|How do you improve one of the most popular game characters ever developed? Very carefully, says one of her creators.
How do you explain the popularity of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft?
When the original Tomb Raider was released, it introduced the gamer to a whole new world. For pretty much the first time, the player had huge environments to explore, and the 3D worlds and their accessibility encapsulated the gamer in a way that no other game had achieved. Lara was obviously an important factor in the success of the series. She was the first female lead character that brought out empathy from the gamer. Most of the lead characters before her were muscle-bound action men that were sent on impossible missions. With Lara, people seem to approach the game differently. They nurture her, they care about her well being, and, with the puzzle solving, the gamer found something new.
How important was maintaining the consistency of Lara's character between the game and film versions of Tomb Raider?
A big problem would have come about if the filmmakers had wanted to fundamentally alter Lara's character. For example, even though she uses weapons in the games, we would never consider her to be a ruthless murderer. She has a documented history, and to achieve continuity we wanted to ensure that it remained intact. On the other hand, we never wanted to copy each other entirely, so consistency between the games and the film wasn't a high priority when it came to the actual story.
How do you hope to give Lara more personality and greater depth of character in future games?
It will be very hard for us to add anything to her character. She's been around for some time, and her background is well documented. We know her education, her family, her likes and dislikes. Everyone has seen where she lived and the places she's been to. Fans of the series would put part of her success down to the story behind her and the fact that she shows her personality in all the games, whether in game situation or a cut scene.
How have the new PC graphics cards and consoles driven the changes to Lara?
The advances in technology, even in just the two years since our last Tomb Raider title, have enabled us to significantly change many aspects of the game. The new PC cards enable incredible quality and clarity, and this has really set the standard for all areas. Her movement is much more fluid, she has more moves, and the increase in polygons shows her at her best. The new consoles with their increased power also enabled us to add depth to the game. Players can increase Lara's physical attributes during the game, and interactivity has increased. The advances have enabled us to make the game we wanted, rather than one we had to accept.
Did you push the technological limit on photorealism for Lara?
No, not at all. Lara has a style, a look that we and the fans are very happy with. We have no intention to try and make her photorealistic. Like Mickey Mouse, Lara has an artistic style of her own, something that has evolved from the first game to now. When new artists come on the team, they may alter her appearance very slightly, but she's still instantly recognizable. Why change something when it's not broken.
Did you push the limit on AI?
Yes. You'll notice the intelligence of Lara and other characters has been improved. For example, in the new Angel of Darkness game, the Paris police have the ability to search for Lara, and this really highlights what we've tried to achieve.
What's the next big step for Lara and Tomb Raider?
Angel Of Darkness is the first part of a huge story that we have written. To ensure continuity and, we hope, appeal to our fans, we decided to write a book that includes background stories and helps develop the characters. It's something new for us and the fans. Also, whereas all the previous Tomb Raider games have been separate entities, the new ones will all be interlinked in one way or another.
How big will computer gaming get?
Gaming is already huge and can only get bigger. Finally, people are getting away from the idea that it's a child's toy. It's a major part of the entertainment industry and will continue to be so. Technology obviously brings changes, and just as films have used new technology, so will games. This will allow this relatively new industry to keep diversifying and growing.
Are you looking at creating an online version of Tomb Raider?
Online gaming is increasing in popularity. But the problem many people have is the lack of Internet facilities. Broadband, although very widespread in the US, is not nearly available enough to most consumers in Britain and some other European countries. Can you imagine playing against someone who has broadband when you don't? You are not going to get very far. When online gaming becomes more accessible, developers will try and use it more, to enhance the overall gaming experience.
What are the major trends to look for in game development?
Some would say it's about making the games as realistic as possible, graphically and intelligence-wise. Others, however, may not see that as the most important thing. Gaming can be realistic, but also a fantasy, so we hope the two can advance together. I like the idea of using headsets to bring a new level of interaction to the consumer. So virtual reality in gaming might be pushed further. In general, however, I welcome the diversity of the games world. It's a good sign that I can't point to one aspect and say, "that's what will be big in two years." This is what keeps us on our toes. ..
Adrian Smith is co-founder of Core Design, developer of the Tomb Raider series of computer games, including the newest iteration, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, scheduled for release in February 2003. (See "Virtual Makeover," pg. 14.)