Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Game Translation: Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider couples some seriously hard core action sequences with some seriously brutal injuries and general roughing up of the protagonist.  Sullied by a trailer which showed a grope-y murderer try to kill her after feeling her up, a number of people thought the videogame would be simply trying to reinforce female weakness and sexual threat.  I saw her latest reboot as a queer mix between more realistic emotional responses and some crazy parkour through exploding buildings.  A good mix.

The game has a pretty tight focus.  Lara Croft came looking for Yamatai, a storm-wracked island whose strange storms shipwrecks her crew and leaves her battling cultists as she tries to find a way off the island.

The game weaves in the legends of Yamatai, Queen Himiko and the Dragon's Triangle to good effect which adds greater interest to the game as it plays with the history and myth of our world and warps it into something infinitely stranger and more mysterious.  It is this mix of fantasy and fact that I would thoroughly encourage anyone running a campaign in the Tomb Raider mould to aim to do.

Much of the game relies on making use of movement mechanics.  Jumping, climbing, clambering with pick axes, and using arrows with rope attached as grappling hooks are all necessary ingredients of the game which helps make what could be a boring hike into a fantastic adventure.  This is a tricky thing to do in a non-visual medium like a roleplaying game.  Sure you could create a diorama using toilet roles and bits of string but it would lack the immediacy of the videogame.

So use your voice.  Make the descriptions interesting.  Throw dilemmas before the characters, one after another, so that they must take a risk to get the reward.  Take the quicker yet riskier journey rappeling across a rope or take a slower, safer route clambering down.  Don't use instant death as the risk, mind, but the risk of losing time or alerting enemies to the character's presence are all worthwhile.

And use plenty of descriptions.  Make the descriptions count.  Make it exciting.  Short, sharp sentences.  Sudden questions.  Describe the locations richly, the mythic highlights and the dangerous cultists.  Using your voice you can lure the players in and make the simplest die roll seem like the most exciting thing ever.

Think of it this way.  If a combat which largely involves dice rolls and the chipping away of health points can be made exciting through simple description and the risk of death, why not swinging across support struts beneath crumbling buildings strung across a massive ravine.  If you're not sure what to use to populate the game, what sort of obstacles and encounters, I'd mightily recommend replaying the game and jotting down the most inspirational parts.
Some quiet contemplation after the epic action...
This is certainly the type of game that benefits from having unrepentant bad guys who are truly evil.  The ones in this game do terrible torture to keep each other in line and murder any other survivors who end up shipwrecked on the island.  This is important because Lara Croft is a good person and if the cultists were ambiguous, if even one of them turned out to be a reasonable person who just wanted to help, then her resolve to kill so many along the way would be terribly shaken.

While I wouldn't say you couldn't have the occasional good guy, I'd have them be a new person still undergoing the trials or perhaps a bad guy pretending to be kind.  After all, you want them to be able to mow down as many bad guys as they need to do to get through the game.

Anyway, a campaign based around Tomb Raider (2013) or including elements of it, should appeal to -
Explorers and Action Heroes the most.  The former will enjoy getting to all those hard to reach places, picking up artefacts, learning the history of the location and finding out all about the assorted myths; while the latter will adore all of the action sequences and sudden blasts of combat.

Tacticians will enjoy using the terrain to their advantage and surviving the environmental conditions.

Investigators would enjoy a conspiracy or a plot to unravel, even if only to find out how the various survivors came to be what they are as well as what happened to the ones who didn't make it.

Communicators will have a temptation to make camp a lot and deliberate with the other survivors on their best course of action, sowing paranoia or attempting to undo it.  After all, cabin fever and a survivor mentality are fertile ground for the kind of crazed in-group politics that they so often adore.

Anyway, if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Deadly Premonitions.   Or a Television Translation in Once Upon A Time or Lost Girl.  If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it'll probably be the Television Translation.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

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