Now I that have had the time to recover from the madness and general awesomeness of last week, I am able to write down my thoughts and experiences from this year’s E3 event.
I was very lucky to have been asked to attend the event a few weeks ago, with my travel and accommodation being sponsored by Square Enix.
It was a very long journey from London to Los Angeles, on top of the additional delays with our connecting flight in Iceland and a 90-minute delay on the tarmac when we landed at LAX, and THEN customs… But we finally made it to our hotel, where we met up with fellow ambassadors from around the world. From the get-go we could see we were going to be spending the trip with a bunch of fantastic people! I have listed their names and sites below, so be sure to check them out!
Emma – Okh Eshivar – USA
Hedi – Tombeau Croft – France
Jonathan – Lara Daily – Brazil
Rui – Lara Croft BR – Brazil
Vitor – Tomb Raider Place – Brazil
Junjun – Tomb Raider China – China
Quentin – Pilleurs de Tombes – France
Juan – The New Tomb Raider Stuff – Mexico
The ambassadors about to head off to their first day at E3!
Unfortunately, since we were so late flying in on the Monday, we were not able to do much of the touristy stuff we had planned, so we ventured to In’n’Out Burger with some of the ambassadors and then collapsed in bed after a long day of travelling.
The next morning (Tuesday June 12th), we were picked up by our drivers and taken to Downtown LA for E3. This was the first year where consumers were allowed full access to the event, so it was understandably VERY busy. It was also obvious from the get-go that this was the organisers’ first year of dealing with such large numbers of people; the queuing system and ticket machines were all over the place and we received conflicting information from whoever we asked. After over an hour of wondering around feeling very lost, we were rescued by Morrigan Johnen (Community and Social Media Manager at Crystal Dynamics) who took us to the Tomb Raider booth, which was a pretty epic set up and really stood out as you walked into the hall. This is where we met the cosplayers Ray Croft and Jenn Croft working for the event (who fitted in so well with the amazing booth decoration), as well as Meagan Marie (Senior Community and Social Media Manager at Crystal Dynamics), who gave us a low-down on the day’s activities.
At least this part of the queue was in the shade!
We were each given a time slot where we could come back to the Tomb Raider booth and play the demo; as mine was the last slot at 6PM, there were a good few hours to kill! This meant we got to experience what else was on offer at E3 (but I won’t talk about that here, seeing as we are a Tomb Raider site! 😉)
I came back to the booth for my time slot and got to play the demo for the second time (the first time being the reveal event in London a few weeks ago). On playing it this time round, I noticed it had been massively cut down – I assume for time-keeping reasons – as many of the parts I got to play the first time round were now cutscenes. The playable part of the demo began at the entrance to a cave which led to an underground tomb. I won’t talk about my views on the demo here, however, as you can read them and the views from other members of the Survivor Reborn team here, and listen to the demo discussion podcast on our YouTube channel.
I will say, however, that it was good to play the demo again and remind myself of how much I enjoyed it, as well as taking in other smaller details that I may have missed before. The swimming is still the highlight for me (so pleased to see this back in a Tomb Raider game!) The facial expressions were also much more detailed; you could really feel the emotions in the cutscenes. I still struggled with the combat, but the fact that the difficulty level of combat can be changed (along with traversal and puzzles) is a fantastic addition to the game that I think a lot of fans will be taking advantage of – tailoring the settings to make a game that best suits them.
After playing through the demo, we got a behind-closed-doors presentation of two different sections of the game, with Arne Oehme (Level Design Director at Eidos Montreal) playing through it and Jill Murray (Lead Writer at Eidos Montreal) discussing aspects of the story and describing the areas.
As it was a behind-closed-doors presentation, we were not allowed to take any photos or video footage of what we saw, but we are allowed to talk about it, so you will find my synopsis below.
The first area we saw was a village called Paititi, which is a rebel hideout within the game; Lara starts out here by looking for a challenge tomb. It looked absolutely stunning with enormous temples and small huts, and it was full of tiny details that show that Paititi is meant to be an established village; these truly helped to make the area as immersive as possible. Jill explained that Paititi is a fictional place located in Peru, but people migrated here from as far as Mexico several centuries before, seeking refuge. The clothes that Lara was wearing in this particular part of the demo (a sort of blue garb) were given to her by the rebels who are in the middle of a conflict with the cult of Kukulkan. The locals of the area speak in Mayan and have subtitles (this will be in immersion mode), but you will have the ability to change their dialect into your own native language. You see people working, children playing etc., and you can get side missions from certain people if you go up and talk to them. It’s an open hub where you can control the pacing within the middle of the game. Can’t wait to explore this area for myself.
