December 22, 2010

Tomb Raider and Guardian of Light Holiday Download Sales

If you've been coveting Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light or one of the newer Tomb Raider games but decided to wait until the price was right, now is the time to take the plunge. Both Steam and Xbox LIVE are offering great holiday deals.

Xbox LIVE has Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light at half price (600 MS points) today only! The Kane & Lynch character pack is also free for Gold members today. To sweeten the pot, LCGOL is one of several daily specials that will earn you an extra entry in the Xbox Countdown to New Year's Eve Sweepstakes. For details, visit http://www.xbox.com/en-US/Live/countdown2011/home.

Steam is offering deep discounts on the Windows PC version of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light as well as Tomb Raider: Legend, Anniversary and Underworld. LCGOL is now 66% off the regular price (reduced from $14.95 to $5.10) or 76% off ($3.60) if you already own another Tomb Raider game through Steam. Anniversary, Legend and Underworld are all half price: $4.99, $9.99 and $14.99, respectively. Dozens of other games are reduced for the holidays, too, but the sale ends January 2. Visit http://store.steampowered.com for more info.

Note that these are U.S. prices, but a few friends on our Facebook Page have reported similar sales going on in other countries as well. Please leave a comment here or there if you have details for a particular country/region.

December 21, 2010

Game Informer Tomb Raider Podcast: Answers Breed Questions

Who will voice the next Lara Croft? Will she wield her trademark pistols? Why the Mature rating? Is the game truly "open world"? What role will weather play? Will actual tombs be raided?

Last week Game Informer asked readers to post their burning questions about the next Tomb Raider. This week their entire 40-minute podcast is devoted to a Q&A with Crystal Dynamics' Karl Stewart and Tim Longo. Tune in for the latest TR dish...plus a sample from the new soundtrack.

Game Informer Special Edition Podcast: Tomb Raider

Game Informer Tomb Raider Special Edition Podcast

December 18, 2010

Tomb Raider Contest: Win a Lara Croft Snow Day Statue

We all know that Tomb Raider fans are some of the most creative people out there. From custom levels and other game mods, to artwork, fiction, poetry, cosplay and videos, you guys have got it going on! Here's your chance to put that talent to work and take home a fabulous prize.

Katie Fleming, of Katie's Tomb Raider Site, is hosting a month-long contest. The winner will receive this beautiful, hand-painted Lara Croft Snow Day statue, designed by Adam Hughes and produced by Sideshow Collectibles. It's one of a limited edition of 1000, now sold out.

Lara Croft Snow Day Statue from Sideshow Collectibles

To enter, depict a scene from any of the Tomb Raider games, or one of Katie's Tomb Raider stories, in any medium you like. Draw or paint a picture, write a song, act it out, create something; anything. Once your masterpiece is finished, fill out the entry form on Katie's site to submit your work.

Entries will be accepted between December 17, 2010, and January 22, 2011. Katie and I will be judging the contest together, and we'll announce the winner here on my blog, as well as on Katie's site, on January 24.

For more information, check out Katie's Video Blog (below) and read the complete contest rules. For details about the prize, visit Sideshow Collectibles online.

I can't wait to see all the exciting projects you'll submit. Best of luck to everyone who enters!

December 17, 2010

Guardian of Light Makes Apple Store Debut

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is now available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch through the App Store. In case you've been trapped in a tomb for the last 6 months and haven't seen it yet, this game is an offshoot of the Tomb Raider series starring Lara and her manly Mayan sidekick, Totec. It's a fast-paced arcade title with a great blend of combat, puzzle solving and platforming.

The LCGOL app can be played solo or co-op (via a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth), though apparently it's not cross-platform compatible. So, for example, if you've got the iPhone game, you won't be able to play co-op if your friend has an iPad.

I haven't seen it yet, but I'm told the game is a straight port of the PC/Xbox/PS3 game, so if you need more info or a walkthrough, you know where to go: http://tombraiders.net/stella/guardian.html.

The iPhone/iPod Touch version costs £3.99 / $6.99 / €5.49, while the HD iPad edition is £5.99 / $9.99 / €7.99. (Links are to the U.S. Apple Store.)

UPDATE 12/13/14: The original version is no longer available, but a remastered Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light version 2.0 for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch has just been added to the iTunes store.

Here are a few screenshots from the iPhone game, as well as a video preview, courtesy of SlideToPlay, showing hands-on gameplay in the single-player version of the Spider Tomb level.

For in-depth reviews, visit reghardware.com and appadvice.com.

If you've tried it yourself, please post a comment with your impressions.



Thanks to Sebastian and Matt for letting me know about this.

December 12, 2010

Child's Play Holiday Toy Drive

Just a reminder to all gamers that it's not too late to make a difference for a hospitalized kid this holiday season. Child's Play's holiday toy drive is still on. You can donate games, electronics, toys, books, art supplies and other items directly to the hospital of your choice through Amazon.com or contribute cash by mail or PayPal.


"Imagine being stuck alone in a hospital over the holidays, getting something from a fellow gamer would really raise [your] spirits. Some of the stuff the hospital will give away for kids to keep, while other gifts (like consoles) will be kept by the hospital for patients to use throughout the year." (From the Child's Play web site)

Child's Play was founded in 2003 by the gamers at Penny Arcade. Since then, more than 100,000 of us worldwide have raised over 7 million dollars in toys, games and other much-needed items for sick kids in children’s hospitals across North America and the world. Along with soliciting individual donations, Child's Play also promotes special events year round, including auctions and live online game-a-thons like Desert Bus for Hope and Super Mario Marathon.

Unlike some other charities, they collect no administrative fees or other charges. 100% of all gifts and donations go directly to partner hospitals to help make life a little brighter for a sick child.

For more information or to make a monetary donation, go to childsplaycharity.org.

