It’s ok; you weren’t the only one who was confused by the addition of a multiplayer mode for the Tomb Raider reboot. What’s more surprising though is that Deus Ex developers Eidos Montreal are behind it. We spoke to Multiplayer Producer Joe Khouri of Eidos to find out what the deal is.
Strategy Informer: So-
Joe Khouri: Your first question is going to be “Why?” Right?
Strategy Informer: Well... yeah. I mean it’s not like you guys have a lot of experience with multiplayer modes in the past. I imagine this was a bit of a learning curve for you guys?
Joe Khouri: You’d be surprised. Not everybody started off at Eidos Montreal working on other projects, we all come from certain games that have multiplayer components, and we’ve worked on multiplayer titles before. That was the whole idea behind building a team for it, and building it in Montreal, because Montreal has a lot of talented studios working there. Finding people with experience in multiplayer, it’s not easier to find per say but there’s a lot more choice available. But yeah, I’ve had experience building third-person, action/adventure titles; other people have had shooter experience.
Strategy Informer: You mentioned that your team had been working on Multiplayer for two years so far? It’s surprising then that Deus Ex: Human Revolution didn’t have a multiplayer mode.
Joe Khouri: Oh yeah... *laughs* you’d have to ask the Deus Ex team. I wasn’t around when they made Deus Ex. I think with every title you need to evaluate what you can do, I mean it’s not easy putting a team together to deliver that kind of experience, singleplayer, multiplayer etc... And for whatever reason the team decided to focus on singleplayer, I mean it’s a huge challenge just getting Dues Ex out the door.
For Tomb Raider that’s the advantage though – you have one team working on Lara’s experience in single-player, and then us up in Montreal working on the multiplayer. We were lucky, well, maybe not lucky, but we had the luxury of being able to afford that chance.
Strategy Informer: What’s interesting here though is that Tomb Raider has always been a very personal journey between Lara Croft and the player. How do you take this highly solo experience and translate that to the online space?
Joe Khouri: Well that’s not going to change – it’s going to be all about Lara in the singleplayer. But if you look at the videos we’ve shown, Lara is not alone on that island. She meets other shipmates, she meets other scavengers who don’t want her to leave... so she does meet other people. The earlier Tomb Raiders were all about Lara on her adventure alone, but in this one she encounters other people on her side and against. So the story element for this gave us a bunch of characters that we could use who players would know, and could play around with in Multiplayer.
Strategy Informer: In a lot of single-player games/modes recently, there’s been a slow, but sure, eradication of the HUD. What do you guys think of this development as far as multiplayer is concerned? Do you feel the need to try and keep up with it?
Joe Khouri: This is another perfect example of dividing single-player and multiplayer directions. You can get away with it in single-player – I mean there’s information that needs to be displayed, when you’re in an attack mode or combat mode, and then it fades away when you’re exploring. In Multiplayer it’s a little bit different, the gameplay and your sense of understanding of your status depends on certain visual clues, so it’s very difficult. There are certain things like a health bar that you can omit by having blood splashes on the screen... but how do you display how many bullets you have left? Or arrows for the bow? Sure, you can show the quiver maybe for the bow, but not all of the guns are that visible. So there are other ways of doing it, like Dead Space’s health bar, but there are other things that we can display simply with a HUD.
Strategy Informer: Tomb Raider is shipping with four modes – Team Deathmatch & FFA as standard modes, and then the more thematic ‘Rescue’ and ‘Cry for help’ modes. Do you think multiplayer games always have to have a Team Deathmatch?
Joe Khouri: Very, very good question. I think for the sake of being familiar, they might. We acknowledge that this isn’t necessarily the mode that’s going to set us apart, and that’s reflected in the other modes... but it’s easy. You can’t ship a game with just a Team Deathmatch though, that was not what we wanted to be our ‘defining’ factor of Tomb Raider multiplayer. IT was going to be something where we’d studied and researched the single player, and re-created that experience in Multiplayer. And that’s where the more co-operative team-based modes come from. Could you get away with not having a Team Deathmatch? You could, but then is it bad to include it? I don’t think so... ultimately people will flock to the mode they want to play and having the option is a good thing I think.
Strategy Informer: When trying out the multiplayer mode ‘Rescue’, we couldn’t help but feel the XP gain was biased towards people who got to complete the objectives. Obviously only one person can complete the objective, and everyone else has to help and essentially lose out on the points.
Joe Khouri: Ah, but you could have gotten more points by triggering traps. Once you learn how the system works in terms of getting XP and ‘Salvage’ – the currency in the game – you realise that there are things you can do, like setting traps, to balance things out. The main objective is not necessarily to shoot and get med kits. As survivors you can set traps, and then when you catch people in those traps you get more points. Being a supporting element in your team isn’t only about following them and shooting anyone who gets in your face, it’s about clearing the path for them as well.
Strategy Informer: How do you intend to make this information more available to the player? We saw some of the taps you could use from your loadouts, but we never really found a ‘right’ situation to use them.
Joe Khouri: But that’s not the only traps we’re talking about – there are natural traps in the game. For example one of the levels has a snare trap, there’s also a spike trap. There’s the Sandstorm... there are level-specific traps than anyone can set, as well as what you can equip like mines and the fake ammo pack. But all these elements allow the med pack carrier to have a safer route back.
Strategy Informer: Speaking of the sandstorm thing, it seems oddly out of sync with the ethos of the game. Everything else is pretty much grounded in reality to some degree, or at least is a reasonable abstraction of reality, but last time I checked no-one could actually cause a sandstorm to happen just by ringing a bell.
Joe Khouri: I don’t know, have you tried? There is an element of the ‘supernatural’ in this Island. For us to allow the players to experience this though, we have to break reality just a little bit. Other maps deal with this more realistically, but for this specific map, we went back and forth with the idea, but ultimately we felt we had to break reality just a little bit here. But it’s simple, it’s understandable, a lot of times players have to push a button to achieve something, even if it isn’t mechanically accurate or whatever. It allows players to get used to the mechanic and quickly move past the fact that it’s unrealistic. We also wanted one side to feel positive effects, and another side to feel negative effects, so it is literally a game-changer. This allows you to choose when you trigger it, and you can get points for triggering it as well so your role could just be the guy who triggers the sandstorms. In terms of timing this could mean the difference between winning and losing. We’ve had a few matches in the office where the Scavengers are ahead, but the survivors trigger a sandstorm and our team loses track of everything. In the meantime the survivors manage to get two more med packs back in the base. Used correctly, it could be a game changer.
Thanks to Joe for agreeing to talk to us. It might not be the biggest selling point of the game, but Tomb Raider’s multiplayer isn’t looking that bad at the moment. With only 2/4 unique modes though, Eidos Montreal is going to have to keep working on it after release for it to truly evolve into something special.