21 November 2014

Question Friday is a new feature on the site which focuses solely on you, the Tomb Raider fans. The community is a passionate and vocal group who are not only intelligent but also interesting. Each person has their own opinions on the franchise and their own experiences. Hopefully with this feature we'll unearth some information about each other and strike up some new conversations.
It's an exciting time to be a Tomb Raider fan, especially with Temple of Osiris just days away. The title will be released on 9th December on PC, PS4 and XBOX One. The game allows for up to four player co-op, but also a single player mode if you share Lara's hatred of moving things. The game is promising to be bigger and more explosive than it's predecessor, Guardian of Light, which has already set the bar pretty high.

Official Synopsis:

Lara Croft arrives at the temple, hoping to be the first inside, but rival treasure hunter Carter Bell has beaten her to the entrance. They each seek the Staff of Osiris, but they discover more than they bargained for.

Upon entering the tomb, Carter removes the mythical Staff from its resting place and inadvertently triggers a trap cursing them both and unleashing the evil god Set. But the staff also awakens the gods Horus and Isis, the son and wife of Osiris.

Now free from their ancient prison, they join forces with Lara and Carter in order to resurrect Osiris, the only god capable of removing the curse.As Lara and her companions fight their way across the sands and through ancient tombs, they will face gods and monsters of myth and legend. With the fate of the world at stake, Lara must uncover the fragments of Osiris to stop Set from enslaving all mankind

A special Gold Edition of the game will be released for collectors. And for completionists, there will be new trophies and achievements as well as competitive scoreboards. 

So, what are you most looking forward to in Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris?

You can answer in the comments below, write on our Facebook wall or send us a message on Twitter. I look forward to reading your answers! :)

20 November 2014

In anticipation for the upcoming Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, I returned to it's predecessor and one of my favourite titles, Guardian of Light. Admittedly, while I love the game, and the idea of a co-op Tomb Raider title, I hadn't actually played it with someone else before. For me it was always about the single player experience, how Lara fought her way through the various tombs and how Totec showed up at the last moment to share in the glory of defeat.

Yet this time it was different. I had a buddy!

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a co-op game created by Crystal Dynamics in 2010. It's a stand alone, spin off title, which allowed the developers to explore the Tomb Raider IP in new ways. In the game, Lara is after an artifact called the Mirror of Smoke but is ambushed upon its discovery by Vasco, the local warlord, who unknowingly releases Xolotl from his prison inside the relic. While the enemy escapes, Totec, the guardian, is awakened. Gamers can play through the title either on single play mode or with a friend in co-op.  The title is available on PC, XBOX 360, PS3, iOS and Android.

The guy I was playing with has been a friend for a number of years, he's pretty damn awesome, a gamer and is really difficult to buy a Christmas present for. He also allowed me to play as Lara so, you know, brownie points. 

The game is one of my favourites due to its non-stop action, and the sense of continual achievement due to the game's fast paced level design. The AAA Tomb Raider titles tend to include bigger,  more complex puzzles, which sometimes spans over the entire map, whereas Guardian of Light has more compact challenges which you can solve fairly quickly with a certain mind set. Which is by no means a criticism! Once you're running away from Chompy or dodging at the last minute to avoid a rolling spike ball, you want to keep that level of adrenaline going. 

There were several moments which stood out for me a little more in co-op, compared to the single player experience. Moments like coming up with tactics to lure the lava dinosaur in a certain direction, as one of us jumps on the pressure plate, delivering a deadly blow to the enemy just felt a lot more immersive. Running away from Chompy was another favourite and took quite a bit of trial and error to get right; every now and then, one of us would slip up and roll into a fallen pillar instead of jumping over it. By the end of the path, we knew we had mere seconds left to trap the creature and that was exciting!

Midway through a level I wanted to try to get an achievement called Leap of Faith which meant that Totec would have to leap over a cavern while Lara used her grapple to catch him in mid-flight. My partner was somewhat... reluctant at first. In fact I don't think that achievement was gotten there but later after jumping over a gap that the isometric camera implied was smaller. Of course he had a perfect reason to doubt my honesty, at every opportunity I would drop a bomb near him and run quickly in the opposite direction hoping he wouldn't notice. He always would. 

