The six-person development team at Core Design were no strangers to game development. Prior to developing Tomb Raider they had had produced a steady stream of fine games for various platforms. Having dipped their toes in just about every genre they were well known and respected in the industry, but it wasn't until release of their most ambitious project that they became a household name.
Eager to explore what they were capable of the hardworking team tasked themselves with creating an entirely new kind of game; a fully 3D action adventure in which players would navigate dangerous environments, solve puzzles and defeat various enemies to succeed. Core Design had to draw on all their experience of developing adventure games, platformers and shooters in a game that was to combine elements of all of them.
3D game environments were rare. 16-bit home consoles simply couldn't support the processing power needed and PC gaming was still in its infancy. However, where others feared to tread Core saw opportunity. PC gaming was growing in popularity and Sega and Sony had recently launched consoles capable of running more complex games. If there was ever an opportunity to establish 3D game worlds amongst the mainstream this was it.
Development on Tomb Raider went smoother than anybody expected. The excited team took to the challenge with enthusiasm and what was thought a difficult project made staggering progress. The core mechanics were established early on, levels and puzzles were created and most of the game's foundations were in place. There was one problem though- they didn't have a lead character.
The test model they had been using was far too similar to Indiana Jones. The last thing the developer wanted was its new title to be labelled a knock-off. Eager for a lead character that would capture the imagination they cycled through countless options. Many ideas and designs were rejected until eventually designer Toby Gard pitched the team an interesting idea.
Gard suggested using one of the female character models he'd created for the lead role. He reasoned that the game design leant itself better to a female character. Most other developers at the time thought gamers would rather play as muscle clad action heroes than a female lead. Gard's idea was risky but the team was keen to be original, in a game already packed with innovations they decided upon one more.
Designs from muscled military women to trendy urban types came and went. No character seemed to fit the bill. Eventually an athletic treasure hunter with dark braided hair, a tank top and hot pants was tested and met with approval across the studio. Tomb Raider finally had a heroine. South American treasure hunter Laura Cruz was born.
Lara may have never existed had Core's parent company not stepped in. Eidos didn't want the Tomb Raider lead to be South American. They thought that a British heroine would be better received in the English speaking territories they were targeting. Laura Cruz's backstory was changed, as was her name. Finally, after countless alterations and revisions the character was settled. Lara Croft, a stoic, sophisticated, wealthy, stiff upper-lipped British Heroine would headline Tomb Raider.
Originally denied a Beta test on Sony's Playstation console the team at Core refused to be deterred. They went back into development to enhance animations and sound, tighten controls and create new mechanics. As a result Lara could do things other game characters simply couldn't. She walked, ran, side-stepped, jumped, grabbed, hung, dived, rolled, climbed and swam through cutting edge 3D environments. Impressed by the improvements Sony agreed to allow a release on its console. Tomb Raider, made its debut on the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and PC in 1996.
It didn't take long for players to warm to Tomb Raider. Revolutionary graphics, inventive gameplay, and an involving storyline made it an adventure game like no other. The ground-breaking blend of action and adventure was unstoppable. Tomb Raider raked in massive sales of well over 7 million copies.
Lara Croft was a sensation. Her ample dimensions and quick wit made her a polygon sex symbol. Gard claims this was never his intention. He wanted a "cool, collected, in control" heroine. Apparently, when adjusting Lara's breast size an accidental slip boosted them by a whopping 150%. The ludicrous increase tested positively in studio and there was no going back.
Accidental or not Lara struck a chord with people everywhere. She was a superstar. Playstation sales rocketed because of her, she was on the cover of magazines, she had her own comic book. Product endorsement offers came in hard and fast. Lara sold Lucozade and toured with U2. Wherever there was a way to capitalise, Eidos took it.
Lara had become bigger than the game that launched her. Unfortunately this didn't please everyone. Disillusioned at how far she had strayed from his vision her creator made a big decision. Toby Gard left Core.
Despite Gard's departure the team at Core pressed on to create a sequel. Tomb Raider II was released right on schedule, just one year after the original.
Tomb Raider II attracted considerable praise. Still considered the best in the series, the sequel included more combat and more levels. This time Lara's journey spanned from the Great Wall of China through the canals of Venice and to the foothills of Tibet. Not only was everything bigger, but dynamic lighting and atmosphere effects wowed players and critics everywhere.
Tomb Raider II was a huge success but couldn't quite match the sales of its predecessor. Despite the improved game failing to generate the same colossal interest as the original another sequel, Tomb Raider III went straight into production.
Released in 1998 Tomb Raider III boasted many new features. New moves, new vehicles, new weapons and new threats made it the most technically superior Tomb Raider yet. It was another hit with fans and critics, sales dropped slightly but nowhere near enough to prevent a fourth instalment from going into production.
With all three games critical and commercial hits and new Lara Croft adventures being churned out annually, Eidos decided to cash on past successes. The two previous games were re-released as Gold Editions, featuring new levels but not much else.
Whilst working on 1999 release Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation Core's staff began to grow restless. Endless work on Tomb Raider titles had left few opportunities for innovation. While Revelation was the largest Tomb Raider title yet it was also the least inventive. Wanting to move on to new projects the team saw only one solution. Lara Croft was buried and left for dead.
Read on for Lara's descent and eventual rebirth in Unearthing Tomb Raider - Part 2.
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