- Ascolta “The Crystal Habit Podcast: Episode 15“
24 Ottobre 2012
Meagan Marie – Community Manager
Rhianna Pratchett – Lead Writer
Karl Stewart – Direttore Globale Marchio
Rich Briggs – Membro del team di Crystal Dynamics
[ La trascrizione italiana di questo podcast non è attualmente disponibile. Contiamo d’inserirla prossimamente. Scusandoci per l’attesa, postiamo nel frattempo la trascrizione inglese. Qualora vogliate offrire la vostra collaborazione, vi preghiamo di contattarci via mail; il vostro supporto sarà molto apprezzato.]
MEAGAN MARIE: Hello everyone, thank you for tuning in. As always this is your host, Meagan Marie. We’re up to episode number 15 of the Crystal Habit podcast, and this time the entire episode is dedicated to chatting with Tomb Raider lead writer Rhianna Pratchett. I apologize in advance for the audio quality, as phone interviews are always a little bit tinny-sounding. So without further ado, we’ll jump right into the interview. It tops off at over 60 minutes. Enjoy!
Segment 1: Rhianna Pratchett
MEAGAN MARIE: Thanks for tuning in, everyone. As promised, I am here with TR lead writer Rhianna Pratchett, and I’m armed with pressing questions from you guys, the community. Thanks for being on the show. Does it feel good to get out and start talking about Tomb Raider after a long time?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Oh, yeah, definitely. I’ve been raring to go for a long time now. It’s great to be able to get out there and talk about things and engage with the fans.
MEAGAN MARIE: We have a wonderful, passionate group of fans, and getting to the heart of their questions, having people like you and Camilla on, is really exciting for them. So thank you for being here and for answering their questions. I’m conscious of the time difference on this call, so we’ll get started. I figure the beginning is a great place to start. How long have you been gaming? Are there any definitive games that have shaped your childhood and made you realize you wanted to be a part of the games industry?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Well, I started gaming when I was about six. I started quite young. My dad was very into tech and electronics and computers. I remember him bringing home. I think was a ZX-81. He had a game called Mazogs on it. It was a sort of 2D. I guess we call them dungeon crawlers now, but we had no such word back in those days. It was a little pixelated man in a pixelated maze with pixelated spiders after him. I remember I was very frightened initially when I saw this game, but once I realized that you got a little pixelated sword to kill the pixelated spiders, I fell in love. At that moment. That’s where it all started I think. I used to get my dad’s hand-me-down machines and I’d play games on those. Amstrads and such, moving up to PC. I was a PC gamer originally, and I got into consoles a bit later. I particularly liked adventure games. I used to play adventure games with the little girl that lived next door. We would do things like. We tried a lot of the Leisure Suit Larry games, when we were about 14, trying to guess the “Are you 18?” questions that they used to have at the start of Leisure Suit Larry games. Which were usually about the American political process, which is really quite a good way of doing it. We also used to play Conquest of Camelot. Space Quest. King’s Quest. We played a lot of adventure games together. She would make me play any bit she deemed scary, like if a wolf appeared on screen. [laughs] Which was usually made up of about six pixels. That was a lot of fun. I used to play games with my dad. I used to draw the maps for him, so he’d drive and I’d navigate. That was a lot of fun. I was always playing games with people. It was a social experience for me. I got into adventure games, and then I got into strategy games a lot. My dad taught me to play chess. I think that carried through. I was a big fan of things like the Command & Conquer games. Dune II. Even the original Dune game, which is a sort of turn-based semi-RTS, semi-adventure game. Then I was very into the Diablo games. As I think I said on the Nerd Machine panel, I almost lost a boyfriend to Diablo II. My playing Diablo II, not him. I should have gone with Diablo and ditched the boyfriend. Diablo made a big impression. The cutscenes in particular made a big impression. They’re usually ones that I talk about when it comes to ways of using a cutscene well, as a sort of reward mechanic. You spend hours slashing away through demon hordes, and then you’ve got this really lovely cutscene. You get a chance to breathe. It was well-written and well-put-together. That really captivated me at the time. That was the first time I remember really thinking about a game’s story to any strong degree, although I really enjoyed the stories in things like Conquest of Camelot and adventure games. This was the first time it had actually seemed cinematic. Then I got into playing the Wing Commander games. That was when we used to have Mark Hamill in them. I loved those as well. So I’ve had a quite varied gaming history. I’ve pretty much played everything aside from sports games.
