Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
25 April 2007
Tomb Raider Anniversary's note to the fans
Over at NeoGAF I ran across some images from the current build of Tomb Raider Anniversary which show a note to the fans from Jason Botta, the game's creative director. Here are the parts of the note I felt were important. (You can read the rest in the screenshots.)
Tomb Raiders,

It's hard to believe it's been over a decade since the original Tomb Raider game was released and the world got their first taste of Lara Croft. At that time, games had just really started moving into 3D and Tomb Raider was hailed as a landmark achievement from both a technical and gameplay standpoint. A powerful heroine, epic environments, and a world that players could really immerse themselves into were all elements that helped Tomb Raider stand out from the rest of the gaming landscape.

[snip]

We wanted to recreate all the parts that people remembered and then throw in some new areas to keep veterans on their toes. We strove hard to find the right balance of nostalgia and freshness and to create an experience that captured the sense of isolation so prevalent in the original. The story was simultaneously expanded and tightened up so as to realize the full potential of the tale and provide more insight into the various characters. And while we almost duplicated TR in some regards, we took this opportunity to update some aspects of gameplay -- like Lara's movement -- to something a bit more contemporary.

[snip]

Jason Botta
Creative Director, Tomb Raider: Anniversary

[Emphasis added. Errors, if any, are mine. -jvm]
That's a pretty nice note, and quite a bit more personal than what I'm used to getting from games nowadays. In a way it reminds me of the developer pictures and notes on the back of the old Activision games for the Atari 2600.

Still, I'm a little concerned by the wording on the controls. I suppose most people do find the newer controls -- the ones used in Tomb Raider: Legend -- more forgiving and natural, but calling them contemporary strikes me as dodging the real issue: they've taken away much of the sense of danger.

I used to refer to those high, dangerous locations and jumps in the original game as "unnecessarily vertiginous". The heights were literally dizzying and more than once I felt my stomach turn over at the feeling of being mere inches from a deadly fall. (The only time I've felt like that in real life was when I was atop one of the two World Trade Center towers in New York in the late 1980s. Even as far back from the edge as we were, I felt so dizzy I wanted to crawl back to the door or risk blowing off the side and into open space.)

With the controls in Legend they've taken away that sense. Lara can -- and does -- save herself if you go off a ledge. Timing a jump is easy since there is a broad "safe zone" near any ledge and any jump initiated in that zone will be good enough. Compare this with the original game where you really felt you needed to pace out your jumps ahead of time. Even then, a twitch at the wrong moment would send Lara plunging to her death.

On the other hand, I'm excited to hear that the story has been respected. I've always felt that the plot was really quite well-done. As long as they've not belabored it with too much contrived explanation, it should come across well.

Labels: , , ,

--Matt Matthews at 13:17
Comment [ 16 ]

Comments on this post:

So you want poor controls to enhance the sense of danger when traversing these caverns and tombs?

By Blogger Zachary, at 25 April, 2007 15:09  

Who called them poor? Not I. The original game demanded precision in movement and timing. While limiting the appeal of the game, I also felt they were necessary for the structure of the puzzles.

The real challenge for the developers and designers will be this: Can they make puzzles which are as inventive, demanding, and fun as those in the original now that they've changed the controls? I am skeptical.

By Blogger jvm, at 25 April, 2007 15:14  

I'm with jvm on this. Way too many things are called poor that are really just not what the user was expecting. Not all games have to control the same way, dammit.

By Blogger JohnH, at 25 April, 2007 15:42  

The old controls need more practice to learn than those of newer games, and Legend is an improvement (I don't consider that saying much though, as decently implement analogue controls are SUPPOSED to be better than digital controls), but the old controls work fine after you've learned them (for what they are, any flaws they did have were fixed for TR2 on).

You can turn off the auto grab in AE, so that should at least help give a feeling of danger, although I'm wondering how it will work (since the previews make it appear that Lara still grabs the instant you jump).

By Blogger Shaun, at 25 April, 2007 16:23  

Here's a small mention of that in a recent translated preview: "For the hardcore fans there is a “Legendary mode”. Here you’ll have to aim all of your jumps precisely and you won’t get any help from the computer, in general mode you’ll get a bit of help. Also the enemies are a bit tougher in ‘Legendary mode’."

By Blogger Shaun, at 25 April, 2007 16:45  

Tomb Raider's controls were poor. It was one of the game's many faults.

Legend was the first Tomb Raider game worth playing, IMHO.

Then again, there are people who think that Capcom screwed up when they made Resident Evil 4.

Personally, I kind of think they screwed up when they made Resident Evil 2 :D

By Blogger Jeremy, at 25 April, 2007 18:37  

Shaun: That's good info. I was not aware that they would have such options in TRA. It will be interesting to see how much that really changes the game...

Jeremy: You're right. Romeo & Juliet is awful. West Side Story is the only one for me.

By Blogger jvm, at 25 April, 2007 21:14  

Demanding controls are poor in my opinion, I never want to lose a game because of poor controls, just poor choices on my part. Fighting a control scheme instead of a challenging puzzle or AI is, in my opinion, never worthwhile.

