June 28, 2011

Tomb Raider Pole Dancers Raise the Bar...and Turn it Sideways

Just about anybody who's played video games or watched television in the past 15 years is familiar with Lara Croft and her iconic mix of bravery, intelligence, athleticism and good looks. Most of us have probably seen fans dressed as Lara for Halloween, at game conventions, or just for fun—and maybe even tried on a costume ourselves. Today I'd like to introduce a pair of women who take cosplay to a whole new level.

Emy and Bex are students at the University of Bristol and accomplished pole dancers. Their Tomb Raider themed routine recently took first place in a local U.K. Amateur Pole Performer competition. The pair will go on to represent Bristol at the UKAPP finals in September. When Emy posted about their win on my Facebook page, I asked her to do a little Q&A for the fans. I hope you'll find our chat as interesting and enlightening as I did.

Team Tomb Raider
Bex (left) doing a twisted grip Ayesha, while Emy (right) is doing a twisted grip Straight Edge. Coordinating two people on the pole is a lot harder than one, but it looks more impressive. Photo by Eddie Winthorpe.

Stella: I think most people are familiar with pole dancing but tend to associate it with strippers. Not that there's anything wrong with that necessarily, but I'll bet a lot of people don't realize the skill, strength and training it actually takes. Could you talk a bit about the activity in general for people who aren't familiar with it?

Emy: Pole dancing is a novel form of fitness that everyone has different perspectives on. Some consider it to be a sport and prefer to call it Pole Fitness, whilst others prefer the dancey side of the activity, and want to reclaim the phrase "pole dancing" from seedy gentlemen's clubs.

Most people may be surprised to realise that pole sports originated long before gentlemen's clubs.

"The history of pole dancing can be traced back over two thousand years to dances that were performed by women for women and to an Indian sport called Mallakhamb, Chinese Pole, and also side shows in travelling circuses and more recently 'Gentlemen's Clubs'."  –"History & Future of Pole Dancing" ThePolePower.com

The activity has become increasing popular in recent times, with many women finding it a brilliant alternative to the gym, as once you try it, you realise there is NO denying how hard it is; after your first session simply performing a couple of spins your arms ache so much for days after! If you want to tone up (especially upper body and abs) then pole is for you. I can personally testify that as I have noticed such a change in my body since I took up the activity.

The pole community is growing all the time as it is now being offered in most developed countries, with hundreds of studios popping up all the time due to large demand. As a result there are now so many national and international competitions. UKAPP was the first one I entered, however I supported my instructor and friend at Miss Pole Dance UK in Brighton this past weekend!

What a lot of people don't understand about it is that we are actually performing tricks on the pole, often inverted with only arms holding ourselves upside down, which requires an amazing amount of strength and balance. We are not simply grinding around the pole in underwear.

My personal view on it is that it is simply gymnastics on a vertical bar; it is such a shame that it has the connotations it does, and it's also a shame when people refuse to open their eyes to realise quite what it is we are doing! What I enjoy is introducing new people to the sport, and then seeing them get as passionate about it as I am. Showing off on thin lampposts is always fun too, when a group of men walk past and try to recreate the trick, and fail miserably. ;)

With the sport comes many bruises and aches, not to mention the danger of falling on your head! Despite this, the satisfaction of achieving a new trick or the adrenalin rush from performing at showcases/competitions/in public is awesome and totally worth it!

Team Tomb Raider
Here, Emy (on top) has flipped over Bex (on the bottom), caught the pole in what is called a thigh hold, and is then supporting Bex as she holds a no-handed Superman move.

What makes up a good routine and what are some of the challenges you faced in competition? What do you think set your winning routine apart from the others?

In UKAPP this year there were 4 categories: Performer, Intermediate, and Expert for singles entries, then a new Doubles category. In a competition environment, there are often strict judging criteria.

[Here she gave a detailed explanation of the standards for each level, among them being smoothness and proficiency/ease of tricks, fluidity of routine, confidence, costume/theme, dance routine, crowd interaction and fun factor. Some categories emphasize certain areas over others. The Doubles category also gives marks for dancer interaction and teamwork.]

Neither of us are particularly dancey or flexible; our strengths are power moves, or the fancy tricks on the pole. A well balanced routine is more likely to win a competition so we genuinely were not expecting to win, having seen who we were up against! Our main challenges were timing—hitting the moves on the beat of the music—and grip. After a while the pole gets sweaty from hands, and we had a hands-only move—the double twisted grip—near the end of the routine which we were worried about!

There was no bitchiness between competitors backstage. Everyone in the pole community is so supportive.

I think we won because we had a wicked theme! (Although it has been done before by amazing people, check out Chelle Hafner from Australia and Russian Ekaterina Gostevskikh.)

Did you get a trophy or some kind of prize, or is just being the best reward enough?

We got a sash saying "UKAPP Heat Doubles Winners 2011" and a certificate for getting through our heat. :)

Team Tomb Raider
Emy says this pose doesn't have a name, but it was their big finale. As Bex holds up most of Emy's weight with her feet, she then takes one hand off the pole as the music fades out!
Photo by Eddie Winthorpe.

