Tomb Raider’s writer talks impalement, Downton Abbey, and whether we’ll revisit Croft manor
You can read the first part of my conversation with Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett, and then jump back here for some thoughts on Lara Croft's death animations, her title, and what's going on with that crazy mansion. Also, buy the game for the love of God, it's brilliant.
Ben Kuchera: It has to be weird to write for video games though, you’re not going to write a book or a comic with a character you obviously care about and identify with, and then see that character impaled over and over again on Conan O’Brian. That’s a fairly unique situation.
Rhianna Pratchett: I think you have to divorce yourself from that a little bit. When you create any piece of art, be it a game or a screenplay, a novel, whatever, it’s both a part of you and not a part of you at the same time. It takes on an other-ness when you commit it to the page. It does become another creature.
You have to put enough of yourself in there that you’re passionate and you care about it, but not enough that you lose your sanity over it and get too protective and unable to see problems and ways of moving forward.It’s sort of part of me, but it isn’t. It’s like it’s attached, like a paper doll, that’s how you feel about characters, they’re paper dolls following you. They’re all connected but they’re also separate. I’m an experienced game writer so I’m used to seeing this sort of thing.
I can’t say I’m a massive fan of the death animations, to be honest. Personally, as a player, they're not something I enjoy. I didn't see them until quite late into development and I'll admit that I was quite shocked. However, they do underline the perilous nature of Lara's situation as well as being a nod to the rather unnerving popularity of the kill animations in previous Tomb Raider games. They're certainly not for the faint-hearted, that's for sure.
The other thing we never really saw in previews, and I’m going to stay away from spoilers…
But there’s a supernatural tinge to the game. And by the end of the journey, Lara has been through so much and she’s grown, and she’s lost certain friends, but she’s also gotten this glimpse of this wider world, and she’s clearly hungry for more of that. What does it say about her character that even after that horrific circumstance, her thought is 'this is something I want to keep doing'? I would go home and cry for about a month. She wants to jump right back into it.
I think it’s all part of her internal struggle for survival, actually. She’s done some terrible things, but she’s also glimpsed, more than glimpsed, some amazing things that shifted her perception of the world, and what she thought archaeology is about. Certainly some of the perspectives her father had, she relates to a little more.
I'm trying to find the best words for this, because that's a really good question. I think part of her feels that to go away and leave it all and not be touched and pushed and inspired by what’s happened to her would… I don’t think she wants to feel that what she’s been through, what everyone has been through on the island, was in vain. That she got something more out of it.
I feel that Lara's drive to discover, learn, unearth is all about trying to make sense of everything she's been through. It's also about making sure that what happened on the island wasn't in vain. On a more subconscious level, it's the golden thread that keeps her moving, focused on something; anything to prevent her from having to stop and confront that yawning darkness that she feels is right behind her.
Do you go back and play Tomb Raider 1 and 2 and think that now you know how she got there, or does your Lara Croft feel distinct, and outside that timeline?
We are re-starting everything again, so I don’t think we’re really looking back at the other games anymore. We certainly didn’t for this one. We’re looking at what we wanted to keep, what we wanted to play up, what we still want to keep and maybe use a bit later.
I don’t think we’re going to be revisiting the games anymore, we have new characters, a new Lara, new situations, new ideas for the future, so we’re going to pursue those. Everyone asks about Croft manor. They love Croft manor. They’re desperate to see Croft manor come back and for Lara to lock up that butler.
It’s funny, there’s one particular fan who likes to ask me about the birthplace of Lara’s parents, he’s very obsessed with where they were born, and he doesn’t believe that Lara is completely British unless both her parents are born in Britain, and if she gets to be a part of the British aristocracy. I think the British aristocracy has changed somewhat over the past 17 years, it was always done in a slightly whimsical, slightly archaic way then, in a very Downton Abbey kind of way. I think that’s why people are obsessed with it, they want to go back to Downton Abbey.
British aristocracy these days, it’s shows like Made in Chelsea these days. It’s not Downton Abbey. Everyone wants it to be Downton Abbey!
It’s funny you bring that up, because it’s the last thing I think about with the character, but she’s Lady Croft, correct?
If your father is a lord, or a duke, then their wife will be a lady, and certain in terms of lordliness that would pass down, and she would be Lady Croft. But it all stems from her father rather than anything else.
You know, for example, my father is a knight (Editor's note: Pratchett's father is writer Terry Pratchett), he is a sir, and my mother is a lady. I am not, but if my father became a lord, I would be a lady, but that doesn't mean… but I wouldn’t feel like aristocracy! (She laughs)
I see Lara’s family as being more new money than old. We have plenty of knights and lords in this country that probably don’t consider themselves British aristocracy. But it does seem to be an aspect that people are weirdly fascinated by. But it’s Downton Abbey, I’ve figured it out!
Crystal Dynamics and I haven't really sat down and said we're bringing the manor house back, and she's going to have a butler. We haven't. It might be fun to do as a nod, but the character we've created doesn't subscribe to that sort of thing. Yes, she has access to her family’s wealth, but her parents have both been missing for quite some time now. Presumed dead, but just presumed dead.
That’s not to say that we’re immediately bringing them back for something or doing parenting things, but that’s the situation we have at the moment. She has access to the fortune, but she ties it up in trusts and investments so she cannot touch it. Touching it is tantamount to admitting they’re really gone.
And she really wants to stand on her feet, so she puts herself through university, and works jobs to do so, she mentions in the game about the late shift. She’s determined to do things her own way. I don’t think Lady Croft is anything she would embrace, even if it was hers to have. I don’t see Lara being given over to affectations and titles.