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Behind the Scenes: Web Addendum

  During the creation of Tomb Raider Legend - The Complete Guide, the Piggyback team conducted over eight hours of interviews with members of the Crystal Dynamics development team. If you have the guide (and if not, why not?), you may already have read the enormous Behind the Scenes feature that these appear in.

With space at a premium, and having hours of material that would be relevant to readers playing on all formats, we decided to hold back two interviews specific to the Xbox 360 version and publish them here at www.piggybackinteractive.com instead. This "web exclusive" addendum, in a tasty bite-sized Q&A format, features conversations with lead artist Drew Medina and senior programmer Rob Pavey. Both worked at the heart of the team that made the Xbox 360 version of Tomb Raider Legend so much more than a mere port, and offer many (rather technical) insights into the tricks that make it so very beautiful. We've also included interesting 360-specific excerpts from our interview with senior producer Matthew Guzenda.

These interviews are predominately spoiler free. There are a few references to levels and locations, but there's nothing of plot-shattering import, so don't feel that you need to avoid reading them before you complete the game. Readers who aren't au fait with terms like "normal mapping" and "shaders" will be pleased to find that we've included a few helpful links here and there.

1. Interview with Drew Medina (Lead Artist on Xbox 360)
2. Interview with Rob Pavey (Senior Programmer/Software Engineer on Xbox 360)
3. Interview with Matthew Guzenda (Senior Producer)

Piggyback:   Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Drew Medina:   I've been in the industry for about six years. I joined from Shiny around two years ago, where I worked on Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo.
Piggyback:   Did you work exclusively on the Xbox 360 version of Tomb Raider Legend?
Drew Medina:   I did a few levels on the PS2 version, but at that point I was one of the few people here that had experience with the next-gen technology. They gave me the project and said, "Help us get this going," and I jumped on it.
Piggyback:   What was the first Tomb Raider game you played? Were you a fan?
Drew Medina:   I've only played the first two and I love the first one - my favorite moment was fighting the dogs. I don't know why, just shooting the dogs was pretty fun for me. The thing that stuck out about the game was the traversal. I loved jumping from ledge to ledge and climbing. There weren't too many games that were purely adventure at that time - just exploring adventure, like Myst, pre-rendered images that looked great but it didn't feel immersive to me.
Piggyback:   Was this before you entered the industry?
Drew Medina:   Yeah, I was finishing art school in Philadelphia when I played Tomb Raider. The other game that got me interested was Magic Carpet - that was another one that stuck out to me. It really made me want to make games.
Piggyback:   Were you at all daunted by the prospect of working on a Tomb Raider game?
Drew Medina:   Not at all, I was as excited as I could get. I loved the Matrix universe but sticking to a greenish palette was a little hard for me, and I really wanted to get into a world where I could do interiors, exteriors, full range of colors, fantasy, beams of light. So daunting: no, not at all. I was excited as I can be and jumped right in.
Piggyback:   Which levels did you work on?
Drew Medina:   I started on Ghana working with the interiors, the hallways. I sort of started doing R&D, going into small areas of levels and giving them a look and feel, and then they asked me to go ahead and do the same for the 360 version.
Piggyback:   What did you do on the 360 version?
Drew Medina:   I started by gathering all the technology we needed. We had to decide what would be worth doing, what we could do in the timeframe, and how we could get the most out of next-gen in the amount of time we had. My first mission was lighting and shadows. I wanted to make sure we had dynamic lighting, dynamic shadows. Biggest one for me was shadows on everything, casting from everything and receiving everything. I hadn't seen that done in any game at that point. I've seen it done minimally in the Doom 3 games, which looked great, but we've had the opportunity to really push it and use shadow mapping on every object - and it speaks for itself when you see it. The next part after the lighting was normal mapping, really pushing the boundaries of getting the most out of normal material mapping to make it seem like we were using a lot more geometry than we were.

