With Tomb Raider's 10th Anniversary approaching, Eidos have chosen to release a full 3D version of console title Tomb Raider: Legend for mobile. Games on Deck talks to Jim Blackhurst, Tomb Raider: Legend's producer, about the project.
Games On Deck: Could you let us know a bit about yourself, what your role has been on this project, and what you have worked on in the past?
Jim Blackhurst: I'm the Producer on the Tomb Raider: Legend project which means that I essentially project manage all aspects of the development, with particular focus on games design, scheduling and communication with the development teams working on the console and PC version of the game.
I've been producer on quite a few of Eidos' more recent mobile titles including two Hitman Games, Championship Manager 06, Pandemonium and a soon to be released game for Xbox Live Arcade. Prior to working at Eidos I was Creative Director at Hailstorm Entertainment, a Mobile games development studio based in the UK. I've been working in mobile games for over seven years now (which is about as long as it's possible to have been working in this field!)
GOD: Tell us about Tomb Raider: Legend for mobile.
JB: Tomb Raider: Legend for mobile is really pushing the boundaries of where we are at with mobile gaming right now. When you see the game running on one of the hardware accelerated handsets, it's not an exaggeration to say that we are up there in terms of quality with the PS1 versions, and in some respects that's an understatement.
The game has been designed from the ground up to scale well across different handsets, and although we don't support older handsets without the power for 3D gaming, on those handsets that do, we've worked really hard to produce a game that is great fun to play regardless of the number of polys being thrown around or the FPS.
One of the most exciting aspects of the development was being able to work closely with Crystal Dynamics, the developer of the console and PC versions. They were able to provide us with some really detailed art and design assets which allowed us to set the mobile game right inside the universe created by the core products. Crystal Dynamics even wrote the story for us, which meant that the mobile version of Tomb Raider: Legend really is just another platform alongside the PS2, Xbox 360, PC and the handhelds.
Tomb Raider Legend for mobile
GOD: Why do you feel like the mobile platform represents a good fit for this game?
JB: The core essence of Tomb Raider is technology agnostic. Exploration and discovery, two of the key pillars of any Tomb Raider game, don't require the very latest console technology and cinematic experience in order to be present, you can feel the immersion in the environment in even the simplest of platforms. The fact that we were able to leverage the power of the latest mobile devices to create awesome full 3D worlds was really only half of it, the feeling of presence in Lara's world, and the fun and adventure that goes with it, was already there.
GOD: How does the title tie in with the console and PC games (Legend, and the upcoming Anniversary)?
JB: Tomb Raider: Legend for mobile, is essentially the same game as you see on the Xbox 360. We may not have the same incredible visual depth and graphical quality, but when it comes to the story, the goals, the motivations behind Lara's latest adventure, It's right there.
GOD: How does the title take advantage of the mobile format?
JB: We've been especially careful during the development of Tomb Raider: Legend for mobile to pay attention to the particular play patterns exhibited by mobile gamers. This translates to smaller levels, with frequent automatic save points, as well as simplified controls that allow the player to navigate the 3D spaces on a phone keypad.
Tomb Raider Legend for mobile
GOD: How big was the team working on Tomb Raider: Legend?
JB: We had a full team working on Tomb Raider: Legend for mobile, which at certain points during development, and across all the mobile platforms we were working on was in excess of 20 people. This doesn't include the QA team who spent months testing every aspect of the game or the folks at Crystal Dynamics who were there helping us along the way.
GOD: How have you collaborated with the teams working on the console and PC versions on the mobile version?
JB: We were given very early access to concept art and draft storylines from the team at Crystal Dynamics and were kept "in the loop" as these evolved into the production assets. The mobile game and the console game were developed largely in parallel, which meant that we were in sync when it came to receiving assets. An example of this would be the story. As the story line was being developed at Crystal Dynamics for the console versions, they were also creating a version for the mobile game that took into account some of the unique features of our game, such as the shorter levels.
Lara's look, her 3D mesh, textures and animation were all produced with very close support from Crystal Dynamics, we were even given access to the motion capture data that was used in the console and PC versions.
GOD: How did you replicate the controls of the console/PC versions on mobile?
JB: Controls are one of the biggest areas of difficulty in developing mobile games, we spent a long time prototyping different systems until we found one that really worked for us. You can imagine the difficulty when you consider that on some phones you can't register multiple key presses, this presents significant problems for developers wanting to implement run and shoot. In the end we went for a control method that allowed the player to explore the levels and interact with the environment, but we kept them on a pretty tightly defined path this removed all the frustration of 3D navigation on small screens with tiny buttons, while still preserving the sense of exploration and adventure coupled with awesome atmospherics and tension.
Tomb Raider Legend for mobile
GOD: In a more general sense, how do you view the mobile gaming market? Where do you see its place among other, dedicated portable gaming platforms?
JB: It's an amazing place to be right now, 3D gaming is becoming mass market and the horizon of possibilities is expanding every day in terms of mobile design and production. We really are having our own PS1 moment in the evolution of mobile gaming right now, where the hardware platform is in place for premium quality mobile games, and consumer demand is there too. It's exciting times!