The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 11
Segment 1: E3 2012 Microsoft Press Conference Q&A
MEAGAN MARIE: Hello everyone, this is Meagan Marie, and we are on to the eleventh episode of the Crystal Habit podcast. So this podcast is a bit of a funny one, because it’s an amalgamation of content from E3, our official forum community ambassador at the show, and then an in-studio interview with Crystal executive producer SCOT Amos about new IP, which is very exciting. Because some of the content was recorded at the E3 show floor and some on the phone and some in person, I apologize for the varying degrees of audio quality. However, I think the content, which essentially boils down to a slew of awesome Q&A sessions, makes up for the quality. So, to set up this first segment, this clip was recorded with Karl, Kyle, Brian, and myself at E3, directly after the Microsoft press conference. Some of you may have already heard this little mini-episode during the show. But basically, we followed up on the Microsoft presentation, where Darrell and Daniel showcased content later on in Lara’s growth into a hero, and kind of gave a taste of how intelligence and resourcefulness will play into combat in the game. I hope you enjoy the show!
MEAGAN MARIE: Today we have a really exciting thing to talk about. I have Karl here with me…
KARL STEWART: Yo yo!
MEAGAN MARIE: I have Kyle Peschel…
KYLE PESCHEL: Yo… PE-schel.
MEAGAN MARIE: You’ve been on the podcast before. PE-schel. I always say Pe-SCHEL, because I make it all fancy.
KARL STEWART: Peschkel! Peschkel!
MEAGAN MARIE: And then we have Brian Horton.
BRIAN HORTON: Hey, guys.
MEAGAN MARIE: You have an easy last name. So! How was this morning? Was it nerve-wracking, was it exciting? Unfortunately, Darrell’s not able to be on the podcast, he was up on stage, and so we don’t have somebody who was actually up on stage, but Karl, you were behind the scenes, and you guys were front row, so what was the mood like, showing off the game?
BRIAN HORTON: I was as nervous as they were, I’m assuming.
MEAGAN MARIE: So nervous.
BRIAN HORTON: But, you know, I felt confident of the product we were going to show. But you never know. Anything can go wrong in a live demo, right?
KYLE PESCHEL: Yeah. That’s why it’s live, right? That’s part of the thrill of it.
KARL STEWART: That’s why we had somebody back there, just in case something went wrong…
MEAGAN MARIE: Just in case. But nothing did, it looked good.
KARL STEWART: It was good, it was wonderful.
MEAGAN MARIE: So, I mean, the reactions that we saw, I was monitoring the Twitter feeds, it exploded, we got global trending for “Lara Croft,” “Tomb Raider,” and “Crystal Dynamics,” which is very exciting.
KYLE PESCHEL: That’s amazing, right?
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. It was wonderful. We’ve been hearing great things from community, from press, from other industry peers, so it’s very exciting to have been a part of the Microsoft demo again. We opened up the community thread on the forums to allow people to ask some questions about the demo…
KARL STEWART: Oh dear.
MEAGAN MARIE: So… Some of them are going to be a little bit tougher questions, because our community is always the toughest on us…
KARL STEWART: Brian, you can take all of these.
MEAGAN MARIE: The way it should be. But here’s an easy one, we’ll start with something super easy, okay?
KARL STEWART: Yes, the name of the game is Tomb Raider.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes. We’ve established… I think we’ve established that fact, if anything.
KYLE PESCHEL: Oh, wait, I’m in the wrong room… [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: So LaraLover asks, how far into the game was the demo that we showed?
KARL STEWART: Ah… Approximately a third of the way. But… That depends on how you play the game I suppose.
BRIAN HORTON: It was pretty far in. Really, what we wanted to show is a sneak peek of where Lara will go, right?
KARL STEWART: Yeah. It’s a peppering, an example of where we’re going to take her.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, that’s good. I think people recognized that there was quite a jump from the footage we showed in the trailer to this awesome bad-¤¤¤ Lara. But more on that… I’m going to follow the easy question with a really difficult one. What is a timed exclusive, when it comes to DLC? And why are we announcing DLC this far in advance?
KARL STEWART: It’s exactly that. A timed exclusive. So… We were excited to make the announcement that we are actually making DLC, but at this stage, it’s very far out, right? We kinda have an idea of what we want to do, but our focus is on the single-player. So we’ll talk about it closer to the date. Right now there’s no more information to be had on that, and you cannot pry it out of me, even over a drink later.
MEAGAN MARIE: Putting your stake down. But you can say, I mean, we’re emphasizing the timed exclusive, so…
KARL STEWART: It is timed, and that’s pretty much all we can say on that. It’s still very early to be talking in any depth whatsoever.
MEAGAN MARIE: More details to come.
KARL STEWART: More details to come.