My only criticism from the co-op experience was that, as the game progressed, we died more. We died a lot. The level design drifted away from the puzzles and into horde mode. Rather than working together, it became a situation which we were at separate sides of the screen facing our own onslaught of enemies and facing the situation alone. One of us would die, and the three seconds delay to return to the game felt longer as we were forced to watch the other being overcome by the large group of enemies intended for two players. Although that is such a small criticism and doesn't really take away from the overall experience or enjoyment. There are gamers who live for those moments, I guess we're the type of people who prefer to die by the other's hand in a wave of sudden and inevitable betrayal. 

As an overall co-op experience, the game is fantastic and is one of the best buddy games out there. Yes, I may be slightly biased given my love for the series already but playing with someone close to me and seeing them enjoy it and enjoying the game myself, was pretty amazing.

Bring on Temple of Osiris! 

20 June 2014

First of all, I just want to mention, if you haven't played Tomb Raider (2013) this article has major spoilers for the storyline. It also has slight spoilers for the first issue of Gail Simone's comic series. Just everywhere. Spoilers. Watch out!

Days before E3, rumours began to circulate that we may hear news regarding the next instalment in the Tomb Raider series. The speculation was fuelled primarily with hope, but in the final moments a domain name was purchased which made Lara's presence at the show a very real possibility.

During the Microsoft E3 Conference, Crystal Dynamics announced the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Back in 2011, I wrote an article for Guns and Grapple which looked more closely at the trailer released during E3 that year. The article focused on some of the clues Crystal provided to hint towards the game's storyline and how they might plan to reinvent the protagonist. This trailer on the other hand is different; we see Lara as an experienced explorer and one affected by the death and events which occurred at Yamatai.

First of all, I just want to mention that there are a number of interpretations online about the new trailer. A popular theory is that Lara is suffering from PTSD. There's a fantastic article by Ashelia about going through therapy and praising the mature direction of the upcoming title. If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out the piece. With a different interpretation, Leigh Alexander also wrote an article which was later retweeted by the game's writer, Rhianna Pratchett who defended the trailer. It's interesting stuff!

My interpretation is quite different from both of them and focuses on the possibility that Lara may be returning to her Core Design's biography.

"When you're ready, open your eyes."

The scene begins in the middle of a therapy session accompanied with the soothing sounds of  "The Car Chase" by James Horner. Lara is avoiding eye contact with her adviser, shielded by a hood which covers her eyes. At first we cannot see our protagonist, and she's not instantly recognisable; her clothes and the way she slouches in the chair suggests that she is an ordinary young woman who is reluctant to progress through the sessions. The therapist continues to talk and is the only one to do so until the final few moments.

Despite the fascination about the hooded figure there is something in the therapist's voice that is equally interesting; you may call the tone slightly patronising or clinical, but there's also a relaxing narrative tone as though he's talking about Lara rather than to her.

The world of Tomb Raider has always welcomed a mythical element from uncovering the history of Atlantis to travelling to Helheim, yet there's always been an element that remained close to reality; it makes the games more compelling. After acquiring the series in 2003, Crystal Dynamics has been exploring that line between fiction and reality with Lara initially sceptical of anything supernatural. In the recent reboot, the developers' continued this idea; after reuniting with her shipmates from the Endurance, the team quickly splits up in order to find Sam. Lara is quickly partnered with Dr James Whitman, an archaeologist of sorts, who believes that myths and legends are closer to reality than many believe. Lara instantly shoots down the hypothesis stating "But this is real Dr. Whitman we're not standing on a myth." As the game progresses, her perspective opens up to more mythical possibilities. 

The meaning and audience for the opening lines are vague. Is he asking Lara to reawaken to the reality of a plain therapist office away from forbidden cities? Or perhaps asking the audience to expand their sense of reality just like our protagonist was forced to? It feels intentional that there's an ambiguity which is aided by the camera shot emerging from darkness with the mention of that imperative.

 "You say the flashbacks have stopped. This is excellent improvement."

Throughout the scene there's an undeniable fascination revolving around Lara. She's both restless and tense, constantly shifting but still subtly reacting to his statements. As the audience, we also know something about the character that is oblivious to others, Lara lied. The therapist comments on her progress stating that the flashbacks have ceased, and suddenly we're pulled back into the waves at the coast of Yamatai and back to the adventure which started it all. We're introduced to a new side of Lara's character which I can't help but feel mirrors her original biography from 1996, her disdain for regulations and procedure. The biography from the Trilogy boxset goes so far to say she finds it "suffocating". He mentions her loss of grip on reality. She shuffles in her chair. He criticises her isolation. She digs her nails into the armrest.

