Well, in what might come as utterly shocking and earth-shattering news, my name isn’t actually JHNGames. It’s John and when I’m not out working so I can afford to follow Lara on her adventures, I’m getting lost in games, sleeping, trying my level best to become a writer, sleeping, talking about games on my blog JHNGames, sleeping.
When and how did you learn about the Tomb Raider series?
I don’t think there was ever a specific moment when I suddenly became “aware” of it. The original game came out when I was five, so it’s been there – in the background, at least – pretty much as long as I can remember. My earliest really clear memories of playing the series are of locking Winston in the freezer over and over again on my uncle’s PS1. I think I might also have watched the first film at some stage but didn’t really pay it much attention. It wasn’t until 2006 that I was well and truly bitten by the Tomb Raider bug.
Thinking about it, it seems as though that whole year was building towards my falling in love with Lara. I can’t remember the specifics, but I do know that, during a break from school, a friend of mine lent me AoD, and then, when I went back to school, another friend recommended (quite vehemently) that I play Legend. And that was that – I was hooked. Lara might have been “falling in love all over again”, but I was doing it for the very first time, and it was wonderful.
Do you run a Tomb Raider fansite or blog? If so, what would you say was your biggest achievement to date?
I do run a Tomb Raider blog – well, technically. Late last year (2013) I decided to start a little blog where I could talk about games to my heart’s content without annoying the (insert profanity of choice) out of my Facebook friends. Shortly after making it, though, I decided to add dedicated pages that would feature only those posts about my favourite franchises. These started off as pages identical to the rest of the blog, but my desire to give each its own custom design prompted me to make them each an individual blog of their own – and, of course, the Tomb Raider blog was the very first one I made.
As for my biggest achievement… well, as it stands, there are only two posts on the Tomb Raider blog (I do plan to write a post on what I think of the comics, but I’d like to wait until we’re a little further along with them before I do), and while I am quite proud of my review of this year’s Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, I’d have to say that my biggest achievement has come via the Twitter account associated with my blog rather than the blog itself. It’s having gotten myself followed by both @TombRaiderArch and @stellalune! It might not seem like such a big deal, but I’ve been reading The Archaeology of Tomb Raider on and off for months, and Stella’s wonderful – and oftentimes hilarious – walkthroughs are single-handedly responsible for me having collected absolutely everything in the Legend-Anniversary-Underworld Trilogy, so it’s lovely to be able to interact with the people behind them.
How has Tomb Raider changed your life?
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, had it not been for Tomb Raider – well, Legend, specifically – I might not be the person I am today. I’d still be playing games, but I don’t know if I’d have become as thorough with them as I am without Lara. It’s thanks to her that I now pride myself on collecting EVERYTHING in the games I enjoy – it’s actually become a bit of an obsession! And there’s also the fact that I became a good deal closer to one of my best friends thanks to Lara. He and I spent many-a-night chatting about our favourite archaeologist on the phone, talking about what we thought of the games, what we liked and what we didn’t, and what we’d like to see from them in the future. The phone might have fallen silent these days with regards to TR, but it was so much fun while it lasted, and I’ll always be grateful to Tomb Raider for it.
Were you interested in archaeology before discovering Tomb Raider? Have the Tomb Raider games and films inspired you to learn more about ancient history?
Yes, and yes. I was borderline obsessed with Ancient Egypt when I was younger (and still am, beneath the surface). Pretty much anything ancient and mysterious really gets me going, fires the imagination and all that jazz. It’s actually surprising to me that it took me as long to get to Tomb Raider as it did, given my interests. As for inspiring me to go off and learn more about ancient history – Underworld really grabbed me with its take on Norse mythology and I did go off and read quite a bit about it on my own. With Legend and Anniversary, I’d already known quite a bit about the Arthurian legend and the other histories touched on. And then there’s the fact that I started my Tomb Raider journey with Legend, so I did have quite bit of ancient history of the Tomb Raider variety to go and catch up on!
What are your thoughts on Lara’s image? Is she simply the product of a sexist gaming industry or can she be seen as a positive role model?
This is a tough question, given that it’s such a contentious issue amongst the TR community. I think there are a lot of things to take into consideration, not the least of which is the TIME at which each iteration of Lara has been released – as time moves on, so too do peoples’ attitudes. For my own part, I can say wholeheartedly that I’ve NEVER seen Lara as – to put it somewhat bluntly – just “tits n’ guns”. If that had been the whole of her character, I would have run for the hills and never bothered with TR again. I fell in love with Lara because of her brains, her daring, and her stop-at-nothing approach to getting what she wanted. It frustrates me so very much that there are people out there who think “tits n’ guns” are all there is to Tomb Raider – I want to shake them by the shoulders and tell them to go play the games before forming their opinions!
Of course, misguided opinions aren’t the only things to blame. The developers have slipped up at times themselves. Letting players choose to have Lara run around in nought but a bikini if they wished was clearly a mistake. (Just on the subject – my personal favourite outfit of Lara’s was the blue-shirted one she wore during the Beneath the Ashes DLC – which, alas, I’ve only seen on YouTube. Owning a PlayStation, I’ve never been able to play it!)
To answer the question directly, I think Lara’s appearance and clothing may, at times, have been a product of the attitudes of the day (whether sexist or not), but the woman beneath the aesthetics? She’s always been a positive role-model, no question about it. Just don’t go shooting people, readers. That wouldn’t be cool.
What’s your favourite Tomb Raider game?
