An Ode To Sam Nishimura From Tomb Raider

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was a film studies graduate and looking for her big break in the world of post-education. She followed her friends to a mystical and mysterious island, documenting their travels.

When we as an audience first met the girl, it was only for a few seconds, where we saw her dragged off by a scary-looking man with a knife. She was hidden away until the release of the full story.

When the story was released, we saw the girl in a different light. Sure, she was still a little bit of a damsel in distress, but she turned out to be a lot more than that.

We saw her playful but sensitive banter with our protagonist. We saw the half-smiles. We saw the girl and the protagonist bond over the course of the narrative. And of course, some of us saw a little more, underneath all of the subtle movements and words. Something that kept us going. Something that pushed us forward.

But that girl is now forgotten, passed aside with a hand-wave explanation in the sequel, and only slightly more of a payoff in the side-stories.

At this moment, we are just like our protagonist. We think we know about sacrifices, but what we have here is a loss, a choice that is made for us. Despite the cries to bring her back, we must sadly think that the girl will never come grace our screens again.

***

I’ve been mulling over the loss of Sam Nishimura for the past few weeks. With the months leading up to the release of the new game, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, we’ve been seeing a lot of people ask the developers, “where is Sam?

And I sadly have to admit, I’ve grown apart.

Please understand.

I love Sam; in the same way I love Lara as a character. But sometime that is not enough. And we need perspective. Lara is our protagonist, not Sam (although I would totally buy  Tomb Raider Snap, a spin off in the style of Pokémon Snap, where Sam tries to photograph Lara beside certain objects like a T-Rex, a relic and holding her dual pistols).

To love her knows when to let her go. Not forgotten, not a footnote, but a defining part or our heroine’s legacy. And with her departure, Lara can eventually start to heal and move on.

I, along with many others in the Sam Nishimura movement were unsatisfied with the way Sam was maligned during the interim between 2013 and RotTR. But I can see why they decided to focus on Jonah rather than Sam.

With Lara flying from desolate desert to hazardous hiking expedition, she needed someone to keep up, and Sam isn’t that. Jonah, Reyes, Roth, they would all be able to keep pace with our lead. Sam could not, not without changing a large sense of her character from 2013. Sure, Alister and Zip (Lara’s mates from the LAU trilogy) wouldn’t keep pace either, but a different Lara calls for different rules.

So I begin to look to the horizon. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is nearing completion, so unless Eidos Montreal throw us a curve ball, these would have to be in a sequel.

So, what do I want from Lara’s belle?

Easy one start with, keep her ambiguous enough. I know, I know, we all want her to make out with a girl by the end of the game, and with Kassandra in AC: Odyssey and Ellie from The Last Of Us II at this year’s E3 being major talking points, TR could have been riding ahead of the curve with it’s non-straight lead.

Maybe it’s me, but I’m more of a fan of all that sweet hand-holding and the longing stares rather than character full on snogging each other. Yorda and Ico’s closeness in Ico has much more depth to it than if the characters just made out.

The problem with trying to add a character in is the questions that it poses. With Lara jetting off around the world, she needs a character that wants to wait for her and understands what her job is and where it takes her. For her to be a recurring character (which is needed if the interaction is going to have any bearing on the story), she needs to compliment our heroine, essentially becoming the “other half” or at least offering vital help.

And the major problem is, is that Sam was those things. Which is why it hurts more to cut her out and start anew. Because it was there. It was within reaching distance and possibility, but it wasn’t used.

So how to construct it?

The new Tomb Raiders take much from Uncharted, so here is another thing it can take from them. In Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake had a diary filled with sketches, notes, and importantly, phone numbers and names of girls all around the globe (this was actually inspired by a tweet by @pfangirl, who has written extensively about Lara Croft being a gay character).

Lara has a notebook, filled with her Dad’s notes, but soon they will be full of her own. She’s taken notes all the way since AoD and Anniversary. Her notebook can be filled with numbers and drawings. Jonah, Reyes, Conrad’s daughter (wouldn’t that be a scene to watch? Lara talking to her surrogate father’s ACTUAL daughter), these are all people from the first reboot game that Lara helped and in turn they helped Lara become the Tomb Raider.

From Rise, there is Sofia (because you could cut that sexual tension with a knife) and Nadia (who also had a full-on crush on our protagonist), two women who mirrored our protagonist; characters that she could relate to and find solace from their shared experiences.

And aside from character from the games, there could be a myriad of one-time flings; girls from Kathmandu to Kansas. Have her wake up next to a girl a la Girl With The Dragon Tattoo beside some watering hole in the backwoods of whatever country she’s in. There are so many ways you could play with this idea.

