September 15, 2009

Tomb Raider Creator Toby Gard Leaves Crystal Dynamics

Toby GardYesterday Toby Gard announced on his web site and LinkedIn page that he has left the position he held for the past 8 months as a Lead Designer at Crystal Dynamics. Gard is now offering consulting services in game development.

Gard is widely considered the "father" of the Tomb Raider series, having conceived the original game concept and Lara Croft character. After a hiatus from the franchise between 1998 and 2004, during which he started his own company, Confounding Factor, and produced the Xbox game Galleon, he returned to Eidos as a creative consultant and designer on Tomb Raider: Legend and Anniversary and other games. He co-wrote the story (along with former Crystal Dynamics Creative Director Eric Lindstrom) and directed the cinematics for Tomb Raider: Underworld, which was nominated for several industry awards.


Early Lara concept art
Gard's confidentiality agreement with Crystal Dynamics precludes him from revealing any details about his departure—or the exact nature of the work he had been doing before he left the company—though it is generally speculated that the "unannounced project" he had been working on is in fact the next Tomb Raider. It's unclear what this development means for the series.

UPDATE 9/15 4:50 p.m. EDT: I was able to get in touch with Toby about this shortly after posting the article above. I asked what he would ideally like to do next, now that he's a free agent. His reply:

"You are right to say that my confidentiality agreement stops me discussing the move, but I can say it was an amicable split. I am interested to see if it is possible to work freelance in the games industry. I know concept artists and musicians manage ok, but designers? I'll just have to see."

Having been a freelancer myself for many years, I have to say it has its ups and downs, but I certainly wish him luck. :)


Unused concept art for TR Underworld

Original Lara Croft pic courtesy of tombraideranniversary.com. Underworld concepts courtesy of Toby.

September 14, 2009

Speedrunner Profiles

I interviewed eight players for my Tomb Raider speedrunning article and received a huge amount of useful information—much more than I could include in one short article. So here are brief blurbs about everyone who helped me, including advice for beginners. (Text in italics is mine. Responses to "Why do you speedrun?" and "Advice to new speedrunners" are the runners' own words.)

Name: AjAX

Country: Canada

Co-founder (with Ewil) of Tomb Runner. YouTube channel: youtube.com/ajaxrunner

Why do you speedrun? The wow factor it gives you, the precision, finding shortcuts, doing some HARD shortcut, beating your own time, it's a competition. By that I mean, a competition for yourself first to see how far you can go. You can think of it as Training. The more you do the better you get! Same about speedruns.

Other games: Prey, Soldier of Fortune, Cold Fear, Quake, Doom 3.

Advice to new speedrunners: As Larson said: "Practice makes perfect!"

AjAX holds several speed records for TR2 and Chronicles, though lately he's been focusing on a Prey speedrun. He currently holds the record for that game and is redoing his 2008 run to make it even better. This video shows his 4:09 run through Trajan's Markets in Tomb Raider: Chronicles. He has since shaved another 9 seconds off that time. The video of the 4:00 run can be found on Tomb Runner. He says this is his all-time favorite run and notes that it includes a glitch he discovered, which can only be done in this level.



Name: Ewil

Country: Czech Republic

Co-founder (with AjAX) and webmaster of Tomb Runner. YouTube channel: youtube.com/EwilCZ

Why do you speedrun? It's a different way to play the game. It's a really nice feeling when you discover a new shortcut or a trick, but it can be also very annoying attempting one level over and over again just to get a one second better time. It's also a challenge and sometimes even a competition. And it's a really good time killer, believe me.

Other games: Postal 2, Driver, Serious Sam.

Advice to new speedrunners: Be patient.

Ewil holds many speed records, including Unfinished Business and most levels in the Last Revelation and Angel of Darkness. This video shows his 4:59 run of Cleopatra's Palaces, incorporating creative use of the trigger bug, which he developed.



Name: jarekhanzelka

Country: Czech Republic

YouTube channel: youtube.com/jarekhanzelka

Why do you speedrun? The challenge it brings—and those extremely positive reactions if the run is good.

Other games: Not yet.

Advice to new speedrunners: Patience! Don't give up just because it takes plenty of tries before you manage anything. Speedrunning is sort of an art, so it has to be practiced for pretty long time before you become good at it. Keep that in mind.

Jarek holds several records, including his continuous glitched run of TR Underworld in 24:51 (detailed on Speed Demos Archive). His 3:23 Out of Time level run is shown below, and you can track his progress on an airwalk-glitch Legend speedrun on his YouTube channel.



