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Tomb Raider 2 - An Inside Look (July 1997)

Considering Eidos Interactive's packed booth at E3 last month, it's hard to believe this red-hot publisher/distributor--now home to the likes of Ion Storm and Looking Glass as well as Tomb Raider developer Core Designs--was once cute little Domark Software. The only comparison I can draw to Eidos's sudden reversal of fortune is the unlikely transformation of Good Times Software into GT "sho' me the money" Interactive, thriving thanks to Doom and Quake.

Without pulling any punches, Domark Software was once a bit of a laughing stock when it came to mainstream hits, but that's a distant memory now. Eidos is having the last laugh, sporting one of the hottest collection of games, developers, and distribution deals this side of Activision (who recently hijacked the rights to Quake II and its various siblings).

One game--more accurately, one babe--initiated Eidos's meteoric rise into the gaming stratosphere: Lara Croft. Core Designs' sassy soldier of fortune single-handedly provided the spark and flare that made a Eidos a real player in the industry. It's no surprise that Tomb Raider 2 was already in the works before the original game shipped, and accordingly Tomb Raider 2 is releasing surprisingly soon--this November for Windows 95. To get you ready for Lara's next globe-trotting escapade, we rapped with Andrew Thompson, a producer at England's Core Designs, and Mike Schmitt, the game's associate producer in the States. Here's the latest!

her latest role
Eidos isn't asking Ms. Croft to really stretch herself in her latest production. Not surprisingly, Core and Eidos are sticking with the winning formula that made Tomb Raider a hit. "If you liked the first game, I think people are just going to go crazy for this one," says Schmitt. Tomb Raider 2 will feature the same two-fisted action, gymnastic exploration, and puzzle-solving found in the original.

And, though Core's Tomb team is brainstorming about new inventory items for Lara, the action won't be watered down with new adventure elements. If anything, Tomb 2 will have more mayhem as you battle a larger cadre of human enemies, including Chinese warriors, Italian cultists, and, of all people, Tibetan monks. Also, like the original, Tomb 2 will stick with the original game's keyboard controls and over-the-shoulder view.

In essence, Tomb Raider 2 hopes to be a bigger and better Tomb Raider, kind of like Doom II was supposed to be a bigger and better Doom (that's up for debate). Schmitt acknowledges that Core is basically adding "things they weren't able to put into the first game" and addressing "advances in technology." That's the nature of a sequel: Give the people more of what they want!

This is fine if the touchups and modifications aren't just gimmicks. Happily, it appears Core is adding some real jewels to the gameplay. For one, Core has overhauled the graphics engine to prevent clipping problems and render a larger number of polygons on screen. This allows for large exterior areas, dynamic lighting, and atmospheric effects, such as breaking glass. Fans can also expect cool new moves, weapons, and outfits from Lara and scores of new human and animal foes. Good thing, too--there's a lot riding on Tomb Raider 2, namely Eidos's newfound success. "[Core] realizes how huge it is," says Schmitt.

the story
A mercenary like Lara wouldn't let herself be double-crossed twice, so in Tomb Raider 2 she has her own agenda. This time, she is on a hunt for a magical relic known as the Dagger of Xian, which is the envy of several competing parties: the Italian cultists, Chinese warriors, and Tibetan monks. Evidently, it was once the prize of a tyrannical Chinese emperor until it was seized by the monks and locked away in the Great Wall of China. Now, a fanatical Italian group known as the Fiama Nera covets the ancient knife. True to form, Lara also wants a piece of the action, setting up a mad race for this archeological jewel.

Just like Tomb Raider, the story will unfold in a series of cut scenes, mixed in with the gameplay. According to Schmitt, though, the gang at Core doesn't want to break away from the action completely during these dramatic interludes. Like Interstate '76, both the gameplay and cut scenes will use the game's regular 3D engine, instead of breaking into high-resolution cut scenes. "They want to get away from the SGI FMV scenes," says Schmitt.

True to Tomb Raider's obvious inspiration, Indiana Jones, the new adventure will take Ms. Croft to all sorts of archeological hot spots and famed cities. Like the original, Tomb 2 will have four unique worlds for you to explore and escape. Beyond the well-known Venice world, there is a sunken ship, which will feature guards in wetsuits and oil rig workers, a Great Wall of China environment, and a mountainous Tibet area, which will evoke the cavernous action of the original.

In general, Thompson claims "The worlds won't feel as tomby as the first." Of Venice, Schmitt says, "Half of it's inside, half is outside." Both the sunken ship and Great Wall worlds have significantly larger external areas. To mix things up further, the game will force you to go back and forth between the internal and external environments. Moreover, once you're inside you won't just run around dank caverns filled with various critters. According to Thompson, the sunken ship "mimics the Titanic" and features all the bygone amenities of a true ocean liner, including a main ballroom and engine room. Exploring man-made creations, not just ancient tombs and dugouts, should add another dimension to Lara's running and gunning.