MEAGAN MARIE: So how did you then transition and get your start in the industry?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I studied journalism. When I was in my last year at university I managed to get a bit of work for a women’s magazine called Mink. I started writing, I think, about comic book characters. They knew I was into games, and they decided to cover games reviews, which was fairly unprecedented for a women’s magazine at the time. So they came to me. I started reviewing games for them. It only lasted about four issues before they went through a redesign and it all became about lipstick and boys, but it was enough to get my foot in the door of the industry. I started getting games sent through and getting more work. I wrote for a magazine called TC Gear. I then got a job as the editor of systems and then moving up to section editor on a game magazine called PC Zone. I stayed there for a couple of years doing the whole face of games journalism. I wrote for the Guardian. I went freelance again and did all sorts of stuff for the Times and various other places. Around the time I went freelance, which was about 11 years ago now, I was asked if I would be a story editor for a hardcore role-playing game called Beyond Divinity. It was a game that. It was a sequel. I had supported the previous game while I was in the press. The developers remembered me. They were looking for a native English speaker who understood their games, so they came to me. It was very fortuitous. So I worked with them. When I finished I thought, “Hey, there’s work here.” I didn’t even think about games writing as a career, because it wasn’t talked about that much then. People were obviously doing it, but it just wasn’t really known about in the same way as we know about programmers or designers or artists. So I started hitting up the contacts that I’d made as a journalist. I’d say, “Hey, I’m doing some scriptwriting now and character work. Do let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.” A few of them came back to me and said, “Yeah, absolutely.” I started getting little bits of work, anything from level dialogue to mission design, and moving up to bigger projects like Heavenly Sword, like the Overlord series. Mirror’s Edge. Viking. Risen. And now Tomb Raider. I very much grew my career step by step, which I think has really helped me gain a good perspective about all areas of narrative in games. I’ve worked at every stage.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, absolutely. As someone who’s worked on both sides of the industry, I get this a lot also. Which side do you find more demanding or more rewarding? Are you happy working on this side of the industry as opposed to being a critic?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Definitely. I think this side is both more demanding and more rewarding. That’s usually the way it works, really. I don’t know that I could ever go back to being a games journalist again. Maybe because, weirdly, the pay is much worse than it was when I started out. It seems to have gone down. I really enjoyed working in print media, and there are so few magazines around now, which is very sad. I really enjoyed my time there. It was very important. It gave me a good skill set for looking at games and being able to break them down. That’s helped me as a game writer. I do enjoy this side of the industry. Although it’s really weird reading reviews of games I work on. I really just want to go and hibernate for a few weeks when the reviews come out. I don’t want to read them, because I know what it’s like being a journalist and I know what it’s like being a developer. It all bubbles to the surface. I’m sitting there with my arms crossed going, “Oh, I can tell that they only played the first two levels” or something like that and getting outraged about it. It’s been an interesting transition, but a really valuable one I think.
MEAGAN MARIE: Do you feel like your skills translated fairly well? As a games journalist, you’re reporting factually and then you have your editorialized pieces, but now you’re creating fiction. Was that something that you felt came naturally to you, or was it an adjustment?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: It seemed to come quite naturally. I’d done a bit of that growing up. I wrote short stories and things like that. I sort of rebelled against being a writer during my teen years. For semi-obvious reasons, I guess. I leaned towards journalism because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and journalism is great for that because you get various opportunities. I went through a whole phase of wanting to be an actress, wanting to be a mermaid. I sort of settled on journalist. I got eased into creative writing. Since then. I do a lot of stuff outside of games as well. I write comics and I work on screenplays and TV shows. Short stories. Pretty much everything apart from novels, which I’m leaving to Pratchett senior.
MEAGAN MARIE: Speaking specifically to Tomb Raider, what’s your history with the Tomb Raider franchise? I know you’ve been quoted as having a “love-hate” relationship with the series and the characters. Would you care to elaborate on that?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: It’s an interesting one. My first ever industry event was actually a Tomb Raider III launch party. My dad was known as a Tomb Raider fan at the time, and he got invited and took me along. That was my first foray into the games industry. I played the first game and I loved that one. I played a bit of the second. I can’t remember if I actually ended up playing any of the third. But after that. I was sort of aware of Tomb Raider. I played the odd demo. But I never really got into them again as strongly as I did at the start. I’m not entirely sure why that is. I was a bit worried at first that maybe Crystal would see that as a disadvantage, but actually they saw that as a good thing, because it meant that I came to the franchise with fresh eyes. I wasn’t necessarily beholden to everything that had come before, which matched the attitude of the whole team on the project.
MEAGAN MARIE: When were you first approached to work on Tomb Raider, then?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: It was about two and a half years ago. I was already working for another Square Enix/Eidos title. I was contacted through the internal mail system. I’m not even sure whether I knew there was a Tomb Raider reboot in the works. I think maybe I did? I can’t remember. I did a test. I had an interview. I wrote some of the demo scenes, some of the early scenes with Lara and Roth, which seem to have been shown now. Crystal was very much looking for someone who could capture Lara’s voice. I seemed to be able to do something they liked, and so they wanted me as their writer. It feels like a very long time ago.