Name: MMAN

Country: U.K.

YouTube channel: youtube.com/MMAN2

Why do you speedrun? It lets me push my skills on the games, along with the game itself, as well as adding a lot of replay value.

Other games: Mirror's Edge.

Advice to new speedrunners: Find out as much about the game as you can, since otherwise you could easily be working from outdated information and techniques.

MMAN is considered by many to be the founding father of Tomb Raider speedrunning. His glitchless TR3 run still holds the record at 2:28:20 (detailed on SDA), and he has been included in the Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition. The video below shows one of his favorite runs, the TR1 Caves level in 2:41 using no glitches.



Name: RadxxRyan

Country: U.S.A.

YouTube channel: youtube.com/radxxryan

Why do you speedrun? I like the challenge of it. I do get frustrated on a hard level, but when I finally get a solid run, it's a good feeling.

Other games: Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country.

Advice to new speedrunners: Watch lots of other speedrunning videos, visit or join the Tomb Runner forums, check out Stella's walkthrough website, then just practice a lot and have lots of patience and have fun with it.

RadxxRyan holds a number of records for glitched runs of the classic Tomb Raiders, all of which were made on the PlayStation. Below is his 4:44 all-secrets run through the Living Quarters level in TR2.



Name: rr_carroll

Country: U.S.A.

Webmaster of Tomb Raider Tourist. YouTube channel: youtube.com/rrcarroll252

Why do you speedrun? I don't speedrun myself, I think of myself as part of the pit crew. To get an idea of the problems of actual runners, I do run small sections and make videos. I love the sense of discovery during the research. As a matter of fact, I'm evangelistic about it. I frequently try to inveigle people at tombraiderforums into being competitors/ colleagues (it would be redundant at Tombrunner).

It's like prowling through an old castle, looking for secret passages. Occasionally something amazing happens, and I get to enjoy that OMIGOD! LOOKIT THAT!! feeling. Then I want to share/brag.

Watching a good speedrun is like good poetry. There's flowing smoothness, elegance and downright amazement. It's intellectually and artistically satisfying.

Other games: No. Maybe someday, but TR discoveries just keep on coming!

Advice to new speedrunners: I feel like I'm advising young samurai: go out and wander. Use your skills. Train yourself.

More specifically: there are two aspects to speedrunning, movement skills and path-finding skills. Both require practice. Look at speedruns and check lists of movement commands and tricks. Practice the moves until you become familiar with the details and nuances of using them. But even before you finish that, start going through games and try to find new shortcuts, as well as speedrun. You develop your skills mostly by doing.

Don't get disappointed that you're not close to record times, pay more attention to improving. Reward yourself for a new personal best or rediscovering old shortcuts.

rr_carroll has discovered several useful bugs and helped refine many others. Examples are too numerous to list here, but a visit to his Tomb Raider Tourist site or YouTube channel is like unearthing one priceless artifact after another. This video shows examples of the dive bug, which was discovered by Aurimas and perfected by rr.



Name: Soul

Country: Austria

YouTube channel: youtube.com/nightwish1603

Why do you speedrun? I think it's a very special way of enjoying a level and giving honor to the builder. I would never run a level I didn't like...I love finding a completely new route, glitches, shortcuts and try to finish the level as fast as possible.

Other games: Nope. I think there's no other game I know with so many (easy) glitches. In the old games there is the corner bug and the bananajump, in TRA/TRL there's the airwalk, in TRU there's the weird behaviour of the grapple and so on. TR is a fantastic series. Maybe some TR's haven't been tested properly, but that's what I love about it.

Advice to new speedrunners: Hmmm. It's hard to say. I guess if you really want to start speedrunning try out every trick mentioned in Area 51 (on Tomb Runners) and learn how to use it. Then you can start choosing a level and finding your unique route. After that watch the video of the existing run (if there is one) and compare both routes. If you are lucky you found a new shortcut and your route is faster, if not then see which shortcuts you might have missed.

Soul mostly runs custom levels, so he's set a number of records in a smaller field. His run through Dark Death's Royal Bengal Tigers level (below) shows he's clearly mastered the essentials of speedrunning. He also holds the current records for the Gallows Tree level in TR Chronicles (00:32) and the Beneath the Ashes expansion for Underworld (04:27).



