Lara Croft thrives on unearthing treasures and discovering ancient wonders. Similarly, Pause Screens are discoveries that explore and reveal the people behind Crystal Dynamics’ and Eidos Montreal’s Tomb Raider origin story.
Rich Briggs is always on brand.
Whether he’s giving an interview about Tomb Raider’s transmedia campaign such as novels and comic books, in a meeting with the creative developers at Eidos Montreal, or overseeing the development of Lara’s character for the recent silver screen reboot of gaming’s most famous archaeologist, Briggs is at the center of every Tomb Raider adventure.
My interviews with Rich spanned two years and all three games in the Tomb Raider trilogy. We talked his history with video games and Tomb Raider, and how he works with partners to oversee the development of Lara Croft in games, movies, and all mediums.
David Craddock: How did you discover video games, and what led you on a path into the industry?
Rich Briggs: I was one of those kids: I was five years old and immediately started playing. I think my first console was a Pong machine. This was in 1979, sometime around then, and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to work in the industry in some way, but I knew I didn't have any kind of technical expertise. I was not going to be coding games or making graphics and creating enthralling sights on-screen. I wasn't going to be that guy.
I did know I was interested in marketing. I found myself every now and then to be somewhat persuasive on the school playground, getting people to listen to me. I went to college, got my marketing degree, and then started doing some freelance game reviews just to get myself out there.
I cold-called Sega and wound up having perfect timing: they were just about to put a position online for a junior product manager. I luckily got the job with Sega, and that was exciting in and of itself given that I grew up playing so many of their games on the Master System and Genesis.
My first day was during E3 in 2000, after they launched the Dreamcast. I got the job and they said, 'Hey, can you start next week? Fly to LA and do some competitive analysis, just walking around and checking things out.' That was my first day on the job: walking into the convention and being assaulted by incredible sights and sound. The rest, as they say, is history.
I spent four years at Sega, nine years at Electronic Arts, and I've been at Crystal Dynamics for a little over four years.
Craddock: Did you play the original Tomb Raider series that launched in 1996?
Rich Briggs: I was one of those people who was there on day one. Back in 1996 I was absolutely stunned by what Tomb Raider had accomplished. I'd been playing games for more than a decade, and I just knew that it was something special. I knew it was going to change the way people played games and looked at games, and looked at heroes and heroines in games.
I also felt such a connection to Lara Croft. It's interesting because I don't know that I put it into words back then, but when I started working at Crystal Dynamics, we were looking at our research and realized that people told us they didn't feel like Lara was just an avatar that they controlled. People told us they went on adventures with Lara Croft. That's exactly how I felt playing those games: I was on this adventure with this brilliant archaeologist, and couldn't wait to see where the adventure went next.
I consumed the movies, I read the comics. I was a big fan of the Tomb Raider franchise long before I knew I was going to work on it one day.
Craddock: How do you define your role as brand director at Crystal Dynamics? What exactly does that entail?
Rich Briggs: I sometimes call myself the spider in the middle of the web. That maybe isn't the most flattering [analogy], but it is very exciting. The reason I say that is because I get to work with our team, Square Enix, our parent company, and many other partners, but ultimately my day-to-day job that anything that has the Tomb Raider or the Lara Croft name on it is as high-quality as possible; is the best possible representation of the brand; is in keeping with the core pillars we've established as far as what the franchise means; and to make sure, basically, that all these things work in concert together.
I work with Square Enix on the advertising. On the operations side I get involved with legal things. I work with any licensing partner when they're doing merchandise. I get to work on trans media, like the comics and novels. I even get to be involved with the movies to some extent. I get to work with our community. I get to do PR. It's a lot, and I'm very lucky I get exposure to all these different things. Anything consumers are going to see, to consume with either of those brand names on them, I am involved with in some way.
Craddock: You’re telling Lara’s origin story, so let’s hear about your beginnings at Crystal Dynamics. You started at the studio when Tomb Raider 2013 was already underway. With the game due to launch soon-ish, what jobs did you jump into right away?
Rich Briggs: Day one was a very busy day. I started about six months before launching the reboot. At that point, there were so many different programs that were either in their infancy or they were sort of going in different directions. Some things hadn't even been started yet, while some had been finished or in final stages. For the most part, I talked to a lot of people, then sat down and started creating spreadsheets for stuff that was going on. Then I became the spider in the web, putting everything together.
