All posts by Karen

Playing Tomb Raider from the Beginning: MADNESS

A quick take on Lara Croft in MS Paint; I find doodling in paint to be surprisingly fun. She looks kind of worried that raptors are about to sneak up on her, though.

When I first started playing Tomb Raider in high school, I was briefly obsessed with the game and commented to a classmate that I would love to be a professional tomb raider when I grew up. It seemed so perfect: I had long brown hair, I was kind of a stuck-up bitch, I liked nature hikes and firearms and shiny things, so I was halfway to being Lara already.

Then this dude reminded me that another term for tomb raiding is grave robbing, and that kind of took all the fun out of that idea. It’s kind of like how Pirates of the Caribbean (or any of the dozens of Japanese RPGs that romanticize pirating), can get you really psyched up about the idea of being a pirate, until you remember that regardless of whether or not they’re charming rogues, pirates are thieves. And additionally, they might even rape and pillage. It’s not a pretty picture.

Suffice to say, tomb raiding is one of those pursuits best left exclusively to video games. One of my ideas for game blogging was to play through all of the TR games, in order, and write about them like some sort of adventure game anthropologist. Keep in mind that while this entry marks the beginning of that project, I fully expect to die somewhere in the middle of The Last Revelation— if I’m lucky.

There are several possible interpretations of that statement, all of them macabre.

I'm breaking up this post with some of the TR art I've done over the years, otherwise it would be a pretty unforgivable WOT; you're welcome.

Before delving into the original Tomb Raider as a game, I want to address the subject of Ms. Croft herself. She’s been so incredibly over-exposed as a character that it may seem like there’s nothing left to say about her, but it’s important to note that Lara as she appears in classic Tomb Raider is essentially a different character from the incarnation in the later games and the movies.

Original Lara was a woman of few words, classy as she was concise, and only carried weapons because large jungle cats tended to try to kill her if she wasn’t careful. She was primarily an archeologist and a writer with a passion for exploring, and if she was also an action hero, she performed that role as a means to an end. Basically, original Lara was far more likeable and alluring because you were given very little information about her, she handled herself very capably, and the game really wasn’t trying to hit you over the head with how awesome she was.

I don't think that's really how one should handle firearms, but I drew it, so I guess I can't really complain.

After the huge success of the first TR, from the sequel onwards Lara evolved into one of those obnoxiously self-aware movie badasses, who possesses a huge wardrobe of sexy adventuring gear and doesn’t need much provocation to shoot someone in the head. I wouldn’t dismiss the later games and movies, since there’s a lot more to TR than just Lara, but I think you have to have a sense of this evolution of her portrayal in order to understand my tremendous affection for the original character of Lara– When I say Lara, unless you played this game when it came out, chances are you are not associating the same character with the name.

I drew this when I was going through this odd phase as a teen of putting as much detail as humanly possible into my drawings- that's a lot of rocks back there. Why did I draw so many Laras? I honestly have no idea.

Another thing to keep in mind about her is her age; It’s very telling that Lara was conceived of as a character who was around 30 years of age, if not older. By any reasonable standard that’s still pretty young, but when you sit back and think about it, it’s astonishing how rare that is in video games. The last thing I ever want to do is go on some sort of indignant feminist rant (seriously, if I ever start doing that, just shoot me. Like an injured race horse), BUT, the fact remains that women tend to stop appearing in games after they hit the ripe old age of 18, or early 20s at the latest. It’s getting a bit better now- in Metal Gear Solid 4 for example, both Meryl and Naomi are supposed to be post-30 and still babes, if professional ones–but in 1995, usually the only females above a certain age were the apron-adorned mothers who stayed in the house in Japanese RPGs, and sometimes doled out fruit and/or free healing.

This is actually one of the oldest drawings I have scanned into my computer- I think it's circa '97 or so. I kind of miss the heavily Image Comics-inspired style I had at that time. It was ridiculous, but it was so much fun.

In the case of Lara, the developers were forced to make her a little older because the character type they were going for was so experienced and erudite that making her too young would have rang false. That presumed experience and intelligence is very appealing in a character, at least if you’re like me and are tired of playing as either plucky ten year old boys, or virile special forces types who wouldn’t know a book if it bit them on their well-muscled gluteus maximus.

Like Final Fantasy VII, Tomb Raider is a game that you can’t really give it’s proper due without taking into account the zeitgeist of the time. Many of the features that were so innovative at the time have become bread-and-butter features in games with any sort of adventure component, and the things that made us miss sleep to play it in the mid-90s are hard to even imagine now. I remember being motivated to beat the next set of levels as soon as a I could so I could see the next FMV of Lara in action, because you only got one cinematic for hours upon hours of gameplay, and as a result, every single one was critically important to the plot.