MEAGAN MARIE: Following up on the second question I had, if we’re trying to make Lara a bit more believable, why is she so aggressive in this portion of the demo? Did you maybe want to expand on that, Brian, since you had a…
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah, I think what we want to do is to show that Lara’s been pushed. A lot of what we’re trying to establish here is continuing the story that we started last year, right? Where she is a believable person, she’s in an unreal situation. And she has to fight to survive. This is our moment where she goes from reaction to action. Like I said, the demo that we just showed was sort of a sneak peek of where she’ll go in the future. It’s purely because these… The people there that she’s dealing with are brutal killers. She has to use equivalent force. It’s all going to be justified in the arc, and you’re going to see more as we show you guys more. We’ll… More details to come.
MEAGAN MARIE: The behind-closed-doors demo that we’re going to show this week to the ambassadors this week is really, I think, going to help…
KYLE PESCHEL: Piece it together.
MEAGAN MARIE: Piece it together, yeah. I think that you guys are… You as in the community listening are going to get a lot of an idea of that progression and that arc when you see it. So that’s exciting. LaraLover also asks, will Lara have unlimited arrows, and will she be able to use weapons from slain enemies?
KYLE PESCHEL: Can you survive with unlimited arrows? I don’t know…
BRIAN HORTON: No, we don’t have unlimited arrows.
KYLE PESCHEL: We don’t have unlimited arrows.
KARL STEWART: That’d be a crazy thing to have…
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s part of the scavenging…
BRIAN HORTON: That’d be making our survival game a little harder…
KYLE PESCHEL: There’s a finite amount of resources, right? So you have to fuel some of your exploration. Like when I’m off in the edges of a village or something and I’m finding things, I’m a little more excited when I’m like, woo-hoo, these are some arrows, sweet, I know what I’m going to be able to do with these. And so… It all kinda ties together to the arc that we’re putting together, right? On that journey, she’s starting to find some of those resources. That’s why she’s a resourceful character, that’s what we’re bringing to the table…
MEAGAN MARIE: She knows what to look for…
KYLE PESCHEL: Exactly.
MEAGAN MARIE: This is actually one that people got super excited about, I’m happy that people picked up on this. Can you expand upon the AI? They actually really liked the creative shooting, how Daniel showed that you shot them in the knee and then they went down by the knee. Is that something… I know we can’t go into too much detail, but is that something that we’re going to continue to see?
KARL STEWART: At this stage… As mentioned, that’s just a vision of what we’re going to do in the future. We’re not going to be going into detail or any great scope as to what they were looking at, what they saw, and what it means. Um… Our focus for this E3 really is to show this behind-closed-doors, sort of… The first kill. What makes her get to that stage. It’s very important that we know where she’s going, but it’s the journey and getting there that’s equally as important.
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, so we have A Big House… This is one of the larger concerns of the community, and again, I think once we get the ambassadors in here this week, it’s really going to be cleared up. What we showed in the trailer and what we showed in this demo is somewhat more linear. Are we going to allow for some freedom of exploration for the player, or is it a lot of linear, scripted moments?
KYLE PESCHEL: I’ll address that. A lot of what we showed today was, in the interests of time… We wanted to make sure that people understood and saw something exciting. But our aims are still the same. We want to have moments where Lara is going to be able to go off-path and explore, exploration is a big part of our tenets and our goals in the title.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah, we spent a lot of time building real estate that we really want people to go check out.
MEAGAN MARIE: Show it off.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah. When you’re on that Microsoft stage and they’re like, okay, you have five minutes… You know, you’re not going to be like…
KYLE PESCHEL: Here’s where I chose to go to the right.
BRIAN HORTON: Yeah.
KARL STEWART: You have to truncate the experience quite a lot in order to make it work in six minutes.
MEAGAN MARIE: For the trailer we wanted to really show a strong narrative, we wanted to show that character arc. And then with a limited amount of time that you had on the stage for the demo, it’s more about showing the action and highlighting the combat. So just because we’re not necessarily showing that…the lengthier demo, that has the freedom of exploration, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
KARL STEWART: So trust us! We’ll be talking about hub systems for so long… Trust us, they’re there, it’s not the linear game that you think it is.
MEAGAN MARIE: So I know that we’re not going to be able to answer these, but I’m going to just ask them so that he knows that I did actually ask them. How many weapons can Lara carry? Is there XP from killing? And will wolves be the only animals that Lara can hunt, or that attack her, rather? We’re going to go into combat more later. Those are all very, very specific…
KARL STEWART: Yeah. There are too many things at this early stage to be commenting on…
BRIAN HORTON: Think about it this way. It’s summer, right, guys? Christmas is coming. Right? You get excited about it, you put your Christmas list together, and then we’ll be able to reveal more later.
MEAGAN MARIE: So those will all be answered at some point in time.
KARL STEWART: Gonna dress up as Santa Claus?
