Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics recently lifted the hood a little to show what went into producing their now hit Tomb Raider game, putting on a master class session in Los Angeles sponsored by BAFTA. Geoff Keighley hosted and a string of presentations followed by Karl Stewart, who led global brand for Crystal Dynamics and is responsible for marketing in the US, Darrell Gallagher, head of developer Crystal Dynamics, Noah Hughes, the studios creative director, and Jason Graves, the game’s music composer. Each looked at the painstaking effort they put into remaking Lara Croft by creating an origin for the storied franchise, and marketing her as a gritty survivalist, not the slick, pretty action hero gamers had come to know.
Stewart focused on how Square Enix took on the challenge of creating not just a successful game but another blockbuster in the Tomb Raider franchise, one long in the making. He showed a chart highlighting how brand recognition for Lara Croft compared to other game characters and only Mario had higher notoriety. Lara handily beat out a selection of rivals in the action game space such as Master Chief, Sam Fisher, Kratos, and even her new male counterpart Nathan Drake from Sony’s best-selling Uncharted games. One would think that made Square Enix’s task easier, as if their game had a built-in audience. Except Tomb Raider has a legacy of hits and misses, with recent releases mostly falling into the latter category.
Stewart was forthcoming in saying how both Square and Crystal Dynamics looked to how, from a sales perspective, Uncharted had unseated Tomb Raider in the action-adventure genre. Uncharted’s take on the genre was grittier and more rooted in reality. They also looked the evolution of James Bond from slick spy to Daniel Craig’s no-holds-barred action her, which Stewart said was inspired by the success of Jason Bourne films. These led to the decision that the Tomb Raider franchise needed what he called “a shot in the arm,” and that meant reinventing it from its starting point – where Lara’s own adventure streak started.
We talked with Stewart and Crystal Dynamics’ Darrell Gallagher after the event.