EDGE On How Angel Of Darkness Went Wrong

By John Walker on January 17th, 2011 at 10:09 pm.

A phoenix dying in the flames.

An article I have always wanted to write is an investigation into what went wrong with Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness. The idea of a game produced with so much money, and on so many years of success, being such a spectacular failure fascinates me. I’ve long wanted to find out how such a thing happens. But because I’m too busy playing Minecraft and watching the worst Stephen King films I can find (The Mangler next!), I never got around to it. Fortunately, one of the anonymous hooded figures in the EDGE collective has, and I can finally read the article I wanted without having to do all that work. Hooray! But also, Ooooooh. Because it’s a pretty sad story.

It must be tragic to be a collection of extremely talented game designers, stuck in a Sisyphean development with a game far too ambitious for the timeframe, and broken to its core. (Pardon.) Learning that they had no choice but to cut their huge game in half, and thus losing internal consistency, a coherent narrative, etc, is heartbreaking. Murti Schofield, the game’s lead writer, tells EDGE.

“There were things that got left so late that their final omission left the game badly crippled, and I mourn them. One example was the range of hero abilities planned for Kurtis. He ended up as such a thin, emasculated version of the character we planned in the early stages of development that I could have wept. I may actually have done so.”

The article discusses the PS2 side of things, because of course the Tomb Raiders were flagship titles on the Sony consoles, and Angel Of Darkness was due to be one of the PS2′s big launch titles. But of course all the content equally applies to the PC, other than issues with the very early PS2 devkit. (In fact, it came out a week earlier on PC in the end.)

It’s a great read, and a sad tale.

Now I just have to get someone else to write what happened with Kingpin and I’m done.

__________________

« | »

, , , .

57 Comments »

  1. Inglourious Badger says:

    :(

    • DeathHamsterDude says:

      Indeed. ;(

      Although I got pretty sick of Tomb Raider after the third one anyway. The reboot has my interest piqued though.

  2. DrazharLn says:

    I remember being disappointed by this game. :( indeed, Inglourious Badger.

  3. Duffin says:

    I reley dont want to say this… but I have to now.

    THIS GAME WAS CRAP!

  4. Robbeasy says:

    I like Stephen King – I own 10 of his films, and the other day I thought to myself ‘there’s a goal, try to get every Stephen King film ever made!’

    Turns out there’s about 120 of them…..p’raps not then. And if you’re watching the rubbish ones, can I nominate Dreamcatcher? Ta.

    • Ubiquitous says:

      Oh come now Dreamcatcher should surely be considered one of the “good” ones. I mean, have you seen Desperation? Now THERE is bad. I’m fairly certain that that is the single worst King movie I have EVER seen, and thats counting Maximum Overdrive which i acctually love. Desperation though… dear god…

      UNWATCHABLE… even though i did watch it…

    • Shadram says:

      Dreamcatcher starts well, but turns crap when the big rubber monster comes out. Like most Stephen King movies, then. In Dreamcatcher’s case, it didn’t help that the book’s a bit shit, too.

      King’s a character writer, and his stuff is always best when dealing with normal people meeting definitely not normal people in extraordinary situations. That’s why books like The Stand and Under the Dome are his best: big casts of crazy characters, coping with crazy events.

      Other bad Stephen King stuff worth watching: Kingdom Hospital mini-series, the Creepshow movies, Children of the Corn.

    • AndrewC says:

      Dreamcatcher is awful from the very first shot.

      http://www.badassdigest.com/2010/12/19/make-it-stop-dreamcatcher

      I love it so. John, do let us know when you’ve finished your odyssey.

    • Wulf says:

      Interestingly, Silver Bullet, also Steven King, had not the worst werewolf I’d ever seen.

      Its biggest crime was that the werewolf was more of a werebear, but it actually wasn’t quite so horrendous as some of the Hollywood outhouse offerings.

    • Nick says:

      Hmm, I can only think of about five Stephen King film adaptations that aren’t pretty damn bad.. usually the non horror ones are adapted quite well, which is a shame as I do so enjoy horror films. Then again, quite a few are enjoyable if you like silly but fun movies, like Maximum Overdrive or The Running Man for example.

      Mangler is a good (bad) one! If you haven’t seen them already: Sleepwalkers is awful, Thinner is pretty bad and almost all the Television adaptations are terrible. Sadly a lot of them are just boring rather than amusingly bad.