MEAGAN MARIE: But I just wanted them to know that we did ask…
BRIAN HORTON: I will, if I keep going at this rate…
KARL STEWART: Okay, so you hear it now, Brian Horton’s going to dress up as Santa Claus for one of our podcasts.
MEAGAN MARIE: I will take pictures and put them on the blog.
KARL STEWART: And he’s going to go through your wishlists. [big laughs] Photographs to come.
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright… Looking at it, we have more cover-based questions, stealth questions, all of that kind of stuff, I suppose all along the same lines… One little clarification question. Who is Lara talking to in the demo when she hears somebody over the radio?
KYLE PESCHEL: She says a name.
KARL STEWART: Yeah. Could nobody hear?
MEAGAN MARIE: Who is she…? No, people have picked up on Sam, and they really like her, but what can we say? I know it’s very limited, about Sam…
BRIAN HORTON: Sam’s a very important…
KARL STEWART: Ha! I was waiting for the silence, I was going to go, “that much.”
BRIAN HORTON: Sam’s very important to the story. All we can say at this point is, she’ll play an integral role in your adventure. That’s all we can say at this point.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s better that you find out the right way, more about Sam. Having experienced it myself.
KARL STEWART: We don’t want to spoil stuff, we don’t want to keep… I love getting the questions and I love being able to sit here and answer them with you, but there is a point in time where, you know, it feels like if we were to answer every single thing, we’ve just spoiled the entire game for you. So…
MEAGAN MARIE: Absolutely.
KARL STEWART: We have to be very careful that we tailor our messaging at the right time.
KYLE PESCHEL: And Karl loves to tease.
KARL STEWART: Yeah. You know, that’s kinda part of the journey. We want everybody to enjoy the game. If we were to turn around and say, oh, XYZ happens at the end of the game, you’d be like, okay, fine, not interested in playing it now. Like, really? And do they really want to know the information? Do they want to…?
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that for a game that’s so much about mystery, and this island has so much mystery to it, there’s definitely going to be a point where, well, we’re just not going to say anything else. Because you have to experience it. We wouldn’t want to ruin the fun for people.
KARL STEWART: Exactly.
MEAGAN MARIE: Last question, this isn’t strictly to the trailer, but I wanted to ask it, because it’s something that we’ve been getting a lot of this morning. FearEffect asks, “10 Hours?”
KARL STEWART: 10 hours is the goal that we’ve set, to say that you could play the game in… That’s not replayability and it’s not all the other fun stuff, so in terms of the 10-hour thing, you have to put a number around it. We’re not going to lie and say it’s 16 hours plus or it’s five hours… You have to put a number around it. And all of our testing comes in around the 10-hour mark.
KYLE PESCHEL: Yeah, I haven’t read some of the most recent reports, but I mean… You want a meaty game, you want an adventure that tells that character arc, that goes through that hero’s journey. And we will hit the mark that allows us to tell the quality level that we want, about what she’s enduring and what perseverance looks like when she hits that woman versus nature element.
MEAGAN MARIE: But there is going to be variance in play depending on your play style?
BRIAN HORTON: Absolutely.
KARL STEWART: Of course.
KYLE PESCHEL: We’ve already had the focus testers we had to kick out of the building, right?
KARL STEWART: And there’s the people who are completionists, and that’s always a thing…
BRIAN HORTON: If you’re an explorer, you’re going to find a lot of game in there.
MEAGAN MARIE: I find people like Brent just plowing through the campaign when he’s playing it, and then an hour later I’m still in the exact same spot. Because I’m like, I wanna go up here, I wanna look over here…
KARL STEWART: That’s the difference. Everybody has a different type of play style. So we have to get the aggregate and say… If you bring in X amount of people to play it and they decide to sit there and just play the game from start to finish in their own style, we have to find a benchmark of what we’re aiming towards. I think compared to many action-adventure games, single-player… 10 hours is pretty good. I’ve played a lot of single-player games and gotten through them in five and a half or six hours, and I feel like… Wow, that wasn’t very long at all. I think before you add in replayability and being able to go back into the hub spaces and re-traverse them, straight playthrough, I think 10 hours is awesome.
MEAGAN MARIE: Well, thank you for clarifying that. And thank you all for coming in, I know I’m holding you guys back from some important duties in the booth, which I’m actually going to show off right after this, I’m going to go run around and take pictures of this booth, because it is amazing this year, it is huge.
KYLE PESCHEL: It’s great.
BRIAN HORTON: It is large.
MEAGAN MARIE: So much bigger than last year. So we’ll have lots of pictures and other updates on the blog tonight, but thank you, guys, for popping in and clarifying some of these questions.
KARL STEWART: No problem, thanks very much. I appreciate it.
KYLE PESCHEL: Thanks for listening, guys.
BRIAN HORTON: Thanks, everyone. ‘Bye.
