Lara Croft yanked from Core's clutches

Even Eidos thinks Angel of Darkness was a farce.

Trading statements are usually pretty dull from our perspective. There are a few numbers to digest, shareholdings to discuss and directors to promote, but Eidos seems determined to put some fun back into those wire announcements of late. Take this morning's trading update, for example.

Nestled beneath news that all but 500,000 copies of Tomb Raider shipped within Eidos' last financial year is the staggering announcement that "the Board has concluded that it will transfer development of the [Tomb Raider] franchise to its Crystal Dynamics studio in the US." Lara Croft has been expatriated, folks.

It seems that since Jeremy "10/10 for Angel of Darkness" Heath-Smith stepped down from the boards of Core and Eidos, the publisher's directors have been considering the Tomb Raider franchise and Core Design itself very carefully. Indeed, "the company will now be evaluating the Core Design studio's on-going direction and contribution as part of the group's overall development capabilities." Is this the kiss of death for the once-proud studio that revolutionised action-adventures?

It seems like a harsh way to go out, certainly. Way back in the mists of time, a certain Toby Gard led Core Design into development stardom with a little third person adventurer starring a buxom heroine named Lara Croft. She didn't say much, and she didn't seem to have much to talk about - she just pranced and danced around various grisly locations from the top to the bottom of the earth, dispatching bears, wolves and even dinosaurs with her trademark twin pistols, and puzzling her way through ingeniously concocted platform levels.

Even this writer, long since a Tomb Raider refugee, fondly recalls the square room with a pool at the bottom from the demo, and struggling up platforms suspended around the room whilst occasionally tumbling into the glossy waters below.

But these days Lara Croft means something else entirely. Back then was a simpler, more innocent time, when the idea of a gaming heroine was almost unheard of. Since then Lara has multiplied and intensified, and has long since lost sight of where she came from. Subsequent games have focused more on what's inside her bra than what's inside the gamer's head, Toby Gard was dispatched from Core and has been busy with the still unreleased Galleon ever since, and Tomb Raider has grown into a mere marketing tool, rather than the epitome of subtle and self-effacing brilliance from whence it came.

And now it seems that Core Design is set to bite the bullet for a long line of marketing men and focus groups, which have gradually whittled away whatever good was left in the Tomb Raider franchise. The next instalment, developed by Crystal Dynamics, is due out in the financial year ending 30th June 2005. But with an awful game just out the door and an awful film on our doorsteps, surely nobody has time anymore for a geriatric marketing tool, and you can bet that the next instalment won't be taking up residence at the peak of the All Formats Top 40.

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