I could also liken it to a fleet of ships. There was so much behind the launch, and so much that Square and Crystal were doing on a global basis. A big part of my role was coming in and helping to make sure all these ships were going in the same direction. This is by no means to imply that I came in and did all the marketing myself, but I think [my contribution] was a little bit more of the coordination and refinement of things that were happening. So I was focused on getting some great ideas off the ground, and putting ideas that maybe weren't so great on the back burner while we focused on bigger things.
With six months left, we didn't have a lot of time. I wanted to make sure we'd have as few course corrections to make as possible.
Craddock: I know this trilogy was always planned as such, and, thus, Tomb Raider 2013 was only one step in a multi-part journey. How did you and the team at Crystal Dynamics prepare for the next step?
Rich Briggs: The first thing we do is breath a big sigh of relief and take a couple of days off, hopefully. Prior to launch, we've already prepared a sustained campaign. In this case it was [launching] DLC. The same thing happened after Rise of the Tomb Raider's launch. Obviously we have a community that comes online in a big way. A lot of sales and advertising sales have completed, but now you've got millions of people playing the game, and you've got to make sure they're having a great experience.
Between community work, follow-up PR, promoting the DLC, and once you've got a couple of weeks under your belt, you start working on a postmortem to see what we did well and what we hope to improve on for the next project. We stayed busy for several months after [Tomb Raider's launch]. I think it was around the July time frame, following the game's March release, that the brand team kind of said, 'All right, let's all go on some multi-week vacations.' [laughs]
Then you start ramping up for the next project. It's a great cycle, and a busy cycle, but we were working on Rise of the Tomb Raider almost immediately after we shipped [Tomb Raider] 2013.
Craddock: What were your responsibilities as brand director when Rise of the Tomb Raider entered into preproduction, as well as moving forward into full, proper development?
Rich Briggs: I was asking a lot of questions. There were people who were working on Rise of the Tomb Raider who, I had a general idea of what they were doing, but I hadn't had the time while we were all focused on launching Tomb Raider 2013, to really dig into what they were doing. They were doing a lot of exploration on their side as well.
In the months after we shipped, and the dev team takes a well-earned vacation as well, they come back and start really developing Rise in earnest. It was really about trying to find out what is the vision for this next one. You start to sit in conference rooms with studio leadership. The head of the studio at the time was Darrell Gallagher; our creative director was and still is Noah Hughes. The three of us spent not just days but weeks in conference rooms—broken up of course; we came out for sunshine every now and then—really trying to come up with, what is the heart and soul of Rise? What is its positioning? What are the things we're going to elevate? What are we going to lean into in our consumer communications?
While the dev team is looking at the same time of postmortem that the brand team was doing, but in terms of the game, they're looking at: how were reviews? What are people saying we did well? What are people saying we have an opportunity to improve? How do we continue to surprise and delight players? I'm involved in those discussions as well because I want to help them with whatever data and competitive analysis I can provide to help them build the best game possible.
While we're building the game, we're also looking at the marketing; we're looking at the postmortem; we're looking at follow-up market research. Again, just trying to figure out: what is it that makes this next game special? How are we going to position the second chapter in Lara Croft's origin story?
It was a lot of time, and you get ideas, and you get statements that you think ring true, and then you test them and find out maybe people don't understand them as well as you'd like them to, or maybe some things can be great with a little bit of finessing. Eventually you get to all the messaging and then build a big [marketing] campaign around it.
Craddock: So often, development and marketing divisions have different priorities for a game’s launch, its messaging, and its brand. As brand director, are you something of a mediator between those priorities?
Rich Briggs: It's definitely a little bit of give and take. I'm fortunate to get to work with a dev team that has a great creative director in Noah, and a lot of really strong leaders who have a clear vision of where they want to take Lara and the franchise, and are also receptive when I say, 'Hey, here's what our consumers are saying' or 'Here's what we think will be critical in the marketplace three years from now' or 'Here's what we think our standing is on the competitive map.'
They have a great vision because we never design by committee. We don't design games based on research, but we do allow ourselves to use research and use consumer testing and use our focus group feedback and use our postmortem analyses, and use what consumers are saying to help refine and guide the vision.
