Living Legend

Ian Livingstone on why Lara's still going strong.

In part 1 of our interview, published yesterday, Ian Livingstone discussed Eidos' future plans and his thoughts on the next-gen console battle. Here, he reveals more about his work with the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival, plans for a third Tomb Raider movie and a 10th anniversary game, and why the evolution of E3 is good news for publishers.

Eurogamer: What's the extent of your involvement with the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival this year?

Ian Livingstone: Well, I'll be involved in some of the panel discussions, but my main focus this year is a screening called The Legend of Lara Croft. I'm giving a complete history of Lara, from the very early designs right through to Tomb Raider: Legend, and a little glimpse of what's happening in the future.

It'll be a gaming history, a cultural history - looking at the power of Lara Croft, the value of Lara as one of the most famous and iconic characters in gaming, and lots of things that have happened because of Lara Croft.

Expect lots of facts and figures, anecdotes, and a visual feast of all things Lara - from the game designs and early gameplay, to things like the adverts she's featured in, and how we've leveraged the IP to create merchandising and collectors items, details of the girls that have played Lara Croft over the years, the movies... Basically anything and everything about the IP. It's really a showcase of ten years of Croft history. A celebration of Lara, if you like.

Eurogamer: Do you think that Lara is still a relevant gaming icon? Isn't it time for a new gaming champion?

Ian Livingstone: I certainly do, yes. Just because it's ten years old doesn't mean it's not still significant. Tomb Raider: Legend was a fantastic success, following the poor performance of Angel of Darkness and it proved to me that she's still got her fans. They forgave her for Angel of Darkness and they loved her for Legend.

Similarly, if you look at cinema, James Bond has survived 40 years of cinema and become a true cinematic icon. In the same way, Lara Croft has become a true gaming icon, because she has survived the test of time.

Lots of other female characters have come along and disappeared, but Lara has always remained, and I think she's the most famous character in gaming. Unless you can think of someone more famous?

Eurogamer: Other than the likes of Mario, you mean?

Ian Livingstone: Well, Mario is still very much within the games niche, whereas Lara has gone beyond that thanks to two blockbuster films, for example. She's graced the covers of thousands of not just games journals, but lifestyle journals as well.

And she appeals to both men and women. Men like her because she's a strong, intelligent, sexy, independent, athletic wonder girl, and women like her for exactly the same reasons. In fact, she doesn't even need men, so she's perhaps even more appealing to women. She doesn't seem to offend anybody.

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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.

Eurogamer: What do you think went wrong with Angel of Darkness, then?

Ian Livingstone: Well there are reasons, to my mind. Core had executed five games on PlayStation year-on-year, and they'd done that brilliantly within the time scale. You know, a new version each year is an amazing achievement, and they'd done brilliantly with it. But I guess, with the benefit of hindsight, they never really made the step up to PlayStation 2's requirements and perhaps they were a little tired - I was going to say burned out, but tired of working on that franchise. I think a sixth game on a new platform was perhaps a bridge too far.

So we ended up with a game that had moved away from its roots, where the camera was all over the place, the control was very difficult and she was wandering around environments that the fan didn't want to be in. The empty streets of Paris, for example. It wasn't the game it should have been, and yet despite that it sold over two million copies. So we knew the fan base was still there and they forgave her.

Obviously we had to figure out what to do next, and we made the bold decision to move her to Crystal Dynamics, because they had the technology and were looking at the franchise with fresh eyes. They'd done some wonderful graphic stuff with Legacy of Kain and some other games they've developed, and we thought they were the ideal studio to work on Lara Croft. That's proved very much to be the case.

Eurogamer: Tomb Raider: Legend was clearly a success. What's the next step for Lara? You've gone back the roots of the franchise with Legend, so where do you take it from here?

Ian Livingstone: The thing that people wanted, what our research highlighted, was that they wanted her to go back to environments that they knew. They wanted her to be almost acrobatic in flying through the environments, which I think she definitely is in Legend.

The control was great, the camera was great, the environments were great and you felt like you were making real progress by just flying through the environments - that's what the fans wanted. Obviously we're going to take that gameplay element and move it on a step more with Crystal Dynamics.

We've also made plans for an anniversary edition which will be coming out next year, based on Lara Croft, due to the fact that we've just gone past her 10th birthday, and there's another game in development too.