Today, the overabundance of video game cinematics has become such an epidemic that we rate scenes on a kind of Kafkaesque “Sandwich scale”, or how many sandwiches you could make and consume while the characters on your screen preen and emote like first-year drama majors and generally refuse to SHUT THE HELL UP.

The sparse use of music in TR caused you to have strong emotional connections to individual music cues, whereas now games have full Hans Zimmer scores and hearing a full orchestral track in the background of the most mundane parts of a game is completely normal. The graphics had just reached the level where you could believe you were in an immersive world if you engaged your imagination and pretended that ammunition totally would be at the bottom of a pristine mountain lake and the whole world is made up of squares– nowadays, if you have to use your imagination at all in most games, the graphics have failed. The world of TR was like an impressionist painting, the graphics we see now are a hyper-real simulation. It’s a very different aesthetic.

At the time, TR opened the door for the future of gaming, while thematically being based on nostalgia for the past. You were using the newest technology of the time to explore the ruins of human civilization, and there was a certain reverence there for the past that was moving in a way that I’ve never encountered in another game. The TR franchise, and others as well, have explored environments drawn from lost cultures since, but never with the same perfect meeting of the future and the past. Current game environments tell us with authority what they think the past was like; the blocky, pointellistic environments of Tomb Raider were not a statement, but a suggestion: Wouldn’t it be nice if it had been like this?

Note: This, and the first three level entries, were originally posted on my Destructoid blog, Gaming Goddess. Since I lost a few of my posts the last time they updated their site, I decided I should move it here for posterity. Yes, I do intend to continue blogging TR, I was just busy for a while….

Clearly, the Doctor is Sailor Moon

So, I’ve been out of this anime-blogging thing for a while. Obviously, I should herald my return by doing something highly topical, like a proper academic-type analysis of the soon-to-be-concluded Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt– well, actually I’m probably never doing that, but if any of you decide to, by all means send me the link; that sounds promising (and probably, no longer strictly legal in Tokyo.) Alternately, I could ponder the deeper meaning of Ika Musume; can the squid truly invade us, if the squid is so adorable that we want to be invaded by the squid? Aren’t we, at that point, a world of dedicated squid-enablers?

But no, I laugh in the face of concepts like “topical”, and instead will compare the main character of a low-budget British TV show only partially known to otakudom at large, with the heroine of an anime that has now been off the air for thirteen years. Seriously, ever since I realized that a lot of the same tropes applied to both the Doctor and Sailor Moon, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head, and if I’m NOT going to care about being topical, I suppose it’s as good a place to start as ever.

Hell, all you need to do is put the Doctor in a skirt and he is Sailor Moon (insert your own Scottish kilts joke, I have enough to do here), and in case you’re not immediately convinced, here are my top ten reasons why the two are practically the same person. Keep in mind, these are only the TOP ten; I didn’t even have room for Cute Daughters that Are Nevertheless Deeply Wrong, Skydive First-Think Later, and several other more meta observations best left unsaid…well, better left unsaid just because I don’t want Eleventh Doctor fans too mad at me.

1. The Whole Damn Universe Revolves Around Them

He’s just so important, he can’t go anywhere without a massive source of light emanating behind him. Seriously, what is that? There’s this mysterious field of light behind him in every single DW promo image.

True, on television the character who lends their name to the title does tend to be important as a general rule, but this is just ridiculous. Both characters are the most important person in their respective universes by a ridiculously wide margin, which wouldn’t even be so bad if we weren’t constantly being hit over the head with it.

I mean, is it not enough that Sailor Moon was the Princess of the Silver Millenium? Does she really have to be the prophesied Messiah as well? And I thought “The Oncoming Storm” was a fitting sobriquet for the Daleks to give the Doctor, but then they started adding “Destroyer of Worlds” and stuff, and it just started getting silly.* Actually, it was always silly, but it crossed a certain threshold of acceptable silliness.

Let me put this another way: I’m cool with the fact that the two characters basically stand in for God in what would otherwise be godless universes (it’s part of the charm), but I could do without the big neon sign that says “Look, it’s our idealized version of God!” The Doctor is a particularly bad offender in this category; at least Sailor Moon only has unspoken dominion over the solar system, not the entire universe/multiverse.**

*Seriously, Series Four of DW makes SO MUCH MORE sense if you just assume the Doctor’s name is Yahweh.

**I just remembered Sailor Cosmos…fuck. Well, I guess they’re even more alike than I thought.

2. If it’s Wednesday, I Must Be Psychic!

Either both characters can’t be bothered to remember what superpowers they have at any given moment, or their abilities really are only available on alternate Tuesdays or something. Can Sailor Moon fly? Well, sometimes she can when she has wings, but not always.

