Tomb Raider Q&A with Paul Douglas
2 April 2020:
Paul Douglas, co-creator of the original Tomb Raider, has been providing a lot of interesting info related to the creation of the game on Twitter during these past months. Here's the resume of all his replies. Big thanks to him for taking the time to answer the numerous questions from the fans.
Is it true that in the beginning the game was called The Chaos Raiders?
"Chaos Raiders" was briefly a collective term for Lara's rivals. Perhaps around mid 1995. That was about the time Vicky joined and she really helped to tighten everything story & character wise.
(Refering to the unused fish enemy) - What's the story behind them and why were they deleted?
I have very little recollection of the fish! I think we must have cut them soon in the levels build-out phase - theres only a few underwater bits in Mines/Atlantis/Pyramid and putting vicious creatures u/w is too unfair if can't fight back.
I've always wondered why there was a room dedicated to Thor on the level of St. Francis Folly in the original TR. Do you remember anything about the inclusion of this Nordic god in the middle of a Greek themed place?
Just subverting the player's expectations. The player doesn't anticipate seeing Roman or Norse themes in a Greek level, so hopefully their curiosity is piqued and they push on to explore & discover why things are not quite what they seem. Same thing with dinosaurs in Peru.
Info regarding the corner bug:
Sony Europe found the corner bug but couldnt reproduce it. So it wasn't rated as a critical bug just an advisory. I had a provisional fix for it but removed it as we didnt have time to test it.
Info regarding the removed braid in-game:
Oh, and Lara's braid was removed as its movement and collision with Lara herself never worked as well as we liked. Nothing to do with its polygon count. We just didnt have the time to fix it as there was so much else to do.
Did you guys used the verlet algorithm for the braid ? Or something else ?
Yes. Modelled as a few physics particles and constraints. Simple verlet integrator. Problem was it would often fall through her neck to the front; we just ran out of time needed to tweak & tune it so it collided correctly against her neck & backpack.
How does Lara climb on walls and grab corners? What kind of collision detection you guys used?
There was lots of conditional logic depending on what move state Lara was in. We essentially used raycasts to interrogate the environment and simple bounding boxes & spheres for characters.
The original Tomb Raider has quite the emphasis on enemy encounters being a surprise, with tension all around. Was the game always talked about as action/adventure, or did the dev team meant to explore horror thematics as well?
Its a deliberate pivot from straight up action adventure to a more unsettling horror flavoured conclusion. Pacing the encounters in that manner suits the simple combat mechanic.
How soon into development was the entire plot of the original Tomb Raider decided on? Like was it known from the start, or was it something that kind of just happened later on?
A lot changed throughout development. There was an initial draft plotline in late 1994. That went through a major rewrite in 1995 when Vicky joined Core. The dialogue & storyboards for the cutscenes will have been finalised quite late - Early 1996.
Could you tell us anything more about this thing (unused Atlantean Dino enemy)? Was it ever implemented? But I guess most of all, are you able to show (or tell us about) any unseen beta content from TR1?
That Dino was meant to feature in Atlantis levels We ran out of time to implement it and also its animation & appearance didnt fit stylistically with the rest of the game - it was done by one the the artists who helped out the team right near the end of development.
Regarding the unused TR1 cutscene: Was Col. Arthur H. Graves ever in the game? Were the levels going to be different? Where is Lara going on that ship?
Arthur Graves is a relic from 2nd draft of the story. So that is a quite early FMV. One of the levels was going to be Cambodia - Angkor Wat but was swapped out for Greece.
Aside from the model shown in the Alpha video (with the ponytail and glasses) did Lara have any other model designs, before settling with the one with have now?
There was a model very early on with long trousers similar to the early concept art. That was before we had texture mapping on characters so she looked a bit like a Virtua Fighter character - all blocky flat colours.
Were there alternative designs for some other characters like Natla or Larson?
The models didn't change that much. I think Toby preferred animation to modelling - for instance Lara's in-game animation changed a lot more than her appearance throughout development.
The first time I played Tomb Raider in 1997 I thought it was like a Prince of Persia taken to 3D, because of the modular block design of the stages, the kind of vertical jump to climb or the traps. Was Prince of Persia an inspiration for the design of Tomb Raider?
Prince of Persia's animation and how it was tile based was definitely an influence. The doppelganger was a homage to the shadow boss in PoP.
Did Lara's pistols always have infinite ammo? Or was it limited in the early versions of the game?
Earlier versons it was limited but we didn't want Lara to ever become defenceless (except Natla's Mines). We switched to unlimited pistols as we were too tight on time to tune the pickup placements.