Name: xRikux89

Country: Finland

YouTube channel: youtube.com/xRikux89

Why do you speedrun? Tell me so I can die! I honestly don't know. The predominant emotion always seems to be frustration. I've started to take more interest in just discovering tricks and shortcuts instead.

Other games: You could say it began from playing as a kid. Every weekend would be spent playing Mega Man V over and over until I got bored of it...which I didn't! I could eventually beat the game in about an hour. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing back then. I tried speedrunning Crash Bandicoot once, but my game seems to always freeze in Castle Machinery if I try to complete it in one sitting. That, and I don't have any means of recording from a TV.

Advice to new speedrunners: A long continuous run of a full game isn't the best idea for a first project. Start out small, and just work on basic technique. Also keep in mind, that the current records and routes are by no means absolute. Explore even the craziest of ideas!

Riku is famous even outside of the speedrunning community for his discovery of the airwalk glitch in Legend and Anniversary. He has also found a few major shortcuts in Underworld and other games. When asked to choose a favorite video to include here, he went with sentiment over speed. He admits to "screwing up" near the end of his 5:56 glitchless, all-secrets run of the Jungle level in TR3 (below), but he's proud of the overall run, which was one of his first.

The Process Behind Making a Speedrun

In part of our interview for my Tomb Raider speedrunning article, Ewil, webmaster of Tomb Runner, described his methods. I imagine each player finds his or her own ways of achieving faster runs, but this is a great set of guidelines if you're just getting started. He points out that these steps would work for virtually any game, not just Tomb Raider.

1) Find the game you want to speedrun. It should be one of your favourites. Don't pick a game that is somewhat moderate, it will bore you even more during speedrunning, although some games tend to be much more fun when trying to beat as fast as possible instead of normal playthrough.

You should also know the game well, preferably beaten it several times, once on hardest difficulty with all collectables or secrets if there are any. And of course, you should be good at it or at least think so. :)

2) Search for any existing speedrun. This is crucial. You should check out Google for any speedrun made and of course Speed Demos Archive website or other speedrunning websites (Tomb Runner, High Speed Halo, Compet-N etc.). There is nothing worse than doing a speedrun, then finding a faster run that someone put on YouTube.

3) Research ways to beat the game as fast as possible. Well, a speedrun without shortcut or tricks isn't really a speedrun, so search well for engine glitches, path shortcuts and other small tricks that make things go faster. First thing to start with it is character/vehicle movement. Try to find the fastest way of movement. I recommend to watch speedruns of other games for inspiration, but definitely start with running, strafing, jumping or combined. Remember this: There is no game without a shortcut or a trick. (Here I don't count arcades, flash, logic, etc. I mean REAL games.)

[For Tomb Raider, you can find lots of useful information in the "Area 51" section of the Tomb Runner site. –Stella]

4) Strategy/planning. You should make a practice run before you start the real thing. Search for possible shortcuts, what items you are gonna need and what you can skip. This is also a time when you choose difficulty. It should be the hardest one, but that depends on your skill, patience and if it's even possible when speedrunning. Some games become easier, like Deus Ex, some become harder or next to impossible, like Far Cry.

5) Recording. Now you should figure out a way to record your run. This is easy for PC games; just use Fraps. It's harder on the consoles. You need to use a VHS or DVD player, then grab it on PC and encode it with any encoding software like VirtualDub or Avidemux.

6) Running. It looks easier than it is in reality, but real speedruns take hours and hundreds of attempts to make them look that good. If you make any bigger mistakes or even forget a route, that should be an automatic restart, but it's preferred to have better time with a mistake then a slower time without a mistake. Just don't give up after 20 failed attempts, good speedruns take a lot of patience. And always make sure you are recording. :)

Lara books through the Jungles of India.

Tomb Raider Speedrunning

Before there were Tomb Raider time trials, before there were unlockable cheat codes and achievements, there were speedrunners. Not content to sit back and raid tombs at a leisurely pace, these hardcore players race through levels employing skill, dexterity and clever planning in order to finish as quickly as possible. They maintain leaderboards with the fastest times for each level, as well as for each full game, and they're constantly spurring each other on to new records.

Tomb Raiders weren't the first speedrunners—the hobby has existed practically as long as video games—but since the original Tomb Raider came out, with its statistics screens showing how long the player took to complete each level, TR players have been vying for the fastest times.

Caves in 1:35
RadxxRyan currently holds the record for a
glitched run of the Caves in TR1.
Click to watch the video.