      I really enjoyed Cat’s Eye (well, the last section was kind of annoying) which is an anthology with a couple of great shorts in it.

    • mihor_fego says:

      Kingdom is a re-make of Riget, a Danish 1994 TV-series by Lars von Trier…

    • John Walker says:

      I watched Dreamcatcher the other day. Wow – is that a film that heads downhill fast. I love that it’s just unbridled nonsense by the end.

      And I’m going to defend Kingdom Hospital. I think King did a good job of making the adaptation his own, with all his usual in-references, and a flipping awesome aardvark. He did me a solid.

      My attempt last night to watch Pet Sematary II did not last long, I’m afraid. Even tiny Edward Furlong’s hideous acting wasn’t enough to make me want to stick through the utter gibberish. But then I did watch Night Flier immediately before it, so perhaps I was pushing my patience.

      I think I’ve left it too late to start watching The Mangler tonight.

      /starts The Mangler.

    • Jsnuk says:

      The Mist, a genuinely good film, although I confess to not having read the source material. Suppose it helps that it was directed by Frank Darabont (or produced? stupid memory :/).

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      I don’t where it ranks on the baditude scale, but Needful Things is up on iplayer right now.

    • Thants says:

      Dreamcatcher is at least bad in an interesting, inventive kind of way.

    • Bungle says:

      Dreamcatcher was a great book. Nobody should ever watch that movie.

    • Xercies says:

      Can I say i like The Langoliers, I thought that was a pretty good and interesting idea to be honest. Sure the film is way to long but I quite liked it.

      THEY FLOAT! THEY ALL FLOAAAT!

  5. Auspex says:

    But Official Playstation Magazine gave it 8/10! It must have been good!

  6. Igor Hardy says:

    Which Tomb Rider is it? Some recent one? There are so many that I have difficulties distinguishing one from another.

    I like that one you could see from the top – I was able to tell it’s not one of the others right away.

    • stahlwerk says:

      It was the last one made by Core Design before Eidos gave the rights to Crystal Dynamics, who hired the original series creator Toby Gard to make the “first reboot trilogy”, Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary and Underworld.

      Edit: AKA the good games of the series.

      Edit Edit: rereading your comment, you might have been employing sarcasm.

    • Igor Hardy says:

      I might have employed a tinge of sarcasm, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t genuinely interested in hearing an answer, so thanks for the info (I still would need to visit MobyGames to see what year this is from and what number in the series it is – 7th?, 10th? – but I’m just too lazy).

    • stahlwerk says:

      Year? 2003
      (Legend was 2006-ish, I think, with the others following a year apart)
      Number in the series? Don’t know, don’t care, I stopped counting at 2 (1998).

      Edit: The next one is gonna be number 9. With Guardian of Light (the “isometric” one of last year) not counting you now possess enough information to deduce the number yourself. ;-)

  7. Henke says:

    What was wrong with Kingpin?

    I played that one just after I’d upgraded my computer and I was impressed by how good it looked. And the shooting and Cypress Hill soundtrack made the whole thing a very enjoyable affair. And then there were things like thugs you could recruit to fight by your side and areas where you TALKED to characters instead of just shooting at them! Made it stand out from other FPSes at the time. Although I seem to remember the story getting a bit silly at the end.

    • John Walker says:

      The game released had almost nothing in common with the game promised (and indeed the game reviewed by one magazine.)

    • Zapatero says:

      Not the greatest moment in Zone history, to be sure. It didn’t end with the review either: the demo saga was almost the undoing of the mag. Standing in court defending that one was… interesting.

    • Henke says:

      Oh I see. I hadn’t read any previews of it so I came to it without any expectations.

    • bill says:

      i want to hear more about this. I can’t google any info!

      I do remember a reviewer talking about how realistic and disturbing the violence was, and how maybe it was a step too far. These days i guess it’d be pretty tame.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      The Jelly-skinned characters will remain disturbing forever, I feel.

      (Actually, games today are generally less violent than those around 00. Basically, Soldier of Fortune was a high water mark for realistic evisceration, and we’ve been dialing it back ever since. Even the GTA and friends aren’t that violent.)

