It was a fall from grace normally reserved for self-righteous politicians and televangelists. Having made some of the defining games on the original PlayStation, Lara Croft watched helplessly as her games became increasingly disappointing, culminating with 2003's unplayable The Angel of Darkness. As the saying goes, you can't keep a good woman in shorty-shorts down, and so it was that three years (and a switch in developers from Core to Crystal Dynamics) later that Ms. Croft would make a triumphant comeback with 2006's exhilarating Tomb Raider: Legend and a stellar remake of her original adventure as 2007's Anniversary. Now Crystal D is going for the hat trick with Tomb Raider Underworld, which Eidos will release this November on almost every platform available. Though according to the game's creative director, Crystal Dynamic's Eric Lindstrom, Lara's getting more in this game than just some new stamps in her passport.
Crispy Gamer: So where in the world is Lara Croft this time?
Eric Lindstrom: She's actually going all over the world. We're not saying where yet, but she's going to multiple places around the world to investigate ruin sites that are tied to the local underworld where she's going, though they're all threaded together by a common theme and the story of the game.
Crispy Gamer: What is the story for this game and how does it connect to the rest of the series?
Lindstrom: Again, we're not saying much, but I can tell you that the story takes place after Legend and Anniversary, and it answers a lot of the questions left unanswered by those games.
Crispy Gamer: How does the gameplay compare to the other games?
Lindstrom: There are a lot more things you can do, especially things you'd expect Lara to be able to do. Like being able to balance on the poles she can swing on. Or, if she's climbing around, and she has a free hand, she can now pull out a gun and shoot someone if they're shooting at her.
Crispy Gamer: It's also been reported that, for the first time, you motion-captured a gymnast -- NCAA Women's Gymnastics Champion Heidi Moneymaker, to be specific -- for Lara's moves. Did you pick Ms. Moneymaker because her name makes her sound like a Bond girl?
Lindstrom: God, I wish it was that easy, but that is her real name. I'm ashamed to say I asked her.
Crispy Gamer: What did motion-capturing a gymnast bring to the game?
Lindstrom: What's always been really important to us is raising the level of detail and fidelity, which is why the environments are getting much more detailed and lush. So when it came to Lara's animations, they needed a higher level of detail, as well. Now the way to do that is to work a bunch of animators to death, or to go do motion-capturing, which brings in a lot of secondary motions that would normally take a really long time to animate. So it wasn't about making them more real, but it was also a way to get a high level of detail.
Crispy Gamer: Did the motion-capturing result in you adding any new moves for Lara?
Lindstrom: It didn't give her any new abilities, but there were times when we told her [Ms. Moneymaker] what to do, and she'd say, "Well, that's not the way I'd do that move, that's awkward." Then she'd do it her way, and if it looked cool, we used it.
Crispy Gamer: Did you also motion-capture a champion target shooter? Or champion puzzle solver?
Lindstrom: Actually, Heidi is also a stuntwoman, but we did bring in another stuntwoman to do the gunplay and the kicks.
Crispy Gamer: One thing about this game that's gotten a lot of attention is the decision to change Lara's look. She's not wearing her usual aquamarine tank top and tan shorts, and she's ditched the braid for a ponytail. Why did you decide to make these changes?
Lindstrom: Well, what does the braid mean to you?
Crispy Gamer: I don't know, maybe she just wanted a change. I mean, it's not like she ever hit anybody with it.
Lindstrom: Yeah, yeah. What's interesting is that nothing about this game has attracted more scrutiny than our decision to change her look. She's actually going to have a number of different outfits in the game.
Crispy Gamer: But why did you decide to change her basic outfit? I understand adding new ones, but why ditch the classic?
Lindstrom: Well, we feel that Lara's look is iconic, but that it transcends her poster image. She's not Mario where, if you take him out of his plumber outfit, do you still have Mario?
Crispy Gamer: No, you have Ron Jeremy.
Lindstrom: Ha! Right. But we don't feel that Lara is tied to a particular outfit, though she is tied to a particular style. It's kind of like with James Bond, he doesn't always wear the same black tuxedo, but he does always wear a tuxedo.
Crispy Gamer: Right. Did changing her hair from a braid to a ponytail add more time to the development of the game because you now had to figure out a new mechanic to make her new hairstyle move?
Lindstrom: That's interesting, I don't think I could give you a good answer based on my involvement in the last two games, though I know there's a fair amount of cloth tech utilized in the game.
Crispy Gamer: Is it weird working on a game where something as minute as a hairstyle change would become such big news that people would ask you about it in interviews?
Lindstrom: Well, it could be weirder. I look at the forum all the times, and the reaction to these decisions hasn't been unanimous. Some people like the ponytail.
Crispy Gamer: Was it also weird to play Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and realize that it was kind of like Tomb Raider, if Lara was trigger-happy and a dude?
Lindstrom: That was actually my concern going in to that game, but when I played through it, it wasn't very long before that feeling went away. It's a very good game, it's just a completely different genre. It was mostly Gears of War on an island.
Crispy Gamer: Are there any plans to add some multiplayer modes to the game?
Crispy Gamer: How come?
Lindstrom: Well, there are a lot of reasons. The biggest, and most obvious, is that Lara's a solo operator. Nobody's as good as her, nobody can follow her, so the idea that she'd need someone to, say, give her a boost up to a ledge doesn't fit.
Crispy Gamer: Have you guys ever even brainstormed what Tomb Raider multiplayer would be like?
Lindstrom: Every time. We've just never been happy with the ideas we've come up with, and we've never wanted to spend the resources on it when we could spend them on some other aspect of the game.
Crispy Gamer: What about a multiplayer mode where one person plays as Lara, and everyone else plays as a bad guy, or as a gigantic octopus, and they have to try and kill her?
Lindstrom: We have talked about scenarios similar to that, but it just really doesn't work out as well as we'd hope. This issue comes up every time.
Crispy Gamer: The game is being developed for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and PC. First off, why no PSP?
Lindstrom: Man, I have no idea. I couldn't tell you.
Crispy Gamer: While we're on the subject, where's the love for the Commodore 64? The Atari 2600? The Virtual Boy?
Lindstrom: Probably not the same answer.
Crispy Gamer: This is the third Tomb Raider game Crystal Dynamics has done after Eidos nixed Core off the series. Have any of the Core guys ever said anything to you about the games when you've run into them at the Eidos Christmas party?
Lindstrom: No, I've never met any of the Core guys, though there are people on the forums who are very devoted to Core and are unhappy by the way they feel we mainstreamed Lara.
Crispy Gamer: Lastly, Eidos always hire a model to be Lara at events and stuff. Do you guys have any say in who they get to do it?
Lindstrom: I don't.
Crispy Gamer: Do you ever tell people that you have a say in who they get to do it?
Lindstrom: No, I'm married, I got kids.