Thanks perhaps to the ample charms of Angelina Jolie, plus a dose of next-gen resurrection, the console gaming adventures of one Lara Croft have been on the up in recent years. The same can't be said of her handheld incarnations however. While the PSP version of Tomb Raider: Anniversary impressed, the DS version of the most recent console release - Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend - was, sadly, far from legendary.
So what's the score for the November-due Tomb Raider: Underworld? There's no PSP version for one thing, while the DS version.... Well, maybe we'll just let the developers do the talking.Pocket Gamer: How is the DS version of Tomb Raider: Underworld different from the other versions of the game?
Kari Hattner (associate producer): The DS version of the game was developed by Santa Cruz Games and is quite different from the other versions. All of them share a common story, but the gameplay for the DS version focuses on side-scrolling platforming. It also has unique challenges that take advantage of the touchscreen and microphone.What was the main design goal for the DS version?
Alex Neuse (lead designer): The main design goal for the DS version of Underworld was to deliver a Tomb Raider experience that was appropriate for the platform. We wanted to give the player a game that worked well on the DS, which lead us to the side-scrolling action genre. The control interface is very well suited to a side-scrolling game with 2D gameplay, but because we also wanted to push the 3D capabilities of the platform, we decided to deliver a three-dimensional art style that would rival the best 3D art on the platform while nailing familiar and accessible gameplay at the same time.How easy has it been to create a game utilising fluid acrobatic abilities on the DS, especially in terms of the graphics available?
Murphy Michaels (external art director): It was easy in the sense that the inherent limitations meant a simpler animation set, but it also meant that the animators were required to do a lot of hand animation (i.e. no motion capture). Since the game is essentially a side-scroller, the animators were able to concentrate on making the animations look good from that one angle, but they basically had to look at animations from the core game (Xbox 360) and simplify them drastically while getting the fluidity across.The lighting looks impressive for a DS game, so what technical approach have you taken to get that aspect so good?
Murphy Michaels: The lighting was basically the same process used on previous platforms: applying colours and values to the vertices on the geometry. The only thing different from what the process would be on something like PS2 is we let the vert lighting carry more weight than the texture, mostly because of the limited texture space. The textures themselves concentrated more on texture in the true sense of the word (craggy rocks, stonework, etc) and had very little colour at all and were almost grayscale. The real colour was added along with the values on the vertices which concentrated on making the player's path an easy read for the player.How is the DS touchscreen used in the game?
Kari Hattner: Each level of the game has a number of touchscreen interactions. It's used in both context-sensitive puzzles and action-based challenges, as well as being the basis for our collectible Treasure Chest Puzzles. There are around 50 unique challenges and puzzles that use the touchscreen in the game. The touchscreen is also used to manage Lara's weapons on the fly.Why did you decide not to have any multiplayer modes in the game?
Alex Neuse: We decided against multiplayer modes primarily because Tomb Raider as a franchise does not scream 'play with friends!' The atmospheric qualities of a Tomb Raider game are very well suited to a solitary experience. This was the driving factor.
After considering adding multiplayer aspects to the game though, almost everything that we came up with felt like a stretch from a design standpoint. It felt like we were trying to add multiplayer simply so we could say that we did and this didn't feel like the right motivation for adding such a development-heavy feature. In the end, we decided that our efforts would be better focused on making the single player experience that much better rather than spending cycles on a multiplayer experience that didn't feel like it fit in the Tomb Raider world in the first place.Are there any specific 'portability' features in the game?
Kari Hattner: Each level is broken down into several sections, which facilitates shorter play sessions. Each of these sub-sections of the game contains a secret Treasure Chest puzzle, which, when found, the user can choose to solve at that moment or choose to save and solve later. In either case, the puzzle is then available for play from the main menu. All of the game's main touchscreen puzzles are also unlocked in this Extras Menu once completed.Thanks to the developers for their time. Tomb Raider: Underworld is due for release on November 21.