Interview: Tomb Raider’s Karl Stewart

By Dan Grill on July 18th, 2011 at 1:59 pm.

She's staring wistfully at her forgotten future.

Very much interested to find out more about the forthcoming Tomb Raider reboot, we sent intrepid, debonair reporter Dan Griliopoulos to interview the game’s global brand manager, Karl Stewart. He tells us about the motivation for reinventing Lara, the reasons for quicktime events, and Lara’s bookish ways.

RPS: Why do you think Tomb Raider needed rebooting. Do you think there’s a danger in it, that the character of Lara may lose what little character she had?

Karl Stewart: I think Lara’s a beloved character and Crystal has really enjoyed their time they’ve been able to spend with her. We felt she was losing some relevance in the gaming world, that she was a little too hard and removed. We wanted to make her more approachable and relatable. I think this was a perfect time for us to reimagine the franchise, taking Lara back to her roots. I think it’s growing to be a great way for players to learn to reknow who Lara is, retell her story.

RPS: What characteristics of hers were putting people off as the years went by?

Stewart: I think she became an icon. When you do, you remove yourself from relatability. We wanted to bring her to a place where she didn’t have all those skills, she wasn’t perfect. The modern gamer can relate to that, they want a complex hero.

RPS: Do you think there was an issue where she and her audience had grown up and grown apart, hence you’ve moved to this prettier, more realistic Lara as your audience has grown too?

Stewart: I think Lara had done all the growing she could. We’d taken her to a great place, to somewhere she had some closure. There weren’t really many more stories we could have told. So we feel like with this new place we have fertile ground and there’s a lot of places we can go.

RPS: Because you’ve dumped her back into a completely tortured, modern existence?

Stewart: Ha! I think people when they see her in these situations they are immediately emotionally attached. They feel connected and want to help her survive. The survival theme we’ve been pushing really resonates with people.

RPS: Quicktime events in general – the press rail against them, but developers seem to love putting them in.

Stewart: It’s all about pacing, right? It allows a developer to… a systemic mechanic takes a lot of time to craft. It’s also limited in some fashion. If we want to come up with a very customised experience, sometimes a quicktime event is a great way to do that. What we’re trying to do with quicktime events is make some parity between what you see, so we’re trying to use the analogue stick as much as possible. We try to keep it as analogue as possible. We’re in tutorial-heavy areas, so across the whole game it’ll feel a lot less.

RPS: Female characters in games always seem to be orphans with daddy issues, as opposed to the unreflective drive of, say, the Bulletstorm protagonist. Why do you think they can’t be strong protagonists in their own right?

Stewart: Well, I think Lara is extremely strong. In the boat, in our trailer, yes, Lara was pulled out of the water, to prevent drowning. but she had to make a decision, to summon the courage to fight through fear, to get up and run and jump across this boat. The key to her inner strength is fighting through the fear, so even though she has fear, she gets up and keeps going.

RPS: You’ve mentioned she’s bookish. What do you mean by that, as like most action characters she’s not philosophical and she doesn’t reflect on her situation.

Stewart: When I say bookish, I mean she just came out of university, so she has this deep understanding of things. She’s extremely well-read, she knows things just through research, but she hasn’t experienced them yet. She came on this trip to truly experience the world, she was just so optimistic. The thing about Lara, now, is that she just lost any sense of optimism. Those aspirations have been crushed utterly and she has to build back up to find confidence.

RPS: You’re not going to answer this question, but… Lara used to have two pistols, her mentor Roth has dual pistols. Is there a link?

Stewart: Did she? I don’t think we were aware of that [sarcasm detected - sarcasm-detecting Ed].

RPS: As the design of the ships must be based on the lost fleet of Kublai Khan, what elements have you taken from that? Does it feature on the island itself?

Stewart: That’s the initial thrust of the story, for sure. We’re not going into the details of that right now, but it’s the kernel that sparked the whole exhibition.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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47 Comments »

  1. westyfield says:

    What is analogue stick?

