Saturday, 16 March 2019

Last month, Official Cosplay Ambassador, Kate Sykes celebrated a new milestone, the release of her first film, "Athena", which she hopes will "help change perceptions of how those with disabilities are portrayed on screen."

Kate has been involved in a number of "Tomb Raider" projects over the years. She was selected to be the Official Cosplay Ambassador at EGX for the release of "Rise of the Tomb Raider", and spotlighted in Prima Games' "Twenty Years of Tomb Raider" book. She has also used her writing talents on the fan film, "Hunted" which have received over 120,000 views worldwide, along with a festive mini "Tomb Raider" fanfilm. In her spare time, she runs the official Tomb Raider fansite, The Digger's Daughter. And on top of all of that, she's also an actress, starring in projects such as "The Kindness of Strangers" and a 2013 comedy remake of "Dawn of the Dead". Despite all of these projects, Kate refers to Athena as her "first film", a standalone title which she had full creative control over and saw from start to finish.

Photo from the "Athena" Facebook page.

As an Official Cosplay Ambassador, Kate is no stranger to stepping in the role of Lara Croft, and has done so numerous times over the years, for events, for photo shoots, and even for fan films. But for "Athena", she would be doing something quite different. While the topic of Lara's daughter has been discussed multiple times over the years, having someone with the believably and strength to pull of such a role would be a difficult task, and a challenge not lost on Kate. It was only when she saw Alicia Vikander's performance in the recent film that she was inspired to return to the project and see it to the end.

The synopsis of the fan film is inspired by the same film and the recent trilogy: having disappeared years earlier, the Croft estate now falls onto Athena who has recently turned eighteen. Back at Croft Manor, Lara's daughter who goes in search for the reason for her mother's disappearance and comes into the possession of the relic which her mother sought to protect. As a result, Athena now becomes hunted by those who want to use it for nefarious purposes.

"Athena" began production back in January 2018 following positive reception to the fan film's concept on Kate's social media. Soon after, she began talks to fellow actor and friend, Kate Davies-Speak, who later joined the cast to play Lara Croft, and help with some of the creative decisions. Despite no budget, the project soon found a slew of breathtaking locations and a cast with prior acting skills. The indoors scenes at Croft Manor was shot at Sykes' and Davis-Speak's family homes in the UK, with a nearby school used for the exterior shots. Within a few months, Stephen Quinn (VO enemy), Ben Park (on screen enemy), Jason Rhodes (Judas Iscariot), and Terry Sykes (Winston) had joined the cast.

Photo of Kate and Ben, from the "Athena" Facebook page.

Similar to Alicia Vikander, Kate decided to start an exercise routine ahead of filming. Although she wouldn't play Lara herself, Athena would be very much her mother's daughter. As Kate was born with Quadriplegic Spastic Cerebral Palsy, she experiences tightness in her tendons in her arms and legs, so before exercise could start, she first needed to look into exercise routines and tools best suited to her. Soon after she began posting exercise videos on the fan film's Facebook page, documenting her progress first with stretches, then introducing weighs which could be fitted to her arms. It's clear in these videos the level of determination she had to pursue her dream project and to get into character. In a recent blog post on her site, The Digger's Daughter, she expanded on how these exercise routines has changed her stating that she had noticed more muscle definition in her biceps since.

In addition to getting into character, another reason why improving her strength and muscle definition was important to her was because she had scheduled a fight scene involving Athena outside Croft Manor. While the distance between the two actors in those roles (Kate and Ben) kept them from rehearsing in person, Kate studied self defense for people in wheelchairs to recreate effective and realistic attacks on screen. This was later partially choreographed by Ben on set who had previously worked as a boxer.

After twelve months, in December 2018, Kate celebrated with a bottle of Croft sherry the completion of filming.

With no budget, filming was done using using iPhones and a Nikon D90, and edited together using a 2009 edition of iMovie. In the final few months, the project was plagued by technical issues including footage and music being wiped without warning. Last minute help was given by fellow cosplayer, Sara Croft, owner of the Tomb Raider Cosplay website, who helped salvage some of the previously-believed lost footage from recording, in time for its desired release date.