MEAGAN MARIE: No doubt. What were your initial thoughts, then, when you were approached about writing for the franchise? Considering that it’s such a beloved franchise and it was such a new direction.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I’m very much someone who embraces challenge, someone who will go towards things that scare them a little bit. I’m always looking for that next challenge and what I can help change and develop and put my stamp on. I thought this was a great opportunity to go and reboot, revamp, revitalize, however you want to put it, a character that I’d sort of fallen out of love with. Now you get a chance to make her what you would have liked her to have been. Those opportunities rarely happen. Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, I think.
MEAGAN MARIE: This is something that I know the fans would love a deeper explanation on. As lead writer, which parts of the narrative are you specifically involved with? You work very closely with Noah Hughes, who’s our creative director, and then John Stafford, who’s our narrative designer. Can you describe the relationship between the three of you?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Absolutely. I largely handle the cinematic sequences in the game. I work on the core storyline and all the scenes that are mocapped and a lot of the radio dialogue as well. What we call the core narrative, which forms a lot of the heavy narrative lifting in the game. John, who I think has been on the project about a year. Between a year and a year and a half. John is responsible for the level dialogue that happens during the game. I wrote a little bit of that to start with, for our demos, and then John came on board and he handled that. He also does a lot of the AI dialogue as well and Lara’s dialogue as she’s progressing through the game. All three of us would feed back on each other’s work. I would look at what John was doing, he would look at what I was doing. We formed a kind of narrative triangle. We’d discuss problems. If a scene needed to be changed, how we would do it. But largely it was me doing the writing, but with direction and feedback from Noah and John. It works the same way for the level dialogue, what John was responsible for. John has also done a lot of the secondary narrative in the game, a lot of the letters and the documents that you find. I know he had a lot of fun with those.
MEAGAN MARIE: What other members of the team have you worked closely with? What’s the traditional collaboration method? Obviously you’re out in the U.K., so do you usually communicate through e-mail or conference calls? How often do you make it to the studio and so on?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I’ve probably been out to the studio about four times now, for various lengths of time. There were usually a lot of conference calls, lots of e-mails. Messenger. Technology has made the world a much smaller place. It’s far easier to be in contact as long as these feedback loops are in play. Mainly it was John and Noah. I worked with, initially, Tim Longo, who I think was the original experience director. He was there at the start. I worked with him. But mainly it’s been Noah and then John. I’ve had a little bit to do with other members of the team. Ron and Brian and Darrell. He gave his feedback. We talked about a lot of things during the course of the games.
MEAGAN MARIE: How do you start working on a project that’s so large? Do you just dive in? Is there a professional process or a motto that you follow? Or is it just an organic evolution?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: It really changes depending on the project and when you’ve been brought on board. There’s never one answer when it comes to games writing, because your job can vary considerably depending on if you’re brought on board a year into the development or three months before the end. So there’s no one way of doing it. The situation is like having a box of narrative parts handed to you. It’s a bit like being Doctor Frankenstein. You get a box of parts and this will include things like. There may be a story arc. There may be some characters. There may be some visuals. There may be some themes. There may be a lot of stuff in place. There may be not much stuff in place. You never know what you’re going to find in the box. I don’t want to go with the Forrest Gump analogy; I prefer the narrative body parts. But it’s like that. They hand you this box of body parts and you have to examine what’s there, what isn’t there, how you stitch it all up and make it into a living, breathing story again. It all depends on what’s in that box. That can depend on a lot of factors. It can depend on how important narrative is in the game. For example, an action-adventure game would have less narrative in it than, say, a hardcore role-playing game. The action-adventure would probably have more narrative than a strategy game. It really depends on the genre for the project, when you’re brought on board, the attitude of the team towards narrative, how important it is in the game.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that’s really interesting, because some people have a perception that you just start from ground zero and they say, “Create a story.” But there’s a lot of pieces already in place, and then you’re brought on to help make sure that narrative makes sense and that it’s fleshed out properly. And it is a very collaborative and iterative process, so it’s interesting to hear it explained that way.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah. It is very weird. There’s no real blank page in games writing. You rarely start with a blank page. There’s always something there. It might get shaken up. It might get completely changed. But you’re always working within the limits there, whether it’s a limit of time or budget or gameplay or level design. There are always limits that you have to learn to work with. That can be a little bit disarming for writers, especially if they come from other media and they’re used to being there at the very start. They’re not necessarily used to working with this box of body parts. There is a real difference to writing for games compared to other entertainment media.
