An essay on Lara Croft

I’m reminded of things I want to talk about all the time. I love many things and have much to say about most of them. A recent release has got me thinking about Lara Croft again, enough to inspire my next drawing even. So check out the drawing below, watch the Timelapse too if you want, and if you are curious you can keep reading to find out some of my thoughts on the hero of the Tomb Raider franchise, in particular her recent self.

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Lara Croft is one of my earliest gaming memories. A friend owned Tomb Raider II back when I was a kid, and we spent many hours playing it on their old Playstaion I. Frustrating as it was for me to get anything done in that game, Lara Croft became one of the first female gaming characters to shape my perception of women as a whole. I was introduced to her before the age when boys start to find girls attractive, but her gaming prominence extended well into my teenage years as well, so yeah, like many others I too was pulled in by the character’s sex appeal. She does have plenty. But unlike many others I don’t consider Lara’s beauty to be the secret to her success. It may have been what first caught many people’s attention, but that alone would not have been enough to fuel a series of twelve plus games. Something else kept us around.

Even from her early polygonal conception,

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when the most memorable things about her games were how impossible it was to grab onto a ledge, a few things were apparent about Lara’s character: She was an adventure seeking action hero on the trail of secrets from humanity’s past, akin to Indiana Jones; She had training and understanding in the use of firearms; She had a reputation, fame and resources to support her adventures; Above all else she was in it all for the thrill and the excitement. “I’m sorry, I only play for sport.” Throughout the following games players became more familiar with Lara’s attitude. She was a tough, athletic lady with an acrobatic fighting style and a quip or two when it mattered most.

We did, however, know little about her past, other than the fact her parents were not around, and they left her with a mansion and a butler.

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It was in the next trilogy of games, the Legend trilogy (named after the first game in this new series, Tomb Raider: Legend) that more light would be shed on this aspect of her story. After the death/disappearance of her mother, her father drove himself and his reputation to ruin in pursuit of finding her. These games focus on her getting to the bottom of the family mystery, putting her parents memories to rest along the way. Despite the dark tone of the plot, the games are made much more light-hearted, mostly to the credit of Lara herself. With a new plethora of side characters helping her, Lara goes through these adventures, and what I personally consider to be the height of the series, with a confident attitude and plenty of witty banter. Simply put, she made those games fun.

Then the reboot happened… Truth be told, I very much liked game one in this new trilogy. It was marketed as Lara’s new origin story. Gone was the confidence, gone was the wit and the humor and gone were her iconic dual pistols.

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The new Lara was an unsure, insecure and fearful young adolescent girl, with no experience and little to make her interesting as a person. But after all, that is what origin stories are for, right? Never mind the fact, that we got many glimpses into Lara’s past in earlier games, and saw that she was a fearless, cocky little girl in the face of dangers back then. In this version she is transformed into the woman we all know and love through this one experience, right? Well, kind of. There is a clear path Lara takes toward becoming the Tomb Raider here, her confidence, her skill, even her wit occasionally show signs of development.
“Seems anyone close to you has low survival odds.” Says Reyes, just after Lara witnessed another of her friends die.
“Better keep your distance then.” She replies, in probably the only Tomb Raider moment of the new trilogy.
By the very end of the game she finally has her guns back, she is standing triumphant over her captor as well as an ancient Japanese ghost, and her thirst for more adventure is awoken. Pretty awesome as far as origin stories go. Not the Lara of the past, for sure, but a satisfying tie-in to the old awesome action heroine we were waiting for. But sadly, there were more games to come.

I was baffled to learn that throughout the next game Lara NEVER held two pistols. Instead she got shoved into the new Hunger Games action heroine mold of “badass lady with a bow”. Everything that game one was building up to was gone. No wit, no humor, just the same stealth-action protagonist from the last game.

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I understand that much of this must have been game engine limitations, which is why the plot of the second game followed the first one’s formula so closely, but that was far from the only problem with new Lara. I did not recognize this girl. She was… boring. I wish there were a better way for me to say it, but that’s it. Never did she have anything but the most cookie-cuter, straight forward dialog.
“Forgive my daughter. She can be overcautious.” says Jacob, after his daughter just threatened to kill her.
“In her place, I would be the same way.” she replies, with no intonation, no expression of any kind. Old Lara would definitely have had something witty to say in that situation. Not even an attempt. And the game is just full of moments like these. Worst of all is the scene where Lara is standing over the defeated Trinity leader, Constantine, surrounded by fire and crumbling ruin. A situation practically served for a badass one-liner.
“It was not supposed to be like this.” he says, grasping his wound. “This was my destiny!”
“This was never your destiny.” She replies. Again absent any emotion what so ever.
I’d go on, but you get it at this point. Suffice it to say that I was hoping the latest game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider would at least try to bring some of the old Lara back, but no. Just more of the same. Boring dialog, no emotion save for constant self doubt and deprecation, no dual pistols.