However, with the loss of Sam, I’m kind of annoyed that instead of a monogamous, strong relationship between two characters will be swapped out for the “promiscuous lesbian/bisexual” trope (I personally read her as ace, since I see Lara as seeing sex more as a biological need than an emotional one). But with Lara’s lifestyle, she can’t ask for a special someone to wait for her while she spends other ten months shooting chickens with fire arrows or petting another twenty llamas.

Conclusion

I had never thought about Lara as being part of a couple before 2013. And with Lara and Sam’s time together, seeing that vulnerable side, I was touched, because it was sweet and adorable, in that way first blossoms of affections are (and relationships of any kind are rarely seen in AAA games). But then I become irritated, because that vulnerability gives us a character like Sam, but then discards her. Would it have just been better to never have that part of Lara? The heart doesn’t miss what it doesn’t know.

I also see the limitations. I recently replayed 2013, in my series of “Play-Games-While-Listening-To-Podcasts-And-Achievement-Hunt” and despite talking to Sam several times; she doesn’t have much of a character. There is a base there, but not a fully developed character. She needed shades, she needed dimensions. To give her those aspects would have taken time, which would have disrupted the pace of RotTR, unless it was incorporated as an integral feature. Which as a side-story, it wouldn’t be.

Again, please understand.

I love the character. But I have to stop. I need to say goodbye. Because while Sam has been a character in my heart for half a decade, Lara has over four times that. And between the girl I have grown up with, against the girl I met when I was an adult, the former will win out every time.

Let me conclude with the poet Rumi’s #1849 from Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, which I feel fits the moment…

 

“The moment you find a companion in joy,

Is the moment you find your life’s own fate,

Beware that you don’t waste that moment in vain,

You will find very few such moments again.”

 

Sayonara Nishimura-san. 

Thank you for being there, for both the fans (so many who were brought in by you) and for being there for our dear Lara.

 

Banner Photo Source: Video Games Source, July 23 2013, Tomb Raider – Coastal Forest: Samantha Nishimura, Mathius Introduction Cutscene HD Gameplay PC. [YouTube video].

Another Top Five Dialogue Scenes In Gaming

After my first post on my top dialogues in gaming I got thinking about other games that I thought had great dialogue sequences. I started to move away from just my favourite scenes instead looking at the different ways that dialogue is used.

I still like all of the scenes that are listed below, but I’ve tried to pick some dialogues that are special in the ways that they use character interaction especially those that work within adaptations or use factors outside of a simple back-and-forth.

So, let’s skip this preamble and jump right in, this is Another Top Five Dialogue Scenes In Gaming.

  1. Lara Croft and Pierre Dupont meet in Tomb Raider Anniversary

Tomb Raider Anniversary is a remake of the first Tomb Raider game. With a fantastic blueprint to work from in terms of level design, the creators, Crystal Dynamics, decided to focus on updating the story and fleshing out the characters who were mere cardboard cutouts in the first game.

While at this point we’ve already had a few verbal sparring matches with the morally-grey mercenary Larson, it’s Lara Croft’s interaction with fellow treasure hunter Pierre Dupont that takes the number five spot.

In the original game Pierre wasn’t much of a character. He would turn up during points of the Greece section of the game and shoot at Lara before running off and vanishing into thin air as soon he was out of line of sight.

Here in TRA we see two people who seem to have prior knowledge of each other. This can be seen by the fact that they are both on first name terms with each other, discussing each other’s personal philosophy that informs how they go about their work. This adds up to create a backstory for these two characters that will probably never see a gaming screen (although Pierre and Larson did come back for Tomb Raider Chronicles which was set before TR1). This gives all the characters a few different shades and facets rather than just “bad guy” and “good girl”.

The way that the cutscene plays also informs us about Pierre as a character. We only see his character model once during the sequence, instead following his voice as it reverberates around the room. This was meant to be a callback to his vanishing act from TR1, (1:50) but I read it as Pierre toying with Lara and messing with her head since she can’t find him.

When we finally see Pierre, he is in the shadows hidden from Lara and pointing both of his guns at her. He has a clear shot, ready to kill her, but backs off and disappears. This adds another layer to his character; he likes a challenge rather than eliminating his competition.

This continues through the game, as we hear his voice throughout the next levels, taunting us and finally ambushing us at the end, where once again, he and Lara’s conflicting worldviews clash.

All this makes him a much more interesting character rather than a simple shoot-first character like he was in the original.

(Cutscene starts at 10:32)

 

  1. The Confrontations with Red Grant in From Russia With Love

This one is quite different as it is an adaptation/remake of a film, but the subtle changes make it a good one to look at.