Segment 2: E3 2012 Eidos Forum Ambassador Q&A
MEAGAN MARIE: This next clip comes from an interview between Chip Henson, who was our official Eidos forum ambassador for E3, and Karl Stewart. Let me first say, though, that the entire community ambassador experience was completely unforgettable. After the initial stress from flight delays and so on dissipated, my stress, I don’t think it was their stress… The group had a great time, and represented the larger Tomb Raider fandom very well. They didn’t cut corners when it came to tough questions and I think they posed inquiries that long-time fans really cared about.
There was this moment when we all met in a lobby for the first time, on Wednesday morning, that I was taken aback, because so many pillars of the Tomb Raider community were in the same place at the same time, it was a really cool moment. So I wanted to say thank you again to them, thank you for making the trip and thank you for making this my most memorable E3 ever. Now, on to the clip!
I especially apologize for the audio quality in this one, you can hear breakfast plates clanking around in the background during the 8AM interview. But a private meeting room wasn’t available at the time, so we conducted our interviews out in the open. Without further hesitation, here’s Chip and Karl.
CHIP HENSON: What pros and cons that you considered at the initial stage of production did you cut out or limit versus where you've come considerable further in the game?
KARL STEWART: When looking at the origin we actually stayed very close to the Lara Croft we have. We had from previous Legend universe and Underworld's, in the pros and cons where it we were taking it from a game that was predominant about puzzles into this survival based. Wanting to get to know the character, laying new foundations and we realized very quickly that we needed to move away from the Lara that we had of yesteryear and move into this new space because we couldn't portray and we couldn’t bring the same level of depth, grounding of a character by using who we had and that was a hard one. That was a big decision to make for us because after 15 years of Lara kind of evolving along that same stream, to kind of break away and say right now that, as our history book says, our Lara Croft of yesteryear but this is a new vision. You know the pros and cons where we were losing something that was identifiable, that was ours and it became very iconic.
What the pros were, we were to go into a space were we could now bring a new level of emotion that we never had before, so it was actually very hard. It was a tough decision and with that then the pros and cons came across into areas such as the rating. When we decided to go for that realistic approach of grounding a character, of bringing her on this zero to hero journey we also realized we couldn’t do that with kid gloves. We couldn’t just treat the sort of idea of survival with a T rating that you get to a situation where you know it naturally play out a particular way then you would have to tapper it off and make it feel like worked inside a T rating. We realized quickly that the cons were we could not deliver the experience, the pros were going into a M space would allow us to do that but then the cons were your going into an M space and you have to take a lot more things into consideration such as your audience when you come out with a game where it can and can't be shown what M means. A lot of people think that M means that it is just gratuitous violence and naughty language. To us, presenting an M rated game in the way in which we are, in that it's about bringing you closer to an experience and feel the realism. That took a lot of explanation as well. So it was a lot of pros and cons. Not just in the decision to move away from the older Lara Croft but also in the decision to re-imagine the game. What does that mean, it was a pretty big undertaking.
CHIP HENSON: Where there any “Ah Hah!” moments that you had?
KARL STEWART: Yeah, the bow. The bow was something that from the very first few concept sketches, we started putting the bow in and the then creative Director Tim Longo had started sort of casting the story and thinking about what the bow and really there was an Ah Hah! Moment when we started to see it on screen. To see Lara using this new piece of equipment. That she is always known to have her twin pistols, to all the sudden start firing this and for us to see it being used in a particular way. It was a real Ah Hah! Moment. It is one that we are very very proud and very happy that we got to continue it because bows are sexy.
CHIP HENSON: Is Lara still an aristocrat? Does she have a similar background to the past games?
KARL STEWART: So one of the things we tried to do with this is... Two things.. One, veer away from the complexities from past Tomb Raiders so that you really feel like it's a day 1. She doesn’t come with too deep a back story or any baggage you feel will take you into a space where you start going “Oh, I remember the mansion” or “I remember blah blah blah”. What we are trying to do is keep certain elements of what made Lara Croft, Lara Croft and her history but also move it to a place where it's relevant for today. And again it's gets back to the Batman (please see Ambassador Group Q&A) idea. You looked at how Batman and his back story was portrayed in the earlier movies. You look at the Michael Keaton Batman, who he was then you move into this new Batman. You still see tenants of what makes his character unique but he is not portrayed in the exact same way. There are certain things about who he is that don’t have to meet Ra's al Ghul on Mongolian boarders and having to fight to become the person he is. They moved his character in a slightly different way but it still feels like its on the same vain, so for us we tried to look at Lara and make her feel like you still have familiarity with her. You still feel like yet I know a bit about her background as I play through the game but we are not going to use the literal sense of here she has all this money, She is from this lineage of family.To us right now you don't really need to have to have that along for the ride to experience the emotion we portray. So you will start to see certain things come through but what I will say, She right now is not the person she once was. She didn't pay to be on this journey, She didn't buy the ship, she didn't cast the crew. She just wants to be likeeverybody else. She wants to be accepted and she wants to be a part of the team and that's a Lara which we've never really seen before. We'll see her strengths play out but you have to start at a point where you feel she's grounded before you can take her to a place she becomes an identifiable strong character.
