Posts Tagged ‘Lara Croft’

 

Fancy a listen? Click for the Tomb Raider soundtrack or composer Nathan McCree’s Soundcloud

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I’ve waited two decades to hear the original Tomb Raider score played by an orchestra. Imagine my disappointment when it didn’t feature on the Anniversary remake (a game I still loved but nobody bought) or when the soundtrack to the 2001 movie adaptation consisted of Bono shouting about a mole living in a hole. Did Tomb Raider: Live in concert deliver on twenty years’ worth of high hopes? Yes – it was everything I’d dreamed, and more.

 

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Nathan McCree

The soundtrack to 1996’s Tomb Raider is nothing short of a masterpiece. Composed by Nathan McCree, the score is evocative of forgotten worlds and the journey of an intrepid explorer as she gazes upon the lost landscapes. Hearing it immediately whisks us away to the Peruvian mountains, Greek temples and Egyptian tombs. The elegance and beauty of the main theme perfectly embodies our heroine Lara Croft as she uncovers the mysteries of the ancients. The score also comes loaded with moments of heart-pounding terror as Lara narrowly escapes the jaws of death. Remember looking down from St Francis’ Folly, leaping over spike traps and running from the T-Rex? Of course you do!

 

Let’s not forget the second and third instalments in the Tomb Raider series, which were also composed by McCree. These games took Lara across the globe to exotic new locations, so naturally her adventures needed the soundtracks to match. Some stand-out musical moments included the skidoo chase across the Tibetan foothills, the sitar-infused trek through the jungles of India and the Vivaldi-esque Venice theme – perfect for crashing through gondolas while riding a speedboat. Presented together as the ‘Tomb Raider Suite’, McCree’s work is ambitious in scope with many clever variations of its own classic themes.

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Shelley Blond

At the Eventim Appollo Hammersmith, I finally got to hear my favourite game music played live by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and conducted by Robert Zeigler while images and footage were displayed on a giant screen. But the event had more than a few surprises in store. Our host was none other than Shelley Blond, the original voice actress of Lara Croft. As well as hearing the official world premiere of the ‘Tomb Raider Suite’, we were also treated to a brand new Nathan McCree composition inspired by the original Tomb Raider trilogy titled ‘In The Blood’. The concert also featured Nathan himself discussing his work onstage, a compilation of clips from Geeketiquette’s thoroughly entertaining Tomb Raider playthrough and a familiar old butler who tottered on at the end of the first half. Presumably someone had to lock him back in the freezer before the show could continue.

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It’s okay – we all did this at some point!

 

Tomb Raider raised the bar not just in game mechanics but aesthetics, which the music was a huge part of. Those unforgettable first four notes have been forever etched into the hearts of gamers worldwide. To hear it done justice after years of listening to the synth versions (as anyone who ever popped the game disc into a CD player would have done) was truly phenomenal. It was the perfect way to celebrate 20 years of Lara Croft.

Here’s  something I’ve been meaning to dig out for a while now – a series on Game Heroines I wrote for the (sadly defunct) Pixel Nation magazine. I’ll be posting the rest piece by piece over the next week or something (I don’t do too well with self-imposed schedules!) So here’s the intro and the articles on Chun Li and Tifa will follow shortly-ish. The original article on Lara Croft that was the basis for this series is already on the blog. I’ve also got a second batch that includes Samus Aran, the Williams sisters from Tekken and some other round-ups of classic characters.

I might do more of these in the future if I feel inspired – suggestions are more than welcome! Also I’ll be returning to The Femshep Experiment (yeah, it’s been a while!) and looking at one of my favourite characters in the series, Thane Krios.

“Confessions of a Girl Gamer” (originally written for Pixel Nation, 2012)

I’ve been a gamer all my life. From platformers and arcade shoot ’em ups to text adventures on the BBC Micro (“It’s okay” I’d tell my teachers, “It’s educational”) I was into anything and everything. It took me a while to realise that I was actually a bit of a freak – video games had been declared “boy’s toys” and somehow I’d missed the memo. Most likely I was too busy racking up a high score on Galaxian to notice. The judgemental looks I got from boys, girls and grown-ups alike didn’t put me off but something else bothered me. Somewhere on my umpteenth effort to help Mario save the princess I started asking myself some questions. Why did the girls always need rescuing? Why didn’t they have their own adventures? Why couldn’t the princess save Mario for a change? After all, the Eighties had given us heroines in other media like She-Ra, Cheetara and Ripley (even if I wasn’t supposed to be watching Aliens at my age). Games were still in their relative infancy and it would take a little while to catch up.

