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<  Design concepts  ~  Tomb Raider original vs Anniversary

Michael
Posted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 1:37 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
With Anniversary, they have made a second Tomb Raider game with the explicit desire of recapturing the excellence of the very first game. I have played the demo yesterday, and just as with Legend, I was disappointed. I love Tomb Raider 1. And I'm not alone. But apparently it's not easy to capture what was good about it. Not even for the people who made the original.

I want to find out why. I want to find out what it is in Tomb Raider 1 that people like so much but cannot identify clearly enough to be able to reproduce it.

First I'll need to compare the games on the same hardware though, as I have played both recent game demo's on PC but the original on Playstation. Then I'll need to replay Tomb Raider 1 to make sure that it really is so good and that it's not just some form of nostalgia acting up.


Last edited by Michael on Thu Jun 14, 2007 2:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 6:13 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Michael wrote:
replay Tomb Raider 1 to make sure that it really is so good

Yes. The answer is yes.
I just replayed the first few levels. It's amazing. If it would come out today, I'd play it.

Ok. But why is it so good?
I'm not sure yet.
(comparison will help, probably)

It struck me that the interaction design and the story fit together very well. It's mostly a game of exploration and Lara Croft is an explorer. The interaction is designed in such a way that you feel the same as the protagonist: the simplicity and tightness of the controls and the predictability of the actions, make you feel equally confident as the character. You play alone and she is also alone.

The spaces are designed in such a way that you continuously feel like you're discovering something you weren't supposed to discover or doing it out of order, only to find out that you're doing exactly what was expected of you. Still the world continues to feel like an open environment in which you make the choices.

The whole game is extremely stylized. Down to the animation set of the character. But she still has animation of taking something from her back-pack, turning a key, squatting to pick something up. Many games abstract these little motions out but perhaps they are exactly the kind of thing that make the character feel believable.


Last edited by Michael on Thu Jun 14, 2007 2:57 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Michael
Posted: Fri Jun 08, 2007 9:02 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Ok. Got Tomb Raider Anniversary for Playstation 2.
First off, I have to say that it's quite nice how they recreate the first game. It's fun to recognize the environments and see how they play with your expectations. It's also kind of pretty, in that photo-realistic way (not in the sublime colouristic way in which the first game was beautiful).

But so far, that's where the good news stops as far as I'm concerned.

The first problem is the controls. They're not exactly badly designed. But there's just too many of them. Lara can swing on ropes, turn around poles, climb on columns, shimmy on ledges and jump from them etc. And there's some funky target feature when shooting. As a result you lose the feeling of absolute control that the first game gave you. Also, the virtual world is much more realistic in the sense that they don't have the clear grid that the first Tomb Raider had -which helps to control the avatar. So you end up making a lot more mistakes and Lara starts looking like some clumsyy idiot, the way most avatars end up looking in contemporary games.

The second problem is that the action bits are lot more stressing and difficult. Even on easy mode. The complicated controls don't help obviously. When you're being attacked by wolves and you have to press three or four buttons to find one that does something half-useful, you're already half dead.
I know I am completely inept at games but for me that's not what Tomb Raider was about. It was an exploration, an adventure. Not some kind of decathlon. Playing the first Tomb Raider filled you with wonder and made you feel relaxed and happy and thankful. This one just does the usual bit of frustrating you for failing and not much more.

Overall the elegant simplicity of the first game's design is completely lost, in favour of the typical juvenile run, jump and shoot rubbish that passes for computer games these days. As if we all got ten years younger rather than older...

A Tomb Raider remake aimed squarely at the people who played the first would be an interesting idea... keeping in mind that these people are all in their thirties or older... nobody makes games for us anymore...
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Michael
Posted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 9:00 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I'm at the level in Tomb Raider Anniversary that they have in the PC demo. It involves finding no less than three coggs to make some convoluted gear system work that will probably open some gate somewhere. I don't mind the absurdity of the situation as much as the moronic run and jump session that they make me redo over and over again to get to these cogs. They make you zig-zag through a relatively small space using all the gadgets and controls in the game, sometimes in unexpected ways (shoot the bridge that you just walk over in order to get a point to which your grappling hook can connect! Confused ). So I just jumped and ran down that same path over and over again, the realistic situation combined with the unrealistic controls punishing me severaly for every little mistake. Mistakes that were caused in the first place by absolute unclarity of what I'm supposed to be doing. Also, as usual in contemporary games, it's more about figuring out what the designer intended than actually looking at the environment and solving the puzzle.