      KG

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Kieron: You sound like you haven’t played Manhunt. Compared to that, SoF was a joke. In SoF you could be brutal. In Manhunt you had to! It was perverse. But fun. But sick. But fun! Because it wasn’t real. You didn’t hurt anybody. And you wouldn’t. In fact, the more you wouldn’t in reality, the more fun it was. ^^

  8. scharmers says:

    Not really a great read. Summarize as follows: “Game design team overreaches itself due to hubris/inexperience/sheer bloodymindedness/et.al. Realizes this about half-way through. Grind mode ensues. About a month before release, team goes into full triage mode, cutting everything that can’t be coaxed into working. Game is released to bad reviews and everyone is sad about it.”

    Saved you two pages of whatever.

    • Henke says:

      I enjoyed reading it, but I always like the hear the stories behind games that crash and burn. And at two pages it was quite short too.

  9. Rangersix says:

    I need that list of crappy Stephen King movies STAT!

  10. stahlwerk says:

    Honest question: does anyone know if there is a download-only site selling this game (for cheap)?

    • Wulf says:

      As someone who was given this game with a graphics card, let me save you the money and tell you that you do not want this game, unless it’s for some sort of masochistic curiosity… in which case, go ahead, but you can’t say I didn’t try to warn you. >_> It’s horrible.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Well – it does say it gets better in the later levels.

      I don’t know, it may be morbid curiosity, but I’d really like to play this.

  11. James Allen says:

    You know, I saw EDGE and immediately thought Angel Of Darkness was a game by EDGE Games. Boy, somebody should sue them…

  12. Navagon says:

    Off topic, but is Edge still paying Tim Langdell protection money?

  13. drewski says:

    I feel I’ve learned nothing from that story :-(

    Maybe there just wasn’t enough bitching in it.

  14. WJonathan says:

    “We spent an inordinate amount of time on the animation of Lara and designed the controls around the animation instead of designing the animation around the controls…”

    Can I get a “DUHHRRR!” from the congregation?

  15. Sunjammer says:

    Tomb Raider, until Crystal Dynamics, was such an up-its-own-arse British series I couldn’t get into it at all. I liked the demo of the first one, but could barely stand a single whole level. Core in general, actually, post-Amiga, was a team I struggled horribly to get behind. That they’d fall on their faces in trying to modernize didn’t surprise me a little bit. I wasn’t shocked in the slightest at anything I read in that story. Best of wishes to everyone who left that wreck behind for better things. Must have been one hell of a wakeup call.

    I mean look at her fucking face! Man. Fuck Tomb Raider. That they expected us to care about her death blows my mind.

  16. bill says:

    Didn’t Eurogamer or someone already do this? I could swear i’ve read at least one post-mortem for Angel of darkness.

    I must say, i loved the first 2 tomb raiders. They gave a great sense of scale and exploration. Never played 3 or 4, but i tried one of the reboot ones and it wasn’t the same. I missed the old controls.

  17. soundofvictory says:

    You know, looking back now with 20/20 hindsight-o-vision, it is all too easy to shrug Core off and say, “oh they were an arrogant lot and should have known better.” That is partially, true but also quite unfair. You have to think about videogame historical context when looking at this story/game. When development started around late 2000 on this game, I would claim that it was arguably one of the most optimistic times for console gaming. There was a brand new world of amazing graphics unfolding and everyone was all hyped up by the incoming playstation 2. There were hundreds of what we now call small indie companies trying to get their foot into the core console market. Core did have a fairly solid track record at the time. They knew they could easily pump out a Tomb Raider game per year and had a pipeline in place for that. What they didn’t realize (and did NOT know better), was that playstation 2 development would be jarringly different from psone development.

    I think their biggest mistake from the sound of it, was not putting their senior and more experienced team on the playstation 2 project immediately. But eh, what could have been?

  18. terry says:

    I recommend the Langoliers particularly John, it is execrable.

  19. Captain Hijinx says:

    Did we ever find out what happened to the original STALKER?

    I can clearly remember the PC Gamer preview and what was promised in that was nothing short of revolutionary. The finished product was like the butchered gimp little brother of what had been promised.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      You mean the one where you supposedly would have to eat, shit and sleep to survive? And do all the other normal boring stuff?
      Well guess what? They found out that the boring stuff was …well… boring, and so cut it out. Doesn’t sound like a surprise to me. :)

    • TeeJay says:

      I seem to remember the UK PCG preview focussing on the massive, open-world sandbox nature of the game with complex roaming AI wildlife, loads of individual stalkers and factions you could choose to compete or cooperate with and with frequent blow-outs requiring securing of safe-spaces. I can’t really remember it mentioning your ‘boring stuff’.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>