How do you lead a legendary gaming character back to potential greatness after a spell of dodgy decisions? Make her real, make her believable. The unsurprising (but cool) announcement of a new Tomb Raider was met with a pleasing shock at just how much Lara Croft will change, not just in age but in appearance and personality too. The ongoing coverage over at Game Informer has unearthed some new information about the challenges Crystal Dynamics are going through by making their biggest star relevant for today’s market.
Global brand director, Karl Stewart, revealed that at the start of the project, Tomb Raider 9 was going to be a continuation of Underworld but thankfully realised that: “it was not the way we needed to go. We had to stop in our tracks and reevaluate everything in order to choose a new direction. The origin story came about through lots of research and deciding how to reposition Lara to get her where she needed to go. A reboot wasn’t at the top of the list to begin with, but it certainly shone through as the direction the franchise needed.” Amen to that. Art director, Brian Horton, spoke of the need to keep Lara recognisable but update her look to be relevant to an era where realism is highly important: “We want people to care for Lara at the end of the day. And if they can look at her and go “this is someone that I want to help through this survival journey,” then we have met our goal.” To do this, the team started not with character model but with a full understanding of who the new Lara is as a person, someone who is young and vulnerable that has a great deal of inner strength and hopefully admiration from the player. Everyone knows that Lara Croft is the busty treasure hunter but CD wants people to look beyond the guns, boobs and animated hair.
So much so, the swishing braided locks of many a Laras has been replaced with a simple ponytail, “We wanted to have the hair itself tell a bit of the story. So the hair moves and helps to sell the drama,” Said Horton. “The idea is to have it at the right length to give it some great secondary motion in action sequences.” It certainly didn’t hurt Bayonetta to have a head full of seemingly living hair. And notice how in the few promotional shots of Lara, her bust is more in keeping with real life, not unbelievably large for such an athletic lass. Upsetting for some I’m sure but Horton dashed hopes of any of the old school ‘bonuses’ of previous games: “There is a different tone we are going for across the board, and Lara Croft as a sex object isn’t our goal. No unlockable bikinis.” Faith from Mirror’s Edge has always been praised for her appearance and how she looks like a convincing game character. Crystal Dynamics want to recreate that idea for Croft.
Since it’s a story about the development of a hero, the emphasis of Lara learning from doing and growing in strength was also important to the team. As the game progresses, so do her animations, representing her growing in confidence to any given task. Stewart said: “For example, when she hears the scavenger for the first time, her natural reaction is to step back and ask “what the hell is that?” But as you progress she becomes stronger and her animations change, as does her character performance.” Nice huh? Underworld was particularly good at showing the subtle animations of Lara as she shielded her face from fire or walked through thick foliage. Expanding on that and making it something important throughout the game is awesome. It sounds like Crystal Dynamics has put a lot of work into all the areas where the franchise had gone astray over the years. I am indeed a happy boy. Now, about making a new Legacy of Kain game… anyone?