In the same amount of time it took me to get frustrated with Tomb Raider Anniversary, I had passed by dangerously swinging blades in an anvient palace, found my way through dark caves to find an underwater stream and enchanting waterfall, discovered in sombre garden that was populated by... dinosaurs coming after me, succesfully killed them and discovered a way through the tunnel maze. And that's the true difference between the classic that Tomb Raider 1 is and the new-fangled games, including its own anniversay edition! Tomb Raider 1 is designed to allow you to experience an adventure, an adventure that you can tell stories about to your friends. Tomb Raider Anniversary is a game! Shocked It's all about challenges and overcoming them, about very abstract and systematic interactions that make you hate your avatar and want to do very cruel things to her. Gone is the admiration for Lara Croft's strength and the joy you share with her about discovering strange and wonderful worlds. Now it's all about moving pawns on a board, and making the numbers add up. And doing that with worst designed tools for the job. Crying or Very sad

I think American McGee had a point, in the interview we did with him: modern games are often more about simulation than about playing. For him, this lead to a preference for more traditional games. But in the same spirit, it leads me to a preference for having fun. Modern games seem so pre-occupied with being "r e a l i s t i c" that they forget about the reason why most people play them: to have a little bit of fun, to relax, to be entertained.

Also, it seems to me that modern games mistake the frustration caused by convoluted gameplay mechanics with the excitement and thrills that action movies give you. I'll admit that the emotions lie close together but they are quite different. The former take you out of the experience, out of the story, and involve you in a battle with the game designer, rather than the game itself. While the latter pull you in, add to the experience, make you empathise with the situation and the characters in it.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 9:01 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Tomb Raider Anniversary is retarded. I can't play for five minutes without needing to look at a walkthrough. I was stuck on some stupid jump jump swing thing and now there's a Boss Round... A boss round in Tomb Raider!? What is this? 1986?? Some T-Rex is snapping at me while I keep unloading my guns at him, trying to stay alive awake in the process.

Game designers don't seem to understand that people play for fun. Killing the monster is fun. Being killed by it is not. Have to press the same button on a game controller repeatedly for half an hour is not fun. Really, you don't need to read Huizinga to know that, do you?
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Michael
Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 2:57 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Thanks to this tutorial I found a spot where the T-Rex couldn't hurt the avatar.



I put her on top of a rock behind an invisible collision object and pressed R1 about 1000 times (I'm not kidding! I counted.), taking care that I didn't press to quickly because that would provoke the monster to snap at Lara which might push her out of the safe location.

I'm happy that I cheated because the reward for all that trouble was...: a cog! A third cog for some machine somewhere else. I had forgotten all about it. It's as if the game designers-marketeers are mocking you: "you're just a cog in our machine".

After that there was a convoluted linear path of using the different buttons to make Lara jump as a monkey. When it's easy, this is kind of pleasant with some vague second-hand Ico charm. But then they make it hard again and so after a few minutes of relative joy, I'm stuck again.

I'm playing on easy mode.

The original Tomb Raider did not need an easy mode. It was well designed instead.
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Wildbluesun
Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 12:10 am Reply with quote
Joined: 12 Dec 2006 Posts: 4266 Location: London, Land of Tea and Top Hats
Michael wrote:
The original Tomb Raider did not need an easy mode. It was well designed instead.


XD

I saw this YouTube video of someone playing a boss level in some MMO somewhere (lots of somes). The boss had this great big long health bar, and then dots under the health bar that were extra health bars. And this someone was uploading videos at the 12 hour mark, 24 hour mark etc...why? Why bother? It's like when I gave up on Rayman 3 because there were too many enemies and not enough pretty backgrounds.
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Michael
Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 9:10 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Indeed. See also this thread.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 6:03 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I almsot lost faith in the old Tomb Raider when I kept failing at grabbing a ledge after a running jump, falling and dying after running out of health packs after a few tries. Then I went to "Lara's Home", the tutorial. Lara explained the running jump to me and I realised how easy it really was. I was trying to hit the grab button just in time but in fact what you need to do is press it as soon as she is in the air. Which makes it a lot easier.
I went back and succeeded in one try. (To find a cog, by the way. Twisted Evil )

No such luck in the new Tomb Raider, where I'm stuck on an impossible series of jumps. And there's no trick to doing them. It's mattter of skill.

The first Tomb Raider allows you to pretend to be an acrobat. Lara does some amazing jumps but the controls for making her perform them are relatively easy. In the new game, you have to actually be an acrobat. They don't need you to make the actual jumps but you are required to coordinate the pressing of buttons in a similar way. There's not trick to it. You have to be good at it.

This sounds a lot like sports.
Is that the difference between the old and the new game?
The original Tomb Raider is about the fundamental joy of playing while Tomb Raider Anniversary and its kin are about sports and the adrenaline- and testosteron-fueled emotions connected to sports. Is this why I dislike contemporary game design so much? Because they are sports rather than games? I have always detested sports. Not just because of the physical silliness but also because I dislike the idea of competition as such. The concept of winners and losers seems barbaric to me.