There are two. I know, I know. PICK ONE, you say – but I can’t, I really can’t. I’ve previously said on JHNGames that Legend was my favourite game, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that that’s just not true – not wholly. Legend takes the biscuit for nostalgic value, for its wonderful soundtrack (the main theme in particular), and the fact that, to this day, playing it still gives me the feeling I had on my very first playthrough. In terms of story, however, Underworld does it for me. I loved it. I loved its darkness. I loved the fact that, as devastating as it was, there was no soppy reunion with Amelia. I loved the atmosphere of the underworlds themselves, and I loved Lara’s model – except for those oddly elongated hands. Gameplay issues and some weird decisions on the part of the developers notwithstanding, Underworld was a great Tomb Raider game.
And your least favourite game?
I hate to say that I have a least-favourite Tomb Raider game but that doesn’t change the fact that I do: it’s the reboot*. It’s not an easy thing to say because there are elements of it that I loved. If you’ve read my review, you’ll know what they are. Simply put, I thought it was a fantastically well-made and fun to play game. But I also think, looking back on it – you’ll find none of this in my review, because it all came from after-the-fact discussions with fellow TR fans on Twitter – that it was a hugely misguided game, too. I don’t like what it did to Lara. I think it fell victim to an attempt to make her fit in with the current slew of popular action-adventure games, rather than making a truly original TR story that stayed true to the spirit of the series. I have high hopes that future games will get things back on track. The comics may – so far – have me worried, but my fingers, toes and all other crossable extremities remain well and truly crossed.
* This might change. I haven’t yet played through all the Classics. I know, I know – shame on me. But it is what it is.
Classic, Legend-Anniversary-Underworld or Reboot Lara?
Legend-Anniversary-Underworld Lara. She’s the Lara who brought me to the franchise, and, for that, she’ll always be my favourite. I was devastated when I first found out that the character was being rebooted again, after just three games.
Do you have any favourite Tomb Raider moments or quotes?
Oh, God. There are so many! I’ll narrow it down to those from Legend, Anniversary and Underworld. From Legend, I loved the line, “Really, Zip, it’s like going up a set of stairs – only far less boring.” I loved Lara’s discovery of King Arthur and I absolutely adored the everything about the ending – or, more specifically, the final cutscene. The dialogue, the music – everything about it got me well and truly excited to follow Lara on her next adventure. “Keep yourselves caffeinated…” indeed.
My love of Anniversary can be summed up thusly: Egypt. It’s with Underworld, however, that the list becomes truly extensive. There are so many great moments. I loved Lara’s discovery of her father’s message in Thailand and her subsequent discovery of the secret beneath Croft Manor. Who can forget the epic, “I need Thor’s belt to get his hammer, and I need the hammer to kill a God!” moment, and the tussle with the doppelgänger that preceded it? I thought Amelia’s fate was very well handled, that it wasn’t a corny affair, but one that was just as devastating to the player – having spent three games building up to it – as it was to Lara. And, personally, I watched with glee at Lara’s total badass-ery as she lost it with Natla and smashed the glass of her cell.
Looking back on all of these, smiling to myself as I type them, truly makes me appreciate just how unremarkable the reboot was. Only one moment, the final climb towards the top of the ziggurat, as Lara’s theme kicks in amid swirling snow and lightning-struck ice, really sticks in my memory. The rest, whilst enjoyable, wasn’t all that memorable. Sigh.
What about least favourite moments? Is there anything you dislike about the games/films/comics?
Something I truly hate about the franchise in general is that Lara can do nothing – NOTHING – without some creeps crawling out of the woodwork to complain about her being an atrocious role-model or nothing more than a sex-object. It makes me grind my teeth each and every time a reviewer mentions the size of Lara’s breasts or the tightness of her clothes. How are we ever supposed to get past these issues if people insist on bringing them up time and time again?
As far as least favourite moments go… Hmmm… I’m so sorry if I seem to be ragging on the reboot, but there really is some stuff in there that, personally, I detest. The “I hate tombs!” line infuriates me. It just seems so out of place – put in there simply to sound catchy in the trailers. And, of course, there’s the fact that the latest version of Lara is made to seem incredibly obtuse and ignorant – her revelations only come when the story needs them to, even if the answers are practically screamed in her face long before then.
As far as the ENTIRE franchise goes… I realise that this one may sound silly, given that Lara’s hand is usually forced in the matter, but it’s always made me uncomfortable that she fires off her guns, throws grenades and generally unleashes a massive amount of destruction against her enemies in tombs and other places of serious archaeological import. Who knows what she’s inadvertently destroying?!
If you could change one thing about the Tomb Raider franchise, what would you change?
I’d reboot the series again in order to bring it more in line with the classic interpretation of Lara and structure of the games. As I said above, I’ve come to view the reboot as seriously misguided, and – even if its sequels do manage to get the series back on track – it’ll always be a little disappointing to know that its beginning was so off-key. It’s something of a paradox that, in their attempts to make Lara “relevant” again, the developers have actually rendered her the most unremarkable she’s ever been. It’s odd, but even though there have been missteps in the past, they all sort of fade into the tapestry of Tomb Raider in my head. The reboot’s the one thing that just won’t gel, no matter how much I want it to. (And I do – I really do.)
Which places would you like to see Lara explore in future games?
I can’t overstate how much I’d like to see her return to Egypt. My imagination salivates at the thought of what could be done with it on current-gen hardware. But, honestly, I’m happy to follow her wherever she goes, so long as it’s interesting and well-realised. I’d also like to see a return to a more level-based structure in the games, allowing for various locations to be explored over the course of the story, as opposed to just the one. Open-world games are fun, but I’m not sure I like that concept being applied to TR.
Finally, if you could join Lara on one of her adventures, where would you go?
Well, I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t love to visit some of the places Lara has – Egypt in particular – but there’s no getting around the fact that the majority of them are just a little dangerous. With that in mind, rather than joining Lara on her adventures, I think I’d like to be her Zip – along for the ride from the safety of my desk.
You can find an archive of all our fan interviews over here.