MEAGAN MARIE: So, looking at that box of body parts. Was there a specific aspect of the game you found particularly difficult to flesh out? A certain scenario or character or a string of dialogue? And how do you overcome obstacles? Without spoiling anything, obviously. I don’t know if you can honestly answer that with what we’ve revealed so far.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I think it was trying to make sure that players, particularly the testers, understood what was going on. Especially with our backstory and how that comes through in the game. We spent quite a lot of time trying to juggle how we told that backstory and revealed it to players and made sure that they were getting it along the way. That’s always a challenge, how much information you give to players, given that the nature of playing a game is so different from the nature of watching a film. You don’t know if a player has just sat down and is banging right through the game, or if they’re playing a little bit and going away for a week and coming back after forgetting everything. You don’t know if they’re skipping cutscenes or whatever. It’s a real challenge to try and give the players enough information so they get it, but not too much so it feels like you’re constantly repeating yourself. That was a challenge. Telling our backstory and getting players to understand that and making that clear. Lara’s motivations as well. That took a lot, because that’s very iterative. You have to listen to player feedback and tester feedback and just keep iterating accordingly until it’s all coming together. One of the interesting things about games writing is that you have such a large feedback loop. If you’re working on level design, you can build something, drop it in the game, and bang, it’s there. You can see if it’s working. With games writing, you have to write it, then you have to cast it, then you have to record it, then you drop that into the game. There might be animation. The loop from writing it to getting it in the game and fully animated and fully voiced is a long time. There’s a lot of those steps in between, which can look a bit ugly and sound bad, but you have to trust that they’ll all fall into place eventually.
MEAGAN MARIE: This is a pretty pointed question that I know a lot of people wonder about. Some writers say that you need to be a woman to know a female character, or whatever in regards to other attributes of humanity. You’ve stated before that you tried to write Lara first as a strong human character, and her gender is a secondary consideration. What’s your thinking behind that approach to writing Lara?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I just find it more interesting looking at the things that make us human, the things that unite us, regardless of gender. I think they can in some ways be more powerful. Also, I think people focus on a lot on Lara’s gender. People focus a lot on my gender. Sometimes I like to put that aside and just look at what is the human story here. I think that’s something everyone can relate to. I don’t want to feel that. If I was telling a story about being female, that might exclude certain players. It’s much better, I think, to look at the human story. Lara is a great female character and I’ve had the privilege of working with other strong female action characters as well, in Mirror’s Edge and Heavenly Sword. So I’ve done it a lot. But I always give my female characters as much dedication as I give my male characters. You have to, really. But it’s that human story that I was really interested in.
MEAGAN MARIE: I do feel like that comes across. It’s wonderful seeing people. I get to be on the show floor a lot, on the ground level seeing people playing the game, and I really do feel like we’ve achieved a level of people identifying with Lara, which is such a great thing to see.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah. I was really hoping for that. That’s very exciting to hear.
MEAGAN MARIE: It is a very fresh take, I think. Similarly, being British, it must help you infuse the correct level of cultural awareness into the character. In what ways did you bring out her cultural identity?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: There are some that have been lost to the rigors of game development. For example, she talks about Jaffa Cakes at one point. That was re-written for other reasons, I have to say, it wasn’t an anti-Jaffa Cake backlash or something. Jaffa Cakes are a very famous kind of half biscuit, half cake in the U.K. There was a slogan like, “They really put the Great in Great Britain – Jaffa Cakes!” They’re always asked for by Brits living in America. They always want me to bring them Jaffa Cakes. Certainly in her language she’s quite British, without being too colloquial and slangy. I had to make sure that she didn’t get overly British, which I think can be a problem. I had to check over John’s level dialogue and make sure it was all falling under Lara’s Britishness. I think when you’re British it’s often hard to break down what makes British British. But you know how to write it. It’s not always easy to communicate that to someone else. You have to look over things and say, “No, we don’t say things that way, we say it this way round.” It’s the same for American dialogue. I think British writers are a little more used to American dialogue because we get so many TV shows from America, whereas American writers are probably not quite as used to the way Brits speak. Being British certainly helps there. But yeah, it’s really hard to identify what makes her particularly British, because I think in British terms anyway. It’s probably easier for an American to say, “Oh, she’s being very British there.”
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s interesting, because I have heard particularly. Someone appreciated your reference to climbing Snowdon. That was one thing stood out. It really helped her feel grounded in that particular culture. I thought that was a cool little comment to get.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah. There’s been a couple of little references like that. Some of them have got lost, like Jaffa Cakes, sadly. But I’ve gotten in some little things like that.