To donate a game or other gift directly to a children's hospital, go to childsplaycharity.org and click the controller icon at the top of the page. This will take you to an interactive map of the partner hospitals. Click the controller icon for a hospital near you to go directly to their Amazon wish list. On the Amazon page, click the "Remember" button in the left column to add the hospital's address to your address book. Then choose a gift, add to cart, and check out. Be sure to select the hospital's shipping address rather than your own.

The Child's Play organizers have asked that gifts intended for the Christmas holiday arrive no later than December 20, so please consider that when choosing a toy and shipping options.

Thanks so much for your support. When gamers give back, it makes a difference!

December 11, 2010

Tomb Raider Player Survey Results

Some of you may remember the Tomb Raider community survey/contest Katie Fleming did earlier this year. She presents the results in this video blog post. You can also find more info about the project on her Tomb Raider fan site, as well as her professional site, KatieFleming.ca. Notice how many of the top players' suggestions have been incorporated into the upcoming TOMB RAIDER game.

Katie just launched her video blog a few weeks ago, but she already has several posts with game reviews, history and more on her YouTube channel. Check it out!

December 10, 2010

Next Tomb Raider Explores New Territory

Although the intriguing tagline "A Survivor is Born" is being used to promote it, the publishers stress that the ninth game in the series will be titled simply: TOMB RAIDER.*

The New Lara Croft, courtesy of Game Informer
TOMB RAIDER
Here's what we know so far, in the form of an expanded list of bullet points similar to others that have been making the rounds lately:
  • TOMB RAIDER is currently in development by Crystal Dynamics, the same studio that created Tomb Raider: Legend, Anniversary and Underworld, as well as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and will be published by Square Enix.
  • The game begins with a 21-year-old Lara Croft shipwrecked on a mysterious island off the coast of Japan.
  • In retelling Lara's origin story, the developers have said they hope to make her a more complex, human and culturally relevant hero, in part by putting her in an extremely dangerous and challenging situation through which she will ultimately prevail.
  • This time around there will be no real-life model representing Lara for promotional events.
  • However, the game will employ extensive use of motion-capture technology.
  • The voice actor who'll play Lara has not yet been announced.
  • Tomb Raider staples like puzzles, combat, exploration and action will be more fully integrated into the basic survival storyline.
  • The auto-targeting feature used in previous games will be replaced by a free-aim system.
  • Weapons may include a bow, pistol and shotgun (shown in various game art), as well as tools and objects Lara discovers in the course of her explorations.
  • While not strictly "open world," the game is non-linear. Players can explore the island freely and can revisit locations as Lara's skills and equipment improve. However, there will be some scripted sequences that advance the story.
  • It will be necessary to gather food, water and other items for survival.
  • A system of "base camps" allow players to fast travel among various points on the island. Base camps also allow players to examine and combine inventory items and access a skill system to enhance Lara's abilities.
  • Changing weather conditions, Lara's improved gear and abilities, and the player's influence on the game world itself are intended to keep locations fresh when revisited.
  • At the heart of it all is a mystery reminiscent of the TV show LOST. What is this island all about? Who are its mysterious inhabitants? Why is it seemingly impossible to escape? Lara—and the player—must discover the truth.
  • TOMB RAIDER will be rated 'M' (Mature).
  • It will be available for Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
  • A release date has not yet been announced.

The New Lara Croft, courtesy of Game Informer
A young Lara Croft shows her grit

For more TOMB RAIDER news and discussion:

*TOMB RAIDER will be the ninth major installment in the series, not including Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which was technically a remake of the original Tomb Raider.

SOURCES: Square Enix. Game Informer, January 2011 issue and GameInformer.com.

December 6, 2010

Game Informer Reveals New Tomb Raider

Today Game Informer unveiled the cover for its upcoming Tomb Raider issue and hinted at more news to come.


According to the news item by GI staff writer and Lara Croft fan/cosplayer Meagan VanBurkleo, the next Tomb Raider will indeed be an updated origin story.

"Rebooting the Tomb Raider franchise through an origin story wasn't so much a choice as an act of necessity, according to Crystal Dynamics. Drastic measures were needed. To build an entirely fresh Lara—a culturally relevant hero worth of the attention that once came so effortlessly—they must break her first. In this new adventure—simply titled Tomb Raider—a younger and inexperienced Lara Croft must endure both physical and emotional trauma to survive."

For more info, including two Tomb Raider cover treatments, check out the unfolding story at Game Informer's Tomb Raider Hub and pick up the January issue when it hits newsstands on December 11. Or watch this space, follow me on Twitter or join the discussion on my Facebeook page.

December 2, 2010

Guardian of Light DLC Free on Steam
Character Packs Coming Soon

At last PC parity has arrived and all is right with the world. Today Crystal Dynamics released a free downloadable level pack for the computer version of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Players who own the game just need to log onto their Steam accounts to download the new content, a set of four challenge levels entitled "Things That Go Boom."

For those who haven't been following the saga of the game's staggered release dates and patches, this update means players on all systems (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC) are now equal and up to speed—although I imagine someone, somewhere will still find something to complain about. That's why they call us whiners...I mean gamers.

Long story short, all three systems now have single-player mode, as well as both on- and offline co-op, and all have now been offered one challenge pack free for the first month it is available. For Xbox 360 players, it was Challenge Pack 1: "All the Trappings." For PC and PS3 it's Challenge Pack 2: "Things That Go Boom." Presumably both packs will be available on all systems eventually.


"Things That Go Boom" Screenshot

In other minutiae, the developers have also announced upcoming Guardian of Light character packs featuring IO/Eidos Interactive characters Kane and Lynch, as well as Raziel and Kain from Crystal Dynamics' Legacy of Kain series. Yesterday Crystal asked its Twitter and Facebook followers which pack they'd like to see released first. Videos showing unfinished versions of each pack recently surfaced on YouTube:



I, for one, find it more than a little disturbing to hear Lara's voice coming out of Kane or Raziel's mouth. Let's hope they fix that in the final version.