Chun Li

One Friday afternoon on an after-school arcade trip with my Dad I tried out a new game, Street Fighter II. My world changed that day – imagine my delight when, lo and behold, I saw a girl on the character selection screen. After picking Chun Li my Dad gave me a few words of advice. “You’re not the strongest but you’ll be the fastest” he said. “Try to take them by surprise, give a few quick hits then get out of the way.” Wise words indeed as I won two fights in my first go. What a revelation! Not only did I have a new favourite game, it had a girl in it and she was awesome. Using my guerrilla tactics I found I could defeat almost anyone. I’ll never forget the baffled faces of teenage boys as a skinny nine year old in pigtails stepped up to the machine, nor will I forget the look of shock and humiliation after Chun Li and I had given them a right good thrashing.

Lara Croft artOther female characters came and went over the next few years but none of them made quite the same impact. Then along came Lara Croft – her face was everywhere you looked and she seemed to be enjoying A-list celebrity status despite the obvious drawback of not actually existing. Bizarre as the whole ‘Cult of Lara’ thing was it still put her game in my radar. Tomb Raider blew me away with its 3D worlds and I remember thinking that this was the future of gaming. While I still found the pin-up image to be tacky and a bit pathetic I made my peace by disassociating it with the in-game character. “You can keep the Lara who poses for calendars and sells Lucozade” I’d say. “My Lara goes treasure hunting and fights dinosaurs.”

Later in my teens, I fell in lTifa Lockheart artove with RPGs. I’d never realised that game worlds could be so richly detailed, not to mention the stories and the characters, many of whom were female. I’d seen a lot of cool girls do a lot of cool stuff but with games that weren’t exactly dialogue heavy there was only so much you could read into their personalities. RPGs delivered the goods in terms of stylised fight moves but you’d learn just as much about the characters off the battlefield. I’d even feel emotionally connected, seeing them through their highs and lows and relating elements of my own life to their abstract, often surreal experiences. The line between games and art was definitely blurring. Not being much of the ‘hearts and flowers’ type I’d feel more at home with the tomboyish characters and there was one who I particularly admired. She was down to earth, emotionally mature and showed strength and bravery that I found genuinely inspirational. Put it this way, whenever I’m renaming characters in Final Fantasy VII I always give my own name to Tifa Lockhart.

Times have changed and it took more than a few kick ass chicks and warrior maidens to break the mold, so here’s a tribute to some of the greatest. They may not be perfect (who is?) but their impact on the gaming world and beyond can’t be denied.

Hey, I’m not dead! Plus I’ve started putting together some videos to go with my old podcast reviews. Sure it’s a bit rough round the edges but that’s all part of the charm, right… right?!!

I really enjoyed this game, despite having my doubts when it was first announced. Those death animations really were painful too!

It can be said without a shadow of a doubt that Lara Croft is the most recognisable female in the world of video games and also that there’s no character who divides opinions further. On one hand she’s hailed as a trailblazer for showcasing women playing an active role in games (as opposed to the traditional post of ‘kidnap fodder’) yet this is undermined by her portrayal as a virtual reality sex object through the marketing campaign that surrounded the original Tomb Raider. 13 years, 2 movies and 7 sequels later (8 if you count the anniversary reboot) the controversy continues, particularly among girl gamers.

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Lara Croft was the brainchild of Toby Gard who worked as part of a miniscule developing team on the groundbreaking Tomb Raider game. Upon realising that his original protagonist – an archaeologist bloke with a hat and whip who recovers ancient artefacts from trap-filled environments – might have borne just the tiniest resemblance to a certain other fictional hero, Gard’s character underwent a complete overhaul including a change of gender. That’s right guys – that pixellated sweetheart you’ve known and loved all these years used to be a man. Awkward, I imagine, for anyone who owned a Lara Croft calendar in the nineties. Gard soon had a new design to present to the company; a ballsy, gun-toting South American woman named Laura Cruz. A few redrafts and a name change later and Tomb Raider had a fairly unconventional star for an action game – British, upper class and a lady of course. Lara Croft was conceptualised as a strong and fearless heroine; never losing composure under pressure especially when said pressure includes fighting packs of wolves, mutants or the odd T-Rex. Script writer Vicky Arnold gifted Lara with a marvellously dry wit, making her charisma as sharp and as deadly as her shooting skills. Tomb Raider was an instant hit on release with much of its success attributed to the popularity of its central character. This occurred during the height of the nineties ‘girl power’ craze which may well have contributed to Lara Croft – a tough independent woman in a man’s world – rocketing to stardom.

