Lara's idle actions

Posted May 9th 2010, slightly updated later

Introduction

When you leave Lara standing around and the camera is in a position the game is happy with (it doesn't like the camera too close), Lara will randomly perform certain actions such as adjusting her stance, doing a bit of exercising, and adjusting her belt or gloves. I'll call these 'idle actions' to make the distinction from her basic idle animation in its various forms. They're a nice touch and good fun, and I decided to explore things further. After doing a lot of Lara watching in the name of science, here's my guide to the whole business. While working on this I noticed that Lara also has some idle actions for when she's sitting idly on her motorbike, and some associated with climbing. Those two groups I'll describe separately at the end, but the main focus will be on her free-standing actions.

Free-standing actions described

Lara seems to have eighteen free-standing actions. Or at any rate, that's how many I've seen. I can't rule out the possibility that there are others, perhaps only triggered in special situations, but by now I've done so much Lara watching that I doubt it. Here they are with names I've made up for easy reference, classified into various groups.

Stance adjustment:

  • Left shift - Shifts her weight to her left leg and rests her hands on her hips. Actually her hands look to be slightly off her belt area, not in pressured contact, so this isn't fully convincing despite being her most common action. Lasts about 10 seconds.
  • Right shift - Shifts her weight to her right leg a little, sinking down into it with her arms coming in slightly, and with a slight lowering of the head. She looks predatory and deadly. Great pose! Lasts about 10 seconds.
  • Arm fold - Folds her arms left over right and shifts her weight to her right leg, head tilted slightly to her right. The stance seems identical to the right shift stance, aside from the arms. There's a distinct dip of the head beforehand, so you get to know what's coming next. After the dip, her head angles up then down. It looks like she's mad with her boyfriend or something, so it's pretty amusing and very cute.

Exercising:

  • Forward bend - Interlocks her fingers behind her back then bends over forwards to stretch.
  • Back stretch - Interlocks her fingers over her head and arches back on her toes a little.
  • Side stretch - Brings her left arm over her head then arches over to her right side a little, stretching her left side. Includes clinking sound from equipment.
  • Shoulder stretch - Holds her right arm in across her chest to stretch her shoulder, then does the same for her left. Each time, her corresponding knee flexes. Quite nice.
  • Cracking fingers - Stretches her arms forward with fingers interlocked and audibly cracking, then moves her arms up and bounces on her toes a little. Includes some clinking of equipment, and a sound at the end for coming back down on her heels.
  • Arm swing - Swings her arms forwards, back, forwards and back. This action has a bit too much of a speeded up look.

Item attention:

  • Belt adjust - Adjusts her belt. Includes clinking sound from equipment. One of her briefest actions.
  • Glove adjust - Pulls up her right glove a bit tighter, then her left. However, she does this action even when she's got no gloves (wearing a wetsuit) or only Thor's gauntlets; so that's a bit wrong, though you could perhaps imagine she's adjusting her sleeves.
  • Earpiece check - Seemingly adjusts and checks an earpiece in her right ear, including tapping it twice. Except, she doesn't seem to have one! Not unless it's miniaturized anyway, tucked in like a hearing-aid. Includes sound effects; some clinking from her other equipment, and two taps.

Dusting:

  • Leg dust - Dusts off behind her right leg then her left, ending with a slight brushing action of her left hand against her hip. Smooth and graceful action, though it's a pity there's no associated brushing sounds.
  • Butt dust - Dusts off her right butt cheek twice! Each slap is audible and causes her whole hip area to be pulled round a little in a realistic manner. There's also a clinking sound from her equipment. The slap sound is a good match for shorts or trousers but doesn't really match when she's wearing a wetsuit. Maybe this action is actually meant to be Lara swatting something she's suddenly felt crawling on her, as she does make a bit of a sudden movement at the start.

Moisture removal (rain/water/sweat):

  • Left wipe - Wipes off moisture from her brow with her left hand, shaking her head a bit.
  • Right wipe - Wipes off moisture from her brow with her right hand, giving a distinct and abrupt flick of the hand at the end. Very short action.
  • Shake - Shakes moisture off her arms then her right foot. There's a sound associated with both the arm shake and the foot shake. The return of the foot to normal is not animated well; it sort of flicks back into place rather than moving smoothly.

Raised alertness:

  • Spooked - Looks around to her left then right quickly, arms raised somewhat, as if spooked by a noise. Very good action, but one shortcoming of its use is that she'll even do it when the directions she's looking in are solid walls, or when she's on her boat - obviously inappropriate.