"Athena" was published online via YouTube and Vimeo on 14th February 2019, to celebrate Lara's birthday. To date it has received over one thousand views from Tomb Raider fans across the globe, as well as support and positive feedback from actors, including Lara Croft model and actor, Alison Carroll. It has also received attention and been celebrated in  Le Patelin des Passions' Fanfilmensuel - Février 2019 video. For Kate, she writes in her article that the project has already helped "make a difference for disable people in films and TV" before teasing that a potential sequel may be in the works in the future.

I've known Kate for a number of years, so hearing that a new project was on the books was no surprise; she's an exceptional lady with a knack for multi-tasking and seeing projects through, and she's always been determined to push herself that little further with each new piece. She had come into "Athena" with a background of fan films, each one showing in her performance or approach at different times. "Athena" celebrates everything that "Tomb Raider" should be; Kate is driven, with a thirst of adventure which has limitless bounds. The film celebrates passion, determination, and a good deal of British stubbornness.

If you haven't already, make sure to check out "Athena", HERE
And follow Kate on Facebook (HERE!) for more upcoming projects!

Friday, 8 March 2019

This week saw the release of Eidos Montreal's fifth DLC pack for "Shadow of the Tomb Raider", "The Serpent's Heart".

Official Synopsis: Experience “The Serpent’s Heart” DLC and endure the mighty Slayer’s Gauntlet in an attempt to save the lives of loyal rebels. Lara must infiltrate an enemy fortress to stage a daring prison break, then engage in a battle against evil Kukulkan cultists. Lara must also complete the Slayer's Gauntlet and navigate roaring rapids in order to receive the power of the serpent god.
In this latest challenge tomb, players are transported back to 1998 in a TR3-esqe level with Lara facing a prison break, cultists, and turbulent rapids. It's a mission targeted to please fans of the classic titles.

Players who completed the pack will get a series of awards including an additional skill, the Divine Bounty, which increases the amount of gold coins collected, in addition to The Serpent Lash bow which deals extra fire damage. And, as always, there is a new outfit, the Dragon Scales, which prevents stumbling, increases health regeneration, and lowers fire damage.

As part of the latest update, a number of main-campaign tombs are also now available in Score Attack and Time Attacks. Those levels include: “Judge’s Gaze,” “Underworld Gate,” “Howling Caves”, “Path of Battle,” “Temple of the Sun,” “San Cordoba,” “Ancient Aqueduct,” and “Thirsty Gods”.

If you've purchased Shadow of the Tomb Raider's Season Pass, the DLC is now available to download. However you can also purchase the level separately if you just bought the standard edition of the game. The DLC pack can be bought individually for £3.75 via Steam or your console, along with previously released levels; "The Pillar", "The Forge", "The Nightmare", and "The Price of Survival".

PC Gamers! If you've yet to purchase Shadow of the Tomb Raider or its season pass, the game is currently 50% on The Humble Store. With each purchase, a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity of your choice. 

Friday, 15 February 2019

To celebrate both Valentine's Day and Lara's birthday, Crystal Dynamics teamed up with local artist, Angela Song, to create four special commissioned Valentine's Day cards.

Suggestions for three of the commission pieces were opened up to the community in the lead up to the day, with fans offering their Tomb Raider-inspired puns for the cards through Twitter. The winning prompts were "Be My Angel of Darkness" by @chantal483, "I Love Digging Through Ruins And You're My Greatest Treasure" by @Jar_Cup, and "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Don't Let Mjölnir, Fall on You" by @Skarmory93. The fourth one was requested by Crystal Dynamics and was "You Light My Fire".

Angela broadcasted some of her progress via her Twitch channel along with some beautiful warming up sketches, before finishing off the final piece and making modifications off screen. You can watch the full broadcast archived on her Twitch channel.

Below are the amazing Valentine's Day cards; sweetly sketched and carefully watercoloured. I'm absolutely in awe of Angela's work and she definitely knocked it out of the park with these amazing commissions.

Thank you to Angela for the artwork, Crystal Dynamics for organizing the commissions, and to the winning puns by @chantal483, @Jar_Cup, @Skarmory93.
Artwork created and posted by Angela Song.

