As you should already be aware, the thoroughly enjoyable Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was released as part of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade last week. But, if you’ve read our review, you’ll also know that it’s a huge departure from anything the Tomb Raider series has ever seen before.

We caught up with Keir Edmonds, Group Community Manager at Square Enix Europe (with a current focus on Tomb Raider), to ask a few questions about Lara Croft’s latest adventure, and to see if he could tell us anything about the inevitable Tomb Raider 9. Read on to find out more.

Game Rant: First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions guys, it’s much appreciated.

Keir Edmonds: No worries, it’s my pleasure.

GR: You must be pretty pleased with the way that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is being received by the community. But I guess my first question is: Why is this attached to the Lara Croft name? It’s a wild departure from anything we’ve seen before — Tomb Raider Underworld, for instance — so how did it all come about? Did you have a game concept and then realize that Lara would be a great fit, or did you think “Lara needs something new”?

KE: It’s great to see the community’s reaction to LCGoL. It has been a long road to get to this stage. As LCGoL is such a departure from Tomb Raider, we spent a lot of time informing the community about the game early on. I remember the first time I saw LCGoL and it blew my mind, so I knew people would love it but there was of course resistance from many loyal fans who have lived and breathed Tomb Raider for over a decade so the fact that a massive change like this shocked a lot of people is totally understandable. We were confident we could deliver a really great game in the end. Ultimately it’s all about people getting their hands on the game and trying it for themselves.

The whole project came about following the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld. Crystal Dynamics had a chance to experiment with a new project. It was a great opportunity to try something different and breathe some life into the franchise. The digital space is really exciting and following a lot of brain storming we arrived at the conclusion that a game like LCGoL would be a great way to deliver a fun experience for the fans, bring some new elements to the franchise, while still delivering the exploration and puzzle solving that are intrinsically linked to Tomb Raider.

From day one we decided to drop the ‘Tomb Raider’ tag. We wanted to make a clear distinction between the digital title and the pillar releases from the off.

GR: Following on from that, what would you say it is about the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft titles that make them distinct? When the PlayStation 3 exclusive Uncharted was first released, there were comparisons made between the two, even though I’d argue they’re quite different games — are there specific themes and characteristics of the Tomb Raider universe that you believe have to present to make it Tomb Raider?

KE: The essence of Tomb Raider is exploration, puzzle solving, combat and a sense of isolation. There are of course comparisons with a great game like Uncharted, and while there are similarities, I think from a community perspective Tomb Raider occupies its own space in terms of the balance of the elements that make the Tomb Raider experience.

GR: One of the most exciting additions to the Lara Croft franchise in Guardian of Light was the inclusion of a co-operative experience. What was the main design decision behind having two separate campaigns – one solo, and one co-operative? It’s a bold move, and one that most companies wouldn’t want to risk. How did it all come about?

KE: We took a decision early on that we wanted to deliver a great co-op experience. But we kept in mind that historically Lara has always worked alone. We wanted to include an engaging single player campaign for those TR fans who wanted to enjoy a solo adventure. I think the designers have done a fantastic job in making both the single player and co-op games really work. Due to the complexity of the puzzles we decided not to go with an AI partner which has proved to be a popular decision. It’s definitely worth playing through in both modes to see how the team have altered the levels to suit both campaigns.

GR: Unfortunately, the online co-op is currently unavailable, and will not be released until September 28th, alongside the PSN and Steam versions. The initial report stated that you weren’t happy with the quality of the experience, and that you held it back to improve it. Was there anything specific you weren’t happy with?

KE: From day one we wanted to make sure that we delivered the best experience possible, especially given that it was our first real foray into the digital space, so once we made the decision to include online co-op nothing changed, we still embodied that drive to make sure that it lived up to our expectations first and foremost. It was a very difficult decision for the powers that be to make, but from a Community Manager’s standpoint I’m delighted to see Crystal and Square Enix Europe taking the right decisions (for the right reasons) that result in better games. I’ve worked at Eidos for ten years, and I’m *so* encouraged to see the (tough) decisions that have been made recently — for instance Batman: Arkham Asylum was delayed for similar reasons and in the short term I took a lot of flak in the forums, but ultimately it proved to be the right move because the game was much better for it. From a selfish point of view, it’s that sort of forward thinking that I love and it makes my job of Community Manager a lot easier.

GR: The one aspect of the Tomb Raider titles I’ve always been enamored with is the sense of scale and subsequent possible exploration. However, Guardian of Light is much more streamlined: Why did you guys decide on the twin-stick shooter nature of the gameplay and focus more on the moment-to-moment action, as opposed to some of the slower gameplay elements seen in earlier games?

KE: When presented with the opportunity to work on an experimental project the guys knocked around a ton of ideas. Some were crazy and have been locked in the vaults at Crystal and will never see the light of day. Karl Stewart (the Global TR Brand Director) recently said in an interview that ‘there was always someone in the room smoking crack’. Perhaps not in a literal sense. It was decided that a more easily accessible arcade style game would really complement the franchise, offering something for loyal TR fans while also piquing the interest of those who haven’t played a TR for a long time. I’ve been looking over many forums since release and it’s been great to read how many gamers are surprised and excited by what Crystal have produced.

GR: Moving away from the specifics of the ‘Main Quest’, what can you tell us about the upcoming DLC packs? We know that five are coming, with the first three expanding the game with new puzzles, exploratory areas and combat experiences, and the final two being playable character packs. Can you tell us where in the game the DLC will take place? Will it take place after the ‘final battle’, or will it slot in elsewhere? Can you give any specifics as to what you’ll be doing in these DLC packs?

KE: We’re not talking about the DLC in detail just yet — but it’s important to point out that the design team started working on the DLC after the game was finished. It’s purely additional content for gamers that want some more LCGoL action — but it’s not an extension of the storyline or anything. I’ve helped play test the DLC and it’s awesome. I think during the process of working on LCGoL the design team came up with some great ideas that didn’t quite sit in the main game but they work really well for the DLC. There’s some new ideas and I will also say that they’re evil because some of it is freaking tough. The DLC will also be substantial, I can’t wait to share more details on what we have planned.

GR: Earlier this year, you guys made it clear that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was completely unrelated to Tomb Raider 9. Whilst I’m not expecting any hard details about the upcoming title, can you tell us if there’s anything you learned from the development of Guardian of Light that will be applied to Tomb Raider 9?

KE: The key thing we learnt was to make a game that gets lots of 9’s. The serious answer is we’re not talking about Tomb Raider yet I’m afraid as we’re still enjoying the LCGoL release.

GR: Some critics and gamers have criticized the story in Guardian of Light, but as I mentioned in my review, I felt this wasn’t a huge detriment because of the game’s arcade-like nature. With regards to Tomb Raider 9, will the story still dabble in the fantasy and mysticism that Tomb Raider is known for, or will it attempt a more ‘realistic’ story?

KE: The storyline in LCGoL has taken some criticism but as you say, in keeping with the gameplay it’s not a story heavy or story driven game. While I can’t give you any specifics, in contrast to LCGoL, Tomb Raider will always have the epic storylines.

GR: Thanks immensely for taking the time to answer these questions. I look forward to seeing what you guys have in store for us next!

What did you think of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light? Are you excited by the prospects of Tomb Raider 9? Was there anything particularly interesting you noticed in the interview? Let us know in the comments below.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is available now on the Xbox Live Arcade, and will be arriving on the PlayStation Network and Steam on September 28.

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