We're also talking to Paramount about a third movie, although nothing's been signed yet and we still need to hire a script writer. The film's not been green lit yet, so for me it'd be ideal to tie in a movie script with a game script at the same time, to have them both in harmony rather than out of kilter - which has happened in the past.

Of course, the film helps promote the game and the game helps promote the movie, so it's a win-win situation. It's quite significant as well because publishers tend to take a license from Hollywood, and go off to make a game based on a movie. I think this was the first time it's been done successfully, where a game company has licensed a game property to a film company to make a movie, and they did it very well. It grossed over US$450 million in box office receipts and a further US$100 million in DVD sales and rentals, so it was a significant success as a movie - and even more so in the fact that it was a game property.

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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend.

Eurogamer: You could argue that Angelina Jolie might have played a helping hand in that success too...

Ian Livingstone: Absolutely! When we were thinking about the cast and someone said 'What about Angelina Jolie,' we all said, 'Yes, we'd definitely be happy with that.' I had the pleasure of meeting her a couple of times on the set at Pinewood, and I think I'm still recovering from it. She was amazing. She wanted to do most of the stunts herself, and she really is quite an extraordinary lady. She's very hard to fault.

Eurogamer: With regards to the 10th Anniversary game you mentioned - who's actually developing that? Crystal Dynamics are presumably working on the next instalment on next-gen systems, but there seemed to be a little confusion over the matter recently in terms of Core's potential involvement.

Ian Livingstone: There hasn't been an official announcement on that yet and I think you can expect to hear a little more on it at Edinburgh. But with regards to the recent confusion over it, I can say that Core are no longer involved with the franchise, and they're certainly not working on the game.

Eurogamer: Returning to the Lara Croft screening, what's led you to present this at Edinburgh rather than any of the other shows?

Ian Livingstone: I think it's a great venue and a terrific event to showcase some of the entertainment side of our industry. To be a part of the Edinburgh Festival is a very positive association. To be attached to other creative industries and entertainment industries like music, film et cetera - it's great to have games encompassed in that environment.

If I can help explain some of the fun and positive sides of gaming, rather than the natural perception of games being viewed negatively, that's a great thing. Lara Croft is a character that's known as much to the general public as the gaming public, and it's a terrific chance to put out some positive news into the world about gaming.

Eurogamer: How do you think the event is shaping up so far?

Ian Livingstone: I believe it's going very well. This will be my third year, and I've had a very good, very positive time in the past two years. I'm expecting this to be equally as positive, if not more. Of course, once the EIEF is over, we'll be hopping straight over to Leipzig too, so it's a fun and then a more serious week out of the office.

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Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

Eurogamer: There's obviously been a lot of talk about the changes to the E3 convention. What's your opinion on how those changes will impact on shows like the EIEF and Leipzig?

Ian Livingstone: Well, it's obviously good news for them as far as they're concerned, because there's going to be a lot more regional boosting of exposure to games by both publishers and developers, so I'm sure they welcome it.

There will be an E3 in some shape or form, it's just that it had become almost out of control with the amount of money you had to spend just to make as much noise to increase the perception of what you're trying to do - rather than the actual business you were getting out of it.

We made the decision a couple of years ago to get off the show floor and just have meeting rooms. From a perception point of view it looked like we shrunk back. But from an operational point of view, we did much more real business than we ever did trying to fight the noise and the crowds, the freeloaders and the t-shirt and bag grabbers that were invading the stand all the time.

Eurogamer: So, do you think that the smaller, more focused format of shows like EIEF and Leipzig are a better way to deal with things? Is that what the industry needs, moving forwards?

Ian Livingstone: Well, you've got to get a bang for your buck really. You've got to be able to control costs and show a genuine return for your investment. E3 has pretty much got out of hand in most people's eyes, and it was unsustainable. Especially in these days of transition when there's a lot of pressure on the industry to perform.

There's always, when you go through a transition, a period of uncertainty - what platforms are going to be successful, et cetera - so there's a lot of high risk at this moment in time, and publishers in particular are nervous about spending too much money anyway. So if you can control those costs, it can only be a good thing.

Ian Livingstone is product acquisition director at Eidos. Interview by Paul Loughrey.

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