Shadow of the Tomb Raider interview: Lara Croft's evolution, Trinity, Jonah, and more

Following our recent hands-on with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Shacknews spoke to Game Director Daniel Chayer-Bisson and Lead Writer Jill Murray from Eidos Montreal to learn more about where Lara's climactic journey is headed.

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Lara Croft is inching closer to reaching her 'defining moment' in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The third game in the rebooted trilogy from Square Enix, Eidos Montreal, and Crystal Dynamics is set to bring Lara's story to a close in a big way, with shadow organization Trinity seeking to usher in a Mayan apocalypse.

Shacknews already went hands-on with the first few hours of Shadow of the Tomb Raider just a few weeks ago. Now it's time to learn more about what to expect from Lara's latest adventure. We recently sat down with Game Director Daniel Chayer-Bisson and Lead Writer Jill Murray from Eidos Montreal to ask about how much Lara has changed over the course of the series, the resurgence of Trinity, the importance of the native people, and her enduring friendship with Jonah.

Shacknews: It's been a while since Rise of the Tomb Raider came out. How much time has passed since the events of that game and in what ways has Lara changed?

Daniel Chayer-Bisson, Game Director: It's very recent. It's a couple of months after Rise. How has she changed? There's two ways she's changed. The first one is the fact that, to be able to take Trinity out and its cells and everything she's taking out with Jonah, she needs to be much more efficient. That's why she's coming out with these new abilities, like wall-running, grappling down, and going even further than she ever went before. Also, she trained herself to be more prepared for what's coming, because she's more on the offensive at that moment, which is why she has bigger arms. Emotionally and psychologically, she's much more prepared at the beginning, even though she will realize she's not that prepared for th events that will unfold later on.

Also, Jonah is way more prepared. He's decided to follow her. Not just a couple of guest appearances, he's really following her. For that, to be able to keep up with her, he knows he has to be in shape and also he has to evolve in a similar way to Lara.

Jill Murray, Lead Writer: She's come to terms, I think, with what Trinity is. She's sorted out a lot of that emotional stuff from the past.

Shacknews: I'm glad we mentioned Trinity, because I want to ask, how has Trinity regrouped from the setback they suffered in Rise of the Tomb Raider?

Chayer-Bisson: Trinity, in Rise, was more of a rogue cell. It was not Trinity. Trinity was much more complex than that. Trinity is multiple cells, multiple things affecting the world. It was a powerful cell that she took down in the previous game, but it was not Trinity themselves. Trinity is more of an Illuminati type of group, extending throughout our world. It's very mysterious and enigmatic and it's very, even for people working for Trinity, to really seize what they are.

In this case, in Cozumel, she thinks she's taking out just another cell. But then she realizes this Dr. Dominguez actually may be a leader or the leader of Trinity.

Shacknews: Lara's been on a dangerous island in the first game and the Siberian landscape in Rise. What makes the South American landscape more dangerous than those previous locations?

Chayer-Bisson: From my experience, Yamatai, the actual island, was difficult because it was the first time she actually needed to fend for herself. She was always depending on Roth or any other people, and there, she needed to learn at a certain point that people were relying on her. It was not the opposite anymore. She realized that at the moment from the radio tower when the plane crashed. She realized at that moment that no one will come and save her. She'll have to take things in her own hands. The world was appropriate for that.

In Rise, the snow is something very cold, very difficult, it's the next step of survival. There's not a lot of resources around and you have to figure out how to survive with lack of resources.

You look at the jungle and you ask how it's more dangerous, it's because the jungle, the sickness, all the animals, all the poison... like, for example, going to the jungle, you never eat anything colorful. If you don't know that, you get lost in the jungle and start eating these beautiful, colorful frogs, you will not survive. You have to eat everything that looks disgusting! Because that's where the proteins are. But people don't know that and that's what Lara will learn very, very quickly.

What is more appropriate for the jungle is that she can become it. She can go to a certain point, because she has survived a lot before. This moment is not just surviving it, because the way we approach survival in this game is about learning. She's learning how this mechanism, which is the jungle and nature, works so that she can use it as a tool for her to survive, which she never did before.

Murray: The other thing that makes it difficult for her is that in this game, she's really dealing with overcoming her own mistakes. I don't know if you've ever screwed anything up, but that is a really terrible feeling. It can be really hard once you've made a mistake, especially one as large as setting off the apocalypse, to figure out how to move forward, how to make things better, and will you actually make things worse as you continue charging ahead?

Shacknews: We've gone into the new traversal mechanics. What have these opened up in terms of gameplay and storytelling possibilities?

Chayer-Bisson: For gameplay, it was a nightmare, because we had to redefine, we had to rethink how to do level design. Previously in the games, if you were going down, you were falling down. There was nothing that would permit you to just go down. In this game, it's the first game that you could go down with the rappel.

