Thursday, June 16, 2016

Crisis (on) Infinite Tombs

If you got the joke above, you are too much of a geek to need the explanation following.

Still hopeful to have a prototype new-model Holocron up by the end of the month. I revamped the shell design again and I really, really like the "stolen" design (aka, design inspired by one of the few holocrons to actually appear in a film or animation). I cringe to think of how much time I wasted trying to get other shell designs to work properly, when I should have just gone straight to doing this one right.

But work is tiring this week. Maybe a mistake listening to fan covers of game music instead of the history podcasts I usually listen to while I'm sanding wood and sorting scrap. Means I have more CPU cycles spare to dream up more ideas I don't have the time and energy to implement.

Such as: it would be a fun challenge to try to create the title track to a Tomb Raider game that never was.

Hence the reference above to DC Comic's famously flawed attempt to sort out their canon. There are essentially four unique Tomb Raider canon. Start with Core Design. In 1996, this game company released Tomb Raider. They followed it up with five more games, with 2003 seeing release of the polarizing Angel of Darkness. But in the end the sales figures, and some behind-the-scenes creative differences, sounded the end of that sequence.

Already there are two phantom games here; Core Design saw Angel of Darkness as the first of a tightly connected trilogy. In any case, although the earlier games in particular are rather casual towards any attempt at establishing an internal canon, as the games progressed they became progressively tighter-woven.

In the meantime the two movies with Angelina Jolie came and went. Core Design and Eidos (the parent company) thought the movie tie-in would help flagging sales but alas, neither property did as well as hoped. The two movies are consistent to each other, but have sharp differences with any other Tomb Raider canon.

(It is, of course, more...complex...than that. Winston has been a constant in every game but in the movie was replaced by Hillary. Yet, the Abingdon Estate of the movie became, quite clearly, the model for the manor in the Crystal Dynamics games. And so on and so forth.)

Crystal Dynamics took over, but gave some appearance of floundering with three games of markedly different character. Legend was the first, with a cheesy title sequence and more emphasis on the action-adventure aspects. Then Anniversary, which was a remake of Tomb Raider I...Natla, the T-rex, and all. Their third offering, Underworld, surprised everyone by making both previous games canonical with each other, and tying elements of both together into a single overarching plot.

Leaving aside a parallel Game Boy title as insufficiently memorable, 2010 also saw a new console set of top-down, cooperative-play games that appear to generally agree with the Crystal Dynamics trilogy. There had also been a comic book and a few books of debatable quality.

Finally, there is the 2013 game by Crystal Dynamics. This was the first time the series saw a complete reboot, a fully conscious and intentional change to the character and her back story and the style of the games. This is a darker and more psychological turn; the confident, independently wealthy adventuress who crosses the world with twin pistols blazing is replaced by a shy young archaeologist who has to find her inner strength after a shipwreck on a rather nasty little island.

Tomb Raider (2013) was followed by Rise of the Tomb Raider and a licensed comic book kept carefully within the framework established by the company. There are also plans for at least one movie; this marks the first time the series has clearly established a canon -- a brand, really -- and made sure all available materials stay in agreement with it.

So, right. A lot of background there. My idea, such as it was, is that there was a fourth Crystal Dynamics game building on what they had done before. I'm calling it Tomb Raider: Legacy. Fresh from the events of Underworld, Lara has at last achieved closure after her encounter with the remains of her vanished mother in the Norse underworld. She has returned home to the ruins of Croft Manor.

But it turns out another figure from her past is not as dead as everyone thought. Werner von Croy, her one-time mentor, and time has not mellowed him in the least. He is as dangerously obsessed as ever, and he leads her into discovery (in the usual exotic locales, particularly the Giza Plateau, the Bolivian jungle where her father vanished, and much nearer home; Stonehenge) of some particularly dark secrets of her own family. And betrayal is sure to follow.

Just like with Anniversary and Underworld, this game would have brought elements from some of the first games -- particularly Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation -- back into canon. It also would both reproduce the "Teen Lara" section from Legend and the legendary Revelation tutorial level by having you play as Von Croy's young student.

This is yet another direction, as the game would be deeper psychologically, generally slower and rather more role-playing in style; like Angel of Darkness you'd spend a lot of your time above ground in the everyday world interacting with people.

And Troels Brun Folmann is back again for the musical chores. This is an orchestral score like Underworld but with a lighter touch; more of a chamber orchestra sound, with the ethnic instruments of Legend -- except in this case, often referencing English folk music.

Every Tomb Raider game has had a unique theme, but usually close to or otherwise audibly referencing the original haunting melody Nathan McCree composed for solo oboe. A large part of the fun of this project would be to see if I can develop a theme and treatment that seats itself within the real history of the scoring for this franchise.

So I actually turned on the Behringer this evening and spent a few minutes trying to work the kinks out of my hands. I've never been even a "good" keyboard player -- on my best day I might achieve "passable," and I'm rusty now. But it does seem to still be there.

Maybe once the holocron is finished I'll have some more time to play....

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