Tell us a little more about the competitions themselves. I guess there are solo and pairs routines. Are there different skill levels as well? How many people compete? Women only?

There must be hundreds of competitions worldwide but generally their structure is similar. UKAPP has never done a doubles category before this year but Miss Pole Dance UK has always had that category. Most competitions will separate out competitors into categories, limiting their moves at each level. (I know all about that since I, along with the Bristol University Pole Society committee, are currently organising a HUGE Inter University Pole Competition for March 2012.)

Competitions are generally for men and women, it's just that it is mostly women who do pole for fitness; which is a shame since men naturally have more upper body strength and therefore are a lot better at lots of the moves than women are. (Grr...jealous! Haha!) However, there is a Mr Pole Fitness competition just for men!

However, at the elite levels, there is generally just the one category, such as in Miss Pole Dance UK, Pole Art, etc. Guidelines are generally similar and focus on flexibility, strength, floor-work/dance, and spin combinations. In fact I just got back from Miss Pole Dance UK 2011 and the winner was incredible. (Jess Leanne Norris only just turned 18 and now holds the title.) The top two singles winners and the top double act (my instructor and my friend, the two Kates, who did an amazing Alice in Wonderland routine) will now be competing in the World Pole Dance competition in Budapest in October.

So you've won the Bristol doubles competition on June 18th. Does this mean you go on to compete at a higher level?

Yes, now we have won our heat, there are several more heats across the UK, and the winner from each category from each heat goes on to compete in the final in St Albans on September 24th. Now we need to come up with a new routine and theme, any ideas are welcome. We want something equally iconic!


June 22, 2011

Tomb Raider Level Editor Beginners' Group

If you've been wanting to create your own playable levels using the Tomb Raider Level Editor but didn't know where to start, there is now a beginners' group on Facebook that can help. My friend Eldin, a long-time TR fan, recently started this online community, which is open to anyone with an interest in learning to use the editing tools.

Tomb Raider Level Editor

To join the group you'll need a Facebook account. Then just visit the Tomb Raider Level Editor group page and click the 'Ask to Join Group' link. If you have questions before joining, you can contact Eldin and the other members through my page.

The Tomb Raider Level Editor is based on the Last Revelation game engine and was released in 2000 along with the Tomb Raider Chronicles game. Since then, players have designed thousands of levels and created dozens of tools and utilities to make level creation easier and more interesting.

George Maciver, webmaster of Skribblers.com, wrote a great introduction to the editor for this blog a while back. You can find it here: "Living in Lara's World: The Tomb Raider Level Editor".

If you don't own the original Chronicles game—or have the PlayStation version, which does not include the editor—it's available as a free download for Windows or Macintosh. You can find the program, instruction manual and links to other Level Editor resources on my Tomb Raider Level Editor page.

June 8, 2011

RAIDERFEST 2011 Music Competition

IndyCroft.com has announced an exciting contest, which I'm proud to co-sponsor. RAIDERFEST 2011 invites musically inclined Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones fans to create an original composition honoring either or both series. This is a great chance to express your creativity and possibly win one of several great Raider-related prizes.

Raiderfest 2011 begins!

RAIDERFEST runs from June 1 to August 22, 2011. Update: The deadline has been extended until September 22, 2011.

Submissions can be any of the following:
  • The fan's own interpretation of the Indiana Jones and/or Tomb Raider themes on a particular instrument (i.e. piano, guitar, etc.) OR a remix of the themes.
  • A lyrical tribute to Indiana Jones and/or Tomb Raider (i.e. a rap, ballad, etc.)
  • Or an original composition by the fan as a tribute to Indiana Jones and/or Tomb Raider.

Prizes:
  • 1st Place: Will have their choice of either an Indiana Jones "Raiders of the Lost Ark" 12" Figure from Sideshow Collectibles OR the Art of Tomb Raider book.
  • 2nd Place: Will win a copy of the Indiana Jones Omnibus 1 and Tomb Raider Tankobon 1.
  • 3rd Place: Will have their choice of an Indiana Jones novel OR a Tomb Raider novel.

Judges:

We're very pleased to announce that we will have three very special guest judges for this contest.

Clint Bajakian: Video game composer, worked with LucasArts from 1991 to 2000. Composed the music for Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, and Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. Currently employed with Sony Computer Entertainment.

Marcus Trogen: Tomb Raider fan and composer, creator of the Dance Raider tributes.

Anna Meredith: Composer and performer of electronic and acoustic music. Has worked as a composer for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and is currently the PRS/RPS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA.

Panel of Judges:

L.E. Croft: Webmistress of IndyCroft.com, Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider fan fiction author.
Stella: Webmistress of BrickRaiders.net and Stella's Tomb Raider Site.
Ostercy: Tomb Raider fan fiction author and webmaster of Ostercy's Tomb Raider Fables.
Jaden: Webmistress of Guns and Grapple.
Marcus Brody: Raiders' Realm moderator.
Scorn: Indiana Jones fan.

