Tag: pop culture

Cats In Games: The Magnificent Jaguars Of ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’

Lara Croft has come a long way since the days when she was the polygonal, hyper-sexualized protagonist of the early Tomb Raider games.

Thanks to a reboot the new Lara is a smart, adventurous and brave young woman voiced and motion-capped by the talented Camilla Luddington, and she’s never felt more real. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara ventures to the Peruvian jungle to chase down Mayan artifacts, and among the many obstacles in her way are jaguars.

Gorgeous, magnificent, regal jaguars who seemingly manifest out of the mist and blend back into the green inferno at will.

Here’s our new Lara, now starring in her third game:

The new Lara Croft
The new Lara Croft is a fearless adventurer and archaeological expert who travels the world unearthing clues to humanity’s past.

Like previous games, her adventures revolve around archaeological digs, ancient tombs and uncovering the history of humanity one find at a time. What would a Tomb Raider adventure be without a bit of danger?

Lara Croft
Lara crosses an underground chasm in search of a Mayan relic.

After an opening sequence, Lara and her friend Jonah head deep into the Peruvian jungle. This being Tomb Raider, they can’t land like normal people — a powerful storm sweeps in, sending their plane crashing into uncharted territory.

Lara finds herself alone, lost in the jungle without her gear. The sounds of the jungle reach a fever peach, with birds fleeing branches and monkeys howling, heralding the arrival of the apex predator of the Americas: Panthera onca, the jaguar, a name that translates to “He who kills with one bound.”

Jaguar of the Tomb Raider
“Hey there, could you tell me how to get to Lima?”

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Okay, stay calm! Remember your training! You’re face to face with an apex predator with the strongest bite force of any animal, but you can do this!

Besides, it can’t get any worse at this point.

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Can it?

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Oh shit. Even the monkeys are like “Dayum! Grab the popcorn!”

Don’t panic! Maybe these jaguars are just saying hello!

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Or maybe not.

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What’s worth noting is that these are not cut scenes — what you see here are screenshots within the game engine. For people who aren’t familiar with video games, that means you’re looking at the game itself. This is what the gameplay looks like.

We have come a long, long way from this, haven’t we?

Old Tomb Raider
The low-texture, low-polygon world of the original Tomb Raider games.

It’s a difference allowed by several generations’ worth of improved computer hardware and software, resulting in billions of additional polygons, millions of additional colors, improved lighting, physics, art assets, high definition textures, motion capture technology and all the little things that fuel progress from a world made from flat, blurry environments and cartoonish characters to a hyper-realistic, almost photo-quality world which makes incredible immersion possible.

Most of our readers may not be gamers, but for those who are, I’ll avoid spoilers here even though Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a 2018 release.

Suffice to say jaguars play a prominent role in the game and serve as the Big Bads, the game’s ultimate threat made even more terrifying by the knowledge that they can appear at any time and ambush our hero before she’s even aware of their presence.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a fantastic job of immersion, making all of the dangers of the jungle feel real through meticulously crafted visuals and sound, and a compelling story. And like everything else in life, it’s better with cats!

Buddy In Space: Chapter 1: Space-Time for Springers

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Prepare yourself for epic journeys, mystery and danger in this newest adventure starring Buddy the Cat!

Capt. Buddy of the USS Delicious was leading a routine mission to the Epsilon Eridani system when his trusty vessel was ambushed by the Evil Time-Lord! With systems going haywire, our brave captain was forced to order an emergency landing on an unknown planet in a mysterious star system.

Now it’s up to Capt. Buddy and his loyal lieutenant, Gummitch the Super Kitten, to lead his team of fearless cats on a search for raw materials to repair the USS Delicious and obtain enough reactor fuel for a return to the stars. It’s an adventure that promises thrills, danger, bizarre aliens and lots of Buddy!

Buddy In Space: Chapter 1 available at newsstands in April 1953 for just 5 cents! This title has not been approved by the Comics Code Authority.

Cats In Games: Cyberpunk 2077

I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 lately, as readers of this blog may have guessed by some of the references, and it is everything the hype said it would be: A dystopian story set in a grim, hyper-corporatized, ultra-capitalist future in which the masses worship the gods of consumption, virtually everything that humans come in contact with is synthetic, and nature is a forgotten dream that may or may not exist beyond the seemingly-infinite concrete and chrome of human sprawl.

It’s Bladerunner writ large and interactive, a retrofuturistic nightmare in which people voluntarily have their own eyes plucked out to replace them with brain-interfaced digital lenses and biomechanical grotesqueness is the societal norm. A future in which a person’s life amounts to the price their internal organs can fetch on the black market and the only civil liberties that exist do so by the forbearance of megacorporations.

Even if you’re not a gamer, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the game. It is, after all, one of the most highly-anticipated pieces of consumable media in modern history, and familiar actors have lent their voices and likenesses to the production.

One of the most depressing aspects of 2017’s Bladerunner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, is the utter disconnect from anything natural.

Future Los Angeles is so choked with smog that the city exists in a perpetual twilight gloom. Animals have been purged from the Earth, and humanity has turned to farming insect larvae for protein in processed foods. Vegetation is so rare that the sight of a single sprout near the dusty carcass of an old oak tree fascinates Ryan Gosling’s antagonist character, K.

Drawing heavily on Bladerunner — as well as the seminal 1988 Japanese film Akira, William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997), and even the 1979 action thriller Warriors (which is itself based on Xenophon’s Anabasis from 370 BC) — Cyberpunk 2077 is about violence, hedonism and human greed.

There is no room for the beauty of animals or nature in a future like this.

That’s why it’s surprising to find cats stalking the dim alleys of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City.

Keanu and the cat.
Keanu Reeves’ character, Johnny Silverhand, is quite enamored with Nibbles the Cat.

Nibbles the Cat.
A Sphinx cat in Cyberpunk 2077.

The player’s character, V, can stop and pet stray cats he encounters throughout the game.

There’s even a hidden opportunity to adopt your own stray and take it back to your apartment in the game. Johnny Silverhand, the wise-ass character played by Keanu Reeves, is particularly fond of Nibbles the stray, who can be found amid piles of trash in the hallway outside V’s apartment.

Nibbles “doesn’t really do much besides lay around and take up space,” Screenrant notes. “Basically exactly what a cat does in real life. What an immersive experience.”

In another scene, V is conducting recon on a corporate target with Takemura, a Japanese ally, when a cat slinks by and lays down about 20 feet away.

Takemura says the cat is the first animal he’s seen in Night City, “except for the cockroaches, of course.” Then he wonders if the cat is a bakeneko, a Japanese spirit.

Night City is a technological achievement so impressive that it takes many hours just to get your head wrapped around how big and detailed it is. It’s easily the largest virtual city ever created, but it’s not just about sprawl — the city is truly vertical, from hidden subterranean depths and accessible street-level locales to highways, apartments and offices that claw at the sky, their peaks towering over ubiquitous flying car traffic.

The game is a form of entertainment, but it’s also a warning: This could be our future. Some would say it’s even likely to be our future.

Most of us are disconnected from nature. We’ve forgotten the stars and the night sky, which have been blotted out by smog and light pollution. We have wiped out more than two thirds of all the wildlife on the Earth and innumerable species teeter on the edge of extinction, including almost every example of iconic megafauna, from tigers and jaguars to orangutans, chimpanzees and elephants.

The interregnum caused by the global pandemic has reminded us that we share this planet with billions of other minds, with animals cautiously poking their heads out at the edges of civilization, wondering where all the humans have gone.

It’s fun to play in a dystopian future, but I don’t want to live in it.

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