Rhianna Pratchett has provided the voice for two of the strongest — and best written — female characters in the current gaming generation: Mirrors Edge's building-vaulting protagonist, Faith, as well as Nariko and Kai from Heavenly Sword. Now, she's working on providing dialogue for the gaming industry's most recognizable superheroine: Lara Croft, whose narrative roots are the subject of next year's Tomb Raider reboot.
The inherent power that those reins may carry bring with them a considerable challenge, too: Lara Croft has a past. Unlike Nariko or Faith, Croft has over 10 games' worth of story to acknowledge. Both the "prequel" and "reboot" terminologies give Pratchett some canonical wiggle room, but that can only go so far, given the unshakable notoriety of the franchise.
For the Tomb Raider reboot, Lara Croft's backstory finds a middle ground between strict adherence to canon and poetic liberty, Pratchett told Polygon in a recent interview.
"It was a mixture," Pratchett explained. "We wanted to (of course) keep her archaeological background and her father also being in the same field. She's still from a wealthy family, but we've made her more independent of that wealth — at least for the time being. So she doesn't like to touch her family's money (which was hers after her parents went missing) partly because if she does so, then it feels like they're really gone, but also because she wants to stand on her own two feet. As a result, Lara puts herself through university in London, and works several jobs in order to do so."
Though she didn't have quite as much freedom with Croft as she has with her past characters, Pratchett said there's "not a huge difference" between writing for a new franchise, and writing for a well-established IP.
"You're always subject to limitations when it comes to creating characters for games — be it by the nature of the gameplay mechanics, the world, or an established background," Pratchett said. "Generally, I like to work along the lines of ‘action equals character', and thereby use the gameplay mechanics as a basis for creating the bones of a character.
"So in Lara's case, the resourcefulness, tenacity, bravery, and sheer grit, which she shows through her actions during the game, are all part and parcel of her character. With Faith it was more a case of, okay so this is a character who runs. A lot. So what has she been through that would make her want to run? What does she get out of it? Is she afraid to stop running?"
As the author for Tomb Raider, Pratchett was in a uniquely informed position when controversy sparked over a quote from executive producer Ron Rosenberg, who suggested in a Kotaku interview that a pivotal scene of the game involved a group of scavengers who would attempt to rape Lara Croft.
"Being a gamer and also a former journalist myself, I can understand why people were concerned," Pratchett said. "If I was on that side of things, I probably would've been too. However, it's important that players experience that scene in context. Once you do, it's much clearer that scene is about the act of taking a human life and the impact it can have on someone. The man's actions are a lot less important for the scene, than Lara's reactions — particularly after the kill (which was unfortunately cut down for the trailer.)
"What happens in that scene is completely in keeping for the situation and the characters," Pratchett added. "It was important to me that we had context and integrity when tackling something like this — as you would expect from any entertainment medium. This is a bad man — the kind of twisted psycho that would probably use the same (or worse) tactics to terrify and intimidate a 21-year-old male.
"John Stafford, the narrative designer on Tomb Raider, and I have talked about this issue quite a bit. Make no mistake, the guy intends to kill Lara. Those moments and actions that occur are undeniably uncomfortable, because, like the kill itself, they should be. Nothing is taken lightly here."
That goes for the tone of the game as well. Though Pratchett's earlier video game work — dialogue writing for the dark, but often whimsical Overlord series — involved quite a bit of humor, players shouldn't expect a similar experience from Tomb Raider.
"Although there are a few lighter moments, Tomb Raider has a very different tone to something like Overlord. It's more introspective and somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster. Being shipwrecked on an island full of murderous cultists isn't going to be particularly big on laughs."
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