For example, when we did our community postmortem, one of the most requested features was we want more tombs. They also wanted Lara Croft to be able to swim. The first one was perfect because everyone on the dev team had already said, 'We want to put the tombs back in Tomb Raider.' That became a sort of mantra we used throughout Rise's development. We actually used that when we started promoting the game to people: we said, 'We are putting the tombs back in Tomb Raider. We're giving you more main tombs. We're giving you more side tombs. We're giving you challenge tombs. We're making you feel like the world is this rich place to explore, filled with nooks and crannies and secrets.'
People really responded to that. It was a perfect complementary situation where the dev team's goals and desires, what they wanted to do anyway, was 100 percent backed up not just the community but also by reviews. That worked out perfectly.
Swimming was something else the community wanted. We said, 'That's a great idea.' She can dive into the water now and swim around on the surface, which she couldn't do in Tomb Raider 2013. That was a throwback to something she could do in the old games and the fans loved it, so, yeah, let's bring back that nostalgic aspect for Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Craddock: What are some elements of the Tomb Raider and Lara Croft brand that you enjoy working with the most?
Rich Briggs: When I mentioned the weeks in conference rooms, one of our favorite things that came out of that was our aspirational messaging from Tomb Raider 2013. I wasn't here for that part; I came on board after it was established. But this idea that a survivor was born during Lara's origin story was not just about doing a reset of the franchise and character; it was about trying to show people that there are things intrinsic to Lara and to the Tomb Raider franchise that people can identify with in their own lives and in human nature. The idea that when their back is up against the wall, people will do whatever it takes.
We were able to use that aspirational messaging to show that Lara didn't want to be trapped on this island. She was off on her first adventure, she was trying to make her mark, but when the chips were down she did what she had to do to save herself and as many of her friends as possible.
We absolutely wanted to continue that, but we knew we couldn't just go back and say, 'A survivor is born again!' We couldn't just rinse and repeat, so we came up with this idea of, dare to go further. It took a long time of not just looking at our own research, listening to what fans wanted, and seeing what the team was building, but considering what are these parts of human nature that translate well into a videogame adventure?
We came up with the idea that once you figure out you're a survivor, once you figure out you have what it takes to get through these types of challenges, Lara becomes a sort of beacon for the human spirit. She's going on her first tomb-raiding expedition; she's putting herself in harm's way for what she believes is right; and she has this unique set of skills where she can go into hostile environments and survive in a way not many people can. She pushes herself beyond the physical and mental limits that stop most people. She has this drive to seek out the secret of immortality.
All these things come together under this idea of daring to go further. It ended up becoming our slogan for the original launch [of Rise of the Tomb Raider]. It was about coming up with something aspirational, and something that even if you don't know the Tomb Raider franchise, that if I asked you if you believe most people want to push further and be better people and challenge themselves to make the most out of their lives, most people would respond yes. That's part of human nature. It's what drove Amelia Earhart; it drove Jacques Cousteau. People who summit Mount Everest. This drive to push beyond where you think you would normally stop, all for the sake of adventure and pushing the human spirit further.
Lara Croft can use all that for her first tomb-raiding expedition.
Craddock: On the flip side, what are some of the challenges you and Lara face?
Rich Briggs: One of the fun challenges, and this goes back to having the two sides of the franchise and two sides of Lara Croft: sometimes the challenge can be just in letting people know that this is an origin story. This isn't Lara with two guns and back-flipping over enemies; this is Lara as a still relatively inexperienced woman who is still making her mark and going off on her first tomb-raiding expedition.
It's a fun challenge because it gives us a lot of opportunities to sort of challenge what people know about the franchise, and show them a version of Lara Croft that they maybe aren't as familiar with. You've still got people who are like, 'Oh, Lara Croft? That's Angelina Jolie.' They've got this image in their minds of what the franchise is.
I've always looked at that as a fun challenge, but it is still a challenge of showing them that this is not that game; this isn't a game based on Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider movie.
Craddock: One of the first things I noticed about Lara when I was introduced to the 2013 game was that she’s still fit and beautiful, but she wasn’t positioned as a sex symbol as she so often was in the original games, especially in marketing materials. Lara is a complicated, multi-faceted character: intelligent, driven, compassionate, but also beautiful. What was your approach to handling Lara’s physical appearance in this series?
Rich Briggs: I think the important thing is that there are a lot of things that go into Lara Croft's sexiness. You're right: it used to be based a lot more on her physical appearance. That's not something we necessarily have to sweep under the rug because it's how a lot of people identify her and what they grew up with in terms of her [characterization].