As you'll notice from the descriptions, some of the actions have accompanying sound effects. The rest seem to be silent. A few actions can cause the camera to jiggle a little - notably the arm fold.

Note: Lara also has a fanning action in which she fans her face after doing a lot of sprinting. I'm not classing that with the actions here however. It has a rather different nature (the game even allows you to get the camera as close as you like) and I'll talk about it separately later on.

When and how often do they occur?

As well as simply watching out for the actions, I kept a tally of them and of the situations they occurred in, to try to get a fuller understanding of when and how often they occur. The general picture seems to be this. Lara effectively has a menu of the free-standing actions she's currently allowed to perform, but that menu can change according to situation. In addition, the actions on the menu may have different frequencies, with some being a lot rarer than others - so a lot of players may not even have seen some of the rarer ones. I'll try to clarify all this below, based on my observations.

Relaxed or spooked

When Lara's spooked action is on the menu, I'll just say she's spooked, otherwise I'll say she's relaxed. That'll make it easier for me to explain some things later. She seems to become spooked by almost all threats including the nuisance ones (bats and spiders), but not the kraken in Mediterranean Sea (hey, he's just a little ol' squid, no worries). Killing all threats generally relaxes her, though you may encounter a few discrepancies to that rule. If she merely bypasses a threat, she tends to remain spooked even when it's been left way behind her; likewise if she backtracks away from it. That doesn't make much sense and I'd view it as sloppy programming rather than something intended. Sometimes she relaxes if the threat runs off - such as the first panther in Southern Mexico.

Also, dying tends to relax Lara, even if she was in a spooked state when she got the checkpoint she's reverted to. That makes no sense at all so I think it was unintentional. I suspect what's happening there is that Lara gets assigned the default state for how the developer expected her to be at that checkpoint, as if assuming she'd taken care of any previous threats. Normally that state would be 'relaxed'. Really the game should've recorded her actual state and restored it; but that whole business of reversion is badly handled I think.

What's on the menu?

To answer the question of what's on Lara's action menu at any given time, the first thing to say is that the left shift, right shift, belt adjust and butt dust are always on the menu. When she's relaxed, the menu also includes the arm fold, exercises, glove adjust, earpiece check and leg dust (so, her menu comprises everything aside from the spooked action and possibly the moisture removal actions). When spooked however, those ten extras seem to be off the menu.

As for the moisture removal actions, those are normally all on the menu if it's raining (she seems to continue to do them even in tunnels, in Southern Mexico) or if Lara has been environmentally triggered to perspire; for example by the flames in Croft Manor, or in certain cramped passages such as the one in Croft Manor which leads up to the door lever. However, I've had times in the rain of Southern Mexico where she was doing the wipe actions yet not the shake action, so it's apparently not a case of "all or none" (it could just be a bug of course; the game does have a few of those). The moisture removal actions are briefly on the menu when Lara is perspiring from a lot of sprinting or has just been for a swim.

Frequencies

I already mentioned that some of the actions are rarer than others. It wouldn't take you long to notice that Lara's left shift action is her most frequent. Strangely, her right shift quite a way behind. I guess Crystal Dynamics just thought the left shift looked better. Her spooked action and moisture removal actions are all relatively frequent when on the menu, but her other actions are much less frequent, with the rarest being the earpiece check (if my data is anything to go by).

But let's get more specific. Based on a series of observation periods totalling 9 hours, here are the approximate frequencies of the actions when on the menu, for various circumstances. By the frequency of an action, I mean the average number of times you'd see it per hour. And when I talk about Lara "doing MR" here, I just mean she's in a situation which has put moisture removal (MR) actions on the menu, something I explained about earlier.

First consider the case where Lara is relaxed and not doing MR. I did a total of 5 hours observing for this. The frequency of the left shift was about 82, while for the right shift about 47. The next most frequent action was the belt adjust at about 13, then the glove adjust at about 12. Then came the arm fold and forward bend at about 7, the back stretch and shoulder stretch at about 6, the arm swing and leg dust at about 5, the side stretch and cracking fingers at about 4, the butt dust at about 3, and finally the earpiece check at about 2. When Lara was doing MR (more precisely full MR, involving all three actions) the left and right wipe each had frequency around 50, but for the shake it was only about 30. Perhaps some of the frequencies of the other actions change a little with MR - mostly slight falls if anything - but I don't really have enough data to be sure of individual details.

