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Lara in Libération (August 1997)

A virtual star is born

Lara Croft is the main character of the 'Tomb Raider' videogame

Shapely, intrepid, cunning, Lara Croft made millions of head spin. Sexual myth naked on plentiful of sites on the Internet, she'll never grow old. Lara Croft is the heroine of the video game 'Tomb Raider', a gigantic success sold at more than two million copies worldwide, of which 300 000 in France. Beyond enormous economic stakes, that creature of bytes and pixels, and the infatuation that she arouse are the symptoms of a new culture.


A virtual Eve
Editorial by G?rard Dupuy

In addition to the future she has the right to have, the Eve of the future, enjoying an already dazzling past, have a stunning present. She took on the appearance, rather discrete despite her generous shape, of Lara Croft, untouchable heroine of an electronic game with a strinking and planetary success.

Its the first time since the stone age, when bipedals gathered around the fire at night to plant the seeds of legends, that a fictional character is directly born from the computer cauldron and is that addictive. Classical tragedy and soap operas, the novels and the comics, without forgeting the big Hollywood studios, now have a new competitor, not only in the money race, but also in the pool of collective imagination: a mutant rising from the genetic legacy of video games.

If mutation there is, it must be specified that it concerns more the hardware than the software, the nuts & bolts than the ideology. This isn't new: ain't that many science fiction satisfied themselves by making an approximate recycling of the pseudo-medieval imaginary? Lara Croft comes from none other then the ordinary cast of time, bumps, short-circuits and reverse included: The Tomb Raiders, which is also the name of the game and a kind of philosophy.

A little fact that must be pointed to but isn't that insignificant: the first superhero of the multimedia era is an heroine...

This time, the Eve of the future opens the way. It was appropriate to salute her.


Lara Croft steals the spotlight of human stars
by Olivier S?guret

The heroine of the video game Tomb Raider acquired worldwide notoriety.
For the first time, a virtual creature invades the creative and mediatic universes.

No other before her had achieved that status: Lara Croft is the first virtual star on the verge of becoming a wordlwide notoriety. Of course there has been others before, like a certain Max Headroom, the pionneer, rendered host of the '80 for the british television on Channel 4, as well as some other less famous cathodic avatars, like the actual 'Clio' on 'Canal+'. There's also been, last summer in Japan, the smashing launch of the jumping nymph 'Kyoto Date', a 100% digital creature who, since, is squatting the top-tens in Japan at the rythms of her big hits among which... Love Communication. But never before did a rendered character lastingly investigated the real scenery of the concrete world as Lara Croft is the process of accomplishing. Never a pure invention, an immaterial personnality, was taken as seriously by a multitude of economic, cultural, artistic actors, or created that much curiosity and excitation among the midst of publicity, affairs and medias. From the Wall Street Journal columns to the school yards, everybody agrees to recognize in Lara Croft the perfect icon of the end of the century. But who is Lara Croft anyway?

Originally, the heroine of a video game. But not just anyone: Tomb Raider, an exceptionnal adventure game, the actual best-seller in the industry with 300 000 copies sold in France and to be soon 2.5 millions worldwide. A phenomenon. But that the whole, from the conception of the game, to the richness of the events and the care given to details, justifies.

Plastic beauty.

First video game in Full 3D, meaning with three dimensionnal characters moving in three dimensionnal sets, Tomb Raider made every amateur succomb: stunning plastic beauty (sets, textures, music), technical subtleties (freedom of mouvement, underwater events, etc...) and a rather dense dramatical tension.

In this game, you are Lara Croft. She's there to obey your every commands, to follow your joysticks mouvements and run for you from Egypt to Perou, to dive in the ancient mythologic burial-place of king Midas or Qualopec, always in the search for the 'Scion', that God-Like jewel transmitted by the Atlanteans civilizations... Lara Croft is beautiful and shapely, intrepid and cunning, a fighter and yet from aristocratic origins. She swims, draws, grabs and do as many acrobatic jumps as you want. She fights gangsters, bloodthirsty mommies, wolves, panthers, crocodiles and even a T-Rex. Never tired, she don't grant herself any pause or complaints, just a curious little sound between pleasure and pain when she hits an ennemy or an obstacle: 'owh!'.