We've gotten to the point now where we're at the lowest level of CG graphics. What people were doing in 1993-94 in CG, we're doing now at that level in games in realtime. I can't express how exciting it is right now for an artist to be working in games using this technology, because what you're seeing now is just the base of what we can do and what we will do. We haven't even stepped into the whole world of shaders - we have our shaders, but there's an entire world of shaders that we can develop.
Piggyback:   What do you mean by shaders?
Drew Medina:   Shaders describe how the surface is constructed so you could have a very shiny buffed metal surface or you could have a rough wooden surface. Now the shader is the material that holds all the different aspects of that texture, so you can tweak many different settings in one shader and that'll apply that shader to six different objects and each object can be a different way. It's a way of organizing the materials when you have a material that has five different textures as ten different settings. It's just a way of assigning a material essentially. Shaders, I believe, were developed by Pixar, so now we're at the level where we're just catching up with CG.

With our ice cubes, we have the high-resolution textures, we have the realtime lighting, then we have the normal mapping and environment mapping so we have four or five different levels going on one surface. When you move the camera, you actually see the light defrag and move and deform across the surface as you rotate the camera.
Piggyback:   What do you mean by "environment mapping"?
Drew Medina:   What it does is that it fakes the material into looking like it's really reflecting a scene. It's an image that's projected onto the material and a normal map and it's based on the angle of the camera. As you move the camera, the image moves in the opposite direction. There are many ways that we can do that. We're doing it in realtime on the water surfaces: we actually have a different camera view rendering that reflection, and our waves are actually realtime normal maps, so we have a combination of those. We have the reflection, we have the normal map, and we have the diffraction.
Piggyback:   Have you worked a lot on the full screen effects for the 360 version?
Drew Medina:   Yeah. The hard part is finding a balance so that there's not too much bloom, too much brightness in a scene. You don't want every level to look like it's dreamy. You want to save those for special occasions but, at the same time, you also want to soften a scene.

Piggyback:   We spoke to some of your colleagues about moving the engine from PlayStation 2 and Xbox onto the Xbox 360, and it appears to have been a pretty linear transfer with enhancements. In terms of graphics, though, did everything have to be redone?
Drew Medina:   We had to relight the entire game for the 360. We went from static lighting, which is applied by hand like a painting, to something that is essentially closer to Hollywood set lighting. We now think about the way light flows across the surface from different angles, and we think about how shadows are going to affect the game and gameplay. We went through and covered the entire game with normal maps, and then we started putting our realtime lights in. What I'm really most excited about is we can create the kind of worlds I've always wanted to create, but I could only render before.