When Lara was spooked and not doing MR, her spooked action had a frequency of about 81 while the left shift frequency rose to about 92. There didn't seem to be any change for the right shift. The only two other actions are the belt adjust and butt dust. Perhaps those reduce somewhat, but I'd want more observation to feel sure about that. As for when Lara is spooked and doing full MR, I haven't made any observations for that so far, but I'll update this page if and when I get some results later.

Combined frequencies

When Lara was relaxed, the combined action frequency was normally about 204 actions per hour (3.4 per minute) but this went up to about 309 when doing full MR, with around 128 being for MR (which implies a slight fall in the combined frequencies of the other actions).

Differences in Treasure Hunt?

As well as my hours of observation in normal gameplay, I spent quite a lot of time observing in Treasure Hunt. In fact, that was where I first got interested. Do things differ at all in that mode? I can't give a confident "yes" on that - not without even more hours of observation to help iron out some of the randomness - but I did notice one difference which seemed suspiciously large to be due purely to chance. That was for the belt adjust. With Lara relaxed and not doing MR, the frequency of belt adjust in Treasure Hunt came out at about 6.8 (computed from a total of 5 hours observing), compared to about 13 in normal play. Maybe I'll do some more observing to try and be more sure about things just out of interest, but I can't imagine why Treasure Hunt would be different.

Shortcomings

I already mentioned a few shortcomings of individual actions, but here's a bit more on things.

Camera annoyance

It's a real shame that the camera doesn't like you getting too close to Lara to see these actions. When you move the camera too close, she'll instant stop any action she's doing and you won't get any more until you back off. It's quite frustrating because I'd really like to see them closer! In future games I'd like her to do the actions regardless of where the camera is. Oddly, that's currently the case with her motorbike actions and climbing actions, plus the fanning action. So perhaps this camera limitation was unintentional, and might have been eliminated if noticed? I can't see any good reason for stopping an action just because you're getting a closer look at it.

Animation shortcomings

The actions are fun to watch but there's room for improvement in terms of realism. The transitions to and from certain actions are unnaturally abrupt, and the movement in some of her exercise actions is a little too fast, especially her arm swing. I guess you could say that's only in keeping with the somewhat speeded up nature of many of her controlled movements, but I'd still prefer things more realistic (same as with those controlled movements), and it seems inconsistent because some of her actions - such as the leg dust - have very good timing dynamics, very natural looking.

There's also a minor glitch sometimes with her right leg, which you get when transitioning between certain actions (e.g. going from shake to right shift). She can end up in a stance where she's meant to have her weight on her right leg, except that the leg has failed to move into position. Instead her right foot is near her left, so she looks like she should topple over. You'll know it when you see it.

Interference from other programming

Lara's actions can come out a bit wrong in certain situations. If she's looking at something - a dead panther for example - she'll generally keep on looking at it during an action, though you do get some head-turning with the leg dust. That needs fixing; she should do her action without interference, then she can return to looking at the object again. If she's shielding herself from flames or steam, she holds that arm posture during an action (something I noticed in the flames of the prologue) and it's hard to even recognize it. In this case the fix is to not do actions, as they're clearly inappropriate for the situation.

Favourites and ideas for more

As for my favourite actions, the butt dust is a good laugh and really nicely done, and even has that slapping sound effect, so that's definitely on my list! I think Crystal Dynamics must've had fun doing that one; I'm betting it was their favourite too. The arm fold is also amusing because of how she looks so peeved. It would be interesting to know how they came up with that one. After all, Lara is out in the middle of nowhere, so she doesn't have anyone handy to be be peeved with. As such, it seems somewhat out of place - not that I'm complaining. Maybe they just thought it would be funny? Perhaps she's actually peeved with me for making her hang around like this when she's got important things to do. Like she's saying "Can we please get on with the tomb raiding now!". All in good time Lara dear.

Some other actions impress me just for how convincing they look. The earpiece check is great - if you care to imagine she's actually got something tucked into her ear - and again we've got sound effects. Likewise the belt adjust, which is short but sweet. I always like a good leg dust too. It's a pity that one doesn't have a few brushing sounds to go with it, but the movements are beautifully done and she swishes her ponytail about a bit, which is a definite plus for me.

I want more!