With that being said, one of the big parts of the reboot, and why we continue to push so many of the character traits we do, was in reinventing Lara Croft to some degree. Telling her origin story offered an opportunity to make her character about so many things. We have to be careful: this is an icon of the industry. You can't build a completely new version of Lara Croft; you've got to keep some things that people know and love about her.
She's a brilliant archaeologist. We brought that over. Whether you're talking about the classic version of Lara or her modern, reboot version, she's still going into tombs; she's still solving puzzles; she's still using her brain to figure things out. That's a great part of the gameplay. Plus, she still uses her ability; she uses wits to outperform enemies when she's outnumbered and outgunned.
Those are all things I think make her sexy as well. from our perspective, being able to showcase Lara Croft as a more relatable character, as flawed in some ways, as having great skills and drive and instincts but still having her own challenges—really portraying her as a more human character—that, to me, is what's exciting about her narrative and her future. We want to continue to develop that.
I think so far it's been really well-received. We're not walking away from things that are core tenets of the franchise and of the character. I think we as long as we continue to pay respect to those things that people have always known and loved, but still take opportunities to go deeper in terms of her personality and what makes her tick, then I think we're able to walk that balance.
Craddock: Lara is put in a do-or-die situation very early in Tomb Raider 2013. She hunts and kills a deer, and shows remorse. Very soon after, she’s put into another life-or-death situation, this time against a human. She kills him, but seems to become numb going forward. I bring this up because Tomb Raider has its roots in action, and naturally Lara must kill or be killed. There was some criticism toward that, that Lara seemed to shrug off the body count that mounted as the game continued. I wondered how Crystal Dynamics handled that aspect of the series in terms of the character’s psychology and an overarching narrative through the franchise.
Rich Briggs: It wasn't necessarily a response to criticism, but we did take that criticism very seriously because it's something we [acknowledged] as well. It's a tricky balance you have to strike when making a video game: people want action, and we wanted to deliver action as well. You can't necessarily show Lara being upset and grieving over every scavenger she defends herself against.
By the same token, you don't want to make her seem completely callous; that these deaths don't mean anything to her. We were the first people to admit, when we were doing our internal postmortem, that there was dissonance between what you're doing and what we're asking you to do as Lara Croft, versus how we're making that develop as a narrative.
There were things we did with the first [human] kill and with the deer where we tried to show you, hopefully, being on a curve. But while we were doing our postmortem, we said, yeah, we didn't quite nail that curve. We didn't give you that part of the arc as well as we could have. That's why this idea of Lara being unable in some ways to deal with some of the things she did [in the reboot] was a very intriguing premise for us.
In fact we actually made that a big part of the novel. The novels and comics are part of our canon, and Lara Croft and the 10,000 Immortals started with her showing signs of PTSD. We sometimes take the opportunity in our trans media to dig deeper into our narrative that we don't necessarily have the space or time to do in a game.
That's how we looked at that novel: how are we going to reveal Rise of the Tomb Raider? It felt like a natural step, because we wanted to portray Lara as relatable and human. In our mind there isn't a human who could do the things she had to do on the island and not be affected by it. We thought it was a good opportunity to show that, during the time between Tomb Raider and Rise—roughly a year during which the novel and comic happen.
When we showed that reveal with Lara in the therapist's office, it showed that Lara did have to sort through the mental impact of what she went through on the island. What we were trying to communicate was that, yes, this is an aspect that—not just in gaming but in the franchise—hasn't been dealt with before.
I don't think it's appropriate for every video game. There are games where you don't need the hero to feel bad about what's going on. From our perspective we always try to do three things: we try to position [violent scenarios] as, Lara doesn't have a choice. These are bad guys. In Rise, the first thing you see some Trinity soldiers do is shoot down an unarmed man. When they find Lara's encampment, they immediately shoot into her improvised shelter instead of saying something like, 'Come out with your hands up.'
We try to show that these guys are trying to kill Lara and beat her to the secret of immortality, and they're going to do whatever they can to stop her, including kill her with no hesitation. Hopefully that gets you over the hump of, okay, these are bad guys. It's kind of like True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Someone says, 'Did you have to kill anybody?' And he says, 'Yeah, but they were all bad.'
That's number one. Number two, we do try to make [violence] part of our narrative arc. We spent more time on that in Tomb Raider 2013 with the first kill and the moment with the deer. In Rise we didn't have to do as much of that because your assumption is, all right, she's been through this; she had her survival adventure on the island, and she had events [from the novel]. She's been through therapy. It's not like she's perfectly fine, but she has come to grips with some of the things she has to do.