One of the most important things for me was getting realtime feedback from the PC to the television, so we could work in realtime. We spent a few months getting that to work.
Piggyback:   Can you explain what you mean by "from the PC to the television"?
Drew Medina:   A realtime connection, so if you move a light on the PC, it updates on the television at the same time. You're working in realtime, so it's no longer a case of building and sending: you're actually dragging a light on the PC, and getting it in the exact same spot on the TV. This is huge: we've never had this before. I was impressed by the amount of technology the programmers gave us in such a short amount of time. They're very talented guys.
Piggyback:   Did you apply the same enhancements to the cutscenes?
Drew Medina:   We relit them, just like the rest of the game. I just want to say that the base of everything we had to work with from the PS2 version was just incredible. Those guys just did such a great job. It was a pleasure to take that work, to add to it, to improve it… I wouldn't say improve it, because I love what it is, so "rework" would be the term. The cinematics we got from them were just great, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on them, add some real dynamic lights and push it a little bit further towards CG. As our version has a different look, we were able to use a little more bloom, and depth of field in the backgrounds blurring the distances.
Piggyback:   Are there any graphical features that you are particularly proud of?
Drew Medina:   The normal mapping - what it does for organic surfaces just thrills me. I mean cave walls, old bricks… the realtime normal map of our water, the waves when she jumps into the water and swims, that's normal mapping, but in realtime across the surface. I have to say that the water and the normal mapping of surfaces adds an entirely new level of realism without detracting from the scene. No longer do we have to worry about adding polygons to get certain details. If we have a wall with a relief, a sculpted relief, we don't have to do that in polygons, we can do it with a combination of polygons and normal maps. The normal maps will give us a much higher resolution than polygons would. The details you can get with a high-quality normal map is comparable to a half a million poly model. You can have a high-quality normal map, and underneath it you can start beefing up the polygons to assist the normal map, and you end up with this gorgeous looking piece of geometry.
Piggyback:   Are there any features that you would have liked to include, but could not due to technical limitations?
Drew Medina:   The biggest one I would've liked to do more of was normal mapping on particle effects to get more volumetric special effects. The effects would be normal mapped, and they would receive light in the same way that the scene does, but you'd also have this extra layer where, say, a cloud would pick up light from one side and not the other. The lighting within the cloud would be more realistic. I'd love to do more with physics on next-gen machines - spraying liquid and things like that, just throwing more physics all over the world. I'd like to see it on a pixel level, so if you throw something into the water it splashes out actual geometry and pixels. There's a lot more but I can't think of it right now. I'm so happy with what I have already. I mean, I have so many techniques, and there's just so much available on the 360 and our current engine, so I feel like I've just scratched the surface.
Piggyback:   Are there any specific moments that you had to change?
Drew Medina:   No - to me, it was purely a case of enhancing an already great game. Mostly, we had to be careful to not create too many shadows in the world that would affect the gameplay. The players have to see where they have to go next, so we had to avoid putting in lights that might obscure a gameplay area.
Piggyback:   Which moments were you most proud of?
Drew Medina:   I've been playing it constantly: there are so many fantastic moments. I love all the Super Actions. I love the Russia Super Action where she's on top of a train, because if you mess up, the way she dies is just fantastic. As an artist, some of my favorite moments were in the ice caves in Nepal. I just love jumping from ice chunk to ice chunk, with the dynamic water, the way the caves have normal mapping and this gorgeous lighting… it feels cold, and has a CG quality to it.
Piggyback:   Are there any parts where you feel that the graphical prowess of the 360 version has actually enhanced the gameplay - such as with the PLS, for example?
Drew Medina:   Yeah, in the hallways of Amahlin. With the PLS [Personal Light Source] in our game, when Lara has her arms in front of her, the light casts shadows, so you can actually see her arms on the wall. I love moments like that. There's a part in Bolivia where you're jumping from one structure to the next. As she spins up and down you see the entire structure shadowed onto the entire world so the PLS starts casting shadows everywhere, from behind grass and from behind bushes. I worked really hard at making sure that we didn't change the gameplay for our version, though: because, you know, if it's not broken, don't fix it.
Piggyback:   How many people have worked on the 360 version?
Drew Medina:   It started out with about four and, as the PS2 version was finalized, we started getting more artists from the PS2 team. We got to about 40 to 45 people, but it's been a mixture of both teams. One week some of the artists would be working on the 360, and then they would go back and help someone on the PS2 version.
Piggyback:   Was the 360 version the second biggest focus after the PS2 version?
Drew Medina:   It's right up there, I really can't say, maybe it's the same. I didn't see any difference. We had all the support we needed, we had all the tools, we had all the people, we had everything we needed throughout the entire project. If anything, we had too much support at the beginning; we had more people than we had tools ready for. But every version seems to have had the same amount of love and care dedicated to it.