Regardless of what the future brings for Lara, she will always be that same amazing influence on me that she has been. She was the first woman I remember for being in what was typically considered a male role, and she absolutely killed it. It makes me sad that new generations will see her as this female action hero stereotype they made her into, without any outstanding personality or traits of her own, but the games are receiving plenty of critical praise, and they’re all financial successes so… maybe it’s me. I hope to see the Tomb Raider truly return one day in all her former glory, in new settings and with new perspectives, but still remaining true to what made her into the icon she is. But if that Lara is truly gone, well, the old games aren’t going anywhere. Let the new fans have their hero. I already have mine.

DeviantArt link.

Samurai Jack and the Valkyries

Norse mythology speaks to me the way no other does. I adore the visuals often associated to it: cold winter landscapes under the light of the Aurora; glorious, decorated wooden halls shinning among the snow; men and women adorned with runic tattoos feasting and sparring till the final battle at the world’s end.

And of course the Valkyries.

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Topping the list of my most beloved groups of mythological women, the Valkyries were tasked with selecting and guiding the souls of the greatest warriors to fall in battle to the halls of Valhalla. They are also destined to ride into battle come Ragnarök. And I don’t envy the fire-giants at the front of the charge that day. Well, okay, maybe I do a little…

My first ever contact with these amazing women was through a rather unlikely source: a children’s cartoon called Samurai Jack, the story of a Samurai warrior wandering the landscape of a cyberpunk future trying to find a way back to his time, so that he may defeat the evil being, Aku, that now rules the world. Along his travels he finds himself in the long destroyed home of the Norse, where he hears the calling of an ancient voice. In the depths of the mountain he comes face to face with the source: a giant Lava Monster. 420541-samurai-jack-jack-and-the-lava-monster-episode-screencap-1x10Jack learns the identity of this strange creature to be that of an old Norse warrior cursed, by the same evil creature that sent him to the future, to forever be stuck in his new rock body, never to join his fallen comrades in Valhalla. He explains to the Samurai that the only way for him to be accepted to the side of the gods is to fall in glorious combat. Hearing the monster’s plea Jack agrees to fight him.

The moment where Jack draws his sword and calls out to the monster to prepare himself was a really powerful moment for my young childhood self. It was, you see, only a few episodes earlier in the season that Jack teamed up with a warrior woman to hunt down a magic gem that could help him return to the past. Alas, as the gem was finally within his grasp the woman revealed herself to be Aku in disguise. Jack’s faith in the good in all people is his only real weakness, and he is taken advantage of more than a few times throughout the show. And even after experiencing a betrayal like that, he is still willing to take the monster at his word with no way to be sure of his intentions. And the payoff is truly spectacular.

After a hard fought battle Jack strikes the monster down, and the events that follow became ingrained in my mind ever since. samurai-jack-x-6In a glorious burst of light the warrior regains his mortal form, shouting at the top his lungs: “I am FREE!” Shortly after, however, the years he spent in his kingdom of rock all catch up to him, and he collapses on the ground an old man. Jack rushes to his aid, but with a smile on his face the warrior asks only that Jack hand him his sword. With his final breath he thanks his savior.

Then the skies burst open and a heavenly ray of light shines down at them. From within the blinding radiance two golden armored women descend on white horses, and land on the ground before them. The sight of those two magnificent figures framed in the light will forever be the most powerful image I have ever seen. And without a word spoken, Jack watches as the Valkyries carry the warrior back with them to the Hall of the Gods.

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Simplistic and dumbed down as it was, this was my introduction to Norse mythology. And what an introduction it was. 15 years later I still tear up at the very thought of that episode’s final 5 minutes. So to pay tribute to one of my defining childhood experiences, I made my own recreation of that impactful scene.

Check out the Timelapse here:

DeviantArt link here!

Human Valentina

Have I mentioned I love Kerbal Space Program?