CHIP HENSON: Can you tell something about secondary characters, apart from Conrad, and their involvement with Lara and the plot? Without giving too much away.
KARL STEWART: Yeah, I think it is very important you come across and talk to these characters in game, understand their story and see 2 things. One, who they are, giving them weight and relevance. The other side is helping expand your knowledge of Lara because she will interact and talk to these in very different ways and as a result of that you get to see a side you haven't seen before. You get to realize that she can operate and talk in many different levels to different people. She knows who they are and their attributes and that's something we haven't seen before. An interesting one is Whitman. You know, Whitman is the, you know this adventurer and explorer who has done this for a long time. He's a seasoned pro but he's also, as you can see, become somewhat arrogant and Lara just doesn't have much time for him in a way, you know. She talks to him like, you know, get real. We don't want to become killers like these guys on the island, these scavengers and also when he's like... she says I need to get more salvage to make my pickaxe stronger, he is like “okay then”.You can see where that is going. You can see he is the type of person that is only in it for himself and as a result you will start to see how Lara's.. her interaction for instance when they are attacked she says “don't, you have a gun, don't put it down. What are you doing” and he is more interested in “take me to your leader. I want to talk to the head guy here”. She's like “your crazy” so as a result you start to see a side of Lara play out because of her interaction with these characters. Whitman is an exciting one. I want to do more with Whitman. I want to try to expand him a little bit and maybe before the game because he is somebody that has some very unique facets to his character. It is going to be fun playing him out a little bit more.
CHIP HENSON: This Tomb Raider seems more serious and realistic than previous games.
KARL STEWART: Yeah, without a doubt. It certainly is.
CHIP HENSON: Will this reflect in the storyline?
KARL STEWART: Yes, yeah, with out a doubt. You will feel the realism of the story line like you haven't in many other games and I think it is a product of its time. I think we're exposed to a lot more depth and plot and emotion in TV's and movies and videogames today than we have ever been and as a result people have an expectation when they pick up a piece of entertainment medium and engage with it. We know now that there is a varying degree of levels of expectation and a great analogy of this that videogames is like Las Vegas. You can go to Las Vegas and play many different games. Some games suit you more than others and certainly with Tomb Raider we're trying to bring very specific emotion and feeling to the player and I think it is something we are struggling very hard to achieve.
CHIP HENSON: So no T-Rex moments?
KARL STEWART: No T-Rex moments.
CHIP HENSON: Why call it just “Tomb Raider”? Are you concerned about confusing it with the original?
KARL STEWART: No. I think we thought long and hard about this. A fresh entry point to the franchise means so much. It means more than just making sure that from a fans standpoint or from players that who played the original and hold it in high regard. You know that was 15 years ago. We know that was a product of its time and that was a very strong game when it came out. It stood the test of time for so long that now when we come out with this Tomb Raider, audiences have moved on. A very large percentage of the audience fully never played a Tomb Raider game so our concern was if you give it a tag line, at what point do you start to actually confuse the new players because they feel it's just another part of the series. So to us its the day 1. If your going to go with day 1, it's literally just that. I think on top of that Christopher Nolen stole Begins.He used it so we couldn't say Tomb Raider Begins *laugh* you know, but ultimately what we are trying to say is that this is the beginning. This is day 1 and that we want people to understand this is not a continuation of any. So it was a risk but I think it is paying off. People understand it.
CHIP HENSON: Now where into the gameplay portion. Is the new Tomb Raider going to be a completely open-world?
KARL STEWART: Uh, no. It is not a completely open world. We tried to make that clear. I think our communication of our hub system has maybe confused people a little bit and the best way for me to explain it is that we want the player to be able to explore, we want the player to be able to follow the story line. You want the player to be immersed into this sort of experience and to do that tell a linear story of sorts. You have to have the player go from A to B to C. To build an open world game would make it very hard to say you got to be at the beach to capture the next piece because you can do what you want. It's a very different game having Assassins Creed open world game vs Tomb Raider emotional story driven game. So for us we built these hub systems and the hub systems allow us to be able to enlarge spaces and give the player freedom to move around but also allow us to have connectors that take you to the next part of the game and have this larger hub system so you can explore. So we have these systems all over the island that are the major locations but you wouldn't be able to say I'm going to walk from here to the north of the island to the south of the island and east and west. You will still have to play along that narrative to make sure we keep you in the experience.
CHIP HENSON: Do Lara's weapons deteriorate over-time meaning that she will have to find/make new ones?
