One of the game’s most celebrated icons, Lara Croft, just turned 25.
Independent, strong and fearless, Lara Croft forged an unforgettable journey through the games of the 90s, making the leap from niche character to pop culture superstar and becoming one of the most instantly recognizable characters of all time.
In the two and a half decades we’ve known her, Lara has changed considerably, both physically and emotionally.
But regardless of what you thought of her unlikely physique in her early days, Lara is an enduring British gaming icon who seems to be here to stay.
Make Lara more sociable
“It was iconic from the start because we hadn’t seen many heroines in video games,” says Dallas Dickinson, who works at Crystal Dynamics as executive producer on the Tomb Raider franchise.
“She was right there at the fore when 3D graphics came along,” he says.
“It was like: holy cow – you can do it, a fully realized character!”
The original films – starring Angelina Jolie – pushed Lara into greater public awareness. But Dallas thinks they are the series’ latest efforts to create an “origin” story for Croft that has made it much more accessible to so many more people.
The latest three games in the franchise – Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, released in 2013, 2015 and 2018 respectively – explore the adventures of a younger and less experienced Lara.
“What was done with the 2013 Tomb Raider game was really significant,” says Dallas. “It gave her a little more of this ingrained and more easily recognizable sense to her.
“The superhero version may not have been as accessible to certain people and so when it became more real – with that persistence at its core – I think it resonated with a whole new generation of gamers.”
Originally developed by Core Design and published by Eidos, the original games released in the 1990s made Lara Croft a household name around the world.
During the 25 years, Tomb Raider games alone have sold over 85 million copies worldwide.
The consequence of this, however, is having to please two or three generations of fans, each of which has “grown up” with a slightly different type of Lara Croft.
So how does Crystal Dynamics, the current keeper and developer of the series, balance the wishes of new fans with those who have supported Lara from the start?
“This is the challenge,” says Dallas. “The mantra we have is that all of Lara’s stories are true.
“In the timeline of Lara’s life, the ‘Survivor Series’ – which is what we loosely call the last three games – is kind of this period of origin history, which her previous adventures hadn’t touched so much.
“He was becoming the Tomb Raider during those three games.”
Dallas says the stories leading up to the “Survivor Series” are just as relevant: they only portray a Lara Croft who is much more self-confident and mature.
Or as he puts it, this is a Lara who, on a whim, “will just do some good stunts – you know, just for style”.
“Lara is a pioneer”
But that means honoring Lara’s character’s “complete journey”, from her powerful portrayal in the first games to the youngest Lara we’ve played most recently.
“We see it as a progression, a progression that has been told in a different order,” says Dallas.
“We started with a series of stories about this heroic era.
“But going back to basics doesn’t really stop these things – it doesn’t actually dishonor or say they’re not true.”
The important thing for Crystal Dynamics is to ensure that Lara Croft’s pioneering legacy is not lost.
Croft was one of the first protagonists of the game and its creators, Core Design, fought against a virtual glass ceiling to bring her to digital life.
25 years later, while the characters we play in video games are more diverse than ever, there is still a long way to go before there is true equality when it comes to the main characters of the games.
“There are a lot of people whose stories have not been told. There are a lot of ways that the representation, although it has grown, can continue to grow,” says Dallas.
“But we are very happy and very proud of the contribution that Lara and Tomb Raider have given to this.”
What about Lara’s future? Dallas keeps his mouth shut on the details, but anticipates that there may be projects underway.
“We don’t have a timeline that we’ve committed to – we haven’t really talked about any details about what upcoming games might contain.
“But it would be foolish to think that we are doing all this work to unify timelines with no future products in mind …”
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