Writing Lara Croft

Back in 2010, after a stint working on the early version of Eidos Montreal’s Thief reboot, Rhianna Pratchett set to work writing a very different Lara Croft. The brief from developer Crystal Dynamics was clear: this new Tomb Raider would be a reboot for the long-running series, a game that would drag Lara Croft kicking and screaming into the modern era. For Pratchett, that meant helping craft a personality for a younger Lara, an origin story in which the world’s most famous video game action hero could find herself.

“They talked about it in the way in which Batman and James Bond were rebooted,” Pratchett tells me over Skype. “We talked about Lara being depicted at a younger age. They’d had a lot of feedback from fans who wanted to see the adventures of a younger Lara, so they knew there was an appetite out there for it.”

When Pratchett began work on the series, Crystal Dynamics already had a number of Tomb Raider games under its belt, having taken over development duties from Lara’s creator, Core Design, in the mid-2000s. The studio felt it had the credibility to reboot the franchise – one of the most iconic in all video games – and had come up with a bold new vision to make the reboot worthwhile.

DF Retro: Tomb Raider – PS1 vs Saturn vs PC

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

This week, John Linneman celebrates the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider with an in-depth analysis of the first Lara Croft adventure – from a look at the technical innards of the game through to the long awaited and much requested PlayStation vs Saturn platform comparison. Plus of course, there’s a look at the PC version too, plus the later remake.

And of course, as is par for the course with DF Retro, John suggests the best way for playing the game using today’s hardware and as is perhaps to be expected, it’s a modified PC version that retains the spirit and gameplay of the original but cleans up some of the issues in the original release.

Watch: 7 things we want from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Uh oh, someone’s in trouble! Yep, an unidentified person who works in the video game industry the name of the next Tomb Raider game. It’s going to be called – wait for it – Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

What it’ll look like and how it’ll play is anyone’s guess at the moment, but that didn’t stop me from putting together a list of gameplay changes and additions that I’d really like to see featured in Lara Croft’s next adventure.

This video has been on YouTube since yesterday and already opinions are pretty divided; the majority of people who played the originals seem to be in agreement with most of my points, while those brought up on the modern games… well, let’s just say their comments aren’t as nice.

Watch: Johnny plays Tomb Raider, nearly explodes

Tomb Raider turned 20 this week, if Wes’ lovely article on didn’t tip you off.

I never played Tomb Raider as a child, though in the interests of full disclosure I did give it a quick go a few years back. Nonetheless, not having any fond memories of Lara Croft’s grave robbing adventures to speak of, now seemed like the right time to revisit Tomb Raider for an episode of Late to the Party.

In hindsight, I’m not sure Aoife knew what she was letting herself in for.

20 years on, the Tomb Raider story told by the people who were there

In July 2010, Lara Croft Way opened in Derby. The name for part of a new ring road was chosen from a shortlist by public vote, with a whopping 89 per cent opting for the character devised by local studio Core Design. As the likes of the BBC reported at the grand opening, a councillor said Derby was “proud of its place in a vibrant creative industry” and that Lara Croft Way was “a fantastic way to celebrate that”.

There wasn’t much of a celebration at what was left of Core, though. In fact, developers who had worked on Tomb Raider over the years shook their heads when they found out Lara Croft Way had opened to the public. Core – or what was left of it – had closed down just a few months earlier, and no-one seemed to have realised.

Tomb Raider’s rise to fame is well documented. We know much about how Lara Croft surfed the wave of cool Britannia all the way to Hollywood. We know all about Lara Croft on the cover of Face magazine, Lara Croft advertising Lucozade, and Lara Croft keeping ex-Liverpool goalkeeper David James up all night. What is less well-known is the story of those who built Lara back at Core. As the money rolled in, the pressure put on the handful of developers to deliver grew until, perhaps inevitably, Lara Croft crashed back down to earth. Derby’s pride and joy was prised out of the hands of its creators and whisked across the pond to America, a punishment for the disaster that was The Angel of Darkness. Core – and some say Tomb Raider – was never the same again.

Changing rooms: the shifting nature of Tomb Raider’s Croft Manor

The first house I ever owned was vast and elegant, a comfortable arrangement of grand halls and wide staircases with a treasure room glinting madly from the basement and a butler I enjoyed locking in the fridge. I would go back to that house to take a break from globe-trotting and jumping about in jungles – although, when I got there, jumping about was still pretty much all I did anyway. What a place: I loved it. You never forget your first home, and so I never forgot Croft Manor.

The manor’s always been a core part of Tomb Raider’s appeal, if you ask me, although I’m still only starting to understand why that is – particularly in the light of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s delightfully odd DLC Blood Ties (included in the new PS4 edition of the game), which puts the old house firmly back at the center of things. To approach it in a different way, maybe the appeal of the manor has changed as the games have changed: as Lara Croft has evolved and been rebooted, and as the series has changed hands and different teams have tried to work out how to make Tomb Raider in a new image.

What I initially loved about the early Croft Manor was that its inclusion suggested that Lara Croft was bigger than the game she existed within. Away from the action, here was her home – introduced as a tutorial, sure, but quickly finding a purpose beyond that. Lara goes on adventures, right, but she also has an amazing house, much like Batman does, and why wouldn’t you want to see that? And if you did see that, why not make it into a puzzle – albeit a very gentle kind – with secrets that you could uncover and nooks and crannies to explore? Why not make into a place that is suggestive of puzzles, so you never stop sounding it out?

Deus Ex Go isn’t really Deus Ex, but it understands what’s great about it

Square Enix’s streamlined Go series takes the publisher’s sprawling action games and turns them into precision puzzlers in which movement is limited and each level has a single ingenious solution hardwired into it.

This worked with Hitman because, despite the funny costumes and the freedom of approach available in the main series, Agent 47 has always belonged to a clockwork universe, and it was the clockwork itself that Go was so good at exploiting. This worked for Tomb Raider, too, because Lara Croft’s greatest moments tend to involve a lone hero exploring a complex stretch of wilderness that, on closer inspection, has had all the genuine wilderness designed out of it with real artistry.

Deux Ex was always going to be interesting. Deus Ex is about choice and only choice, in a way that can’t easily be set aside. Deux Ex Go is – you guessed it – a precision puzzler in which movement is limited and each level has a single ingenious solution hardwired into it. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, and yet I’m loving it. There are two reasons for this, I think. One is that this really is an excellent puzzle game. The other reason is more surprising: Deus Ex Go may not have that much in common with Deus Ex itself, but it has helped me to understand what’s great about the wider series.