One of the big announcements at this year’s E3 was Rise of the Tomb Raider (ugh, that title) so now seems like a good time to take a look back at the game that kicked off Lara Croft’s crypt robbing career.
Tomb Raider was a groundbreaking 3D action-adventure game, and one of the first titles to star an unabashedly female character, which are totally the two things people remember most about the game. Cough. Here are a few things you might not know about the game that introduced us to the first lady of video games…
1) Tomb Raider was the creation of just six people. Tomb Raider was cutting edge stuff, but back in 1996 cutting edge didn’t necessarily require a staff of hundreds/thousands. The game was created over a period of three years (1993 – 96) by developer Core Design, which, at the time, consisted of only six guys.
Apparently one of the six guys stepped out to the washroom for this shot.
2) The game initially starred a male Indiana Jones rip-off. The initial idea that eventually bloomed into Tomb Raider was Core Design’s desire to do a 3D game where you could actually see your character. That doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but it was revolutionary at the time. Back in the mid-90s, almost all “3D” games were first-person, which allowed you fake things with scaling 2D spites ala Doom. A third-person 3D game on the other hand requires a moveable camera, which means your 3D game actually has to be 3D.
Core eventually settled on the interior of Egyptian and Aztec pyramids as the setting for their 3D game, because it would allow them to break the environment up into a series of small rooms and corridors. Once the setting was in place, it was time to design a lead character, and who better to traipse around Egyptian tombs than Indiana Jones? And thus Tomb Raider, a series that made its name on its iconic female protagonist, initially starred a muscled-up, handlebar moustache-sporting version of Harrison Ford.
Lara should really get her mustache back in the next game.
3) Lara Croft began life as spicy Latina, Laura Cruz. Lara Croft’s creator Toby Gard has joked it became obvious Tomb Raider needed a female protagonist when he realized third-person games involve a lot of staring at the main character’s butt, so to keep him sane through the long hours, he should probably make that butt a lady’s butt. In reality, Core was probably worried Lucasfilm would sue over their obvious Indiana Jones rip-off, and so they needed a new character that definitely wouldn’t be confused with Harrison Ford. A change of gender was the easiest way to do that.
They didn’t land on a winning female character right away though. Early on Lara was supposed to be a bit of a sociopath, who wasn’t shy about killing, had more of a beefy frame and sported short hair and military-themed outfits. Eventually this direction was abandoned because Lara looked too “Nazi-like”. For a while proto-Lara was a flowy fabrics and cargo pants-wearing imitation of 90s Euro-rapper Neneh Cherry.
Eventually Core landed on a design that mostly resembles the Lara we know — long braided hair, tight-top and hiking boots. The only big difference was that this wasn’t Lara Croft, it was Laura Cruz, sassy South American.
Sorry to tease you with what could have been ass-men.
4) There’s an actual Lara Croft living somewhere in Derby, England. The final step in Lara’s evolution came when Eidos Interactive purchased Core’s parent company in 1996. Eidos wanted to give the game more British appeal, so Laura Cruz was out. So, how did they pick Lara’s new British name? The guys at Core, which was located in Derby, England, grabbed a phone book and started looking for names that sounded like Laura Cruz. They landed on Lara Croft and suddenly some random Derbyite had a very famous name.
5) Lara is made of only 540 polygons. In 2013 the same character is made of more than 40,000 polys.
540 very pointy polygons.
6) Lara’s trademark braid had to be cut from the game. The amount of polygons allotted for Lara was so tight, one of her trademarks, the braid she sports in all the promotional and concept art, had to be cut from the game.
7) Ms. Croft’s breast size was, like, totally an accident. Totally. So, according to Toby Gard, he was messing around with Lara’s model one day and accidentally made her breasts 150% larger. He was going to return them to being merely oversized instead of anatomically impossible, but the other guys on the team caught glimpse of the alterations, said Lara “looked better that way” and told Toby to keep the changes. Oh you don’t say.
