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Square Enix brings multiplayer to Tomb Raider

We sit down with Karl Stewart, global brand director for the Tomb Raider franchise, to talk about what's in store for gamers.

Square Enix took advantage of CES 2013 to introduce a brand new kind of gameplay to the Tomb Raider franchise. When the reboot launches March 5 for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, up to eight players will be able to engage in multiplayer gameplay for the first time ever in a Tomb Raider game. While Crystal Dynamics developed the single-player experience starring the new, and younger, Lara Croft on her first adventure, Eidos Montreal created the multiplayer modes. Karl Stewart, global brand director for the Tomb Raider franchise at Crystal Dynamics, sat down to talk with us about what's in store for gamers when they dive into a Tomb Raider multiplayer match.

Game On: Why has it taken so long for multiplayer to be added to the Tomb Raider universe?

Karl Stewart: It was probably about two years ago when we started developing this. One of the early projects that we did with Tomb Raider was look at how, using the island from the single-player game as a backdrop, we could find unique and innovative ways to be able to break off and try and do something new. As people may remember, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a very exciting project for us because it was our first digital project. As a studio we're constantly looking at ways to be able to be innovative, and so in the early stages of this Tomb Raider game multiplayer seemed like a really cool thing to do.

It was a great setting with many unique locations, great characters in the Survivors and Scavengers, but then we actually shelved it for quite a while. It's always been on the table, but it was only probably two years ago that we picked it back up and we brought our sister studio, Eidos Montreal, and had them develop it from the ground up for us.

What were the challenges of creating a multiplayer mode that feels like a Tomb Raider experience?

In the very early stages when we were starting to develop Tomb Raider, we wanted to make sure that it felt like the pillars of the franchise were there. It was Lara Croft, it was a Tomb Raider experience and it had things like traversal and exploration and puzzle-solving. Some of those things you can bring across into a multiplayer experience and some you can't, but things like traversal, combat, and verticality in multiplayer matches were all things that we wanted to make sure felt like Tomb Raider. It's not just about putting Lara Croft in a multiplayer match and saying, "there you go;" It's Tomb Raider multiplayer. It has to have the attributes that define the series and there are need to be characters that you get to meet and play alongside inside of the single player. We brought them across -- Jonah, Alex and Reyes -- in an effort to make sure that it felt like a proper Tomb Raider multiplayer mode that simultaneously doesn't detract from the single-player experience. It has to be able to stand up on its own.

What multiplayer maps and modes are you debuting?

Right now we're showing a new map and two modes from the complete package that will be on disk on Day One, which will include four maps and five modes. The idea is that every single mode feels really different, whether it's Team Death Match (which is a traditional mode) or it's Rescue Me, which is where you have to find the pilot and the medical pack and bring them back to base.

We want everything to have the elements of survival that you get in single player. At the same time, Team Death Match is a mode that everybody is accustomed to; everybody knows how it works. So we didn't want to try to totally reinvent the wheel when building this multiplayer game.

There are different characters on the Survivors and on the Scavenger side. Are those just skins or do they have different abilities?

In some cases, yes they can have different abilities depending on the loadouts and on the type of mode that you play. But in general, we wanted it to be as balanced as possible. We wanted as many people to jump in and feel like Jonah or Reyes or Alex. We try not to get into unique physical attributes because one's bigger than the other or smaller than the other, or they run at different speeds. It's more about how you load your character out and you choose new attributes for them.

What were your goals heading into multiplayer?

We looked at multiplayer and wanted to build a solid structure. This is our first time building multiplayer, so we focused on how to build modes that people feel comfortable being able to jump in on very quickly rather than trying to reimagine something and make it too complex. For us it's about successfully building that broader structure, because this is our first time doing it. Hopefully, in the future when we develop more multiplayer, we will have that system and it will start to build up and hopefully get to the point where multiplayer becomes an equal facet of the Tomb Raider experience. Right now we see it as something that partners very well, but absolutely does not detract from the single-player game.

How did you draw from the single-player game for this experience?

There are certain places in the single player game that have very epic moments, and they are just great spaces to be able to show off the verticality of the multiplayer game. They afford players the chance to do cool things like go underneath the monastery or jump up on the side of a cliff, use the climbing axe to get to the very top and use it as this great sniper zone.

The idea of taking locations from the game was very important. Things like using the climbing axe is a great thing for verticality, but in the single-player game there's no need for it to be too fast. You are very comfortable climbing, whereas now in multiplayer it needs to be really snappy, really punchy. The common landscapes create a really nice symmetry from single-player to multiplayer.

Can you talk about some of the environmental traps?

Traps are a big deal for us because when you play the game they're part of the entire experience, since there's a bit more guerilla warfare. You're constantly aware of everywhere you go, whether or not you're going to get strung upside-down and whether or not you have to shoot yourself free in the middle of combat. Taking that across to multiplayer, there's a very real fun aspect to the likes of traps, things like putting up lightning rods that, if anybody gets close to them, we can use to blow them away with electrocution. You can also choose to put exploding ammo boxes out there, so while you're running around picking up ammo you have to be wary that one may be a hazard and blow you up. It adds a really intriguing dimension to the multiplayer experience.


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