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Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness Playthrough Recap

 

To support The Dark Angel Symphony project, Peter Connelly (composer for Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider: Chronicles and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness) and Murti Schofield (writer for Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness) joined Ash Kapriélov (comms lead & project manager for The Dark Angel Symphony) for the Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness livestream playthrough. Neither Murti nor Peter had ever played TR: AOD after its release due to the game’s bad reviews. There were areas they’d never seen prior to this playthrough. Most of the levels Peter had seen were wireframe versions and Murti had played the DVD version to look at some of the environments, but that was about it. They explained that this was because developers didn’t (and don’t) really get the opportunity to play games the same way as the gamers themselves. Depending on their work, they will generally just “walk around” the levels in order to get a feel for them. Peter said that, when you work on something for so long and you’re so close to it, the last thing you want is to see the finished product. However, after giving it some time (or, in their case, over 10 years), it was quite refreshing to see it in person. Ash used the TR SCU tool in order to show Peter and Murti as much of the game as possible in the time available.

 

As soon as the game started, Peter joked that he recognized the music. The “bug” sound in the main theme, he explained, was actually one of the musician’s chairs (from the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO)), being accidentally knocked over. The main menu graphics were created by Paschal McGuire (artist and animator for TR: AOD) and contain the names of some of his family members; he simply modified the letters to make them look encrypted.

As they watched the opening cutscene, Peter recalled how difficult it was to capture the sound effect of the gun falling and sliding under the chair. He created that sound by putting a microphone at one end of the studio and throwing an object with similar weight/physics to a gun several times until it landed just right. This took him 20–30 takes. Peter explained that doing foley (the industry term for sound effects) is interesting, especially in terms of the objects you use to replicate a sound. You hardly ever use the same object you see on the screen. As long as it sounds right and no one questions it, it means it’s been done right.

Peter said that he didn’t like the LSO track version that plays in the opening cutscene; specifically, during the part where the dogs are chasing Lara. The final in-game version used both the LSO track and the demo track in an even 50­–50 combination; this was because some parts of the LSO track didn’t cut through properly and the only way he could make it work was by combining the tracks together. The LSO track is underneath the original track. On the LSO version, the woodwinds weren’t as prominent as Peter wanted them to be; this was a problem because Lara’s theme is carried by woodwinds and any woodwind motifs reflect Lara’s presence. A lot of the music was also reprised or reimagined from the Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation theme. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that TR: AOD’s theme is very similar to TR: TLR’s theme. There are also a couple of TR: C’s FMV music tracks in the score.

 

 

Murti was impressed at how AOD looks for a 16-year-old game. Ash noted that the (sadly removed) training area was a part of the E3 demo. Peter remembered the lift from the Derelict Apartment Block level quite well. Some of the musical tracks are set on a loop with some reedits; The Accused track has been made into a loop whereas Derelict Apartment Block is a reedit of some of the LSO recordings. An example of a reedit would be combining 10 seconds from one LSO track with 10 seconds of another LSO track in order to create a new track. Peter found it very interesting to hear tracks such as The Duel in the game because of how different they sound due to compression. For example, the raw track sounds very percussion heavy, but not the in-game version. You hear what you need to hear.  Peter noted that it is better hearing it (the tracks) in context.

The piece of music that plays during the cutscene where Lara jumps off the roof is taken from Tomb Raider: Chronicles. Peter felt that something was needed for that little sequence, so he took one of the action scene tracks from TR: C and put it on top of the background music – and it worked. Peter explained that he likes to do ambient tracks that are slow and then evolve into something bigger, but equally enjoys creating more epic-sounding tracks. However, he explained that his preference all depends where he is (mentally) at the time and that he doesn’t really have an overall preference. It all depends on the mood. Some of the voice actors were foreign/non-native English speakers, so the accents are somewhat more authentic. Neither Peter nor Murti could remember if they were actually French.

When it comes to how well animated TR: AOD is, both Peter and Murti said that it’s because Mark Donald (lead animator for TR: AOD) keyframed and animated almost everything by hand in Maya. That’s why they felt (and still feel) so natural and why characters move like they have real weight/momentum.

