The Interview with Richard Morton

Richard Morton was a level designer for Tomb Raider 2-6, an artist and writer for Tomb Raider 4-6, lead game designer for Tomb Raider 3-6 and environmental artist. Richard kindly took some time to answer a number of questions. The questions were devised with the help of Tomb Raider of the Unforgettable Core Design.

How did you start working in Core
Design?

I started working at core after being made redundant from Hi-Tec in Sheffield,
myself and a coder called Gary Antcliffe were given an interview after our boss
at Hi-Tec had a round of Golf with Jeremy Heath-Smith.

What was the most challenging part
of when you first started to work on your first Tomb Raider game?

I’d say it was learning the Editors, both the level editor & Anim edit had to
be mastered along with importing models, animations and textures into Anim edit,
there models would be textured and the animation behaviours set-up ready for
coding. Part of this process also involved learning 3DS Max and Photoshop.

What was the inspiration for the
very first level you designed?

Myfirst TR level was in TR2, it was the Tomb of Xian. I drew most of my
inspiration from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Big Trouble in Little
China and The Golden Child.

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Left to right
Upper Row: Darren Wakeman, Richard Morton, Andy Sandham, Lara, Paul Douglas, Tom Scutt, Chris Coup.
Lower Row: Richard Flower, Jamie Morton, Peter Duncan, Phil Chapman

What parts of mythology and architecture inspired the design of the levels and the artwork? For example, what
parts of Egyptian mythology inspired you for levels in TR4.

Weheavily researched ancient mythology for all relevant locations throughout the
TR series, AOD was the exception to a degree as we were writing our own
mythology with Murti. With TR4 we drew on many different aspects of Egyptian
culture and Mythology, by using real locations and adding a mythical twist or
exaggeration of reality to make a more interesting level for the player. We
drew on the legends of Seth (Set) vs Horus as the main story backbone of TR4,
also taking cues from the typical ‘Curse of the Mummy’ legends right down to
creating our own mythology with Creatures like the Sphinx.

Which was your favorite game that you worked on and why?  

TR4 was my fave for sure, I felt we were in a very good place as a team, we were
firing on all cylinders, we knew what the engine could do and what else we
wanted from it. We nailed a great story set in only two geographical locations
(Cambodia and Egypt) so we could really focus on the characters and how their
storylines unfolded. We also had a kick-in-the-balls ending which was planned,
not an afterthought (as some articles may suggest)

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Richard Morton at the Core Design offices circa 1998

What was the most challenging?

AOD for sure, we were working with unfinished PS2 hardware for over a year so we didn’t
fully know what it was capable of. We didn’t have the same world editor from
the PS1 TR games so we were building a way more complex game on new hardware
without the robust and reliable editors. It just took too long to get where we
needed to be, I’m still proud of AOD, I think we accomplished so much in that
game that has laid the groundwork for what has come afterwards.

We were told that Tomb Raider
Chronicles had levels that were conceptualized for Tomb Raider Last Revelation.
What levels from Chronicles were originally to be in Last Revelation?
How did the story originally go to involve them?

I’m not sure where you were given that information but it’s untrue. The Last
Revelation was always designed to be set in Cambodia and Egypt. I think some ideas
were thrown around for older concepts as to what TR4 could have been before we
settled on The Last Revelation.

Towards the end of Chronicles,
we are put in levels in which stealth is very important to get through them.
Was this to prepare the gamer for the release of Angel of Darkness?

Yes, in a way it was, we were under pressure to include stealth gameplay more and
more as the series progressed.

Peter Connelly released a video that had a woman named Putai, a Shaman, that awakens Lara in the design
from AOD.  Originally, was there to be a level to explain how Lara was
resurrected from the tomb crumbling around her in the Last Revelation?

Yes, the Shaman was to play a big role in AOD, as you can see from the video we got
far enough into production that fully rendered and musically scored movie
sequences were made with her in them. Demean Sequences showing how the Shaman
nursed Lara back to health. We had a training level planned which was set
inside a giant cave, the Shamans den. In this cave the Shaman would guide Lara
through her new moves and controls, the Shaman could take the form of a woman
and transform into a spectral Hawk, the hawk would show Lara the way if she was
lost. This gameplay was to extend into the story levels of the game too, with
the Shaman contacting Lara through the Scarab Pendant Lara now wore around her
neck. As Lara came across a new move in the story levels the player could
choose to practise the move in ‘dream time’ back in the Shamans cave.