The new human quarters and natural environments also allow the Tomb 2 crew to get more adventurous with the game's natural predators and human henchmen. Beyond the Italian cult hoping to have you for breakfast in Venice, Chinese warriors at the Wall, and protective Tibetan monks, players will face off against massive great white sharks, eels, and barracudas in Tomb 2's underwater world. Elsewhere, you'll encounter tigers, yeti, wild dogs, crows, eagles, and hungry leopards. There's more to come, too, according to Schmitt and Thompson. As with all areas of the game, Core is still experimenting.

While Thompson claims Tomb 2 will not deviate from a "well-balanced mix" of action, exploration, and puzzle-solving, Schmitt admits the addition of more human enemies will increase the amount of gunslinging. For one, human enemies might not have claws and fangs, but they do like to tote around guns and other weapons. This should create some new fireworks. Further, Tomb 2's artificial intelligence is being retooled to accommodate each world's human crew. "In the last game you could jump up on a block and pick stuff off," says Schmitt. "The intelligence on the enemies should be a lot better. Now, they climb up after you."

In another twist, Thompson says Tomb 2 will have more level bosses than the original game. Unfortunately, specific information was in short supply. Schmitt was a tad more helpful. "I don't think there will be a boss at the end of each stage," says Schmitt, "but there will be more bosses than the original."

To cope with the increased mayhem and high-IQ opponents, Lara will benefit from a few new weapons. While very little has been set in stone, Lara will sport a spear gun for eliminating aquatic carnivores and underwater grunts in and around the game's sunken boat. Thompson also says they plan to include modifications of the original weapons (pistol, magnum, shotgun, and uzi). According to Schmitt, a double-barrel shotgun and maybe even a rocket launcher are possibilities.

Beyond new weapons, Tomb 2 will break away from its predecessor by including more adventure-style inventory items. One sure bet is a flare. "We plan to use the lighting as part of the puzzle-solving," says Thompson. "For instance, you may walk into a room and it will be pitch black so you'll need to break out a flare to light your way through the area." Other utilitarian items that expand Lara's abilities are being discussed, but for now, mum's the word. In general, the new gear will add another layer of simple puzzle-solving to Lara's acrobatic antics.

star treatment
Appropriately, some of the coolest new features in Tomb 2 have been reserved for the game's star. Though the graphics are better across the board (Thompson: "The entire graphic engine has been improved to incorporate more of everything: more polygons, better textures, better enemies."), Lara is getting the V.I.P. treatment. "We've added polygons to Lara to smooth out rough edges," says Thompson. "We've also added some more facial features." Technically speaking, the new and improved Lara boasts about twice as many polygons as the original Ms. Croft.

According to Schmitt, Core is now including a bit of eye candy it eliminated from the original game. To make Lara more realistic, she has a real 3D ponytail that sways from side to side, depending on the direction she is moving. Other fashionable accessories include an assortment of outfits, such as a half wetsuit (worn when exploring the sunken ship) and an aviator jacket (applied when exploring Tibet). Other welcome cosmetic adjustments include a slight breast reduction. Lara will still slow traffic, but let's just say she has a more well-rounded disposition.

Also, since Lara's arsenal of moves is as important as her arsenal of weapons, she has mastered several new dance steps--some for show, others for survival. To keep up appearances, Lara now wades in water and dog paddles to the sides of pools before she climbs out. For more dire situations, she can climb book cases and rocky walls, as if bouldering up a steep face. For added drama, she can fall and catch herself in a nick of time. Core is also considering a rope-swinging maneuver, which will advance the screen, and a hand-over-hand gymnasium move. Lara might even drive a vehicle or fly a plane, according to Schmitt. "There's all sorts of stuff they are experimenting with."

that's a wrap
Finally, Tomb 2 promises to address some of Tomb Raider's past ills. For one, Schmitt says Core is refining the over-the-shoulder view to eliminate illogical camera shifts. Schmitt also says Tomb 2 will work with the latest multi-button gamepads, such as Microsoft's SideWinder, not just standard four-button controllers. Finally, the game will support Direct3D: "It should work out of the box with all the cards that are Windows 95-native," says Schmitt. As for supporting individual chips, such as 3Dfx's Voodoo Rush, patches for these accelerators will appear after the game ships.

So how much juice will Tomb 2 require? The jury is still out, but the game is being built with 3D accelerators in mind. You'll probably need a P133 and 3D card to play Tomb 2 in the manner it was intended. Nevertheless, it will feature a low-res mode so players with the minimum requirements (a P90) can step into Lara's shoes. Buckle up your holster and go drag this November.

Note: After this interview has published in Gamecenter, Adrian Smith from Core Design, confirmed that there will be FMV sequences in the game despite what is said here.

Article taken from GAMECENTER.COM written by Bill Meyer , July 1997. The Croft Times