Hmmmm, why were you just idly messing around with Lara’s cup size in the first place Toby? And sure, the other guys just noticed your “mistake” over your shoulder — you definitely didn’t go running around the office with your Soviet mid-90s laptop showing everybody. But hey, “Lara’s ridiculous boobs were an accident” is a nice bit of trivia, so I believe you, Toby. Totally.
8) The Croft Manor area was built in a single weekend. One of the most iconic locations in the original Tomb Raider, Lara’s palatial home Croft Manor, was hacked together by Toby Gard in a weekend, and based on the actual building Core Design was headquartered in. Yup, in England even small-time video game developers get to hang out in castles.
9) Lara’s decorating skills will melt your face off. Think the Ark of the Covenant is stored in some mysterious government warehouse somewhere? Wrong. It’s actually sitting in Lara Croft’s foyer. Hey, it’s a hell of a way to get lingering party guests to leave.
10) Only six people are killed throughout the original Tomb Raider. Sure, Lara ventilates a good number of lions, gorillas and dinos in the game, but human beings? A mere six die throughout the title. Multiply that by around 100 to get Lara’s kill count in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot.
Who has time to kill boring old humans when you’re sending T-rexes back into extinction?
11) Shelley Blond, the voice of Lara in the first game, only got to play her once. Lara Croft has an iconic look, but she doesn’t have a particularly consistent voice. Shelley Blond only voiced Lara for one game. All told, five different voice actresses have brought Lara’s lines to life.
12) Sony wasn’t going to allow Tomb Raider on the Playstation at first. The Tomb Raider games were a cornerstone of the original Playstation library, so it may surprise you to learn that Sony didn’t want the game at first. Early on Sony was very picky about what they would allow on their new console, and Tomb Raider didn’t measure up to their standards the first time Core submitted it to them.
Because of this, Tomb Raider’s lead platform was actually the Sega Saturn for much of development. Eventually Core would polish Tomb Raider to the point Sony relented and allowed it on their system, but a competent version of the game still ended up coming out for the less powerful Saturn. Unfortunately for Sega fans this would be the one and only Tomb Raider game on the system.
13) “Lara Croft” released two terrible albums that only came out in France. After the huge success of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft was suddenly everywhere — magazine covers, commercials, U2 live tours. She even recorded a couple albums so bad they were only released in France (even though they were entirely in English). Here’s the scandalous(ly sh*tty) single “Getting Naked” from Lara’s first album Lara Croft: Come Alive…
Here’s a song called “Feel Myself” from her second album, Lara Croft: Female Icon.
14) Eight different models have played Lara Croft (not including Angelina Jolie). Of course the Lara Croft albums weren’t actually recorded by Lara Croft, because Lara Croft isn’t real. Rhona Mitra, the model who played Lara Croft at the time, was responsible for them. Hiring live models to play Lara at promotional events and car shows was one of the stranger aspects of the whole Lara Croft phenomenon. The practice started with the release of Tomb Raider in 1996 with Nathalie Cook filling the role, and continued all the way until 2010 with Alison Carroll being the final flesh-and-blood Lara.
I’m going to play it classy and not post the infamous pics where Alison Carrol seemingly forgot her underwear.
All told, eight different women were officially hired to play Lara, and yes, this fact was pretty much just an excuse to post pictures of them…
15) There is no nude code. Sorry guys who grew up during the 90s, there’s no official way to see Lara’s 540 polygons in all their glory. There were, of course, unofficial nude patches for the PC, but there’s no easy to enter built-in code.
Interestingly, Eidos actually wanted a nude code and pressured Core to put one in the game, but they refused. The demands for a nude code was one of the major reasons Lara’s creator Toby Gard quit Core after only one Tomb Raider game (and his absence likely explains the increasing tackiness of subsequent Tomb Raider titles).
So there you have it, the history of the original Tomb Raider, tastefully complimented with a light smattering of boob jokes. What are some of your memories of the classic 32-bit Tomb Raider games? Know any interesting facts I missed? Hit the comments and let’s talk Tomb Raider.
Thanks, as always to Joel Stice for lending me the Fascinating Facts format!