Copyright 2000

[ October 15th 2000 ]

Bet you thought Lara was done for in The Last Revelation. The Temple of Horus came crashing down, and poor Lara disappeared from view, apparently buried alive. The intrepid and daring adventuress had finally met her match, perishing - somewhat fittingly - in a tomb of her own making. Right? Well, maybe. One of the rules of soap operas and comic books is, "They're not dead until you've seen the body." And though we've certainly seen a lot of her over the years, the story may not be over yet. Tomb Raider: Chronicles will give Lara aficionados one last fling with the heroine while filling in some gaps--and answering some other questions players have had about her past.

The premise of Chronicles is that Lara's friends have gathered, in light of her supposed death, to have a memorial in her honor. Sounds kind of boring--watching a bunch of characters from Lara's past chatting around a fireplace doesn't hold a lot of action potential. Never fear; there will be plenty of action, Tomb Raider style. Gamers will be able to play as adult Lara through three environments - Rome, a German U-boat base, and a high-tech city - and as young Lara in a forest-like area. Producer Mike Schmitt indicated that these four episodes will tie together to give players details about Lara's life, and will mesh with the existing story as well, so players will learn more about Lara than previous games have revealed. In their journey through Lara's past, players will have access to more moves and gear.

Lara has apparently been studying gymnastics; she'll be able to do an Olympics-caliber dismount off of certain horizontal bars. She'll also take a page from the Wallendas with the ability to do a bit of tightrope walking. The tightrope walking will take a bit of practice, however, as Lara has a tendency to sway from side to side. Players will be able to correct her swaying by using the left and right arrow keys. Lara will now be able to climb pipes and columns, as well as yank down tiles to get up into the ceiling and do a bit of sneaking about. As for the new gear, Lara will be sporting both a shiny black catsuit with Matrix-like sunglasses and a mouth bead, as well as a winter camo outfit, complete with merchant-marine beanie. Lara will also come fully equipped with a slew of new animations.

Remember how in the past she'd "search" a closet or cabinet by walking up, scooping the floor, and having the item magically appear in her inventory? Well, now Lara does the full search technique, and her method varies depending on where she's searching. For freestanding shelves, she'll methodically check every shelf; she'll root through drawers in filing cabinets; and for cabinets, she'll open the doors and have a peek inside. Also, Lara will have to jimmy open some doors - she'll actually whip out a crowbar and pry the thing away from the frame in a nicely animated sequence.

Taking a cue from Thief, Lara will be required to use stealth to proceed through some areas, while in others, being sneaky will make her job much easier. In one instance we were shown, a security guard was sleeping at his desk, and Lara needed to obtain an item off that desk. If she had gone in with guns blazing, sure, the guard would have been taken care of, but the alarm would have been sounded--leading to all kinds of complications Lara didn't need. Instead, by sneaking up without disturbing the guard, Lara obtained the item, and was able to go on about her business.

Tomb Raider: Chronicles will, at long last, give fans the tool they need to create adventures for Lara. Eidos is putting the final touches on the Tomb Raider level editor, used by Core to design all of Lara's adventures over the years. Getting the editor into a user-friendly format hasn't been without its difficulties, however. Since the tool was originally designed for use over a network, it's been a task in itself to get it working as a single-system application. In addition, since it was an internal tool, a number of long-standing "issues"--that Core designers learned to work around--had to be found and eliminated, which proved to be a time-consuming project.

The build we viewed was stable and solid, though, which means fans of the game will have a nice foundation to build their Lara episodes with. We sat down with lead artist Gary La Rochelle and senior artist Rebecca Shearin, and they walked us through the creation of an episode. Each map begins life as a "project," which is a blank slate. The map-creation system is block based, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has played a lot of Tomb Raider. Every room/area begins life as a box 18 blocks long by 18 blocks wide by 5 blocks high. Individual blocks also have variable heights; there are four possible elevations for every block. (For the tech heads out there, blocks are 64 pixels square, with 16-pixel increments.) Larger areas are created by combining blocks in any configuration and cutting holes in them for doors--or by knocking out the wall completely.

Once the room is in progress, gamers will have a whole host of features to choose from to modify the area to their hearts' content. For instance, the angled surfaces seen in the game are made by changing a block's properties. One nice feature is the "random surface" tool, which has the editor jumble up an area somewhat randomly to simulate broken floor or "natural" ground, and it works well. Players can apply colored lighting using a 24-bit palette, with the ability to select the exact shade of any light. Lighting will have a number of different formats, including cone, radius, or "sun" lighting, which illuminates everything in an area. And each area has its own ambient light setting. One thing fans will enjoy playing with is the extensive "trigger" system, which causes events to happen when Lara crosses a certain point or performs a certain action.

The trigger types have been built into the engine, and can cause a surprising number of results--from cueing music clips or WAV files to spawning enemies to making a boulder roll down an incline. Anyone familiar with Tomb Raider has seen the remote camera sequences that, say, show a door opening when you hit a button. Now you will be able to create your own camera sequences using triggers, and the number of variations that are possible with the current system will make for some very interesting outcomes.

The editor will come with an extensive tutorial on the game CD--La Rochelle estimated the bulk of it at 80 to 90 pages. And it'll be printable in PDF format, so get those printers ready. There will also be six levels from The Last Revelation--along with texture sets from just about every Tomb Raider title in the past--for players to cut their teeth on. And Shearin also noted that in the future, users will be able to change the game up by adding their own models, sounds, textures, and objects.

This capability won't be built into the editor, but she doesn't seem to think it'll take fans very long to figure out how to do it. One thing that surprised us about the editor is that there wasn't a "one-click test" in it--that is, you currently can't just click "test this level," have it compile the current project, and then open the game with the level loaded. Considering the accessibility and ease of use of the rest of the editor, this omission seemed a bit odd, but we're hoping a feature like this makes it into the final game. Tomb Raider: Chronicles is slated for a mid-November release, and we're looking forward to taking Lara through one last adventure. We're also looking forward to creating a few of our own.

Now, where did we put that boulder ramp...

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