The third thing we do is, we think for a character like Lara whom we're trying to portray as relatable, we think it's important to show those kind of things. It helps deepen her relatability and makes the origin story of Lara Craft even more impactful.
Craddock: Rise of the Tomb Raider launched on Xbox One last year, and is now available on PS4 and PC. What are some lessons you learned from working on the second game that you can apply to your next project?
Rich Briggs: We were very proud of what we accomplished with the Xbox One and then the PC launches. When we started looking at what are we going to do for the PS4 launch, we realized the 20-year anniversary of the first Tomb Raider game provided a perfect opportunity. Not only could we have what would be a big year for Tomb Raider, we could get the whole community celebrating. We could celebrate the nostalgic franchise, we could celebrate the modern reboot timeline—basically getting everyone celebrating together.
That's something we started in January of this year and that culminated in October's Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration launch. We did look at that version and say, how do we make this feel like a new launch and a new game? Of course we'd add all the DLC and bundle it all together so it feels like a Game of the Year package, but we wanted to go further.
We put the Blood Ties story on there because we knew our fans are always interested in more narrative. Giving you the opportunity to explore the manner as a physical space for the first time in the reboot's timeline was a great thing. We thought we could celebrate so many parts of not just the reboot timeline, but also the nostalgic part. I don't want to spoil too many secrets, but we do have throwbacks like Winston the Butler being locked in the fridge, a stuff T-Rex that little Lara Croft used to play with—stuff our long-time fans would appreciate.
We also chose to support VR. That fact that Blood Ties was a more narrative, exploration-driven adventure made it perfect for VR. You see the world through Lara's eyes, and that's a first for the franchise. We're taking advantage of new tech, we're adding new story, we made the co-op mode for endurance play, we added outfits—it really was about putting as much as we could onto this disc so it felt like a new launch for us.
So far we're thrilled with the response, both from the industry and from our community because I think they're saying the same thing: this really does feel like a special launch to celebrate 20 years of the iconic Lara Croft.
Now, where do we go from here? Well, we're still really focused on Rise of the Tomb Raider for PS4, and we gave all the content from our season pass to players on Xbox One and PC, so we're kind of still in the throes of, we're celebrating 20 years of an icon.
That being said, we're always thinking. We're always looking forward, and we're excited about continuing Lara Croft's journey. There's a lot of stuff in Rise that I think served as a nice evolution. We saw Lara going from being a survivor to actually putting herself in harm's way. She went off on her first tomb-raiding expedition, and I don't want to spoil any story bits for people who haven't played yet, but there was a lot of validation to be gained there.
There's also a lot of insight to glean and stuff that's unresolved. I'm really excited about the opportunity to continue her narrative and flesh out where she goes from here: learning more about what makes Lara Croft tick and how her father's influence still is a part of what drives her to one day become the tomb raider she's destined to be.
Craddock: Everyone I’ve talked with, fans and developers, have expressed their enjoyment of Tomb Raider games through their connection with Lara. She’s a character who means a lot of things to millions of people. What has Lara come to mean to you, as she grew from a character you interacted with as a consumer to someone who carries a great deal of responsibility for how the world will perceive her?
Rich Briggs: Wow, that's a good question. You know, I think it's twofold. The first part of it is, it's really exciting—and this is coming from the five-year-old who discovered video games so long ago—and an honor to work on a franchise like this. Being at Crystal Dynamics, there are so many people here who are so passionate about Lara Croft. I didn't consider her just an avatar back in 1996 when I played Tomb Raider on my original PlayStation; she was a person to me. That's even more true now. This place is full of people who are so passionate about Lara Croft, and we do talk about her like she's a real person: 'we can't have Lara doing that' or 'Yeah, this makes perfect sense for Lara.'
We think of her as a person. There is so much passion, love, and respect for her, and that drives so much of our development. We do feel indebted to all the original games. Core made an absolutely incredible character in Lara, and I think we all feel really honored to be the caretakers of Lara Croft. We're supported by great studios like Eidos Montreal; together, I feel like we're building something that really is special.
That leads me to the second part. I'm in a great position where I get to go to a lot of events, I get to do PR, and I get to meet people who have been moved to tears when they talk about how Lara has impacted their lives. Whether they're cosplayers, whether they just discovered her through the reboot, or whether they're like me and have been playing since 1996, you can see that Lara has meant so much to so many people.
