Late last month, the presence of a multiplayer mode in Square Enix's upcoming Tomb Raider reboot was announced by Official Xbox Magazine. At CES today, we had a chance to play it and speak with Joe Khoury, producer at Eidos Montreal, where a team of 40 worked on the mode alongside the game's main developer, the Bay Area-located Crystal Dynamics.
"The project basically came to light two years ago," Khoury told Polygon. "Tomb Raider as a reboot had already been in existence. Crystal [Dynamics] had really wanted to do a multiplayer component but they didn't want to fragment their team so they looked at other opportunities within Square Enix and Eidos Montreal — first of all there's a big pool of talent in Montreal — and they said that if we wanted to do this correctly, a fully dedicated team would need to put their attention on it. Which is where we came in."
In November 2011, shortly after the successful release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Square Enix added 100 positions to Eidos Montreal "driving work on a third AAA project at the studio" alongside the existing Deus Ex and Thief projects. That AAA project, at least in part, is the multiplayer component of Tomb Raider; though, considering the project "peaked at about 40," it's likely not the only area Eidos Montreal invested following this staffing increase.
Being fans ourselves, we didn't want to necessarily do something we didn't feel convinced about.
"We recruited a team specifically for it," Khoury said of his team. "We had some great talent from other projects inside Eidos Montreal but we also picked talent from Montreal that had worked on multiplayer before. And we really studied single-player correctly to see if we could do something that didn't feel like a last-minute addition. We didn't want to do that. That was never the mandate, just to make sure we add a mode that's not necessary."
But determining what kind of multiplayer mode would work in Tomb Raider, a franchise better known for its environmental puzzles than its action, required some consideration. "We had to make some adjustments for things to work well in multiplayer, and we looked to single-player for inspiration but also other games that had done single-player and multiplayer components," Khoury explained.
It's easy to see what games provided that influence when playing Tomb Raider's multiplayer mode. You can see the influence of verticality and climbing from Uncharted or Assassin's Creed's multiplayer, or the environmental hazards from Gears of War 2. "We have people that worked on Assassin's Creed and that helped with all the climbing," Khoury said. "There's inspiration everywhere."
This multiplayer team inside of Eidos Montreal isn't being tasked with competing with Call of Duty – "that's an unrealistic goal," Khoury said — but rather with "extending the experience" of the single-player game.
That's a service that Khoury's team may provide for other Square Enix-developed projects. "It is an expertise that Eidos Montreal wants to look into, there's an interest for it," Khoury explained. "There haven't been a lot of Square Enix products that have had multiplayer, Kane & Lynch [2: Dog Days] being the latest one. We're trying to catch up to that, we're trying to provide products that offer a longer experience for the player beyond the single-player experience."
What's next for the Eidos Montreal multiplayer team? Supporting Tomb Raider's multiplayer component with things like programming — think "play with developer" days or double XP weekends — but also new maps, if the audience takes to the game's multiplayer mode. "What would a fan of the franchise want? If multiplayer is well received, we could add more maps or modes as well," Khoury said. As for single-player DLC, "people will always want to know a little bit more about Lara," Khoury said.