November 28, 2010

"Lara's Story" Tomb Raider Group Play

Hi, all. My friend EldinSuper is hosting a group play similar to the ones we've done before. His ambitious plan is to gather a bunch of devoted fans and play through the Crystal Dynamics trilogy, beginning with Tomb Raider: Anniversary. By playing in chronological order, rather than in the order the games were released, we'll follow Lara's evolution from novice adventurer to seasoned raider, as she searches for clues to her mother's disappearance...together.

As in the previous offline group sessions, you can play at your own pace. Then just share your impressions with the group by posting on the forum Eldin has set up just for this. Ask questions, brag about your achievements, post screenshots, videos, bug reports, whatever you like. Then read and comment on other players' posts, and before you know it, we've built a little community.

We had a blast playing Tomb Raider 1 and 2, as well as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, this way. I'm sure this will be just as much fun.

Anniversary play starts Wednesday, December 1. Legend and Underworld will follow. I hope you'll join us! Here's the link:

http://tombraider.betaboard.net/your-first-forum-f1/tomb-raider-anniversary-t2.htm


Tomb Raider: Anniversary screenshot courtesy of Katie's Tomb Raider Site.

November 24, 2010

PC Guardian of Light Now Has Online Co-Op

The Windows PC version of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light has at last been patched to include online cooperative play. If you already have the PC game, just log into your Steam account for the update. Or visit the Steam web site for more info. Huzzah!

Included in the patch:
  • Online Co-Op play added! Play online with your friends as either Lara or Totec.
  • Improvements to in-game mouse/keyboard and gamepad controls.
  • Improvements to overall performance and stability.
  • Additional audio and visual polish.

November 22, 2010

Guardian of Light Online Co-Op Patch for PS3

The PlayStation 3 version of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light has at long last been updated for online cooperative play. According to Keir Edmonds, our community rep at Square Enix, in a Twitter update this morning, the PS3 online co-op patch is available for download now through the PlayStation Network.

UPDATE: Apparently the second expansion pack, officiallly titled "Things That Go Boom Challenge Pack 2" is available free on PlayStation Network until December 21. It includes four new explosive challenge maps featuring a variety of tense puzzles, deadly traps, and relentless combat encounters.

The Xbox 360 online co-op update was released October 27, along with the free download "All the Trappings Challenge Pack 1." The online co-op patch for the PC game came out November 24 through Steam, but so far there have been no additional downloadable content for PC. Stay tuned....

November 13, 2010

A Survivor is Born: Shipwreck Image Hints at Tomb Raider 9 News on the Horizon

Could a big announcement about the next Tomb Raider game be on the way? It's still just rumor at this point, but the rumors are starting to cluster. The latest issue of Game Informer includes a teaser for an upcoming feature with the tagline "A Survivor is Born" and a promised reveal date of December 6. A new web site with the same mysterious tagline, asurvivorisborn.com, suggests there's more to come.

A Survivor is Born

In case you weren't following the rumors last summer, leaked artwork and info suggested that the next Tomb Raider could begin with a young Lara Croft shipwrecked on a mysterious and remote island off the shores of Japan. (See my post "Tomb Raider 9: Revamped Origin Story?" from July 2009.) Could the "Survivor" in question be Lara?

Developer Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix refused to comment last summer except to insist that the leaked information be removed, and they have yet to comment on this latest development. So we'll just have to wait and see what news comes out next month.

Thanks to FourPlayerCoop.com for the original leaked info, EuroGamer for reporting this most recent development and Tomb Raider Chronicles for tweeting it to my attention.

October 24, 2010

Community Event: Lara's Big Book o' Poetry

Hi, all. Today I'd like to make an announcement in support of a friend. Hunter's Tomb Raider Tales is proud to present its first Community Event: Lara's Big Book o' Poetry, a group project which aims to create the largest compilation of fan-created verse in the world.

Many of you contributed your wonderful work to my Haiku competition this summer. You're welcome to submit those same poems for the book, plus any other type of poetry as long as it has a Lara Croft/Tomb Raider theme.

The deadline for submissions is November 13, 2010. Complete rules and info can be found in the Community Events section at Hunter's Tomb Raider Tales.

Poets are welcome to email Hunter directly with their entries. Or post on these forums:
As we all know, TR fans are some of the most creative gamers out there. Let's see what you can do!

October 11, 2010

Inside Aldwych: Tube Station Reopens to Commemorate The Blitz

Jaden Morretti, webmaster of the wonderful Tomb Raider site Guns and Grapple, recently visited the disused Aldwych station, which was temporarily reopened to mark the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. Old-school raiders will recognize it from the London levels in Tomb Raider 3. Jaden has graciously allowed me to reprint part of her article here. Follow the link below to read the full article and browse her Aldwych photo album.

Aldwych Station has been closed since 1994. Now the station rarely opens, but when it does it is used for film sets and exhibitions.

Living in London does have a lot of benefits, as a Tomb Raider fan you would have a lot more. A lot of scenes from the first Tomb Raider film was shot here, as well as the HQ for Eidos/Square Enix Europe, and several Tomb Raider levels takes place in England. My first Tomb Raider game I played was Tomb Raider 3, and my favourite levels took place in London, so for me visiting Aldwych station was really exciting, especially since not a lot of people can go there any more.

The tour took place early 24th September. Since the station rarely opens, me and my sister attended one of the Blitz experiences which recreated what it was like during the Blitz in London, since the station was used as a place of refuge.

