In the beginning, Lara Croft was a coward.
Now, before you jump down to the comments and start flaming, this was the plan by Crystal Dynamics when the game developer started working on the latest addition to the venerable "Tomb Raider" franchise.
Their goal was to take you back in time, before the cool gadgets and the clever phrases and the butt-kicking and the Angelina Jolie movies, to show how Lara became the action/adventure heroine everyone knows.
In this reboot, also called "Tomb Raider" like the original 1996 game, Lara and her crew are investigating reports of strange events on an island near Japan. Their boat is caught up in a storm and is torn apart, stranding the castaways on the island to fend for their survival. Lara is separated from the rest of her party, and the adventure begins.
This Lara is young, timid and unsure of herself when the game begins. Only by necessity, through fighting for her survival, does she gain confidence and become the can-do woman familiar to legions of gamers.
"Tomb Raider's" developers knew that they faced challenges in portraying such an iconic figure so differently from what people are used to seeing.
Even Croft's famously pneumatic body has been toned down to something more realistic.
Lead writer Rhianna Pratchett said her team wanted to explore Lara Croft's character beyond her physical accomplishments.
"We were taking a little bit of a risk showing her when she wasn't a full-blown tomb raider," Pratchett said. "Everyone associates Lara Croft in 'Tomb Raider' as being exceptionally capable, all the guns, the gadgets, the witty one-liners. That's where our Lara is on the way to being, but we wound up so that those traits are still there, but they're buried below the surface."
Creative director Noah Hughes said the goal was not to recreate the Lara Croft character but to show her at her genesis -- to tell the story of where Lara had come from.
"She was still going to be a lot of the things she always was. She's brilliant; she's resourceful; she's athletic; she has an incredible force of will; she's an archeologist," Hughes said. "All of these things were going to be true, but we were going to roll it back to a point where she didn't have the confidence or competence or even the same belief system that she would eventually develop."
This more vulnerable Lara still does things that most "normal" people wouldn't do, like pull a piece of pipe from her wounded torso. But she is also portrayed as someone who needs reassurance and talks to herself in order to build up her own self-esteem.
"It was important that we showed this more realistic, more human side of Lara," Pratchett said. "She is vulnerable, because she's human and she's in very traumatic and chaotic circumstances in which she has to get her head around and deal with it."
Pratchett points to the first time Lara has to kill someone.
"It has quite a big impact on her. Something she has a big reaction to," she said. "It's very up close, and it's very personal, and it's uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable. It's death."
In fact, Lara throws away her gun and nearly throws up because she's taken a life -- although she later goes back to get the weapon. Later, when talking about it with another character in the game, players get the sense of the journey they are about to experience.
"She says it is scary how easy it was" to kill someone, Pratchett said. "That's an important moment for her character, because it addresses how killing does become at that point easier. And she's uncomfortable about that, too. It speaks to something within her that's darker."
There are other moments of emotional conflict and self-doubt as the game progresses, marking the internal struggles Lara is going through.
"She knows if she thinks too hard about what she's doing, what she's becoming, then it is going to incapacitate her," Pratchett said. "But you can use combat design to underline what the characters are going through."
Crystal Dynamics' goal wasn't to make Lara less of a strong character but to show how those iconic traits about Lara were forged.
"Lara is still a bold and strong female character, and just because you show someone in circumstances where they seem more vulnerable, it doesn't make them less of a strong character," Pratchett said. "It's important that she's brave, but bravery has to come from somewhere. You can't have bravery without fear; otherwise, it is somewhat meaningless.
"What we wanted to do was show where traits like her bravery, her compassion, her resourcefulness really came from."