MEAGAN MARIE: I’m definitely interested in this perspective, specifically from you. Lara has always been considered an extraordinary person. So what do you feel are her defining traits, both the classic Lara and the current Lara? What do you think has been maintained through this transition that still makes Lara Croft Lara Croft?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I know that some people have felt that we’re breaking down Lara in this game. That we’re taking a strong character and sort of breaking her down through the events that happen. But that’s really not the case. What we’re doing is taking her back to a time when she didn’t have the answers to everything. She didn’t have the guns and the gadgets to deal with every situation. She was seeing everything with fresh eyes and she didn’t know she was capable of doing these things. So she’s on that mission of self-discovery. All those traits that she strengthens throughout the game are in her, absolutely in her, but they’ve not been brought out in such a way. That was really interesting from a writer’s perspective, to be able to do that. We haven’t really taken away from her. We’ve just wound her back. Everything is still there. It’s still embryonic within her. She’s discovering it at the same time as the players are. That’s delightful, when you can get players and player characters discovering everything for the first time. That’s a real sweet spot. That’s been very important. Particularly where her bravery comes in, that was something I wanted to look at. The fact that we do see her being scared and sobbing at certain points and turning to Roth for help. Yeah, she does seem a little bit helpless. Not necessarily what you want to do with a strong female character. But. That’s important. You see her grow. You see her actually having to face up to things. She’s utterly scared, but she realizes that she’s going to have to get herself out of this. That realization is powerful. I think it was a little bit shocking to players, to see Lara being scared. You rarely see characters being scared, especially when they’re usually seen as so strong and capable. I think that was a bit of a shock for people. But we’re playing a long game with Lara. When you see Lara scared and asking Roth for help, that’s very early on in the game. You see her basically having to pick herself up and say, “Okay, I have to do this one step at a time. If I get knocked down, I’ll get back up again.” It’s that character evolution and discovery of things inside herself. And discovering the magic in the world. Not necessarily supernatural magic, but her love of tombs and her geekiness about archaeology, that comes out as well. It’s not all doom and gloom. She gets excitable and almost bubbly. That kind of geeky archaeology student really comes out in certain places. That was a lot of fun to do.
MEAGAN MARIE: Those are some of my personal favorite parts in the game. We’ve shown a little clip of it now, when Lara discovers and enters her first tomb. I think that was a real moment for me, which registered as this being Lara Croft. It very much resonated for me as a long-time fan. I totally agree with that, seeing her sort of geekiness for archaeology come out is really rewarding.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: It’s like seeing Indy get his hat for the first time in Last Crusade.
MEAGAN MARIE: Exactly. I think I need to move on to some community questions, otherwise I could keep talking to you with all these general questions forever. We’ll move on to a couple of questions from the Eidos forums. AdobeArtist asks. You dropped some tidbits about Lara’s backstory in a recent interview, and the fans absolutely loved it. AdobeArtists asks, “I understand why there’s no mansion and why Lara doesn’t have access to state-of-the-art utilities while on the island. But going by what the article says, why does she choose not to tap into her inheritance? Does this mean that Lara has completely forsaken her aristocratic heritage in this reboot?” We obviously don’t want to go and explain everything in too much detail, but I know. People are curious as to whether Lara is still an aristocrat, if she’s still posh.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: The word “aristocrat” doesn’t really exist as much in England as it used to. Certainly not when Lara first came out. I think people sort of mistake “aristocrat” with “royalty” and things like that. It’s not really used in that way anymore. So for example, we wouldn’t necessarily say that every lord is an aristocrat. I wouldn’t say that Lord Alan Sugar considers himself an aristocrat. My father is knight, he’s a Sir, but I don’t know if he considers himself an aristocrat. So Lara definitely comes from money. Her father is titled. At the start of the game her parents are missing. They’ve been missing for a number of years. That side of things is not touched in the game. Her parents don’t appear. So she technically has access to that money, but she doesn’t want to touch it for a number of reasons. For one, she very much wants to stand on her own two feet. She’s very. I don’t know about stubborn, but she wants to make her own way in the world on her own terms. She puts herself through university. She works several jobs in order to do so, one of which she mentions in the game. She talks about a late shift at the Nine Bells. She doesn’t use her family’s money to do that. She does it herself. Also, because her parents are missing, she doesn’t want to touch that money, because it would sort of be tantamount to admitting that they’re really gone, that they’re not going to come back. We explore this a bit more in the promotional comics. She actually ties up that wealth in trusts and all kinds of things so she can’t touch it, even if she wanted to, at this particular moment in the game. That’s not to say she won’t change her mind about it. But where she is now, we didn’t want that to be a factor. I wanted her to feel about it differently. I wanted her to feel something that I think modern audiences would accept a little bit more than the sort of throwing-money-all-over-the-place, gadgets-up-the-yin-yang, fancy this, fancy that. I think that’s hard to relate to, and a little bit crass in this day and age. She might get there one day, but this is how Lara feels at 21.