Despite being a pioneering figure in gaming Lara was not universally admired, in fact she was often despised outright. Many believed that Tomb Raider’s leading lady was famous for only one reason (well, a pair if we’re going to be more specific. Oh come on, you can only talk about her for so long before making a terrible boob pun). Legend has it that an accidental slip of the mouse during the design process left Lara Croft with her trademark gargantuan funbags, a mistake that the design team decided to stick with. After all, the concept was that of an exaggerated female form rather than an effort to emulate reality (“We couldn’t draw good humans” Toby Gard explains on the commentary for the Anniversary edition, one of several reasons why most of the enemies in Tomb Raider are animals). Having a heroine who was easy on the eyes certainly did the team no harm from a marketing perspective, particularly with a target demographic of teenage boys and young men. All of a sudden Lara was wearing a bikini and putting on her best come-and-get-it pose for posters and lad’s mags. This hardly enamoured her to a generation of girl gamers sick of seeing female characters playing submissive roles. Action heroine or not, Lara was marketed as eye-candy – created by men for men to play with. The anger geared at Croft’s portrayal was not exclusive to the female audience, demonstrated when Lara’s own creator left Core prior to the release of Tomb Raider II as an expression of his disgust with the way his character was being portrayed. Gard had taken a great deal of pride in pushing the boundaries with his powerful female lead but had to concede that he’d lost creative control. “I just wish that when she was taken out of my hands” he would later tell The Mirror “they hadn’t made her boobs so big”.

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In addition Lara Croft has been portrayed by a number of human actresses and models over the years. Voice actors have been used throughout the game franchise and inevitably shape the character, with Judith Gibbons being particularly memorable as Lara in Tomb Raider II and III by emphasising Croft’s aristocratic graces. Official ‘Lara Croft models’ have been employed to appear at conventions and promotional events, arguably doing little more than bringing the wet dreams of teenage boys to life. Nell McAndrew infamously posed for Playboy while working as a Lara Croft model and was fired as a result, with Eidos Interactive ordering that the copies of the magazine featuring company logos and Tomb Raider references be withdrawn. However, the association was already in place and as Lara was being officially represented by McAndrew at the time she became tarred with the same brush. By the time the magazine was withdrawn the damage to Miss Croft’s reputation had already been done. Fortunately, Lara regained her credibility and on the big screen no less. The heroine was portrayed in both Tomb Raider movies by Angelina Jolie, who proudly stated in interviews that she had performed her own stunts. In doing this she captured the spirit of Lara Croft – brave, bold and with an insatiable thirst for action.

As with any adaptation, changes were made that were not always favourable to fans of the source material. Lara’s back story was rewritten from the original game manual for the film adaptations in a way that arguably stifled her independent nature. In the first Tomb Raider games Lara has been disowned by her wealthy family for her choice of lifestyle and survives by writing about her adventures. The films claim instead that she becomes an archaeologist to follow in her father’s footsteps and she craves nothing more than to be able to make up for the time that they lost due to his untimely death. While this certainly adds an emotional angle to Lara’s character it is debatable whether this is necessary to an action hero, plus ‘daddy’s girl’ Lara can prove slightly nauseating. Croft Manor is also populated in the films with a supporting cast of tech boys as opposed to the early games where Lara lives alone save for a decrepit old butler (who served no purpose except for the fact that the player could lock him in cupboards for a laugh). Again this diminishes the lone wolf persona that helped make the character so appealing in the first place. These story elements have since made their way into the Tomb Raider canon where efforts have been made to gradually sculpt a more realistic in-game character, physically as well as emotionally. However, much of Lara’s attire remains skimpy as ever and so the debate over whether any self respecting action heroine would go adventuring with quite so much flesh on display continues.

Lara Croft has undeniably been a virtual reality pop culture icon for over a decade now. She’s a role model to some, a polygon rendered bimbo to others and a little bit of both in the eyes of many. It looks like as long as she’s raiding tombs in hotpants, the jury is still out on this one.

Originally posted on The 405, 8th November 2009