There are multiple differences between the PS and PC version. One of them bothers me the most is that the PS version has a 16:10 image ratio but being squeezed into 4:3. Is this intentional?
Unfortunately we didnt compensate for different pixel aspect ratios across versions. EG PC has 320x200 (16:10) and 640x480 (4:3) on 4:3 monitor. The NTSC and PAL console resolutions also differ in the Y axis. Very common in games from that period.
Could you tell us about the dynamite, diary and torch items seen in pre-alpha footage?
Diary - precursor to the passport. There was going to be a map feature with notes.
Dynamite - used to open secret doors and as a weapon. Dropped due to time.
Torch - In-game light that was dropped then used for detail selection.
Is there anything you wish you could have done in Tomb Raider that you didn't have time or the chance to?
Besides polishing what we had and a tweak or 2 to the controls, it would've been most satisfying to get the braid working to maintain continuity between FMV cutscenes and ingame.
Did Lara's pistols change throughout the development cycle?
Don't think the 3d model changed much beside texture tweaks - they are fairly simple. The gunflash changed from a sprite to a 3d model - a big improvement. The firing rate and damage were tweaked too.
I’m curious about your thoughts on Lara Croft originally being a Latina named Laura Cruz. Was this ever pushed forward beyond concepts? Was it ever a consideration and do you think it would have worked if she wasn’t British?
The latino character was a short-lived creative dead-end for us. There were a few drawings from Toby that inspired the early Laura Cruz name but as soon as we got to brainstorming motives, means and background we decided to make her a fellow Brit.
I’ve always wondered if there was much more to tell about the male protagonist that was devised near the beginning. I forgot his name now unfortunately, but I’m sure I read it somewhere.
When I joined Core, Toby had already come up with the title "Tomb Raider" and had drawn quite a few sketches of a female character in action poses. I never saw any art or docs for a male character. It was either before my time or it's a bit of a myth.
Regarding St Francis' Folly, can you recall anything about the level which would have been included if there had been more time?
We had plans for more complexity in the 4 themed rooms but time didnt permit. Perhaps think about how the original mixed Roman, Greek and Norse and use that to re-imagine the gameplay in those rooms.
What did the project management for Tomb Raider 1 look like? What were those real gratifying milestones for your team in terms of proof of viability? It sounded quite iterative and agile but as sequels went on become more standard factory issued.
It was most rewarding once we had Lara doing basic traversal and the levels began to look much better than just box rooms. It took a long time to get to that point though - building the tools and lots of experimentation in the gamecode,animation and levels.
Tomb Raider 1 was the first time you had to draw polygons right? Was there actual tech developments between 94-96 that literally made things viable that weren't before like Graphic APIs etc or did you know back at 1.0 stage the tech was there you's just needed time to engineer it?
Everything coded from scratch. We were targeting the Saturn and Playstation 3D capabilities but the game started on PC with a software renderer that was similar to PS1 (fixed point math, texture pages, no z-buffer). Saturn only draws quads so that was a further constraint.
Info regarding the creation of Lara Croft's name:
Lara's surname did indeed come from the Derby telephone book as a British replacement for "Cruz". We started at "Cross" and searched for names that sounded befitting.
"Lara" however came from a baby-name book that Guy Miller (creative manager at Core) had. We were looking for names that were a little more unusual than Laura, and had interesting derivations...
Info regarding the development budget:
The development budget for the very first Tomb Raider game was £440k. In today's money that is £825k, or in US dollars a little over $1 Million. AAA games cost a lot more to make nowadays - the budget for Shadow of the Tomb Raider was reportedly $75 to $100 Million.
We know that a first version of Tomb Raider was refused by Sony. What are the big differences between this rejected version and the final version?
Yes, we got rejected at Sony concept approval first time around. We submitted too early with little more than a brief plot outline and a paragraph describing gameplay. It wasnt until we had some prototype code running that people started to understand it.
Anything you can tell about early development or concepts for secondary characters like Pierre or Larson? Each member of the Natla gang seems to have a very specific profile.
Pierre and Lara were meant to alternate between helping each other on puzzle elements then end up fighting and having this turbulent rivalry going on. Time ran out on us implementing it. We kinda chose the most stereotypical French name we could - familiar initials though...
Just to clarify: Was only meant to be on 2 puzzles starting at St. Francis Folly. There was no VO prepared for their collaboration so we dropped the feature fairly early on.
Larson evolved out of Lars Kruger who was an Afrikaner in a similar role in the original design. It's meant to be a surname. Vicky always spelt it Larsen in the script so perhaps that should be the definitive spelling.
Why was Lara built with triangular breasts in TR1? Was it limitations with the Lara model itself or engine?