Inside the station it was very much like the levels. The walls were made of cream coloured titles with a band of green titles half way up the wall. The entrance led down a few steps to wooden telephone booths, similar to the ticket machine designs from TR3. The design for the station was quite different to the games, instead of a main area leading to two escalators there is a main area which lead down to stairs.As for the size of the location, the real station is twice as small as it appeared in the game but the platform is much longer. . . .

Article continues with photo album at Guns and Grapple

Other links:
Aldwych Station Sign
Aldwych Station Sign - Photo by Jaden. Used with Permission.

September 24, 2010

Offline Co-Op is ON! Join Our Guardian of Light Group

Well, it looks like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light online co-op has been delayed a bit longer. So how about the next best thing: offline group play LCO style? In case you missed our earlier group sessions, there's more info, along with a few guidelines and suggestions, in the Lara Croft Online Forum LCGOL Group Play topic. I hope you'll join us. It's going to be a blast!


Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Cut Scene Screenshot
(click to enlarge)

September 17, 2010

GameSpot Offers Early Access to Guardian of Light for PC and PS3

The popular video gaming news hub GameSpot is giving PC and PS3 players a chance to get their hands on Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light before the official release.

According to the GameSpot site, demo keys will be released on 9/21, a week before the game launches, and demo players will be able to purchase and play the full game prior to the official release. This exclusive early access offer is open to North American GameSpot members 13 and older. Membership is free, but the number of available codes is limited. So if you're interested, sign up soon. Here's the link:

GameSpot exclusive early access offer for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

September 4, 2010

Planet Lara: Gone But Never Forgotten

As many of you probably know, Planet Lara, one of the most beloved Tomb Raider fan sites and communities, shut down on August 6. In an interview following the site's closure, I talked with webmaster Chris Ridgeon about the site's history, the reasons behind its demise, and what he'll be up to next.

Fans pining for the good old days can still find a few Planet Lara remnants using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.


Planet Lara's Chris Ridgeon
Stella: Planet Lara has been around for 10 years, correct? And the TR fan site that eventually evolved into Planet Lara Interactive (PLi) was founded a few years before that? What made you decide to stop now?

Chris: PlanetLara.com was registered back in 2001 but before this I ran a site called Lara Croft 2000 UK, and before that (1998) it was a small site called 'RidgeonNet' which had a Tomb Raider section amongst other things. So all in all I had been publishing Web content about Tomb Raider for over 12 years. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it taught me pretty much everything I know about designing and developing on the web. The time just came where my other commitments left me with little time to maintain the site and I didn't want it just to go completely stale.

Stella: A few people have mentioned money possibly being an issue in PL's closure. I'm guessing you must burn through some serious bandwidth, but if you do run your own servers, it may not be as big a problem as it might be for others. Was money an issue or was it more about the demands on your time?

Chris: I'm happy to clarify this. Money was not the reason we closed. The demands on my time from my other commitments meant I wasn't able to give the site the attention it needed and after giving 12 years to the franchise I thought it was a good time to move on. All good things must come to an end :).

Stella: Is it true that you hosted the site on your own servers? That must require a fairly large time commitment, compared to using a commercial service.

Chris: Yes, Planet Lara was a huge 'resource eater', it was approximately 25GB in size when running and at its peak was serving 12,000 visitors a day – this is a huge burden on any hosting. I had so many people email me when I closed the site saying "why don't you just run it on free servers?" but over 12 years we'd had to move the site from free servers, to shared hosting and then dedicated equipment. But, having to move the site showed us how popular it was!

Stella: I assume your bio on PLi is a bit dated now. Are you still into bushcraft and software engineering? How old are you now? (If you'd rather not give personal info, that's cool, but readers might be curious to know how old you were when you started PL and how your interests have evolved.)

Chris: Yes that bio is a good few years out of date now!, I'm currently 24 and started the first Tomb Raider pages when I was around 12/13. I did my degree in Software Engineering at Coventry University here in the UK, and since then I have been running my Internet Services business "Ridgeon Network." So, yes, I still have a huge interest in computers, so much so, it has left me with little time to run Planet Lara, but it was time to move on :). As for bushcraft, I have always been a big fan of the outdoors because that's where I grew up – and it also gives me a great break from the computer screen!

Stella: Naturally everyone's curious about what you'll be doing next. What are your plans?


Click to visit Chris's site
Chris: My main focus is running my Internet Services business "Ridgeon Network" (www.ridgeon-network.co.uk) which provides services such as FTP Hosting, Online Storage and Website Design to businesses worldwide. I also have a new project on the go that is currently in testing called Internet Shout which is a new 'voice based discussion forum), it is still in the early stages but when I launched the initial testing version we did get coverage on the BBC which I was really pleased about. I'm currently working on new features and improvements to it but you can have a peek over at www.internetshout.com.

Stella What do you feel has set Planet Lara apart from other fan sites?

Chris: I think most people think about PL as the site dedicated to the Core series because this is when the site was at its peak. We were always a site about having fun, this is why I developed PLi and the various games we had on the site. Thanks to the fans, we had probably the biggest collection of fan-made content which really brought people to the site and made people want to be involved – we had a great community.


Planet Lara, Where the World Once
Revolved Around Lara Croft
Stella: Any particular highlights or milestones you'd care to reminisce about? Appearing in the Anniversary credits, etc.?

Chris: Ooo, Working with the great guys at Core Design, trips to Eidos, lunches with Core and Eidos, surprise packages in the post with rare bits of merchandise. I have also made some fantastic friends over the years, many of which I stay in touch with on a regular basis.

Stella Which Tomb Raider game (or games) are you especially fond of and why?

Chris: The answer to this is always Tomb Raider 2 – Venice. To me, it sums up what Tomb Raider was all about and a great time in gaming.

Stella: Will you be playing future Lara Croft/TR games but just not covering them on the web, or have you given up on raiding altogether?

