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Old 12-05-08, 13:48   #1
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Thumbs up MONDAY GOODNESS - Keir Edmonds Crystal Dynamics Trip Report - Part I

by Keir Edmonds, Eidos Community Boss!

My First Visit to Crystal! Part One – The Tour!

As many of you know I’m the Global Community Manager at Eidos. This means that a) I’m very, very lucky and b) I’m responsible for working with the fan communities for all of Eidos’ titles, from the brutal and murderous Hitman to the cute and sweet Pony Friends. It’s a fantastic job and would be a massive task in itself, even without the gargantuan behemoth that is the Tomb Raider community which makes sure I’m kept amazingly busy (it’s also the best community to work with – but don’t tell anyone else I said that). One of the things I like most about community management is that the interaction with the community makes the world a very small place. In my day to day duties I can answer questions and speak to Tomb Raiders from around the world; a Tomb Raider fan in Mexico wants to know if Lara will be wearing trousers in Underworld, one in Australia wonders when the next bit of goodness will be released, another in Russia has translated all the cut scenes from TR1 and 2, I love it.

Indeed, when I go on holiday these days I normally encounter some Tomb Raider fans somewhere along the way. Last year when I was on a family holiday in Finland I ended up meeting with some fine Finnish TR fans on an impromptu community day in Helsinki, around 10 guys turned up and a lovely day was had by all, eating strawberries under the Nordic sun, chatting about Lara, Natla and Anniversary. So, when I had made arrangements to visit the west coast of the good old US of A, it seemed inevitable that it would include Tomb Raider in some way. The fact that I was flying into San Diego and making my way to San Francisco meant there was only one outcome – my first visit to Crystal Dynamics to see where the magic happens! So, while you’re waiting for the next update on the awesomeness that is Underworld, I thought I’d give you all a behind the scenes look at Lara’s studio.

The first part of my holiday was taken up with the journey from San Diego, which took in the ridiculous (Hollywood is seriously crazy) to the sublime (coastal Highway 1, flanked by the Pacific on one side and rolling hills on the other is a beautiful way to see what California has to offer) before arriving in San Francisco. SF is a lovely place. It’s a compact, liberal and welcoming city with splendid architecture and tasty sourdough bread (not to mention quite a famous bridge). The sharply inclined streets which carry the famous Trolley Cars are framed by grand buildings exuding atmosphere which lead down to the ocean – but most importantly of all, it’s home to Crystal Dynamics.


[IMG]http://i30.************/15ybgg.jpg[/IMG]
Me and the 4 litre Mustang I took up the coast, lol


Kathryn (who is the brand manager and general goddess of the TR brand from Eidos HQ in London) was out in Crystal at the time and she had spread the word that I would be visiting. On the morning of my visit, I set off from my hotel just off Union Square. As my taxi sped south down the 32 lane freeway (OK, I exaggerate but Californian roads are big) I spotted a futuristic and plush looking office complex glinting in the distance. I had seen photos of Crystal D before, and I was sure this was it. I wasn’t wrong and with-in a couple of minutes I had arrived and found myself standing outside Tomb Raider HQ.


[IMG]http://i27.************/2s9uq05.jpg[/IMG]
The Crystal Dynamics studios in all their splendour.


This fine building houses Crystal Dynamics and the US branch of Eidos. It was great to finally have the opportunity to be here, because I frequently exchange emails with a lot of the people that work behind the swanky glass fašade. As I made my way in I spotted a small an unassuming chap with shortly cropped hair, a goatee and round rimmed glasses, but more about him later. I introduced myself at reception where Morgan Gray (some of you may recognise the name from an Anniversary Wii video we released a while back) was sitting on the comfy sofas catching up with the industry latest from some computer magazines. Before I knew it, Kathryn appeared and ferried me into the offices.


[IMG]http://i29.************/jud15s.jpg[/IMG]
I had finally reached my destination!


[IMG]http://i31.************/6tiv0w.jpg[/IMG]
This is Kathryn, who is the Tomb Raider Brand Manager is somewhat camera-shy, and she will kill me when she sees I’ve sent this out.


