Skip to main content

History of Tomb Raider : The Digital Evolution of Lara Croft

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.


First Contact

Christmas 1996. The night is freezing outside the window. Everyone is asleep. I unwrapped a shiny CDROM and loaded it up on the tray of my PC. I patiently went through the installation instructions and was ready to go. The Game screen comes up on the monitor and a strangely haunting theme tune emerges. For someone fed up with a diet of fighting/ strategy and sport games there is a slight flicker of hope. The blurb talks about a globe trotting adventurer very much in the spirit of Indiana Jones.

Yet there is no rugged visage or a hat in sight. Instead she comes up on the screen. She is wearing a very functional pale blue top, brown shorts and low slung holsters with her twin pistols and carries a backpack. The blocky polygons suggest a pretty brunette with an athletic build. None of your thongs and ridiculous metal bras that seem to plague female characters in other video games!

The game started with an over the shoulder third person perspective, A cold wind blew and howled around me as I stepped into a cave.


First Travels

I traversed through the mountains of Peru, the Tombs of Egypt, the Lanes of Rome and even found a lost city of Atlantis. I dodged booby traps and solved puzzles. I nailed a few thugs and shot a few monsters all the while doing athletic leaps and runs through a three dimensional environment that was totally immersive despite the pixellated graphics of 1996.

Needless to say, I was hooked, lined and sinkered. A legend was born, not just for me but for millions of fans worldwide.

Conventional wisdom of that time said that Boys only play games with male lead characters; only fighting, sporting and shooting games work;Games can’t compete with Hollywood muscle.

She defied all convention.

She has broken records, created massive amounts of money, voted the best ‘virtual game heroine of all time’, had two motion pictures, hundreds of comics and merchandise and featured in covers of magazines.

The legendary game, was of course, Tomb Raider.

The girl who made it all happen was , of course, Lara Croft.

Scroll to Continue

Tomb Raider I (1996)

Tomb Raider I (1996)

New Dawn

And now she is set to be reborn all over again, to enchant the minds of a whole new generation. Technology has moved on, the games consoles more powerful and the gamers are more demanding and discerning. She has got her work cut out to convince us she is the queen of console heroines.

But from early appearances and the new teaser Trailer, things look extremely promising. I may be back adventuring with Lara after a long time. Previous disappointments will have to be forgiven and frustrations laid to rest.

In 2012, a brand new Tomb Raider franchise is about to arrive under the auspices of Crystal Dynamics for the new generation consoles. There is also going to be a brand new Tomb Raider movie. So I thought, perhaps, you may be interested to know the origins of our favourite aristocratic totty and how a kick-ass heroine with cut glass accent was born.

The Digital Evolution of Lara Croft (1996 - 2011)

The Digital Evolution of Lara Croft (1996 - 2011)

E3 Teaser

At the recent World Electronic convention E3 the star of Tomb Raider rose again with an astonishing new trailer. See for yourself.

Maximise your screen and turn up the speakers!

Teaser Trailer for the New Game 2012

Tomb Raider I

Tomb Raider I

Tomb Raider (1996)

The once great kingdom of Atlantis was ruled by three legendary rulers Tihocan, Qualopec and Natla. The power and glory of Atlantics was maintained by the Great pyramid regulated by a mystical key known as the Scion.

Each ruler bore a piece that an be united to unlock the power. Disgruntled by the abuse of the pyramid to created mutated beasts by Natal the other two rulers threw the scion to the sky, scattering the three pieces in three different parts of the world. Atlantis is destroyed by a meteorite. In present day Tibet,

Lara is hired for her unique locating skills by a wealthy industrialist.She is tasked to find the missing pieces of Scion. A trip that will take her to Peru, Egypt and Rome and eventually to the lsot city of Atlantis itself where she must face great peril and an ancient evil.

History of Tomb Raider

Back in the early 90s games were steadily advancing with the advent of new consoles. The Playstation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn were threatening the PC monopoly over games and making in roads into every home. The 2D world was getting lusher and richer with some interesting forays into platforming-puzzle solving- adventure games such as Flashback and Prince of Persia – these were innovative in using rotoscoped animation with live actors to give that natural look and fluid movements.

The game designers in the British company called Core Design were keen to develop an Archaeological adventure game in the Indiana Jones vein The lead Designer Toby Gard decided to avoid Indiana Jones comparisons by making the lead character female after noticing that many of his co-workers liked playing as female protagonists in games such as Virtua Fighter. At first the company wasn’t really keen but he prevailed. Originally the character was merely a gun toting military type with shooting skills. As the concept developed Toby fleshed her out to stand out in the market. Initially she was a South American called Laura Cruz.