There also happen to be llamas in the game which you can interact with and pet within the village! Expect to see a lot of memes of Llama Croft popping up in the future!!!
On visiting the village market, we got to see the new feature: trade. This allows you to buy or upgrade outfits (some outfits you will find can’t be worn until you have repaired them) using gold as currency, but you are still able to change the outfits Lara wears within the campsite checkpoints.
The way that Jill talked about the village showed the team’s dedication to history. One example was how they consulted historians about the migration of the people from the north to south; they were advised that this did not happen. However, there is evidence of migration the other way. Jill used this to show how, while they try and stick to historical accuracy within the games, they can still take some liberties since this is a fictional story!
We got to see both a challenge tomb and a crypt; the difference, we were told, is that the challenge tombs tend to be well hidden and normally dangerous to reach, while the crypts “don’t actively try to kill you!”
The challenge tomb we saw looked like a very large and complex area with some more traditional puzzles, rather than the usual physics-based puzzles we have come to expect in the reboot series. Jill explained that they wanted to go further and deeper with the challenge tombs for Shadow than the series had done before, so don’t go in expecting the same puzzles you have played earlier in the series!
We also got to see more underwater swimming, and were told that we can look forward to underwater traps, as well as eels and piranhas! There was no breath bar, but you can see when Lara is running out of air.
The next presentation was of the Jungle area, which happens much later on in the game. This is where we saw a demonstration of some of Lara’s new combat mechanics. In this area, Lara is separated from Jonah and her arsenal has been stripped down to the basics – a knife and her bow. The aim of this section is to use camouflage and sneak tactics to your advantage.
We got to see the different options for sneak attacks on enemies, from leaping knife attacks from trees to using a new weapon called fear arrows; these allow you to turn enemies on their allies and shoot each other. There are also very graphic animations such as being able to hang enemies by tree branches or employ slow-mo knife kills on multiple enemies. Mud is also an option to use as camouflage, and you can go in and out of stealth at will giving the player much more control of the experience.
The end of the demo was a very spectacular set piece: a badass Lara shone through, saying in anger over her walkie talkie, “I am coming for you!” You really believed the anger in her voice. Lara also climbed through what looked like a refinery as it burned and exploded around her. We then had a cutscene where she fell, unconscious, into the water and had a number of flashbacks. We then saw her open her eyes and a change instantly come over her as she rose out of the water, dramatically silhouetted by flames (this shot can be seen in the latest trailer). The tension hit an amazing peak when she slowly eyed-up a wounded enemy on the floor and walked towards him, a blade in her hand. We saw the man try to drag himself away and grab a gun as she stamped on his arm… and then the screen faded to black just before we saw her deal the death blow. I was absolutely blown away by that scene and the presentation has left me wanting more of this Lara! So excited to see what the future holds with Shadow!
Finally, we were then given the opportunity to have a little Q&A session. I’ve written the main points as a bullet list because I can’t directly quote Arne and Jill’s answers:
- The combat features seen in the jungle is later on in the game. If you were to have these skills from the beginning it would not be a very fruitful experience, so you need to learn them as you progress through the game.
- Could not comment if any other friends or family members would feature within the game, only those that have been shown so far (Jonah).
- They could not confirm if Croft Manor will be returning for Shadow.
- Lara has plenty of new outfits.
- Puzzles involving timed sections like in Rise and the Reboot are still featured, but no purely time-restriction puzzles are included in the game.
- I asked Jill about the changes and growth to Lara’s personality and how it differs in Shadow compared to the previous two games. Jill explained that they feel in Shadow they are really challenging Lara by forcing her to look at herself and facing her fear that she may be becoming something that she has always hated. We already see that she has a lot of guilt on her shoulders due to taking the dagger and setting off the apocalypse. Ultimately, the aim is to have the defining moment where she becomes the Tomb Raider she was meant to be by the end of the game.
- Weapons: same weapon categories to Rise. A new feature is Lara’s crafting opportunities and abilities, so she can create custom ammo for the weapons she finds (fear arrows being one of the examples we saw in the demo.)