I'd say Crystal Dynamics were admirably generous in giving us eighteen actions, but in the next Tomb Raider game I'd like even more to enjoy. What could they be? One obvious suggestion is to have further exercises; lots of possibilities there. But here are some other ideas.

  • Neck rub - Moves a hand up to give her neck a rub. Yes, we definitely need this! She must have a lot of aching going on from all this jumping about and whatnot.
  • Fly swat - Recoils from a fly and tries to swat it away. Ideal for hot climates. I'm picturing it now and I think it could be quite amusing.
  • Shiver - Shivers a little and rubs her hands together, blowing on them, to try to get a bit of warmth going. For somewhere cold, obviously. I found it a bit disappointing that the game doesn't already have a cold-related action, bearing in mind that it has three actions for the rain.
  • Sneeze - Sneezes from the cold. This amusement should be made very rare I think.
  • Yawn - Enjoys a nice yawn while taking in the spectacular scenery. Ok maybe this doesn't quite fit in with the full-of-energy action heroine thing, but I like it.
  • Hair brush - Brushes her hair out of her face a little - or does something cute with her hair.
  • Boot dust - Lifts a boot and brushes some dirt off it.
  • Pistol dust - Takes out a pistol and brushes some dirt off it, maybe buffs it up a little. Nice and shiny now! Would be nice if she lines it up to briefly check the sights too.
  • Photograph - Takes a photo of something with her camera. The game should be intelligent about where she actually points it though. Wouldn't want her taking a shot of a brick wall two feet in front of her for example!
  • Stone kick - Idly kicks a stone on the ground - assuming she's on the right sort of ground where the action is credible. Perhaps the game could make an actual small stone fly away.

They could perhaps even make some actions 'unlockables' (as long as they tell us how to unlock them and it's not too darned hard). Not that I'm a fan of unlockables - I'd generally be happier if games just gave us all we paid for right up front without having to do extra work for it - but it's an idea.

Observation tips

If you fancy going Lara watching to see her free-standing actions, here are a few tips that may be of help.

Getting closer

In places you can see the actions significantly closer than normal - and this proximity also helps in regard to hearing any sound effects of course. I've been able to get views where her body height from top of head to base of boot heel would amount to about 70% of the screen height if she were fully visible (which isn't likely to be the case as she'll usually be cut off around shin height). For a closer view than normal, you could have Lara near a wall or something and move the camera between her and the wall. Or in open ground, you can simply move the camera in towards her along the ground - though it may not make for a great view. There are also lots of places where the camera tends to give a closer view of its own accord, due to things being relatively confined. If you want nice close views, experiment!

Here are a few easily described examples though. The very start of Croft Manor is pretty good. In that first little dead end you can get a fairly close view when things are configured right. Also there's not much background sound, so you can hear well. Another example is in Southern Mexico. When she takes the jaguar head in the first temple, turn her around and face her. That makes for a pretty close view and there's some nice subtle lighting.

Aesthetics

If you're the sort of player who can enjoy just taking in the scenery and atmosphere, you may enjoy taking Lara places just to get nice views of her doing her actions. Especially if you can record them with some capture equipment. Look for nice dramatic shots with good lighting that shows Lara well. I quite enjoyed this sort of thing when doing my hours of observation for this article, and I wouldn't be surprised if I go back for more.

Tip: Any time you want Lara to face in a particular direction, you can do it by engaging precision aiming mode (click the right joystick), then disengaging it once she's looking where you want (click again). I often use that method rather than trying to rotate her with the directional joystick, because of the crazy over-sensitivity of that control, which tends to causes her to rotate a lot even when you make the slightest stick movement.

Unusual situations

Lara is able to do her actions on sloping or uneven ground, and it can be fun to see what some of the actions look like in such places, e.g. with one foot higher than the other. She can also do them when looking at some object or other, which she's programmed to do in certain situations (an artifact, something dead on the ground, the switch box opening a door in Croft Manor, and so on). Again, it can be fun to see how some of the actions come out in such situations. It seems to me that only her leg dust is able to significantly shift her gaze. She'll also do her actions while being shot at by Mexican poachers!

Lara can also do her actions while seemingly holding a weapon in her left hand, which can add a bit of visual spice. You just need to do the persistent weapon glitch first. Easy! This also goes for her motorbike actions, climbing action and fanning action.

Moisture removal actions

If you want to get a look at moisture removal actions, here are a few suggestions.

