Ian Livingstone (pictured here) is currently the Product Acquisition Director for Eidos, though of course he is more widely known as the man who brought Tomb Raider
’s Lara Croft to the world in the 1990s and, prior to that, as the author responsible for the phenomenon that were (and still are) the Fighting Fantasy
gamebooks – a series that has rather impressively sold more than 14 million copies to date - as well as being the co-founder, with Steve Jackson, of Games Workshop.
In 2002, Livingstone won the coveted BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award for outstanding contribution to the games industry and more recently, in 2006, was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE), for "Services to the Computer Games Industry" in the Queen's New Years Honours List.
SPOnG caught up with him in-between sessions at this year’s Edinburgh Interactive Festival to find out more about Eidos’ latest projects and specifically to talk more about Livingstone’s thoughts and musings on the importance of developing iconic, memorable videogame characters.
Hi Ian, thanks for your time today. To kick off I just wanted to talk a little bit about the Edinburgh Interactive Festival (EIF) in general, which is now in its fifth successful year. What’s your personal involvement this year?
I’m here to talk about games and characters. Obviously character is very important in movies and it’s becoming increasingly important in games. If you have a recognisable character then it obviously creates a lot of resonance with the consumer. It can be built into a major franchise, if it’s a really popular character, so I’m looking at all the aspects of what makes a character good. Or not so good, as the case may be. Taking lessons from Hollywood, in particular, which the games industry needs to look towards as it matures.
I want to try to look at the question of, “what’s the X-factor that makes one character resonate with an audience, as opposed to those many characters that just come and go?”
What do you think the role of the Edinburgh Interactive Festival is within the games industry?
I think it’s great. It’s recognition of games as an important cultural contribution alongside all the other parts of the arts including film, theatre, and literature. It’s great to be seen on a level plain alongside these, because the games industry often gets derided and usually for the wrong reasons.
Going back to what Yves [Guillemot, Ubisoft CEO] was saying earlier today in his keynote speech, he was also talking about games existing on the same plain as books and movies and made the point that the games market is set to grow by 50% over the next four years. From your own experience, with Tomb Raider
, the games and the game-play came first and they led to and inspired everything else, the movies and so on. What were your general thoughts about Yves overall keynote address?
Well I think it’s clear that the future’s bright and we’ve been going through a long transition period this time around, moving from the last generation of consoles and the current ‘next-gen’ and it’s been a deeper and longer transition than the industry has previously been used to. But, having said, that the market and the consumer base are growing a huge amount. It's not just hardcore gamers any more, it's men and women, young and old on all sorts of new platforms – spanning PC casual games played by housewives, the portable consoles DS and PSP, mobile phone games, MMO games. There are many more choices for consumers wanting to play games whether they are hardcore gamers of people who just want to dip in and out for five or ten minutes of gaming now and then. There’s something for everybody, which is an extraordinary and a great opportunity for content creators like Eidos.
You have likened Lara Croft to James Bond in the past, in terms of her iconic status. Lara herself seemed to have a slightly dodgy period a few years ago…
With Angel of Darkness
But she seems to have got back on a bit of a more of a steady footing now.
Well she’s survived the test of time. Ten years is a heck of a long time in gaming, and her fanbase is just as big as ever. In fact, it’s growing. And her fans have forgiven her that one aberration which was Angel of Darkness
. And despite that being a flawed game, with Lara being put in environments her fans didn’t want her to be in and the control and camera mechanism not being so good, it still sold an amazing amount of copies.
Also, remember that not all James Bond films have been brilliant. I think it’s only with Casino Royale
recently that James Bond has been elevated back to the status that he was at previously – so there are ups and downs in any character’s career and that includes virtual characters as well as movie characters as well.
There’s a lot of talk at EIF relating to games becoming a bigger part of mainstream culture. One of the key things that a lot of people often cite in this regard is when Lara appeared on the cover of [1980s/90s style magazine]The Face
, back in 1997.
Yes, it was extraordinary at that time, because it was the first time any virtual character had appeared on the cover of the magazine. It really showed how far Lara Croft had gone, and appealed, beyond the games niche. Before that, most games characters were only known by gamers. Then suddenly here is this character adorning a cultural, cool magazine in the UK. Clearly also, the movies have helped widen the demographic further of those people who want to be close to Lara.
Toby Gard [original Tomb Raider designer] has recently come back into the fold recently. In the past you have made some comments that Toby, at one point, thought that Lara had become too successful. Why did he think this?
Well he was young and the time and he had come up with this amazingly original character – one of the first female characters to ever appear as lead in a computer game. If not the first. And Toby clearly, as a creative, had a view of his
Lara Croft. The company meanwhile wanted to maximise the potential and probably took her in a direction that he wasn’t particularly happy or comfortable with. I suppose he didn’t want her to be over-exploited.
But I think we’ve safeguarded her integrity and created a character that he feels comfortable enough to come back to working with. So, he’s back where he belongs – looking after Lara and ensuring that her personality continues to have that strong emotional attachment with the consumer. So, I think it’s a happy ending this particular story.