Can the Doctor read minds? Apparently, but for some reason, he never remembers that he can do that when it’s time to solve a murder mystery. Instead, he prefers to let multiple people die and figure out who the murderer is by process of elimination. Oh, and come to think of it, Sailor Moon can do the whole Professor Xavier thing too, but only when she’s possessing the body of her past self from the future, or whatever was going on at the end of Sailor Moon R.

As frustrating as this is for me from a continuity standpoint, it’s gotta be extra annoying to the kids these shows are supposedly targeted at- can you imagine? “Who’s your favorite superhero?” “Sailor Moon!” “Cool, can she fly?”, “….sort of?”

3. I Liked You So Much Better in the Future

Both characters are constantly being told how much smarter/better/more awesome future versions of themselves are; Sailor Moon hears it from her future daughter, and the Doctor hears it from his future wife, River Song. I’m going to keep assuming River Song is his wife until they do that inevitable “Gotcha! You didn’t see THAT one coming!” story where it turns out she’s actually the love child of Amy Pond and the heart of the TARDIS or some such bullshit.

Now, in Chibiusa’s defense, she’s a kid; we would probably all be a little non-plussed if confronted with the ditzy tween-aged version of our own mothers. But what’s River’s excuse? All she does to the Tenth Doctor is tell him what a disappointment he is compared to his future self, and I would totally know what she was like with the Eleventh Doctor if a powerful sense of not-caring didn’t stop me from zoning out during half of Series Five.

4. I Get By With (So Little) Help From My Friends

Wow, that’s a lot of people! Quick, divide the number of characters by everyone who has ever done anything useful that Sailor Moon couldn’t have done herself; I’ll wait. I hope you remember your fractions….

Both are surrounded by huge teams of people who are unfailingly attractive and charismatic, and even try to be helpful, but are usually pretty damned useless when push comes to shove. Really, what do the other Sailor Senshi really accomplish after about the second season of Sailor Moon? What has any companion ever accomplished on Doctor Who, other than keeping the Doctor from going insane with boredom?

Well, actually after The Waters of Mars we know that the Doctor needs his buddies around to keep him from giving into total megalomania, so the whole idea of there being a sentient warm body around him is valid and all, but individually, they’re all still pretty useless.

There are exceptions to every rule: Sailor Moon has Sailor Saturn, who can destroy the world if she feels like it- always a good trump card to have- and the Doctor has Donna, who is just general-purpose awesome. And Amy, who occasionally experiences flashes of Highly Scripted Insight, which I guess still counts for something even if it makes me groan.

5. In the Name of the TARDIS Love Justice Blah Blah Blah

Both tend to stand around making highly impractical speeches and expect all opponents/monsters/etc. present to stand at attention and listen to them. In both cases, I think the opponents/monsters/etc. only listen because they simply cannot believe the amount of sheer chutzpah on display.

Sailor Moon has the same basic thing that she says, with minor variations; the Doctor uses a larger variety of bigger words, all the while basically saying the same thing: “I’m the Doctor, and you’re going to listen to me because if you don’t, I’ll SCIENCE! up a super-ray to destroy you, which doesn’t count as using a weapon because I had to make it out of toothpicks and spit.”

Speaking of which….

6. Eat My Pacifism

Both characters are so horrified by the thought of even one person dying, they will allow for the deaths of millions of people to stop the unbelievably horrible thing of even one person dying. Sailor Moon was willing to risk the entire world dying for the sake of Hotaru, since she simply couldn’t believe that one little girl could have to die for the sake of the universe, and the Doctor routinely causes the deaths of tons of people due to his refusal to not carry any weapons, because life is just so precious. Never mind that his buddies often decide to turn themselves into human bombs for lack of other options.

Admittedly, Sailor Moon hasn’t committed xenocide (that we know of…although that Neo-Queen Serenity always did strike me as a take-no-prisoners type), so the level of hypocrisy is not quite the same order of magnitude, but it’s definitely there. In all seriousness, part of my problem with post-Journey’s End Doctor Who is that they really haven’t dealt with all the issues they raised about the Doctor’s Pacifism-that-isn’t: They’ve exposed it all as a convenient fiction, and now we’re supposed to watch while he makes his “I don’t use weapons” speeches like we don’t know?

7. Oral Consumptive Tendencies

On a lighter note, both characters have an odd habit of continually shoving things into their mouths- Sailor Moon because she’s a glutton, and the doctor because he’s always using his taste buds as tools for scientific analysis. The reasons may differ, the visual effect is much the same.

