At this year’s Gamescom convention in Cologne (Germany), one of the games that created a real buzz for itself was a little known reboot for a franchise starring Lara Croft. Going back to basics, the new Tomb Raider game explores the origins of its culturally influential lead character, Lara Croft, and why she comes to be the woman that she is. So as to get a better understanding of the game, I sat down with Meagan Marie (Community and Communication Manager of Crystal Dynamics) to ask as to what it is that prompted the reboot, and whether Lara Croft still resonates with gamers as a strong, emancipated feminist icon.
Now Crystal Dynamics has been in charge of the Tomb Raider franchise for some time now. Why did Square Enix decide to hand over the franchise to Crystal Dynamics, as opposed to keeping it with Core Design?
That was actually pre-Square Enix. We were only picked up by Square Enix a couple of years back. There is a whole big issue with Crystal and Core, but we did acquire the license after the Angel of Darkness game, and picked up with Legend, Anniversary and Underworld. I can’t speak for all of the motivations, as that is more of a corporate topic from a while back…
The new forthcoming Tomb Raider game is a reboot and explores the origins of why Lara Croft becomes the woman that she is, and why she becomes to be regarded as the strong character that she is depicted to be in the other Tomb Raider games. Why an origins story?
Just to clarify that whilst it is an origins story, the game is actually a full reboot. So whilst she is going to spiritually grow into the same Lara Croft – the tough action hero that we all love – from a storyline canon standpoint, she’s not going to have the same adventures and she’s not going to meet the same people necessarily. It’s a blank slate.
The decision to start over though was because Crystal Dynamics had finished the Legends/Anniversary/Underworld trilogy. It was a time to stop and take a look and re-evaluate the franchise and figure out where they were going to go in the future because (obviously) Tomb Raider has a lot of value, and Crystal (Dynamics) needed to evaluate as to where they were going to take it. I know that it was a process involving tons of research, sentiment tracking, awareness tracking all over the world, and coupled with just the creative vision of the team and trying a bunch of different avenues. But it felt right. It felt right to take Lara back to her origins so as to let people be there for those iconic moments and establish her motivation, and it felt like a way to modernise Lara and to make her more relatable.
Now one of the toughening up moments she has to undergo in the game is the attempted “rape”. Is that correct?
I can’t actually talk about that unfortunately.
Are there any other themes or pivotal moments – not necessarily sexually orientated – within the game where the audience comes to understand the reasoning why Lara Croft becomes the woman that she is?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re moving the game away from the teen-space to a more mature-space, and the reason for that is not because we want to see Lara Croft be beaten down. The game is not some sort of masochistic thing. It’s more that Lara is going through the ringer in order to push herself to see what she is capable of, and it’s worth noting that it’s not just Lara that is being put through the ringer, but also the entire crew of the Endurance ship that has survived the ship-wreck.
I don’t think a lot of people realise what they are capable of until they are tested and are forced to make difficult decisions, and Lara Croft’s first kill is one of those where I’m sure she went on this journey and she never expected to take a human life, and that is something that is going to change her forever. Again, we are allowing the viewers to be there for that. Lara in the past games… it wasn’t necessarily an active sport, but I don’t think anyone thought much about her taking lives of people (or endangered species or dinosaurs). We really want to make sure that this is a really weighty moment, and this is something that is really going to influence her for the foundation of the game and the future of the franchise.
Now obviously these actions have moral implications – as you are dealing with grown-up themes. Is that why you are taking a more mature approach to the new Tomb Raider game?
So as to make her more relatable, we want her to have those emotions. We want her to be unsure of herself at times. We want her to be tested, and eventually triumph through that, and find her own confidence and strength. I think the development team had tried to explore those issues and scenarios in a teen-space and they just weren’t able to do it, hence the reason why a more mature-space felt right.
Do you think you are going for a more mature angle because Lara Croft’s traditional gaming audience has also matured since her arrival on the gaming scene over a decade ago? So unlike child-centric gaming heroes (like Mario and Sonic), do you think she has had to grow up because her audience has grown also?