A little about the artist. Angela Song is an incredible artist whose adorable artwork has charmed Crystal Dynamics and the community for the past few years. She is based in California and has worked with a number of amazing studios and projects including the Mythbusters television show, Crystal Dynamics, Multiverse Studios, and so much more. Her work with Crystal Dynamics has centered around the Tomb Raider series with specially-designed pieces celebrating Christmas, Valentine's Day, and community members' birthdays. She was also part of the Team Tomb Raider's Extra Life marathon in 2018, and helped to raise money for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital which specializes with "cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, organ transplants, orthopedics, and care for newborns with critical illnesses." You can follow her adventures on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.
Artwork created and posted by Angela Song.
Artwork created and posted by Angela Song.
Artwork created and posted by Angela Song.


Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Shadow of the Tomb Raider's latest DLC pack, The Price of Survival, is out now!

Official Synopsis: Solve the mystery of Lara's greatest foe! While trying to crack the private codes of Trinity's leader, Lara must conquer a poisonous new challenge tomb and defeat the elite Paititian soldiers that stand in her way. “The Price of Survival” is an all-new single-player challenge tomb.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a proven track record of immersive tombs and creative puzzles, a tradition carried on with The Price of Survival.

Included in the new update is a new outfit, the Hunter's Array, which increases the effect of the perception plants. as well as the new Silent Sting pistol and Raptor's Eye skill. The additional skill point enables Lara to tag and track her enemies. As part of the update, there's also been new additions to tombs from the main campaign, with “Judge’s Gaze,” “Underworld Gate,” “Howling Caves”, “Path of Battle,” “Temple of the Sun,” “San Cordoba,” and “Ancient Aqueduct” all now playable in Score Attack and Time Attack modes.

If you've purchased Shadow of the Tomb Raider's Season Pass, the DLC is now available to download. However you can also purchase the level separately if you just bought the standard edition of the game. The DLC pack can be bought individually for £3.75 via Steam or your console, along with previously released levels; The Pillar, The Forge, and The Nightmare.

PC Gamers! If you've yet to purchase Shadow of the Tomb Raider or its season pass, the game is currently 50% on The Humble Store. With each purchase, a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity of your choice. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Tomb Raider fans can now check out the latest DLC pack for Shadow of the Tomb Raider called The Nightmare!

Official Synopsis: Learn the secret Uchu has told no one else! In order to obtain a powerful and mysterious weapon, Lara Croft must face the music in a brand-new challenge tomb, battle foes who look like but are not like any she's ever faced, and confront the deadliest enemy of all: herself. The Nightmare offers new customization options, with the Scales of Q outfit, the Grip of Fear axe, and the White Breath skill, which grants Lara's Fear Arrows the power of an area effect.
The Nightmare promises to be an exciting adventure, combining some of the same intense atmosphere that fans loved from Rise of the Tomb Raider's Baba Yaga DLC with classic TR gameplay, packed with traps and puzzles. The level also comes with the Fear Incarnate Gear pack; a new in-game outfit, consisting of thick hide and bones, providing additional defense from melee attacks, plus a bonus skill and weapon adding variety to the level's customization.

Included in the new update, tombs from the main campaign; Judge’s Gaze, Underworld Gate, Howling Caves, Path of Battle, and Temple of the Sun are now playable in both Score Attack and Time Attack modes.

If you've purchased Shadow of the Tomb Raider's Season Pass, the DLC is now available to download. However you can also purchase the level separately if you just bought the standard edition of the game. The DLC pack can be bought individually for £3.75 via Steam or your console, along with previously released levels; The Pillar and The Forge.

Check out the official trailer for The Nightmare, HERE

Monday, 14 January 2019

If you have XBOX Gold Pass, make sure to pick up your free copy of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light today!

XBOX Gold Pass is a monthly subscription for XBOX owners, which allows them to receive a selection of free games every fortnight (a mix of XBOX One and XBOX 360 titles), further price reductions during sales, and online play. This month's free games are Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Celeste, World Rally Championship 6, and FarCry 2 with the latter two being available after the 16th.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is currently free to collect until the 16th.