From Russia With Love came out during a period in the James Bond series between Pierce Brosnan being let go and Daniel Craig being signed on to play 007. EA wanted to keep making James Bond games so got Sean Connery to come back to play the iconic spy and took one of his films, From Russia With Love (an odd choice due to the film not being action heavy like Goldfinger or Thunderball) and adapted it to a game.

While the game takes several liberties with the original story it also remakes scenes shot-for-shot, word-for-word. The scene I’ve chosen is a mixture between the two.

The two characters, Red Grant (the bad guy pretending to be an MI6 agent) and James Bond meet on a smoky Turkish train platform, each providing their part of the secret code to each other to identify themselves. Red Grant is rather jovial, coming across as naive as he plays sidekick to Bond.

But as soon as they get to the dining car, Grant’s jovialness twists on a dime. His smile becomes a frown. His light-hearted phrase, “old man” takes on a sarcastic touch. Bond catches on when Grant orders red wine with their grilled sole (which adds to a funny line later when Grant hits Bond over the head with a bottle and says “There’s your white wine, old man!”). After pulling into the train station, Grant and Bond trade words lifted straight from the film. It is a cool scene, seeing dialogue that was originally in a tense interrogation repurposed as the start of an action sequence.

The connections made through Bond and Grant’s dialogue adds to up to their final confrontation at the very end of the game. After destroying the multi-appendage contraption that Grant is piloting, Bond finds him lying on the floor, defeated. Bond levels his gun and Grant starts to mock him.

“Are you going to shoot me in cold blood, old man? You don’t have the guts. It’s not the ‘English’ way. It’s just like red wine with fish.”

The way Grant delivers the line is perfect. The sneering disapproval of ‘English’, the reoccurrence of “old man” as an insult, and the final hint of their previous encounter with the mention of red wine and fish. Grant and the organisation Octopus set up the murder of Bond in the story because they misread the “British mentality”, which is stated at the beginning of the game (and the film). That’s why is hits much harder when Bond blows Grant away before he even finishes the word ‘fish’.

Bond’s final line of “That was for Kerim” also adds a somber tone to proceedings. Throughout the game, Kerim Bey has been by your side, helping you out along the way. Grant kills Kerim just before you meet in the dining car, and we see no hint of emotion from Bond when he first learns of Kerim’s death during gameplay.

Adding it here adds a nice little pathos to the end of the game and cements the fact that these two characters had a friendship rather than Kerim being just a helpful NPC.

(19:29-21:58 and 29:13)

 

  1. Sam Fisher in Ghost Recon Wildlands

I put another Splinter Cell moment on my first list because the writing in Splinter Cell is top notch and Sam Fisher is one of the best-written characters in the entirety of gaming. Michael Ironside, the original voice of Sam Fisher, worked with the developers to create a more three-dimensional character, giving Sam not just a great voice but something more on a deeper level.

Ironside explains that originally Sam was going to be a G.I. Joe-esque, two-dimensional, flat, gung-ho type character. Ironside wasn’t interested in playing a character like that. He saw Fisher as, “…a weapon that the government has used too many times.” (0:52). The character is not a gruff, macho one-man army (who do have their place in gaming), Fisher is instead imbued with cynicism, dark humour and genuine moments of tenderness (such as when Sam is asked to tap phone lines for his former field handler Frances Coen, he says, “For Frances…of course I can” (2:30)).

But the moment I want to talk about it the character’s most recent appearance, as an NPC in the game Ghost Recon Wildlands. The Ghosts help Fisher with a mission (again voiced by Ironside rather than Eric Johnson, who took over for Splinter Cell Blacklist), before they help extract him and bring him back to their field handler, Karen.

The two characters of them have some nice banter (with Sam calling her Linda, to which she replies that she’s “Karen nowadays”). Karen notices that Sam has gotten old and he responds, “I’ve heard they don’t make them [spies] like me anymore” (14:44) before mentioning one guy that used to be like him. Most fans got a kick out of the scene because Fisher starts to describe Solid Snake. Karen cuts him off with, “I heard he finally retired.” (15:04).

Whether this was a reference to David Hayder being passed over for Keifer Sutherland or a wider swipe at Metal Gear Solid being shut down by Konami, Sam replies with a quiet, “Then it’s only me.” (15:09).

The beauty of this line is that it has so many different layers. The initial reaction is one of smug superiority; after many years of the two competing franchises Sam Fisher has outlived his greatest rival. But then it’s a sad dawning. Sam’s line of “they don’t make them like me anymore” has extra metatextual meaning; they don’t make spy/stealth games like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid anymore.

Looking at it from a character perspective, what has Sam got? He’s outlived every other rival, and what does he have to show for it? He’s pushing sixty, in a job that he will never get any recognition or respect for, all of his friends have either betrayed him or died, he’s lost countless lovers, and he hardly knows his only daughter.