Then there are the lies. Not just about the flashbacks but about the new cuts on her hands from a recent adventure despite her therapist's impression that she refuses to step outside or have a hobby. Or in fact the suggestion to "take some walks" despite her wearing footwear ideal for hiking.

"For many people these traumas become a mental trap, they get stuck like a ship frozen in the ice..."

Personally I absolutely love this line! During the development of Tomb Raider (2013), Crystal Dynamics took inspiration from real life explorers. They focused on the individuals' struggles and bravery to shape their protagonist, one of those individuals was Ernest Shackleton. He was an restless explorer with a love of the sea, a passion which led him to create his own voyage to Antarctica via the South Pole in 1914 entitled the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, in which he sailed on board the Endurance. The following year the ship became embedded and locked in ice and Shackleton was forced to evacuate. Ten months later the ship disintegrated into the sea, where it still remains. 

In April 1916, the order was given to sail to Elephant Island with the crew fitting on board in just three lifeboats. Once on land, the crew began preparations for a voyage to South Georgia on a small ship named James Caird and relying on the Carpenter (McNish) to keep the raft afloat. The first voyage consisted of a skeleton crew which reached shore two weeks after setting off. The remaining party was rescued three months after.

"A girl your age, should be exploring new horizons."

As a personal note, I would LOVE to see Lara returning to our screens with a dislike for procedure, struggling to contain her annoyance at compulsory therapy and leading a secret life. Everyone thinks she's affected or made fragile by her experiences, in truth they wouldn't understand. They weren't there when Lara solved the mystery of the island, or traversed across ice and fire to save Sam, or defeated a powerful Queen with the ability to summon storms. At the end of the last game she sits on the edge of a rescue ship, watching the waves and the sun slip below the horizon, determined not to return home.

Throughout the session we see glimpses of an adventure. Lara is running through a forest  her trusted icepick in her hand, her face hidden by the hood of her heavy duty coat. Behind her is the roar of an animal which is chasing her at a fast rate just metres behind her. As the camera pans in we see it's a bear. Despite the area sharing a similar likeness to Yamatai, the absence of bears in the game and Lara's new look implies a new adventure. The return of the icepick is interesting, perhaps Lara has formed a connection to the gear, viewing it as a symbol of endurance?

"There's another type of person. Do you know what happens to them...Ms Croft?

 Throughout the session Lara remains quiet, silently reacting to the therapist's comments until the final few moments when prompted for a response. It's at this point we hear Camilla Luddington, the voice actress for Lara Croft, answer "We become who we're meant to be." By her confidence in the answer, her tone, and the use of the third person pronoun "we", it's a pretty safe bet to say that she considers herself to be the latter. After the struggles at Yamatai, she's emerged stronger than she was and more determined. 

This was another section of the trailer which suggested to me that Lara feels restricted by what's expected of her. In the room, she is monitored by the therapist who tells her how she is feeling and what she is doing. It's not yet known if these sessions are optional or mandatory, but his statement "I think we're making progress in these sessions" implies Lara has been attending for a while. 

Another interpretation why of Lara could be attending the sessions could be because of Sam, who either pressured her into attending or refuses to go herself. The recent series of comics explore the events after Yamatai and bridges the gap between both games. The first comic features a sleep deprived Sam who frequently sleep walks and has nightmares and flashbacks about the island, yet refuses to accept help. While Lara is affected by her experiences, she doesn't seem to suffer as a result of what she's endured, instead she tries to strengthen the bond between herself and her former crew members. Her acts in the comic and the therapist's description of her character are contrasting which could mean that she's describing Sam's fears as her own to understand how she could help her friend. It would also explain how she responded the way she did after the therapist mentions her real name, she's not hiding then, the answer was bold and determined.

[Disclaimer: This is a fan interpretation of the trailer and therefore the article should be taken as speculation and not fact. I also use some quotations from the video as headings, although it's not a complete transcript. ]  

15 April 2014

A few weeks ago, Meagan Marie announced that she would be leaving Crystal Dynamics and will be moving to Ireland to join the team at Riot Games. Since that day I've been trying to figure out just what to say in this article. Each time I sat down to write, the blinking cursor would remain in a solitary position, waiting for the words. Every introduction felt cheesy or bland or generic.

Her departure from Crystal leaves me with mixed emotions. In a way, I'm happy that she's embracing new challenges and pursuing adventure. Yet, there's an undeniable sadness that comes with every Facebook update or Twitter message from her.

