Tomb Raider: 'Lara has gone through lots of challenges, and there are many more'
5th Jan 2013 | 13:00
In just a few months the most recognisable female video game character of all time will make her return. The latest Tomb Raider is a reboot that aims to redefine what the both the franchise and its leading lady for a new generation.
To find out just how developer Crystal Dynamics aims to do this, we spoke with lead Writer Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of the celebrated
fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett, who talks about growing up on games; art director Brian Horton, who discusses recreating a gaming icon; and creative director, Noah Hughes, who tells us how the island Lara finds herself stranded on works.
Can you remember your first contact with Lara Croft?
Rhianna Pratchett: My dad played the original Tomb Raider first. I don't know if he wanted all the fun first or if he wanted to check if it was suitable for me. Probably he just wanted all the fun! He actually spoiled the whole T-Rex coming around the corner bit!
What was the allure of working with Lara?
Well, it's Lara Croft! Given that I've written a couple of female action heroines [Faith from Mirror's Edge, Noriko from Heavenly Sword] before, this was sort of going back to the genesis of them and by that I don't mean the first one, I mean arguably the most famous one. Even my mother has heard of Lara Croft.
What did you feel was important to keep or to do away with from previous iterations of Lara?
For me, I felt that the slightly unapproachable British Ice Queen was not as appealing as it was when she first came out. We're living in a different climate. Rich characters throwing their money about... To be fair it's partly the film's fault as well. She needed her sharp edges rounded off a little bit.
She does still come from money. She's uncomfortable about it for a couple of reasons. She very much wants to make it on her own, partly because her parents are missing. They don't feature at all in the story [of the game] but they are missing. Touching the family money would mean acknowledging that they're really gone and that they're not coming back.
What was your reaction to the internet explosion after the supposed attempted rape scene trailer and interview that followed?
The thing is I wasn't announced at the time so I wasn't able to come out and say 'actually, this is what we're doing in this scene'. I can totally understand why [it sparked controversy], there was limited information out there and some things were said that were just not accurate.
I think everyone who's talked about it since has talked about context. There's no flick switch to bad assery, that scene happens, she has to deal with it, but her character is not changed because of it. This isn't I Spit on your Grave or the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not to sound dismissive, but when you see it as a whole, she's gone through lots of challenges before that and there are many more challenges after that.
So the quote [from Executive producer Ron Rosenberg] about players wanting to protect Lara...
I'm not going to say that every player has the same relationship with their character. I actually think that scene has more power for players that feel that they are that character, because it is uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable.
It just shows that there's not necessarily enough knowledge about video games for people to stand up and say 'That's not what it's like.' People just think 'Videogames are for kids and it's rape and ARRRR!' There's just not enough knowledge to counteract bulls**t headlines.
Was there pressure to adhere to preconceptions of what Lara should look/act like?
Brian Horton: Oh yeah! We went through many iterations. We had our first concept, that nailed that look, focus tested. What we found was people recognised her as Lara Croft but at the same time they weren't fixated on some of her more, uh... traditional attributes I should say? They were staring at her eyes and thinking 'I want to know that girl'. That's when we knew we had the right formula.
How have you worked to make the world of Tomb Raider a very physical place?
We've often said that the island is the second most important character in the game. We have the support cast but the island really is Lara's ultimate foe in a lot of ways. You'll see wind, you'll see rain you'll see fire. All of these attributes mirror a primal idea of survival but we're not just trying to make the aesthetic right. The wind will actually have a mechanics aspect to it. You'll be able to utilise the wind to your advantage - it could also be used as a deterrent in some way.
How have you approached tombs in the game?
You saw a side tomb which is really just the tip of what a tomb is for us. That gets magnified 10-20 times in the real tombs in the game.
By the end of Tomb Raider, will Lara have become the heroine we knew from older games or will this be an entirely new Lara?
Our goal for this re-imagining is to set her off on a whole new quest. These are all going to be new stories, new adventures and this is just the beginning of a whole new set of stories and videogames for Lara, hopefully, if we're fortunate enough for people to like it.
Tomb Raider isn't an open world but it feels like it. How do the hub areas work?
Noah Hughes: As a Tomb Raider game you want to create a world that's rich with atmosphere and high fidelity enough to feel like a real place. Another aspect, that was essential to keep, was that sense of finding things. It wasn't acceptable to trip along a linear path. So the hubs were really that middle ground where we felt we could deliver on that sense of exploration and maintain that fidelity that we thought was important.
Can you give examples of how the environment of the island informs gameplay?
In the context of hunting, Lara gains experience from that. We know that food is essential for survival but we didn't want a simulation game. It's really a way to enhance your survival and gain skills. And we wanted to make sure that there was enough AI behind something like the deer so you feel like it's alive in the world.
In terms of the combat, it's not about strength or the biggest gun. It's about being agile and moving. We really wanted you to be able to move fluidly between cover. We didn't want a system that encouraged you to stick in one place.
Maps full of collectibles are no new thing, but how has the team made them interesting?
Each of them has a goal, like the relics you pick up. The pull there really is to share the archaeological experience with Lara. In the case of the historical docs, they really represent more of a narrative element where people are curious about the backstory of the island and the relevant characters. Each one has a goal of adding to the experience.