It’s a sad realisation and as Sam thinks through his place in the world, Karen snaps him out of his pondering, saying that he has a new mission and he’s shipping out in one hour. This adds even greater sadness to the scene and character. Just as he looks at his life from a different perspective and starts to have doubts, he gets pulled back in.

(Cutscene starts at 14:44).

 

  1. The Cristina Memories from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

I am not a fan of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. I feel that it was a step down from Assassin’s Creed II and negates the entire downer ending of that game (although Revelations did bring it back round for the finale).

The only thing that kept me remotely interested in the game were the Cristina Memories. Cristina Vespucci was a minor character in the opening of Assassin’s Creed II and is one of Ezio’s many conquests throughout the game. She’s rather important because they are childhood sweethearts. It is safe to assume they were each other’s first relationship. While we hardly see any of that in AC2, their relationship is explored during the “Cristina Memories”, little vignettes of their relationship in Brotherhood.

These scenes are interesting because we get to see what being an Assassin does to a relationship. All of Ezio’s other ladies; Caterina Sforza, Rosa The Thief, Lucrezia Borgia, countless courtesans, they are all mainly one-offs or “distractions”, sex just for the hell of it. Cristina is so much more, and it can be seen during the dialogue.

Their first meeting is beautifully awkward with Cristina initially being dismissive but then intrigued by her would-be suitor (with his plea for a “second chance” to woo her (1:12)). The second memory has so much in what isn’t said. When Ezio asks Cristina to come with him, she simply says, “I want to…but I can’t…my family,” (9:55) reflecting Cristina’s conflicting priorities between her life and her love for Ezio.

My favourites of the Cristina Memories are the third and fourth. In the third scene Ezio returns to his belle only to find she is betrothed. His previous playful banter with Cristina is diminished as he learns that while he has been gallivanting around Tuscany sticking Templars and collecting feathers, Cristina has been living her life in quiet desperation. She has had to move on with her life while he is still chasing people that took away his former happy existence.

While Ezio has had to mature beyond his years to care for his mother and sister, but when he sees Cristina again he regresses back to being 17 years of age and hoping that pure love she had for him hasn’t waned. It hasn’t, but he sees that his life isn’t compatible with hers, and his final line of, “He’ll make a good husband, I made sure of it,” (13:55) is gently tender yet painful as he must accept that she can’t wait for him forever.

The fourth scene is especially heart wrenching, as Ezio tries to recapture that spark of what should have been, if only the couple had time and history had been different. When the two meet in a dark Venetian alley Cristina is understandably pissed at him. He pretended to be her husband and he says he, “…was afraid that you [she] wouldn’t come if I [he] just asked.” (17:00). Cristina confirms this, and it’s here that we see the pain of loving and losing someone.

Cristina stills loves Ezio, but she had to change. He was forever teasing her, reappearing every few years, tempting her with a life and a love that was true and innocent, but with him racing off faster than he arrived, leaving her alone again. And she couldn’t do it anymore.

She loves him too much, and to paraprhase a line from Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (and another great romance scene), “ she doesn’t want to say goodbye again. She can’t, she won’t.” (1:00). Because it hurts her every time when he leaves. She tells him that she loved him but she has to end their connection. He had his “second chance” and she leaves, telling him to never find her again.

For the finale we see that Cristina still carried a torch for Ezio after all the time spent apart, hoping that one day he might return to her. She whispers, “I wish we could have had a second chance,” before passing away in Ezio’s arms.

What hurts more is that Ezio never truly recovered. Despite having endless flings and floozies throughout the subsequent games, no one ever comes close to Cristina until Sofia Sartor arrives, when Ezio is well into his fifties.

And in a similar way he originally doesn’t want to get Sofia tangled up in his messed up life and endless struggle against the Templars, but she stays anyway. In a letter to his sister Claudia, Ezio says, “When Cristina died, something withered in me,” (15:55) showing that even with time, some wounds never truly heal.

 

  1. Elena and Nathan and “Are you Happy?” in Uncharted 4.

I know I mentioned in my first post that the Grosvenor McCaffrey interview in L.A. Noire is my favourite dialogue in all of gaming, but this one takes a close second.

After Uncharted 3 many people thought the series was over. Most games go for trilogies rather than quadrilogies, but Naughty Dog came back to tell one last hurrah.

The scene in Uncharted 4 shows life in the Drake household now that the two treasure hunters have “settled down”. Elena still has a little bit of adventure, travelling all around the world for travel magazines, while Nathan is relegated to menial cleaning jobs.

The two eat dinner and Nathan starts to zone out while Elena goes on about her current assignment. She can tell that he is dissatisfied with his job, but even when she tries to push him in a direction that would make him happy, he refuses.