Piggyback:   Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Rob Pavey:   I've been doing software engineering for around 20 years, and videogame programming since around '98. Prior to working on Tomb Raider, I worked on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King for Electronic Arts. I've worked on PC, PS2, Xbox, and this is my first title on the 360.
Piggyback:   Do you enjoy working with the 360?
Rob Pavey:   Yeah, I really enjoyed my first move up to the Xbox, but the 360 has similarly great development tools and way better graphics. We had a whole art team on the 360 version, so that meant that we could put in lots of new technical features and then have art created to use for normal maps and parallax maps. The real difference on the 360 is the lighting; everything was relit and dynamically lit, so everything casts shadows, which really makes a difference. All the textures are high resolution, and instead of having one texture, we have the diffuse texture, a normal map texture and a specular map texture.
Piggyback:   Can you explain that?
Rob Pavey:   The normal map allows us to make geometry a lot more complicated - it describes the bumpiness of the surface, and that's picked up by the dynamic lighting. We can make the levels look way more detailed. Normal maps make a surface look bumpy, so it reacts to the light. If you have a texture that looks like cobblestones on the PS2, you'd have to put lighting into the textures so that the cobblestones would have shadows on one side. It wouldn't react if we were to shine the PLS on it - the shadow wouldn't move around. With normal maps you can have that effect. The specular maps allow us to control how shiny parts of the texture are. For example, if you have a window with a window frame, the window itself would be shiny but the window frame would not. The specular map allows us to do that.

The water is one area where we decided to invest quite a lot of time in the technology, because people tend to judge next-gen on the water - they're looking for next-gen effects, so we put a lot into it. There's a lot of water in the game, pretty much half the levels have water.

We tried not to go over the top with the water. Some games tend to make water look almost like mercury, in that it's so perfectly reflected. We tried to go for a fairly subtle approach, where you see some reflection, you see through the water, and what you see through it is properly refracted. When you're in the water there's this kind of murkiness. The further away something is, the more it's refracted by the murkiness of the water.
Piggyback:   What notable features does the Tomb Raider Legend 360 engine have? Are there any specific coding feats that you're particularly proud of? Can you explain why?
Rob Pavey:   I think the big thing is the dynamic lighting with shadows. I think a lot of games just have them on certain objects. In Tomb Raider on the 360, one of the levels has very small birds that take off from the ground, and each bird has its own shadows on the ground. The water is definitely a high point in the game, one of the coolest features. I think the lighting has allowed us to create some really atmospheric environments that really show off the hardware.

You'll see a lot of places in the game where the lights are positioned so that you really notice the shadows. Right at the start of the game Lara jumps off a cliff, and then lands on a ledge where you see her come down to meet her shadow on the ledge. The artists have done a lot of tuning of the lights to get the most out of shadows like that.

On the PS2 there were some games that had dynamic lighting, but most games tended to pre-light the environments and then just dynamically light objects that move around. They could only really have shadows on a few objects. In this generation, people think you can do anything, but you still have to use a lot of tricks. If you're clever you can get shadows on everything, everything dynamically lit. I'm looking forward to the next Tomb Raider, where the game will be designed up front to take advantage of the next-gen hardware, so we can do even more with light sources moving around.

With the PS2 version, it was easier for them to tweak areas by breaking in a little more light. When everything is dynamically lit, as it is on the 360, you have a budget on the number of lights you can have affecting the camera at any time. It's more of a performance cost for us if we're putting in lots of little lights just to light one area, and it's a cost that PS2 doesn't have in the same way. I know one thing that works well for us is that, in the tombs, we've gone for darker areas than the PS2. As everything is dynamically lit, we can use the PLS [Personal Light Source]. On the 360, the PLS actually uses a spotlight to cast shadows. If you get Lara to hold her guns out in front of her while you've got the PLS on, you'll see these big shadows of the guns on the wall. This kind of thing appears in other areas - like when you're pushing a crate that's made up of steel bars and you see its shadow against a wall.
Piggyback:   Have you edited the full-screen effects for the 360 version?
Rob Pavey:   We tried to remain true to similar effects because we didn't want to reauthor everything. When you use the binoculars, we've had the power to do a nicer blur and depth of field effect. The effects have been tuned for the 360, but we haven't put in brand new full-screen effects.
Piggyback:   Are there any features that you would have liked to include, but could not due to technical limitations?
Rob Pavey:   Early on in the project we had to decide which way to go with the lighting, and we looked at games like Doom 3 and Half Life 2 as different models. For the lighting we went more down the Doom 3 approach of very much direct lighting from lights working well with pixel lighting and normal maps, rather than that kind of "global illumination" approach, which is more like simulating bounce lighting.

