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Tomb Raider Q&A Talks the Definitive Edition, Lara on PS4/Xbox One, Improved Multiplayer, Voice Commands, & More

December 17, 2013 Written by Jason Dunning

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With the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition having only been officially announced earlier this month at VGX, and it releasing in late January 2014, Crystal Dynamics has anticipated that many people will have questions about this next-gen version of Tomb Raider. Answering those questions is Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer Scot Amos over on the Eidos Forums.

Just like we do with our Reddit AMAs, we’ve read through all the comments and placed the most interesting information below by using a Q&A format:

How long did it take you to work on the Definitive Edition?

We started planning it as far back as Nov 2012 and started work in January 2013, and it’s not quite done yet… so it will be 1 full year by the time we launch in January, 2014.

Will other characters besides Lara get the ‘next-gen’ makeover?

Actually, all in-game characters were updated for next-gen; but Lara is the star so she got the super-deluxe treatment! We did up rez geometry, textures, and other aspects for all primary characters in the story.

Are Lara’s looks already final?

I’d say Lara’s looks are just the start for what we will continue to evolve for all future iterations of Tomb Raider on next-gen.

Why did you feel the need to change Lara’s face that much?

Our Sr. Art Director, Brian Horton, directed the exploration and development of the next-gen Lara as seen in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. We did start with the idea of updating just her skin or a few extra polygons, but as we started to learn more about the hardware and what was possible, we felt Lara deserved even more attention. So we had the same folks who built her for the initial PS3/X360 version dedicated to reworking her for the next-gen version. In the end… we’re excited about both this new step in upgrading Lara with her new TressFX hair, new sub-surface scattering on skin, and overall new look. But we’re never satisfied … meaning Brian and team are anxiously looking forward to feedback from everyone when they see her live on PS4/Xbox One in January as we listen to all feedback and will greedily take and reflect on your inputs for ways we could even improve her further in the future.

Are there any differences between the PS4 and Xbox One versions?

There are custom differences as you know for each – meaning PS4′s controller has a touch-pad on it, has the lit front that we do interact with from in-game; and Xbox One has Kinect which we make use of; both support in-game voice commands. We truly targeted delivering the best experience taking fullest advantage of both consoles so that players on either platform would have the awesome Tomb Raider experience no matter where they played. We see it as a matter of personal preference as we want everyone to have a great time in the game! And yes, gameplay in both versions is at full 1080p!

Are you planning on releasing the Definitive Edition for other platforms?

Today we are only talking about Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on PS4 and Xbox One. It’s our time to celebrate this version and its arrival to market come January. If a future platform comes along or is demanded by the fans, we are also open to exploring opportunities where we can deliver a great Tomb Raider experience if it makes sense for everyone.

What about Lara’s scars and the ripped shirt we don’t see in the trailer? Do you think the next-gen consoles could handle it if there was TressFX for other characters also or is it already at the maximum?

All of the details for Lara are there… we even added special materials that dynamically change for her when she wades through mud, or gets blood on her, or when in rain/wet so it ties her more into the world’s state as she goes. TressFX was custom written and optimized for Lara this first-time out for us on next-gen as we hadn’t ever done it before on consoles.

Do any other characters get the TressFX upgrade?

For Definitive Edition, only our star Lara received the full TressFX treatment.

Have the cutscenes been re-rendered with Lara’s new face?

Yes. The new Lara is used across all in-game cut-scenes; including her new TressFX hair and new skin/material shaders.

Will the Definitive Edition come to PC?

The work that went into the PS4 and Xbox One versions started at the end of the X360/PS3/PC versions. They were our foundation that we then built on top of. The amount of extra work – 3 studios and a full year of development – have pushed the boundaries beyond just TressFX and upgraded textures. We now have a new particle system, new lighting work and enhanced shadow-casters, tons of more visual storytelling elements (more debris, more details on walls, more density in the environment for vegetation), upgraded characters (Lara and main story NPCs), and we’ve also put all of the DLC materials into this version for PS4/Xbox One. We are very happy with the PC version we released and felt these new additions and changes were something custom just for next-gen consoles at the moment.

Does the PS4 version support voice commands?

Absolutely – voice commands work on Kinect for Xbox One and using a microphone attached to PS4′s controller or through Sony’s camera if you have one.

How will voice commands work?

We use voice commands to enhance Lara’s actions or as shortcuts into various menus and upgrade screens to reduce some of the user navigation. We also use them for things like switching weapons, switching ammo types, and other such shortcuts. Certainly we kept the core Tomb Raider experience intact from the current-gen version as we didn’t want to take away from something we’re very sure of; we just wanted to enhance the experience wherever possible.

Has the multiplayer been improved?

We’ve actually rewritten the back-end architecture on the multiplayer for next-gen. Certainly lag is not one factor but many – including server locations, connections through external systems Crystal has no control over, etc. That said, we have definitely been enjoying playing multiplayer on next-gen and look forward to your experience! Let us know if you feel the improvements!

How have the physics been upgraded?