All done to keep the polygon count as low as possible. 2 triangles either side and 2 quadrilaterals on the front is about as efficient as it can be done. Toby traded less polygonal detail on her body for more on her head and face.
Was the feeling back then: frustration about the limitations preventing you fully realising what you imagined, or satisfaction that you'd helped create a seminal looking game?
It would have been nice to have more powerful hardware, but the constraints of the medium shaped the creative solutions. For instance "d-pad" controls and quad polygons on the Saturn led to the tile/grid system and corresponding discrete move-set.
I’m wondering if you guys had to re-write Tomb Raider 1 from scratch for each platform? Or does It have like a base code source and just adapted?
There was ton of common code shared between the versions. Then a layer of code taylored to each hardware. All 3 versions developed simultaneously.
Sega Saturn version has different handstand animation!
The handstand was originally part of an in-game cutscene (can you guess which one?). Late one night we decided to add it to the move-set instead of leaving it on the cutting room floor.
Getting on the platform at the top of the Great Pyramid after falling with Natla?
You are correct!
What are the flaws, if any, that you see in TR1 which you would liked to have addressed?
There was a ton of fixes to code, levels, gfx it would have been nice to get done. We did our best given we were on an extremely tight deadline. The braid purely for visual continuity is a notable one & most of the levels needed another pass or two of Mr. Sheen.
What's the reason why Lara has two pistols instead of one? Must have been an early design decision instead of a gameplay reason, right?
We were attempting to make the combat balletic like a John Woo film. Making the figure symmetric with dual wielded weapons helps achieve that.
Looking at Max Payne back in 2001, do you think you would take the combat from Tomb Raider in a different direction?
Combat was more front and centre in Toby's original concept with these ideas of cinematic slow-motion gunplay. Traversal, exploration and puzzles became the initial focus once we started actual development. Combat was implemented last and was always the weakest element.
Sounds like TRA adrenaline dodge might've been part of Toby's input as creative director? Combat & puzzles can go hand in hand. I think lasersight and using weapons to for puzzles and accessing new areas was a good move. TR1 was going to use dynamite for that purpose right?
TRA certainly seems to have a few Toby design fingerprints on it. Correct about the dynamite for TR1. One of the features that got dropped out. Fortunately we drew a line in the feature list in early 96 otherwise we would never have finished. Its so easy to be too ambitious...
I wonder what was your work as a programmer in TR1? Were you doing graphics? Audio? Controls? Levels support?
I did bits of everything; 3d engine(graphics), editors, controls, camera, gameplay, design. The project started with Toby as artist and myself as programmer for about 6 months. Once we had built a very simple prototype the other team members came onboard.
Whilst on the topic of combat, how were the sound effects for the game created, like footsteps, gunfire, pistol drawing/holstering etc?
We just gave Martin Iveson a list of SFX we needed, showed him where in the game they would typically be used and he went off and did his thing. He had a load of autonomy in how he did his work. As did Nathan with the music. Neither had much time though - probably a month each. I imagine Martin just used regular sample libraries, sampling noises himself and mucking about with waveform synthesis.
I wonder how graphics programming was back in 97 was It very very low level?
Yes it was. On the other hand it wasn't too complex. No shaders. Just gouraud shaded textured polygons. On the PC you'd write your own routines plotting the pixels of each polygon. The consoles did the drawing for you.
I wonder what was the most time consuming to program for TR1?
The editors. Gavin spent most his time programming the level editor - without that the levels would never have been built and tuned in time for release. I spent similar time on an editor to sequence all the animations and that allowed artists to texture the game objects.
I wonder how the textures were made for TR1, were they handmade? based of IRL photos?
Neal and Heather spent lots of time making their texture sets from reference books. They would scan them in, fit them into the palette, make them repeat and match with other textures. Same for statues etc. The enemy & Lara textures were mainly hand drawn by Toby.
I always thought it was clever how Lara decides to aim with one pistol when she's turned around too far from an enemy, otherwise it would look odd seeing her point both at an awkward angle.
All that aiming stuff was procedural - done in computer code by me. Same with Lara turning her head and torso. Its quite simple code, just needed a fair amount of tweaking.
What happened to the N64 version of TR? Do you have any leftover work from it? I think I once read that a port was in development.
We had paper specs of the N64 late 96/early 97 with the intention of a port. Core wanted a quick conversion but I was more interested in getting some hands on R&D dev with the analogue stick as even then it was becoming clear Sony & Sega would move on from D-Pads.
We never did get actual devkits though and there is only so much you can do with paper specs. Sony must have done the exclusivity deal soon after.
Did you get a version of Tomb Raider 2 working in Sega Saturn?