I'm stuck now in both Tomb Raiders. Confused But the difference is telling. In Anniversary they want me perform a very difficult acrobat sequence. And I can't do it. In the original Tomb Raider I'm stuck because I can't find the machine to put the cogs in. Or any other way out of the valley that I'm trapped in.
The difference is that the latter can be solved by looking around carefully to find something I hadn't noticed before. And in the worst case scenario, to look it up in a walkthrough. In either case, I'll get through it. In the new game however, I just need to have the skill to do that jump. If I don't have it, no walkthrough can save me. And since it is a linear game, this basically means I have to stop playing. This happened to me recently in Shadow of the Colossus as well. And in numerous other games. However much I enjoyed playing the game, a stupid physical test prevented me from continuing the adventure. I hate sports.
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axcho
Posted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:07 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 11 Jun 2007 Posts: 66
I'm curious - how would you compare sports and martial arts in the context of games?
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Redkora
Posted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 10:43 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 16 Mar 2007 Posts: 1491 Location: Here.
One thing that irked me about the Tomb Raider series is that they kept adding more things the player has to do in order to complete a mission. It started with having to sprint and use vehicles in TR 2, and it went on from there. This is the main reason I stopped playing Tomb Raider: Legends.

Other than the awesome graphics (for the time) and the great story, the controls were simple. You were there to explore ruins, solve puzzles, and kill baddie--that's all. Now, they're trying make something more complicated than it has to be. I didn't care for going through modern environs, either.

Michael is right:
Quote:
The original Tomb Raider did not need an easy mode. It was well designed instead.


I wish they would just re-release the original. The only changes they would need is to make it compatible with the machines people have now.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 12:08 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
axcho wrote:
I'm curious - how would you compare sports and martial arts in the context of games?

I don't know much about martial arts, I'm afraid. I guess it would depend on whether they are done competitively or not?
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Michael
Posted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 12:17 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
This overload of things to do in a game is a contemorary "disease". It's not just Tomb Raider. Perhaps they felt it was required for the game to be "modern". I feel, though, that all those features are just there to cover up for mediocre design.

I do think, however, that the primitive state of technology at the time when they made the first Tomb Raider actually helped them make a good game. There was not a lot you could do back then, technically, so every little thing you did better be very good. Now you can do everything. And everything is done in a mediocre way.

Redkora wrote:
I wish they would just re-release the original. The only changes they would need is to make it compatible with the machines people have now.

It still runs on my Playstation 2.

I actually like that they made new environments based on the old ones. It's like revisting the same areas with a different set of eyes or something. Some of the new environments are quite well done, even if they don't approach the sublime quality of the original. But it's kind of easier to make something beautiful in a stylized way than to make something beautiful that looks realistic (Mondrian needed a lot less talent and skill than Rembrandt...). I can understand that it is impossible for a big budget game to choose for low polycount models and low resolution textures. But I believe you can make beautiful things with high polycounts and high resolution textures. It just requires a different approach.
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Redkora
Posted: Wed Jul 04, 2007 8:40 am Reply with quote
Joined: 16 Mar 2007 Posts: 1491 Location: Here.
I got the game a couple of days ago, and I agree that I like the way they took the old surroundings and put their own twist on it. I liked seeing a room and thinking, "Hey, I remember this!"

But yeah, I pretty much agree with you on most of the major points you brought up in the first few posts about Tomb Raider: Anniversary. I miss the feeling of adventure and awe. I miss feeling a deep appreciation for the story and feeling excited about ancient civilizations for the first time (even if they don't include Scions).

This game would not irritate me so much, if at all, if it just had simple controls. Challenging, fun puzzles can be designed with simple character controls in mind.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Jul 04, 2007 10:48 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Today I realized another problem. It's purely cosmetic but it has great impact on the story and the feeling you have as a player. It's the sounds and animations of the main character.

The Lara of the original Tomb Raider was a sophisticated lady who was in full control of her body. She could do anything she set her mind to. And when she bumped into the wall, out came a very sensual "ooh". I used to claim that the success of Tomb Raider came from the sexy moaning and groaning of the protagonist.

This new Lara however jumps around like a monkey. Each jump is violent and painful. Perhaps this is more realistic but it makes her feel a lot less ladylike and in control. She is violently thrown around by the forces of physics that she used to control so well. The camera extends this experience by always being in the wrong place.
And to make sure that you detest the protagonist deeply, the sounds she makes when jumping or falling, seem to be recorded from somebody puking in a bucket after a heavy night out. The new Lara sounds likes she's constantly gagging on something.

It's a horrible feeling to have to play this character. It makes me feel nervous and disgusted. I don't respect her. And almost every play sessions ends with wanting to see her die. At least this Lara is easy to kill.
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