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DF Retro: Tomb Raider Analysed on PS1/Saturn/DOS/Win95

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DF Retro: Tomb Raider Analysed on PS1/Saturn/DOS/Win95

John returns to Lara Croft's original adventure, comparing the Saturn and PS1 versions, along with the various PC editions - and what's the best way to revisit this classic on today's hardware?

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider which means I couldn't let the year go by without looking at the game that started it all the original tomb raider this was the game that helped core design achieve the fame it had been searching for even if it ultimately spelled demise for the studio so on this episode of DF retro we're going to take a look back at this original version of Tomb Raider on the Sega Saturn Sony Playstation and the PC of course while there are other ports following this none of which are easy to capture these early releases will be the primary focus here so let's get started founded in 1988 in Derby England core design started out much like any other British studio did creating games for popular computers of the era the Amiga of course was its main focus but core produced plenty of games for other computers as well from 2d platformers to pseudo 3d racing games court was producing a ton of games then during the early 90s as the popularity of the Mega Drive took hold in Europe they started making games for Sega's console as well which would form a relationship that would last throughout the 16-bit generation cores work on systems such as the Sega CD in particular really showcased what the team was capable of of course despite releasing upwards of 50 games during the period from 1988 to 1996 we all know that its ultimate success would come in the form of Tomb Raider there's a key thing to consider here then core was a big supporter of Sega and the Sega Saturn was going to be a key to its next generation plans the earliest media from Tomb Raider was actually shown running on a Sega Saturn development kit the same console where the game would first launch but we all know that it would be Sony that would ultimately latch on to the series and run away with it releasing subsequent games exclusively on PlayStation and the PC in fact the series wouldn't return to Sega for a solid four years when the fourth game was ported to Sega's Dreamcast so as the first version released then how did it actually shape up on the Sega Saturn and how does it compare to all of the other versions well let's start here with the PAL version which was the first version released here we're running on an NTSC Sega Saturn using an action replay cart in order to get sixty Hertz that's right I don't actually own a PAL console and I wanted to keep this video entirely at 60 Hertz anyway and as you can see when doing so the gameplay speed is actually normal but before we take this version and stack it up against the PlayStation we actually need to compare it against itself you see in early 1997 Victor soft actually released a version of the game known as tomb Raider's in Japan for years then it has been suggested in rumored that this version was enhanced for the Saturn with improved graphics and faster performance and after close investigation I have the results here today let's start with performance this rolling demo here actually proves very useful as we can capture a perfect light for like sequence which reveals the frame rate is identical between both versions of the game and as you can see the results really aren't very good with drops well under 30 frames per second being the norm it's not a pretty sight but this demonstration also helps show us that the visuals on display are identical between the two versions knowing that then another interesting thing to look at is the way the game kind of renders itself the Sega Saturn of course uses quads rather than triangles which are in reality distorted sprites if we switch to a wireframe mode with the help of an emulator here we can actually see those results in action as you move through the world surfaces in close proximity to Lara are subdivided into additional quads it is for this reason that we can actually see the textures sort of change in warp based on distance from the camera as textures have to be spread out across larger quads at a distance but we can also eliminate the actual distortion and the sprites themselves by displaying every quad is a perfect square yes this mode looks rather trippy but this is ultimately well kind of what the system is drawing you see under normal conditions each of these squares may in display these texture here would be distorted based on coordinates defined by the programmers and really by unworking them this is what you might get between these two modes it ultimately kind of shows what Saturn developers had to go through of course 3d technology was still in its infancy at this time but clearly these techniques are very different from the competition ultimately on its own the Saturn iteration of Tomb Raider is a playable and interesting release it's neat to see how it was achieved on the platform even if the results aren't always great but then we have the PlayStation version released on November 14th in 1996 essentially twenty years ago Tomb Raider for the PlayStation offers improved visuals and performance over Sega Saturn while we do see the typical PlayStation flaws such as a fine texture warping the game looks more vibrant and detailed overall lighting has improved with smoother shading on character models both versions used Garage shading of course but it does look much better on the PlayStation texture quality is better as well and the overall scene construction is more attractive we actually see texture warping in both versions but due to the way the hardware handles these surfaces the artifacts manifest in different ways when you compare the two side-by-side the Saturn version really looks pretty dingy in dark in comparison with a lot of areas completely concealed in blackness.

There's also a difference in the way the water is rendered here as you can see it.

Should be noted that tomb raider is exactly the type of game that the saturn just isn't well suited for due to its fully 3d nature all of the graphics elements are handled exclusively by vdp1 vdp2 sits mostly idle though really it's not exactly clear what could have been done with this anyways I also have to mention the sound which suffers with sound effects playing back at a lower bitrate on the Saturn with noticeable issues such as popping and crackling throughout really though the biggest.