Chris: I'll always be a fan but finding time to play games these days is pretty hard. I'll have make sure I make some time for the new games as they come out.

Stella Anything else I should have asked but didn't? Anything you'd like to say in closing?

Chris: I'd just like to thank everyone who worked on PL and PLi with me, namely Daniel Barnes, Abigail Hirst and Susie Hampton.

It's been a fantastic time and I look forward to seeing what other sites pop up over time with the new games.

Stella: Indeed. It's been a great ride, and you've been a huge asset to this community. You and Planet Lara will certainly be missed. Thanks so much for doing this interview and giving the fans a little closure. And best of luck post Lara. :D

Chris: It's an honour to be interviewed by Stella. You really are a veteran of Tomb Raider – I remember visiting your sites when I first started! Good luck with your future endeavours.

Raid on!

August 28, 2010

Third Guardian of Light Podcast and Name-That-Sound Competition

This week Community Manager Keir Edmonds interviews three of the developers at Crystal Dynamics who worked on Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light: Creative Director Daniel Neuburger, Lead Designer Jeff Wajcs and Audio Engineer Alex Wilmer. The guys answer players' questions about the game's concept and level design, touching on such diverse topics as:

  • Building a game that inspires players to really communicate and cooperate.
  • The often painful process of playtesting and tweaking.
  • Influences and inspirations, from museums and archeological sites to classic games like the original Tomb Raider and co-op classic ToeJam and Earl.
  • Welcoming both old and new fans by building in multiple difficulty levels—including some fiendishly challenging downloadable content on the way.
  • The actual tool set used to build LCGOL levels.


Daniel Neuburger

Jeff Wajcs

Alex Wilmer

To accompany the audio, Jeff shared a few sketches he made while designing some of the game's puzzles. I've set some spoiler text in white to avoid giving away puzzle solutions to those who haven't played the game yet. If you want to read them, just select the text with your mouse to highlight it.

Jeff: These were for the Fiery Depths. The diagram in the top left players may recognize as the spinning "bbq" platforms. I had to write down all of their orientations to wrap my mind around the design. The rest of the page became the second challenge tomb in that level. The original idea was to include a bit more logic and one way jumps and such, but I quickly decided to strip it down. The end result was much cleaner. You can also see an armadillo on the page. I was famous on the team for tagging armadillos on white boards all over the place. Sheep, too. Rogers' cube is full of them.


Jeff: This is from Toxic Swamp. We had to make a few passes at this level before we shipped. These sketches were for the third gate crypt, [spoilers] where one uses the grenade launcher to destroy the gears and unlock the gate. You can see the gear/gate structure at the top of the bottom four sketches. What I was trying to do was find an interesting way of bouncing the grenade to the gears. The grid at the top represents an array of columns that come out of the ground. The idea was, with the columns up in certain combinations, the player could ricochet a grenade through and hit a gear. That didn't end up working, and it took a bit more thinking before I arrived at the time trial idea that shipped. You can also see more arrow shooter faces here.


Jeff: More Toxic swamp. The eggs at the top are not too terribly rendered! I struggled a lot with the final moment of the level. Neub said this during the podcast that I like to start with the "big idea" and figure out the details later, and the "powder keg island" is a prime example. [spoilers] I knew from the beginning I wanted the player avoiding a lot of eggs exploding at once, but I struggled mightily with the actual execution. Here, again, I started by finding a space that felt good. I liked having a two tiered island with the temple in the middle. That sketch is dead center. At the top of the page, you see a little of my fascination with typography and handwriting. The word of the day was apparently Rico, the name we have for another level designer.


Jeff: This was the early concept work for the second challenge tomb in Temple of Light. The little faces are the arrow shooters. (They used to have faces before they were barrels.) The circles on a mount are the impact switches. You can also pick out pressure plates, pull switches, and rolling balls. The small square tiles are the flipping platform. I said this in the podcast, when designing a puzzle I like to start with the space and go from there.

Download Podcast (62 MB mp3 file)
To download right-click and select 'Save Target/Link as'.

After listening to the podcast and playing the game, be sure to stop by the Eidos Forums and enter Alex and Daniel's Name-That-Sound competition.

Thanks to the guys for sharing their thoughts with us fans, and once again to Keir for making it all happen. And, in closing, the word of the day is Aaaaaeeeeuuuuhhhh! (Heard at 1:00:48 in the podcast.)

August 17, 2010

Tomb Raider Haiku Contest Winners

Choosing just three winners from among all the great entries was a challenge to rival any of Lara's. But after much deliberation, Jaden, Katie, Mary and I are pleased to announce our picks for the Tomb Raider haiku competition. They are:

Here comes the T-Rex
Quick! I must use a MedPack
Well, so much for that.
       –Amanda

Silent, shadowed tomb
Long dead voices calling out
Revealing secrets
       –Mute2Conversations

The flap of a bat,
drip drip of monsoon waters.
Ancient image stares.
       –Wicket2961

From humorous to serious to serene, these three perfectly capture the thrills and frustrations of the Tomb Raider player.

Each winner will receive a Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light download. Congratulations to them, and thanks to everyone else who participated. And very special thanks to Crystal Dynamics for providing the game codes for the prizes.

August 15, 2010

Strike a Pose: An Introduction to XNALara

Did you play with Barbie dolls or action figures as a kid? Do they still reside in a secret drawer and come out late at night to fight evil and model the latest fashions? Guest blogger Crimsomnia has left her doll collection behind, but today she shares her passion for posing virtual action figures with XNALara.

XNALara is a realtime posing program created by a fan, Dusan Pavlicek, which allows you to pose character models from Tomb Raider: Underworld however you want, create scenes and eventually save screenshots of your work.


