Tomb Raider Underworld will without doubt be one of the biggest multi platform releases this year. We spoke to Senior Producer Sarah Van Rompaey to get more info on Lara's second next-gen adventure and some details on the graphical effects we'll be seeing.
VideoGamer.com: Legend and Anniversary are two very different games. Where does Underworld sit between the two in terms of action and adventure?
Sarah Van Rompaey: We have to keep gameplay fresh as opposed to Lara. Being able to utilise the power of next gen hardware means that we can do a lot more than previously possible, this extends to what you as a player are able to do with Lara in terms of movement and your interactivity with the environment. The environments can also be built in a much grander scale.
Lara also looks different. The Goal was to make Lara feel 3 dimensional in the way that she looks, behaves and also how she looks within the world she's operating in. She's got new facial expressions, cloth movement, hair movement and superfine detail on clothing, expressions. Her fluid movement set has also been expanded significantly,
VideoGamer.com: What engine is the game being built on?
SVR: There's an all-new engine. PC will be developed using 360 and PS3 assets so will cater to the higher end. Having said that, we are yet to finalise the specs. This has not been finalised yet
VideoGamer.com: What visual improvements will gamers see over Legend?
SVR: Each environment is a formidable adversary that the player will have to overcome. Every location is designed to elicit a wide range of different emotions and deliver the unexpected.
Key things about the environment are the:
The affects of the world will be visible upon Lara - She will get dirty, muddy and wet to varying degrees depending upon what she is doing. She will also show emotion. A new cloth system also means that her ponytail will be moved by the wind and her own actions such as running.
Animations are blended to reflect the player's situation and interaction with the environment - For instance if Lara runs through a bush she will automatically put up her hands to move it out the way. If she runs through holding a gun she will only use the hand that is free to do this.
Spherical Harmonics - a piece of lighting technology which allows the character to take colour from the ambient light of the environment; for example if Lara were to walk within green foliage, Lara's skin colour would very subtly take on a green cast. The practical effect for the player is that the character seems like a real and grounded part of the environment, rather than standing out unnaturally from it.
New Materials and Shader System - this feature recreates incredibly realistic liquid affects. Consequently when Lara is exploring any areas that are wet all surfaces will also appear to be wet. Blending multiple textures also helps recreate realistic textures of any other material - the leather of Lara's back pack, rock surfaces or spiders webs - however large or delicate. This increases the player's connection to the level and makes the overall gameplay situation more credible.
Vertex Shading/Interactive Bendies - vertex shading on objects makes them appear to be moving (think trees swaying in the breeze, bushes rustling with wildlife or long grass being pushed out the way by the character passing through). The practical effect to the player is that it reinforces the idea of a world which is alive and reactive to actions of Lara.
Dynamic Weather Effects - each level will have its own weather system to help communicate the mood of the level. The effects of the weather will be seen on the environment, for instance in the stormy Mexican level, trees will blow in the wind, clouds will be seen moving across the sky and lighting up.
VideoGamer.com: The game was recently moved to a Q4 2008 release after originally being due in the summer. Why was this?
SVR: We wanted to give Crystal Dynamics the time they needed to make what will be the best Tomb Raider to date.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time.