Few gaming franchises remain relevant for 25 years. Lara Croft and her Tomb Raider franchise have not only survived, but thrived across multiple generations of gaming consoles and PC hardware. Celebrate the heroine's silver anniversary with 25 things you (probably) never knew about Lara, the Tomb Raider franchise, and the dozens of developers who have guided her on her journey.
#1: Lara Was Born in February 1992
Many video game characters seem to appear out of thin air. In charting Lara's origin story in the critically acclaimed Tomb Raider 2013, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal gave her a birthdate of February 1992. After 2018's Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the final chapter in the origin trilogy—Tomb Raider 2013, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider—Lara was 22 years old.
#2: Lara Knows the Gig Economy
If the economy ever makes tomb-raiding a financially irresponsible career, Lara's got several skills to fall back on. Also established by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal, Lara is an ace mixologist able to tend bar with the best of them. If all else fails, she could put her degree in Asian Archaeology to use as a university professor.
#3: Lara Helped Popularize 3D Games
1996 was a banner year for 3D gaming, and three of gaming's biggest franchises helped to make it that way. In June, id Software's Quake let you frag your buddies in three dimensions. Just three months later, Super Mario 64 invited you inside Princess Toadstool's—er, Princess Peach's—expansive castle to see Nintendo's colorful cast of characters like you'd never seen them before. And on October 25, Lara Croft laced up her boots and stepped into tombs for the first time. All three games were bestsellers and lauded by critics and players alike, making them an important part of ushering in the transition to 3D gaming.
#4: Lara Croft was Almost Laura Cruz
Before Core Design, the studio behind the original Tomb Raider series, settled on Lara Croft, she was briefly known as Laura Cruz, a South American beauty with a flair for adventure. Gradually, she became Lara Croft, a British aristocrat who wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty scaling walls and battling T-Rexes head on.
#5: Lara was Almost a Military Woman
During the "Lara Cruz" phase of the character's evolution, she was imagined as a tough-as-nails military soldier.
#6: Lara was Almost a Man
Core Design imagined their Indiana Jones-like adventurer as a male protagonist. Fearing lawsuits from Lucasfilm (probably rightly), they changed their lead character to a woman.
#7: Lara Can't Save You 15% or More on Car Insurance
When Crystal Dynamics became the stewards of the Tomb Raider franchise, Lara replaced the vampire Kain, star of the studio's Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver series of RPGs, as the face of the studio. Kain himself had taken the place of Gex the Gecko, whose exploits never quite elevated him to the lofty heights of Mario and Sonic.
#8: Tomb Raider 2013 was Built on Four Design Pillars
Crystal Dynamics wasn't handed the Tomb Raider series on a silver platter. The franchise had fallen out of favor with players years earlier, so its new handlers faced a challenge: How to reintroduce Tomb Raider and Lara Croft to audiences. After much brainstorming and design iteration, they landed on four pillars that defined the essence of Lara's adventures: combat, traversal, puzzle solving, and exploration.
#9: Six Developers Created the Original Game
Today, triple-A development teams can number in the hundreds, even the thousands. Back in 1993, Core Design consisted of six developers crammed into a small bedroom in a Victorian house.
#10: Lara was a Leading Lady Among Leading Ladies
Before Lara Croft, few female characters in games had starring roles. Many historians point to Samus Aran as the first playable female character, but other characters like Ms. Pac-Man, Princess Rosella from King's Quest IV, and other women from various action and adventure games came before her. Lara Croft wasn't the first playable female, or even one of the first, but she was the first portrayal of a strong and capable woman protagonist in video games.
#11: Lara's Creator Never Intended For Her to be a Sex Icon
One of Core Design's six developers was Toby Gard, the artist who converted the previously male character into Lara Croft. He dressed her in attire suitable for archaeological digs… kind of. Her short brown shorts and tight-fitting shirt show off her physical fitness, but Gard says he never saw his creation as a pin-up girl.
#12: Lara's Original Bust was Increased by Accident, or "Accident"
Update (27 October 2021): Fellow gaming historian and Tomb Raider expert Richard Moss tweeted to let me know this bit of trivia is a myth that started as a joke. He added that one of the six developers was a woman, the artist and level designer Heather Gibson.
Core artist Toby Gard claims he was tinkering with Lara's model when he increased her bust size by 150% by accident. The other five developers saw what he'd done and insisted he keep Lara that way. Maybe Gard is telling the truth, but it's hard to believe he was accidentally in the settings that had to do with her chest size.
#13: Eidos Marketing Controlled Lara's Image
While Toby Gard handled Lara's design—"accidents" and all—he claims Eidos's marketing department was behind the campaign to make her a sex symbol. Gard says he was caught off-guard by posters and other advertisements featuring Lara wearing little to no clothing, but had no creative control over the marketing push.
