By: Gentleman Jeb
At SDCC 2018, I had the opportunity to interview both Jill Murray (lead writer) and Heath Smith (lead game designer) for Shadow of the Tomb Raider at Eidos Montreal.
TGG: This is the third installment of the new reboot of Tomb Raider. How is Lara progressing as a person?
JM: Lara started out a lot younger and inexperienced in Tomb Raider. More of a survivor. Then in Rise of the Tomb Raider, she became more of a hunter. For Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara starts the game at the absolute height of her power. There’s an artifact that she wants to bet before Trinity does. That’s always been her MO; to charge ahead and try to outsmart them and get there first. She succeeds, but then discovers that with the heightened powers she has, she also has the capacity to make pretty enormous mistakes. She, perhaps, accidentally unleashes an apocalypse. She suddenly has to figure out how to right the wrong that she put in motion. She has to decide who she ultimately wants to be and how she wants to proceed in the future as she approaches her defining moment and becomes the Tomb Raider she wants to be. It examines the way a hero could also be a threat.
TGG: Does this mean there are moral choices? Perhaps different endings?
JM: This is still a Tomb Raider game. It follows the same type of structure as before with the exception of a much larger social hub that you can spend more time in and branch out of. There’s no question of choices or different endings. I think that what she encounters and what she decides to do will leave the player thinking for a long time.
TGG: I like the new ability to toss the grappling hook out and grab ledges. What are the limitations of using the hook?
HS: We really look at what kind of environment can challenger her the most. She comes into the game with a full toolset. She can repel. She can go underwater for long distances. Repelling and wall-running are huge parts of classic Lara…A lot of the mechanics are about descending into darkness. She’s descending from repel wires into water, into underwater caverns. We tried to incorporate mechanics that represent and enhance the emotional narrative.
JM: These tools also give her the ability to climb out of darkness.
HS: It’s an extension of the grapple mechanic from the previous game. Before she could use the grapple on an axe wall just to climb up. Now she can organically dangle and change her orientation, descend, ascend, and swing, which was a nightmare for level designers. It adds a new layer of traversal…Caverns are much larger both in 2D and 3D…Another new feature is that even in the deepest, darkest caverns, she might not always be alone.
TGG: Can you tell me about any new combat moves in her arsenal?
HS: Sure. She’s in the Amazon Jungle and has to thrive and survive in this environment. She can apply mud as a camouflage, that unlocks the ability to hide in mud-covered walls and environments. There’s a duality to the environment, so everything that can kill you can also cure you if you know how to approach it. She can learn about plants that have unique effects, so we’ve taken the healing system of the last game and extended it to become and entire herbal remedies arsenal…She can use plants to enhance her abilities in combat, like gain slow-down focus when she’s aiming, perhaps being able to sense things through the environment. What we’re trying to express is that she’s becoming the ultimate predator. It shows her evolution.
JM: And she has to, because on the Trinity side, the main protagonist, Dominguez, is in many ways, Lara’s equal. So he challenges her by holding a mirror up to her, and that makes her have to be more adaptive.
TGG: Can you tell me more about the survival aspect?
HS: It’s not a full-on survival game in that you’re not going to starve to death. It’s more of a theme. Using the environment, becoming one with the environment, makes it easier to survive.
JM: Psychotically, she has to survive making mistakes. It’s about how real heroism isn’t always about always choosing what’s right, it’s about what to do after things have gone wrong.
TGG: Does hunting make a return, and it is required to survive?
HS: She has to hunt, but it’s more for enhancing. There’s hunting with new layers of traversal, like hunting in the canopy. There’s dangerous creatures underwater. They all provide resources, like hides, fat, toxins, etc…that you can use to upgrade and enhance your abilities. We’ve expanded the skills and upgrades in the game to really customize Lara and play the Lara you want to play. The skill system is a lot deeper, with more strategy involved. Even the outfits are split into torso and legs, customize each half, and each half with have a unique gameplay effect. There’s one at the end of every crypt.
Many thanks to Jill Murray and Heath Smith for taking the time to answer our questions!