Are you a Lilith-a-like?

When Crystal Dynamics started feeding us information for the new Tomb Raider game, I applauded them for dropping the dated promotional campaign of hiring models to look like Lara Croft. For too long, most of the focus felt like it was directed towards the models instead of the game she was meant to be advertising.

Gearbox Software has announced a similar campaign for Borderlands 2 and are asking via their website (spotted by Kotaku) for any Lilith look-a-likes to step forward. Where this differs from what Eidos where doing up until only a few years ago is that whoever is picked to portray Lilith will actually become part of the game as an NPC that players (presumably) interact with. The request on Gearbox’s site is as follows:

Do you want to be a character in a video game? We’re looking for someone to become Lilith from Borderlands. If hired, you will appear in the game, Borderlands 2, as the live action version of the character. Additionally, you may be invited to participate in promotional events and trade shows.

It’s not a competition either, the developer will pay the live-action Lilith a thousand bucks per day and state this is a job opportunity for anyone – well, any lady – aged between 18 and 30. I fit within the latter category but certainly not the former. Not with this beard! My hope is that the chosen model will be able to properly represent Borderlands 2 and be a purposeful inclusion within the storyline, so any promotional material – and we’re bound to get plenty – this casting call produces will be relevant to the game instead of simply ‘some chick in tatty clothing with funky coloured hair’. I’ve always had a soft spot for Borderlands and indeed the character Lilith as I thought the way she spoke and laughed during combat added a real human quality to the character. This could certainly further that feeling. Then again, it could easily just become ‘some chick in tatty clothing with funky coloured hair’.

Lara Croft’s perfect model is Lara Croft

I’ve been very vocal about my thoughts towards the redundant idea of using real life models to act as video game heroines in order to sell a product. I think it’s old, dumb and in the worst cases, the emphasis is put on the model and not the game itself. One series guilty of such promotion is Tomb Raider but along with seemingly everything else developers Crystal Dynamics is changing, the use of models portraying Ms Croft is a thing of the past.

Brian Crecente of Kotaku spoke with Karl Stewart of CD and before he could finish his question regarding look-a-like Crofts, Stewart interrupted with “That will never happen again. We want to create a visceral experience. We want people to look at Lara and see the psychological aspect of her character. Having a real Lara out there doing cartwheels kind of destroys that.” It most certainly does. The tone of the reboot is one more serious and sinister from other Tomb Raider games who, even in their darker moments, still remained fairly light-hearted. From the awesome video seen at Microsoft’s E3 press conference on Monday and from previous interview with Crystal Dynamics, it’s clear that Lara isn’t meant to be a pin-up but a fragile victim of circumstance. Someone you care for not lust after.

Crecente and Stewart also chatted about the new Tomb Raider movie set for a 2013 release and how it also follows the early years of Lara and her new persona. Children of Men and Ironman writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby are on board to pen the screenplay inspired by the new game rather than directly copy it. I’m not sure whether a movie is really necessary considering the caliber films based on games but Fergus and Ostby have written some decent flicks so you never know…

Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

Microsoft E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

The months leading up to E3 2011 had gamers jump from being ritualistically interested to overwhelmingly excited. What were Microsoft going to show? And what of Sony? Can they really ignore the month of PSN troubles and upset? Nintendo has a brand new console to show off plus games for their 3DS, or at least that’s what we hope.

So E3 has barely even begun and the highlights are already vast in number. Microsoft officially kicked things off with their Press Conference and did so with the wealthiest franchise, Call of Duty. Yes, Modern Warfare 3 was demoed live on an Xbox 360, a point made even clearer when the “please reconnect controller” error popped up on screen. Deliberate? Probably. But hell, Modern Warfare 3 did look really rather good and ran incredibly smooth on a five year old system. The gameplay shown still had that Call of Duty game style and execution which has become more of a criticism than complement but with the last two titles selling like crazy – both on release and the years after – it’s not a huge surprise that Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward, the co-development team, are sticking to a tried and tested formula.

After the shooting was over, Crystal Dynamics took to the stage to debut gameplay from next years Tomb Raider reboot and boy, does that look good. Graphically it’s more impressive than previous iterations as both the environment AND Lara have a realistic quality about them. Since Lara is on her own, she was constantly talking to herself, saying things like “I need to get out of here” referring to the cave she was imprisoned in by some scrappy-looking vagabonds. It added a great feeling of tension and fear without coming across as contrived but we only saw it for a limited time. Continuous chatter from a frightened teenage girl can go from dramatic to annoying very quickly I’d imagine. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a Tomb Raider game as I have been for the reboot and the demo just underlined that fact. The Tomb Raider reboot is said to be coming some time next year.

