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Interview: Tomb Raider's Karl Stewart

The University Of Life

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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Tomb Raider (1996)


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Dan Grill