Interview With a Fan - Murti Schofield

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Interview with a fan

A. Murti Schofield
Profession: Writer, illustrator and concepts designer
What do you love about your job and/or creative work?
I have always been creative either drawing endlessly as a kid or scribbling down masses of ideas that I didn’t always know what to do with. For me the idea of producing ideas and concepts is associated with freedom and excitement. I love being able to bring things to life and to experiment with different ways of sharing what is going on in my head.  And there is never a shortage of ideas. Concepts, stories, characters, images and scenes race through my head most of the time and when I’m not jotting them down in notes I’m working on giving them form in order to communicate them. Sometimes the only way to do justice to such an outpouring of ideas is to take on a project so huge, so demanding that you have the chance to give voice to a whole world of characters and ideas – and my present work is currently evolving in The Shadow Histories, an epic in six volumes, two of which are now available on Kindle.

Do you receive a lot of appreciation or thanks for your efforts?
In the past, no.
More recently, yes.
It being the tenth anniversary of Tomb Raider, Angel of Darkness this year there has been a flood of appreciation coming in for my work on that project and even if it is a bit late it is still very welcome. For example a group called The Lost Dominion contacted me earlier this year through a devious route involving friends and colleagues that I’d worked with on AOD. It was astonishing to me how well they knew the material I’d layered into the storylines and clues hidden within names – and much else besides. And they had really delved into the ‘real world’ historical and archaeological material I’d used to anchor the more imaginative themes, Cappadocia, Prague, sublevels in the Louvre in Paris, Nephilim and so on. They had endless questions about the unused ideas for the follow on games and queried me about the immense amount of background historical material I’d created to build Lara’s AOD universe on. I’ve had some wonderful skype chats with key members of the group and even exchanged some hard-to-get collectors’ items of memorabilia including an amazingly well written novelisation of AOD by Jenni Milward. Check it out.

How did you feel when asked to draft the script for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness?
At the time (2000) I had been working on several large scale ideas of my own (The Cappadocian Aengelus and The Shadow Histories) based around mythic elements and epic story telling over a long time span. Much of it was based in exotic locations and involved archetypes and battles between primal forces of light & darkness. When asked to work on TR AOD I knew I could produce something truly epic, certainly in terms of the underlying stories of the characters and the archaic world of lost artefacts. Also I was obsessed with the mythic underpinning of the archaeological themes that could be explored in a gaming situation. It was like being set loose in Disney Land. I had a free ticket for all the rides! The first year was very exciting and up to that point it was the most satisfying and creative productive period of my life. I could use so many of the personal themes that fascinated me, such as: beings who guide, protect or seek to oppress an evolving human race; ‘real’ events behind the histories that we think we know; arcane artefacts; weird and occult sciences and lost esoteric knowledge of the ancients.

To develop Lara Croft’s darker side did you have to study the biography set out in the different Tomb Raider media (movies, comics etc) or did you just focus on the video game versions?
There weren’t any films when I began on AOD and I had paid scant attention to the comics apart from some of the art which was impressive, for the most part. I was aware of Lara’s back story in the previous games of course, her family roots and her earlier adventures, enemies, triumphs etc. But what I was asked to do was to essentially come up with a reboot of the story elements and overall style, something innovative which yet retained the core ingredients of Lara’s character. I began by thinking hard on what would motivate someone in her position. What would have influenced her life style choices at a more profound level than simply the urge to go adventuring and shooting everything that came across her path? I wanted to look into the inner darkness that could be driving her. And I felt that some deep shadowy part of her past, as yet undisclosed, might link her to some ancient historic forces that had been battling in the shadows of mythic & recorded history. She might be more deeply tied in to the ancient and archaic world than had ever been hinted at before. And that became the starting point of taking Cappadocian angelic myths and the idea of ancient beings that might possibly be linked to her own genetic past. AOD of course only touched on parts of what was originally planned but it gave a definite taster of what lay in store for Lara if the Nephilim story had continued.

