Interview with Rhianna Pratchett
Rhianna Pratchett is known as the video game writer responsible for the reboot of Tomb Raider in 2013, but she has also collaborated in more video games, such as Mirror’s Edge, Overlord and Heavenly Sword, among others. Additionally, she has also worked in many other areas, such a video game journalism in her early years or writing Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider prequel comics. Here you will find the questions we asked her regarding her work and career.
(Translated version of this interview can be read here)
Todas Gamers: This past July you were invested Honorary Doctor of Arts from Teesside University for, among other things, your work in video games. Do you think of this as a step forward in recognising videogames as a medium? How has it changed, in your opinion, since you first started doing reviews?
Rhianna Pratchett: It’s one of many step forwards we’ve made in the last decade, especially in the advancement of video games narrative. When I first started out in the industry in the late 90s, game writer didn’t really exist as a career. There we people doing it, sure, but they were usually designers, producers, or literally anyone who had the time and inclination to take a stab at it. Now writers are a lot more commonplace in the industry as are narrative designers. We have conferences and festivals dedicated to games narrative. Awards, even. Narrative has become a key component for many game genres and even spearheaded a few new ones, such as episodic gaming. There’s still work to be done, but we’ve come a long way.
TG: You worked on the script for Heavenly Sword (2007), a game with a female protagonist, but ultimately did not sell very well. Now we’re seeing more games with female protagonists, such as Tomb Raider (2013) and Horizon Zero Dawn (2017), and they’ve been increasingly successful. Do you think this means the industry is becoming more open to the presence of women in games?
RP: It sold over a million (so I was told) which was reasonable at the time. Especially for the PS3 which was still relatively new. It certainty earned quite a cult following. There was actually a sequel in the works at one point, which got cancelled. I do think that Tomb Raider (2013) helped demonstrate that female led games could be successful and appealing to a wide range of gamers. Before that we were seeing news stories about how publishers were turning down games like Remember Me, for having a female protagonist. I hope those days are firmly behind us.
TG: Mirror’s Edge is one of your most well-known games. When you wrote the script, were you thinking about the lack of privacy we now experience on the Internet and social networking sites? Do you think our world is becoming one where the media is controlled by powers that make Runners necessary?
RP: I was definitely thinking about how over-reliance on technology could become a weakness and also what freedoms people would be willing to give up for a comfortable, well-regulated and seemingly safe life. I liked the idea of having to return to simplicity (flesh over tech) to combat future troubles. But, given that I was brought on board quite late in the game’s development, and a lot had been designed with no narrative in mind (there was no real narrative reasoning behind the visuals or the mechanics and the characters were just pieces of art) a lot of it was about trying to work within very tight constraints.
TG: VR technology is currently being developed and a force to be reckoned with. Do you think Mirror’s Edge would be successful as a VR game? Is that something have you ever consider?
RP: Mirror’s Edge was all about enhanced parkour movement, so I’m not sure how you would replicate that in VR without damaging your audience. It certainly wouldn’t be good for anyone with vertigo. Could you imagine what it would be like missing a jump and falling off a building? Terrifying!
TG: You’re also responsible for the reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. That’s not an easy task. How did you face the documentation process? Where did you start?
RP: Crystal Dynamics came to me with a fairly clear idea of what they wanted to do with the reboot and so I tailored my ideas towards enhancing that. They had the setting in place and most of the mechanics and the vague outline of a possible story arc. I worked with them to build the skeleton of the story and then flesh it out; developing the cast (particularly Lara) their relationships and deepening the world through secondary narrative such as letters and journals.
TG: Tomb Raider has had so much lore and iconic elements added to it over the years. Were there any particular aspects you did not want to include in this new series?
RP: The rich playgirl with all the guns and gadgets to deal with anything and money to burn was fun, but I wanted to explore something a little more relatable and depict a Lara who had turned her back on her fortune (at least initially) and was trying to get by in the world under her own steam. That meant we had lots of emotional places to go with her as we evolved her through the games and plenty of conflict for her to wrestle with.
TG: In Tomb Raider (2013) we see a new Lara, a renewed, strong character now able to be the driving element in this story. However, in Rise of the Tomb Raider the story focuses back on Lara’s father, making him the center of both the plot of the game and Lara’s actions. Do you think this may be a step back on the growth of Lara Croft as a character?
RP: I have openly said that I wasn’t initially a massive fan of the father plot-line, but it was something Crystal really pushed for. I eventually found peace with it, by making sure that Lara also had a competing need to find explanations for what she’d experienced during the first game. It’s as much about resolving her internal struggles as it is about her father’s legacy.
TG: Now, we know you’re working on a film adaptation of Wee Free Men, but we’ve read that you’re also involved in the making of the script for Lost Words, an upcoming indie game. How is it different from your other projects? Aside you have a greater control over the evolution of the story?
RP: Lost Words is a relatively small project and it has definitely come with its own set of challenges, especially as the narrative is so tied into the mechanics of the game. It’s refreshing to be exploring narrative within such a unique design. As for Wee Free Men, it wasn’t my first adaptation, but I have learned so much through the process and Hensons have been great to work with. There’s still a long way to go to get it on screen, but I’ve enjoyed the process so far. Obviously, with adaptation you are working with a text and trying to interpret and shape ideas. I’ve done so much of that in games that it’s prepared me pretty well.
TG: Some of our collaborators attended the last Celsius Festival, in Avilés (Asturias), and they noticed the Batman… ring? you were wearing. We loved it, and we’re sure there’s a story behind it. Could you tell us about it? Even if it’s just where to get it.
RP: It’s always a talking point! Unfortunately, I got it so long ago that I can’t remember where it came from, aside from that it was a UK online jewellery website. If you Google ‘Batman double ring’ you can find similar, albeit smaller versions. I have one in case I ever lose my big one.
Difusora de la palabra de Pratchett a tiempo completo. Defensora de causas pérdidas e inútiles. Choconiños o barbarie. Hipster por necesidad. Tengo una pipa falsa. +50 en pedantería.
Modelo pin-up, aprendiz de actriz y jugona adorable. El mando de mi Play sabe a pan que habla.
Escritora y creadora compulsiva de mundos imposibles. Vivo en un faro entre dos ciudades: una flota en las nubes, la otra está sumergida en el mar. Ad astra per aspera.