There was a version being done alongside the PC and PS1 until Sony did the exclusivity deal.
If you had more time, with the graphics engine optimised would you go back and enhance more things? And if so what would you have added?
I should point out that Lara's main model was tweaked and improved throughout development. A lot more texture detail was added and more polygons. Eg especially around her eyes & face, even though you dont see it often in-game.
But the trousers look okay in her home, don't they? Or maybe the wanted a different kind that they couldn't get to work.
The gym outfit was made very near the end of development. By that point, with the graphics engine optimised, we could use lots more polygons and texturing for Lara's model and hence make trousers look good. By then it was far too late to do anything but tweaks to main model.
Is or was there any outfit designs that didn't make the light of day that were planned be removed or just didn't make it pass the concept stage?
Except the gym there were no costume changes planned for TR1. We wanted to establish the character with a really recognisable look - had we changed each level that costume may not have become so iconic. The costumes in the sequels make sense as the character was established.
We need to know what's right and what's wrong, now.
A few things. Only "Croft" came from the phonebook. Therefore, no "real Lara Croft" out there somewhere. The mansion wasn't based on Core Design's offices - it was an analgam of images of Georgian manor houses from a reference book.
Sony Europe actually concept approved us really early on. The catalogue number is SLES-00024, only the 24th 3rd party title that was approved. Sony US did reject it as there wasnt enough supporting documentation in the application, not because of "too mature".
When I started at Core the concept was basically an unnamed woman running around a dungeon shooting things and the title "Tomb Raider", the whole thing was probably 3 or 4 sketches at that stage. That was it. Not a man. Nor a selectable man/woman.
Perhaps those ideas had been in Toby's head at some point but they weren't on paper nor in the first pitch / game document that we made. (Eidos did want us to make the character selectable gender after they got involved in May 1996 but thats a whole nother story.)
Fulltime development began late 1994. Prior to that Toby was finishing BC Racers and I was helping out on various projects and doing R&D. The team grew to 6 people around May 1995.
Sega Saturn wasn't lead platform, all 3 versions were developed simultaneously. The Sega exclusivity period in Europe was negotiated near the end of development - around Summer 1996.
Lara has no middle name in TR1.
I actually have a very specific question about TR1/TR2 PSX development. How are the diffraction/reflections effects achieved on the cristals (TR1) and various blade traps (TR2 - end of first level, armor guys in third level)? And who was responsible for them?
That is a hacky environment map effect. Instead of using a reflection of the environment to wrap onto the object it uses a square portion of the partially drawn screen buffer. Technically what it's doing is all wrong but it looks pretty neat - an example of an old school demo/game coding hack. For TR1 we used that effect for save crystals and when Lara turns into Gold. Not sure on TR2. That's probably Andrew Howe's handiwork.
Was the original TR engine partly or fully based on any other existing game engine at the time (like Doom), or was it all built completely from scratch? Several games like Doom use .WAD files, and while the format is different there is speculation these could be related.
It was mostly built from the ground up but does owe some of its origins to 3D code I did on the Amiga in the early 90s. Almost everyone built their own tech back then. File extensions like .WAD .PAK etc were commonly used on asset archives for completely unrelated engines.
In TR1, did the missing level 9 get far (or even at all) into development?
I seem to remember Resting Place/Sanctuary of the Scion being planned on paper as part of a bigger level (level 9) but due to time constraints was built into Egypt instead.
A few facts regarding the 1995 technical demo:
There are a few hidden object references in this early executable someone wanted to know about.
The "alosaur" was an Allosaurus - essentially a small T-Rex. The "snake" was abandoned as it didnt look or move well.
Unfortunately they are not viewable in that demo - those references are just unused strings in the executable that are holdovers from even older builds.
Is the T-Rex in Tomb Raider really a T-Rex or an Allosaurus?
It definitely started off as an Allosaurus. Everyone who saw it called it a T-Rex though so that is what it eventually became.
I seem to remember our influences on it being an Allosaurus were "One Million Years BC" and Conan Doyles "The Lost World".
Was the other dinosaur always intended to be a velociraptor, like the ones in Jurassic Park?
I think theres some early concept art for Spinosaurus and Segnosaur but those were never built for in-game.
I seem to remember the raptors came later in development when we needed a smaller dinosaur.
Regarding Lost Valley was the area with dinosaurs a cave (à la Journey to the Center of the Earth) or an open jungle? Was the sky black due to technical limitations?
It was meant to be outside in darkness - a jungle valley.
But the game engine only did interiors/rooms (we didnt have time to add sky-boxes although they were planned) so it was implemented as an inside space with a black ceiling.
=> Return to Articles & Interviews <=