A survivor is born...
Updating a classic franchise isn't easy. Taking a piece of gaming history and transforming it for 2013 could have upset fans, but the team at Crystal Dynamics managed to give Lara Croft the face-lift she deserved. We loved the updated gameplay in our Tomb Raider review, but there's still plenty to be said about the redesign of Ms. Croft herself.
Fortunately, we found the guy with the most to say. Senior Art Director Brian Horton and his team put plenty of thought into the heroine's new look, and we picked his brain for more information on the process -- the hows, the whys, and the how comes. Come along as we dive in...
GamesRadar: When you decided that Tomb Raider was getting a reboot, what were you thinking Lara would look like?
Brian Horton: When we took the decision to go down the reboot route we asked ourselves some really big questions about Lara: which traits would go, which would stay? Do we keep the backpack; do we keep the shorts, the ponytail? Is she still British? All of these were asked, and it caused some huge debates internally.
We were able to boil Tomb Raiders gameplay down to certain key elements, without which the game would no longer be a Tomb Raider game: puzzles, exploration and combat. We also agreed that this could be done for Lara. We realized that there were certain traits which made Lara recognizable as Lara the ponytail, the dark eyes and full lips and we felt we should keep them, but the rest of her look was reimagined and redrawn for our times.
The Lara we see in this game is a 21 year old adventurer, still a Brit, and fresh from university embarking on her first archaeological voyage to seek the lost kingdom of Yamatai, somewhere in the Dragons Triangle off the cost of Japan. Shes lost some of those cartoonlike curves of previous iterations; in this game we wanted her to seem more realistic, more like a person you could walk past on the street.
Aesthetically shes still beautiful, if not more beautiful than before, and she also has all the potential of the previous Laras. Shes ambitious, tough and strong, but at the beginning of the game the Lara we meet is untried and untested; this is her origins story.
GR: How did Lara evolve over the course of development?
BH: The origins story was not necessarily the original idea for this version of Tomb Raider, so Lara certainly did evolve during the concept stages of development some early ideas saw Lara riding a horse, or accompanying a small child. However, as the idea of a complete reboot crystallized, so did the teams creative ambition for Lara.
We wanted to create more of a human hero, rather than the Lara portrayed in some of the earlier games, which we often referred to as Teflon Lara. We needed to take Lara from the beginning of her story, a young lady with big ambitions but without experience, and put her in a situation where she would be forced to grow.
The core theme of the game is Laras will to survive, and her voyage is thrown into ruin when her ship and crew are stranded on a mysterious island after a terrible storm. Lara is separated from her companions and finds herself completely alone and defenseless against the island and its inhabitants. We soon see that Lara is determined to survive and survival becomes the crucible in which we would forge the heroine.
As Laras story developed, we tracked where each of the key character evolution points take place, to make sure this was all paced correctly through the duration of the game. From that blueprint the whole team worked to the same framework.
GR: One could say her most striking feature was downplayed this time around to be more realistic, why was that decision made?
BH: Artist Brenoch Adams and I went through the design process together. We were inspired by characters in films and TV, like Ellen Ripley from Aliens, Kate from Lost, John Rambo from First Blood, and even John McLane from Die Hard. All of these heroes have a common thread; they are real people in a horrible survival situation. They get hurt and express emotion, but they find the inner strength to keep moving and prevail. We wanted this young Lara to look like a girl you knew while retaining some of the iconic qualities of Lara Croft. We made her body frame more petite, her face less chiseled and her clothes are practical, with dual tank tops, cargo pants and boots. We retained some iconic elements, like her brown eyes, her M shaped upper lip and the ponytail.
We think that the physical makeover was necessary Lara had become a caricature, and this was not what we wanted for the reboot. The graphics in most games on this generation of consoles are highly realistic and I think Laras proportions would have looked cartoonish. For the reboot we wanted a more relatable, grounded looking Lara so her current look fits with the ambitions we had for the origins story.
GR: How have fans responded to Laras new look?
BH: Its a huge responsibility to take a character that people love so much and make large changes to the look and feel. Weve tried extremely hard to keep an open dialogue with our community along the way, explaining our choices and the vision for the reboot.
As I mentioned above, wed tried to keep true to the essence of Tomb Raider and of Lara Croft, and hope that this will please the fans.
GR: Was there a particular model/actress you were modeling after?
BH: We had certain body types and face types in mind. The final Lara model was actually made up of elements of various different real life models we did photo shoots and body scans to ensure we had the right kind of body (young, athletic, lean), and worked with different models to create the face and features. Additionally, we worked with voice actress, Camilla Ludington, in a mocap studio to capture Laras movement in game.
GR: Are you happy with how the new Lara has turned out? Anything you would change?
BH: Being an artist theres always a sense that work could be improved, and a striving for perfection. However, we are really pleased with how people have received our new look Lara the games success when it launched in March was awesome and were really bowled over by the response weve had.
It's all about body image...
Horton was happy with the finished product, but were you? Miss the old Lara? Let us know in the comments!
And if you want to read more about the game itself, check out our Tomb Raider review.