamics looking “at the bigger picture” of where Tomb Raider “needs to go”

By Stephany Nunneley
3 August 2011 15:20 GMT

Karl Stewart, brand manager at Crystal Dynamics, has said his main role at the firm is understanding game brands and how to “flip the tables on franchises,” which is something he and the development team are currently doing with Tomb Raider.

Looking into the future

Speaking in an interview with Gamasutra, Stewart said the team is “looking to the future,” with the latest Tomb Raider reboot, and “making sure that this delivers so that there’s structure for that future.”

“We’re wiping the slate clean,” said Stewart. [And are] very conscious about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s making sure that, as Crystal Dynamics steps up to the plate to say, ‘We can deliver a new experience, a visual experience for Tomb Raider,’ we also want to be able to do that in whatever that next new IP is, so we have to start thinking about that early.

“This is the very first time that we’ve actually taken a studio approach, a studio model, and put a team of people into the studio that all they do is look at this one franchise. They work, eat, sleep and breathe Tomb Raider.”

Stewart, an animator and creative director who worked with Eidos on marketing Batman: Arkham Asylum, feels studios need to “look at the bigger picture,” of where a franchise needs to go and make sure the entire franchise is molded out.

“It’s not just about one game,” he said. “I think this is what’s key to us is that it’s not the game will ship and then we’ll move on the next game. Every single thing that we do is about making sure that there’s consistency in all of our mastery and thinking for the next five to 10 years.

“We’re building it, we’re emotionally attached to it, and we can bring the passion and the emotion to that in a way in which we’ve never seen before. We need to show people that it’s a character arc. That there’s real growth.”

Lara gets another reboot

Stewart said a lot of folks have asked he and the team why the Tomb Raider franchise has been “recreated so many times,” and while some attempts have proved disastrous, Stewart said this time around, it’s a bit different because it is all about how Lara became Lara – something which has never been told before.

“It’s never been told how Lara became Lara, [and] we thought in doing so, that there was a great opportunity to re-imagine the franchise to a broader audience, and bring a different character to the audience,” Stewart explained to Gamasutra.

“People never really understand who she was. They never really had an attachment to her… There was a point in time when Lara was mainstream, broad audience. It was on the tip of everybody’s tongue.”

Because Lara was so mainstream at one point, and due to the fact she has had a few adventures which didn’t resonate well with players, the team at CD felt she was starting to loose relevance. So, the team decided to turn Lara into a human being who is more approachable and relatable and by taking her back to her roots to retell her story, the team believes it will not only acquire new fans, but reclaim some of her old groupies as well.

“It’s not about graphical quality. Everybody can make explosions look beautiful on a screen, and everybody can make the worlds. We want to be able to take a character — she’s iconic,” said Stewart. “For us as a studio, we’ve looked at where we’ve been, and we felt, well, now is a chance as a studio to put out a definition of our character and help evolve it, make it culturally relevant for today.

“We’ve moved to look at brand as a very different thing to the perception people have of looking after the marketing… But ultimately, we have to look at the brand as a bigger picture. We have to look at the future of where we’re going over the next couple of years. How do we take the essence of what it is to be Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, keep the core pillars, but make them relevant to the audience of today, in a very unique and visceral, dynamic way?”

Tomb Raider is slated for a fall release in 2012.

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