When we first started promoting the PS4 version [of Rise of the Tomb Raider], before we debuted our announcement trailer, we actually showed fans. We asked them, 'What does Lara Croft mean to you?' We made a website and directed people there. People made videos explaining their answer. We went to conventions and asked that same question. We put a lot of those people in our announcement trailer because they inspired her to go after something they didn't think they could get, or they'd say, 'When she's stuck in a tough situation and tells herself to just keep moving, that's what I told myself,' or when people say, 'This is the way we should portray women in games now,' or 'I've had such incredible adventures with her.'
There are so many different things that people come up with, and I can see the emotion and genuine gratitude they have. It's a great thing to be on the receiving end of. For me, that has deepened the feeling that Lara is a real person. We are building adventures with her, and being able to see the community responding so passionately—it's great to go events and have people thanking you, and then to say, 'No, thank you.'
Craddock: When Shadow of the Tomb Raider was announced, many fans and news outlets presumed the team at Crystal Dynamics were its principal developers. But in fact, Eidos Montreal has taken the lead, and has been involved in the trilogy for years. To set the stage, could you talk specifically about Eidos Montreal's role on the Tomb Raider trilogy on the first two games?
Rich Briggs: Dan Bisson, who is the creative director and game director on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, was game director on both 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. So we had a lot of people on the Eidos Montreal team who have been with the Tomb Raider franchise, so the DNA was there. The passion was there. They knew where we were going with Lara's story, and they were able to help us take it across the finish line for her defining moment.
Craddock: How early on did Crystal Dynamics decide that the third game in its origin story would be developed by Eidos Montreal rather than in-house at Crystal?
Rich Briggs: One of the things that was really important to us when we were delivering Shadow of the Tomb Raider was making sure the finale of the origin story was something that fans who had been there from the very beginning would relate to, but it would also be a great jumping-on point for people who maybe didn't play Tomb Raider  or Rise of the Tomb Raider. Since Eidos Montreal has been working on all three games as a partner, they were absolutely the perfect studio for us to be able to move this forward.
When you look at Eidos Montreal working on Tomb Raider 2013, contributing content there, working really closely with us on Rise of the Tomb Raider—Dan Bisson, who is the creative director at Eidos Montreal on Shadow of the Tomb Raider was also game director on TR and Rise of the Tomb Raider—a lot of those team members have been involved since the very beginning. That DNA was already there. It wasn't like we were handing it off to a new studio and saying, "Good luck." It was a studio that had Tomb Raider and Lara Croft in their blood. They had passion for it.
They also brought a lot of new things, and that helped get back to a balance [for the franchise]. They knew what Lara's arc was, so we could really make that a rewarding journey for fans who had been there from the beginning, but they also had cool, new things that made it an easy on-ramp for new fans to come on board and see the Tomb Raider's defining moment.
That being said, we also made sure Crystal worked with them very closely from the start so we all knew where we were headed. As Crystal Dynamics moved off the project, we knew it was in great hands.
Craddock: Now that Crystal and Eidos Montreal have swapped roles, what services has Crystal provided in its capacity as a collaborator during development of Shadow?
Rich Briggs: Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have worked really closely together, but particularly during the early stages of development [on Shadow of the Tomb Raider]. So, the brainstorming, when we were looking at the narrative, looking at the game design—we knew where Lara's origin story would take her for a finale, and wanted to make sure we were all in the same alignment.
And of course, Crystal is still there working on the brand and the community. We still have a very close relationship with Eidos Montreal. Basically, there's no one else we would have trusted to finish Lara Croft's origin story than Eidos Montreal since they'd been there since the very beginning.
Craddock: How has your role as brand director of Tomb Raider evolved since we last spoke, shortly before the launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4 in 2016?
Rich Briggs: Since then, my role as brand director has changed a fair amount because of a few things. For example, the [new] Tomb Raider movie—that was a really big thing for our franchise. It was great to see our version of Lara Croft on the silver screen for the first time in a gritty, survival style and tone. That opened up a whole new series of projects to work on.
It's also a big deal trying to close out a trilogy. We've got more fans than ever before, millions of people around the world who are eagerly waiting to see how Lara Croft becomes the Tomb Raider she's supposed to be. That means you have to [adjust] your messaging: Not only are you trying to please the long-time fans who have been there since Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, you also have to make sure you're attracting new fans, people who shouldn't have to feel like, "Oh, I didn't play the other two games so I'll have no idea what's going on."