MEAGAN MARIE: Adobe Artist also has another very interesting question that I thought might resonate with you. He says, “Here’s one to ask an Egyptologist.” Because you did study a bit of Egyptology, correct?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I did, yes.
MEAGAN MARIE: So he says, “The burial traditions of the pharaohs were that they would have their most prized worldly possessions placed in the tomb with them, so they’d have it in the afterlife. What possessions would you take with you that you couldn’t do without in your afterlife?”
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Oh, gosh. Probably some cats, but I’m thinking they’re probably there already, if it’s the Egyptian afterlife. You probably can’t move for all the cats there. Probably my laptop? Can you get an internet connection in the afterlife? Is there wi-fi in the afterlife? That’s a question that has never been answered.
MEAGAN MARIE: I sure hope so.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah. Something to write on would be great, because I type so much. My handwriting is awful. It’d have to be some kind of laptop, that would definitely be great. Earl Grey tea. I’m very British like that. Jaffa Cakes would be good.
MEAGAN MARIE: We’re going to need to get some of these. I need to try them next time I’m in London.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: They’re great. I think you can get them in certain sorts of British shops over there, but yeah, they’re amazing. If I see you before the end of this project, I’ll bring you some Jaffa Cakes. So Jaffa Cakes, cats, internet connection, wi-fi, that would all be good. It’s a hard one.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that covers it. That’s funny, because my first reaction was also my cat. It’s kind of a mean thing to say, but again.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Well, I’m assuming I’m going to outlive my cat. They’ll already be in little canopic jars. They can come with me. It would be nice to bring my boyfriend as well, but I’m not going to insist he come if he has to be sacrificed on a funeral pyre in the event I go before him. If he’s already gone again, he could have his own jar. Tropical fish? Oh, I’m getting quite into this question now. I could probably come up with pages.
MEAGAN MARIE: We have another question from the Eidos forums. Trance Trouble asks, “I assume you watched the actresses do the voice recording for the characters in terms of motion capture. Did you have any say in terms of last-minute changes to the script when you noticed something wouldn’t suit the actors?” Essentially he’s wondering, did the script or any scenarios change to accommodate what the voice actors brought to the table? Specifically with Camilla, maybe. Did any of that change based on how she delivered the performance?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Not that much. We always did practice before there was a motion capture shoot, so it’s more likely that things would change because when the actor read it, it didn’t sound quite as it did on paper, and so it needed a little bit of a tweak, or maybe it sounded awkward and so it would get tweaked because of that. But it was largely quite small stuff. The bigger tweaks came if there was something in the gameplay that was changed, or if the level design was changed. We always paid attention to the performance and we’d always get feedback on that. There would always be little things that came out through the direction of it. But there weren’t too many changes. It was just little things here and there. It was the gameplay and the level design that really wrought bigger changes, rather than the actors themselves.
MEAGAN MARIE: Dark Angel asks, “Will you also write the new Tomb Raider comics?” We can’t talk too much about this, but you did confirm a little bit about the comics.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah, that was in a press release about it, so I’m allowed to officially say that. I’ve written. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say how many? But I have written a promotional comic. These take place prior to the Endurance expedition. They explore some of what happened in the few weeks running up to it. That was really enjoyable to do, actually. I got to explore a lot of the characters’ backstories, and I got to work a lot with the character Whitman, who is one of my favorites. That was a lot of fun to do. I think it will really help players understand the characters a bit better, where they’ve come from and their attitudes towards Lara and their relationship with her.
MEAGAN MARIE: Dark Angel also asks, “Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, or Lara?”
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: That’s really difficult. Lara’s my baby now. I don’t know. I love them all for different reasons. I grew up on Alien and the Terminator. I once went to a fancy dress party dressed as an amalgamation of Ripley from Alien 1, 2, and 4. I had combat pants and vest on and a makeshift flamethrower, and then a small ginger toy cat on my shoulder. I think a U.S.S. Sulaco hat. I sharpened and pointed my fingernails and painted them brown and had an 8 on my shoulder. Lots of people thought I was meant to be Lara Croft.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s amazing how often you find somebody who has holsters and.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah. It’s true. It really started with Ripley, though. It started with Ripley for me. That’s one of my first loves.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that’s a fair answer.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: It’s very difficult to choose.