Early tomb racers would post savegame files and screenshots of their stats on message boards. But if nobody's watching, it's easy enough to cheat using a flight patch or by Photoshopping the clock readout. Today true speedrunners back up their claims with gameplay videos detailing their achievements. You can find these on YouTube and dedicated sites like Tomb Runner and Speed Demos Archive.

Speedrunners spend hours practicing until Lara's movements become second nature. They look for shortcuts and spots where glitches can be used to skip entire areas or at least get through more quickly.

They are quick to point out the distinction between exploiting bugs in the game engine (good) and cheating (bad). Cheating—such as using a flight patch, position editor, savegame editor or cheat codes—is strictly forbidden. Glitches are accepted—even encouraged—though of course competitions for glitched and glitchless runs are kept separate.

Finnish speedrunner xRikux89 put it this way: "People don't always know to appreciate how time-consuming finding these tricks can be. These runs also need to be re-done more frequently, because the biggest new discoveries are usually glitches. One of the most common arguments, 'They make the game too easy!', is also plain wrong and misinformed. Incorporating glitch shortcuts often makes a run harder."

Most of the players who are active in the Tomb Raider speedrunning community today prefer the classic Core Design games to the Crystal Dynamics titles. The blocky graphics and odd glitches that may seem dated today actually make the older games a speedrunners' paradise. TRs 1-5 are rife with exploitable glitches—from well-known specimens like the "corner bug" to relatively new discoveries like the "dive bug"—and the levels are generally less linear, enabling players to find previously undiscovered shortcuts.*

Tomb Raider corner bug
The corner bug shown here in TR2.
Click for more info.

A few players are tackling the new games. For example, the current record holder for Underworld is Czech raider jarekhanzelka, who used an amazing glitch (discovered by another player, Tl2ophy) to skip the entire Mediterranean, Thailand and Croft Manor levels, resulting in a complete game speed run in less than 25 minutes! (He also used some nifty shortcuts in other Underworld levels. I especially admire his Out of Time run. I couldn't do that in a million years!)


jarekhanzelka's Underworld speedrun employs a massive shortcut,
found by Tl2ophy, to skip about half of the game.

You might expect participants in such a competitive hobby to be secretive and arrogant. Not so at all. Speedrunners compete against each other, but they also support and encourage each other. All the runners I've encountered were quick to praise their colleagues, and their videos and web sites give extensive credit for other players' discoveries.

rr_carroll runs the Tomb Raider Tourist site and is considered by many to be a one-man pit crew for the Tomb Runners. He applauds their camaraderie: "If someone announces his intention to run a level or a game, people start right in with suggestions for improving the run. Of course this has an egotistical aspect ('Use my trick!'), but it's also like we're a team trying to see how fast this can be run. This sense of teamwork is pretty heartwarming."

This article barely scratches the surface of this exciting hobby. If you'd like to learn more, just follow the links below. And if you're thinking about trying speedrunning yourself, check out Tomb Runner webmaster Ewil's article "The Process Behind Making a Speedrun" and the Speedrunner Profiles compiled from my interviews with a few of the most active TR speedrunners.

Links:
  • "The Process Behind Making a Speedrun" - by Tomb Runner webmaster Ewil.
  • "Speedrunner Profiles" - Why they do it, how they do it, awesome speedrun videos and more. (Basically a bunch of great stuff that didn't fit in the main article above.)
  • Speed Demos Archive - Hosts speed runs for hundreds of games, including Tomb Raider
  • Tomb Runner - About 2½ years ago Ewil and AjAX founded this dedicated site for Tomb Raider speedrunners. The "Area 51" section includes many helpful tips on faster movement, timesaving glitches, etc.
  • Tomb Raider Tourist - rr_carroll's site focuses on useful bugs in the Tomb Raider series.
  • Tomb Raider Bugs - Hungarian site (also in English) devoted to useful bugs.
  • Fraps - Software for recording PC gameplay.
  • Wikipedia - Speedrunning article includes a brief history of the hobby, including the now-legendary Quake Done Quick (entire game in just over 12 minutes).
*The discovery of corner bug is generally credited to Jason McAllister, who no longer seems to be active in the TR community (unless he's going by another name these days). Aurimas discovered the dive bug in TR2, and rr_carroll refined it for use in the other classic games.

Corner bug animated gif courtesy of Jeff Reid.