 

Murti wondered how he managed to produce so much stuff for TR: AOD and make it coherent, since they all were under lots of pressure and had almost no time to pause.  It was exciting for him to see the environments, locations, and street names for the first time. He chose the name Le Serpent Rouge as a reference to the Knights Templar. The name was said to be a secret password and referred to something within the order. There are quite a few Knights Templar references throughout the game. A lot of the in-game Paris streets are based on real Parisian streets. Murti explained that, although he didn’t do location research himself, there were people working on the game who did. He found that you can’t beat going on location yourself for getting the atmosphere and the mood. Despite not being able to visit the real locations for the game, Murti did obtain an encyclopaedic book with all the street names of central Paris. He was then able to create an imaginary sector of Paris specifically for TR: AOD. Murti described that, as he found on one of his trips to Turkey, if you can visit the actual location you will come across unexpected things that will fire you off in a new direction; for instance, just talking to people or buying things in shops will make you see interesting things that will get your imagination going. When he was in Turkey, he was able to go into certain places (e.g. some of the underground city ruins) specifically because he was able to speak some Turkish. He said that the guides became much more sympathetic and took him to sections where they weren’t normally supposed to go. He got to see areas that the public doesn’t normally have access to, but he said that it’s all about being able to connect with locals.

When they reached Café Metro, Murti wondered if Kurtis would speak to Lara; he wrote some dialogue specifically for them in this encounter. He never knew until now if they kept it in the game. Ash explained that the audio tracks themselves are still accessible in the game files, even though they are not in the final (playable) version of the game. Murti’s inspiration for the box that both Bernard and Pierre were after came from one of the scenes from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Murti was taken by the scene where the protagonists open a briefcase and a golden light comes out of it – without ever revealing what was inside. He wanted to include the same vagueness about what was in the trinket box.

Peter talked about how great the environments in TR: AOD looked, and how it was a shame that TR: AOD was released before patches/downloadable fixes became a thing. He said that some of the games he has worked on had been released in a state of almost total unplayability but were fixed thanks to patches.

Murti wrote an interesting background story for Daniel Rennes (Rennes’ Pawnshop) and was very happy with the look of his pawnshop. According to this backstory, Rennes used to be an explosives expert in the French Navy and had all sorts of service background. Even more information might come out in the forthcoming Kurtis journal because Kurtis was going around and checking out all these locations (plus many others – Kurtis is ahead of the game). Murti also revealed that Daniel Rennes is the son of Bernard, the janitor at Le Serpent Rouge. When Daniel went to join the French Navy, he changed his name – a bit like Kurtis did when he joined the Foreign Legion. We don’t know or find out whether Bernard’s name is Rennes as well (it might not be).

 

 

Murti stressed that all these details remained minor because he was too busy writing background stories for Eckhardt and everyone else. He had wanted all the minor characters to have full life stories as well, but he simply ran out of time.

Peter pointed out that he and Martin Iveson (composer and sound designer) split the work for TR: AOD’s soundtrack and sound effects 50–50; on YouTube and elsewhere, Peter usually gets all the credit for the music.

The original idea for the Le Serpent Rouge music track was to make two stereo tracks; one would be placed at the bottom of the club and would sound quite “full on”, and the second would be placed at the top of the club and would have more reverb (echo) the higher Lara climbed. Unfortunately, because they were limited by the PS2’s technology, they had to keep it simple. The PS2’s audio was supposed to be high tech (the technology was eventually used for the PS3), but because the console needed to be released and they hadn’t managed to nail the audio technology, they decided to install two PS1 chips instead. So, basically, the PS2 was two PS1 chips working together. With modern technology, there’s a lot you can do with the audio to make it feel like you’re moving in three-dimensional space. All the footsteps you hear were recorded by Peter and Martin in Markeaton Park in Derby; they dangled a microphone with a portable DAT and used it to record various steps, jumps, and floor scuffs on different surfaces.

As the playthrough moved to St Aicard’s church and graveyard, Murti mentioned that he had once visited a cemetery in Paris (in a visit unrelated to TR: AOD). He had been amazed by the mausoleums, but what really caught his attention was their lids; some looked sort of tilted like somebody had been trying to push the door and/or tops off them. They were very spooky places, especially with the cracked tops. Murti said that he wanted TR: AOD to have various rooms with statues of angel-like creatures that could’ve been the Nephilim, but he never got to see if these made it into the game.

