In this day and age of gruff, stubbly and suitably battle-scarred men ruling the roost as video games' go to protagonists, the promise of Rise of the Tomb Raider's return to the world of the Queen of Video Games comes as quite the refreshing proposition, don't you think?
Lara Croft is possibly video games' most ubiquitous female protagonist, barring Metroid's Samus Aran. But despite that glowing tribute, how do you go about the difficult task of making an almost 20 year old tomb raiding character fresh again, post-Uncharted?
Reboot of the Tomb Raider
Whether we've all grown up with, or dropped intermittently in on the globe spanning adventures of Lara Croft, we've all come to know her as the bonafide badass, cool as a cucumber, T-Rex battling legend that she is.
But after having been spoilt by the deluge of gritty reboots the post-Nolanverse Batman era so successfully managed to elicit, it was no surprise that Crystal Dynamics' back to basics plot device of thrusting you into the shoes of a young and inexperienced Archaeology student, cast alone onto an island packed with terror, was a master-stroke.
Though lambasted with accusations of the unnecessary need to make Lara a victim in order for a male audience to empathise with her plight, her struggles to come to grips with the skills that would lead her to become the hero we know her as was interesting to be a part of, despite the slightly jarring feeling of "this isn't Tomb Raider."
A New Dawn of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider's narrative isn't the only major part to have had a significant overhaul. With RotTR's new publishers Microsoft Studios having sidled in to aid Crystal Dynamics with getting to grips with the Xbox One's infrastructure, the tech giants also managed to bag themselves a year long timed release. Meaning Lara won't be coming to the PS4 till the end of 2016.
Which is a bold move on the pair of CD and Square Enix's behalf. Taking Lara away from her spiritual home, and possibly alienating a legion of PS4 users that were looking forward to getting their pre-Uncharted fix of shooting up goons on dusty cliff-faces.
Makeover of the Tomb Raider
The extent that Crystal Dynamics went to create the Xbox One generation Lara Croft is awe-inspiring, to say the least. And was very daunting for the California based devs.
Moving onto the Xbox One's framework meant building new systems to render the most realistic Croft you've ever laid your eyes upon. Besides standing next to a cosplayer.
Alongside using motion capture footage of actress Camilla Luddington, who also voices Lara, CD painstakingly built a hair animation system that consists of 123 "parent" strands controlling the movement of 30,000 "child" strands.
In an interview with Polygon, CD's Senior Character Artist Kam Yu described how using detailed studio scans and a facial design technique called Morphology created the new look Raider Woman:
"We take elements of the scans and then we add to them. When we want a particular shape, we add pose-based deformers. We can sculpt the exact shape we want all over the body: on the knees, shoulders, elbows, the waist.
From a technology standpoint, we’ve put a lot of time and energy into the formation of Lara’s character. Not only her face, but her body.
We’ve created a whole new animation system that’s based on artist-sculpted shapes, to create a more believable musculature for the face and the body.
See the techniques in action in this behind the scenes video from Polygon:
It is honestly amazing to see how far the aesthetics of video games characters have come since Lara Croft's first adventure on PS1 back in 1996, not to mention how far Croft has come from being the pixelated sex symbol of a bygone generation into a hero whose time it is to rise again.
Let's have a look back at how she's changed over the near 2 decades:
Time Flies of the Tomb Raider
The guys over at Halloween Costumes created a brilliant infographic that succinctly details the evolution of Lara Croft over the years:
Tomb Raider I
Here we see Croft for the first time in all of her blocky glory! Her character design caused many a debate upon release and it's obvious why...
Some argued that her slim waist and ample bosom forced the character into the much maligned unattainable male fantasy pigeon hole, while others simply celebrated the arrival of a female protagonist. Plus, notice how both the in-game and promotional Laras look different. It becomes a strange little occurrence.
Tomb Raider II & III
There isn't much difference in design here besides the inclusion of Croft's braid and a lower cut top...
Fast becoming a huge franchise and cult figure, from here Croft would be pictured in provocative poses, blowing kisses to her adoring fans and being referenced on British sitcoms.
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation/Chronicles
So now Croft's in-game face was a lot more detailed, but what's up with her shoulders?
They've been pulled back, it seems, to really accentuate her chest, and her top is way lower cut than in the promotional build.
Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness
Released, way too early, to coincide with the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie, here we have a more graphically refined Croft, thanks to the power of the PlayStation 2.
Channelling her inner Posh Spice, the change to a black tee, black boots and darker make up is to reflect Angelina Jolie's Croft's color palette. And look, finally, parity between the in-game and promotional Crofts! How exciting!
Tomb Raider: Legend
Legend was an even bigger step up for our heroine and her new devs, Crystal Dynamics.
Realistic skin textures, a fresh hair-doo, and a brown tee (that was probably white when she got it) are the major changes here for our Lara. Still, those shorts must chafe.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
A visual throwback to early iterations, Anniversary saw Croft once again don the famous blue top.
Both the Legend and Anniversary Croft's have similar facial features, and the muscle texture has improved. Her eyes look a little upside down on the promotional image.
Tomb Raider: Underworld
Consisting of over 30,000 polygons, Underworld's Croft was awarded a Guinness World Record for most detailed video game character ever.
Now sporting a pony tail instead of a braid and a darker get-up, this was the first Tomb Raider game to have a motion captured Croft. The animations were provided by NCAA Women's Gymnastics champion Heidi Moneymaker.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
The digitally released incarnation saw no big character improvements from the past two Tomb Raider games.
Though she is back in the blue tank and her cheekbones are more defined. The promotional artwork depicts the most realistic Croft that was seen so far. The game also introduced a scantily clad male character called Totec.
(2013 - Reboot)
'13's return to form reboot saw Croft undertake a total aesthetic rehaul.
The latest Lara was based on actress Camilla Luddington and animated via motion capture.
The origin story, which found a younger Croft stranded on an island before developing her ass kicking abilities, was generally well received and broke records as the fastest selling Tomb Raider game of all time.
With her more realistic body structure, facial features and trousers, this was a rather overdue reboot.
It's great to see Lara still causing a fuss in pop culture, and many happy returns to. I'm looking forward to seeing what Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have in mind for her 20th anniversary...
(Sources: Kotaku, Game Rant, Polygon, Halloween Costumes)