That was definitely the most practical way to go for us, opting for the Doom 3 style. It works really well in the tombs, but the global illumination approach gives you a lot of subtle lighting in shadowed areas and corner of rooms. That's something we'd like to do in future games.

We would have liked to have done more with reflections. We have the ability to do really great reflections, but they're expensive. Our water has a really good reflection system. We use the same system on some of the floors in Tokyo - there are shiny office floors that have full realtime reflections.
Piggyback:   Which moments in Tomb Raider Legend are you most proud of, and why?
Rob Pavey:   Certainly some of the areas with water in are really nice. In the first level, Bolivia, there's a section of an area of tomb that is flooded with fairly shallow water - the reflections look really nice. There were just areas throughout all the levels that are great. Russia comes to mind, and Arthur's Grave, where they have really beautiful shadowing and subtle lighting.

It's been fun playing the 360 version. It's surprising how much the achievements and Gamerscore come in when you're playing it. We took that into account when we designed the achievements system in Tomb Raider. We wanted a good balance, so you can't play through the game once on Easy to get all the points, but we don't want to make it so hard that you have to be a hardcore gamer to get them all.
Piggyback:   Do you think that the 360 version of Tomb Raider is going to be a defining game for the system?
Rob Pavey:   We hope so. We think it's going to come out at a pretty good time, and I think that Microsoft is pretty excited about it as well. There isn't really anything else in the same kind of genre on the 360 at the moment. We're really proud of how it looks on the 360. Some people assumed that it would be a straight port with no new art, but we actually feel it stands on its own merits as a 360 title.
Piggyback:   Is there anything else you would like to say?
Rob Pavey:   I think the main thing to get across about the 360 version is that, on another game, the 360 version might just have been a straight port where we take all the art assets from the PS2 and then make it run on the 360. We made a consciously big effort, because this is Eidos' first 360 title. We had a pretty large art team and a team of four engineers working on it for over a year, so we're pretty proud that it stands up in its own right as a 360 title.

Piggyback:   How do you feel about Tomb Raider Legend on the 360?
Matthew Guzenda:   I am pretty excited by the 360 version, especially as we did it in relatively short time and with a small team. Looking at what other people have done, I'm very proud of the look of the game. When we first started we were really worried about how it would look, and we took a chance on it, but it's turned out really well. For me, it's been the fun part of the last year, seeing the tech develop, especially given the timeframe…
Piggyback:   Is there a lot of code that is specific to the system?
Matthew Guzenda:   The game code can pretty much work on any of the platforms, but there are some differences between platforms: the AI, the physics, the map engines. But all the rendering code, everything that puts art up on the screen and the sound engine… that is all completely new on the 360. It is a fair amount of code. The animation system is pretty much the same as the PS2 version, though - our animation data is shared across platforms.

Piggyback:   You say the sound engine is completely new. Can you explain that?
Matthew Guzenda:   The sound chip on the 360 is completely different to the sound chip on the Xbox, completely different to the PS2. The 360 has Dolby Digital support. All the platforms have Dolby support, but not all are digital. The 360's sound hardware has more voices and a lot more memory, so the sound guys have tailored each sound to each platform. The PS2 has the least memory, so its sound has generally less variety, and the sounds are a little shorter. On the 360, though, the sounds are usually longer, and they can have more variation. A simple example of that is to listen to the enemy troops: they can say more things on the 360 than they would on the PS2. And that variety is everywhere, from vehicle sounds to rocks falling.