Elena goes to wash up but Nathan says he wants to do it. He says he’ll play her for it on her “TV game thing” (a lovely jaunt through Naughty Dog’s Crash Banidcoot). One short game session later Nathan has lost and Elena starts to sweetly trash talk him, “You can give it another shot. C’mon double or nothing, my car could really use a good cleaning…there’s this mode called “easy mode”, I just switch it. It’s way easier on easy mode.” (12:37).

The two start to bicker like the cute married couple they are until Nate snaps and grabs Elena, tickling her into submission on the couch. The two stop and stare lovingly into each other’s eyes, until Elena says one of my favourite lines in all of gaming,

“Hey, are you happy?”

Nate’s unsteady reply of, “Yeah…course,” says so much about the two’s relationship, of settling down and moving away from hopes and dreams so they could have a shot at a safer and normal life.

The scene ends beautifully too with Nate asking, “You?” Elena puts on a mock thinking face and says “Um,” before the two laugh and kiss.

I would call the scene verisimilitudinous, but that would be a disservice to the scene, because it isn’t a simulation of the real, it is real. I’ve had this conversation in real life and similar ones like it as I assume many other people have. This isn’t just a sweet scene with some heartfelt emotion and some beautifully understated lines, this is a perfect representation of real life with all of its mundanity and shows of affection. And that’s why it tops my list as one of the best dialogue scenes in all of gaming.

(Start at 5:49).

 

Conclusion

Rounding out the list are some honourable mentions as well as a few single lines not from dialogues that I like. In terms of dialogues pretty much all of 2008’s Prince Of Persia  is excellent with the main characters of the Prince and Elika seamlessly morphing from vaguely antagonistic to potential lovers over time (and all in optional dialogue, which is interesting).

In the Hitman series Agent 47 and Diana Burnwood’s interactions are fascinating dialogues mainly because of their working relationship. Diana is the only person that is “close” to 47, and even then he doesn’t see her face whenever they are together. Like the Prince and Elika their relationship has changed as the games have gone on, developing as the stories have got more intricate and personal.

For single lines (disqualified from the numbered entries because I wanted more than one character in the scene), the Max Payne series always has good lines. While I and my housemates have fun shouting lines from Max Payne 3  at each other (especially the over-the-top ones where Max’s voice cracks), my favourite line from the series is the last line of Max Payne 2;

“I had a dream of my wife. She was dead, but it was all right.”

That line sums up the pain of Max and his redemption over the first two games, quietly bringing the second chapter of his life to a close.

And lastly a funny one (warning, phonetically-spelt swear words ahead). From Rainbow Six Siege, the SAS Operator Thatcher has a hatred of all electrical gadgets, listing them, “GPS Satelittes, Unmanned drones…” and my favourite, “…fookin lazeh soights…” (as it is phonetically pronounced). The delivery of the line sealed my appreciation of it, and much like Max Payne 3, this line became a staple of my university house, with much hilarity ensuing when a barely audible “fookin lazeh soights” would be heard when passing each other on the stairs.

 

Photo Banner Source: gamesradar.com.

Tomb Raider’s St Francis’ Folly & Intention In Level Design

Level design is one of the fundamental building blocks of creating a game; it is the world that we inhabit. We can all think of great games with some excellent level design and all in different ways.

Some games use their design to aid you with traversal through a single path; Faith’s “Runner’s Vision” in Mirror’s Edge guiding the way through colour, or scratched/worn down walls in Prince Of Persia showing you can wall run are two that come to mind.

In a similar vein, other games allow a wide range of possibilities from a single starting point. Metroid and Castlevania have an almost exclusive hold over this type of design (so much that “Metroidvania” is a portmanteau in gaming culture). Newer titles such as Hitman and Ratchet And Clank also deliver this type of world. You may not be able to reach all the nooks and crannies until you have gone away and learnt new skills.

Other games use their level design to bring their worlds to life. Bioshock’s flooded and rusting hallways, blossoming gardens and…everything about Fort Frolic perfectly paints the dying embers of a Galtian wonderland. Remember Me’s narrative snakes around its levels, with the Bastille Lake and St. Michel Rotunda amplifying the narrative beats that occur in those levels. The hidden tombstones in Modern Warfare 2’s “Contingency” highlight a possible cultural heritage of the area.

Today I wanted to write about a level that encompasses all three types of design, to varying degrees. That level is “St Francis’ Folly” from the Tomb Raider series. “St Francis’ Folly” is a level in the first TR game, meaning that it was remade in Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider Anniversary. So I wanted to talk about the two in tandem, because even though they are the same level, the way they differ gives a different tone to each level.