They offices are vast, occupying an entire floor, grouped by department. Everyone sits in their own large cubicle each of which had been decorated and personalised by its occupant. Some of them were funny, others really neat. One of them even had an improvised roof, so the cubicle looked more like a cave.


Before I could get a full tour of the office I had been escorted (read: frogmarched) to a meeting room where some recording equipment had been set up. Along with Mona and Justin from tombraiderchronicles.com, Kathryn and I have been working on a series of podcasts to give the community the inside line on the development of Underworld. I hadn’t initially planned to partake in the recordings (because I am shy!) but when Kathryn and Crystal said I should, I could hardly refuse. It wasn’t long until Eric Lindstrom joined us. Eric is the Creative Director on Tomb Raider: Underworld and general living legend. He’s responsible for the storyline and oversees all the creative elements of development. I had first met him many moons ago when a few members of the Crystal team visited Eidos HQ to present an overview of Underworld. I had compiled a list of criteria and points that the community wanted to see from the next Tomb Raider and taken into that meeting. As Eric spoke I remember ticking off each point I had noted down. I’m delighted to say (because it makes my job great!) that Eric has worked on Underworld with the community in mind. I appreciate you’ll only really be able to believe that when you see it, but it’s why I’m looking forward to release so much!

Alex Jones (Underworld Producer, who seemed really cool but was suffering from the mother of all colds) joined us shortly after. There was time for some quick discussion and a couple of sound checks before we recorded the first podcast, which will be available for download soon so watch this space!


[IMG]http://i25.************/5lnkmr.jpg[/IMG]
No it’s not a screenshot from Underworld I’m afraid – but even the meeting rooms sound familiar!


Once the podcast was recorded, we all relaxed and retired to another meeting room where Crystal had kindly provided some fresh fruit for me to graze on. As I tucked into some delicious strawberries (there seems to be a strawberry-theme developing here) Eric, Kathryn and I discussed every aspect of the community, from Eidos’ split from Core and some people’s resulting animosity to Crystal, the buzz around Underworld, and Crystal’s interaction in the community, etc. Eric mentioned that he checks the forums at least once a day. He’s not alone. As I made my way round the office meeting various members of the dev team, I discovered that a lot of the team do likewise. As the community manager, this was great to hear. I’ll encourage and manage some community interaction from the guys at Crystal for the Underworld campaign, of course they’re extremely busy, but we all agree direct interaction would be great for the community.


[IMG]http://i26.************/35ioh9d.jpg[/IMG]
No Tomb Raider community day is complete without fresh strawberries! Yum!


We continued chatting and I asked some questions from the community. I’ll give you the answers in next week’s instalment of my visit. With the questions answered Eric had to dash off into some important meetings. It was great to spend some time with him, and I was suitably excited to hear in person about how much he values the community and its opinions. Now is a good time for me to tease you and say that we have some really cool ideas for this coming up!


Next up was my tour of the studio. The offices are deceptively huge. My photos don’t really do them justice. There are lots of people busily scurrying around, and they’re all really helpful which is just as well as I frequently got lost and when I asked directions, everyone was super helpful. I must have met about a hundred people in the space of a couple of hours. Here are some photos of the offices I took while I was wondering around….


[IMG]http://i25.************/5uj05f.jpg[/IMG]
Imagine this x 10,000 in area!


The first thing you notice, apart from the size is that Lara is everywhere. Concept art here, renders there. This was fun to see, but the coolest part of the office was a massive wall covered in concept art from the game. As you walk from left to right, the storyboards and concept art play out the main details of the game. Yes, it’s a long walk from the one end to the other, and yes I did walk all the way to the end – but I’m not going to show you any photos of that!


[IMG]http://i26.************/ngahae.jpg[/IMG]

[IMG]http://i26.************/2ihsc3r.jpg[/IMG]


First I met Juli who’s a producer on Underworld (and the office Wii Bowling Champion). She is a really great laugh and proudly showed off her Wii Bowling Trophy. As Eric said ‘They sure know how to bowl in Nebraska!’


[IMG]http://i32.************/j9c9j4.jpg[/IMG]

[IMG]http://i28.************/oji0pj.jpg[/IMG]

[IMG]http://i25.************/xcov3m.jpg[/IMG]


This is Jae. He works in creative services, which means part of his job is to take and distribute the screenshots which I get to pass onto you guys. He is a top bloke. He was really interested to meet me as he’s another one who enjoys browsing the forums. You might be seeing some more of him in the future!


