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Interview: Writing 'Tomb Raider' with Rhianna Pratchett

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With Tomb Raider being released next week, I recently had the opportunity to talk with Rhianna Pratchett about her role in writing the new game, recreating Lara, Jaffa Cakes, Moomins and a whole lot more.

Andrew Edney: Hi Rhianna, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, I know you are very busy.

Rhianna Pratchett: You are very welcome.

AE:
Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself in your own words?

RP: OK, I'm Rhianna Pratchett, I'm a games writer and narrative designer - well I'm a writer predominately for games but I have also worked in comics, film and TV, short stories and non-fiction. And I am the lead writer for Tomb Raider. I have been playing games since I was about 6 and they've always been a big hobby of mine. I did my degree in journalism and I then went onto being a games journalist, reviewing and previewing games and writing about the industry, visiting and interviewing developers. Then about 9 or 10 years ago I went freelance and still kept up the journalism side of things but moved into development, initially as a story editor and then I started working on level dialogues, mission dialogues and then moving into full scripts, initially with Heavenly Sword for Sony and then also working on titles such as Codemasters Overlord series, Mirrors Edge and then right up to Tomb Raider.

AE: So talking of Tomb Raider, how did you first get involved in the project?

RP: I was already working on another Square Enix / EIDOS project which I can't talk about at the moment so I was already in the family so to speak, and I got an email through the internal email system from one of the lead developers on Tomb Raider and they were looking for someone to really capture Lara's character and voice and I got recommended to them. I did a bit of test work for them and an interview over the phone and I rewrote a couple of scenes for their vertical slice demo and I got the job, although I can't really remember the moment when I actually got it as it's become a bit of a blur and so I've done a lot of work on-site with Crystal Dynamics over in San Francisco, I've also done a lot of work off-site from London and I've gone back and forth between the two, and that was pretty much how we worked.

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AE: Lara is an iconic character and Tomb Raider is a large well known franchise, so how did you feel when you took over the reins to the writing?

RP: I think I felt more pressure afterwards, I felt it was a great challenge, especially because I had worked on action adventure game heroines in the past with Nariko in Heavenly Sword and Faith in Mirror's Edge, and so it was a great opportunity, and it felt like now was the time for me to take on Lara as I had spent a long time working on other female action adventure heroines, so I thought yep, ok, this feels right, this is the right thing to do. Then I approached it like I would any work really, I got my head down, did the work, found out what Crystal wanted and spent a long time working on the synopsis, bios, relationship webs and treatments, and lots and lots of other stuff before I even wrote for the main scripts, and I think its really only after I got the majority of the work out of the way and I got announced as the writer that suddenly I felt "oh my god this is Lara Croft" and there's this huge pressure around it but I didn't feel that initially because when I came on-board I don't think there game had even been announced and so there wasn't very much information out there and so I didn't really feel too much pressure, and it's gradually ramped up now.

AE: What was your inspiration for the story? Did Crystal Dynamics give you lots of ideas or did they say to you we are doing a reboot and we want you to come up with something?

RP: Crystal had taken a lot of inspiration from things like Lost, and also the Decent as well, which I was quite impressed about, because here was this big American developer and they've seen this British indie cult horror movie, so I was quite impressed by that. We also took influence from things like 127 Hours, so real world survival stories as well and I think that was beneficial from both Crystal's side and mine, and what you would do to survive. Aron Ralston has talked quite a bit about that and that was certainly an influence, when a human is pushed just what they will do to survive and so it was a mixture of the real world and fictional stuff, which all kind of helped, plus there was quite a bit of research about the area and the period, so The Dragons Triangle and Yamatai and we started with a kind of a real world mythology and then built out from there and I think that Brian (Horton) the art director also went out to Japan and took hundreds and hundreds of photographs as well and did a lot of location research and so we have covered it from lots of different angles.

You can read the full interview with Rhianna here