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Published March 11, 2013

Having played through Tomb Raider with a laser-like intensity, I’m struck by one lingering thought: “games benefit immensely from the simplest things.”

I was left with mostly positive things to say about the environments, narrative and gameplay in Tomb Raider, less positive things to say about the characters, but no single thing will stick in my mind more than the in-your-face impact and occasional wonky-ness of the hair-rendering system in the game. My particular narrative with TressFX, the ATi proprietary engine used on Lara Croft’s hair, goes something like this:

“I have to turn on this crazy hair thing people are talking about”

**Turns on TressFX**

“On man, that’s really silly looking, well, let’s see if I can just deal with it…”

**Continues playing**

“Oh, damnit, that’s just too weird looking, let me turn that off so I can enjoy the game”

**Turns off TressFX**


**Turns on TressFX**

Admittedly the hair is over the top, in fact days into the game they posted a patch that, in addition to fixing game crashing tessellation problems, toned down the swoosh-iness of the hair. It really was distracting at first, the effect is much more subtle with the patch changes. If you haven’t seen the hair in action, or you’ve only seen the launch day footage of Lara doing her best Medusa impersonation when the engine freaks out, I’ve recorded a quick clip of the post patch hair in gameplay.

If you found yourself mesmerized, entertained or otherwise distracted from the [non-spoilery-ish] scene you’ll have a good idea of what it felt like to play through the game. Most of the game, for me, was admiring the subtle ways the realistic hair. The tech certainly makes Lara seem more believable as a person, some of the stilted dialogue from the other characters from her crew don’t help their causes but the difference is huge. Mostly for the characters with long hair, particularly Lara’s friend Sam, who looks like a toy doll in game compared to Lara since the render engine can only seem to barely handle one character at a time, according to Gareth.

Think back to some of the characters who could never live up to concept art because of technological limitations. Think of all the female video game characters that had the follow three haircuts:

One strand may move!!!
The Ponytail/Bun
Add goggles for steampunk
Basically no hair
Not a great look...
Lego Hair (plastic)












Not much variety, if you’re lucky enough to get long hair it’s most likely just going to clip through your armor (chainmail bikini more-likely) anyways so you don’t really care that it’s a disgusting static mess of plastic and bad shaders. It isn’t until you see Tomb Raider try out ATi’s hair system until you see how much the effect humanizes a character. I’m sure AMD paid a hefty sum to convince Crystal Dynamics to put it into the game, but I’m glad they’re trying to push away some of the limitations of video game storytelling. They definitely don’t have it perfected but it’s a step in the right direction in my opinion, I hope this is the kind of stuff that makes it to next generation consoles instead of just more polygons.

For some reason Dreamfall: the Longest Journey comes to mind when I think of characters in game no living up to the potential of the character design. I was excited to see April Ryan make a return in the sequel and the concept art I saw really looked like a cool direction for the character. But the result was less than exciting:

…became this. Blech.
Somehow this…












We deserve better, the characters deserve better.

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