 

 

Murti went onto explain that the shapeshifter, Joachim Karel, can only shift into human forms, i.e. the bodies must have the same number of limbs and so on. When you see Bouchard’s bodyguard at the Louvre, it’s actually Karel and Bouchard doesn’t know about the deception. When we were shown Karel morphing into Bouchard’s bodyguard, Murti thought the transition was too sudden; he would have preferred a slower morphing animation of some kind. When we get to Prague and the Monstrum Crimescene, Karel poses as Bouchard. Murti joked that there was nobody in Paris at all – it was all Karel appearing as different people.

On a more serious note, in a recent conversation with Murti, we found out the answer to a question that fans have been pondering for a long time: Did Karel ever appear to Lara as Kurtis Trent? The answer is that Murti never intended for Karel to morph into Kurtis, not only because there was never a story situation that required him to do that, but also because it messes up some of the backstories. The truth is, the producers/other developers never consulted with Murti about that major story idea; it was just a matter of someone thinking it was a good idea and just throwing Kurtis into Karel’s character-morphing parade. The problem, of course, is that this created a plot twist straight after a plot twist, which just ended up confusing the players. For the sake of keeping the final TR: AOD story smooth, Murti agreed that the only reason why Karel morphed into Kurtis was to mess with Lara’s head.

St. Aicard’s Church’s name was deliberately chosen as a reference to one of the names of one of the knights from the Lux Veritatis’ Vault of Trophies. Murti explained that, when it comes to the story, there are no coincidences because everything was plotted out. The biggest problem he faced as a writer was when other people (in the team) started taking things out; it felt like a deck of cards falling apart and he had to reshuffle the whole thing to see how to fit it together without the missing pieces. For example, he wanted to tie in the existing story (that we see in the game) with another character that had been developed called Allacord Siglum, an alchemist who has been travelling through time and who appears in later notes. Another example of a missing piece is the guy in Bouchard’s hideout, Arnaud; Murti explained that this character was someone that Kurtis had met with in Paris as part of his own investigation into the Monstrum. Kurtis tried to contact Bouchard as well, but he didn’t get anywhere. Arnaud ended up getting attacked by the Monstrum. Murti had wanted to include some questions in Lara’s conversation with Bouchard about whether it was the stranger (Kurtis) who was going around asking questions about killing Bouchard’s men, but he had to streamline that.

 

Still in Paris, Murti and Peter were surprised to see the level designers had constructed the whole herbalist area just for that short dialogue exchange. The original idea had been that you would be able to trade with the herbalist as well as Rennes. Lara was meant to trade things for potions and stuff at the herbalist, which she could then trade with those she met on the street. Originally, there was supposed to have been a lot more trading and exchanging than we saw in the finished game.

One of the things Murti wrote (and hoped would be included) was a scene in which Lara would see Kurtis at the end of the street. She rushes to him, but he’s already vanished; instead, there’s somebody else lying on the floor who Kurtis was working over, extracting information. Murti reads: “There’s a body groaning in the darkness. Lara walks on.” This was Kurtis making his rounds, asking questions. Players needed to see that Kurtis was running his own parallel investigations to Lara’s all the time; that’s how he keeps turning up in the same places as Lara.

 

 

In the Cabal Paris cutscene, Murti commented that he loves the voice of the actor who played Eckhardt (Joss Ackland), and wondered how the Cabal meeting scene would look with full cinematic treatment. Peter echoed Eckhardt when he says: “Gunderson!”, adding that the line has been lodged in his brain for years. Marten Gunderson is another character that had so much potential, and with whom Murti always wanted to do something more, given the opportunity.

Murti remembered that it was lots of fun researching the Louvre, although there wasn’t a lot of information available about the lower levels. Peter was stunned by the visuals of the Louvre levels, especially the reflection mechanics. Both joked that one of the guards looked a lot like Andy Sandham (level designer).