Yeah, I absolutely feel that way. We do want the game to appeal to the more youthful crowd (that are past the mature age rating), but it seems that even with the age rating that this is going to be a good entry point for those who didn’t grow with Lara and who are new to the franchise. Again, because it’s an origins story, it’s a very good entry point into the franchise. I’m hoping that both those gamers who have grown with Lara and have seen her evolve over the years are going to enjoy this new direction as much as those who have never given the franchise the chance and are now having the opportunity to get in on a ground level.
Now the problem with any changes to an established IP is that you are always going to upset a large majority of those who have grown up with the franchise and who have invested emotions. With that being said, what has the general consensus been like regarding the reboot from ardent Lara Croft and Tomb Raider fans who have grown with the series and who have become accustomed to its tried-and-tested game mechanics?
Well first, I need to say that I am one of those Tomb Raider players. I have been playing the games since I was twelve or thirteen. I have been a huge fan my entire life. The first reaction is always scepticism and fear because people are afraid of change. I’m sure that even the team, when they suggested it to themselves for the first time… it’s a scary prospect and a huge responsibility. Being a community manager, I’m there with the hardcore fans every day – reading their sentiments and comments on the forum – and I think that the more they see, the more they get excited.
The things that are still making some people somewhat hesitant are that we haven’t shown a ton of puzzles, and the problem with that is that we don’t want to give them away. We have these great puzzles, and we don’t want to show them off and show them being solved, so we’re trying to convince people that the foundations of what made Tomb Raider great – the puzzles, the traversal and exploration, the combat – are still there. We have those foundations, and they are at the heart of our game. We’ve just re-imagined them through a lens of survival so that everything is motivated by survival in the game.
What are your plans post-launch?
We’re focusing so hard on finishing and polishing and balancing right now. The only thing I can speak about post-launch is that we did announce that we will have a timed Microsoft XBox 360 DLC. That being said, it is timed, so it will be on other platforms after an undisclosed period. But when it comes to DLC, I also want to clarify that the studio firmly believes in delivering a full and complete experience. When you play Tomb Raider, you will get the complete experience that we wanted to give you – the complete journey, growth and evolution of Lara Croft – on the disk and on the game, and then we will have supplementary content that we would like to follow up with afterwards.
With the XBox 360 having timed exclusive DLC, does that mean that the XBox 360 is the lead platform?
Yes, although I’ve seen and played all three builds simultaneously, and they all look pretty much the same.
Which one do you prefer most?
I personally play my Xbox 360 more, but that is more to do with the installed userbase. My friends have it, and we all do the multi-player thing together.
When Lara Croft emerged on the gaming scene, she was regarded as a feminist icon for the modern woman. With that being said, how relevant do you think Lara Croft is today for women who want a strong, emancipated female role model?
Well, I think they are going to have to see more of her and they are going to have to play the game. Because we are showing early content – we don’t want to show too much, too far into the game – the concern is that a lot of people are thinking that this new Lara has lost her teeth, and that she is vulnerable and weak. In reality, she is so inspirational to me – as much if not more than classic Lara – because she is afraid and she pushes through that fear to do what has to be done in order to defend herself and to rescue her friends. That to me is really the epitome of bravery and courage. So I really feel that this new Lara can really have the same status and the same influence as the classic Lara. As a woman who works in games, I really hope that other female gamers identify with, and appreciate her change in direction.
Considering that the gaming industry is often regarded as being male dominated, how tough is it for you to work in such a patriarchal environment?
The funny thing is that I don’t notice it most of the time. Prior to this, I worked at ‘Game Informer’ magazine – which had a significant number of females – which was great. Every once in a while though (usually at a convention), you get someone underestimating you because of your gender, and they question your involvement and why you’re there. That can be frustrating sometimes, but then again, it gives you the opportunity to prove your credentials – even though you shouldn’t have to.