Screenshot of XNALara workspace (click to enlarge). Jumpkick pose created by toughraid3r37.

Most people use it to create pictures (wallpapers, etc.), while some use it in conjunction with other programs, like Maya, Photoshop and 3ds Max, to create more complex and detailed renders. One can even use it to make their own animation videos through frame-by-frame animating.


Lara render by Scia using XNALara and 3ds Max
(click to enlarge)


Asleep on the Job by Ryu-Gi
"Asleep on the Job" by Ryu-Gi (click to enlarge)

To answer your question, you don't need Tomb Raider: Underworld to run this application! Basically any Windows computer can run XNALara as long as you have two apps (Microsoft .NET Framework and Microsoft XNA Framework). Download links for the XNALara program and supporting files can be found here.

Now, for the fun part! You can have loads of fun posing Lara and the rest of the characters in any way you like and make any kind of pictures, from official-looking wallpapers to your idea of how Lara spends her free time at the manor. The coolest thing about XNALara is that your screenshots look as if they came straight from the game.

Doppelganger wallpaper by poker15
Doppelganger wallpaper by poker15 (click to enlarge)

Into the Light by Crimsomnia
"Into the Light" by Crimsomnia (click image to enlarge)

There's a bit of a learning curve at first, but the program is very easy to use once you get the hang of it. There's also a thorough Manual written by LaraRules81 for beginners to get you started. If you find you need more help, the sites linked below include tutorials and forums where you can ask questions.

The possibilities are endless here. As a devoted XNALara fan said, with this program, the only limit is your imagination. You may get interested in modding, which is basically modifying the models' appearance from head to toes, or even mesh-modding, where people create new models for XNALara. As a result, XNALara has become a pole of attraction for lots of different people and not just Tomb Raider fans. It has brought the Tomb Raider community together into one big creative family, through which a great number of fan artists have emerged.

Have fun!
XNALara animated gifAnimated gif made by Phenyx using XNALara.


Lara vs. S.I.M.O.N. XNALara animation by toughraid3r37 (bestraider56 on YouTube).

Links:
  • Dusan's thread on Tomb Raider Forums where he presented his work. Includes download links for the program and supporting files. (Also look for other XNALara threads with objects, models, poses and more.)
  • XNALaraArt.com – The first community entirely dedicated to XNALara, where you can upload your own creations, discuss XNALara matters or technical issues in the forum and download resources.
  • DeviantArt XNALara Group - Includes hundreds of gorgeous images made with the program.

Crimsomnia is a 20-year-old, Greek journalism & mass media student with great love for music and Tomb Raider. XNALara was her motivation to start making Tomb Raider fanart pics, and she's been addicted ever since. Visit her DeviantArt page to see more.

All images and videos are the property of their respective creators and were used with permission. Please do not copy/borrow them without first obtaining permission from the artists.


Comic: Privacy Raider by Ryu-Gi. Made using XNALara. Inspired by a certain yellow sticky note found in Croft Manor... (click to enlarge)

August 14, 2010

Crystal Dynamics Community Days A Big Hit, Even With Skeptics

Earlier this week, the developers of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light invited players to visit their studios for a little hands-on with the new game. Guest blogger Brant Longest accepted the offer and attended yesterday's LCGOL Community Day. Here's his report.

Driving up the San Francisco Peninsula yesterday towards Redwood City and the Crystal Dynamics production facility, I tried to think of what I really had to fear about the Tomb Raider franchise taking such a drastic leap away from its tried and true formula of personal isolation, hostile environments, wicked puzzle solving and gorgeously rendered visuals.


The Crystal Dynamics campus (click to enlarge)

As franchises go, Lara Croft and the whole Tomb Raider series has spanned over 14 years of public life, garnered uncounted followers and awards, as well as those who would seek to copy the formula in the form of other games. Indeed, few franchises have had similar force of impact within the industry.

So it was with some trepidation that I learned, along with all Tomb Raider fans, that a new direction in game style was being developed by the team at Crystal Dynamics. An "Isometric, Co-op Shooter". Really?!? What does that even mean in Tomb Raider terms? Isometric projection has roots all the way back to the early 1980's within the industry, and that was the first flag that was raised when I heard of this planned format. Simply put, it's a method of representing 3-D space with 2-D forms. Blocks and forms with angles altered to create the illusion that they exist in real space, à la M.C. Escher.

So, was this to be a step backwards or a step forwards? After spending two hours solid playing through several levels and seeing much of what Guardian of Light has to offer, I can safely confirm it is a step forward. Especially since GoL is being developed concurrently with a more traditional TR title. The "Lara Croft" branch of the tree, as it were, is a new foray into making the universe of Tomb Raider larger; it isn't about taking anything away from the traditional Tomb Raider canon or from its fans and what they love. And perhaps even more importantly, it isn't going to be a situation where we as fans and players have no choice about the direction the franchise will take. Traditional TR fans, me included, can expect a title in the Tomb Raider series proper that will build upon the successes of the Legend/Anniversary/Underworld era. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is sort of a grand experiment in the interim, and while the fan base for TR may be uncertain of what GoL holds, they should be very pleasantly surprised when it comes out, and here's why:

A large component of the Crystal team that worked on those three titles is involved in not only Guardian of Light but on the new "TR9" as well. I got no closer to any specifics about what I will call "TR9" yesterday; it is all still very much under wraps. But I did learn a great deal about GoL both from the developers and firsthand, by playing a significant portion of the game in a near-finalized form. And let me tell you it is quite polished.

There are approximately 16 levels, which are constructed so that skills are developed and honed as you progress, leading to ever more challenging and complex levels, with puzzles themselves becoming more advanced and less intuitive. This simply has to please traditional TR puzzle lovers.