KARL STEWART: They actually get stronger because she has to salvage to improve them so what you are going to see is thatshe gets the very bare-bones, the very basics to be able to survive and then she will start to improve and upgrade those as we go through. I don't want to spoil it because that’s part of one of our next big communications is what that means to the player. She starts with very little as she gets more and more and gets stronger as she goes on.
CHIP HENSON: Without giving too much away, will there be and vehicles on the island for Lara to use?
KARL STEWART: Yeah, no there’s no, unfortunately there is no vehicles. By chance in the trailer you saw that the helicopter. That's pretty much the only moving thing, only moving vehicle on the islands. Even the plane that we showed in the trailer, the plane that came in that looks like it crashed. Not much moves.
CHIP HENSON: So she's going to be hoofing it?
KARL STEWART: [laughs] Yeah.
CHIP HENSON: Is Lara's carrying capacity limited?
KARL STEWART: No, she carries a lot. You'll see some very umm very big scenes play out that will bring you a side of Lara that you've never expected and I have to be careful because it is probably one of the most iconic moments is when you see how she cares for something. That is a big deal to us because that shows something. That shows something that we've never seen in her before. It's very important.
CHIP HENSON: Does the Jade necklace play a role in the story or is it just for show?
KARL STEWART: This jade necklace is something we toyed around with quite a lot is to try and figure out how it played a part and it does play a part. It's not an integral part of the story but it has some symbolic value that you will see start to play through so we've had it in and out of in render out render. It's notan asset or an element that you will feel “Oh my god. I needed to know how she got that” but certainly there is a story behind it and we will flesh it out.
Segment 3: New EP and New IP
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, so for our next segment of the podcast, I’m very excited, because we have someone new here. I was going to say we have a fresh face, but it’s more of a fresh voice. So hello Scot…
SCOT AMOS: Hi!
MEAGAN MARIE: First and foremost, who are you, and what are you doing here on the podcast? What are we talking about?
SCOT AMOS: Well, it’s great to be here, I’m Scot Amos, I’m an executive producer here at Crystal, just freshly minted about a year ago, about April of last year when I joined on. So… It’s very great to be part of the podcast.
MEAGAN MARIE: And so you’re an executive producer. What do you do here at Crystal?
SCOT AMOS: Pretty much… The fun thing about executive producer, I get to set the vision, the broad scope of what the product’s going to be, and then pull all the talent together and let them go crazy making a great game. So at the end of the day, I really facilitate everything that they need to be successful. It’s awesome, I get to work with Darrell, figure out a business strategy, get to work with Square and figure out what’s the right thing for our company, and then put a team of people together and say, go make a cool game.
MEAGAN MARIE: We’ll touch on the team later, because that seems like a very exciting part, kind of cherry-picking your dream team… But first, what is your history in the industry? What were the things that made you shine? We’ll let you brag about yourself a little bit, coming over here to Crystal…
SCOT AMOS: I appreciate that. I don’t really like bragging about myself all that much, I don’t think that’s fair, but… 20 years, almost 21 years now I’ve been in the industry, actually. So I started very early in QA of all things, I came out of… I lived on the east coast and moved out to California to work at Sierra On-Line, back in the day when Leisure Suit Larry and Police Quest and those kind of games. Actually going to work for them as a QA guy, and specifically they’d just started an online network at that point, at the time it was the Sierra Network, it became the ImagiNation Network, it was the first direct-dial, login, 2400-baud modem, paying long-distance phone calls and monthly service fees just to get online and play games with each other. It was one of those worlds… It was just the coolest job ever, and I got to go from being a QA guy to being a designer and an engineer. All the way up through to eventually getting to be a producer.
I crossed a couple of different companies, from our own startup company we had making games for people, worked at Accolade during the Test Drive and Star Control days, and then I got to go to Atari, even where the coin-op division was, and then we had Midway as well. Got to work with some great industry veterans, like the guys who invented Gauntlet, the guys who invented Asteroids and Centipede, just amazing history. And all of that stuff was really the transition when I went from PC games, and one of the first console games I did back at Accolade, into Midway, where we started working with Nintendo on the N64 and the Game Boy. I’ve made a game for pretty much every console that existed. At the end of the day, with Midway… I’d moved down to their studio in San Diego and moved back to Maxis, that’s when I joined the EA world. That was about eight years ago. I got to work four years on the Maxis side of the house with all the Sims products, and then before joining Crystal, I was at Visceral Games, I was part of the studio where we had everything from Simpsons and Godfather to Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno and all that stuff.
MEAGAN MARIE: That was exciting, hearing about the work at Visceral was definitely a selling point, I know. So specifically with your job here at Crystal, Crystal is known for creating or working on very high-profile franchises throughout the last 20 years. So why was the decision made to start fresh, rather than revisit an established property?