How “St Francis’ Folly”’s Meaning Changes Through Different Level Design

“St Francis’ Folly” is probably one of the most recognisable and memorable of the original Tomb Raider levels. Jason Botta, creative director for Tomb Raider Anniversary ranked the level second only to the “Lost Valley”, (mainly because the latter had a T-Rex) (2:14).

“St Francis’ Folly” is a really good example of a jump in a difficulty spike. The first four levels of TR1 are spent getting you used to the controls. You’ve done a bit of swimming, a bit of climbing, running, jumping, and most of it is forgiving. If you miss a jump, you just climb back to the spot and try again. “St Francis’ Folly” does not give you that privilege. If you mess up, you will most likely die. It’s really easy to die because the whole point of the level is being REALLY HIGH UP. The structure is so tall in the original game you can’t see the bottom; the draw distance fades to black.

Toby Gard, designer for the original Tomb Raider and Anniversary, stated the goal for the area;

“…It’s quite common that game designers even when they have a 3D vertical space that they can play with, they tend to sort of end up making long, flat things anyway. So that particular area from the original game was just sort of let’s go as vertical as we possibly can…” (2:55).

The level is virtually unchanged from game to game, only with a few trickier challenge rooms for TRA’s more nimble Lara and appropriately named rooms (TR1 had “Neptune” and “Thor” in a tomb in Greece).

The major change to the level is the opening just before the vertical room, so let’s jump back a bit and discuss that section.

Let’s Rewind To The Beginning

The openings of the level are again, very similar. All the designers really had to do was update the climbing and traversal mechanics and it was pretty much set.

But the main difference is GETTING to the vertical room and where in relation it is to the rest of the level. Lets start with TR1.

The start of the level introduces the vertical aspect, in a safe-ish way. You jump from pillar to pillar, working your way around the room. You have some fun with pressure plates and open the big door at the other end of the room. However, this does not lead to the next stage. It is another room with a switch.

The door is in fact above the entrance where you came in. You have to use the previously mentioned pillars to jump up into the rafters, before sliding down into a flooded tunnel and eventually finding the way out, into the vertical room.

Now onto TRA. 

The level starts off pretty much the same. You have a pressure plate that needs to be weighted down, which opens the big door at the far side of the room. You jump between the pillars to get into the rafters to secure the weight for the pressure plate, move it to the ground floor and proceed through the big door.

Then you proceed down a long, long corridor and into the vertical room.

So What?

This is such as small change, but for me it changes the meaning behind the whole set of Greek levels.

All levels in both Tomb Raider and Anniversary are built on top of each other. It is historically accurate; invaders have built on top of previous religious sites and settlements as an attempt to exert their dominance. It’s also thematically relevant, as the “origin” tombs are supposed to be hidden away, kept secret from the world.

But the opening for the first section of the Greek levels in Tomb Raider changes this meaning. In TR1, the vertical room (and by extension, the rest of the subterranean settlements) is hidden back the way you came. It takes a little more thought to figure out where you have to go. And even if you get that far you then have to survive an underwater current and a very hungry crocodile. It feels like a secret entrance to an underground network, somewhere hidden away so that grave robbers can’t just waltz in.

Tomb Raider Anniversary by comparison doesn’t feel like the entrance to a secret tomb, hidden away beneath 4000 years of history. It’s a straight line from the start of the level, the big door beckoning you forward. It feels more like the door to a vault (which is a rather good way of keeping people out). However, a vault-type opening indicates there is something precious behind it, giving grave robbers the incentive to break through rather than giving up because the entrance is hidden away.

Conclusion

It was only recently after playing the two games in comparison that I saw this minute difference. And it only really makes much of an impact if you are interested in the lore or the narrative of the world of Tomb Raider, but that distinction was big enough for me.

In terms of the original and Anniversary, there are more changes that are made for thematic reasons. “Sanctuary Of The Scion”, the final level of the Egyptian section of the game is one that springs to mind. In the original game you come out of the side of the temple, with your prize unceremoniously placed to your left.

In Anniversary, the sanctuary is at the end of a long corridor with a large gate blocking your entrance. You have to use the other two pieces of the Scion (the artifact Lara is searching for) to open up the gate. Thematically this makes much more sense that finding it on a pedestal, as it is the final piece of the artifact that has been locked away for safety.

Another one is the very first level, “Mountain Caves”. The finale of the level is once again, a large door, but to get to it you have to “run the gauntlet” of darts being shot at you. In TR1, you appear on in the corner of the room, an unglamorous (and not death defying) entrance to a hidden civilization.

The point I’m trying to make is the subtle differences between the two games. It’s almost like a translation error; giving us the same work but just off somehow. Don’t get me wrong, I love both version of “St Francis’ Folly”, but their thematic difference makes the original feel more “believable”, even in a game about mutants from Atlantis.