Although I exclusively played the co-op mode during my demo yesterday, I happened to play along with an informal tester who had spent time in prior builds and knew how to go about overcoming the challenges. That made our team succeed more quickly than if I had been playing solo (which you absolutely can do) or if I had been teamed with another novice player. A pleasant side-effect of this pairing was that I could get a better sense of how much of each level I was going to have to learn 'the hard way' in order to be successful on my own. Each level offered new ways to achieve goals, but unless you had played before you wouldn't have any other way to learn the methods of success other than to go about trial and error as you would in any prior TR game. What needs to be intuitive is, but so much of it isn't that I felt happily mystified at what I would need to learn to solve parts of puzzles. In a word, it's rich, and effort leads to reward on a scale similar to what we expect in the TR universe.

There are Xbox 360 achievements, and there will be significant DLC in the months after the initial release in the form of 'map-packs' and other goodies.


Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light achievements (click to enlarge)

If you pine for the ability to customize your character, you have multiple layers of ways to do this. First and foremost each player discovers 'Artifacts' and 'Relics,' which give extra or boosted abilities, and in different ways. How you choose to employ these is up to the player, and can have a direct impact on the way you deal, or fail to deal, with a level. And it goes without saying that Totec, Lara's companion player in the co-op version of GoL, is an altogether new experience for the TR gamer. He has a shield which can deflect enemy missiles, and a spear which although slower than Lara's guns, does more damage, and can help Lara reach new heights.... she catches amazing air! This creates a decision point for players to strategize how best to handle multiple enemies and the vast number of physical scenarios you will face in simply traversing the environment. You simply cannot play this game on auto-pilot.

And that for me, is one of the most enjoyable things about a good TR game. That the environment requires that you have a plan but allows for breaks where you can sit, unthreatened, and scope the environment for what that plan should be, then execute it—or fail by simply missing a jump. Timing is as critical to success in GoL as it is in any other TR game.


Guardian of Light gameplay (click to enlarge)

But perhaps the biggest and best surprise is that the game is divided into two distinct paths—more like two distinct games in fact! If you elect to play co-op, the levels are designed to stretch to the limit what Totec and Lara can do as a pair. But if you elect to play solo, those levels have been redesigned to accommodate the limitations of only one player. So in effect, 16 levels actually become 32! That's quite a lot of unique levels per game, and I consider this a stamp of approval of the overall value of the title. What's more is that the levels are not uni-directional, nor even completely linear in objective. Possible paths branch off on all three axes—x,y and z beyond the range of vision of the players. So expect lots of loopbacks where previous elements of a level have changed due to Lara's actions in other parts of the level.

This opens up the opportunity for players, if they so desire, to fine tune their performance in the form of 'speed runs'. Guardian of Light will have active Leaderboards that rank players in the order that they can score highly on these speed-based (and other) objectives. That, folks, is instant replay value.


Guardian of Light menu screen (click to enlarge)

Personally, I tend to take my time and explore the worlds that TR games offer, but I can see the fun in working towards playing levels in the most efficient manner and being rewarded for doing so—sometimes solo, sometimes in tandem. It's a way of bringing a community together that we have not seen in TR games before.

So all in all, the day was a great way to experience GoL before it officially launches. I think fans should rest very easy knowing that the franchise as a whole is solid, and staffed by people who are dedicated to doing the franchise justice. This new GoL experiment is not going to detract from the traditional TR series at all, it will serve to strengthen, and grow, the TR community with new offerings. There has been fear amongst the TR base that what we have come to know and expect from TR games would be seriously altered by this new effort, but those fears are unfounded, I can say with absolute certainty.

I strolled around the Crystal campus and could see entire lines of posty-notes lined up in windows, Indicating storyboard work being done on TR9. Others had Lara dolls and other plastic creatures of the trade used for inspiration when the artists conceptualize and render in-game characters.


Lara Croft, herself, holds down the fort (click to enlarge)

And finally, I had a chance to speak with several members of the team, and they were unanimously positive about their efforts to not only keep the franchise alive but make it better than it has ever been before. Keir Edmonds is probably the most solid Community Manager I have seen for any game, MMO or otherwise. He is fully aware of the concerns of the fan base, and he wasn't hired yesterday; he's been involved a long, long time. I heard many of the team mention in our session how they read the forums every day. Your feedback is heard!

I also spent some time with Kam Yu and David Suroviec, who do a large portion of the process of creating and rigging Lara and other characters in the game. We spoke of the ever-present see-saw battle between artists and developers to both keep the poly count of a character high, while also keeping the fps (frames per second) high. They reassured me that as technology continues to improve, both the champions of high poly count and high fps count will benefit, although that battle ultimately will never end. It was a nice bit of insight into the world of the developers, and somehow the idea of a never ending battle with Lara had a nice ring to it.

In the end, I can heartily recommend Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light for anyone who has enjoyed TR in the past, or for anyone who has come up playing the modern games of the last few years. It will satisfy both the purists and those who want more speed and a larger community. All in all, it's a fantastic effort that caters to many tastes while preserving what makes Tomb Raider endure.

Brant Longest
August 13, 2010

Text and photos © 2010 Brant Longest. Please do not reproduce without the author's permission.

August 13, 2010

New Guardian of Light Key Art & Wallpapers

Wowza! Check out this awesome new key art for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Illustrator Michael Komarck has done it again. You can practically feel the heat from Lara's flamethrower!


Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light key art, titled "Puzzle"
(click for larger image)

Today Crystal Dynamics also released three new LCGOL wallpapers, one of which is based on the "Puzzle" art above. The others incorporate Komarck's first piece of key art for the game, featured here. Please visit my main Guardian of Light page to download each wallpaper in four different screen sizes.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Wallpaper #1

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Wallpaper #2

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Wallpaper #3
And don't forget about the Tomb Raider haiku competition. Sunday is the deadline to submit a poem for a chance to win a free Guardian of Light download.