By Blogger Zachary, at 26 April, 2007 02:59  

And Mario Brothers for the NES is the finest Mario of all time.

Duh.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 26 April, 2007 08:26  

Missing a jump in the first Tomb Raider *was* the result of a poor choice on the player's part.

The controls were precise, not poor. The blocky/cubical layout made it function, as jumping sections were designed with the controls and the space in mind.

You don't even have to feel the annoyance of having to set up a pixel-perfect 2D jump where the heel of the leading foot of your character's sprite is one pixel beyond the edge of the dirt beneath the decorative grass in order to barely land on the block floating in the sky. Tomb Raider 1 is actually fairly forgiving of what is really required of the player when it comes to setting up or actually executing a jump. The challenge was figuring out what set up and sequence of actions were required.

By Anonymous Baines, at 28 April, 2007 02:39  

Is that a leech on her shirt? Eeew.

I'm not sure where this puts me on the Lara-groupie hierarchy, but it seems they've gotten her face all wrong this time. I'm not sure how to characterize the change -- More Jolie-like, perhaps?

By Blogger rufbo, at 28 April, 2007 14:02  

Baines: You're right, the puzzles were finding the right combination of moves. It's an important point, and it's something that may have been lost in the new games.

rufbo: That's the PC cursor. It looks like the stone that Amanda had in TR:Legend, and in some screenshots the cursor looks like the Scion from TR1.

Also, I think the look she had in TR:L was pretty good. They've definitely changed her face up a bit. I saw a comparison image recently on a forum, but I can't find it right now...

Here is an image of her that they abandoned after the original DOS box art at MobyGames.

By Blogger jvm, at 28 April, 2007 14:15  

I guess that Tomb Raider's controls just fall into that same category as the 2d Prince of Persia games. I never could get the knack of those either. They're "functional" but I always felt like I was fighting them. Some people will see that as being the game.

I'm not sure if I like the idea that dealing with the controls themselves should be a meta-game. I want to experience the environment etc, not fall into a pit. Typically I'd prefer to be killed by something, rather than die myself cursing the controller.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 28 April, 2007 16:42  

Typically I'd prefer to be killed by something, rather than die myself cursing the controller.

Ah, and here we enter a number of Matt's pet issues with TR. First, if by "something" you mean something alive, Matt might argue that he'd prefer to see more deaths by "tomb" than adversary (any animal, not just great apes of a certain persuasion).

If you mean "by something" to include the tombs themselves, well, unless you've got a a game with incredibly intuitive controls, there's going to be some sort of learning curve.

I'm not a huge TR fan, though with a little help I did finish TR1 on the Saturn. That alone (I piddled around TR2, TR:C, and AoD) gives me enough hours at the game to say that the controls, once learned, are pretty easy to use. The challenge comes in seeing the precise layout that you need to make it through the levels and then pull off the right controls at the right times to get through.

Rarely did I have the Dragon's Lair complaint -- "Now how the heck was I supposed to know that *before* I gave it a shot?" My only complaint with the setup was how artificial it was to have *every* tomb maker have precisely constructed their tomb based on these same units, which I call cubits just so I have an excuse to remember Cosby doing the Noah routine.

What I hated about AoD, if that's the one that did it (TRC?), was that dumb arsed way you increased your skills at *exactly* the right time to make a jump across some expanse that was blocking your way earlier. That she'd gain strength so artificially just made the cubit-critique all the worse... now, instead of ancient tomb designers all standardizing on a certain biblical measurement that exactly coincided with Lara's jumping abilities, now modern-day blockhead thugs put exercise equipment around in just the right order for Lara to infiltrate their lairs, etc.

Okay, rant over. The classic TR controller learning curve was never so bad, for me, to prove distracting or particularly aggravating (though I did put it down for a few years on one level). I learned just quickly enough to keep me interested, and it'd be nice to reuse those proverbial skillz again here if the tests are similarly well prepared as they were in TR1, cubit or no.

By Blogger rufbo, at 28 April, 2007 16:59  

The trick to the TR1 controls are that they (and the jump puzzles themselves) are designed to make it fairly easy for the player to set-up and perform the the different jumps. Her turning and walking gets her to the edge of a platform safely. Walk to the edge and do her little hop back and you are set up for a running jump. Her stride makes the jump timing simple. Even if you have a time-sensitive sequence of jumps, the spacing means you can easily chain them. Everything is designed so that you can judge whether Laura can make a jump by sight.

Until you accept and use the controls in that fashion, you will fight them. You won't like the way she moves, you won't like what you need to do a jump, or anything else. You'll wish she moved more fluidly, often without even realizing that such movement would make the jumps more difficult.

By Anonymous Baines, at 28 April, 2007 18:59  

Well, the alternative is what they do in Legend, where she moves fluidly, and the jumps are more difficult but less lethal (except in certain instances).

I prefer that.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 28 April, 2007 20:40  

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