Top Model.

But Lara probably won't stay put for long. Thrown in spotlight by Tomb Raider's success, she even started to wreak some havoc. In London they didn't loose time. Lara did the cover of the magazine The Face under the title 'Silicon Chick'. The fashions creators grabbed her like a new irrisistible top model: Alexander McQueen tailored her a smoking, Jean Colonna a short summer dress and Gucci a sexy bikini. Since then, she joined the elite cattle crew of the english model agency 'Models' who manages in exclusivity her image with the stylists. She is, as rumored, 'very expensive', and it seems logical since everybody wants a piece of her.

She's so popular, soon it will be difficult to ignore Lara Croft. For the concerts of their new tour, the group U2 also called for the services of the adventurer: special sequences where done showing Lara on a giant video screen, holding hands with Bono. In fall, she'll launch on CD her own single, the music was composed for her by the ex-Eurythmics Dave Stewart, and the video clip is already in preparation. Inevitably, an intense merchandising of all kinds of derived products is to be foreseen: jackets, back sacks, mouse pads, watches, etc. On the web, its a real hysteria: hundreds of Web sites are dedicated to the exclusive glory of Lara Croft (rumors says there are already about two thousands, even if the game, and therefore its heroine, came in existance only a year ago). Some pushes the fetishism to the boundary of the license, just as that jokester's site proposing some imaginary secret codes to see Lara bare naked and shows also some convincing illustrations to back it up.

Curiously, the firsts to be surprised by this infatuation were Lara Croft owners themselves: the softwares company Eidos Interactive, one of the biggest in the video games industry who had the good idea of greeting in his catalog this game developped by Core Design, a modest team of conceptors and developpers based in Derby, England. By buying back Core Design, Eidos assured themselves total control over Lara Croft and decides for now on of her destiny, her official creator, Toby Gard, who gave up on his rights over her creature to go elsewhere and make his new and own society, declared to The Face: 'I'm neither passionated nor tired of Lara Croft. I simply think that it wouldn't be normal to foolishly love something I created. It would be a little too much Bride of Frankenstein to my taste'.

An unusual mate.

About the cutural and mediatic triumph of their fetish character, the actual developpers of the next installment of the adventures of Lara, Tomb Raider II, offers this often heard explanation: it's because Lara is a women, the first in this position and in this role in an action and adventure game. Mostly men, the public of video games has found in her un unusual mate, and incidentaly irrisistible by her shapes (we can find many speculations about her exact breast measurement on the Web). But on the other hand, the heroine valorisation in this kind of game attracted to Tomb Raider a more feminine public than usual, a signal especially interesting since in the main market, in Japan, girls represents a growing part of video game customers, attracted by products always better targeted.

Addicted japaneses.

On the archipelago, where the video game market reached 15 billions of dollars last year, the 'computer culture' now has his guru, Toshio Okada, of the Tokyo University and creator of the 'Pricess Maker' game, vangard of a new generation of games based on virtual relations. Engaged observer of the 'otaku' generation, those young adults and japanese boys addicted to games and computer, he predicts the advent in our scenery of more and more of those virtual creatures: 'we are working on the introduction of human emotions in the games softwares, he declares; the video games are novels of our time'. In this line of sight, a new game for PlayStation is foreseen to be launched in Japan soon: the 'realistic' education of a human baby who, like Tamagochi's, virtual gizmo confined to the space of a keyholder, will have to be raised, feeded, educated and nursed...

On 'Canal+' in September.