August 8, 2010

Tomb Raider Haiku Competition: Win A Guardian of Light Download

With just 10 days left until Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light hits Xbox LIVE, I thought now would be a good time for a quick competition—the operative word being quick. So this week, I invite you to create and share a Tomb Raider themed haiku. The writers of the three best poems will each receive a free LCGOL game download.

In case you're unfamiliar with the form, a haiku is a traditional Japanese poem with three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Haiku usually have have nature-related themes, but for this competition, the poems should be about Tomb Raider, Lara Croft or a related topic. They can be serious or humorous, but they must follow the traditional haiku format.

Need a few examples? Several years ago, we had a haiku free-for-all on the alt.games.tombraider Usenet newsgroup. Here are some of the poems that were posted:

Jungle gleams with rain
Shadows hold hidden dangers
Someone's lost MedPack
       –WombRaider

What's behind that wall?
Is it a raptor or snake?
Maybe a cold beer.
       –Stiletto

Dig the chick in green
talking is not her long suit
she says it with guns
       –Gordian Slash

Those threads are still archived on Google Groups in case you want to take a look.

THE JUDGES: I'll be judging the contest along with three special guest writer-gamer-webmasters: Katie Fleming (Katie's Tomb Raider Site), Mary Goodden (Well-Rendered) and Jaden Morretti (Guns and Grapple).

THE RULES: This contest is open to entrants in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom only. I'm really sorry about that, but due to regional restrictions, it's just too complicated for me to send online game codes to other countries.

To submit an entry, either post it in a comment below or email it to me. Be sure to indicate whether you'd like the PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 game should you win. If you post your poem here on the blog, please log in with your Google account first so I'll be able to reach you if you win. If you prefer to enter by email, I will post your poem here, but I promise to keep your contact info private.

Entries should be in English and should follow the 5-7-5 syllable pattern. Each entrant should only submit one haiku. If you submit an entry and later come up with something better, contact me about substituting the new entry.

The deadline for submissions is next Sunday, August 15, at 11:59 p.m. EDT (that's Monday 4 a.m. GMT). Winners will be notified by Tuesday, August 17. The judges' decisions are final. We'll try to be fair, but poetry is naturally a subjective thing. So please don't be offended if your entry is not chosen.

Thanks and good luck!


Haiku often juxtapose mother nature and human nature,
something Tomb Raider fans understand quite well.
Underworld concept art by Ben Shafer.

August 7, 2010

Guardian of Light Release Dates Updated, DLC Planned

Yesterday Crystal Dynamics announced that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light will debut for PC and PlayStation 3 on September 28, and that the Xbox 360 version, slated for release August 18, will receive a patch enabling online co-op mode the same day the PC and PS3 games launch. Future downloadable content for the game was also revealed.

Crystal's Global Brand Director Karl Stewart told GameSpot that the online portion of the game needed more work before it could live up to the developer's promises but stressed that the single-player and offline cooperative modes would be complete for the August 18th Xbox 360 release.

"Everybody's disappointed, but we're also excited," Stewart said. "We're making a stand to say we're not going to have somebody download the game on August 18, play it, and feel like we came in a little under par on the online portion. It was a tough decision, but I think we made the right decision."

This should quell a little of the complaining from PC and PS3 fans disappointed with the early Xbox launch.

In other LCGOL news, the developers announced five downloadable content packs for all platforms coming this fall. According to General Manager Darrell Gallagher, "DLC for us means Downloadable Lara Croft. It all begins in August with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light releasing on XBLA and runs through to the end of the year with the additional packs we will be offering. Oh and be prepared for a few surprises."

Future DLC will include expansion packs featuring new areas and new puzzle, exploration and combat experiences, as well as playable character packs, offering gamers the chance to experience the entire adventure without Lara Croft and Totec and instead with some other well-known videogame characters. The studio did not mention who those characters would be but, according to GameSpot, Stewart said they would be well-known characters pulled from a range of Eidos titles.

For more info, please visit my Guardian of Light page and check out previous LCGOL blog posts.

August 5, 2010

Tomb Raider Community Survey: Let Your Voices Be Heard

In case you haven't already heard, there's another great contest happening at tombraiders.net. Katie Fleming is conducting a Tomb Raider players' survey and inviting fans to share their opinions for a chance to win one of several great prizes. For details, click the banner on the right. If you have questions about the contest, there's a link to contact Katie on that page. Thanks for participating and good luck!

Prizes include the Lara Croft "Classic Beauty" Doll, pictured here. This exclusive collectible was created and donated by the Tonner Doll Company. She's 17 inches tall, fully poseable, and is one of a limited edition of only 300.

A free Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light game download, courtesy of Crystal Dynamics.

One of three copies of the Lara Croft: Lethal and Loaded documentary DVD (North American/NTSC format).

The deadline to enter by taking the survey is August 16th. Good luck!

Second Guardian of Light Podcast Spotlights Game Sound Design

Audio Engineers Alex Wilmer and Karl Gallagher talk all things audio in the latest podcast. Answering questions from the community and covering things like how they make a sound and what it's like working with Keeley, this podcast gives an insight into the work that has gone into creating the sonic world of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. And there's a slight twist, all the community questions that were sent in MP3 format have been run through the Xolotl-Machine™, making Lara fans sound like the evil baddie from LCGoL.... Sort of.

(Originally posted by Keir Edmonds, Group Community Manager at Square Enix Europe, on the official LCGOL Forum. Thanks, Keir!)

  Download Podcast (62 MB mp3 file)
To download right-click and select 'Save Target/Link as'.


Karl treats Alex to a blast of his didgeridoo

If you missed the first podcast, featuring Guardian of Light Producer Forest Large, you can still find it here.
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.