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Gaming star Lara Croft is back -- but not as you know her

By Jim Boulden, CNN
updated 8:06 AM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thirty million copies of Tomb Raider had been sold before the launch of the new Tomb Raider on March 4
  • Livingstone likes to point out the UK games and graphics business is bigger than the film industry
  • For a generation, video games had been 2-D worlds with the action moving across the screen, writes Boulden

(CNN) -- Ian Livingstone may not be the father of Lara Croft, but maybe at 63 he can be labeled the grandfather of Lara, the Tomb Raider.

On the eve of the reboot of the franchise, with a younger and more realistic Lara, the life president of Eidos told me about that snowy night in March of 1995 when he reluctantly decided to travel to Derby England via car from Birmingham.

He is forever grateful that he did.

Livingstone was being shown around the offices of Core Design as he was doing due diligence ahead of a possible takeover by Eidos.

"In the very last room," Ian recalled, "I think you could say it was love at first sight. There was this amazing character, on screen. It was the very first character with 3-D model, in a 3-D that was a female character."

For a generation, video games had been 2-D worlds with the action moving across the screen.

"Here is one with the character moving into the screen. And there she was, Lara Croft. And we had to have her. It was quite radical. Up to then, games were played mainly by teenage boys and the games were made were also men, so they tended to make male heroes."

Livingstone: Building the next Facebook

Eidos bought Core Design and in 1996 Lara Croft, with her short trousers and large bust, hit computer screens.

The man behind 'Lara Croft'

The game became huge. Since then, 30 million copies of Tomb Raider have been sold, before the launch of the new Tomb Raider Monday.

But before you think Livingstone lucked into finding Lara Croft quietly being designed by Toby Gard at Core Design, this was 20 years in the making.

Livingstone and his school friend Steve Jackson enjoyed playing board games, especially role-playing games. They started to write role-playing books and eventually discovered the American game Dungeons and Dragons.

They got the exclusive European distribution rights to the board game on the back of ordering just six copies of D&D, according to Livingstone, and the set about trying to sell the games to stores.

It wasn't easy.

"We had to live in a van for three months as we tried to get people to understand this strange role-playing game," Livingstone told me. However, he added, "we never shied away from the challenge. We ended up opening our own shops because other people were reluctant to stock the games."

That string of stores, known as Games Workshop, set them on their way. And board games to video games was a natural progression.

Now, with a CBE in the pocket and the honor title of Life President for Eidos -- a brand name now owned by Square Enix -- Livingstone is more of a advocate for the British video games and film graphics business.

The UK was once in the top three in terms of games and graphics business, but has slipped to six. Livingstone says he knows why.

British schools.

"The curriculum was simply teaching children how to use technology, not how to make technology," Livingstone told me. "So it was making digital users, not digital makers."

Livingstone and Alex Hope, of Double Negative, were asked to make recommendations to the government to transform the school curriculum to teach people how to program, and not just use, video games.

As Livingstone likes to point out, the UK games and graphics business is bigger than the film industry. And the industry supplies the film industry but also the military, among other customers.

As for the new Tomb Raider, the reset is a chance to introduce Lara Croft to a new audience and make her a more realistic role model.

"Back in the 90s, it was more of a sort of cartoon character," Livingstone said. "And now it's a realistic character. And realism goes to looks, behavior, and everything about the woman is real."

That includes Lara being younger and with a smaller bust size.

"In past Tomb Raiders, the combat had not been as real as it might have been. So, the decision was made to give it that gritty realism. And she was no longer that armor-plated Teflon-coated hero. Here was this character that you played as Lara, who could sustain damage."

But not be raped, Livingstone told me, recalling a misstep by an employee who said last year that one scene could be seen as the prelude to a sexual assault.

"There was no rape implication. There was a threat which she survived by throwing off her adversary." The player has the tools to overcome the man and kill him within seconds, Livingstone said.

With the reboot now out, it can't be long before we read of a new Lara Croft film with a new, younger, actress to set the mark for a new franchise.

Then, more games must be on the cards.

Lara lives on.

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