Difference here stems from performance using these demo sequences again we can see exactly how the two versions stack up against one another and the results aren't pretty the PlayStation version turns in a surprisingly stable 30 frames per second while Saturn struggles to reach the same point smaller empty hallways tend to run okay on Sega's console but all of the larger open environments struggle greatly to maintain performance numbers in retrospect I must say that core designs work on the PlayStation here is really something pretty impressive it's a fully 3d game with complex polygonal environments to explore and it all runs at a very stable framerate but this wasn't the only version of Tomb Raider 2 launched in November the game also appeared on the PC platform now this is the version that I first owned complete with the lovely Ida's packaging of the day I mean look at this box here 1996 was of course a very different time for PC gaming as most pcs really weren't yet up to the task of playing real 3d games it was games such as Tomb Raider and quake that year that pushed many of us to Pentium class machines but even then 3d was still quite challenging this original 1996 version of Tomb Raider was designed as a DOS game using a software renderer with 8-bit color you could off to play in 320 by 206 40 by 480 mode at the time most people would have used the 320 by 200 much ran pretty well on any mid-range pentium PC 640 by 480 however was really only playable on the highest NPCs of the day compared to the PlayStation version there are some pretty fascinating differences here for one thing the 8-bit color of the PC version results in more noticeable color banding throughout the PlayStation version does actually use a higher color depth here but it does rely more heavily on dithering so both versions have noticeable visual artifacts as a result and while the PC version does suffer from its own texture and polygon instabilities of the three versions it's this software DOS version that features the most stable texturing with less noticeable warping the higher color depth on PlayStation does however result in smoother polygons and character shading making it the best of the three in this area thus far also once again we see the difference in water rendering with regions below the water surface taking on a blue hue on PlayStation that is absent on the PC then we have the audio the PC version by default falls behind the other two versions due to limited audio data on the CD Tomb Raider makes use of Redbook audio you know CD music but it only features a small handful of tracks on the PC and each of those tracks just consists of ambient noises and those same tracks then repeat throughout the game.

On PlayStation and Saturn however the game mixes these ambient tracks with actual music used to highlight certain sequences.

Of course as we'll see in a moment PC users aren't entirely left out in the cold today now 1996 was also when 3d cards started to take off as I've said many times before and Tomb Raider would ultimately support many of them by 1998 Tomb Raider would go on to support 3d effects voodoo power VR renditions Verte s3 verge matrix mystique and ATI rage 3d cards each one of these had its own unique advantages but ultimately I feel that the 3d effects version stands out as the best of the bunch thanks to its fast performance the bump to 16-bit color and improved visuals all around this was ultimately the best way to experience Tomb Raider back in the day but what about today well as usual you can count on the community to preserve PC games with loads of improvements to spare case in point a user going by the name of barracuda for 15 over on the Tomb Raider forums has crafted a tiny wrapper designed to enable modern graphics cards and operating systems to run the original tomb Raider in high resolution with full 16 by 9 widescreen support among many other things but wait you say isn't Tomb Raider at DOS game well that's the thing it was and so were most of the 3d card patches except for one important one the ATI raged 3d version of the game this specific iteration of the game was coded to run in Windows 95 rather than Doss and this patch now serves as the basis for running the game on a modern machine as you can see it looks pretty good it's still Tomb Raider but you get the higher resolution and you have the option to enable or disable texture filtering which is always appreciated and if you have the original CD you'll get the original Redbook audio of the PC version but of course you can also download a special soundtrack pack which actually introduces the music cues that were present in the console releases of the game great stuff oh and you can use this for the expansion pack unfinished business as well I should note so if you're looking to replay the original tomb raider today this is my recommended option it looks great it runs fine though still capped at 30 frames per second and it actually plays really really well on a keyboard though you can of course map to a gamepad if you choose beyond that there's another user Kyle Allen also known as Leon deca on Reddit who has been working on this an attempt to remaster the original CGI cutscenes from the game now between the three versions it's actually the PlayStation version which features the highest quality cutscene videos but in all cases they are pretty low resolution to begin with now I'm not normally a fan of upscaling methods like this as I prefer to keep my pixels nice and sharp but I have to admit the results here are pretty cool and I really appreciate him for sharing them with me now of course as I.

Mentioned earlier Tomb Raider was ported elsewhere there's an interesting version of the game released for the nokia n-gage for instance but I do not own this device nor do I have the means to actually capture from it if I had it I could go for some side talking though so maybe sometime in the future then there is the iOS and Android ports which while technically pretty decent are somewhat difficult to play tomb raider with touch controls isn't exactly appealing I have to admit. Beyond that the game was later remade as tomb raider anniversary and it is a wildly different game indeed this is the second tomb raider game created by Crystal Dynamics the studio that would take over the franchise after core design struggled with Angel of Darkness on the PlayStation 2 it's an interesting take on the original concept of the game with mechanics now based on tomb raider legend and while i have a preference for the original game still this is certainly worth revisiting and you have a choice from so many different versions as it was released on the PC PlayStation 2 PlayStation 3 Xbox 360 the Wii and PSP.

But ultimately that about wraps things up here for the moment I'm certainly not done with tomb raider here or Core design and I hope to return to the series in the future but I hope you enjoyed this look at the original game I also plan to check out the company which took over the franchise Crystal Dynamics as they have quite a history as well but in the meantime if you enjoyed this episode as always be sure to LIKE subscribe and follow us on Twitter and you can find a higher quality download of this episode over at digital foundry net along with the other dia Fraser episodes of the past so if you're feeling extra generous and would like to contribute to our patreon I would be humbled by your support but that's all for now so until next time stay retro




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