(1) Start up Southern Mexico. Drive past the first ruins and into the tunnel to trigger rain, then stand her in the rain somewhere (perhaps going back to the first ruins). Great thunderstorm with lots of dramatic lighting! I've spent ages with Lara stood out in that rain. She doesn't mind - she's a hardy girl our Lara.

(2) Start up Andaman Sea. Another thunderstorm, yay! It's a bit odd that the ship isn't rolling about, but never mind, at least she won't get seasick while standing around for you.

(3) Start up Croft Manor and get into the passage that leads up to the door lever (just after where she finds the cassette player). In that passage she perspires. A lot!

Motorbike actions

Lara also has four idle actions for when sitting idly on her motorbike with left foot down (right foot on the pedal). Unlike with her free-standing actions, she'll do these even if you get the camera close. Getting a good view like that is rather awkward because the camera fights to get behind the bike, but you can get some decent 'settled' views with a little finesse, if you're prepared to keep the joystick held in the right place to counter the camera pull. Here's the list of actions. No moisture removal, which surprised me.

  • Left-right look - Looks left then right.
  • Hand flex - Flexes her right hand, and to some extent her whole arm.
  • Boot fix - Does something with her right boot, though I'm not quite sure what. Looks like she might be cleaning something off it, but perhaps she's tightening a strap.
  • Sit back - Sits back and briefly folds her arms.

Frequencies and so on

In contrast to the well randomized occurrences of free-standing actions, her bike actions seem to occur in a semi-regular manner. Roughly speaking, you tend to get an action every 16.5 seconds or thereabouts, except that occasionally you'll get a much longer gap (I've never seen consecutive actions with a significantly shorter gap). This difference from free-standing actions is odd. Perhaps it's simply because the person doing the programming made up their own way of randomizing things, not bothering to make things consistent with what was done for the free-standing actions by someone else?

The combined frequency is about 168 actions per hour (2.8 times per minute). As for individual frequencies, it looks to me like it's the same for all of them, namely around 42 per hour. I saw no obvious difference for when Lara was spooked or in the rain. So all in all, things are a lot simpler than for the free-standing actions.

Climbing actions

Lara also has two idle actions for climbing, each associated with a particular climbing pose. As with the motorbike actions, she'll do them even if you get the camera close - which isn't terribly easy, but cramped surroundings will help. Here they are.

  • Look down - This is for when Lara is holding onto an edge with feet against the vertical surface below. She looks over the shoulder matching her highest leg, then down past her thigh on that same side. There's some clinking of equipment.
  • Hand shift - This is for when Lara has feet dangling when holding onto an edge or a pole or beam. She slightly lifts her right hand then her left, causing slight bodily sway.

Frequencies and so on

Each of these actions seems to occur quite randomly with a frequency of around 336 times per hour, which equates to about 5.6 per minute.

Fanning action

Lara also has a fanning action for when standing idle after being sufficiently exhausted from sprinting. Poor girl needs to cool down! Because of its different nature - which includes the fact that you can get the camera as close as you like - I chose not to class it with the eighteen free-standing actions I listed earlier. It would've been a pain to have to keep referring to "non-fanning actions" in discussing the others. But if we consider it so, that would make nineteen free-standing actions, and thus twenty-five actions in all. Not bad! Here's a description of the action.

  • Fanning - Fans her face with her right hand (fingers splayed), turning to her left a bit (with a more pronouced turn of the head) as she shifts about on her feet. The animation is pretty well done except for the end when she sort of 'locks' back into her basic stance in an obvious and jarring way, which rather breaks the illusion.

As for triggering it, Lara can sprint for about 10 seconds, at which point she becomes exhausted. But if you keep the sprint bumper down to make her run for another 5 seconds or so while exhausted, that's probably about enough to trigger fanning if she now stops. There's also some heavy breathing for a while but her mouth is sadly not animated to match; so if you've got the camera close, the realism is somewhat broken.

Behaviour once triggered

With a normal camera view, fairly distant, the fanning isn't likely to last long and seems to stop completely once she starts up with the usual free-standing idle actions. It also seems to stop if you make her do anything - even the slightest movement. If you have the camera close however, fanning is able to continue indefinitely, repeating on a loop with barely any pause between successive plays, except that as before it'll stop the moment you make her do anything. Why does it continue indefinitely? I suspect that regardless of where the camera is, the fanning is programmed to loop until her idle actions begin or you make her do something. In the case where you've got the camera too close for idle actions to begin, fanning can therefore continue indefinitely (something I'd assume was unintentional).