A few of our engineers were dedicated to improving physics both on Lara and in the world. A few quick examples – Lara has equipment on her that she acquires as she goes through her adventure. The climbing axe, her radio, her bow and a quiver of arrows, etc. All of these now have subtle but simulated physics on them so as she runs, jumps, falls, stumbles, they react accordingly giving her more grounding the world. Then the world itself… we added so many objects, plants, trees, and then wind and weather effects that also have physics simulation built into them to react with each other. Wind will make trees and leaves sway or flutter; cloth flaps against light or heavy winds accordingly; particles and Lara’s TressFX hair will drift according to the directional wind impact. All-in-all it adds a great additional depth and realism to the world.

After not answering the frame rate question, someone commented that it meant the game would be 30fps. Scot replied:

I’m not quoting a framerate as we’re still optimizing the game – even today, even this close to final, we still have teams actively squeezing out everything we can to generate the best experience possible! We will happily talk more about our final end results in January once we’re totally done.

Do you think it’s justified to sell a full-priced upgrade of the game so soon after the original’s release?

It’s a great question and while I don’t control sales or prices, what I do know is that Tomb Raider is an awesome game. It has received many nominations and has an amazing fan base that keeps us striving to always deliver the best and always pushing ourselves to even do better. If it was “only a facelift” AND we were only reselling it on the same platforms we’d already shipped it on, I would see your point. But as we’re selling it on a new platform, with a lot of development work put in to custom craft it for the new platforms; with the new additions for the aesthetic, the physics, the particles, the lighting – taking advantage of next-gen features – so I absolutely stand by our decision to offer up Definitive Edition the way we are. We’d love for every Tomb Raider fan to get to experience it on next-gen. We are definitely looking to draw in those folks who may not have experience it yet on the last generation so they can experience this version on next-generation. But even for existing hardcore fans, we are confident in the offering we have as an excellent enhanced experience above and beyond what we’d previously provided. We wouldn’t bring it to you all if we felt otherwise. You are the reasons we do what we do.

Will we be able to turn off the included DLC that are just free skills?

The DLC we include on Definitive Edition is all post-launch purchasable content. As such, the full list aren’t the skill changes, but the actual “stuff”. It includes The Tomb of the Lost Adventurer, all 8 DLC multiplayer maps, 6 multiplayer weapons, 4 multiplayer characters, 6 alternate outfits for Lara… and for Definitive Edition we’ve added the Dark Horse digital comic book “Tomb Raider; The Beginning”, the Brady Games digital art book “Tomb Raider: The Art of Survival”, and all 6 of “The Final Hours of Tomb Raider” documentary video series. (whew – I hope I remembered it all!!)

Did you update the graphics and fix bugs in multiplayer?

Certainly we’ve found and fixed many of the multiplayer issues we knew about … but there are always more lurking in there, I’m sure! We’ve tracked over 19 million multiplayer matches to date on the Xbox 360/PS3 versions of Tomb Raider so we definitely worked to bring whatever we could to it for this new generation. That said – to be sure, we did not want to detract from the core experience – so, for example, adding lots of moving trees and particles in multiplayer we felt would distract from focusing on running and gunning … but we did uprez everywhere else we could.

And to be explicit – all players on PS4 and Xbox One will have all multiplayer maps enabled all the time (no disabling/enabling required).

How was the development handled between all the different studios?

This was a collaborative team effort from the start. Certainly Crystal had a core team from the original game directing and owning chunks of it; but we need lots of help to do all that has been done for next-gen. Nixxes is a long-time partner Crystal has worked with since back in the Legacy of Kain days and they are fluent in our code base and in Tomb Raider overall. United Front Games was introduced to us through our relationship with Square who had just partnered with UFG to do Sleeping Dogs. Given UFG’s same drive for excellence and attitude about making great games, the 3 studios combined to make one larger team greater than the sum of its parts. People at all locations worked collaboratively on all aspects. UFG certainly did a lot of heavy lifting on enhancing the world and art across the board. The new Lara was handled directly by the guys at Crystal and then partnered with Nixxes and UFG to optimize her performance, etc. So everyone worked together to make this thing come alive.

How many people from Crystal Dynamics worked on the Definitive Edition?

Sadly, as a standard policy, we don’t release team counts for our active products. Sorry. But I will say it was a bigger undertaking than we’d ever done before for this type of enhanced version of combining teams at 3 studios.

Does the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition for next-gen consoles push the Crystal Engine to its limit? Or we can see a bigger leap with the same engine?

The best way to answer this is… we’re just getting started.

Is the Definitive Edition changed to focus more on action?

We’ve kept the core Tomb Raider story line and action pacing intact from the Xbox 360/PS3 version of the game.

It would be nice to see a Making-of for the Definitive Edition:

We agree! We will definitely be talking about any behind-the-scenes and developer diaries closer to launch at the end of January. The brand/marketing teams have asked us and we’d love to show everyone just how much of a labor of love this was and the types of details we got into for this version.

Does the Definitive Edition use a new anti-aliasing technique?

Hiya! I do know we used FXAA (fast approximate anti-aliasing) and MLAA (morphological anti-aliasing) … but as to their improvement or optimizations for next-gen, I’ll have to defer your question to my rendering engineers. I’ll see if they can get a better detailed answer posted in an updated future FAQ.

Will you be using the same Lara model in all future games?

We are going to be constantly improving and evolving everything from models to engines to techniques as we get more comfortable with next-gen and hardware.

Are you planning on buying the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition next month, or will you possibly be getting the Game of the Year Edition? Let us know in the comments below.