Tomb Raider is a series of video games based around a fictional British adventurer named Lara Croft. First published in 1996 by Eidos, the game became a phenomenal worldwide hit and resulted in ten sequels, as well as a crossover into books, comics, two major motion pictures, and an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for most real-life stand-ins of a video game character.
The term tomb raider, although coined for the game, has since evolved into a mildy-derogatory title for a maverick archaeologist or as a term describing anyone who breaks into tombs or cemeteries for the primary purpose of looting and/or vandalism.
Tomb Raider first began as a series of drawings and an idea by Toby Gard, a video game designer for Core Design, a small studio created in 1988 in Derby, England. By 1989, the company had created and sold their first game, Rick Dangerous, a side-scrolling adventure in which the title character goes after hidden artifacts. But the game was meant primarily for computers (the PC and Amiga), and a new game console - the Sony PlayStation - was making its first appearance in stores. A meeting convened by company founder Jeremy Heath-Smith began with what Core Design could do to take advantage of the PlayStation's features and graphics. "Toby stood up and said I've got this idea about doing a game based on pyramids", Heath-Smith recalled. "I've always wanted to do a game based around pyramids. For some reason I really fancied this idea about pyramids with a Pharaoh, and having to go tunnel under the pyramids. It was just as silly as that. It didn't have characters, it was more just conceptually let's do a game based on pyramids".
Tomb Raider went to the layouts in 1993. Side-scrolling was not considered; they wanted a 3-D perspective. They considered, then tossed out, the first-person shooter concept that was a part of games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3-D. What they settled on was a "third-person" perspective, allowing the player to see and interact with the character in a 3-D environment. The project would not be with some hurdles. "Although Jeremy liked the idea, there were no programmers that would touch it," Gard said. "They all thought it was too difficult because at the time no one had done anything like it. Nobody in the company had done anything 3D. The whole idea was just terrifying to programmers".
The designers called for a game with elements of puzzle-solving and exploration, fitting in with the "pyramid concept", and naturally, the lead character would be an archaeologist. They also wanted plenty of action and an epic story line to tie everything together. And the lead character was changed to a woman, after the first initial drafts bore too much of a resemblance to LucasFilm's "Indiana Jones", which had to be changed rather quickly to avoid a lawsuit. At first rejecting "muscle women" and militants with a blond, "Nazi" look, Gard settled upon a tough South American with a long braid he initially named "Laura Cruz". Hitting resistance from Eidos, Core Design's parent company, Gard went with their request that the character be British, and soon, "Lara Croft" - with the riches and pedigree of an English lordship - was created. The addition of in-game cinematics tied to the storyline was another first, and in November 1996 Tomb Raider was released, becoming a number 1 hit within hours and staying in that position for months.
As Tomb Raider became a phenomenon, critics of the game clamored for attention. Feminists and scientists were critical over her physique: a large-breasted, well-proportioned woman who seemed too perfect making seemingly impossible moves within the game, never mind the fact that her chest size was the result of an accidental mouse click which was ordered to stay before creator Toby Gard could revert it. Animal rights activists also had their say, complaining of too-much animal-involved killing, despite the fact that many of the animals gunned down by Lara were represented by the mythological (centaurs, and dragons), or the extinct (Tyrannosaurus rex), or the impossible (mummified cats and monstrosities of human experiments). Eidos easily ignored the criticisms as their profit margin jumped to over $14 million in less than a year as a result of Tomb Raider; prior to that, they were looking at over $2 million in deficits and possible bankruptcy.
Protecting the brand
Hackers were also attracted to the game, but in a more sinister fashion. About 1998 a "nude raider" patch was released which allowed to gamer to install and play an undressed version of Lara Croft for several levels in the first three games of the series. In a move to protect the integrity of their character, Eidos had initiated a crackdown against websites which had hosted the patch, threatening or actually bringing legal action. In a similar move, Eidos successfully demanded the removal of the Tomb Raider logo and the name of Lara Croft from the cover of a 1999 edition of Playboy after that magazine published a photo featuring the third model of the franchise, Nell McAndrew, whose contract with Eidos was promptly terminated.
