‘If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it’ – Crystal Dynamics Talk Tomb Raider Trilogy With NAGF

Karl Stewart of Crystal Dynamics talks to NAGF about his hopes for the Tomb Raider Trilogy

Life at Crystal right now is good, we’ve just announced our next game in spectacular fashion being on the cover of Game Informer, and the team are extremely pumped up and focused to deliver something unique and unexpected to the Tomb Raider audience.

Tomb Raider Trilogy touches down exclusively for the PS3 in March. But we had a few questions we wanted to ask the guys over at Crystal Dynamics. How difficult is maintaining quality control when porting to the console, for instance, and what can fans expect from the bumper package? Karl Stewart, global brand director for Crystal Dynamics was kind enough to set us straight:

NAGF: We want to know about the more technical side of things when a game gets re-released. How difficult is it technically to put three stand-alone games onto one disk, whilst improving on graphics and other individual areas?

To be honest, at 25gigs, the PlayStation 3 Blu-ray allowed us more than enough space to get the three games, along with a fair few additional extras, onto the disk. Underworld in itself has the same footprint as before so we knew what to expect there, what we didn’t know was how big Legend and Anniversary would become after we began remastering them from the PlayStation 2 versions. That kinda scared us a little. So thankfully, even with increasing the overall quality of all the textures and the addition of some technical data to play on the PS3 (Trophy support to name one), we managed to keep the entire collection just a little under 25gigs.

NAGF: We’ve heard about the Crystal proprietary engine. Tell us more! As two of the games were released on the PS2, how strenuous and lengthy is the process of what is essentially restoring old foundations, as you would a house?

We developed the Crystal Engine back in 2005/06 for its first use on Tomb Raider Legend. Over the years we have continued to evolve the engine with help from our highly-skilled engine team, improving on its capabilities alongside development expectations and requirements.

For the process of remastering the PlayStation 2 versions of Legend and Anniversary, using your analogy of restoring an old house, I would have to say that the foundations is the engine, and when a foundation is good you don’t touch them if you didn’t have to, as they say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

For the remastering of both games, we effectively kept all the walls of the house in place (story, music, physics etc..) and refurbished each room to become more modern and up to PlayStation 3 expectations (which included things like rezing up all the textures).

For this process we worked with our partner studio Buzz Monkey. Buzz have been working alongside us, and our engine, for quite a few years now and have become more than adept at understanding how she works under the hood. Were very honoured to be able to work with such a capable team in Buzz, and trusting that they now exactly what level of quality we expect and the level of quality we know they can deliver.

NAGF: What’s life like currently in the Crystal Dynamics team? What are the differences when managing a project such as remastering old properties as opposed to starting a new project? Is there a different creative and technical structure involved?

Life at Crystal right now is good, we’ve just announced our next game in spectacular fashion being on the cover of Game Informer, and the team are extremely pumped up and focused to deliver something unique and unexpected to the Tomb Raider audience.

The brand new Lara Croft, as seen on the cover of GameInformer

With that in mind though, we’ve always been excited about the opportunity to be able to go back in and remaster Legend and Anniversary for the PlayStation 3, for the Tomb Raider fans, but never quite had the time to do it with everything else going on around us.

Over the last year or so we kept the idea on the table just in case something would change, it was only recently that the notion of working with our partner studio Buzz Monkey came up that we decided to jump on it. This was the perfect scenario as it allowed us to continue keeping focus on the next game, safe in the knowledge that we have an extremely capable team in Buzz Monkey managing the helm of the Trilogy project.

NAGF: What’s the marketing potential and profit associated with releasing compilations? Are they seen as just a cash generator or is there a real desire to remodel the best of a series to a whole new audience?

I think first and foremost the goal of this project was to bring two great games which we’re extremely proud to have created on the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3 audience. As mentioned above, we’ve always had the idea at the back of our heads to do this and with everything else going on right now we decided that now was the right time to do it.

The further we get down the road of presenting a vision of a younger Lara and redefining the idea of Tomb Raiding, the chances of us doing a Trilogy based on these three games would have gotten slimmer and slimmer. In 24 months the idea of putting a Trilogy out would only bring brand confusion to the consumer and start to fragment our new vision.

NAGF: Happy with the new pics of Lara and her reimagining? What does the future hold for her?

We’ve spent a lot of time getting to where we are now, the entire team at Crystal are extremely proud of the new image and vision were creating for Lara Croft and Tomb Raider.

As for the future, we’ll you just have to keep your eyes on the studio. We have a lot of exciting news and developments still to come in the future that will no doubt turn a lot of heads.