The following interview was originally published in our print issue DP 06 : 2019.
What is the first video game hero(ine) that comes to mind when you hear adventure? For us it is Lara Croft. The reboot has been doing very well – so say critics and gamers. The technical finesse is, even 18 months after its release, still the yardstick to measure all others by.
DP: Obviously the first question: How much fun is it to work on one of the major icons of gaming history: Lara Croft?
Jonathan Dahan (Producer): It was more of a humbling experience I’d say, like a dream come true that also comes with homework. We were given the mandate of completing the origin trilogy of one of the most recognizable protagonists/franchises in the industry. That’s a tall order!
We knew we couldn’t mess it up, so we took it very seriously and tried to make the best game we could. The fun comes more in the day-to-day, I think. Everyone on the team is very passionate about their work (I mean, making video games, living the dream) and the Tomb Raider franchise. When we’re able to actually play and try out a new feature for the first time, see the first storyboard of an intense cinematic moment, or see Païtiti running on the artist’s computer for the first time; it always makes us proud and motivated to continue to do better. That love of games translated well into the story, its realization and gameplay.
DP: With the incredible amount of assets, styles, FX and characters: How long did you work on that?
Fédéric Chappart (Art Technical Director): The origin story was always planned as a trilogy, so we knew that a third game was going to be made after “Rise of the Tomb Raider”. The conception of “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” started before the end of production of “Rise of the Tomb Raider”. Both creative teams at Crystal Dynamics and EidosMontreal started brainstorming on what we could bring to the game and how to end this origin story. It took approximately three years from the start to the release of “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”. And you can add several more months of development for the seven post-launch DLC releases.
DP: Since its release in 2018, what did you update?
Michel Leduc St-Arnaud (Lead Game Designer): The main updates came in the form of our seven DLCs, that each added a new narrative side mission, a new challenge tomb, additional outfits, weapons, and co-op play functionality. In total, the DLCs added nearly 10 hours of gameplay, and probably even longer with a very interesting level of replayability that co-op and our Score Attack and Time Attack modes delivered. Keeping a part of the development team active after launch also allowed us to tweak the game balancing and continue polishing the main experience. It also allowed us to fix bugs. Unfortunately, there’s always a few issues that slip through our quality assurance checks and can only be found when millions of players experience the game in their own way. That said, we are always listening to our community and try to fix things as fast as possible.
DP: Considering the flawless mechanics and execution: What was the groundwork and engine for “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”?
Jonathan Dahan: Several updates were implemented to our tech in order to deliver “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”. The game was developed on the Foundation engine (the internal engine created by Crystal Dynamics), which also powered “Tomb Raider 2013” and “Rise of the Tomb Raider”. With “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”, we wanted to push some aspects even further, with two big areas of focus being our lighting and vegetation systems. We wanted the jungle to feel as realistic as possible: dense and oppressive, full of life but also full of dangers. We invested a lot into making our vegetation look as good as possible and feel part of the world. That meant that they needed to properly react to the wind, Lara, other NPCs, and animals.
DP: A big part of the charm of the game is the interaction design. How did you get it to be as understandable as it is?
Fédéric Chappart: The main objective is to make the interaction as natural as possible for the player. We want the system to behave the way the player expects without prior learning. Once that is achieved, we want to find the balance between reactivity and visual quality to avoid frustration through repetition. QA will organically test interactions and spot the biggest visual quality offenders. The way we make sure quality is at its highest is by including QA in the process and not as a last check. Every iteration is tested to find weaknesses and areas of improvement in order to execute the necessary fixes along the way.
DP: Towards the final look: Could you talk about your rendering and finishing?
Michel Leduc St-Arnaud: We redid our lighting pipeline completely in order to support the highest HDR quality possible, which made us rework all of our post-process like color grading in order to reach a high HDR range. We reworked our material pipeline in order to support the latest shading models, and implemented a new way of rendering for water volumes with caustics, volumetric lighting, volumetric fog, all in real-time for maximum realism. We also added subsurface scattering of light in vegetation as well as character skin. Finally, we worked real-time, ray-traced shadows with Nvidia, which allowed us to support soft shadows, contact shadows, and omnidirectional shadows on the latest RTX video cards.
DP: And what have you been working on since?
Jonathan Dahan: Parts of the team have moved on to work on other projects in the studio including Marvel’s “Avengers” in collaboration with Crystal Dynamics.