One other thing we had that also complicated level design was the overhanging mechanic. You can now climb along the ceiling. It's crazy how we had to change the recipe of how to do the exploration, but it opened up a lot more possibilities for agency. For players to say, "Hey, I can reach this. Maybe I can just throw my axe and see what will happen." And suddenly, instead of going through the whole path, you're just going there by skipping. There's a lot more exploration possibilities. Yes, it's a nightmrae for us, but it's a blessing for players, because they go, "Oh my God, I could go there! I could go there!"

Also, the verticality. Paititi, the hub, is bigger in footprint than anything we've ever created, also because the verticality is much deeper than anything we ever did.

Murray: It's a little bit simpler from a storytelling standpoint. It's nice the way that things like rappeling, physical descent, mirror the ways that Lara needs to plunge into the depths of her psychology.

Shacknews: I wanted to go ahead and ask about Paititi. How did you go about crafting this world? What real world elements inspired it? And how important was it to make it as big and vast as it is?

Chayer-Bisson: The intiial pitch three years ago was, "Hey, imagine that Lara could go to a world, looking for an actual tomb, and when she gets to the tomb, people are still alive. How would she react to that? What would be the whole dynamic of that?" And that's the premise, because the Paititi you see today didn't start like that. It was smaller, it was different, the technology was not permitting us to do what we have now. But we were like, "We need to create something that makes sense."

The whole inspiration for that was, we were reading a lot, some of us were traveling to Peru, some of us were looking all around looking for things that would inspire us, because it's fiction. One thing we realized by studying a lot about the El Dorados, City of Gold, and things like that, we realized that Paititi is actually a real place. There is this monk that found it and was pretty detailed about what it looked like and we said, "Why not have Lara discover it?"

We did the same thing in Rise in 2013. We used real myth and we're building our fiction around it, so people could say "Oh, she could actually do that." One of the biggest things we said was, if this is the heart of shaping the world, however it means, there's something hidden in there that's so powerful that it could shape the world, what could it be? That's when we started adding the Mayan in there, because we had the Incan in there, then the Mayan, and then we said the Aztecs could have fled there by following the Mayan trail. And if they met with the Inca, what would that look like? We worked within the story to make sure that everything would be possible, because we know these cultures never interacted, but it was important for us to look at it and think, what would that fiction be? Imagine if Lara, the player, would discover a place that the world never discovered and it's massive and beautiful and self-contained. The other thing we were looking at was tribes in the Amazon jungle that never met modernity and we wondered what that scale of ancient civilization that for 400 years or 500 years never had contact with the modern world.

Shacknews: Do the people of Paititi and the other hub areas take notice of Lara's actions over the course of the game?

Chayer-Bisson: The thing that's important for us, we didn't want to do a Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed type of experience. We didn't want Lara punching people. We don't want to re-create that type of city experience. We want to own our own city experience. We want a Lara that's much more respectful, because she's in love with the past, with the archaeological find, and that's her first experience like that. They both share that passion of understanding and knowledge.

At that moment, for us, it was very important that what you were doing, whether you're petting llamas or you're communicating with people, was in a different way. So we created this kind of social puzzle thing. Instead of solving puzzles and crypts or tombs, we said, "What would be something that looks more like she needs to read people and understand their dynamics?" It goes with the idea of her learning about the world.

But yes, they will be acknowledging her and when she's walking and she's bumping into them, they will take notice.

Murray: The people of Paititi take notice of Lara immediately and it starts off with a negotiation, where she's actually outnumbered by them and they could easily just kill her and make her disappear if they wanted to. So she needs to ingratiate herself in the first place and then, from there, she makes friends with the rebels, she works with them, and they finally have common goals.

Shacknews: Lastly, I'm interested in how Lara's relationships have evolved over the course of these games. And in particular, how has her friendship with Jonah changed from the first game to Shadow of the Tomb Raider?

Chayer-Bisson: The first game, she was closer to Sam. At the time, she was looking up to Sam, envying the way she was interacting with the world. And Jonah was part of the crew. They were not that close. They had some closeness, for sure, but not as much as Sam. Their history goes back to Roth, who was the one who was connecting everybody to her.

On Rise, because you know what happened in 2013, a lot of them died, they shared a lot of the pain, Jonah and her. And they stayed together at a certain point, because he always wanted to know that she was okay. Their relationship was that he wanted to make sure she was okay, because he knows how Roth was caring for her, so he wanted to continue that in a certain way.

In Shadow, it's a full-fledged adventure with her. He's following her, their relationship is way more a partnership together than it was before. Before, he wanted to make sure everything was fine, but in this game, it's much more of a partnership.

Murray: We also really see their relationship tested. We really get to see the boundaries of this relationship, how much they need each other, how much they push each other. By the end of the game, we also start to get a sense of who Jonah would be on his own without her and what kind of direction he might take in the future.


Shadow of the Tomb Raider will release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on September 14.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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