The idea is to write music from a game that never existed.
First, background. The concept, gameplay, and central character of the Tomb Raider series began in 1996 with the company Core Design. The original British-made series ran for six titles, rather spectacularly falling apart on the ambitious but poorly executed Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness.
The property was moved to the company Crystal Dynamics for what is sometimes known as the Tomb Raider Trilogy. These games made full use of 2006-era graphics advances and could be called more action-flavored.
The artistic direction for the trilogy could also be called "floundering." The first, Legend, has an action-movie flavor to it's telling of the search for an Arthurian artifact; Excalibur, which turns out to be exceedingly ancient and supernaturally powerful.
The second, Anniversary, is a remake of the first (Core Design) Tomb Raider game, and sends Lara after fragments of an artifact from lost Atlantis and puts her in deadly conflict against a reborn Atlantean Queen.
The third, Underworld, is described in some circles as a rush job, and also as too short and not very involving. It is quite slick and cinematic, however, and brings Lara to a darker place than usual as she visits the hells of several world religions in a search for her missing mother. It also brings back characters from both other games, with the final confrontation against the now-insane Atlantean Queen's attempts to destroy the world with an ancient device that is the literal Ragnarok.
Each has a very different flavor, with different elements of play emphasized, a different look to the main character, etc.
Musically, the three games of the Core Design trilogy are also an eclectic selection. For the first, Danish composer Troels Folmann made strong use of ethnic/regional instruments, and gave the game a modern sound with strong rhythms. For the second, he stated publicly he wanted to be honest to the work of the original game's composer, Nathan McCree.
For the third game Troels moved on to a supervisory position, writing only the main theme himself and leaving the rest to Colin O'Malley. This score was somewhat subdued in flavor and was almost completely orchestral.
So much for reality.
My imaginary game is Tomb Raider: Legacy. It continues the continuity belatedly established in the previous trilogy, beginning with Lara returning home to the ruins of her mansion (torched by Amanda in the previous game) and having reached at least some sort of closure over the deaths of her parents.
So in these parts at least a slower, more contemplative, certainly more atmospheric game than the others. Also one with much more interpersonal interaction; this would be an odd echo of the Angel of Darkness experiment, which saw a more urban Lara interacting -- with actual dialog trees -- with others.
Like Angel of Darkness, and like the real-world Tomb Raider 2013 (which rebooted the series completely and took Lara in a much different direction than before) this game would be an ambitious but likely both rushed and flawed attempt to go in new directions.
It would also continue the Tomb Raider Trilogy tradition of flirting with previous canon by bringing back Werner Von Croy from the Core Design era. And continuing the popular trend (Tomb Raider: Legacy had one) of "Young Lara" sections. Which double as "the level where you don't get any weapons."
What the game does, what the goal is, even all the settings are something I'll be discovering as I discover interesting directions to go musically.
Music-wise, it might be assumed to be the work of Colin O'Malley, or it might be a new composer, but it would certainly have Troels Folmann in overall control. Thus, it would keep with certain trends, like making use of motives and other material from previous games, including the Core Design games. Few Tomb Raider properties have neglected at least a quote of the emblematic Nathan McCree introductory oboe solo.
Given the musical variety within the Tomb Raider Trilogy, I am on solid ground in allowing this score to take another fresh approach. Given the more grounded approach to some of the settings, with more intimate interaction with the peoples there, the use of local material would go past the samples of Legend and move into full pastiche mode -- particularly for the English countryside, as Lara tries to understand the history of Croft Manor and her responsibilities to it, and as well uncovers secrets of her family there.
Given the tight thematic connection between the Tomb Raider Trilogy games, I would assume quotes as well from important elements there, particularly those concerning the destruction of the manor and the final confrontation of the last game. I'm also tempted to briefly mention a motif from the 2013 game.
And there is an external element here as well; regardless of what other games may have done, if I am to show this as a Tomb Raider piece, it has to reference known and familiar Tomb Raider musical material.
There is an interesting conservatism in the melodic material of the real Tomb Raider trilogy. As illustrated by Pieter Smal in Unifying elements in the Tomb Raider Trilogy game soundtracks, a thesis paper presented at University of Pretoria in 2013, there is a surprisingly small pool of musical material.
How small, rather depends on how tight you set your filters. The core themes of each game -- which are thematically related to the original Nathan McCree motif -- are manipulated rhythmically and given melodic variation with sometimes only the intervalic relationships maintained. In any case certain motifs, and certain rhythms, occur over and over in the course of the three games.
Which at the very least underlines that the new game should have a main theme that can be related back to the Nathan McCree. Of the three games, Legend's theme is the most straight-forward manipulation of the original; the rhythm is almost the same, the notes are similar, only the sequence is altered. They are close enough that the casual listener will feel a sense of familiarity. The same can be said for the variations used in Dagger of Xian and Revelations -- and Angel of Darkness, likely in honor of returning character Werner von Croy, develops almost directly out of Last Revelation.
But that brings me to the first of two problems regarding the first part of the composition I intend. The first is how to make it clearly Tomb Raider music whilst being unique. The second is plausibly a problem for the hypothetical game composer as well; that problem being, the early part of the game is slow, elegiac, and full of references to rural England. However, the first sounds coming over the titles of a game someone just forked out forty bucks for should bring to the player a sense of excitement and grandeur. They should be given a sense that they are sitting down to an epic game. Starting with Elgar in his slower moments is not the best choice!
On the gripping hand, there seems to be a trend in amateur orchestral compositions towards going into the brass and bombast early on (and often as not never letting up thereafter.) I'd like to avoid that trend by staying in a softer mode for longer.
So thematic material should be related to extant scores. It should directly quote the Nathan McCree, of course. It should quote something that is recognizably linked to Werner and/or Egypt -- possibly the descending sequence used in Last Revelation and in almost unaltered form in Angel of Darkness.
Another open question is whether to quote the Ailein duinn. Troels used it in Legends, and it seems appropriate for the Surrey scenes as Lara deals with her various losses. And it has great potential, even as a cantus firmus to develop a Main Theme off. But it was also over-used in the 2000's, appearing in not less than eight different video games.
And that's really all I have for the moment. The next step for me basically comes after I've got my keyboard hooked up again and can start really studying the scores and trying out thematic ideas.