MEAGAN MARIE: Shaikh asks. He’s a big fan of your Mirror’s Edge work, by the way. He had like four questions tying your work with Faith to Lara. He says, “Faith has to save her sister, and in Tomb Raider, Lara Croft has to save Sam. Are there any other similarities you feel like those two characters have?”
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: They both have a lot of history with each other. I’d say that Faith and Kate have much more of a strained history together than Lara and Sam do. Lara and Sam both went to university together, so Lara studied archaeology and Sam studied cinematography. As you’ll see in the comic and also in the game, Sam comes from a very rich family as well, but unlike Lara, she really makes the most of it. She’s much more of a socialite and a party girl. She really cares about Lara. She does admire Lara’s integrity, and even though that’s not how she chooses to live her own life, she respects Lara for doing that. But Sam, at the same time, is very passionate about film. She’s a documentarian. So she has her geeky loves as well. That’s a lot of fun, again. That’s sort of explored in the comics. So she’s been through university with Lara, and she was always the one trying to get Lara away from her books and into the pubs and clubs and stuff. She’s kept Lara actually having a social life as well as hitting the books. There’s a strong friendship between them, a lot of love between them. With Faith and Kate, where they start almost on opposite sides. Again, the Mirror’s Edge comics were used to explore why that relationship turned out the way it did. I’d say definitely hit the promotional Tomb Raider comics if you want to find out more about Lara and Sam and all the other characters. There are a few similarities between them, but not that many.
MEAGAN MARIE: We have a couple of questions from Facebook, too. Kyle Coopersmith asks, “What non-Tomb Raider games have influenced the story for this game?” But you can open that one larger, too, as far as what sorts of stories in general inspired you when writing this new version of Lara.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: One of the things I remembered when I came on board was the movie The Descent. That was a big influence for Crystal. I thought that was great. There was this big American developer referencing a fairly small indie cult movie. I thought that was great. I’m a big fan of Neil Marshall’s work, and a big fan of The Descent in particular. That was definitely one. Lost was an influence, to a degree. I’d say those two in particular. Especially for some of the visuals for Lara.
MEAGAN MARIE: We have another Facebook question from Isaac Cabrera. This was a bit of a complex one. He says, “How difficult is it to write a strong narrative for such an iconic character who, in the past, is known for controversy due to the complexity of female empowerment while also being a sex icon? How do you keep the balance between what you personally want to put into the character.? Was there a time when you ever had to cut any sort of lines or a story direction because you felt that it went one way or the other too far?”
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: No, I don’t think so. Both Crystal and myself have a quite good idea of what we wanted to do with Lara, and we really jelled with how we want to develop her character along the way. Because I work so closely with Noah and John, we really knew what each other was thinking about and where to go her. We were constantly feeding back. We were quite sensitive to how we were portraying her. I spoke earlier about how there is a risk inherent with showing a character that has previously been very strong and capable back in a time where she wasn’t so strong and capable. Or she was, but she just didn’t realize it yet. As I said before, we’re playing the long game with her. That’s very early on, and you’ll see her develop and access that strength within herself. She’ll fight on through the game. I think that was a very interesting thing to do. It’s always a balancing act, but you have to take choices as a creator. You know that you’re not going to satisfy everyone all the time, but you have to make a choice and stick with that creative vision.
MEAGAN MARIE: We have another question from Tumblr. Violet Story asks, “I wanted to ask for any advice for writers want to break in to video games.” That’s a big question.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: For a start, play video games. I know that seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many writers come up and ask me about writing for games, and they’ve never played a game. Learn the medium. That’s one of the most important things. Play as many games as you can. Obviously, being a journalist, that meant I actually had to do it and was thankfully being paid to do it. But you really need to understand the medium. Read books on design as well. Look at how games are put together and how writing can fit in to them. There are many more books out there about games writing. There are lots of great ones that the IGDA writers special interest group has actually put together. Stories from the trenches about different aspects of game writing, about localization, about working on new IPs, about working with voice actors. They’re all really good for getting an idea of what you’ll be expected to do within games. Other than that, it’s about networking. It’s about going to events and conferences and talking to people. Going to talks given by writers. Just meeting people and networking and finding out what people are looking for and putting together samples. If you have no experience, then make it up. Look at a game that you really like and craft a scene for it that wasn’t actually in the game, but you can imagine might have been. Look at bark dialogue. Do a cutscene sample. Do a level design sample. Again, these books are very good for breaking down the different elements of narrative and allowing you to get an idea of how they’re put together. You don’t necessarily have to have experience and samples that have been published to put together a good sample. Most game developers require you to do some kind of written test as part of the writer audition.