Further details and instructions for submitting entries can be found on the IndyCroft.com IndyCroft.com contest page. Good luck to all entrants. I look forward to hearing your wonderful work!

Tomb Raider Makes its Mark at E3

The next Tomb Raider, slated for release in fall 2012, has made a big splash at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, garnering several Best of Show nominations from the video gaming media and giving popular titles like Assassin's Creed Revelations, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception a run for their money.


Just a few of TOMB RAIDER's E3 accolades.

In a conversation with with Gamespot's Ricardo Torres at E3, Crystal Dynamics' Studio Head Darrell Gallagher discussed why the developers chose to focus on Lara Croft's origins and how they hope to tell a deeper story in ways that will encourage players to make a stronger emotional connection with the character. He also touched on the game world and mechanics, and the evolution of Lara's skills and abilities.


In another E3 interview, Global Brand Manager Karl Stewart talked to GT.TV about re-creating Lara Croft. He noted that although there will be some aspects to the new character that should delight long-time fans, this is going to be a brand new and much more realistic Lara.


E3 is taking place this week in Los Angeles. For more Tomb Raider E3 coverage, check into the Official Tomb Raider Blog, where the crew at Crystal are posting regular updates, photos, podcasts, and other good stuff.

A Closer Look at the Tomb Raider 'Turning Point' Trailer

With a keen eye that would make Lara Croft proud, guest blogger Jaden Morretti, webmaster of Guns and Grapple, analyzes the first video trailer for the new Tomb Raider. If you haven't seen the video yet, you can find it here.

Lara's Reflection
"A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary
is in what we do, not who we are."

Those were the words introducing us to the first ever trailer for the upcoming Tomb Raider game. We were promised big things from Crystal Dynamics and the team at Visual Works and we were not disappointed. A short version trailer was first aired on GTTV (on the channel Spike) at 6am (GMT), with the longer version going on YouTube and the official TR site straight afterwards. Inspired by the Bright Falls breakdown (Alan Wake's promotional series looked at frame by frame) by Machinima; I decided to approach the trailer with a similar technique...Also if you haven't seen Bright Falls, go do so, it's pretty freaky.

ENDURANCE

The first thing that we can hear is Lara's voice. So far the voice actresses has not been named. There are a few rumors suggesting a variety of different actresses including the final Lara Croft model; Alison Carroll after her twitter message on the morning of the trailer's release. Personally I think it sounds more like Eva Green who played Vesper in James Bond: Casino Royale. She is younger then Keeley Hawes who voiced Lara for the past few years (2006-2010) and it sounds as though she can also make her voice more innocent and more like Lara in the trailer. Furthermore Lara's voice had a slight roughness to it that reminded me of Eva's.

We are introduced to the trailer with Lara saying the following:

"A famous explorer once said; that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are." –Lara Croft

If you tried to put the quote into Google, you probably wouldn't have found anything a part from some links to the Tomb Raider forums. However the quote which Lara was referring to was made by Edmund Hillary. He was one of the first people to reach the top of Mount Everst and also it was his party were the first to reach the South Pole overland since Amundsen in 1911 (ironically the South Pole was also where the first Endurance 1912 crashed). The quote which Lara referred to was:

"People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things" –Edmund Hillary (explorer)

The Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics logo then appears on a black background which appears to be like camera film which burns away at the end revealing the ship Endurance....

Continue reading on the Guns and Grapple site > > >

June 6, 2011

Tomb Raider Gameplay Demo Presented at E3

Today at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Crystal Dynamics presented the the first glimpse of actual gameplay for the new Tomb Raider. The live demo featured about 5 minutes early on in the game, in which Lara attempts to escape from a creepy cavern. Check it out!


Video courtesy of Gamespot.com, where you can find up-to-the-minute coverage of all the E3 proceedings.

For more info on the game, slated for release in the fall of 2012, please check out past blog posts and visit my Tomb Raider preview page

June 4, 2011

Tomb Raider 'Turning Point' Trailer Introduces the New Lara Croft

In case you missed its debut on Spike TV Thursday night, you can watch the first video trailer for the new Tomb Raider here now. The all-CG video features a young Lara Croft as she sets out on the adventure that will define her.

It's definitely a new look and feel for the long-running series, but developer Crystal Dynamics' Karl Stewart continues to reassure fans that the new game will cleave to the key Tomb Raider traditions. In a recent interview with The Daily, he said, "It still boils down to those pillars: the combat aspect, the exploration, the puzzles, the dynamic traversal and movement in the world. And now, the smart resourcefulness of this young character. . . . You have to take those leaps of faith in order to create something new and different and exciting. We're setting a new foundation, but we're not forgetting who [Lara] is."

Once you've seen the video, please post a comment to let us know what you think.


The video is also available as an MP4 download for offline viewing on the official Tomb Raider site.
Tomb Raider Archives - Collecting all the classic Top Cow Comics
Tomb Raider Archives 4-volume set collects 50 issues of the best-selling Top Cow comic. Order from TFAW, Amazon, or Amazon UK.