During the production, Core Design ran into several copyright issues. The first one was an actual legal ambiguity with the Mona Lisa painting, which is why they changed it to “Mona Peter”. This playthrough was the first time Peter had seen the Mona Peter in person. Someone had sent him a screenshot back in 2011/2012, and it was only then that he realised the level builders actually used the Mona Peter in-game. Peter recalled sitting with Andrea Cordella (level designer for TR: C and lead artist for TR: AOD), who told him they had to use Mona Peter in-game. Tom Scutt (AI programmer) was the one who photoshopped Peter into the painting. Peter added that his friends now joke about the Mona Peter because it became a standard for him. Murti joked that it’s good because Leonardo will finally get a bit of publicity.

Another copyright issue lay in the names of all the guns in-game, which meant that the team had to rename all the weapons. In addition, after Lara defeats the assassin at Von Croy’s place, she gets into a generic jeep because, although the team tried to get official Land Rover backing, that didn’t come through. Peter mentioned at this point that there’s a track in TR: TLR called Jeep Thrills, but he later learned that the in-game jeep was actually a Land Rover. He joked that Jeep Thrills sounds a lot better than Land Rover Thrills. Copyright problems were also why Werner Von Croy was killed off in place of another character. When Murti joined Core, the original idea had been to kill off Jean-Yves. However, in the intervening period between TR: TLR and TR: AOD, the team discovered that their “Jean-Yves” was a real person – and an actual archaeologist! This understandably caused lots of legal issues that took a long time to sort out. The original plan to use Jean-Yves was dropped because of the whole legal battle, and Murti switched the character to Von Croy.

 

The Obscura Paintings are obviously not real, but there are significant stories about demonic paintings that had to be hidden because they were so powerful. Murti used this idea as his basis for the Obscura Paintings. The question “Is it valid to copy/steal/duplicate things from other sources?” is an interesting one. Murti explained that, as a writer/creator, you are naturally bound to take elements of everything you’ve ever read, seen in the cinema etc., and recombine them to create something new and unique. Peter agreed and said that “nothing’s ever truly original because [whatever you’re creating] is always taken from some form of inspiration”. Nobody is isolated in an empty room for 20 years when they invent things. Murti added that, if you are going to use somebody’s ideas, use the best ones and then give them credit. Basically, your creations are a tribute and a sign of you being impressed with somebody’s work. The Obscura Paintings are an example of that; Murti was been very interested in Russian Icons at one point, especially the idea of beautiful artwork being painted on thick boards. The Obscura Paintings were originally going to be demonic paintings painted by Jehan De Gruas, a demonologist. In Murti’s original ideas, this person was going to be a contemporary of Eckhardt’s and create the “demonology paintings”, but they were so dangerous that they were painted over and hidden by Brother Obscura. The Church ordained that they had to be painted over because, even if you destroyed them, you couldn’t change/destroy their power – the only alternative was to hide them. Brother Obscura made some notes and sketches, and somebody found those at a later stage; these were the five Obscura Engravings. Brother Obscura discovered where the Paintings had been hidden, so he added clues to these locations (e.g. a monastery in Spain, somewhere on the Russian border, and so on). They were then deliberately scattered so that nobody would be able to reunite them.

Murti explained that Margot Carvier and Werner Von Croy were working colleagues, both interested in medieval and Renaissance history; they didn’t have any further friendship beyond than that. We saw that there are photographs of Cappadocia in Margot’s office in the Louvre; the development team was foreshadowing the intention to end up in Cappadocia. Originally, Margot was also supposed to have a Nephilim statue or a picture in her office. Murti noted that the concept art ideas of what a Nephilim would look like in its preserved state was quite different from the final version or his own ideas.

 

Moving onto the Hall of Seasons, Murti said that he loved the astrology artwork in the centre of the main room. Ash explained that concept art of the wind room (Breath of Hades) showed wind coming from human, not beastly, faces. Murti said that he used to build environments for games before joining the TR: AOD team, but as a story and concept creator he wouldn’t have wanted to build environments for TR: AOD. However, he loved being part of the team, which is why he was so keen on being a part of this project. He liked that Richard Morton (level and game designer) worked out the puzzles based on his ideas. In his previous work, he didn’t have enough time to spend on anything except action and dialogue. When Murti joined Core Design, he was given folders containing the storylines and concepts behind each prior Tomb Raider game. He studied these in detail to make sure his writing for TR: AOD wouldn’t contradict anything that had gone before, despite both he and the producers wanting him to start with a clean slate. Murti said that writing dialogue is one of his favourite aspects of writing, because it’s something he admires in other people’s work. Dialogue is immediate because, when a character meets another character, you must resolve that situation. When you write a story, you must write dozens and dozens of pages and tie it all together, plot it out in great detail; you’re putting clues at the beginning so you can connect it in the end. In other words, it’s a long time before you see any results – whereas, if you write a scene full of dialogue, you can see and hear it coming alive as you’re reading it; it gives immediate feedback. Murti says he particularly likes Film Noir because you’ll often see things in flashbacks, usually from very Gothic angles, and then when go back to a later scene and see the story more fully.

Peter joined Core Design 2–3 months before Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft was released. He played TR III as an unfinished game, and then the full game once it got released. This was his first real introduction to Tomb Raider. He also played TR I and TR II, mostly because he wanted to get to know the music.

 

The playthrough arrived at Brother Obscura’s tomb. Murti was unaware if the developers had decided to use the idea of Brother Obscura or not. This was another example of nobody asking him if they should/should not include an idea. Had he been asked, he explained, he would have wanted them to leave Brother Obscura out because he had something else in mind for the character/creature. Watching the playthrough, he said that it felt like a throwaway because any other spirit could have been guarding the painting; personally, Murti would have preferred that Brother Obscura was kept in the background. Putting aside his objections, however, Murti agreed that there wasn’t really a reason not to use him, and that Brother Obscura’s appearance does work. Murti found Brother Obscura’s appearance and sound effects to be quite scary, and Peter mentioned that he thinks the music track he created for the character fits the scene very well. Peter also explained that Martin Iveson is very good at vocalizing and does most of his foley work himself; for this reason, Peter is quite sure that Martin might be the one who “voiced” Brother Obscura.

The playthrough arrived at the cutscene where Gunderson breaks into the Louvre, and Peter recalled that he spent a lot of time on this section. He believed he got it right, but still isn’t happy with the music. When it comes to the music, Peter wanted (and still wants) to change all of it. He is his own biggest critic and always strives to do better. There were a lot of issues with TR: AOD’s original soundtrack that Peter wants to iron out with The Dark Angel Symphony project. He explained that he believes any musical artist will, at some point, want to look back at their work and redo it even better if they can. Peter pointed out that one of the biggest things he wishes he could have done differently with the music in-game is address the lack of reverb ambience in the sound effects. It was possible on the PS2, but it wasn’t a thing that was big or well utilised back in the day.  Murti said that he wouldn’t want to do TR: AOD again, but he would really love to go back to “the set” behind the scenes again.

When we reached the infamous Louvre escape cutscene, Peter openly wondered how Kurtis was able to take two pistols away from Lara when she only had one in-game. Murti said that the Kurtis-and-Lara chase scene was done through motion capture, as can be seen from the quality of their movements. Apparently, the developers did motion capture for Kurtis in Paris. To this day, Peter is really unhappy with the sound design in that cutscene.

Moving onto Lara’s return to Von Croy’s apartment, Murti dryly noted that Von Croy obviously made good money from stealing and robbing tombs. One of the images in Werner’s apartment looks like the artwork from the Hall of Seasons. Murti also noted that the carpet in the living room could be a Turkish kilim.

Murti also revealed more about the Cleaner’s backstory. This character’s operating name was supposed to be the Pinkerton; his real name was Emmet Brough, an American who used to operate as “the cleaner” by tidying up for a Hell’s Angels biker gang (they used to have their own enforcement teams). Pinkerton got involved fighting with Konstantin in America, but fled to Europe to escape the heat and started working with the Agency, run by Gunderson. Murti thought that such a cool dude deserved a more interesting death than the one Lara dealt him in the game. He also thought there would be some sort of a transitional FMV before Lara got to Prague, as the final version looks like quite a rough cut.

The playthrough reached Prague, where Murti explained that Luther Rouzic – who was missing from Luddick’s dossiers – was supposed to be the librarian archivist who took care of all the records of the Cabal. He was one of the “missing cards” mentioned earlier. Ash says one of the early screenshots portrays Kurtis, gun drawn, down in the Prague sewers, looking through the opening that leads to Vasiley’s. Another concept that didn’t make it into the final game was a great stone sarcophagus, located in the Strahov warehouse, which had contained the Nephilim Sleeper on its journey from Turkey. Murti got the idea for from John Carpenter’s The Thing (ice creature), and it was meant as a tribute.

Murti explained that, with the limited resources available at the time (no Google Maps!), he had been researching Prague and found an amazing, statue-covered bridge over the river; he had really wanted to use that bridge somehow in the game (for example, the statues could come to life and attack Lara). He also read somewhere that the real-life Strahov has an ossuary – a chapel made of bones and skeletons – built beneath it. At the time, Murti didn’t know if this was true, but thought it would be the perfect choice for including in the game; there could be all sorts of things down there to explore!

 

A lot of the artwork in Vasiley’s gallery (in the Monstrum Crimescene level) was painted by James Kenny (artist). Both Peter and Murti loved the look of Vasiley’s apartment. Murti also mentioned yet another casualty of the cutting process: Morgau Vasiley. This character was supposed to be mentioned somewhere in Vasiley’s gallery. However, the only mention she actually gets in the game is in a single text Vasiley sent to Von Croy. The idea was that there would be a photograph of her in Vasiley’s study, but as they explored the level, Murti said he was glad this didn’t get into the game because back then he hadn’t decided on Morgau’s final look. Nowadays, he has a very clear idea about the character and heartily praised her portrayal as painted by Inna Vjuzhanina.

 

Murti thought it was funny how there was barely anyone in the Strahov’s warehouse because, technically, it should have been one of the busiest places in the complex. Peter described how, when the team was showing the AI development of the guards, one guard wouldn’t do anything while you shot at him, but as soon as you stopped, he’d shoot you. Both Peter and Murti had a good laugh at the Gassy Drinks dispenser in the Strahov security control room.

We moved onto the cutscene of Eckhardt torturing and murdering Luddick, and Peter explained that he provided the screaming/shrieking sound effects. However, he was too shy to repeat the scream for the livestream. He went on to explain how they created the foley of the panicked guardsman thumping on the window, in the cutscene showing the Proto-Nephilim’s escape; they set up the microphone to record on one side of the vocal booth in the Core Design studio, and thumped on the window from the other side.

Both Peter and Murti were in awe of the Bio-Research Facility level design. Murti thought the area looked stupendous and noted that Muller was very unpleasant – an indicator he’s not gonna make it to the end of the game. He explained that all the Cabal’s members had rich background histories, such as where they came from, who they worked for, and their duties in the Cabal (e.g. Muller’s research was focused on botany). Peter loves these detailed insights Murti gave us for each character because it’s intriguing and adds depth to the whole story. Murti said that if a character was going to speak in a certain way, if he knew who they were, then he could write for them – which is one reason why he created background stories for each of them. However, he warned that we can’t rely on all the information in these characters’ backgrounds because they’ve been covering up their tracks for decades. The monsters in the Bio-Research Facility are experimental versions of the Nephilim, which Murti hadn’t seen before.

Unfortunately, as it was getting late, this was the point at which Ash, Peter, and Murti had to end the livestream (it had been active for almost four hours!).

In their closing remarks, Peter said that, considering that this was the first time he’d seen TR: AOD (in any kind of coherent detail), he was actually really intrigued. Going by the comments he had heard over the years, he had expected a more painful experience, but it ended up being very enjoyable. Now that he’s seen it, he believes it’s not a bad game at all and that TR: AOD would make an amazing film (for which he’d love to do the music). Murti would also love to see TR: AOD as a feature film and mentioned that he would love Joss Whedon to direct it.

You can watch the stream here:

https://www.facebook.com/trdarkangel/videos/2113932852017900/

If you want to support The Dark Angel Symphony project, you can do so by heading over to our shop. All the extra funds will go to the production of the album. To be able to work with Dr. Richard Niles is a dream come true for Peter. The Dark Angel Symphony has been a passion project for everyone involved, and we are all extremely lucky to be a part of it.

 

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Writer: Tina Ljubenkov
Editor, proofreader: Jennifer Mildward