By McKenna Carson, Walker Valley Sophomore
November 2016 will mark the 20th birthday of one of the videogame industry’s most successful icons: Lara Croft. She started out on the earliest version of the popular PlayStation gaming console and gained so much international attention that even non-gamers know her name. Her legacy is grand, but many are not familiar with her roots.
The ’90s was a decade of refining and elaborating the world of videogames with explosive milestones. With many companies developing games with 3D qualities for the first time ever, Core Design was on the hunt for a game more closely resembling an interactive movie. The lead artist, Toby Gard, wanted his idea of a main protagonist to be on-screen at all times. That meant there had to be successful third person perspective along with the 3D world.
Gard’s protagonist almost caused a lawsuit against the entire company; it was just shy of being an exact clone of Indiana Jones. He pulled away from Raiders of the Lost Ark as much as possible, suggesting a female character as the lead role. At that time, females in games existed mostly as victims or hostages. Gard was given a thumbs-up of approval and started drawing.
After rough drafts came and went, the final product became a tough, South American woman with a long braid and eye-popping pants, who was willing to go to any lengths to acquire ancient artifacts lost to history. She was given the name Laura Cruz.
But poor Laura Cruz was not accepted by people in higher positions in the corporation. Core’s parent company had recently been bought out by Eidos Interactive, a video compression and editing software company, and management wanted a character more “UK-friendly.” Core, a six-person project team, opened a British phone book and searched for a name that closely resembled Laura Cruz. Lara Croft was the winner after a vote.
Afterwards, they changed her background. She became a British thrillseeker, an 11th generation Countess who rejected a life of comfort and learned rugged self-reliance at an early age.
Great care went into animating her. Core used just over 540 polygons to create their explorer. Her trademark braid had to be cut from the in-game avatar, but her movements and ability to target the enemies automatically picked up the slack. The twin automags on her hips never ran out of bullets, and her little backpack always had room for another priceless artifact. After her exaggerated dimensions were perfected in the incomplete realism, Core sent their beta to Sony, who was soon releasing their new gaming console, the PlayStation.
Sony did not approve and passed on the beta because it did not impress them. The slap to the face sent Core into overdrive. They tightened controls, hired Shelley Blond to give Lara a voice, added music soundtracks, and created video cutscenes, a rare application to games at that time. When Tomb Raider made its second appearance at Sony, the response was thrilling. That was when the global buzz for Lara began.
This is Part One of what is planned as a three part series on Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. Check back soon for Part Two!