SCOT AMOS: I think it’s an interesting combination of both Square’s perspective and Crystal’s perspective. Seeing the studio and what they’ve done, they have a pantheon of great properties, if you just look through the history of all the games that they’ve made and that they have, and that they still have… They’re even, as you know, doing some very new versions of those games. But saying, we have all these great IP, now is a great time, looking at what’s coming in the future, what’s coming up in the console space, what’s going to be happening next… Let’s start now, with a blank page. We take that kind of bold step of, let’s make something new, something where we don’t already have a finger in that particular pool, and let’s try, from scratch, to make a new game with all of our abilities and skills. What would be a new great experience for our future?
MEAGAN MARIE: So then, you have obviously worked on new IP before, because I can imagine that it’s both liberating and overwhelming. You have limitless opportunities to explore. So what most excites you about new IP, and what most challenges you?
SCOT AMOS: It’s a good question, because for sure, working with licenses has both that… You have a canon of data that you can work from. Working on something as big as the Simpsons and saying, wow, there’s all this stuff, 20 years of history at that time, you can draw from it and say, how do you get that experience and deliver it as a game? Working from a blank page, and literally saying, we can do anything, we can do something that’s completely off-the-wall and that nobody’s ever heard of, we can go make up mechanics and be completely innovative and inventive… Problem is, if you go too far away from what people are familiar with, one of the phrases we use a lot is “fresh and familiar.” Where something is similar enough that, oh, I understand that, I’ve seen something like that. Immediately, people can get bought into it and say, I kind of expect a certain type of experience. And then you put a couple of really unique twists on top. Like, oh, I haven’t seen anybody combine these types of mechanics or this type of world with that type of system. And you start putting a little bit of that new, fresh face on top of something familiar, and you get people hooked. So I think… Trying to take what you know, build on top of that, and then take something that they don’t expect and just blow them away.
MEAGAN MARIE: Okay, so… What, then, can we say about this new project? I know it’s not going to be much, because we haven’t announced it yet…
SCOT AMOS: We haven’t, no, that’s absolutely right. So we’re still very much in the early throes of creating both the team and this product. But certainly from a conceptual level, we’re on a path that we’re very happy with. We can’t go into details, as you said, until we actually announce it. But if you look at what we just showed at E3 for Tomb Raider, you get a sense of the kind of experience and expertise that this company and this studio has. The kind of things that the talent, the tech, and the tools can do. Being able to take that and leverage that into a future product, again, an original world, original script, all new content, all kinds of new mechanics… But taking that as a starting base gives us a huge advantage for making a new game. Honestly, that’s as much as I can say right now.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Well, that’s enough for now. It’s a teaser. So… Do you have any developmental models or new industry trends that you’re eying that are kind of factoring into the dev process while you’re working on this new IP?
SCOT AMOS: Yeah, certainly. Even talking with my own guys about what we play every day, because we’re gamers as much as we’re game developers. We play everything. But a new game comes out on any kind of tablet or smart device, for us, we all play it. We look at that and say, what does that do? When we look at consoles and what’s out there, we play those together and say… This world is evolving rapidly. You look at, from social to mobile to connected, as well as to the kind of hardcore triple-A experiences, we play all of that stuff, and we’re saying, how do we take that world and that idea and apply it to what we get to do from scratch as a new IP? What are the things we can blend together, how we play games and where we play games, into a new type of experience.
MEAGAN MARIE: What’s it like building a team from the ground up? Again, what are the disadvantages and the advantages of starting from scratch?
SCOT AMOS: I think the most advantageous thing for me is having that 21 years of history. I know a lot of people, a lot of different studios, from a lot of different experience. Being able to pool guys who’ve also been in the industry for 10 or 20 years and getting to work with these folks that I already know understand what it takes to make a great game. They know what triple-A looks like, they know what a high quality, 90 Metacritic game feels like, and how to make these online experiences. That’s one of the big advantages, pulling this talent together.
The disadvantages, certainly, with a new IP you really don’t know what you have until you have it. Being able to test it, focus test it, come up with it again, there are so many limitless possibilities. You’ve got to find ways to hem yourself in and say, here’s the sandbox for playing in, and then go ahead and craft and test that experience. So it’s definitely an interesting mix for us, with Crystal. We have so much great talent already here, we get to build a little bit of that new blood, old blood kind of mix, taking existing experienced developers that are already here and blending them with a bunch of new fresh faces and putting together a new team.
MEAGAN MARIE: I know you’re being modest, but I’m going to make you brag again… [laughs] Can you tell me a little bit about the team that you’ve already established, in terms of what their pedigree is? Not only in gaming, but entertainment.