8. Snazzy Transformation Sequence

Transformation sequences get increasingly complex (and well-animated!) with each successive form in both cases; Sailor Moon’s are more visually appealing, involving figure skating moves, but the Doctor’s transformations have been known to light things on fire, which is much cooler. Of course, adding a few layback spins to the transformation sequence from Ten (David Tennant) to Eleven (Matt Smith) is quite possibly the only thing that could have made The End of Time even gayer, and I mean that in the best possible way.***

Of course, there are differences- Sailor Moon transforms constantly, whereas the Doctor only transforms whenever the lead actor gets a yen to perform Shakespeare and star in every three-hankie drama featuring Scottish folk with cute accents the BBC can crank out, but now that they’ve gotten rid of the limit on his “allowed” regenerations, that may change. Furthermore, Sailor Moon transformations have partial nudity- although if you include the “transformation” of a severed hand into MetaCrisis Doctor (who formed quite noticeably without pants of any kind!) this requirement is met as well.

***Considering the fact that all the homo-eroticism was the main thing that story had going for it.

9. Magic Wands are Magic

Both use wands (and if you don’t think the sonic screwdriver is a magic wand, I really don’t know how else to describe it), except while Sailor Moon’s wands are only useful for specific things in specific contexts, the Doctor’s wand can pretty much do anything the writers need it to do at any given moment, making it even more magical. Needless to say, both get periodic upgrades, which generally involve getting bigger.

10. I Feel a New Me Coming On

As far as different incarnations/forms go, Sailor Moon has Usagi, Prism, Crystal Cosmic, Super Sailor Moon, Eternal Sailor Moon, Princess Serenity, Neo-Queen Serenity, and…I think there are more, but let’s leave it at that. The Doctor has incarnations 1-11, as well as MetaCrisis Doctor (also known as Hand! Doctor), DoctorDonna, the Valeyard, the Dream Lord, and probably many more I would know about if I’d watched more of the really bad classic series episodes that just exist to make the new series look better.

Of course, you can make the argument that the Doctor’s incarnations have different personalities and mannerisms, while most of Sailor Moon’s forms are all basically the same thing with a fresh coat of paint. But so what? How much more evidence that these two characters are two peas in the proverbial pod do you need, exactly?

Next time: something at least somewhat more topical. It would kind of have to be.

Fanart: Sophitia, Soul Caliber


I drew Sophitia from the Soul Caliber series for Rangoric’s (my fiance’s) birthday. The upshot of this was that I had an excuse to study her character model in SC4; I knew the character models were detailed, but wow. Sometimes it floors me how far videogame graphics have come since I’ve been aware of them. I started playing games during the PS1 era, and I think I still see game graphics in that level of resolution in my mind’s eye. Then I start looking at the details on Sophitia’s belt, and it’s like “Really? This is now possible?”

Fanart: Gwen, from Odin Sphere

I used this fanart as the header back when I was cblogging for Destructoid, many moons ago. I have a dark secret though: I never actually finished Odin’s Sphere. I’ve been slowly chipping away at it since 2007, and I’m up to the final endboss sequence. I think I reached the point where I realized I would have to level Mercedes (or maybe Oswald?), put the controller down and didn’t want to think about it for much longer. I’ve probably played through Gwen’s book about five times by now, however.

Another colored pencil piece that came out pretty smooth, considering.

Knight of Sterling

This was the first drawing I did of the Knight of Sterling, who is obviously related to the Sterling comic. How exactly, I cannot say (whooooooooooo.)

I really love the look of medieval armor, and I wanted to do a version of it that looked feminine without being completely impractical- as in, closer to actual armor than an armored bathing suit. I think I’ve drawn around 6,037 versions of the Knights armor at this point, with all sorts of different options, but they all look something like this.

Fanart: Izuna, Unemployed Ninja

A fairly nice Izuna from Izuna: Unemployed Ninja. This is one of my favorite self-drawn fan pictures, because it came out pretty much exactly like I wanted it to. Usually, even with drawings I really like, I see things I could have fixed a few days later, but every time I look at this one I just smile. Actually, I think a lot of my fondness for the Izuna franchise comes from the fact that I now associate the character with this drawing, and the feeling it gives me.

Ah happy art feelings for once, instead of angsty-art feelings! Need more of that.

Original Art: Naia, Dark Juice Box

Naia is one of many characters from a fantasy project called Dark Juice Box that I fiddle with now and again. I love DJB, but I’ve never come to a consensus of opinion about what I want to do with it- even if time weren’t an issue, I don’t know if I’d really want to do it as a comic. It might work okay as one of those tween-oriented novels with illustrations, but I’ve tried writing it as prose and it doesn’t seem to work. Meanwhile, it’s spawning more and more characters, and the mythology is getting more and more involved, so it’s going to have to go SOMEWHERE, someday.