A team of fans is working on an unofficial sequel to AOD. How do you feel realising that there’s still a lot of love for the original video game despite all the bad reviews related to it?
I have a lot of respect for anyone passionate enough to take on something they love and use as a springboard to create work of their own. For me this is what being a true creative is about. We all start with some point of inspiration. I used to copy the artwork of the comics I grew up with endlessly, obsessively. It was a way of trying to understand and internalise what made a drawn image or a character appeal so powerfully. The same with stories; writing my own versions of characters and adventures that thrilled me, allowed me to feel something akin to ownership of their worlds. I was participating in the universe they inhabited and it nurtured the ideas of my own that began to bubble up and demand expression. It’s gratifying for me to realise that there are so many fans of AOD that have delved into all the minutiae of detail and hidden clues that I buried in the storyline, locations and archaeological artefacts. If someone wants to take those ideas and characters and explore the universe that was begun in AOD I say good luck to them. Do it. Use your enthusiasm and talents to expand the things you love – and use it as a springboard to give vent to your own ideas and passions.

IP’s which can successfully create narrative storylines told over different media set in the same universe have a huge potential to involve fans in innovative and exciting ways. For anyone with ambitions for their own ideas it is the most potent media approach – if done properly! There are things out there that call themselves transmedia but they are really little more than the same material being adapted and made available (churned out) in differing ways. At best they are token and half hearted offering little that is new.

True interactivity and immersion in a created universe is any fan’s ultimate Nirvana and if a project or character concept can provide different points of entry into that world the possibilities are endless. True transmedia exploitation creates more story layers, more background and playable material, more characters for the fan to engage with. It creates a rich and distinctive story-world that is not dependent only on its main protagonist but generates spin offs and new frontiers within the established mythos. Everything expands from a unified body of work with extensive backstory & mythololgy.
Transmedia is about the live, expanding experience of a story-world and there are many high profile examples of this approach being used imaginatively and successfully. They provide a unique multiple-tiered approach to an IP that allows a fan to enter the realm of their favourite hero or heroine unprecedented before the digital spectrum of choice exploded with gaming.

"At present, video games characteristics embody the most comprehensive medium, thanks to their higher interaction tasks.” Do you agree?
The vast range of subject matter, style, content and personal identification with themes or characters represented in any media shows how virtually any tastes or interests can be catered for. This ranges from the gentle, the challenging and the instructive to the out and out crash ‘em, bash ‘em rock ‘n’ roll nitro-rides of monster mayhem and zombie annihilation. There is a vast gulf of difference between Angry Birds and Assassins’ Creed but they both aim to create an empathic relationship with whoever chooses to play them – and they both succeed beautifully. So it depends on what your punter wants from his or her gaming experience. If you love puzzle solving or building beautiful mandala patterns or blasting six kinds of hades out of an opposing stealth squad your interests can be catered for and you will find immersive gaming products that fit your requirements.

Games are obviously an incredibly powerful media tool, the most interactive and varied available. They shape ideas and social memes and influence what the public comes to expect and demand from their leisure technology. They can be both educational and damaging to varying extents. There is much debate about the desensitising effects on players of violent games and it is worth reflecting on the possible effects of long term exposure to violent imagery and brutalising decision making within games. Constant and prolonged exposure to horror, graphic aggression, crime and slaughter must affect the sensibilities leading to a skewed awareness of whether extreme behaviour can be considered appropriate or otherwise. This is a debate that will continue unresolved as long as people are invested in production of any media form utilising violence. TV and film could have the exact same assertions made about them. It is no condemnation or endorsement to state that they do have an effect on players. To believe otherwise is self deluding and disingenuous.  Whether media should be monitored, policed, edited or ignored is an entirely different debate.

What makes games truly unique however is their interactivity and the potential for deeply engaging experiences. Games have an edge in offering the customer a unique multi-level immersion into a created reality. They also last longer than any film even with a director’s version plus extras.

Another consideration with games however is the undeniable skills sets they encourage in players. Today’s teenagers and young demographics are typically at ease with levels of complexity and multitasking unheard of before the advent of gaming. They can follow detail laden narrative situations involving highly sophisticated levels of multi-tasking. They are skilled in using mobile devices, tablets and games consoles demanding highly evolved multi media cross referencing, puzzle solving and tasking. Films, comic books and novels can all be part of this crossover approach but nothing involves a consumer so immediately and completely as a well produced game can.  If the IP has tie ins with other media and is truly Transmedia there is almost no limit to the exposure an IP can achieve. Players are hungry to be engaged and challenged in a way that shows in the revenue millions that games generate every year.
Copyright (c) 2024 Murti Schofield. Lara Croft and Tomb Raider are the property of Embracer Group AB and Crystal Dynamics (formally Core Design, Eidos Interactive, and Square Enix).
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