Wednesday, January 26, 2011

EXP Podcast #114: A Brand New Lara

Take a famous icon, smear it with mod and dim the lighting, and you've got a successful franchise reboot. At least that is what Crystal Dynamics is hoping to accomplish with their latest Lara Croft project. Even though two Tomb Raider games were released in the last three years, apparently the franchise is in need of a face lift. Join us this week on the EXP Podcast while Scott and I discuss Tomb Raider's longevity, Dragon Ball Z, Jesus, and what it means to reboot a series. As always, we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discussion Starters:

- What aspects of Lara Croft remain iconic for you?- Is Lara an immortal icon, or would a failed reboot mark her death knell?
- Can you think of any games that succeeding in rebooting a franchise for you?
- What games do you think desperately need a reboot?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
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Show Notes:

- Run time: 32 min 35 sec
- "A Survivor Is Born: The New Lara Croft," by Megan Marie via Game Informer
- First-Person Tetris
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. I liked the sound of this quote from the Gameinformer interview:

    "We want her to get damaged, and that is a huge part of how we present the character, but we didn’t want to go so far as to say that she had splints on and things like that. It was just a step too far from the gameplay goals."

    Tomb raiding is dangerous, and if they are pushing a more realistic character model, it would be incongruent to then make it possible for Lara to jump down 50 metres of cliff and land with a single roll. I'd love to see some kind of damage system that means that certain jumps are literally impossible, perhaps limiting the player in obtaining unlockables. This might result in a more careful, tense gameplay, which could be further reinforced by making the encounters between Lara and enemies more important. After all, the chances of meeting up with an army when you're two-hundred metres under the earth are kind of slim. And carrying around five-hundred rounds of ammo isn't going to make jumping around an easy thing. So making the encounters with enemies more about survival than how many bullets or arrows you can pump into them in a few seconds would be a good move. I guess what I'm pushing for is a bit of a mish-mash of Resident Evil, Uncharted, and old Tomb Raider games. Also, if they could lose the mystical shit of the movies, that'd be great.

    As far as general reboots go, I suppose it's important to differentiate between series that I would want to see a reboot for and those I just want a sequel to. ;P I completely agree that Dynasty Warriors is in a prime position for a reboot. How ace would a well-executed multiplayer version of it be? I can imagine the fun of both co-op and competitive, with players cutting their way through swathes of enemies before clashing with each other. Perhaps there'd be space for a Savage:TBfN/Battlefield-type commander taking care of the RTS stuff while other players get down and dirty.

    Another one I thought about was Terminal Velocity/Fury^3. That kind of weird flight sim/planet exploration with targets. I suppose Rogue Squadron (or perhaps even Crimson Skies?) did it best last, but I'm sure there are a whole heap of modifications and new thinking that could be applied to it nowadays.

    Anyway, thanks guys, great episode. (:

  2. I am literally shocked that neither of you said anything about a Chrono Trigger reboot. You're slipping!

    Speaking of my SNES years, I'd also love love love to see a reboot of the SNES action RPG Terranigma. Its two predecessors, Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, were meh and great respectively, but Terranigma was really unique (and still is) in that it played around with my understanding of the connectedness of "levels" or "areas" in an adventure game.

    Most adventure games seem to strike a balance between having the player progress through sequential "levels" or "areas" (e.g., Super Mario Bros) and letting the player free roam a sort of single, huge world (e.g., Fallout, Zelda). Terranigma, though, played with the idea of nesting levels within each other, so rather than advancing sequentially through a sort of level parade, you sort of advance outward toward the outermost concentric "layer" of the game, where each layer contains its own style of exploration and its own gameplay mechanics.

    By analogy, Mass Effect is a game with similar "layers", since you have the gameplay that takes place aboard the Normandy, then you have slightly larger worlds in the planets you can visit, and then you have the outermost layer that is space itself. But imagine a game where you start off thinking that the inside of the Normandy is the ENTIRE game world. You go on quests, you meet people, you build your character. Suddenly, the Normandy door opens and you found that you've actually been exploring this little nook in the middle of the Citadel. A new world with not only its own quests, but a completely new layer of gameplay. A meta-game on top of the game you were already playing. Once you romp around the Citadel for a while, another layer opens up, and now you realize the entire Citadel is in the middle of the Serpent Nebula, which contains new locations, and yet another layer of meta-gameplay on top of the meta-gameplay on top of the game you were playing when you started.

    I long for a game that can recreate for me that Terranigma feeling of the world not only getting bigger but more complex, and just when you thought it was as big and complex as it could get, it gets EVEN BIGGER and MORE COMPLEX.

    But I'm raving.

    Another old SNES game that I have a sort of sentimental attachment to and would love to see reinterpreted is Blizzard's game Blackthorne, where you assume the role of a long-haired, stern-faced, shotgun-toting prince from an alternate dimension that feels like a mashup of medieval, native american, and hellish imagery. It had a distinctive "shootout" approach to gunplay that emphasized caution and reflexes more than rambo skills. Interestingly, the level design was also based around solving puzzles and labyrinths. An interesting combination that I still find pretty damn cool. I'd love to see it reinterpreted, especially if it had to transition to three dimensions... I imagine it having level design that feels like a Zelda dungeon (i.e., needing to find a certain item to unlock the next area or sometimes solving the dungeon's secret) whereas the shooting would be... hmmm... not so much like the cover system in a lot of modern shooters like Vanquish or Gears of War... but given the pacing of the shooting in Blackthorne... I imagine it emphasizing the sort of carefulness and attention to a single well-placed shot that players had to contend with when dealing with turrets in Portal.

    But my imagine is running wild.

    Cheers, fellas.