In the Angel of Darkness there are many locked doors.  With cheats you can go through them and are able to
see portions of the game that were unfinished or not used in the marketed game.
This leads us to wonder how much was removed and if you had examples of
such?  

We chopped and changed the level layouts quite a lot in AOD, especially in the
Parisian street levels. I wouldn’t say there was much that was removed, but
certain assets may have been swapped around. The big level that was partially
built but removed was the Parisian scrapyard.

Murti told us that there was a glitch after Lara and Kurtis are knocked out outside the Louvre as there
should be another cutscene to explain how Lara got the periapt shard.
Any details on the cutscene?

I’ve included a document which should explain the list cutscene and many other bits
and bobs. For the answer to this question please look at cutscene – point 6.21
at the bottom of page 9 continuing on page 10

What was the original concept of having Von Croy’s stick? Why is it an item that you can pick up? 

The stick was meant to be a link from Last Revelation to AOD as its the head of Set. Originally there was meant to be
another flashback cutscene showing Lara getting trapped beneath the pyramid and
her rescue by the shaman, the end of that scene was meant to blend into the
shot of the stick.

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Using money in the game you can buy the gun from Luddick and can bribe the bouncer to get to Bouchard.
What else could you originally do with money in AOD?  

The currency was to play a much bigger part, with energy in the form of food being
bought, ammo, information. The plan was to have much more of Parisian life
being interactive to the player, allowing Lara into shops to buy or barter
items she needs to succeed.

There were also many animations that were not used in the final game.  Were there any notable uses of
these you wanted to see happen?  

Kurtis had many moves that didn’t end up in the final game. In the FMV sequences
we see Kurtis using Psychic powers do control his Glave weapon. I had many more
powers designed for Kurtis… He could Farsee, which was an ‘out of the body’
flying power. You can see very similar powers to Kurtis in the game Beyond Two
Souls.

With the advancements of graphics and technology there must have been a lot of changes in workflow and creation
between Chronicles and AOD.  Can you describe the changes you felt?  

The gap in detail was huge, we’d gone from
creating levels from boxes and pyramids to creating free form geometry that
could look exactly like the real thing (within poly limits of course) this took
way longer than we thought, especially when we added the collision maps. We
originally intended to have a streaming engine too, but we couldn’t get it to
work efficiently at the time, so levels had to be redesigned and restructured
to compensate.

There was a video leaked that was for Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition for PSP.  This was designed
and created by Core mirroring the original game more than TRA that was released
by Crystal Dynamics.  With so many similarities with the original TR1
what were the main differences between TRAE and TR1?

We had a completely new control system for Lara, very similar to the Free Running
controls, which allowed her to be far more athletic and agile when traversing
the levels, especially the jumping and climbing. Lara could lock on two
independent enemies at once or concentrate her firepower on a single target. We
had a new character Melissa Croft who was Lara’s cousin, the player could
choose to play Lara or Melissa in single player. In co-op mode the two
characters would work together to solve puzzles. We reimagined the levels so
they were familiar but not a carbon copy of the originals, so the player would
still be challenged. We added a totally new last level called Escape from
Atlantis – Atlantean War Machine.

Was TRAE meant to be made just for PSP or for PC and consoles as well?

It was developed on PC and PSP but also ran on PS2 as well. So could easily have
been released on all of those formats.

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In concept form and even once the levels are drawn out there are many differences to the completed
project. What are some of the notable changes on the games you worked on
from concept to finished project?

Each and every level I’ve worked on or managed ends up getting modified in some way,
most only require small tweaks but others need larger modifications. Sometimes
what feels right on paper just doesn’t work in the engine. Nowadays most of the
design work is done on paper and in the white box prototype phase but back in
the TR Editor it was far quicker and easier to plan on paper then build.

My Temple of Xian in TR2 had to be cut in half because it didn’t fit in memory.
Pretty much all of the first couple of level of AOD were chopped and changed
around especially where the game actually started (originally on a rooftop,
then in an alleyway. Finally, in the courtyard)

Have you played the newer Tomb Raider games by Crystal Dynamics?  What are your thoughts on them?  

I love the last two crystal games Tomb
Raider [2013]
and Rise of the Tomb
Raider
. For me they capture the exploration aspects of the originals that
precious Crystal TR games just didn’t have. It’s a shame that most of the
actual tombs were side missions rather than being in the main story.

As the level designer and an artists you had a lot of input on the feel of the Tomb Raider classics.
How do you feel about the direction the story of the new games has taken?
What would you have done different?