It’s a small change, but it manages to change the tone of the level for me. That’s how important level design is in creating the feel of a world.

That’s not a new observation, but it was very interesting to see it in action.

 

Banner Photo Source: gametripper.co.uk.

Thoughts On The Tomb Raider Trailer

Back in June 2016 I wrote a piece on the then announcement of Alicia Vikander being cast in the role of Lara Croft for the new Tomb Raider film. There have been quite a few updates from when I last spoke about the film, the major point being the release of the poster and the first teaser trailer for the film. For those who haven’t seen the latter, let’s have a look right now, then I’ll go through parts I like along with some other general stuff

Okay, so let’s get into this.

First things first, the film has a reported release date of March 16 2018. At the time of writing that is still half a year away. Teaser trailers are usually sent out before the film has been signed off, so a lot of people complaining about poor CGI quality, it’s not fully representative of the final film. Yes, it’s odd to show it in a trailer if it’s not representative of a final film, but hey-ho, look at Suicide Squad. But while the CGI doesn’t look particularly good, the stunts are done for real. Looking at this behind-the-scenes featurette (warning: may contain spoilers), you can see for yourself that the sets are largely built and that the Stunt Co-ordinator is none other than Franklin Henson (whose list of credits is extensive). He has worked on similar themed films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom and National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, which if they are anything are fun, pulpy adventure films that Tomb Raider should fit comfortably alongside.

One point I also want to make is that I love how many references to the 2013 game are in the trailer. The majority of the film is based on the 2013 reboot, along with dashes of the sequel to said reboot, which was released in mid-2015. These are more than just a wink-and-a-nod to the audience who are in the know, these are the scenes ripped direct from the screen to the…erm, slightly bigger screen. The slow-motion jump from the ship, falling through the broken glass of an airplane cockpit, climbing the broken wing of another airplane; these are all shots players of the reboot will recognise. This is probably to appeal to us fans since the film won’t be truly following the game, but that’s adaptations for you, what works for one medium won’t work for another. One scene from the game that hasn’t been shown in the trailer is Lara’s first kill. Lara is using her bow and axe in the trailer, so it’s guaranteed they’ll be some bloodshed, so I hope that this dramatic and memorable scene from the game, where Lara is covered in blood and in shock after killing someone for the first time is in there.

Sadly, there is no Sam or Sam-approximate featured (Lara’s possible beau in the reboot series), just a few lines from Kirsten Scott Thomas being the only female interaction in the trailer. Vikander stated that the film will pass the Bechdel Test, so there has to be some more female characters in there. In the same interview, Vikander also stated the film “…actually has relationships and stories…” so maybe it could be a subtle approach to the perceived “not-straightness” at play in Tomb Raider, which I’ve written about here.

The trailer and the behind-the-scenes featurette do sadly give away a bit too much of the plot for my liking. Maybe that’s my fault for watching too much, but to be honest, apart from the trailer and poster, I’ve stayed away from news about this film. I’m not going to go through the trailer and start dissecting all the scenes and speculate about what might happen in the story (despite previously doing it for Red Dead, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and many more on this exact site) because the trailer is pretty clear on the narrative beats, evil scheming and all. Thinking about it, it’s better than Assassin’s Creed, which hid half of its bogus story away from the trailer, making us all believe more than half of it was going to be in the Animus.

Talking of Assassin’s Creed, yeah I know. We’ve all been burned before. Assassin’s Creed was a personal one for me. I’m going to keep harping on about Macbeth forever, because it was the perfect precursor to what an Assassin’s Creed film could look like. That film was excellent, and yet despite having the exact same cast and crew, Assassin’s Creed was a confusing mess, despite showing us the exact opposite in it’s promotional material. Maybe I’m too forgiving of Hollywood, maybe I’m clutching at straws in the hopes of a game I love being adapted for a wider audience. All it has to do is not be terrible. That really shouldn’t be a big ask.

Finally, I just want to address the wave of backlash against Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. Check out the comments for the trailer up above, or the comments in IGN’s thread on the trailer. I called this back in May, that Vikander was going to have a hard time because she wasn’t “real Lara” i.e. Lara from the 1990s. Despite Vikander herself, the trailer, the behind-the-scenes clips and the poster all saying or inferring that this is an origin story, some people are just not getting it. However, the lovely Easter Egg at the end of the trailer with the dual pistols is a neat nod to the series roots, especially since they look like the same pistols from Angelina Jolie’s TR films…

And hey, Nick Frost is in there, it’s always nice to see him.

Those are my thoughts (or looking back on it, ramble) on the Tomb Raider  trailer. Time will tell if the film is going to be any good, but I’m already excited.

 

Banner photo source: nerdist.com.