  3. I'm so in love with the Tomb Raider reboot, but especially the new design! Although I never minded the over sexualized version, times really have changed and with more girls getting into gaming, and who are just as interested in tough and gritty characters as sexy, I think it's great that they re imagined young Lara as they have.

    As for reboots, I don't have a particular game in mind, but I feel the Final Fantasy series needs some reworking - the series, in my opinion, is getting kind of stale. Final Fantasy 13 was good and all, but the characters were much to be desired and there wasn't really any surprise or anything too new. I just played through with the same formula I did for previous versions. They should take a note from World of Warcraft.

  4. Thanks for all the comments, folks. Lots of good ideas floating around here and lots of love for new Lara!


    I'll be quite interested to see how "hardcore" they make the new Tomb Raider. Games have become a lot more forgiving since the early Resident Evil days, and it would be quite a shock to people if Tomb Raider started feeling more like Far Cry 2.


    Before I get too excited, what Chrono Trigger reboot are you talking about?

    I know of the various remakes and Chrono Cross. If I recall correctly, the fan-made polygonal reboot got canceled under the threat of legal action.

    Is there another one I'm totally missing (please say yes!)?


    I totally agree about Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, they seem to just be cranking out more games and slapping the Final Fantasy name on them. XIII-2, Vs. XIII, XIV, "Type-0" or whatever on the PSP. It's too bad, because Final Fantasy XIII actually was a significant change in terms of the battle system; it was just buried under a bunch of the tired old crystal stuff.

  5. @Scott

    Haha, I forgot about the fan attempt at a reboot. It still puzzles me that they issued the cease and desist on that project. I don't claim to know the ins and outs of business law, but I doubt they're still raking in cash from selling SNES cartridges, and I seem to recall a rather public statement implying that they have no intentions of going back to Chrono Trigger (I think it was something like, "If people want more Chrono Trigger, they should have bought more Chrono Trigger.") Were the fans planning on selling the remake? I was never quite sure what the beef was.

    But no, I didn't have anything real in mind. I was only answering which games need a reboot. I suppose you meant rebooting games that are still around but growing stale, whereas I was talking about games that desperately need to be revived.

  6. @Matthew/Scott: Regarding the Chrono Trigger fan attempt, they did eventually release it, despite the cease-and-desist notice. I'm sure you guys have the savvy to work out where to grab it if you wanted to have a look. (:

    Also it's funny you mention Far Cry 2, because I think that could almost be classed as a reboot. The mechanics are far different to that of the original Far Cry and its expansions, and it definitely feels like a different game (one that I personally really liked). But yeah, I suppose they won't be taking too much of a 'hardcore' route with the new Lara. But even if they could include a more challenging difficulty level (unlocked from the start) it'd be nice.

  7. I don´t feel insulted by the new design, so ... this could become be my first Tomb Raider Game ...

  8. @Phill

    They did..? My curiosity is piqued, but I fear you overestimate my 1337 skills.

  9. I like the newer, younger, less bimboish Lara. I never liked the hypersexual design.

    Oh, and I don't want a Chrono reboot. Leave my cherished old games alone, thankyouverymuch. More, newer Chrono, though, that's OK. And yes, I *did* buy CC and even CT twice. And the soundtracks. And the sheet music. I'm invested.

  10. I just finished Guardian of Light and I stick to what I said after having finished TR Underworld: Those games still have a place in gaming! I just don't think Uncharted is a proper "replacement" for the TR games, just like CoD didn't actually replace the Halo franchise.

    Come to think of it, Uncharted kinda of did to Tomb Raider what CoD did to Halo, it took a well established formula and turned it into a highly polished rollercoaster ride.

    However, that makes me appreciate the way Tomb Raider takes its time introducing you to the environment and letting you interact and experiment with it (well climb it for the most part) even more.
    Where Uncharted kind of steadily pushes you through the game, you actually stick to a place in Tomb Raider once in a while.

    Maybe Scott should a take a closer look at some of the CurrentGen Tomb Raiders since they somehow fill a gap where Uncharted(especially 2) left a hole, if that makes any sense.

  11. Great, now I feel an urge to play the current gen Tomb Raiders. Thanks Christian. :-P

  12. I know I'm being a paranoid radical feminist here (wouldn't be the first time I've been accused of that), but I'm really troubled by the direction they're taking Lara here. You guys sort of touched on this in the podcast, and I was glad to hear I'm not the only one who feels this way.

    Lara Croft is one of the only female leads that you must be in a mainstream game. (You can be a female in BioWare games, but you don't have to be.) Aside from Chell, I really can't think of another. Lara is tough as nails, cold as ice, takes no guff from anyone -- a lot like Nathan Drake.

    With this reboot, it looks like they're removing all of those positive features and replacing them (at least at the start) with a childish and feeble vulnerability that is particular to the industry's stereotypical portrayals of women.

    If an Uncharted prequel showed Drake screaming with juvenile terror or nearly falling prey to the quasi-torture-porn (thanks for that connection, fellas) scenarios, gamers would be outraged. But when it's a female protagonist, most gamers are apparently just fine with it.

    I shall now return to my solitary Unabomber-style shack, à la Willy on The Simpsons.

  13. Hey ESP,

    Room for one more in that shack? ;-)

    I think it's completely understandable to be apprehensive about Lara's new look. We actually talked about it again in our E3 2011 podcast after seeing a gameplay demo that highlighted Lara's vulnerability.

    It's a fine line between vulnerability and helplessness and, if the developers aren't careful, they could easily just contribute to the long tradition of "women in peril" who serve as little more than entertainment for morbidly fascinated viewers.

    Then again, we're still a long way out: I've heard some people who have played more sections of the game say that it seems like Lara makes a transition over the course of the game into a more self-assured adventurer. If we see a real character arc, it could be great. But as it stands, I think the game is walking on some thin ice...