Official Synopsis:

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is an action/adventure game featuring Lara Croft. This brand extension combines the hallmarks of the Tomb Raider franchise including exploration & discovery, platforming, and puzzle solving combined with character progression, fun fast-paced combat, and elements of human cooperation and competition.

Key Features:

 - First downloadable only title from Crystal Dynamics, and first downloadable only Lara Croft game.

 - A classic formula of puzzles, combat, exploration, and breathtaking visuals put through the lens of an isometric fast-paced gaming experience.

 - A wide range of options for solving puzzles and traversing deadly environmental traps, offering players an unprecedented level of freedom to choose their own solutions and explore various paths through the dense jungles of Central America.

 - Crystal Dynamics' proprietary engine delivers sprawling environments with no load-times and unbelievable vertical gameplay through tombs reaching deep into the Earth.

 - Face off against a myriad of undead warriors brought to life by the evil Xolotl, including a number of boss battles that are not to be missed!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

2018 was a brilliant year for Tomb Raider fans, with the success of a number of charity projects, the release of the third Tomb Raider movie, the launch of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, numerous anniversary milestones, and so much more. As we begin to head into the new year, it feels like the perfect time to look back at twelve months of constant news, celebrations and announcements.


New Releases

This past year saw two major releases that fans have been anticipating for years.

A New Tomb Raider Movie. Released in March, Alicia Vikander burst onto cinema screens as Lara Croft in a brand new Tomb Raider movie. Directed by Roar Uthaug, the movie was a retelling of the Tomb Raider (2013) title with distinct differences to distinguish itself from the original title. While there were fantasy elements in the movie, the differences from its virtual doppelganger grounded the movie closer to reality as well as made Lara's father a more central character to the expedition. Collecting $274.7 million at box office, the movie received praise for Vikander's portrayal of the young archeologist and for the film's impressive stunts.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Following the movie's release, Square Enix kickstarted their promotional campaign for Shadow of the Tomb Raider with synchronized reveal events taking place in London, Montreal and Los Angeles. The game would conclude the trilogy established by Tomb Raider (2013) released five years prior, but would be developed by a different company, Eidos Montréal. The game showed a tougher and a more sure protagonist and was praised by long-time fans of the series for its classic feel to the adventure.

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft in the third Tomb Raider movie.

Anniversaries 

2018 was a major year for milestones with four of the twelve main games celebrating anniversaries.

1998. Tomb Raider III.  Following the success of the original Tomb Raider title, the developers at Core Design continued to work hard to release yearly installments of the series. For the third title they pushed even harder to create more varied locations, more vehicles, more puzzles, and provide fans with Lara's biggest adventure to date. Twenty years later, it's a title that is still loved in the community for its sense of adventure and creative gameplay. It's also a personal favourite of mine as it was the first Tomb Raider game I played as a kid, and influenced me greatly.

2003. Angel of Darkness. We also celebrated the 15th anniversary of Angel of Darkness! The game was originally launched in 2003 with a mixed reception; some praised its new darker and gritter take to the adventure and a Lara that accepted no nonsense, but it was a title pulled back by its bugs and tight development time. The adventure was the final published Tomb Raider title for Core Design in a controversial decision by parent company, Eidos, who later transferred rights over to Crystal Dynamics. The new approach by Core, as well as the passionate and raw interviews by developers working on the project, made it a beloved title by many in the community.

2008. Tomb Raider Underworld. Five years after the release of Angel of Darkness, Crystal Dynamics launched Tomb Raider Underworld, wrapping up their first trilogy of the series. The installment shared similar qualities with Core Design's final title; a bold step into a darker adventure for the series while embracing new technical improvements, but due to its tight yearly development schedule the title was also pulled back by its bugs. However it's also considered as a major staple of the series for its vision and their fresh approach.

2015. Rise of the Tomb Raider. Seven years after the launch of Tomb Raider Underworld, Crystal Dynamics launched their fifth title in the series, Rise of the Tomb Raider. Despite being released in a period of uncertainty with a controversial Microsoft timed-exclusive partnership and synchronized launch of Fallout 4, the title received generally positive reviews from the media who praised the title for its romanticism for adventure, improved graphics, and a greater embrace of tombs.