- The differences we see with Jonah: he has changed in the same way that Lara has – through their experiences. Lara has improved her combat while Jonah has become better and more understanding with people.
- I asked about the focus on isolation due to there not being so much of Jonah in what we have seen so far. Jill said that you can see Jonah and Lara’s friendship being really tested in Shadow, but in terms of isolation in the story you can see Lara is clearly more comfortable being by herself and doing her own thing, while she isn’t so confident with people. Arne added that there is a definite contrast when you compare the vibrancy of Paititi and its people to the darkness and isolation of the caves and tombs that Lara visits, which feels even more isolating after being somewhere like a populated village.
- Building the story. As the story is developed there are a number of people – including, but not limited to: Animation Director, Narrative Director, Creative Director, Storyboard Artists, Game Designers, Performance Director and the actors – who are involved in reviewing parts of the story or a scene; they make changes as they go according to what might happen in the level design or how an actor might feel how the scene should be played etc.
- 3 difficulty settings: exploration/traversal, combat, and puzzles. Puzzle difficulty affects the hints: you can choose to turn off Lara’s vocal hints and survival instinct.
- Eidos Montreal, although they are making the game, are still collaborating with Crystal Dynamics in the way Lara and the franchise are headed. The main area where Eidos Montreal has had free reign is gameplay.
- It’s important to remember that Eidos Montreal has worked on the franchise throughout this trilogy; they are not new to Tomb Raider in a sense, but this is the biggest part they have played in its development.
- Every writer puts an element of themselves into the characters they are writing about, but Jill didn’t think there was a massive step taking over from previous writers; all the groundwork had been laid and the background set for the characters. It was just a matter of her picking up where the story had been left by Rise.
After the presentation, we walked out of the demo room to find that the event was empty as people had already left for the day! We were ushered to our shuttles and taken back to our hotel. I think all of us were pretty much dead on our feet that evening, so a takeaway in our rooms while writing up our thoughts was all we could muster before falling into a very deep sleep!
The next day (Wednesday June 13th) we were picked up by our shuttles and taken back to the event. Again, we had issues getting in and poor Morrigan had to do a lot of bargaining and running around to make sure we got in on schedule.
Queuing became our favourite past time while at E3!!!
Eventually, we were led back through and taken to the Square Enix section of the hall where we were able to get hands on with the Jungle demo. As there were only a limited number of consoles available, we were able to watch each other traversing this new area of the game we had seen the day before. It was a very fun part to play, especially with everyone else around you getting involved and showing support. It was also great to see that final, powerful cutscene again with Lara rising out of the water surrounded by flames. It’s such a dark moment in the game; it still gives me goosebumps to think about it!
The next stop for us was the Square Enix Presents booth where we got to watch Meagan Marie interviewing Camilla Luddington and Earl Baylon for the Shadow segment of the show. If you have yet to see this, I have included the official footage here.
After the interview we were led round to the back where we had the fantastic opportunity to meet both Earl and Camilla for photos and autographs.
Was an absolute pleasure to meet both Camilla and Earl! Both were lovely!
We were then ushered out of the convention centre and walked over to the Coliseum and the panel consisting of Camilla, Earl, Jill and Darryl Purdy (Cinematic Performance Director). We were given fast-track tickets and had reserved seating, so we were able to have a great view of the panel. Again, I have posted the video below for you to watch in case you missed it.
The panel was the last of the Tomb Raider-themed events that were scheduled at E3, so for the rest of the day we had some free time to enjoy more of the event.
After E3 was done we all met up at a bar a few minutes’ walk away, where we had our last community gathering before we all parted ways the next day. It was great to meet so many people I have met online and befriended through Tomb Raider over the years face-to-face, and I am truly thankful to have had such an opportunity.
It was sad saying goodbye to everyone when our shuttle arrived to take us back to the hotel for our final night, but I think a lot of friendships were forged on this trip and I’m sure there will be plenty of reunions in the future.
I would like to say thank you again to Square Enix for letting me be a part of such a fantastic opportunity; not just to get hands-on experience with Shadow, but to be able to experience the full event that was E3 and to meet so many new amazing people with whom I will definitely be keeping in touch!
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experience, and that I have done Shadow some justice through what I have seen so far.
Written by Lori Croft. Edited by J. R. Milward.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.