I love how the newer games look, I actually love how they’ve taken a step back
and showed us the very beginning of her adult tomb raider career. The weapons
work well especially the bow. Maybe the survival aspects could have been
enhanced, but only in certain chunks of the story, maybe at the start give her
nothing and force the player to craft weapons from the surroundings, the same
mechanic could be used if Lara got captured and all weapons taken from her. I
also mentioned earlier about the tombs being treated as side missions rather
than the main story.

In theory if you had your team then with the same projects with MODERN technology what advancements in level design
and art would you take advantage of?  What ideas you wish you could have
used were thrown out because of technical limitations?

Streaming technology and the sheer amount of memory and power would allow us to create
some truly gobsmacking levels. In AOD the whole Parisian location was designed
as one big streaming level with multiple routes through it, but it was far
ahead of its time and couldn’t work on ps2.

A persistent world with night and day moving in cycles would be an amazing tool
to have in TR, shadows casting on objects at certain times of day would be a
cool puzzle mechanic.

Fans analysed Phil Campbell’s notes on the cancelled TR4:Gold and created their own vision of the game,
some are still improving the controls, graphics and other aspects for the AOD.
What are your thoughts on such fan dedication? Any particular fanmade TR project that impressed you? 

All TR fan made projects and material impresses me greatly because it’s from the
heart, it’s what drives the fans. I take my hat off to them all. The AOD sequel
project that was running for a while looked awesome, TR4-Gold looks cool. The
AOD novel was great. There are way too many great projects to mention.

Kurtis was an interesting character with great potential, but there’s still a lot of mystery around him. Probably
many of his abilities were cut out of the final build, so could you tell us
more about this?  Did you want to implement an upgrading system for his
special powers in The Angel of Darkness (or in the following entries) a bit
like RPG games? 

Kurtis was my biggest regret in AOD, we had so many great things planned for him, I
designed so many cool gameplay situations around his powers. When we were told
that we just didn’t have time to implement any of his powers my heart sank, I
had to redesign all of Kurtis’s gameplay sections to use just a gun instead of
all his abilities such as his Chirugai Blade (glave weapon) as seen in
cutscenes, his control system was to allow Kurtis to target on multiple enemies
in slow-mo and ‘tag’ them with a psychic marker, then throw the blade which
would arc through the air and take all the baddies out, the trade-off being
that Kurtis was vulnerable whilst targeting the enemies before theoing the
blade. Another ability was his Farsee ability, which again rendered Kurtis
vulnerable as he meditated and performed a ghost walk or out-of-body
experience, which allowed him to fly through curtail doors and walls (a lot
like the ghost powers in beyond two souls)

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Rumour has it the players could play as Eckhardt for brief segments of the game in the Alpha version. Where
these sequences flashback about the Black Alchemist’s past or were they set in
the present days?

Sorry but there were no plans for Eckhardt as a playable character in AOD, we did toy
with the idea of Lara or Kurtis wearing his Glove at some point though.

Is it true that, in the Beta version, the player could move the camera, and do the classic 180° flip as
described in the official guide of the game?

Yes, this is true, about 6 months before release we designed and implemented a
different control system for Lara, it worked really well and was a bit like the
modern 3rd person controls you see today, given more time I’m sure we could
have made them work perfectly, but we had to revert back to the system that was
in the released version of the game. Please play Free Running on PSP and PS2
for an idea of what we had running.

While creating the game world and the various environments, did you take inspiration from real existing places
(for example, the urban streets of Paris and Prague)?

Yes, we took much inspiration from existing places and had quite a few ‘research’
trips to various locations including London with its many Museums and street
architecture and also Paris with the Louvre as its centrepiece. The team almost
got kicked out of the Louvre because someone took pictures of the security
systems, camera equipment was also in danger of getting stolen in the Parisian backstreets.
It would have been nice to visit some of the more exotic locations but tight
schedules didn’t allow for this, our substitute was the internet and many trips
to the library to research the many reference books

Kurtis and Lara were initially meant to collaborate in some levels of the alpha game to achieve some tasks. Was this
collaboration only in relation to the puzzles or was it extended to the
combats, too?

It was mainly for puzzle purposes and would have worked very similar to the latest
Uncharted game, with Lara helping Kurtis onto a ledge, Kurtis opening a door
for Lara, etc… the difference being that the player could switch between
which character they controlled as the level progressed.

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Had Core kept the franchise and still be in charge of developing the sequels, how would you picture Tomb
Raider today? Do you believe it would be similar to what we have now or not?

