Jeff Wajcs, Senior Designer
Part of “putting the tomb back in Tomb Raider” means rethinking our approach to puzzles. We have found inspiration in the classics and put together what we’re calling “nested puzzles.” A nested puzzle is where Lara must solve a Big Problem not by solving a big puzzle, but by solving a series of puzzles that each contribute a little bit to the Big Problem. Longtime fans of the franchise will remember St. Francis’ Folly in which Lara unlocks a Big Door by finding four keys, each of which is inside its own puzzle. For Rise of the Tomb Raider, we are using the same formula, only substituting the “finding keys” with “modern physics puzzles.”
This is cool for a few reasons. It lets us do a bigger puzzle-themed level without having a super-complicated puzzle (we save those for the Challenge Tombs!). Having a series of puzzles also gives us space to have some traversal and combat gameplay in between, which helps keep the level fast paced. All of this gameplay and all of these puzzles exist together in one interconnected area, so that means that nested puzzles need some pretty epic tombs to live inside of.
Nested puzzles are a good formula for introducing new mechanics. The first puzzle in the series will be relatively simple, the second will add some complications, and the last one will have you really scratching your head. Many times, good puzzles come from using the same object or mechanics in two different ways. Designing nested puzzles really helped us find new ways to take our mechanics further.
Take Lara’s rope arrow, for example. In Tomb Raider 2013, Lara could use her rope arrow to pull an object towards her, or she could tie the rope off on a post to make a zip line. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, we let Lara tie off her rope to a much wider variety of objects, such as exploding barrels or crank winches. Wherever Lara can use her rope, the player will always have a lot of choice as to what exactly they’ll want to do with it.
Water is another puzzle mechanic that has taken a big jump from Tomb Raider 2013 to Rise of the Tomb Raider. Water currents are back and still are pushing around physics objects. Lara can swim this time though, so she’ll be getting pushed around now too. Lara will also be using water as a weight to manipulate ancient machines and tip the balance in her favor. On top of that, Lara will be flooding and draining the water in a couple different tombs. Some of the hardest puzzles from the classic games involved changing water levels, and that is certainly true again here, as well.
All of these mechanics (and a couple new ones!) make an appearance in the main story, but it’s in the Challenge Tombs hidden throughout the world where they really get put to the test. Puzzles that are challenging for the player are also challenging for the designer to make both fair and satisfying. Play testing is absolutely essential. You can imagine a puzzle as a maze with a lot of dead ends and only a couple paths that lead to success. Play tests reveal to the designer dead ends that they could not have imagined otherwise. It’s my job as the puzzle designer to leave the player plenty of room to explore, but to clearly indicate to the player when they have hit a dead end and give them enough feedback to encourage them down the correct path.
The Ancient Cistern puzzle is a good example of this. It is a hard puzzle, especially considering how early in the game it is, so it was important to make sure it was as fair a challenge as possible. It is one of those puzzles I mentioned that has changing water levels, but it also features some small explosives that Lara can throw around. There used to be a hanging platform that Lara could weigh down with her weight to open a sluice. We saw a lot of play testers throwing the explosives up there and weighing down the platform that way. This is the worst kind of dead end- the kind that looks inherently correct but contributes nothing towards understanding the puzzle. We removed this dead end entirely by changing the platform to a hanging bar. Lara could still hang on it to open the sluice, and it was no longer something onto which you could throw the explosives. There was a hundred other things we changed in this puzzle to make it fairer, but that would begin to take us into spoiler territory.
That’s all for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick tour of puzzle land and how much we have in Rise of the Tomb Raider for puzzle gamers to be excited about. Thanks for reading!