    • Kaira- says:

      A miserable little pile of secrets!

    • Kdansky says:

      It’s that useless thing that adjusts the camera between the QTEs and cutscenes.

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      stahlwerk says:

      It’s why audio tape tends to stick together after prolonged non-usage. The analogue on it is a molasses-like substance. To reduce analogue stick, tape is often heated in an oven. I don’t know how this relates to quick time events, though.

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      Makariel says:

      It’s like a mouse for people with no table.

  2. franches says:

    moar moaaar moaar. Two pistols? hmm doesnt bother me. She had bigger boobs.

  3. Mr Ak says:

    “When I say bookish, I mean she just came out of university, so she has this deep understanding of things…”

    :)

    Also. Given the somewhat confrontational nature of the interviewing, would it be fair to describe it as a ‘Grilling’?

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      LOLz. I am always confrontational. Alec greeted me today with “Morning, Snarkotron.”

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      Snarkotron, Megatrons slightly lesser known but more feared form than Galvatron.

      He transforms into a scarf, and has a hipster slave carry him around.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Yeah this was full of lots of backhanded questions:

      “danger of losing what little character she had”

      “Why do you use quicktime events when they suck and everyone hates them”

      “you mentioned she’s bookish, but you are wrong and she isn’t. Please account for your lies!”

      “Female characters: Why do you think they can’t be strong protagonists in their own right? Also, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

      It makes for an interesting read, but I would have smacked his face if I in any way cared about the franchise. Of course the Tomb Raider franchise has always been more of a corporate entity so I doubt even the people giving the interview care much one way or another.

  4. tenseiga says:

    I dont get the quick time events explaination, its like he wanted to say one thing but didnt. I find it hard to believe that game developers genuinely LIKE QT events or think they are good.

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      AndrewC says:

      He’s a brand manager, bless him.

    • Zenicetus says:

      It sounded like either his brain got ahead of his mouth, or there is some missing text in the interview. It makes more sense if he had said : “What we’re trying to do with quicktime events is make some parity between what you see and what you do, so we’re trying to use the analogue stick as much as possible.

      The more I see of these QT events in games like Witcher 2, the more I think it’s a result of a disjointed and lazy development team. You’ve got lead designers and animators who want to show a cool, cinematic sequence, but they know that players don’t want to just sit through a movie. At the same time, what they want to show doesn’t fit the normal movement and control scheme for the character. So instead of taking the trouble to modify the controls, or modify the sequence so the player can be fully in control, they cheat and make it a QT event. Or worse, they take a sequence that could easily be done with the normal game controls — like the fight fights in Witcher 2 — and make it a QT mini-game for no reason.

      I hate it. It completely removes player agency and breaks immersion. It makes the player into a temporary puppet controlled by the game, instead of the other way around. I would gladly skip those “cool” cinematic sequences like that bit at the end of the Kayran battle in Witcher 2, in return for having full control of my character at all times.

      Bah! Humbug! Fie on all QT events! (/rant)

    • StingingVelvet says:

      No matter how good the interviewer the interviewee is still going to be in PR mode. QTEs are not going to appeal to readers of this site, or even most gaming sites, but they are assumed to appeal to more casual gamers. He can’t put it like that though, he has to spin a tale.

  5. airtekh says:

    I like that they’re putting an effort into crafting more of a character out of Lara.

    I’ve never felt anything other than ‘snobbish cow’ from her previous incarnations.

    On the other hand … QTEs :/

    • Brutal Deluxe says:

      Yes. I’m led to believe they should just do a film instead.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      They did they were aweful.

      I rather liked Tomb Raider: Legend’s Laura. She was an exceedingly british, enthusiastic woman who kept lots of pretty young men about to do her whims.

      I LOVED her pretty boy support team as an idea, I thought it was a beautiful feminist subversion.