MEAGAN MARIE: That’s usually my first piece of advice. I get a lot of questions about breaking into games journalism, and I just say, “Start writing.” There is nothing stopping you from writing your own blog or covering events. Other than networking, just starting to write and craft and find your own voice is so important. It’s awesome to hear that reinforced. Now we have a handful more questions. These ones are from Twitter. PokeWarrior asks, “Were there any characters in your original story that were cut, and did you miss seeing them go?”
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Without spoiling things. There were certain characters that have had certain things done to them during the game that weren’t originally envisaged, I guess? But I don’t think any were cut from the original conception. There were certain things that changed with the characters’ development process.
MEAGAN MARIE: Dina Innovch asks, “Is it hard to write a realistic story for a character that’s formerly been a bit of a caricature?”
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Kind of yes and no. We were coming to this game looking at rebooting things, keeping what we liked about the character and building in new things, or drawing out aspects of that character that we thought had been maybe lost or diluted over the years that we really wanted to focus on. It was almost, in some ways, like starting a new character, or at least it was that approach. But when you’re working with a game character, you’re always working within limits anyway. It can be the limits of budget or gameplay mechanics or level design. Working with limits of pre-existing backstory or bits and pieces along the way. It’s just more limits to work with. You get used to doing that. There was definitely enough space to work. Or Crystal gave me enough space to work with and make this character feel.the same, but different, I guess?
MEAGAN MARIE: The final question from the community is from Lara’s Generation. They ask, “Did you focus on keeping the storyline realistic?” I interpret that as. Can you speak to the balance of realistic and fantastical elements in the narrative? You obviously want to ground the character, but then to some degree, she’s perhaps tougher than a normal human, even though she is human. How do you balance the believability with the suspension of disbelief?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I think gamers always go into a game with the suspension of disbelief. Thankfully, that’s sort of inherent in the way we play games. Throughout the game, Lara actually suffers. You see the cuts and bruises. It’s more realistic from that point of view. But going back to the way she reacts to things, particularly situations like the first kill. It’s much more realistic and human. We wanted to show that her actions fed back into her character. In any other entertainment medium, action equals character, but so often in games you get this schizophrenic situation where a character is one thing in cutscenes and then goes on to perform mass genocide during the levels. That never feeds back into the character. It’s like it never happened. We wanted to bring that back into Lara and think about what it means to take a human life. Actually show her doing it and reacting badly to it and dealing with that throughout the game as well. She is not comfortable having to do that. She does wrestle with that throughout the game. So the internal journey she goes through is every bit as challenging as the external journey she’s going through.
MEAGAN MARIE: So you’re grounding the character, even though she’s in these extraordinary situations. She’s reacting in a believable, human way.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Yeah. That was very important for what we wanted to do with this reboot of Lara’s character.
MEAGAN MARIE: Right. So we’re going to end on one final question from me. If you had to choose one takeaway for fans to have from this upcoming game, what would it be? Essentially, what do you hope resonates most with players about the new Tomb Raider and the new Lara?
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: I think it is about creating this more humanized, realistic Lara. As well as having her react in a human way to bad things, she also reacts in a human way to good things. She gets over-excited and bubbly and geeky about things. That love of archaeology still comes through. It’s about making her relatable, but still interesting. Not dull. We’re taking players on a journey with Lara. We’re taking them through the origins of her character and how that develops. That’s a very powerful experience, or I hope it’s going to be a very powerful experience. We’ve certainly been getting a lot of good feedback about it. I think that’s probably a takeaway.
MEAGAN MARIE: It’s a funny thing. I have to keep reminding myself to talk about the gameplay and how the gameplay turned to be incredibly fun and challenging. The game is an awesome experience, but I agree. I feel like Lara herself resonates above and beyond. That’s such an exciting thing, to have such an extraordinary character. So thank you for fleshing her out with us.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: Well, I hope so. I think the gameplay and Lara’s character as she appears in cutscenes. There’s a sort of synergy there. It feels like a whole character. She doesn’t feel schizophrenic. She’s the same character in gameplay as she is in the cutscenes. The bravery and tenacity and resourcefulness she shows in gameplay, she also shows in cutscenes. The gameplay feeds into the story. Gameplay equals action equals character. We’re using everything to tell the story. Everything to reinforce her character.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes. And I, having recently played through the entire game again. I feel like that was done very exceptionally. I cannot wait for it to come out. So I managed to get you here for an entire hour. Thank you so much for talking with us. I think this podcast is going to go over extremely well. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
RHIANNA PRATCHETT: You’re very welcome. I’m going to go have a big cup of tea now and be terribly British.
MEAGAN MARIE: And that concludes our show for this month. I hope you guys enjoyed the added level of insight that Rhianna provided. We’ll try to do more behind-the-scenes interviews in the coming months as we reveal even more talent working on the game. ‘Til next time!