SCOT AMOS: Well, that’s… Yeah, it’s interesting. Right now we’re a fairly small team, but frankly, looking at the leads themselves, we probably have a combined… I’d say 60 or 70 years of development experience, as far as the amount of different games and companies and studios we’ve been at. The amount of products, all of us have at least one or two, if not half a dozen or more, triple-A games. A few of us have 90 Metacritic games under our belts. So I have a great, rich history from that. We have people that have been in film, guys who’ve been in 15 years working with the greats, the Camerons and Spielbergs and Lucas and have been on those projects and have seen what it takes to make those kinds of great cinematic experiences, on the film model. And we have a bunch of guys from the top, crème de la crème of the company. Looking around, we do have some folks who’ve worked on great, known franchises, who’ve been at… Folks we know from Visceral, folks we know from Ubisoft or Naughty Dog. Some really rockstar people that we’ve managed to pull together to make something that I think they all believe is unique, which is why they’re here.
MEAGAN MARIE: Speaking of greats, we recently brought on Cory Barlog, correct? Do you get to work with him at all?
SCOT AMOS: It’s funny, actually. Cory and I met a couple of years ago, back at Visceral of all things, when we were talking about maybe getting together then. But at this point, sadly, no, he’s actually on a completely different IP. He is here at Crystal, I actually don’t even see him, he’s on the other side of the building somewhere.
MEAGAN MARIE: Wave every once in a while in passing…
SCOT AMOS: Once in a while we might pass each other in the coffee shop area, but at the same time, he’s on something else, so he’s not part of my new IP.
MEAGAN MARIE: Well then, I know it’s difficult because you are working on a new IP and it’s unannounced, it’s difficult to get specific with talent that you’re looking to recruit, so… Can you share anything in terms of qualifications or skills that you are looking for? Key positions that you’re looking to fill for the team, or anything along those lines?
SCOT AMOS: Sure. We’re really looking for the best and the brightest. I mean, who isn’t, in the overall industry? But from where we’re at, we want people who can say, hey, I either have the skills and the talent to come in here and say, I can take this to the next level of what that realistic fidelity should be, for art, for animation, for how characters move and run and walk… What the complexities are going to be like for the engine system, the requirements that we’re building on top of… We have a great proprietary tool chain and technology that guys who’ve worked on other very known, name-brand engines say, this is as good as anything I’ve ever worked with. We still need to upgrade that for the stuff we’re building going forward. We’re looking across the board, frankly, everywhere. From production methodologies and how you change dev plans and dev teams, all the way up to the engineering resources we need for that kind of next-level experience. At the end of the day, we’re still making triple-A experiences here. That’s a big deal for me, getting people who have that appetite and desire, who play them and then say, I want to be part of a team, from scratch, to make something that great. Because those opportunities are really rare right now in the industry.
MEAGAN MARIE: Well, that leads in to my last question then. Without sounding too much like a sales pitch, what do you say to potential recruits, why should they join the team? What’s unique about the position and the opportunity that you’re offering here at Crystal?
SCOT AMOS: I think there’s a great set of things here for Crystal. Both the studio itself… Across all the studios I’ve been at, I’ve been at six-man startups, I’ve been at ten-thousand-person companies, being at Crystal feels like a family. It has this really great interconnectivity. A small enough place where you can really have a big voice. And I don’t really like to make roles and then have people fit into them. I prefer to hire people for their skills and have them define their own role. So right now is a great time to be part of this world at Crystal where you can say, I have four or five different things that I can do, I can come in and be a tech artist and a designer. Great, we’ll make a role for you and put you to work. We’re at an early enough point in this project, we’re trying to change a lot of things about how you make great games, how you make games for the future. Joining a team that has this much history and experience, this much legacy of stuff we’ve done and people we’ve worked with, it’s a great place to learn things that you may not have ever connected with, and be able to come in and try and test ideas that you haven’t gotten to do anywhere else. Because we’re really open to exploring new ways to make great products.
MEAGAN MARIE: So flexibility and ownership…
SCOT AMOS: Absolutely.
MEAGAN MARIE: That sounds fantastic. Okay, well thank you so much for stopping in. Like I said, it’s great to get someone new. I wonder sometimes, I mean… Karl and I, I hope people like us, but I feel like our voices might get annoying at some point. So thank you for stopping in and for talking about something new and exciting.
SCOT AMOS: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure. We have so many other new guys on the team, I hope you get to rotate them into the podcast as well.
MEAGAN MARIE: We’ll do our best. Alright, thank you.
SCOT AMOS: My pleasure, thank you.
MEAGAN MARIE: And that is it for our podcast. Thank you for tuning in to our Frankenstein episode, featuring highlights from different facets of E3 and a new and exciting chat about IP, new IP here at the studio. If you’re looking for more information specifically on Tomb Raider, definitely keep your eyes on our official Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr feed, which is our blog, because we have a lot of new info and opportunities that will be popping up with San Diego Comic-Con just over the horizon. Thanks!