In a fit of creative frenzy, Toby changed the character from a South American military type to a genteel British adventurer, one who is effortlessly aristocratic but has turned her back on her heritage to become a no nonsense adventurer. Someone with the the athletic abilities, unerring shooting skills and brains to match. A heroine is born.

Toby Gard- Lara's Creator

Toby Gard- Lara's Creator

As the story evolved, he made her an aristocratic English rose with an upper class British accent and a penchant for going after historical artifacts. She was rugged yet feminine. He didn’t want the name Cruz now so a quick rummage through the phone book came up with Croft. They dropped the u in Laura to make the name more global. Lara Croft was born.

The unique look of augmented décolletage wasn’t a planned act of teenage titillation. As he was animating her, he accidentally clicked 150% instead of 50% while designing the breast size. The resultant look brought hoots of delight from the (predominantly male, of course!) co-workers who convinced him to keep that in.

They also paid attention to a tightly woven adventure script that revolved around the finding of the three pieces of a legendary artefact called the Atlantean Scion. Ghouls, wild animals and Mummies were let lose. A double crossing female villain, a full on climax all made sure it was a gripping thrill ride.

Tomb Raider II

Tomb Raider II

Tomb Raider II (1997)

According to ancient Chinese legend, the Dagger of Xian will honour the hearts of those it pierces by turning them into a fire breathing Dragon. This was used by the emperor to subdue his foes in battle. During an ancient battle with Tibetan monks, the emperor-dragon was weakened when a warrior monk pulls the dagger out. The monks hide the dagger away from prying eyes. In modern day, Lara in on the trail of this dagger, a trip that takes her to Venice, Tibet, Deep Ocean and China. Apart from the mythical beasts that roam these ruins, Lara is also trailed by a master criminal Marco Bartolli and his henchmen.

The Rise of Tomb Raider

Core Design was owned by its parent company Eidos. At the time of the game development Eidos was in debt to a tune of few millions and it traded low in the Stock Market. No one had any expectations for a female lead in a game.

Released in November 1996 on PC, Playstation One and Sega Saturn, the game went straight to the top of the charts and stayed there. It sold millions of units and won the best game of the year awards. The fans were thrilled at a immersive 3D world and the puzzle solving mix. They were even more thrilled with their heroine who they took to their own heart.The Inevitable sequels followed and parts II and III improved by adding new moves, improving graphics and the scope of the games. They also sold in huge numbers.

Sony, in a bold move paid to make the Tomb raider Playstation specific after the success of the first game. This paid off. PSOne shifted several units as punters bought it to play Tomb Raider making the Sony platform an early success over fellow rivals.

Eidos who share price was dawdling at 177 pence at the time of launch by two years went to become the fastest growing games company with a share price of 13 pounds! ( 1300 pence)

Lara Croft in Face magazine June 1997

Lara Croft in Face magazine June 1997

Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider III (1998)

A Research station in Frozen Antarctica registers weird signals at the site of an ancient meteorite crash. A dig reveal the grave of a sailor who accompanied Darwin in his voyages. Lara acquires a diary of this sailor and learns of a curiosity discovered by these sailors during the voyage. On trail of four mysterious artifacts, Lara’s adventure this time begins in the Jungles of India , the desert of Nevada a and Area 51, Underneath London and ultimately to the place where it all began, Antarctica itself.

Tomb Raider 4 - The last revelation (1999)

Tomb Raider 4 - The last revelation (1999)

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999)

Confining her tomb raiding to Egypt for 90% of the levels, Lara returned with her mentor turned nemesis Werner Von Croy. Swiping a wrong artifact releases the dark God Seti and Lara has to hastily assemble the armour of Horus to protect herself and the world.

The strain of yearly game developments show- stuck for ideas and stifled on creativity, the last revelation chooses to imprison Lara in her own tomb in a surprise ending.

Fame & Fortune

Core design knew they had a hot property in their hands. The decision by Core co-founder Jeremy Heath-Smith to support Toby Gard's idea of a female protagonist proved to be the most fruitful decision in the company's history.

Even Gard's accidental 150% augmentation of Lara's breasts proved to be 'big' talking point. Feminists rebelled. Scientists calculated her BMI and strived to prove somebody with those dimensions will struggle to walk and questioned the biological plausibility! ( something they never before bothered for Mario or Sonic)

The Media caught on. The Times ran a supplement on Tomb Raider. The Financial times put Lara on its front page in an unprecedented first for a Video Game character. Newsweek ran a cover story. But it was the 8 page cover feature in the fashion mag FACE signaled the arrival not just of a video game success but a cultural icon!