September 9, 2009

Tomb Raider Papercraft

Can't get enough of your favorite video game? Bored waiting for the next one to come out? Guest blogger ninjatoes introduces Tomb Raider papercraft. This pastime requires patience and dexterity—qualities most gamers have plenty of—but it's lots of fun and can yield stunning results. For tips on getting started, read on....

Hi everybody! Stella has asked me to write a little bit about my hobby, so I guess I'll tell you what it is first: Tomb Raider papercraft.

"Tomb Raider" is the game you love playing so much, and "papercraft" is where you print a page of parts (preferably on some thicker paper), cut them out and fold them, and then glue them together to make your very own 3D model of your favourite game/anime/movie character/whatever.

And I really mean "whatever", because you can really make just about anything out of paper:


You can really make anything (or anyone) out paper.
(Click thumbnails for larger images.)

At first, I only built other people's models that I found on the internet, but later I also started making my own. Nothing fancy though: I didn't have the skills or tools then that most papercraft designers had, and I just drew the parts by hand, testing and adjusting them each time until they would fit the way I imagined.


Handmade papercraft models.

Later on, I discovered a tool called Pepakura Designer, which lets you import a digital 3D model and unfold it into a 2D template that you can print and cut out and build!

You can imagine the suddenly endless possibilities I saw...! ;o)


Tomb Raider 2 snowmobile templates
made with Pepakura Designer.

Nowadays papercraft has become pretty popular online, with many people creating their own papercraft models and even more people building them. I think most people know me because of my Zelda models: my young Link model still seems to be many people's favourite, because he really looks like he jumped straight from the game onto your desk!

Because it's so popular, maybe that's why many people think it was the first one I made using the computer, but that's not really true. The first model I made using Pepakura Designer was actually the Venetian motorboat from Tomb Raider 2!


That's right, folks, the boat was first!

As far as Tomb Raider goes, I still love the classic trilogy, especially the blocky style that made up Lara's world. With some work, it makes excellent papercraft material. Whenever I make a papercraft model from one of those older games, I always try to retain the polygonal/blocky look in the paper model by making sharp, crisp folds along the edges, to make it look like it comes right out of the game!


Instructions for the blocky T-Rex head from Lara's
treasure room!

In the next-gen games though, Lara's 3D model got much more complex and "realistic". Being the papercrafting Tomb Raider that I am, I wanted to see if I could also recreate the new, curvier Lara.


Next-gen, more curvaceous Lara.

Ignoring most of the fold lines, Legend Lara is made up mostly out of cylinders, which is probably the easiest papercraft shape there is. With a much more curvy look that I later used on many of my newer models, she looks pretty good, but she is a bit lonely amongst the other more blocky looking models.


Next-gen Lara seems a bit lonely...

I guess I'll have to make another "curvy" Tomb Raider model soon.... ;o)

Well, I think I'll leave it at that for now. I could go on for ages, but I don't think Stella would appreciate me taking over her weblog completely.

I hope you get inspired by the pictures. Sometimes people feel intimidated by the many pieces that can make up a papercraft model. Cutting out and shaping all those parts before glueing them together often is a lot of work.


Who wouldn't want a 90's style videogame
T-Rex on his desk?

Most people find (sometimes to their own surprise) that they have a much longer attention span than they thought possible when it comes to recreating their favourite heroes in paper form though, so should you want to try it out some time, here are some links to get you started:
Have fun building, and raid on!

greetz ninjatoes

Lara Competes in Gamespot's "All-Time Greatest Video Game Hero" Contest

Who's the greatest of them all? This month Gamespot is asking players to vote for their favorite video game heroes. Our heroine gave PaRappa the Rapper the royal smackdown in round one. (90% of voters preferred Lara!) Now it's on to round two, where the competition is a bit tougher. As of this writing, Lara is beating Jedi Knight Kyle Katarn about 2:1, but she still needs players' support to make it to the final round.

Next week she'll face off against über-plumber Mario, and it looks like every vote will count. Check the current standings here and follow the link below to cast your vote.

Post a comment here if you like. Do you think Lara can make it to the finals? Who will she face? My guess is Lara vs. Samus Aran in the semi-finals and Lara vs. either Link or Solid Snake for the win.

UPDATE 9/24/09: Sadly our girl was trounced by that swarthy plumber in round three. Better luck next year. :(

Tomb Raider Archives - Collecting all the classic Top Cow Comics
Tomb Raider Archives 4-volume set collects 50 issues of the best-selling Top Cow comic. Order from TFAW, Amazon, or Amazon UK.