Does the lead taken by Lara Croft in the elaboration of a worldwide virtual notoriety has a limit? How much is left of the vein to be exploited? In September, Lara will start to appear on a regular basis on the show 'CyberFlash' on 'Canal+'. For Christmas, a Lara Croft strip cartoon is foreseen to be published, probably by 'Gl?nat', while on the other side of the Atlantic a more comics looking one will appear. Already, Hollywood has put his nose in: 'There will be a movie, that's for sure', we where told by Eidos France. 'It's actually in negociation with the Americains, and the production would start around the end of 1998, but nothing was decided yet. We simply know that it will have a female Indiana Jones feel to it, with real actors of flesh and blood'. All that is left, is to find a believable Lara, since the official double up to now, going by the name of Rhona Mitra, recognized as the real life incarnation of the rendered character, is put on the strict promotion of the album to come. The real Lara, meaning the one in bits and pixels, has already accomplished her mission: break down the barriers who confined video games to apathy or opprobrium and bring upon her name and silhouette an attention, an identification capacity going far beyond the scope of the Tomb Raider phenomenon itself. Her charisma largely exceeded what was expected and captured the attention well beyond the video game sub-culture, itself in constant grow.

Stammerings.

In fact, as much technofuturist as the game appears to be, it is still in its stammerings, its paleontology. The dawn is promising, but we probably seen nothing yet: hits are being elaborated, a proper syntax is put in place. Tomb Raider, in this view, is maybe the "L'Intol?rance"(1) of the video games: not the first to date, but the one that put the foundations for tradition and after which nothing has been the same. In the same line of thought, it draws attention to Lara Croft for what she advertise and of which she is a symptom, like the lead sentry of a virtual people still at our doors but to whom our world will certainly offer a place and an ever growing attention.

(1) The foundation movie of D. W. Griffith, filmed in 1916.


Adventures to follow
Encounter with the creators of Lara Croft.

The vein of the virtual adventures of the fickle Lara isn't near exhaustion: at Core Design where she was created, we are setting right the last details of Tomb Raider II, for a first copy prototype by the end of September, the game being scheduled in November. The actual developpers found themselves in the classical situation of young directors with their second movie: under high expectations, they must not blow it, considering the economical stakes now involved into the fate of Lara Croft which doesn't give a second chance.

Among this team under pression of seven persons (script-writers, designers, programmers, animators and graphists), there is Joss Charmet, a typical young man of a new creative generation who sees in the video game industry the new Eldorado of their ambitions, a little bit like those in the sector of publicity in the '80. Bordelese of origin, he got his ruff edges out at the french company Kalisto, one of the good ones in the sector, and then surfed around a bit on the reputation acquired about everywhere by the french touch, in those immaterial materials: the special effects, the graphical animations and all of the other kind of thingys. About big money, the best three places worldwide always are Japan, USA and Great-Britain: 'you must know how to move, the exil is pratically impossible to escape in this job'.

In the second installement of the adventures of Lara, Joss specialized in the graphics of the ennemies she'll have to face: many kind of new animals (snow leopard, barracudas...) and innumerable warriors, chinese notably, the conclusion will take place on the Great Wall. The little soon to be born sub-culture around the video games is a combination of eclectic influences of which Joss Charmet is a good example: 'I'm inspiring myself from architecture books as well as comics and strip cartoons of all kind on which I fed since I was little, or only of archeology books, or only costumes, etc...'. In the sequences called FMV (Full Motion Video) contained in all new games, movie-like interludes in 3D who are often the media of free graphical creations, Charmet prefers over all a sober spirit and favorizes 'the pannings, travellings and Westerns look' like in the movie masters of King Kong, John Woo and Tsui Hark on top of the mind, from which he recognizes he takes as much inspiration as possible.

Optimist about the creative future of the industry, 'the full 3D, he thinks, opposes no limitation to creativity', he sees to the limits of invention only those imposed by the different censuring codes in application: 'neither too much violence, or gore otherwise the Germans frowns. Or then the blood better be green! In Great-Britain, a bit of erotism often carries along a restraining 'parental advisory''.





Articles published in the July 26, 1997 issue of Libération. Articles taken from Tomb Raider et Lara Croft : Captain Alban vous dit tout Translated by Eric Robert. The Croft Times.