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I have been on board KSP since its Early Access days back in 2014. It swiftly became one of my favorite games of all time. A game truly like few others. It is both a serious look into the workings of real space travel and a light-hearted, humorous joyride. You need look no further than the original launch trailer.

For some time the main crew of the Kerbal Space Center consisted of the trio of Bob, Bill and Jebediah Kerman. However, in a later update the females of the Kerbal race revealed themselves. Enter the first woman in the program: Valentina Kerman. She gets her name, appropriately, from the first woman to fly in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited the Earth in her Vostock capsule in 1963. In my mind, Valentina is the bravest, smartest and by far the most enthusiastic of the Kerbonauts. And it seems many fans agree with me. A while ago I discovered a series of five Kerbal themed videos on Youtube by a channel called Door Monster, where I got to see the best depiction of a human Valentina ever. I’ll let you check it out too. (The other four vids are also well worth the watch. They are short and real witty.)

This is the image that pops into my head when I think Valentina Kerman. Always out there taking part on thrilling new space missions with the most excited smile in the galaxy.

Watch the timelapse here:

DeviantArt link.

New Self-Portrait – Tyr

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September is my month of birth, and as such I like to make a change of profile pictures. It’s good motivation to draw something.

I described in detail the thought process of me creating new profile pictures in a previous post. The short version: This is as close as I ever get to cosplaying, and my pictures reflect a part of my personality or mood I feel comfortable displaying. So though I draw myself more than just once a year, I don’t always apply new self-portraits as profile pictures to represent me.

I was inspired by this years awesome new release, the video game God of War. A former Greek god lives a reclusive life in the land of the Norse gods, and upon death of his wife starts on a life-defining journey with his son (a.k.a. “Boy”) to the top of the tallest peak in all the realms. Along the way they are confronted by numerous members of the Norse pantheon, such as Baldr, Freya, the brothers Magni and Modi, and Mimir who becomes a lasting member of their party. It is from him that the pair learn of the exploits of Tyr, the Norse god of war, who despite his title was actually a very kind, fair sort. The player never meets him in person, but his works are ever present throughout the land, as he labored to keep possibly world-destroying secrets out of the hands of the fearful and paranoid Odin as well as his gluttonous, aggressive and deplorable son, Thor.

Following the inspiration I looked up what was known of Tyr. For a god of War and Glory, he was much more known for being an aspect of Justice. Giver of Law, they called him. The most notable story featuring him was the Binding of Fenrir, where he willingly allowed the giant wolf to bite his hand off, making the sacrifice needed to keep the dangerous creature bound by magical chains. He saw this not just as a service to the gods and all mortal beings, but also as justice to Fenrir himself.

My choosing to become Tyr for this next picture has nothing to do with how I see myself. Based on what I know Tyr is a figure of great moral standards and self-sacrifice. A god known for being just and valorous in all circumstances. I am not like that. I do wish I was though. So this is me depicting my aspiration to be better than I am.

Also we both share very old, mythological first names that have three letters and start with a “T”. So there’s also that.

Picture is available on DeviantArt here.

Comic: The Mars Squad

I’ve gotten back into a Superhero swing of late. My two best friends moved away recently, and while we are still in frequent contact, I still really miss them. I asked one of them for some help inspiring me to draw again. She responded with the following: “How about a drawing about the three of us, where we live on a colony on Mars. We work regular jobs during the day, but in our free time we are Superheroes.” Pretty much all of this idea hit me by surprise, the last bit in particular. I thought it was super silly at first, but the more I thought about it the more into it I became. So much so, that I opted to do a comic rather than just a picture (just like the last comic I did).

Check out the origin comic of this new group of superheroes by clicking the image below!

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You can also check it out on DeviantArt here!

Drawing Superwoman

I rarely see the same movies as others do, even when I watch them. One thing I do with just about every story I experience is change things around a bit in my head to suit my own entertainment needs. I have an active imagination that way.

On thing I like to play around with is the main character’s gender. Superman is my favorite superhero, and I often like to imagine how the story would have been different if Krypton’s last survivor was a girl. If these ideas are fun enough they get drawn.

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And here is the timelapse video:

The story of how I taught kids about Space Travel using a video game

Last week I completed my final exam in Education, and the really cool thing is that three of the major pieces of work I needed to turn in all had to do with video games. My thesis was about teaching Information Society using Civilization IV, my vocational practice was completed at a gaming research group, and my compulsory volunteer work was a neat little project of my own.