Soon endorsements for swimsuits, drinks and other products followed. Even Lucozade jumped the bandwagon for exclusive promotional material ( They even ran a label of 'Larazade for a while). Spanish Sports cars and French postage stamps featured Lara.

Toby Gard, seeing the roller coaster of a ride his creation was on and knowing he had no creative control over her future ( Core owned the rights) left the company Like many a creator he probably realised that his creation had a life of her own.

Lara was always too free spirited!.


The Films

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ( 2001)

In 2001, after many rewrites and delays, Lara- Croft- Tomb Raider was reelased. The Critics were underwhelmed and ,the fans weren't 100% sure. But the sheer star power of Angelina Jolie doing her own stunts, the globe trotting locations and stunning action set pieces meant it was a commercial success.

Directed by Simon West and featured Angeline Jolie, Daniel Craig ( yes, the future Mr Bond playing second fiddle), Ian Glen and Jon Voight, The story followed Lara's attempts to retrieve something called the Triangle of Light - a forgotten object of immense power that her dad had dealings with. Faced by enemies from the illuminati, monsters, mayhem and mean villains, Lara charmed the global audience.


Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life ( 2003)

Go figure. Critically this film was better received but tanked at the box office making a dismal performance domestically and globally.

Lara is tasked to find the mystical Pandora's Box ahead of a bio terrorist who intends to use the box to create genetic experiments ( yes - I know!) The key to finding the box lies in a mystical orb ( Don't ask) that Lara finds and the loses.

Globetrotting between UK, China and eventually culminating in the cradle of life itself, Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa, the film had reasonabel action sequences despite a ridiculous plot device.

Angeline Jolie returns with Gerald Butler as her squeeze, Ciaran Hinds plays a nobel prize winning scientist turned bio-terrorist and Djimon Hounsou an African guide to the finale.

Tomb Raider (5): Chronicles

Tomb Raider (5): Chronicles

Tomb Raider (5)- Chronicles ( 2000)

A mindless rehash of an episodic story line featuring three people close to Lara reminicing after her funeral ( how morbid!) featuring episodic tales of derring-do across the globe. Dull, uninspired and blatantly a retread, the game failed to spark any interest. It looked dated and other games have caught on since in their scope and oomph!

The Decline of Tomb Raider

The sequels were successful initially despite the fact the creator Toby Gard left the company due to ‘creative differences’. But as sequel after sequel followed and rival games caught up in the 3D environment, Lara’s star faded. There were several lack lustre games in a law of diminishing returns that failed to live up to the original.

At 1999 Core Design decided to kill of Lara in a the last revelation in a controversial move. There was a fifth game released in 2000 consisting of a series of flashbacks that failed miserably. And in 2003 they again attempted to reboot Lara in a dismal city based game that failed to capture fan following.

The Angel of Darkness, billed as a rebirth met with many obstacles all the way through development. Handled a whole new set of designers and billed as a next gen move to PS2, the game had so many bugs and crashes it even frustrated the developers.

Rushed into release to cash in on the movie sequel Cradle of life, the game not only managed to tank at the charts but also brought the film into disrepute. The Film Cradle of Life garnered only one fifth of the first films box office, putting a final nail on the coffin for a female lead in an action film or a franchise for a while.

The Angel of Darkness- (2003)

The Angel of Darkness- (2003)

Tomb Raider Timeline (1996- 2012)

Source- Wikipedia

Source- Wikipedia


The Return of Lara Croft

Eidos turned the license over to Crystal Dynamics for a new team of developers. They have had an experience of their own successful series Legacy of Kain but were nevertheless realised the pressure they were under with the worlds hottest icon who's star has waned..

In a smart move, they also hired Toby Gard, the original creator much to fan approval. Gard returned to his creation seven years after walking away. Helming a team ten times the size of his original crew, Toby realized all his dreams that he couldn't achieve before for Lara.

Improved mechanics, new body ( less buxom and more realistic) better script, revamped backstory and fantastic cut scenes that were also playable, Legend was a triumphant return to form across the next Gen platforms. It was an impressive hit.

The Fans knew that their girl has returned to form.

A reassuring hit and fan approval meant, Crystal Dynamics have successfully relaunched Lara for the new millennium. The legend was soon followed by a glorious retread of the first Tomb Raider in new improved graphics for Lara's 10th anniversary.

Aptly titled Tomb Raider: Anniversary arrived in 2007 ( a year late but satisfying nevertheless)

In the age of Prince of Persia, GTA, God of War, Halo, Bioshock and Gears of War, Lara may not be the phenomenon she once was but she can still show the boys a thing or two when it comes to scintillating adventure..

As this cool fan made music video shows, anything you can do I can do better - says Lara.

Amazing music video by Kyo