Despite this level of protection, Eidos apparently had recognized Lara as a sex symbol before any thought was given to creating a sequel to the first game, and put her image on posters, advertisements, and magazine covers scantily-clad. Opposed to it all was Toby Gard; to him Lara Croft was a cool, refined, confident character who wouldn't do any of that, but his views regarding his creation were overruled by the company, who actually owned it. In disgust, Gard left the company in 1998.
The Croft "biography"
Keen interest in the game by fans resulted in a "biography" of Lara Croft, of which small elements made it into the games. Officially, she is the Duchess of Abbington, the daughter of aristocratic archaeologist Lord Henshingly-Croft and Lady Angeline Croft; an 11th-generation countess born on February 14, 1968 to a family that was granted the title and rights to Abbingdon, Surrey by King Edward VI in 1547. She was privately tutored before graduating Wimbelton High School for Girls at the age of 16. She was then sent to Scotland for Gordonstoun Boarding School for two years, taking up activities not related to a girl's finishing school (such as rock-climbing and mountaineering); she was expelled from it after showing "too keen an interest" in shooting. She went to a Swiss finishing school at 18, but a school-sponsored trip to the Himalayas ended in a tragic plane crash deep in the mountains. The only survivor was Lara, who walked into a village some two weeks later. She afterwards realized that she was only alive when she was adventuring and away from the confining lifestyle of upper-British society.
Her father's untimely death left Lara in possession of Abbington, and from there she devotes time - officially - to archaeological pursuits, and she is credited with at least fifteen major discoveries. However, she has been criticized by other archaeologists and government officials for what they call her irresponsibility on the sites, such as destructive methodology or neglecting the documentation of her findings; some have suggested that she is a "glorified treasure hunter" who has removed potentially-valuable artifacts before informing officials of the locations they have come from.
Her income from writing supplements her lifestyle, and her books on travel include A Tyrannosaurus Is Jawing at My Head and Slaying Bigfoot.
Core Design era
Tomb Raider (1996)
Tomb Raider opened with Lara Croft receiving an offer from Jacqueline Natla, head of Natla Industries, about searching a Peruvian tomb for an artifact known as the Scion. While in the act of recovering it, she not only discovers that it's in three pieces in different parts of the globe, but realizes that Natla and her henchmen will stop at nothing to get it, and with it re-create Atlantis.
Subtitled The Scion of Atlantis, the game was soon followed by a gold edition that contained a pair of sequels: "Unfinished Business", where Lara returns to Atlantis to stop alien invaders; and "Shadow of the Cat", in which she has to return to Egypt to retrieve a statue in the city of Khamoon.
Tomb Raider II: The Dagger of Xian (1997)
Marco Bartoli is the megalomaniac leader of Fiamma Nera, and Lara discovers in Venice that among the objects he desires is the Dagger of Xian, rumored to be hidden within the Great Wall of China, and rumored as well to give its bearer the power of a dragon. The Dagger of Xian immediately became a best-seller upon its release, surpassing the first game in sales, and it still remains the largest-selling game of the franchise.
Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
While in India searching for the Infada Stone, Lara learns through meeting Dr. Willard that it's one of four artifacts that were crafted from an ancient meteorite (Element 115, The Ora Dagger and The Eye of Isis are the others), and Willard needs them all to do research concerning evolution. Lara discovers in her quest, especially at Area 51, that these experiments may have disastrous consequences, which only heighten when Willard steals what she has.
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999)
The fourth entry in the series takes place in Egypt with Lara opening the tomb of Set and taking a valuable ankh from the sarcophagus. Discovering too late that she released Set himself - an evil god in the Egyptian pantheon - she learns from a friend that the only way to make it right is to return to the tomb with the recovered armor of Horus and reseal it before an apocalypse takes place. Unfortunately, her former archaeological mentor, Werner Von Croy, stands in the way, and he wants the power of Seth for himself.
