Adapting console games to mobile platforms can be hard because of the inherent differences between physical and touch controls. Square Enix found a great solution with Hitman GO, which turned the stealth- and assassination-based gameplay of the Hitman series into a clever turn-based puzzle game.
Last week, Square Enix followed up with a sequel called Lara Croft GO. The new game adds a Tomb Raider spin to its predecessor's formula, with new elements like climbing and more realistic visuals. Lara Croft GO launched on Windows Phone and Windows 8 and 10 alongside Android and iOS.
We recently interviewed Francis Pétrin, the Square Enix Montréal programmer in charge of porting and certifying the game on Windows platforms. Don't miss our detailed interview!
Hi Francis. Please tell us about some of your interests outside of gaming.
At the risk of sounding incredibly Canadian, I play ice hockey year round. I also practice Kendo!
Kendo sounds cool! Of course, you're also a gamer. What are some of your favorite games, old and new?
There's a special place in my heart for the older Square Enix RPGs (biased, I know!). I've finished Final Fantasy VII more times than I'd like to admit, and I'm incredibly stoked about the remake.
Lara Croft GO concept art
How did you get into game development?
I always knew I wanted to make games. I studied Software Engineering at University, and co-founded a game development club there that was mostly focused on Game Jams. I then got my first job in the industry as an intern programmer on console titles for EA Montréal.
What led you to join Square Enix Montréal, and how long have you been there?
I've been working in the industry for about five years now and have been with Square Enix Montréal for more than two. I was initially hired as an AI programmer for a next-generation installment of the Hitman franchise, and became a generalist when we made the switch to focus on mobile games. Since then, I've had the pleasure of working on both Hitman GO and Lara Croft GO.
Do you have a favorite Tomb Raider or Lara Croft game, other than Lara Croft GO of course?
I have to go with the original Tomb Raider for the Playstation!
The first game certainly was special. So what inspired the creation of Lara Croft GO?
We were really happy with how Hitman GO was received and there was still so much we wanted to do in that space, so it was very natural for us to ask ourselves, "What's next?" We started looking at the Square Enix catalogue and found that Lara Croft was an absolute no-brainer.
We started off the project thinking she would receive a similar treatment as Agent 47 [in Hitman GO]: board-game aesthetics, static pawns – and we quickly realized that just didn't fit with the franchise. We wanted this game to be all about her; to distill down what made Lara Croft the Tomb Raider. As fans of the franchise play the game, they'll quickly realize that our biggest inspiration was the classic Tomb Raider games.
The two GO games are clearly pretty similar, but are there any differences in gameplay?
While the framework surrounding both titles is similar (turn-based, grid-based gameplay), their mechanics are quite different. Whereas Agent 47 shines in stealth and take-downs, Lara excels at exploration and using the environment around her.
We introduced verticality to the game [in Lara Croft GO], put a strong emphasis on traps, contraptions, and gave her all the tools of the trade (levers, switches, and spears). We also put a strong focus on the adventure aspect of the game, offering a complete story experience to our players.
Lara Croft GO features more complex visuals than its predecessor. Did the success of Hitman GO lead to an increased budget for Lara Croft's outing?
The two games have very different art directions for sure. For Lara Croft GO, it didn't make sense to bring back the board-game/diorama style. Lara's incredibly athletic and it made sense to have her in a fully animated world. In terms of scope, the team this time around was slightly bigger than what we had on Hitman GO (around 15 people at the peak of production).
Does Lara Croft have an overall goal in this game?
She does! Without giving too much away, she's doing what she does best: raiding tombs! As you dive deeper into the caves and mazes, you'll realize that the environment may not be the only thing trying to stop you.
What are some of the dangers she faces in this adventure?
Lara will face many dangerous foes, and the environment is just as deadly: rolling boulders, cracked floors and various traps. Yet, the biggest danger of all is the Queen of Venom, an ancient beast tasked to protect the artefact you're after.
A number of collectible relics are hidden throughout each level. What do players get for collecting them all? And does the game provide any means of tracking missed collectibles?
When you break the vases that are scattered around the tombs, you'll find various gems and artefacts. Completing a specific collection will unlock new outfits for Lara. We had a bit of fun and included quite a few references to the series' roots with these. If you're looking to collect everything, you can easily see how many vases are left in each puzzle by visiting the level select screen. Good luck!
How many levels does the game feature? Do you plan to add more in the future?
We have about 75 puzzles spread out over five chapters. We're still processing all the amazing feedback from our players and it's a bit early to be talking about what the future holds for Lara Croft GO.
Lara Croft GO, like Hitman GO before it, is a premium game in a mobile marketplace dominated by free to play titles. Is the development experience much different on a premium mobile title like this than it would be with free to play? And do you think an established franchise is needed for premium titles like the GO series to succeed in today's mobile landscape?
So far, we've only seen one side of the coin. All our games have been premium, and it's something we've embraced.
We have the privilege of working with established franchises. A lot of the people on our team grew up playing Tomb Raider, and I'm not sure any of us believed we'd ever be working on a Lara Croft title. This recognition is definitely favorable in a mobile market where hundreds of apps are released every day, but that's not to say brands are absolutely necessary to succeed.