#14: Crystal Dynamics Wanted to Humanize Lara
Part of Crystal Dynamics' job in telling Lara's origin story was to rebrand her to shift the focus away from eye candy and more toward adventure. They replaced Lara's short shorts and too-tight shirt with pants and a ribbed tank top. The developers also crafted brutal survival sequences, such as Lara having to patch up her own wounds, to focus on her grit and resolve.
#15: Rebranding Lara was Difficult
Crystal Dynamics couldn't overhaul everything about Lara Croft to remake her in their image. According to former brand manager Rich Briggs, "You can't build a completely new version of Lara Croft; you've got to keep some things that people know and love about her." Their answer was to find a middle ground between the Lara Croft you knew, and the Lara Croft Crystal Dynamics wanted to you know.
#16: Lara Prefers to Kill Creatures, Not Humans
Modern Tomb Raider games show Lara doing whatever it takes to survive. That often includes killing dozens of humans who, in fairness to Ms. Croft, are vile people who wouldn't hesitate to kill her first. But in the original Tomb Raider from 1996, Lara kills only six humans. The lions, dinosaurs, and other creatures who cross her path aren't so lucky.
#17: Lara and Sony Didn't Get Along at First
Although Tomb Raider games have appeared on many platforms, the franchise became synonymous with Sony's PlayStation in 1996. That relationship nearly ended before it began. Sony rejected Tomb Raider the first time Core submitted the game to them, saying it failed to measure up to the level of quality they expected on their platform.
#18: Lara's First Voice Actress Channeled Bond, Not Jones
Core Design and Eidos cast Shelley Blond to voice Lara in the original game. The notes given to Shelley by Core described the character as a female James Bond rather than a female Indiana Jones.
#19: Blond Completed Her VO in a Single Session
Shelley nailed the character of Lara Croft right away, wrapping her voiceover session after just five hours. In a later interview, she said: "The most fun was recording the grunts and groans. I could let loose a little more."
#20: Many Women Have Played Lara
The most famous Lara Croft to date may be Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood A-lister who played Croft in two blockbuster films. Other women who portrayed her across games and more media include Alicia Vikander, Lara's portrayer in the 2018 Hollywood reboot film; Camilla Luddington, who did motion capture and VO work across Tomb Raider 2013, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider; Shelley Blond, Core's first VO artist for Lara; Judith Gibbons, who voiced Lara in Tomb Raider II and III; Jonell Elliott, her voice in the next four games; and Keeley Hawes, Lara's voice in the four after that.
#21: Rhona Mitra was the First Croft Model
Lara's reputation quickly grew beyond video games. Core knew Lara was one of few gaming characters to reach mainstream audiences, and hired models to play her at conventions and other events. The first model to portray her was Rhona Mitra, named the "Official Face of Lara Croft" in 1997. Rhona even released two dance albums under Lara's name.
#22: Those Songs Didn't Help Lara's Former Image
Rhona Mitra's two albums, Come Alive and Female Icon, contained song titles such as "Feel Myself" and "Getting Naked," didn't help Lara shed her sexpot image.
#23: Rise of the Tomb Raider's Caves are Procedural
Games like Diablo use procedurally generated content—meaning given attributes by an algorithm—to spin out new levels every time you play. Rise of the Tomb Raider's Endurance mode features procedural content, too. The caves you explore are connected by procedurally generated wilderness so you'll rarely, if ever, play the same Endurance mode twice.
#24: Crystal Dynamics Used Weapons to Rebrand Lara
Crystal Dynamics went beyond Lara's physical appearance to rebrand her. Her signature twin pistols loaded with unlimited ammo got her out of countless jams, but Crystal traded them for a bow, which symbolized the spirit of her origin story. Creative Director Noah Hughes explained the decision: "The introduction of the bow as a signature piece of gear was a major shift in combat: moving away from Lara's duel pistols. Part of that had to do with grounding her as a character fresh out of university. It's less believable that someone would be fully trained with full pistols, so we wanted to respect that as an origin story."
#25: Camilla Luddington Channeled Personal Loss in Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider was the final chapter in Lara's origin story and featured deeply emotional events to bring the series to a close in as dramatic a fashion as possible. In her performance as Lara, actress Camilla Luddington tapped into her personal loss: "I was 19 when I lost my mum. That's an interesting age to lose a parent, because you feel like you're being let loose into the world, but you also want to have stability and comfort from your parents. But I also think there's a strength that comes from having to navigate the world and feeling like you're doing it alone. I feel like there's a lot of things that Lara does that come from her upbringing and the direction [her loss] set for her."
For more behind-the-scenes info on Tomb Raider and 25 years of Lara Croft, visit Shacknews.com to read Ascendant, the long read that goes in depth on the original games and the reinvention of one of gaming's most beloved characters.
Update (27 October 2021): A couple of the facts on our list were almost-but-not-quite correct. We've made corrections where appropriate.
Sources: Ascendant (Shacknews.com), 15 Fascinating Facts You May Not Know About Tomb Raider (Uproxx), You Won’t Believe How Many Women Have Been Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (8list).
David Craddock posted a new article, 25 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Tomb Raider