    • Brutal Deluxe says:

      I meant that it doesn’t appear to have much going for it in terms of gameplay

  6. Brutal Deluxe says:

    a great way for players to learn to reknow who Lara is

    wha?

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      Vandelay says:

      You missed the best bit of that sentence.

      “I think it’s growing to be a great way for players to learn to reknow who Lara is”

    • mejoff says:

      The best bit of a sentence that includes the word ‘reknow’ is an obvious typo on behalf of the interviewer?

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      Vandelay says:

      Well, it made me smile…

      I’m easily amused.

  7. woodsey says:

    “As the design of the ships must be based on the lost fleet of Kublai Khan”

    Wanting to distance yourself from Uncharted (not that they look particularly similar anyway) would probably be easier if you didn’t use the same reference point for the plot.

  8. TsunamiWombat says:

    I remain cautiously optimistic about this game. So far we’ve only seen the beginning parts of the game, those with scared and hurt Laura who cries out in pain ALOT (those cries of hers could do with sounding a bit less like sexual moans, but it might make gamers of either gender extremely uncomfortable to hear plaintive screeches of agony, especially at the rate they came out in the demo)

    So long as she ends the game as a supremly confident young woman who stoves peoples faces in with an ice axe and keeps pretty men around her mansion to do her bidding and busy work, I shall like it.

    Oh and if the game isn’t rubbish.

    • Jim Reaper says:

      “those cries of hers could do with sounding a bit less like sexual moans”

      Heh, my friend once told me of the time they were all sat in the lounge and suddenly heard a load of moans and grunts coming from the dining room, where his 9 year old sister was on the computer. They rushed in, thinking she was looking at something she shouldn’t be, only to find her playing Tomb Raider 2….badly.

  9. Hides-His-Eyes says:

    >but she had to make a decision, to summon the courage to fight through fear, to get up and run and jump across this boat.

    wait, what?

  10. Cooper says:

    Did the interviewee get briefed as to what RPS is before the interview, either by their own PR or the interviewer? if so, that reference to analog sticks is indefensible.

    Boo. Hiss. Etc.

    • V. Profane says:

      I played the last Tomb Raider games on my PC, with dual analogue sticks.

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      Vandelay says:

      It is funny, because I have three devices on my desk with dual analogue sticks and don’t own a single console (two pads and a Razer Hydra.)

      Open your mind to the versatility of the PC people! No one thought it was weird when we used joysticks ten years or so ago.

    • paterah says:

      I also have some gamepads for racing games and some other games and no I don’t feel shame :)

  11. The Sentinel says:

    “There weren’t really many more stories we could have told…”

    Imagination failure, right there. If Marvel and DC can still find new ways to approach their characters after several decades then you should be able to find some new things for Lara to do without pressing the reboot button.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      I agree with you but I have to call into question your metaphor. Marvel and DC are absolutly rubbish at new idea’s. Just see DC’s upcoming reboot.

    • mejoff says:

      Marvel and DC reboot characters every ten minutes!

  12. V. Profane says:

    I suppose it’s beyond the ken of a ‘Brand Manager’ to say Tomb Raider needed rebooting because the games were woefully behind the times. It’s like the developers either never bothered to play Ass Creed, Sands of Time, etc. or just shrugged their shoulders and went “but we make Tomb Raider games”. Underworld seemed to acknowledge this but didn’t do a very good job of repairing it.

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      Vandelay says:

      I disagree. I would certainly hate a Tomb Raider game that adapted an AssCreed control scheme, as I would feel as if I was actually doing nothing except pressing forward. I can understand wanting something a bit more like Sands of Time, but I thought Underworld offered just as good platforming.

      Reading this interview, it makes me think that they should have just made a new character altogether and not bothered with it being a Tomb Raider game. Having said that, a new franchise is a risky business, doubly so with a female lead. Sticking with Lara sounds like playing it safe to me.