Photograph by Ljinto
Initial Introduction
Meagan entered Crystal Dynamics at a time when the company was introducing the idea of a complete reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. A lot of gamers were initially taken back by the new direction with many doubting that the concept would even work. Even from the start, her job was by no means easy.

One of the first things she did was to set up additional social media websites, including Flickr and Tumblr. Regularly updated albums gave a first hand perspective of gaming events and studio life. The Tumblr page developed into the ultimate resource for Tomb Raider fans with daily postings ranging from fan projects to official announcements, podcasts and on-tour reports. She also formed the Fansite Directory and contacted a number of website owners to personally introduce herself and present each site with an official fansite badge aswell as a place on the Tomb Raider blog. In 2011, Meagan also contacted a number of artists for special artwork commemorating Lara's 15th Anniversary.

An Industry Icon
As the months went on, the projects she created flourished. The Tomb Raider Blog not only delivered fresh content but also gave the spotlight to individual fans and projects. One of my favourite features, The Crystal Habit Podcast, allowed gamers to obtain a behind the scenes glimpse at Crystal as well as uncover new secrets about the upcoming game. In recent recordings she encouraged and gave advice to fans who wanted to get into the video game industry, by conducting interviews with many employees at the studio.

Recording the podcast at E3 2011. Photo from Crystal Dynamics' Flickr.
While the community events became more frequent nearer to Tomb Raider's release date, Meagan also arranged several meetings just months after taking the role and travelled around the world to meet and form closer relationships with those she spoke to online. She treated fans like the gaming press by showing them exclusive previews and demos ahead of the release date and encourage discussion.

She has not only been a fantastic Community Manager but an incredible icon in the video game industry. Last March she posted an article called "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, which challenges the reader by posing the question in the first chapter. Meagan's answer? "I'd write this blog". Her article describes her encounters with sexism in the video game industry, especially at events. It's not the most comfortable thing to read, but it is important.

My Most Memorable Time
During the Eurogamer Expo in 2012, Meagan arranged a community event at Square Enix Europe on the second day. The group was much bigger than before and while everyone was a little reluctant to speak at first, that shyness eased off during the night. After a Tomb Raider gameplay preview and a mini Q&A, we travelled across Wimbledon for a group meal. Just before ordering dessert, one of the waiters came over and announced that we had to leave. Being at the far end of the table and unaware of what was said, I was a little confused about why everyone was suddenly leaving, but I've played enough zombie  games to know to stay with your group. 

Photograph by Survivor Reborn

We retraced our steps back to Square Enix Europe and decided that, since the night was still young...ish, we should head into a nearby Tescos and buy vast amounts of assorted ice cream and wine. The cashier gave us strange looks as she scanned probably the eighth tub of ice cream, Meagan more than most as she was paying. Minutes later we were back at Eidos and curled up in chairs in the press section. We played the demo while eating ice cream and catching up. It was such an incredible night!

Closing Words
...And Meagan

Thank you so much for everything you have done for the community. I will genuinely miss you, but I know you will rock it there at Riot. It's an amazing new stage in your life and I hope that you will enjoy every minute of it. I also hope to hear more of your exciting adventures whether they are community days, cosplay days or world domination.

You wrote an article last year on Tumblr called "Dear Lara, Thanks for Everything" which detailed your journey becoming the Tomb Raider Community Manager and the months leading up to the game's launch. I had A LOT of difficulty writing this article, but I kept on thinking back to that post.  As you wrote an article about your role model, I thought I would write a similar article about mine...

4 April 2014

Question Friday is a new feature on the site which focuses solely on you, the Tomb Raider fans. The community is a passionate and vocal group who are not only intelligent but also interesting. Each person has their own opinions on the franchise and their own experiences. Hopefully with this feature we'll unearth some information about eachother and strike up some new conversations.

Since this is the first question, naturally it should be about how you were introduced and later became a fan of the series. Whether you were introduced to the games through a family member, cosplay, or just by browsing on the shelves of a video game store.

Many of us have friends online that we talk to through written communication only,  and while it certainly has its benefits, it can sometimes be difficult imagining a human face behind the words. Finding out about how others were introduced to something you share a passion for can help build this connection. :)

How did you become a Tomb Raider fan?

You can answer in the comments below, write on our Facebook wall or send us a message on Twitter. I look forward to reading your stories!

Artwork by Andy Park. To read more about his work, check out his website HERE. This piece was made to celebrate 15 years of Tomb Raider. You can find out more about the celebration, HERE.