Tomb Raider III, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Angel of Darkness all celebrated anniversary milestones in 2018.


Charities

Over $50,750 was raised in the past year from official and community driven charity campaigns!

Extra Life. Team Tomb Raider Community and Crystal Dynamics was at it again with another Extra Life marathon in 2018. A week after the event, both team together had raised a staggering  $27,857.61 through their broadcasts but continued to collect donations throughout the rest of the year for The Children's Miracle Hospital Network. The organization consists of 180 hospitals which provide 32 million treatments. The money raised will go towards caring for children in hospitals across the United States and Canada, regardless of whether or not they have health insurance. The money also helps the hospitals improve their facilities and main the level of care by paying for training, research and equipment.
  • An additional $10,283.61 was raised across twelve auction items for Extra Life by the studio in the lead up to the big day.
  • Stella has already announced that Team Tomb Raider Community will continue to live-stream into 2019 with the group page already collecting donations!

Movember. A group of developers at Eidos Montréal, the studio behind the Shadow of the Tomb Raider, took on the Movember challenge in 2018. The team consisted of Simon Habib (Senior Technical Animator), Daniel Richer (Junior Sound Designer), Emmanuel Daneau (Junior Sound Designer), and Jean-Philippe Parent (Junior Gameplay/AI Programmer) and together they raised $1,145 for Movember Foundation Canada. The campaign saves men’s lives through projects focused on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.

Best Friends. Just before the launch of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Square Enix and XBOX collaborated on another charity campaign, raising money for Best Friends Animal Society; America's leading animal welfare organization. For the campaign, Square Enix released a special video retelling SOTTR's End of the Beginning trailer with animals and donated a custom XBOX One X 1TB console to raise funds for the organisation. The bidding reached a staggering $8,300 for the charity in which 100% went to caring for animals.

Tomb Raider Marathon. The team behind Tomb Raider Marathon continued their success into 2018 with another $3,164.99 raised for charity. Last year they selected Help Hope Live as the program, an US-based organization which helps people to pay a wide range of medical expenses including medication, medical equipment, home health care, wheelchair-accessibility modifications, physical therapy, medical travel and temporary relocation, and emergency living assistance. The team has announced that they will continue their fundraising efforts into 2019!
A number of charities focused through charity campaigns last year.

Projects

Backwards Compatibility. Back in August, XBOX announced that Tomb Raider Legend and Tomb Raider Anniversary are now available to play on XBOX One via their Backwards Compatibility program. The games can be bought digitally or as a physical disc, allowing gamers who already own the titles to replay it on modern consoles and for newer fans to purchase the games at a reduced price. The addition of the two games means that all Tomb Raider titles released for the XBOX console throughout its history are now available to play on any version of the XBOX One.

100 Professionals of Play. In late 2018, Meagan Marie (Senior Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics) launched her third book in collaboration with Prima Games entitled "Women in Games: 100 Professionals of Play" which celebrated women in the games industry, their achievements, and the paths they have taken.

Larazade. Tomb Raider's partnership with UK company, Lucozade, continued in 2018 with the brand readopting the name Larazade for a limited run to cross-promote Shadow of the Tomb Raider. 

Kickstarter. Last year we got further news on two Kickstarter projects created by former Core Design's composers. Supporters for Nathan McCree's 2016's Tomb Raider Suite campaign saw the release of the digital soundtrack and the first round of physical perks land of doormats with t-shirts, signed posters and music sheets heading out to fans. The Kickstarter for Peter Connelly's Dark Angel Symphony also launched earlier in the year, after a rocky initial campaign, the team regroup and lowered expenses of the project to £60,000 which was reached in advance of the second campaign's deadline.

Her Universe's Tomb Raider Fashion Line by Hannah Kent. In the lead up to Shadow of the Tomb Raider's launch, cosplayer Hannah Kent, created five outfits for a new Tomb Raider fashion line, sold by Her Universe.

Crystal Northwest. In August, Crystal Dynamics opened up a second studio, Crystal Northwest, in Washington!

"Women in Gaming", Tomb Raider Legend, and Hannah Kent's Tomb Raider Fashion Line.