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 Underworld concepts courtesy of Toby.


  1. This is somewhat a tangent--

    but you pointed out something in your last post that stood out to me. was there any rationale or explanation given for why the newer games (basically the switch to crystal dynamics) got a great deal more linear in game play than the older games? i always thought this was a particular point of greatness about the old games. There is an exploration factor in the old games that simply isn't as prevelant in the new ones. You actually have to construct a geographical and logical map in your own mind in the old games, where as it's largely already done for you in the new ones (such as only being only to grab a certain kind of ledge). This turned out to be more of a rant than a question, but i've always seen that change as a significant step back in the series rather than an advance.

  2. I agree with you completely, reborn. I'm not sure how much Toby had to do with those aspects of the game, though. I always sort of assumed he was more of a character- and plot-development guy.

    While the level designs got simpler, in my opinion, the plots in the Anniversary-Legend-Underworld arc were on a par with, if not better than, the classics. For me, the story was the only thing that saved Legend.

    Somehow I doubt we'll ever see a Tomb Raider as complex and immersive as TRs 1-4. Eric Lindstrom, the Creative Director for Underworld, pretty much summed it up when he said:

    There is no model for making a game that cost as much as Underworld that could recoup that investment without appealing to a broader audience. This flies directly in conflict with much of what made Tomb Raider great at the start, and trying to find the right balance was a big part of my job. I know that the answer we presented disappoints the hardcore fans, and it was unavoidable. We can strive to make games as exciting as the past, but you likely won't ever see games as demanding as they were in the old days.

    (This was in a post he made on a while back.)

    Granted, Eric is no longer with Crystal Dynamics either, but what he says makes sense in light of any large developer's business model. Maybe some indie developer will make something Tomb Raider-like that us old schoolers can enjoy.

  3. The early games allowed every single player to play *his/her own game.* There was no set experience. That's why the classics have longevity--you can't replay them ad infinitum because you can always create a different experience for yourself when you do (these speedrunners being a wonderful example). And because of that fact, the classics will always be able to recruit new players.

    It's the same dilemma the music business faces. Is "i kissed a girl" a smash hit that sold tons of albums and got tons of radio play and acquired a ton of fad and pop-culture attention? Sure. But compare Kate Perry to the likes of Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Journey, etc. Smash Hits make money *now,* but they rarely have staying power, long-term money-making capabilities. If they put out another TR3-esque TR game, would it be a smash hit? Probably not. But it would likely still be around and still be played for years longer than Legend and these other "smash hit"-esque TR's.

    Another, rant. Sorry for the length. i suppose us classic fans always have the level editor community to fall back on, yeah? Do you play much of the LE-created levels available online?

  4. Again, no arguments from me.

    You make a good point about smash hits vs. classics, which extends beyond the entertainment industry. Too many businesses are focused on the short term—this year's profits, even this quarter's—rather than taking a longer view.

    And please don't apologize for running long. That's why I chose the blog format: It's a little easier to police than a full-fledged message forum, but I'm hoping it'll give people an opportunity to voice their opinions about the games—past, present and future.

    I haven't played many user-created levels but not for lack of interest, just lack of time. Someday I hope to get around to it.

  5. he left core-design,now he left crystal dinamics also.end of the series?without him,lara is weak!

  6. Oh dear Toby has left. Well maybe we'll get another Galleon (which I loved btw). Stella if you are in touch with TG tell him there are some very diehard Galleon fans out there!

    I agree with the replayability of the older games. There were different ways of doing things which is often missing or is confined to limited choices in the new games. Legend was a huge disappointment to me. Underworld was much better but still limited compared to the earlier games. However one of the things which often puzzled me in the older games was the weird environments due to the lack of realism. Now that everything is very realistic looking it's harder to get lost. If that makes sense.

    And what a great blog!


  7. Stella,

    I think this discussion about the game being linear versus having open levels to explore is an important one.

    I understand the cretaive director's reasoning, but I think he's wrong. We can also see that from the reception later games have got in the press and among gamers. Time and time again, they have more or less failed to impress in the same way the first four games did. I think it is fair to say that Lara's standing in the world of gaming is due to the first four titles. How can he then be right to call it a wrong business decision to follow up on that legacy?

    The exploration factor lies at the core of the game. I have seen your critique of the fact that later games have been more linear. I think you speak for a lot of gamers when you voice this opinion and I hope this will be heard. What kind of explorer is Lara if she has only one path to go, and for every two minutes there is a "checkpoint"? It is silly! Tomb Raider needs to be true to its origin. In fact, I think it is the other way around, I think they need to appeal to the hard core gamers to attract a broader audience. It is that kind of gamers who write reviews on the gaming sites. As soon as the word is out that the game is somewhat disappointing it will fail to sell as much as the publisher would want it to. There is simply no way around quality. This is true for action games and adventure games alike.

    In conclusion, Tomb Raider needs to stick to its origin, not "reinventing" itself for every new game.


  8. Thanks for your comments, Robert. Your idea that the game's designers should try and appeal to hardcore gamers—i.e., the type of people who write reviews and run fan sites—makes a great deal of sense. I hadn't thought about it that way. You're absolutely right, of course.

    Lately I've been thinking that one way of possibly appealing to a larger cross section of players, would be to build multiple difficulty levels and multiple paths into each game. People who aren't proficient--or who just want a more casual gaming experience--would still be able to have a good time, but expert players and people replaying the game could have more of a challenge.

    Naturally the rewards should be proportional to the effort expended. For example, most secrets or rewards should only be available by exploring side areas or taking a more difficult path. And perhaps special content--real stuff like bonus levels and not just fluff like outfits and storyboards--could be unlocked only after beating the game on hard or finding all secrets.

  9. I agree with you that gamers will clearly be more motivated by a bonus level than a few pictures or similar stuff.

    A bonus level would in fact be a great reward that would build up under the concept of open and spacious levels.

    As for those who want a shortcut: From your article on speedrunners it seems like there will always be a "way" for them, too, without an overly obvious guidance. :)

    It will be interesting to see how the takeover of Eidos by Square Enix will affect Tomb Raider. Maybe they will be sensitive to this matter?

  10. They should bring him back and fire Rihanna Pratchet.
    It's not too late, and it still possible to make the 2013 reboot series interesting.
    While the gameplay was fun, Rise of the Tomb Raider was even better, I think that they should hire Toby to direct and write the future sequels.
    Toby Gard is the only person who does understand how to make Lara's story, background story and character fully interesting.
    Core Design started to fail because they slowly gone to wrong direction.
    Anniversary, Legend and Underworld were done with a right direction.
    Tomb Raider 2013 Direction had a mixed opinions,the game was more action focused and was less about Tombs, and plus nobody liked Rihanna Pratchets writing, but as a good action game with a good gameplay it was great, but the new series are missing the adventure atmosphere.