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Old 22-07-19, 23:31   #1
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Berkel, Netherlands
Posts: 792
Default How to create nostalgia - Gameplay Theory (CAC)

With the Classic Competition 2019 underway and lots of people building I thought I might share some personal ideas and findings. Now I'm not an expert level builder nor a professional game designer, but I do think I could provide some useful tips and ideas. Feel free to discuss or disagree in the comments!

What I want to discuss is the difference between creating a classic, nostalgic level and building a newer, more updated level. Since the Tomb Raider Level Editor is basically an updated TR4 engine (including Tombeditor and NGLE) this article is mostly relevant for people building a level based on one the first three game. All my examples though will come from Tomb Raider 1 (1996), since this is the oldest and thus has the most differences from the newer games.

I write this because of the upcoming Classic Competition 2019, where builders are paying homage to the classics. Although lots of freedom is given, both the textures and objects are limited to those of the first 5 games (exceptions apply).

The goal is to create nostalgia. For builders though, this is a paradox. How to create a new and exciting level, yet use visuals players have seen a thousand times before? If done well the builder can create a level that invokes both nostalgia AND create a new experience. However, if done badly there is a risk these cancel each other out and the whole level backfires. There is no new experience since player has seen it all before, yet there is no nostalgia, because everything is so different. I've played many remakes/re-imagined/revisited, etc that kinda felt same-same and played many other great levels where I wondered why the player stuck to the classic textures/objects, instead of using new ones.

For this post I will divide all levels in three categories: Vintage, Next-Gen and Hybrid.

Vintage levels try to mimic the original levels as close as possible. Textures and objects are taken only from the original game with zero to few adjustments. A purist level tries to get as close as possible to the original, but it doesn't mean there is no artistic liberty. Adjustments and updates can be made, as long as they don't challenge the experience originally given. If you show a screenshot to someone and they asked if the level is built in the original editor, it's vintage.

Next-Gen on the other hands tries to squeeze as much quality and beauty out of the newer editors as possible. Textures are updated, objects have higher polygons and lightning is more fine-tuned. Because this post is the result of the Classic Project I won't be focusing on this category.

In between is the Hybrid. The hybrid tries to capture best of both. It tries to give players that feel of nostalgia, while still using the features of the Next-Gen to provide a new and smooth gameplay with far more interactive possibilities. A hybrid level can be tricky though. Too modern and the nostalgia will be lost. Too classic and you might miss out on some great graphic and game-play possibilities.

Unfortunately finding this balance can be tricky. A builder cannot decide what a player feels or experiences. You can do your best to tell a story, trying to create the right atmosphere, but it's always up to the player how they will experience your adventure. When building a classic, you want to give the player a feel of nostalgia, but it is the player who will experience this. A builder simply tries to capture and copy the magic of the old levels.

Creating a classic level is more than just using the right textures and objects. There are a lot of small details, often easy to miss, like lightning, music, architecture as well as hard-coded features that are really difficult or even impossible to change.

For example, say you are making a classic Tomb Raider 1 level and try to mimic is as closely as possible. One of the first things you will notice is the game menu, which is not circular like in the original one. Luckily an amazing plug-in can be downloaded for this. Pick-ups however are 3D objects, opposed to the sprites they once were. Some of these differences, like the brownish health bar) can be changed in NG, others you just have to accept. Decide what you want to change or keep to promote the classic feel.

Obviously you'll also notice is that Lara has a lot less movement possibilities in her reservoir. You have to ask yourself which ones you want to keep, which ones to discard.

For example, Lara in TR1 cannot crawl, sprint, use monkey bars, swing around corners, light flares or even climb ladders. This means that the levels will be a lot lighter (to compensate for the lack of flares) and include more platforming (to compensate for the lack of ladders). Crawlspaces and Monkeybars seem more like an afterthought in the official games and are easier to remove. Flares and ladders though, might take some more consideration since they affect gameplay.

Another thing is music. Adding custom songs and sounds can break from the classic immersion. Vintage levels should only stick to the original soundtrack (or if you're a disgusting purist, no music, like how we all played in the old days on the PC :P ).

The lightning in the classics is also very basic. TR3 was the first one to introduce colored lightning. Having colored lights in TR1 or TR2 levels can feel very odd, though you could always add a very subtle tints.

The last thing is the geometry and architecture. TR1 and TR2 did not have triangle blocks, meaning the game is a lot more blocky than TR3. Also, if you want to build a revisit level it's a good idea to study the architecture of the older levels as well. Study how they used their textures, see what ideas you can copy and which ones you can adjust.

Let's look at some examples.

1. Egyptian test level by Sabatu:


I have not played this level, so my opinion is just based on this short video, but as you can see there is excellent use of pixelated textures and classic objects. If you look closer though, small adjustments have been made (transitional textures between the vines and the rocks). Objects (except for the sitting statues) are the same, but most importantly, the architecture of this level feels like the original one, creating a feeling of nostalgia, while still showing something new and fresh. Also notice the Ring inventory system!

2. Egyptian CAC level - Tomblover.


I really like these screens and they're an excellent example of a working hybrid level. Tomblover makes use of the triangle blocks, while still keeping the blocky feel of TR1. Lightning is a lot more present than in the original game and this works especially well in the lava room. The use of 'modern' flames add to the heath of the room.

3. Tomb Raider I Revised by Daoine Sidhe (caves level):


An amazing feat by this builder to completely remake Tomb Raider I, even including the original FMV's! This project is clearly a hybrid. Lara still resembles the TR1 Lara with no braids, but her model is updates. The same textures are used as in the original game, yet lightning has been heavily updated. The builder also added a lot of extra rooms.

This game, in my opinion, is a hit and miss. It's great to replay the classic, and many updates, like the blue sky in Lost Valley or the warm lightning in Egypt and the unnatural red/purple lightning in Atlantis are a great addition. However the builder did (in my opinion) made a couple of mistakes. At the start of the Caves we enter a new area packed with wolves. Probably to provide us some challenge in this otherwise very easy first level, but the triangle blocks are in contrast with the rest of the game. The colored lightning is too present and many additional objects do not fit the 'vibe' of the level. While I did enjoy playing these levels, at moments my mind was wondering off thinking about reinstalling the original. Not a feeling you want to create for your players!

I can highly recommend this game though. You can find it on trle.net or check the walkthrough on youtube.

To conclude I would ask players to look at the classic game they're paying their homage to. Try to notice the difference between these levels back then and the levels now. What is different? What can be adjusted? What should remain the same?

Of course these are just my ideas and feel free to disagree and discuss.

Anyway. Just my thoughts! Hope you enjoyed the read and find it useful!
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