How fans shaped the gameplay of Shadow of the Tomb Raider
At a time when devout fans can unleash a chorus of hatred if a game series they adore ceases to conform to their expectations, ownership over creative works has become a somewhat strained issue.
Should a game developer design their next title guided only by their internal creative vision? Or should they make what fans want and expect?
It’s a conundrum at the heart of most artistic processes, to a greater or lesser extent, and it’s particularly pronounced where commercially-minded video games are concerned. Over at Canadian studio Eidos Montréal, they think they’ve found the right balance of serving the audience and trusting their own abilities as game development experts.
Their latest work – the soon-to-be-released Shadow of the Tomb Raider – has been significantly influenced by its fan community. That’s not to say a great army of players has had the final say on what goes in the game, though. That simply wouldn’t work, unless they all happened to be game design experts with compatible hopes for Lara Croft‘s next outing.
Rather, the gaming community around Tomb Raider are a guiding voice in how much of each gameplay element makes it into the final game.
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“I think each game is an exploration of what Tomb Raider is, and what that balance of the gameplay is,” muses Jill Murray, lead writer on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as she considers Lara’s entire back catalogue, and the task of making a game that fits the series’ template, while staying distinct. She’s sat in a behind-closed-doors session at Gamescom, and she’s revealing fascinating details about the gameplay mix that will make up the next release in the 22-year-old video game franchise.
“I know that this team has listened a lot to the community, and what they like,” she continues. “What the community likes is more tombs, and they love the classical underwater swimming. They care about the balance of combat, puzzles and tombs and exploring too. As a result the balance is very even in this Tomb Raider. It’s like 30/30/30 [per cent] in this one, where as in previous games it would get to 60 per cent combat. So we do listen to people, and what they enjoy.”
Doesn’t that mean, though, that the game is beholden to a fan–base who won’t all know what makes for good game design?
For starters, says Murray, the developers themselves are also a fan community built around the game – and one with access to every build throughout the development cycle. Their voices are extremely important ones, the writer asserts. But she remains an advocate of the value of listening to the players with regards to shaping a game’s overall offering.
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“The community […] is extremely well managed. And they’re really creative and they’re very smart.” she insists. “So when they express desires about what’s interesting to them and what they love, it’s valuable.”
And while Murray’s given us an impression of how much clambering, shooting and crypt plundering we’ll be doing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, she’s sure that doesn’t mean we’re in for an experience without surprises.
“It’s never a matter of being like ‘they asked for this; let’s give it to them’,” she says of the game’s players. “But it does tell you who they are and what their expectations are. And that gives us tools to know how we can play along with or subvert their expectations. Or you can surprise them or go thinking off laterally in another direction. It’s kind of almost a collaborative feeling that we have.“
So the next Tomb Raider is going to be a game with equal amounts of the elements that have long defined its gameplay: tomb raiding, combat and puzzle solving. They’ll be new elements to, including seeing Lara do a great deal more interacting with other characters in the game; a stark contrast to her previous preference for isolation.
But as to what exactly all that means, and how the player community will respond? All will become clear on the game’s September 14th launch.
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