The only one of the games to take place within a single country, The Last Revelation also shocked fans with its cliff-hanger ending, leaving them wondering for at least a year whether or not Lara Croft died inside the Great Pyramid.
Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000)
Chronicles is actually four separate stories, involving an artifact in Rome; one that must be recovered via a Soviet submarine; the story of a search when she was a teen; and an artifact placed within a well-protected high-rise. Connecting the four is a story involving those that knew her best, remembering her from Croft Manor (assuming she had died).
Chronicles was not well received by gamers, due to bugs within the game itself, as well as the ending in the previous game left unresolved. The PC version of the game had a level editor, allowing fans to create their own environments and situations, many of which are available for download.
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (2003)
Lara is alive, and somehow made her way back into Paris; almost immediately she is suspected in the murder of Von Croy, as well as several other grisly murders. The only one with the answers is a mysterious man known as the Alchemist, a man who is desperate to possess five paintings from the 14th century, and part of an alliance shrouded in mystery.
Although the graphics were heavily improved, Angel of Darkness suffered from bugs as well as poor game play; the control of the character on screen was radically changed from previous games and difficult to master. Fans were also left with no explanation as to why and how Lara emerged from the pyramid accident which ended Last Revelation. Additionally, the game's poor sales - timed to coincide with the release of The Cradle of Life into theaters - led Eidos to cancel a planned sequel already in production (Tomb Raider: The Lost Dominion) and end its contract with Core Design.
Crystal Dynamics era
Tomb Raider: Legend (2006)
Lara Croft returns, this time to battle an old friend believed lost in a Bolivian tomb as both search in various countries for the remnants of Excalibur, the sword of legendary King Arthur. Her missing mother and a misplaced friendship served as plot devices connecting this game with the two games which followed.
The first game of the Tomb Raider franchise created and published by a new contract with the American company Crystal Dynamics, Lara Croft and her surroundings were given a seamless look and feel, with revamped controls providing fluid character movement and an animation system giving Lara the ability to handle obstacles easily. In addition, Toby Gard was hired back into the franchise to act as a creative consultant, eventually adding into this and the next two games the ideas and concepts he had intended for the first games of the franchise.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007)
The second entry by Crystal Dynamics, Anniversary is a recreation of the first Tomb Raider game, celebrating its tenth anniversary, yet done in a manner to tie-in with the plot established in Legend.
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)
In Underworld Lara deals with an investigation into Norse mythology, and in her quest to unlock some of the secrets of those myths, she discovers that a weapon powerful enough to level mountains may fall into the wrong hands: the Hammer of Thor.
Tomb Raider (2013)
A young Lara Croft heads to the island of Yamatai on her first adventure; intending the trip to be a mere archaeological expedition to locate and uncover the tomb of the legendary Japanese queen Himiko, she and the crew of her ship are stranded on an island they can never leave, and at the mercy of fanatics who believe that the way off is to sacrifice one of her friends to the queen.
With the success of the games and public exposure in the media, it was inevitable that a live-action film be made. Paramount secured the rights to film Tomb Raider in the late-1990s, and eventually released two films, with a third film (by Warner Brothers) in pre-production now.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
A rare planetary alignment sets off an ancient clock hidden with Croft Manor, and Lara finds herself in a conflict against members of a powerful order - the Illuminati - who want the clock to locate and recover two pieces of a mysterious triangle which gives the bearer the power to control time itself. Making over $200 million at the box office when released, Tomb Raider catapulted Angelina Jolie to stardom.
Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Jolie returns in this second installment, as Lara is sent by the British MI-6 to find the Cradle of Life, a legendary place said to contain the Pandora's Box of Greek mythology; in the hunt as well is a ruthless weapons manufacturer who also wants the Box for himself. Cradle of Life did not fare as well at the box office as the first film; it suffered from a weak plot, dialogue, and character development; additionally, in the opening scenes movie-goers were shown what was essentially a remake of the first twenty minutes of 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark.