Croft manner: Tomb Raider art director Brian Horton discusses Lara’s latest rebirth
Rob Briscoe’s Dear Esther remake was exceptional for its sense of travel, only drawing areas you’d visited or would later reach. Can the same be said of this game?
Yeah, I think this Tomb Raider’s taking the most ambitious licence with scale we’ve ever done. Tomb Raider’s always suggested grandeur and we’ve always had amazing vistas, but now you look at a vista and you can traverse from here to there. That’s a new thing for us. Having an open world where you can just point over there and say right, I’m going over there, and you make your way organically over to that place way off in the background. There will be unreachable spaces that are just there as an amazing backdrop, but they might be places were you’ll see them way off and then, later on, you’ll arrive there and look miles back and see where you’ve been. That’s what’s amazing about having an island, it allows us to render a space with dramatic scale but which at the same time has intimacy. Another thing we’re doing is really pushing the scale from the super-claustrophobic to these big open expanses, so the feeling of grandeur’s even more prominent because of the contrasts.
As game worlds get richer and more visually complex, how do you meet expectations without overly camouflaging the player’s objectives?
We draw attention to what we call visual language: the patterns we can identify that repeat and give the player some hint as to what they can do with something. We try and make sure there’s some consistent things the player can see that get rendered in such a way that they still feel natural and organic in this space. We’re trying to make a work that feels completely real and contiguous, but at the same time you want the player to have a way to navigate. So for players that want an additional layer of hints, we also have the Survival Instinct mode which is Lara’s way of assessing space. So when she looks at the world, you hit this button and it highlights primary destinations, or makes certain things that are interactive glow. It’s those tools that we have to make the player feel totally immersed, but, at the same time, if they want to have a clear idea of where they need to go, there is a hint system.
How has the Tomb Raider camera evolved with this game? Is it more intimate, versatile?
We’ve put a lot of investment into camera. It’s one of the things we knew early on would get special care, to make sure we had interactive cinematography. One of our aspirations was to have the feeling of a virtual cameraman at times, even though there was no one there. We want you to feel empathy in a way. So, when she’s in a tight claustrophobic space, you’re close to her and she’s taking up a lot of screen real estate. It makes you nervous and you feel that claustrophobia. And when you’re on these large epic vistas we can pull the camera out and give you a feeling of freer movement, and it makes the world feel that much larger. We put a lot of attention into cameras, but also seamless blends from some of our more cinematic gameplay to some of our other gameplay so that you feel like it’s one fluid experience. We have an amazing camera artist in Remi Lacoste; he’s from Ubisoft and has done some amazing work for us, working with the programmers to develop a camera system that’s truly top notch as far as industry standards are concerned.
Square Enix has become something of a champion of PC with its deluxe treatments of Sleeping Dogs and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Will Tomb Raider follow suit?
We spent a lot of time making sure that the standard here is good enough for someone who’s only ever experienced Tomb Raider on PC. We have dedicated people making sure the PC game feels just like console ones, but at the same time takes the best advantage of the format. We’ll have things like being able to have higher-resolution textures— There’s a lot of details I can’t go into right now, but the PC version will definitely make those who have a powerful gaming PC very, very happy.