[IMG]http://i25.************/210j1h3.jpg[/IMG]


This is the nerve centre of TR:U - Eric’s desk. It was empty at the time as he was in his important meetings. It’s pretty neat compared to some of the desks I saw and it would seem he likes to unwind with a nice stout after a hard day’s work on TR!


[IMG]http://i30.************/350lczn.jpg[/IMG]


I ran into Morgan again, he happily posed for a photo! This guy is so laid back he’s practically horizontal


[IMG]http://i32.************/256g3ns.jpg[/IMG]


Crystal have comfy sofas (and the TV is guarded by a familiar face to ensure there isn’t any slacking!) I didn’t have time to sit down though.


[IMG]http://i30.************/5u4ye.jpg[/IMG]
No time for a snack either!


[IMG]http://i31.************/ruzi3c.jpg[/IMG]


I discovered where Eric had got too. Here he is with Forest and Toby in discussion about some important cinematic matters. Toby is a decent and down to earth chap, I had a good chat to him shortly afterwards. At the end of the day, Kathryn and I got the train back to SF central with Forest, she told us some secrets about how Crystal create some of the sound effects (more on this later!) and she gave me some tips for some cool bars in downtown SF to visit.

I met a million more people, but didn’t get photos of everyone. However, one of the guys I really wanted to meet was Troels Folmann. I’ve spoken to him a few times on email and I’ve always been a huge fan of the music in Tomb Raider; I loved what he had achieved in Anniversary. It was getting to the end of the day and I hadn’t had a chance to speak to him, until my meanderings took me past his office - low and behold there he was. I popped my head round the door to say hi and he invited me in for a long chat.


[IMG]http://i29.************/11akh6s.jpg[/IMG]


He’s seriously cool and was really interested and excited to hear about my work with the community. Troels is another guy that spends a lot of time reading the forums and checking on community consensus. If you’ve ever created a thread about the music in the game, chances are Troels has read it. I told him I definitely wanted to do some community related features about the music in the game and he agreed that we must, so watch this space.


Finally, I bumped into a certain Jason Botta. He is a master of understated cool. It was a pleasure to meet him, but more importantly, it gave me the chance to ask the first questions from the community and make him (somewhat reluctantly) pose for a photo request!


[IMG]http://i25.************/dzbbig.jpg[/IMG]


While I was chatting to Jason, I took this opportunity to ask the first of the questions from the community so read the second instalment for the Q&A session with Eric Lindstrom and Jason in which we talk about Crystal’s view of the Tomb Raider community, what it’s like to work on Underworld, if Crystal knew about Core’s version of Anniversary and lots, lots more! Out next week!
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Old 12-05-08, 13:50   #2
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*Hyperventilates*

Good long read this is! Thanks Keir and Justin!

EDIT: I always viewed CD as just a team behind my favorite series...and now I actually get to see them. What a treat.

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Old 12-05-08, 13:50   #3
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oh yes! i was really anticipating this one!
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Old 12-05-08, 13:52   #4
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Sounds like a great trip mate, glad you have fun!

Oh, and tell Kathryn she shouldn't be camera shy
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Old 12-05-08, 13:55   #5
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Cool! ^^
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Old 12-05-08, 13:55   #6
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Wow. Very, very interesting. Thanks to Keir for writing this up!
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Old 12-05-08, 13:56   #7
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Thanks so much for this. Don't have time to read it properly so I just skimmed it through. Sounds interesting and a damn nice set of wheels.
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Old 12-05-08, 13:57   #8
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Wow, somehow I didn't expect so many nice faces...

Looks like TRU is in good hands.
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Old 12-05-08, 13:57   #9
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I'll read this back from school.
But OMG your studio is nice ! Especially the outside. It's funny to see that much people working for the game, we forget that while always complaining.

And there's some interesting drawing in one picture you can be sure we will analyse that. Thank you.
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Old 12-05-08, 13:57   #10
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Wowza! Pretty cool read, thanks Keir

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keir View Post
Out next week!
Oooh, you tease, you!
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