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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Where have all the heroes gone?
The recent Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival brought together publishers and developers to discuss all things gaming. In the second of a series based on the EIEF sessions, Radio Five Live's Phil Elliott looks at how gaming icons are created.

Image of Lara Croft
Lara - the feminine heroine and games icon
Mario. Sonic. Lara. Three of the most popular names in gaming history, heroes who have captivated millions of gamers for years.

Of course there are more, but those three are far more likely to be known to a non-gaming audience as well, so successful have they been.

Certainly they are all very different. A plumber, a hedgehog and an archaeologist. Plump, cute and sexy.

There is nothing that really draws them together except the fact that they transcended the boundaries of the games they were in.

Some are asking why there are not there more top class gaming heroes. In a market where franchises and sequels prevail, original intellectual property can be a goldmine if successful.

But we seem to be seeing fewer real gaming icons than ever.

Risky game

Ian Livingstone, creative director at Eidos, the company behind Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider games, chaired a session at EIEF about heroes in games. He explained why it is hard to get it right.

"If you own your own content you can control your destiny and obviously make some money along the way by doing so," he told the BBC News website.

"But it's a huge commercial risk, and with the next generation platforms you're talking about development costs of 5m upwards, with 100-man teams and so on."

Image of Sonic the Hedgehog
Blue hedgehog as hero?
If a publisher is going to take the plunge with a certain game, they need to know it is going to succeed, at least well enough to make back what they invest.

Although games are more technically advanced and looking better than ever, are our heroes the trade-off for that quality?

"Creativity can still exist on other platforms," said Mr Livingstone.

You can be as risky as you like with games on mobile phones, interactive TV and the like. It doesn't just have to be about next generation consoles."

There is also an element of "right time, right place" about the most successful gaming icons.

"It takes an awful lot to hit the sweet spot on a mass scale, without them then fading. I think it's good that they only come along now and then, otherwise we water down the value of a character."

In the case of Lara Croft, timing was certainly the key, cashing in on the success of her host console, the original PlayStation, as much as anything.

"She was designed by a 2D artist, Toby Gard, and he'd seen the rise of girl power - Tank Girl, Neneh Cherry and the emergence of the strong, individual woman.

Image of Mario
Mario the plumber comes to the rescue?
"Also the gamers themselves had grown up, and for a 19 or 20-year-old who would they rather look at? A hedgehog, a plumber or Lara Croft?"

We may have to be prepared to get along for a while without too many new heroes. Mobile phone games might have the answer - the Crazy Frog video game is now in development, after all.

Or maybe, with the rise of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) it's up to us to create our own heroes.

What is clear is that with numbers of gamers worldwide rising all the time, and with the gaming industry in the UK worth as much as the box office, the next person to come up with a world-beating gaming hero could become a very rich person. So start designing now.

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