Thoughts On The New Tomb Raider Film

After months of speculation, with names coming and going and the writers and directors being announced, we finally have our next big screen version of Lara Croft; Alicia Vikander. But let’s go back half a year and see the beginning of the third Tomb Raider film and the names that are already connected to it.

Ever since October time in 2015, when the first proper rumours announced of a return to the film screen (MGM bought the rights in 2013 but only in 2015 had they started making moves). The studio, obviously wanting to mimic last year’s Suffragette (a film notable for the main crew being entirely women) started canvassing for female directors. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, Pay It Forward) and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) were all brought up as possible directors for the film. Out of those three I would have gone Bigelow, she would have drawn in crowds.

In the end, a fairly unknown Norwegian director, Roar Uthaug, was brought in to direct around November 2015. I researched his film, The Wave, to see what he could bring to the film. The Wave is a Norwegian disaster film about a giant-tsunami destroying a small town in a Norwegian fjord and has received critical acclaim (it was even submitted for Best Foreign Film Oscar). If Tomb Raider 2013 (what they’re basing the film on) was anything, it was destruction and just from the trailer, The Wave looks like a perfect audition.

Just a side-note, many people managed to confuse The Wave with The 5th Wave, a frankly rubbish YA film starring Chloe-Grace Moretz. They have similar names but they are not the same film. Similar to how people managed to confuse The Room (honestly the worst film ever made) with Room (one of the best films of 2016).

The script-writer has already been brought on as well. Geneva Robertson-Dworet, (Transformers: The Last Knight, Blacklist) is penning the script, following the tradition of female writers of Tomb Raider (Vicky Arnold for TR2 and Rihanna Pratchett for TR 2013). Hopefully Robertson-Dworet will find some inspiration from Pratchett’s 2013 work, but change where appropriate. The “First Kill” arc (where Lara kills her first human and starts to uncontrollably sob, but then five minutes later is mowing down enemies like Rambo) would be a good place to deviate. It would turn into parody if the film went the same way as the games, but it could be a glorious high stab at violence and brutality and what it does to a person if they film it right. And last point about the games, they damn better put some Lara/Sam in there. I, along with a large amount of 2013’s player base did not put so much investment into that relationship for it to not feature in the film.

Lara vs Lara
The new film will focus less of the action girl (right) and more of the survivor plotline (left). Source: imgur.com.

And finally, just a few weeks ago, Alicia Vikander was announced to play Lara Croft. Before her announcement, all bets were on Daisy Ridley. Yes, Ridley was great in Star Wars VII and looked a lot like LC, and with her telling the Hollywood Reporter that she had been in talks to play the part, it looked almost certain that she would be cast. I had my reservations however. Ridley had only been in bit parts before jumping into Star Wars. I thought maybe trying to helm two franchises might be a bit much for one relative newcomer.

Compare her to another Star Wars alumni Harrison Ford, or another actress Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, both of them have held two major franchises before, but in between they did other contained work (Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner for Ford, The House At the End Of The Street and anything David O. Russell for Lawrence). That’s what I think Ridley needs, instead of another blockbuster, she could build a reputation for smaller, indie work. Sadly, deep down I knew my #1 choice, Camilla Luddington (the voice and motion-capture for Lara in the games) would not be chosen due to her less-known status (unless you watch Greys Anatomy). But as soon as Vikander was chosen, I knew it was a good shout.

Alicia Vikander HQ photo
Our next Lara, Alicia Vikander on the left. Render of Lara from Rise Of The Tomb Raider on the right. Source: filmonic.com.

Vikander has only really come onto the mainstream scene recently. Despite performing since 2006, many people haven’t seen her work. I first saw her in 2012’s A Royal Affair, but you may have seen her in one of the six films she was in back in 2015. If you want a good base for her work, I suggest A Royal Affair, Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That trio will show off action, drama and romance and several flourishes of what Vikander may bring to Lara. If you really want to you can go see The Danish Girl but her performance wasn’t anything particularly special. Also, keep an eye out for her in the new Jason Bourne, although how “hands-on” (i.e. breaking people faces) she will be is unknown.

So, we’ve got around a couple of years until we see the third Tomb Raider in cinemas (at the time of writing it was a 2017/18 release date). And with Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and Justin Kurzel’s Assassins Creed coming out later in 2016, are we seeing a tipping point for video games? If anything, Vikander will bring a strong performance and it’s always nice to see Gaming’s First Lady back in the limelight.

P.S. In TR 2013 there was this scene…

TR the descent
Source: kotaku.com.

This is a scene ripped directly from 2001’s horror film The Descent. Just something interesting, I wonder if they put it back in the TR film. Film imitating games imitating film?

 

Banner Picture. Source: Google Images.