I have stated this in several videos I made in the past: If Kerbal Space Program had existed back when I was in high-school I would likely be pursuing a career in aerospace engineering by now. I didn’t discover how much I loved the subject until I was well into my training in Education. When I was informed about the volunteer work required to complete my semester I got to thinking. How many kids could there be out there like me, who might love space travel, but will likely never get exposed to the subject? The thought lead to an idea, and with a wave of determination that is remarkably uncharacteristic of me I set about making it a reality. I wanted to help a group of students make their own virtual Space Program.

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For those of you who are not familiar with Kerbal Space Program allow me to give you a short introduction. Kerbal Space Program is a spacecraft construction and space flight simulation video game with minor business management elements. Basically you build spaceships, launch them into orbit, and fly them in space in a small scale but physically accurate solar system. The game can be challenging to learn only from the tools provided by the developers, however a niche culture has developed around the game, where you can easily find folks on the internet who make guides and videos aimed at helping others learn how to play. I myself have made a good few videos about it as well.

The concept

The concept I came up with was the following: I would organize a group of 8th grade students into a small simulated space program, with the ultimate goal of landing on the Moon before the school year comes to an end.

Prior to the use of the Kerbal Space Program software I planned to hold several lecture style presentations on the history of space travel, the physics and mechanics involved, the organizational workings of space programs, and the basic use of the game itself. Once the students have a good grasp on the basics, we would form three work groups with different roles: Scientists, Engineers and Astronauts (or rather pilots).

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The Scientists would be responsible for coming up with mission plans for the individual missions leading up to the Moon-landing. They would be responsible for deciding where their resources get allocated to, what types of vessels need to be built, what construction plans get approved, and any other administrative decisions. The scientist group could also have some kind of director, who acts as the head of the program in general.

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The Engineers build the actual spacecraft themselves. They would receive the mission parameters from the scientists and construct a vessel to meet the requirements within the budget provided.

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Finally, the Astronauts pilot the assembled spacecraft on the actual missions, and provide feedback to the engineers regarding possible modifications.

Generally a regular loop would look like this: The Scientists would decide what the next step in the program should be (most likely based on a long-term plan). They would specify the parameters of the mission, such as achieving an orbit, a fly-by, a rendezvous and/or docking, and so on. The Engineers would build a craft capable of completing the mission, and start “simulating” the flights. Using the game, the Pilots would perform several simulated missions to see if the craft performs according to specifications. If it does, then the Engineers can submit the craft for manufacture, and the real missions can begin. This is then repeated until the final objective (the Moon-landing) is accomplished.

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I had several “rules” planned to enhance the experience. Every action would have a “cost”, and the program would have to operate within a specific budget, with possible options later on for acquiring additional funds. A “simulation” can be used to train the Pilots and test out spacecraft. Simulations would cost much less than building and launching a rocket, and could use all of the games quality of life features (quicksaves and quickloads, flight reverting, placing objects into pre-calculated orbits, etc.). They would, however, not count towards completion of a goal. For that they would have to fly non-simulated mission. These would use up one of the manufactured rockets, and would have to by flown from start to finish without “cheating” (I’m considering adding some sort of leniency rule for the future).

For the most part students would have full control over how they use their time. After the main goal has been given, the path they take to accomplish it is up to them. If at any point they would require assistance they could turn to me for help. However, in sort of a Dewey approach, I would let the students work on their own, let them figure out the mechanics and tricks by working together. At most I was going to hold a few presentations on common topics involving space travel, and anything that they themselves express interest in knowing more about.

What I ended up with

Even when I first thought this whole thing up I was convinced that there was no making this a reality. The fact of the matter was that it was the spring semester, half way through the school year. The assignment was handed out to me in March, and by the time I managed to get into contact with the facilitating school and got the course off the ground (see what I did there?) it was already well into the middle of April. The school was very enthusiastic about my idea, but warned me that by now most students’ extracurricular time-tables were already full. With not enough time to start the course in full, they offered me an alternative solution.

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This school had something we in Hungary call a Technika-class. Not sure how you would translate this into English, but the point of this, is to teach the students mechanical skills that could come in handy in every day life. Sadly, in this school the class was still broken up into boys and girls (boys learn to use tools and machines, girls learn to sew and cook. Its horrible, I know…), which meant that I would be able to teach only the boys of the 8th grade classes. I hated having to make that compromise, but at least I only had to deal with half a class, instead of a full one.