    • V. Profane says:

      Underworld was still mostly tightly pre-set routes albeit with sometimes more than one. There were still situations where I found myself aggravated by not being able to make a jump or climb something simply because they hadn’t been made interactive despite being visually available. They threw in a little more exploration but that resulted in things like the underwater sections where there were large areas of featureless sea with no purpose whatsoever.
      What made the original Tomb Raider game so memorable to me (apart from my 3DFX card) was the sense of freedom and exploration. The last 3 games haven’t given me much of a sensation of either. I agree that I’d want a Tomb Raider game to have controls that are more Mirrors Edge than Ass Creed in terms of involvement; but Ass Creed still gave me a better experience than Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld.

  13. mejoff says:

    Reknow?

    Brand managers are that kind of people aren’t they.

  14. tims says:

    Good questions.

    Every time I think of this new tomb raider, I see her in the trailer doing that stupid leap and imagine her arms getting ripped off on the edge of metal shards. Stupid trailer.

  15. sinelnic says:

    I don’t believe what he just said about QTEs. I read it like “Good gameplay takes a lot of effort to get right, and maybe we can’t produce it. So we will just avoid that and sell the game to people who don’t care.”

    They are definitely not marketing this for ME.

  16. GT3000 says:

    I really do detest RPS sometimes, what’s all this malarkey about feminism and sexual equality? Equity, kids. Not equality. That said, hopefully we can see some more fluff shed on this Laura incarnation, the previous stuff was great but then it got all PC.

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      ffordesoon says:

      If that is sarcasm and/or trolling, great job. You got me.

      If it is not, you are gross and I want you to go away.

    • Rii says:

      Feel free to fuck off to the rest of the internets, then.

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    ffordesoon says:

    Oh dearie dear.

    Those are the worst responses a guy in this Stewart gent’s position could give, because there is no content within them at all. I seriously cannot think of more insultingly hollow responses.

    Which is a shame, because I’m actually enormously excited about this game, and would like to believe that the developers of it actually know what they’re talking about.

    That said, to the fellow who was offended by the analog stick reference: please grow up. Sometimes people like to play games with their gamepads, because they are better suited to certain types of games. The people playing Super Meat Boy with an Xbox 360 controller, for example, are not doing that because they are “console kiddies”. They are doing that because that is the proper way to play Super Meat Boy, even on the PC. That does not make the PC worse than consoles, nor does it make consoles worse than PC. It makes Super Meat Boy a 2D platformer. Which it is. If we were discussing a PC racing sim, and I said I was going to play it with my keyboard, you would call me a moron. And you would be an asshole for doing that, but you would also be right, because using a wheel is the only way to play racing sims with any modicum of accuracy. Same with gamepads.

    I agree, the PC’s great. One great thing it does is let you plug in a gamepad and play games with a gamepad.

    And THIS is why I self-identify as a console gamer, even though I’m really more of a PC gamer these days. Lordy-loo, the elitism.

    • Triangulon says:

      I agree that the ability to utilise various inputs on a PC such as gamepads, joysticks etc is a great advert for the versitility of the platform. However, what really irritates me is the seemingly stark refusal to acknowledge the fact that many of us still use mouse and keyboard and will continue to do so. Also, although I admit that I haven’t got around to playing Super Meat Boy yet (on the list), I have yet to meet a 2d platformer that is ‘properly’, as you put it, played with a gamepad. This also seems to undermine the tone of your argument which should surely be that you can play a game ‘properly’ with whatever the hell you want. Which would be correct.

      My main concern is with the QTEs. Again, I can see some use for them in games. In Dino Crisis for example, the QTEs ocurred when one was ambushed by a dino. Ambushed and therefore not originally on screen and not able to be fought via standard combat. I can see little further use than that. The problem seems to be as others have noted, that they are simply easier fixes than actually making the gameplay robust enough. I think it may have been Yahtzee on QTEs who stated that the worst form of removing interraction from an interactive videogame is having a QTE or cutscene perform actions which could take place under normal gameplay. This I wholeheartedly agree with.