That means you almost start running two campaigns: one to really make sure that fans of the franchise know this is an absolutely amazing finale that will reward them for being there since the beginning; and another campaign that shows people what's cool about Tomb Raider and, if they haven't picked up the prior games, why this is the perfect time to jump on board and see Lara Croft's defining moment.
Craddock: We've touched on this, but I'd like to hear more about your interactions with Eidos Montreal on this project as the brand director. You've outlined the stages during which the studios collaborated closely, but what did that entail for you?
Rich Briggs: Luckily, I get to talk to them every single day. I am very, very close with both the development team as well as the brand team that's working over there. Crystal Dynamics has been involved with all facets of the campaign, so when you're talking about the development, about what we're doing with the community, what we're doing in PR—any of those things is very much a partnership, making sure we're in lockstep in terms of how we're representing the game.
We're also giving feedback. It was great to still be involved and see things during the early stages so we could comment on them. They could say, "Hey, we're trying this. Does that fit within the brand?" We had to make sure there was that close collaboration. That, I think, is what let us find that blend of rewarding long-time fans but also injecting some fresh, new themes into the narrative and ideas into the gameplay. Those were the result of Eidos Montreal coming to us with those ideas, and us saying, "Yeah, let's work through this. Let's figure out how we make sure that this fits right into Lara Croft's narrative arc."
Craddock: How much free reign did Eidos Montreal in coming up with the story for Shadow of the Tomb Raider?
Rich Briggs: We worked with them during the early stages of narrative development. We all knew where Lara ended up at Rise's conclusion, and we knew where we wanted her to be at the end of Shadow. We wanted her to be the most capable, calculating, and confident version of Lara Croft we'd ever seen. She was going to be the tomb raider. Then we asked, "Okay, how do we get there?"
That's where Eidos Montreal had room to run. I actually love so many of the themes they brought in. The idea of making the tombs very dark and brutal—that was something Dan [Bisson] had as his theme from the very beginning: "I'm going to make these tombs as scary as possible." Really making Lara feel like the jaguar woman in combat was another thing that Dan came to us with. He said, "I really want you to feel like you're becoming one with the jungle."
Then come the conversations. It would be me and Dan on the phone, or us in a room, talking about, "Okay, that feels [an extension of] a pillar. We can build combat around that, around becoming one with the jungle, around using mud as camouflage, and hiding in vine walls, and striking from the canopy and then disappearing."
Things like that—and they [concern] the narrative side as well—are where the Eidos Montreal team is saying, "We know the starting and end points. Now we have to figure out how to get there." Having that darker tone, having Lara actually cause the Mayan apocalypse, having her make mistakes and feel like she has to fix theme, having Lara push Jonah away because of the depth of her obsession—these were things Dan and the narrative team were coming up with, and then they bounced ideas off of us at Crystal Dynamics, and we'd help them refine where necessary.
But it really was that team figuring out how to show a different side of Lara. A side, I think, you wouldn't have expected to see at the conclusion of her origin story.
Craddock: Developers from Eidos Montreal have said they developed Shadow of the Tomb Raider as a "cinematic" game. What does that mean in terms of Shadow's gameplay as well as its storytelling?
Rich Briggs: Shadow of the Tomb Raider is absolutely an incredibly cinematic game. That has been a hallmark of the Tomb Raider franchise from the very beginning. We call ourselves "cinematic survival action." We believe that there is a narrative roller coaster we take fans on, and it's filled with big story beats, epic, blockbuster action sequences—whether it's you trying to outrun a plane crash in Tomb Raider, trying to outrun an avalanche in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and now trying to make your way through a flood and a landslide in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
These big, set piece moments, and making them interactive, is what we think is a hallmark of the franchise. It's not that you watch Lara outrun an avalanche in a cinematic. You play Lara outrunning an avalanche. I think that's one component to our cinematic survival action.
Where I think Eidos Montreal showed great depth was in more quiet moments, where you really do start to see into Lara's soul. Moments around the campfire with Jonah. Moment when Lara is by herself. Moments with Dr. Dominguez, where you can see how their two worldviews are in conflict and how that will play out. That's where I think cinematic storytelling shines through.
So, we have the big, bombastic moments, but we also have the small, highly personal and intense moments. All of that falls under cinematic storytelling.