Next up for my personal highlights just so happened to be the next game in Microsoft’s line up. Mass Effect 3. Big boss Ray Muzyka spoke of ME3 being the beginning of something big and that it’s the perfect time to jump into the franchise. A little late if you ask me seeing as there’s been two awesome games before it. Nevertheless, ME3 adds something extra to all the sci-fi shooting and sexual tension. It adds Kinect. Inclusion of motion controls has been rumoured for a while after the game’s box art featured a Kinect logo on it and thankfully hands-free gaming won’t hinder what has so far been a brilliant controller-based series. Because strictly speaking, it isn’t the motion camera ME3 uses. It’s the microphone. Kinect will allow players to issue strategic commands to team members by telling them where to go and what to do on the battlefield. Not only that but conversations can be had by actually talking to the characters, saying the responses shown on ME‘s conversation wheel instead of selecting them with the right stick. I really like both those ideas, a lot, though am slightly sceptical as to whether it will feel a bit gimmicky. But I have faith in BioWare. For now.

The will they won’t they drama of a Halo 1 remake came to an end with an official announcement of Halo Anniversary doing exactly what you’d expect, remastering Halo. The original campaign has been spruced up considerably for the Xbox 360 with classic multiplayer maps and online co-op to boot. One thing I really appreciated about the recent Halo games is the omitance of the Flood. I hate that enemy type. I mean really hated them. Now they’ll be back in HD to annoy me all over again. Joy. But that aside, I’m quite looking forward to reliving my time as a 20 year old gamer playing Halo for the first time and thinking how a relatively unknown game can be so important to the industry.

E3 just wouldn’t be E3 without Peter Molyneux making an appearance in a Microsoft’s press conference telling us about the next big Fable game. This year won’t be any different with the announcement of Fable: The Journey which looks to be a prequel using Kinect to do things like control the reigns of a horse and carriage as well as the combat of the game. The demoer was raising his hands to ready magic, jolting them forward to release it onto the hobbes that needed eradicating. Varying hand movemens and gestured seemed to launch different kinds of spells so my initial fears of Fable: The Journey being no more than a Kinect shooting gallery maybe unnecessary. I can’t but wonder how the game will be received after Fable III ended with not so much a bang but an unhappy whimper from the audience. Can Kinect bring the series back to a happy place in our hearts?

Remember the announcement of Star Wars Kinect last year and how staged it looked? This year sees another dubious demo but at least there was more footage that represented what will be in game. Things like waving your hands to swish a lightsaber around or raising obstructions using the force by lifting your hands in that air. All this set in the prequel era of Star Wars which, admittedly, isn’t the best time for fans of the films but makes the most sense for games. That way there can be numerous Jedis and locations known by more than just the hardcore. Events like Pod Racing look to also make an appearance no doubt similar to Kinect Joy Ride in its controls. I really liked the Pod Racer game a few generations ago so welcomes another dip into that particular sport. I just hope it and the rest of Star Wars Kinect lives up the the hype.

I’ll end my first lengthy article about E3 with a game Microsoft closed their press conference with; Halo 4. Coming Christmas 2012 is the start of another trilogy of Halo games staring Master Chief and Cortana as they do battle with, well, I don’t actually know. The reveal was short but very sweet and looked to be set directly after Halo 3, when the Chief was frozen cryogenically on board a distant space ship. Something disturbed his slumber forcing him to burst out his pod, grab the holographic honey and see where all the noise was coming from. It didn’t look good. His ship was being destroyed by some unknown force that looked a little like Unicron from Transformers but obviously isn’t. Thought how awesome would it be if it were?! That was pretty much all Microsoft and 343 Industries showed but it was more than enough to arouse the audience and left me wondering what else E3 has in store after such an eventful beginning. I can’t wait to find out!

The beginning of an icon

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This video starts with a young lady plunging into the water, against her own accord. She wasn’t diving or enjoying a casual dip, she fell and that fall was the beginning of the end of her youth. She had to become a woman. She became Lara Croft.

Dramatic huh? Well, the debut trailer for Square Enix’s Tomb Raider reboot has drama by the barrel load. There’s not an ounce of in-game footage but in this instance, that doesn’t matter. This video is about setting the grand scene for Lara, a reboot after many previous reboots that failed to really take off due to overwhelming similarities and less than stellar experiences. But where once stood a real-life model dressed as a video game heroine, prancing around for uncomfortable dudes, now stands a trailer showing an anatomically proportioned girl thrown into a rather unpleasant situation.

The words ‘A survivor is born’ flashes up towards the end and if all the hype is to be believed about a dramatic shift in Tomb Raider, this could be the reboot which finally counts. You’re looking good Lara!…the video I mean… damnit, old habits die hard…!