As the year was coming to an end fast, this also meant that I would only have 4 classes with 2 groups of 8th grade boys (8 classes total, 1 and a half hours each). This meant that I had to radically condense my plan into a four-class set of sessions. I tried to strike a balance between lectures and activities, and came up with a simple four-step path to the Moon.

  1. Achieving Orbit around the Earth
  2. Flying behind the Moon (and potentially achieving Orbit around it as well)
  3. Achieving Rendezvous and Docking of two spacecraft in orbit of Earth
  4. Landing a craft on the Moon, and bringing the crew back to Earth

Each session would consist of me giving a short lecture about the day’s goal, and the students attempt to accomplish it. The sessions were far more directed than the original plan due to the lack of time. I did have to step in and provide direction more often and keep the students on track. The scientist role was trashed, leaving just a group of students to build the ships, and a second group to fly them. In the end though, crammed as the sessions were, we managed to achieve my adjusted goals within the time available.

Experiences

I was happy to see a high level of engagement from most of the students who attended. Once visually showcased, and given the opportunity to mess around with them in-game, the kids quickly grasped the basics of orbital mechanics, and understood how objects in space move and maneuver. During the lectures they had lots of questions and observations, many demonstrating impressive awareness of current developments in the field of space flight.

The individual mission goals were almost all accomplished (one group was unable to fully complete the docking procedure before we ran out of time). Each group had there own unique design of spacecraft (one of the groups insisted on having ships with LOTS of antennas), and both groups managed to land their ships on the Moon (again, due to time constraints, I did have to dock the Lunar Modules and fly the ships back home myself). Here are some images of the spacecraft built by the students:

Group one

 

Group two

 

When the class was finished the students had nothing but positive things to say. They were bombarding me with questions about the old space programs, the future Mars plans and many other things, far too many to get through in the little time we had left. Several students even came up to me in the breaks to tell me they had gotten their hands on the game themselves, and asked me to give them pointers on subjects like atmospheric landings and inter-planetary travel. I had conversations with many of them in the minutes leading up to the sessions about space stuff. Best of all, I found out from outside sources that many of the girls had gotten wind of what was going on in those classes, and apparently asked their teachers to let them take part in what they were calling “astrology class”. (Their teachers denied them, sadly, but it did make me happy to be reassured that girls are just as interested in all this engineering stuff as boys are. I would have been overjoyed to have them.) Both teachers who were present during my presentations had the same reaction: they thought that it was great to expose these students to the subject, which they likely never would have been otherwise. They themselves also were fascinated by the material, and were happy to learn so many interesting things as well.

Thoughts and Conclusions

While I was there I was also trying to identify possible areas for improvement in my concept. While I was thrilled that the idea even in its condensed state warranted the level of engagement it got, there are many things that I need to think about if I want to move ahead with my idea in the future. One of the two teachers gave me a piece of feedback that was really helpful, and was also something I was pondering during the planning phase earlier. For this class I used my own personal laptop, so that meant that at one time only one instance of the game could be running. In an actual session that would mean only one group can do their task at a time, while the others would have to wait for their turn at the computer. I would have to find tasks to occupy the various groups during this downtime, or alternatively I would have to acquire more computers so the groups can work simultaneously (Astronauts can train in orbital maneuvers while Engineers build the next craft, etc.).

I initially thought that the Astronaut role would be the most popular. Surely the most fun comes from being able to fly the ships, right? Turns out that almost everyone wanted to be an Engineer, to build cool spaceships without having the responsibility of guiding it safely along its path. While it would likely be optimal if all students stuck to their initial roles, I should consider options for rotation. I imagine many students would feel let down if they joined the course to be able to fly a spaceship, and ended up stuck in an administrative position for the whole program (though that would likely be very true to life). I have to, at the very least, provide opportunities for everyone to try out the various roles, maybe even before they pick permanently.

Also since I didn’t get to try out this course in its original form I am sure other difficulties will present themselves, and I will have to deal them as they come. It has been said before: Plans are useless, but planning is essential.

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All in all, I can safely say that this Space Class has been by far the best experience of my three years in Education training. Throughout the teaching of the classes themselves, as well as the organization and communication involved, I have grown as a person and a professional unlike in any other activity I took part in. If my future studies afford me the time I would gladly spend more of my afternoons helping get more young people interested in space, to provide them the boost that I wish I could have gotten at that age. I eagerly await future opportunities to send more 8th graders to the Moon and back.