Not really the same as what we have. I believe the AOD story arc would definitely
have been fleshed out as a trilogy as was always planned, there was so much
more to reveal about the characters and locations it would have only got better
and better. Kurtis was planned to have his own spin off series of games too,
with him dipping in and out of future Tomb Raider games and vice-versa with
Lara. I think we would have ended up with either a full blown game or a
scenario within a game depicting Lara’s early adult Tomb Raider adventures kind
of like what Crystal have done with the latest two games, we’d always had
elements of our storylines that show the history of Lara’s life.

With regards of the 20th anniversary, of course it’s hard to tell, but do you think Core would’ve made
another remake (TR2 this time) like they planned to do with 10th AE?

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Not sure about TR2, I think remaking the first one was the Anniversary everyone wanted to see. If it
had sold well enough it would have been difficult to refuse remaking the whole
set of games ala Uncharted Collection.

Do you feel today’s games are less challenging to players due to more linear level design, more forgiving traps
and puzzles, built-in help, etc.? And, if so, is that a good or bad thing?

I think games on the whole are way less hardcore than they used to be (with a few
exceptions) Tomb Raider is not different. Even in the PS1’s lifecycle we had to
make adjustments for the more casual gamers that were emerging, people just
don’t want to retreat the same ground they’ve just played through if they’ve
died, so we put either lots more invisible checkpoints in or allow save anywhere.
In the 80’s and 90’s games were mostly played by children and teens, but as the
demographic got older and the teens became adults with more responsibilities
and less time to play games, the nature of how games are played had to change.

Please discuss how you and the team found the “sweet spot” when setting the difficulty level of the
classic games. Were there places you feel you missed the mark or levels you
might have done differently in hindsight?

Difficulty is always the most difficult thing to balance and get right. After levels were
completed I’d sit down and play each level and write notes on how it could be
made clearer to the player, or harder depending on how far the level was in the
game. We’d get pages and pages of useful feedback from the test department and
further adjustments were made. I always hated the instant deaths that certain
traps would demand, I still hate them today but you just can’t get around
certain scenarios such as jumping off a cliff or into a bottomless chasm, the
player has to die. In hindsight I’d say quite a few levels were too hard, such
as The Kayak level in TR3, Temple of Xian in TR2.

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Most of the classic games include at least one level where Lara has no weapons. Did these present any special
challenges in terms of level design?

Yep, we liked to use this mechanic. It allowed us to perform a reset on Lara’s
weapon cache and also force a bit of sneak or stealth gameplay. It was actually
nice to design these levels because they broke up the gameplay and allowed us to
breathe a little before ramping up the difficult again.

Can you clarify the Chronicles timeline? Where did each chapter take place in relation to the events in TR1,
2, 3, and 4? Young Lara sure got around, and it seems like Larson and Pierre
have died more times than most mortals are entitled to. 😉

This is a tricky one… Rome I think was set before the first Tomb Raider game.
Russian Base & Sub was set between TR2 and TR3. Black Isle was set before
TR1. VCI Headquarters was set Between TR3 and TR4 I think.

Without necessarily getting into the politics, could you talk about what was going to be included in the 10th
Anniversary Edition from Core?

Basically we wanted to remake the original but as mentioned earlier, put a twist on each
level to make them different and give the player a fresh challenge. We had new
moves such as wall running and a far more fluid control system to reflect
Lara’s athletic abilities more accurately. We also had a whole new final level
planned with Lara battling against a huge Atlantean War Machine piloted by
Natla.

Have you played the 2013 reboot and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the LC games, Lara Croft GO? Impressions? And if you
are following the new games, as a player, what would you like to see next?

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I am a Tomb Raider fan like the rest of you guys now, I’ve played all of the new
games after Core, including Anniversary which was difficult for me because I
knew our version was better. The first couple of Crystal D games were a very
mixed bag, which looked pretty but just didn’t feel like tomb raider. Lara
Croft GO is amazing, I loved how they stripped it right back to the essential
puzzle gameplay, the graphical style was awesome too. The last two Crystal D
games have really impressed me, I think they’ve finally got Tomb Raider on the
right track, maybe it can regain it rightful place as top of the Action
Adventure games, after all Lara would kick Drakes Ass right? As a player I’d
like to see another TR game following the choose the next location as used in
TR3, with today’s tech they could really go to town on it, allow for a
storyline versatile enough to allow the player some choices that take the game
in different directions, I don’t think open world would be the right path, but
a world map with a branching story path would be cool, allow Lara to really
explore the globe.

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