The necessity of Lara’s reboot

When a franchise of any sort becomes a little stale, there are usually two choices. The first is to take the Activision route; cancel it or ‘put it on hold’. Another option is to wipe the slate clean and start again with a potentially life-saving reboot. For Crystal Dynamics, the only real decision for one of their biggest IPs was the latter and that’s why the next Tomb Raider is being receiving a complete overhaul of ideas rather than letting a once mighty star fall deeper into the bargain bin.

In a conversation with Edge magazine, CD studio head Darrell Gallagher spoke of the necessity to make a serious reboot: “Lara had hit her apex in how she was before, and we didn’t really feel we could take that any farther. It was a chance to look at everything again, bring new people in who had been interested in the franchise before but didn’t feel like Lara was modern enough.” It’s interesting that he suggested Lara wasn’t modern enough. The over-sexualised female lead is fast becoming a joke for games with more realistic characters like Faith from Mirror’s Edge and Portal‘s Chell being championed as the way forward. There’s a common debate over Bayonetta who is often portrayed as a sex object yet her dialog in-game alludes to her being the one in charge of her sexuality. Regardless of my obvious tangent, as a character and the incredibly dated use of look-a-like models, Lara is old and people are noticing.

That being said, changing her completely wouldn’t be right either and although all aspects of Ms Croft were analysed, the important thing for Gallagher was keeping the essential familiarities “We left no stones unturned as we were going through the concept, and then kept the right stones. The crucial thing is that it feels like her, even though it’s completely different.” I’m all for change and admit I came to the Tomb Raider series relatively late but if the new Lara was missing some of her attitude and spirit shall we say, the danger would be her loyal audience being alienated.

When Crystal Dynamics first was given the franchise in 2003, the games which followed were often thought of as reboots by the media yet the developer didn’t view them that way. They just put their own spin on it. But this spin received a lot of criticism for being too easy, neutering the exploration element and not pushing the boundaries enough compared to other similar franchises. Over the years the games got better but still lagged behind the new kings and queens of third-person action adventures. The hope of Crystal Dynamics and fans of tomb raiding is that making a prequel where a young Lara is shipwrecked on a Japanese island and must learn to survive, will not only be a great game but one that wins back come credit for the developers too.

Best of the best

Despite Super Mario Galaxy 2 being beaten in 2010 sales by New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the chubby plumber’s second trip into outer space has earned him five BAFTA nominations including Best Game and Best Gameplay. And if that wasn’t enough to celebrate a handyman who hasn’t actually done his job in 25 years, Mario has been voted the number one video game character of all time by readers of the Guinness World Records (via Official Nintendo Magazine). But the competition was tough featuring the likes of Link, Solid Snake and even Pac-Man.

The debate for the greatest character is always a tricky one due to a number of variables like age, gaming experience and genre preferences. In the past, the hirsute Italian lost out to Gordon Freeman in Gamespot’s search for the best character but in the Guinness World Record list, he came in a number 8. Though one could argue that Mr Freeman isn’t a character per se but a shell for gamers to climb into, seeing the world through his eyes with any form of personality driven by the players themselves. Mario is only marginally more fleshed out but is certainly more adaptable to situations and genres.

How about Link? Should he have been first? At number 2 Link shares Gordon Freeman’s attributes of being a silent protagonist and part of a greatly influential series. The pioneering mechanic of locking onto an enemy in Ocarina of Time has aided a vast number of games and gamers alike. But Mario staring appearance in Super Mario Bros. was one of the factors that saved the video game industry in the 80s when all seemed doomed.

Another name that often springs to mind is Lara Croft. If the questionnaire was asked in the mid nineties, maybe I’d agree with Ms Croft as a suitable opponent. But after too many attempts at reinvention that never quite managed to be what we all hoped they would plus how, as a character, she’s quite shallow, I think her place at number 7 is appropriate.

The list of 50 names also includes some newer personalities like Marcus Phoenix from Gears of War. As much as I love that franchise, Phoenix is more of a poster boy for testosterone than what can be considered number one material. He should definitely be on the list but probably as much as Soap MacTavish of CoD4 fame who was number 12 and equally not a top spot contender. Master Chief is slightly older and came third which to me is a little generous but understandable. Halo is huge and the honoured Spartan is one of the reasons why it grew so rapidly. However, Bungie deliberately kept Master Chief vague and mysterious, again allowing the player to feel more immersed in the role like Gordon Freeman.

My fanaticism with games began with Mario and his games be it platformer, racer, puzzler or party and looks to only continue into the future too. The fondness I have for Solid Snake and the impact his journey has had on my time as a gamer makes me want to argue a case for him being closer to or even number one but for what Mario has given the industry, I think being called the greatest video game character is a fitting accolade. Check out the full list over at the Official Nintendo Magazine site.