‘Tomb Raider’ at 25 – Ian Livingstone opens up about Lara Croft’s birth

Ithe reputation of a Livingstone precedes it. Before even entering the video game industry, he co-founded Games Workshop, while his adventure Combat fantasy game books were a big influence on RPG developers – you’ll even find a copy of his 1984 bestseller Death Trap Dungeon in the bedroom of a young Peter Quill in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s not just a vintage Easter egg, but a tribute from developer Eidos Montreal to Eidos Interactive, the UK publishing giant where Livingstone was president and CEO, until it was acquired by Square Enix. in 2009.

Switching to video games hasn’t always been a likely direction for Livingstone, as he tells me, “I can’t really code myself, even though I am an advocate for coding in schools. It is in fact thanks to the success of Death Trap Dungeon in 1984 that he was approached by a company called Domark to write for a text-based adventure game called Eureka! But rather than collect royalties, he chose to take a stake in the company, which led him to become a member of the board of directors in 1991.

Domark was best known as the publisher of the original football management simulation Champions Manager but it was even better known when it and three other companies joined together in 1995 to form Eidos Interactive. The following year he released his biggest and most influential hit to date – Grave robber.

The history of the game had already started in 1994 with the British developer Core Design. Lara Croft’s character was designed by artist Toby Gard specifically to stand out from Core’s. Dangerous rick series, which was a fairly blatant copy of Indiana Jones right down to its logo.

Grave robber. Credit: Square Enix.

“The idea was, as the whole industry grew and became responsible, to have a character who was definitely not going to be considered Indiana Jones, so I think someone said he could maybe- be there to be an Indiana Jane instead, “Livingstone recalls. “Toby had seen the rise in power of girls back then like Neneh Cherry and Tank Girl and proposed this character initially called Laura Cruz before becoming Lara Croft.”

At that time, however, Livingstone had no idea Grave robber. As a new publisher, Eidos was simply looking for a growth opportunity, which he decided to do by acquiring the struggling CentreGold company. It was an anchor in the US market as the company had acquired games in the United States to release them in Europe under the US Gold label, such as Duke Nukem 3D, but it would also include its Silicon Dreams and Core Design studios.

“Of course, all I remember is Core Design, which was the jewel in the crown,” says Livingstone, who did his due diligence on the acquisition by visiting CentreGold studios and seeing their assets. “I remember arriving late in a snowy February [in 1996], and I went to Silicon Dreams first, then to Derby to meet Jeremy Heath-Smith, the CEO of Core Design.

Core had a number of titles in development that year alone, but the biggest surprise of all was Grave robber. “I don’t mean to say vulgarly that it was love at first sight, but it was quite an important moment to see Lara Croft onscreen at the time.”

Grave robber
Grave robber. Credit: Square Enix.

“It was a first in many ways, of uniqueness – and the games had never before featured a female character in a meaningful way – and a 3D character moving in a 3D world when historically most games until now. ‘at that time had been side 2D scrolling games, with the three pillars of exploration, combat and puzzle solving, as well as incredible graphics.

That summer, Lara Croft would also grab public attention by Grave robber demo in the second E3, before Eidos released the game on October 1 for the Sega Saturn, with PlayStation and PC arriving the following month, selling well beyond its already high expectations.

As a die-hard Sega fanboy around this time, I always felt a little wrong about Grave robber first coming to Saturn to later become a PlayStation console exclusive and, alongside Crash Bandicoot has become a kind of mascot for Sony. According to Livingstone, “Core had a pretty good relationship with Sega at the time – they’d seen the first Grave robber game and wanted it on their platform, so that’s how it turned out.

“But then Sony came up with tremendous enthusiasm and a lot of promises to support the game and actually made an offer that was hard to ignore in terms of exclusivity on this platform for a while,” continues -he. “The software drives the hardware, Sony wanted iconic titles that were going to drive hardware sales, and I think back then it was Grave robber and Annihilate who did this job for them effectively.

Grave robber
Grave robber. Credit: Square Enix.

As well as representing a boom for the UK games industry, Lara Croft was also an important figure in portraying strong independent women in a male-dominated environment, albeit the way she was designed – about the size of her chest to her hot – and commercialized pants – makes her a schoolboy fantasy, especially in the prime of boys’ magazines, the CG character also having a suggestive cover on Loaded in 2000.

“She was a product of the day, but I wouldn’t say Lara Croft was playing in that market as such, because, at the same time as she was attractive, she was smart, athletic, independent, explorer and n ‘ didn’t really need men, ”says Livingstone. “She liked to be played almost as much by women as by men. The game was bought more by men, but was played 60-40. So she had universal appeal and it wasn’t just about her image.

Even though Lara was often sexualized, Eidos and Core did what they could to quell attempts to associate her with pornography, such as when Lara Croft’s model Nell McAndrew was fired after posing nude for Playboy in 1999, while the magazine was also taken to court over references to Lara Croft and Grave robber of the cover. Then, of course, there were the infamous rumors of a “Nude Raider” cheat code, which magazines and websites claimed allowed horny gamers to play with a nude character model of Lara.

“We tried to shut them down ASAP, but people love to create these stories of those secret unlockable parts of the game where you might find your naked Lara. It was absolutely impossible, because it didn’t exist, “says Livingstone, although he concedes that these kinds of mods are quite common in games today,” You can’t stop people with what they are. do, but we didn’t. that’s for sure !

Grave robber
Grave robber. Credit: Square Enix.

Lara Croft’s image has evolved over the years, most notably through her younger, more gritty reboot in 2013, and she is celebrated by fans as a feminist and LGBT + icon. “No one had any idea how tall Lara Croft was, but she survived the test of time much like James Bond survived the test of time in the movies.”

The series hasn’t been without its bumpy patches, Livingstone conceding that the 2003s Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness represented a low point for a number of reasons, including his wandering the streets of Paris and Prague rather out of step with the usual exotic tomb raids, and admits that one of the more difficult decisions was to remove the series of Core Design and give it to the US developer Crystal Dynamics.

“We thought they were in a better position to take on the franchise, with the technology that was under development at the time, and that turned out to be the right decision,” says Livingstone. “The original [Core Design] the team was already gone, but it was still very difficult to tell them, “We’re going to have to get Lara Croft away from you.”

Since his resignation from Eidos in 2013, Livingston has remained heavily involved in the games industry, from the chairman of Sumo Digital to the vice chairman of the charity SpecialEffect to the co-founder of venture capital fund Hiro Capital, albeit less with Lara Croft. He admits he hasn’t played any of the new games, and he certainly seems more fond of the previous games which focused on exploration and puzzles about the mindset of “directing a character in a movie” , although he adds, “They are extremely popular, and I can see why.

“Lara Croft is an iconic character and she will inevitably continue – all I’m saying is, long live Lara!”

A collection of Grave robber games, from old Core Design titles to the latest from Crystal Dynamics, are available on Steam.

Comments are closed.