Although this is a premium game, it does still incorporate some in-app purchases. Can you tell us about what these IAPs offer?
We have two different IAPs in the game. First we have a pack of outfits from the Square Enix portfolio (Hitman, Deus Ex, and Just Cause). We also offer the complete solution pack for the puzzles in the game. These two are not necessary to progress through the game and are totally optional.
Lara Croft GO launched simultaneously on Windows Phone, Windows 8 and 10, Android, and iOS. How much time passed between completing the actual game design before optimizing it for all these platforms and passing it through certification?
Launching simultaneously on all our target platforms was a big priority for us! We didn't want to have anyone wait to get their hands on the game, which is why it was all about parallelizing our efforts right from the get-go. We started developing and optimizing on Android, iOS and Windows platforms early in production. For Lara Croft GO, we embraced the idea of "porting starts at the beginning of development, not after" and we're very happy to have met our objectives.
Speaking of certification, Lara Croft GO does not utilize Xbox features like its predecessor – presumably to facilitate a simultaneous release across platforms. Do you plan to add Xbox integration down the line?
It was super important for us that all our platforms had feature parity. As such, we do offer in-game achievements and cloud saving on Windows platforms. There are currently no plans to migrate these features to Xbox.
Windows players can create an online profile in order to store their save data on the cloud and transfer it between devices, which is great. Is there any particular reason you used a proprietary account system over the more common Facebook login? And why can't players choose their own user IDs?
We have a solid back-end architecture at Square Enix that allows us to do all kinds of cool things and we wanted to leverage that for the Windows versions. At the same time, we didn't want to force players to have to use a third-party service to share their progress across devices. We'll be listening closely to player feedback to offer an even better experience the next time around. (Hopefully players tell them not to use a proprietary system that's inferior to universal systems. –ed.)
I've noticed that Lara Croft GO is unusually quiet on Windows Phone. I have to turn my Lumia 1520's sound up far louder than I usually keep it just to hear the game. Any chance we could get a volume boost and/or a volume slider in a future update?
We'll take a look at that, thanks!
Sweet! One of the platforms that gamers can play Lara Croft GO on is Windows 10, which recently launched on PCs and tablets. What can Microsoft do to make Windows Store gaming more successful on Windows 10 than it was on Windows 8?
That's a very good question! The main focus for us when it comes to multiplatform support is to be able to reach as many players as possible, and working with Windows allows us to do just that! We're looking forward to seeing what Microsoft has in store for us in the future.
Finally, what's next for you now that Lara Croft GO has arrived on everyone's favorite mobile platforms?
We like to keep busy! We're working on some very exciting things. Keep your eyes out for future announcements from Square Enix Montréal. :)
Tell him we need Deus ex:The fall!!!!
I really enjoyed the game. It was definitely up there with the quality of Hitman Go. I also appreciated that I was able to go back and forth between my 930 and Yoga. The only thing it was kind of short so I hope they updated it with additional maps.
So want this game. Maybe next month. My phone had been eating through his of data. Have to pay overage fees.
That was an amazing interview, thanks Paul and Francis! Tbh,I love this game on my Windows Phone, but I'd like to know one thing. The game takes a long time to load on my 512 MB RAM Lumia 630, anyway this could be improved upon or is this one of the limitations of this game supporting 512 MB devices or is it something else. Anyways, this is not a complaint, just a request, I love your games and the premium model and I like that purchases are optional (I purchased the suits to show my support), and I hope you add more levels, thanks for considering Windows Phone! :)
This is a really good game. I love that it's cross platform and you can sync progress between the desktop and the phone. They also had hitman at a discounted rate when this launched, so I bought them both - highly reccomended
Great interview! Thanks! I would definitely prefer being able to login using an existing account... either Microsoft account, Apple account, Google account, Facebook account, or Twitter account. Give users the choice, even if that account just authenticates to their own proprietary backend system. Users have way too many accounts and tend to go for the path of least resistance, and this includes me. If I have the option for Microsoft account or Twitter, I generally use those.
If only there were some unifying account for Windows gamers that they could've taken advantage of, right? Oh, there is; it's called Xbox Live and these exact same developers already have experience using it. Makes no sense to not use it again when you already know how to use it and when not using it is guaranteed to result in lost sales.
U read the interview before flapping your trap as usual? How does iOS and android make use of that?
I couldn't disagree more. I absolutely loathe being forced to use a Facebook or other social media login. Those usually require a whole raft of permissions that I simply shouldn't need to give to play a game. Yes, you can tweak those permissions but it's an extra step & extra effort I shouldn't have to go through just to ensure my newsfeed isn't spammed. I'd take generic login any day or XBL as coip said (if we could). I have my own domain name, so I assign unique, throwaway email acounts for every website or RL business I deal with. It makes remembering my credentials easy and I can block spammers in an instant (and report the exact company who spammed me/sold my information)
No Xbox integration no buy sorry
No care. Really. Such a non issue...oh wait u want you precious points...why exactly? Yeah.. No...
It might sound sad to some but for me no xbox achievements means no purchase.
That's why we run lengthy interviews like this, so you guys can say the same thing over and over. :P
People are ridiculous. They complain that developers don't support our platform, but when they do support our platform, people complain that they don't add something as small as Xbox achievements (which do not make the gameplay any better) to it. That's ridiculous, and it's no wonder some developers refuse to support Windows Phone. The users are unappreciative. Do you really get that much satisfaction from getting a few Xbox points, that it's a deal breaker whether a game has them or not? You can't just enjoy the game?
Actually, I'm a heavy supporter AND developer. I would never ever release a game w/o Xbox integration on the Windows platform, which is why I have not released any games yet, just misc apps. If an app is released I'd happily purchase it, but I only buy Xbox enabled games since that increases the satisfaction I get from playing. I own almost every Xbox title on Windows Phone that's worth the money (140+ titles as of now), most of them are paid. So yeah, Xbox integration matters a lot to a lot of people. It like customization is crucial to some, and they won't buy an app that doesn't fulfill their needs/wants. I can bet that there is tons of apps and games that you haven't purchased cause they dont fulfill your needs/wants or are you the only one who has purchased every app in the store?
I purchase games that are fun to play, not just for a niche feature such as Xbox Achievements. If a game has lots of good gameplay, I buy it. Whether or not I can get achievements or not while playing a game does not even affect my decision.
I do that as well, but there has to be a good enough reason for me to buy a non Xbox game. LCG is not good enough if its comparable to HG. HG wasn't that fun, unique gameplay and perfect for a mobile device, but to slow animations which made it annoying to do multiple moves in a go. I usually planned the whole levels moves before even taking one, and due to the slowish animations a move I made could be skipped and caused me to fail the level.
I understand that Xbox achievements are important to you, but it seems, to me, extremely limiting to think like that.
Agreed. Hitman GO was instant purchase due to cheevies, Lara Croft GO would've been the same.
Achievement addicts are missing out on some of the greatest games ever...past, present and future from a variety of platforms.
And they are hurting the platform! Selfish gits.
I dont agree fully with you on that. I expect the best out of the games I purchase, especially from the big studios. I can buy a small indie game w/o cheviees (Teedee is one such game), but when theres something from the biggies I expect them to utilize the available tools and features to make their game a top-notch game. And if other Xbox gamers has spent a huge amount of $$ on Xbox titles, that's a good indication for the studios that Xbox enabled titles increases sales, even at higher price points than $3.
Edit: I'm getting a bit annoyed of how some people think. It's totally fine to refuse to purchase an app w/o live tiles, a unique platform feature, but not to refuse to purchase a non-xbox game, which lacks a unique platform feature...
Great interview and I did not know about this or the Hitman game, I'm gonna check them both out. I personally like the premium mobile games, rather than the F2P/Fremium stuff. I hate being bugged constantly to purchase something just to keep playing.
Now we just need other developers to commit to the platform in this way. Things are improving slowly but surely.
Love this game
Excellent interview Paul for a great game! Square has never disappointed.
THANK YOU PAUL ACEVEDO!! You delivered yet another great interview/review! Its like you were asking questions in the same succession as I was thinking about them. I especially liked this part..."We have about 75 puzzles spread out over five chapters" That game is pure gold. Thanks Paul and thank you devs.
I bought since first day and loved it instantaneously because it capture essentials from Lara Croft games and visually is amazing combined with sound :D
Loved hitman go, is on my list to purchase from reading this
I mean i find that games now a days especially those strictly designed for moble entertainment is like crazy. This game looks great and the fact its on moble platforms is kind of crazy!!
Please make Lara Croft running game an universal apps and cloud save too!
As an avid achievement hunter, I will say that I feel as though achievements are not necessary for me to purchase a game, but they certainly do/can add value. Hitman GO launched with achievements for $5, I purchased it, and I loved it. The fact that it had achievements, cross-play to Win8 and it was a puzzle game (I love puzzle games!) made it worth the money to me. Without all of those, I don't think it would have. Maybe $3 like many other games on WP, but certainly not $5. Now that Lara Croft GO has launched for $5, without achievements, I don't know that I want to pay that much. I'm sure it will be a fun game and it's nice to see from the interview that they have innovated from the Hitman version to make this game even better and fit the Lara Croft franchise, but ultimately, I'm just going to wait for a sale. After all, Hitman GO was 80% off in the first few months, might as well see if I can just wait it out and save a few bucks.
Nothing wrong with waiting for a sale. I waited for the recent sale on Hitman GO, myself. :)
Will buy this game once it is supported with Xbox achievements. I mean I assume those tend to help sales. As for other Square Enix games, I'd like to see Deus Ex: The Fall and The World Ends With You Solo Remix
I've just started playing Hitman Go and I'm loving it. Looks like I'll be picking up this game soon.
I want to get this when I get a new lumia. My screen is cracked.
Xbox integration = shut up and take my money Otherwise = meh. Ingame cheevos suck IMO... so, probably never going to play this.