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20 years on, the Tomb Raider story told by the people who were there

How Lara Croft lived and died in Derby.

In July 2010, Lara Croft Way opened in Derby. The name for part of a new ring road was chosen from a shortlist by public vote, with a whopping 89 per cent opting for the character devised by local studio Core Design. As the likes of the BBC reported at the grand opening, a councillor said Derby was "proud of its place in a vibrant creative industry" and that Lara Croft Way was "a fantastic way to celebrate that".

There wasn't much of a celebration at what was left of Core, though. In fact, developers who had worked on Tomb Raider over the years shook their heads when they found out Lara Croft Way had opened to the public. Core - or what was left of it - had closed down just a few months earlier, and no-one seemed to have realised.

Tomb Raider's rise to fame is well documented. We know much about how Lara Croft surfed the wave of cool Britannia all the way to Hollywood. We know all about Lara Croft on the cover of Face magazine, Lara Croft advertising Lucozade, and Lara Croft keeping ex-Liverpool goalkeeper David James up all night. What is less well-known is the story of those who built Lara back at Core. As the money rolled in, the pressure put on the handful of developers to deliver grew until, perhaps inevitably, Lara Croft crashed back down to earth. Derby's pride and joy was prised out of the hands of its creators and whisked across the pond to America, a punishment for the disaster that was The Angel of Darkness. Core - and some say Tomb Raider - was never the same again.

Here, we talk to those who were there when Tomb Raider was little more than a room filled with blocks. We talk to those who watched Lara Croft creator Toby Gard walk out on Core Design after just one game, leaving hundreds of thousands of pounds in royalties behind. We talk to those who stayed and got rich off of Lara Croft's late 90s success. We talk to those who butchered themselves as they worked day and night to hit crushing deadlines enforced by a publisher obsessed with its share price. And we talk to those who watched in horror as the kingdom Core had built came crashing down after one terrible flop. 20 years later, this is the inside story of how Lara Croft lived - and died - in Derby.

When most people think of Core Design, they think of Tomb Raider. But in fact the Derby developer had pumped out loads of games for years before its biggest hit was even conceived. Even throughout the Tomb Raider years, Core released other games. It's just people didn't really notice - or care - because at the time, Tomb Raider was all that mattered.

One of these other games was BC Racers, a little known racer released by Core back in 1994 for the Sega CD. BC Racers was designed by a young, talented animator called Toby Gard, who Core boss Jeremy Heath-Smith had hired when he was just a teenager.

We had Chris ask the people of Derby about Lara Croft Way.

There are conflicting reports about the origins of Tomb Raider, but everyone agrees that it was Toby Gard who created the Lara Croft character and came up with the idea for a third-person adventure game in which the player explored tombs.

Legend has it that Frances Gard, Toby's younger sister, was the inspiration for Lara Croft. The devil is in the detail - some remember seeing prototypes that included an Indiana Jones-style male character, and that Core's bosses were terrified it would spark a lawsuit. Others insist Gard had envisioned a female character from the very beginning, although at first she was called Laura Cruz. Whatever the truth, Gard was the driving force behind Tomb Raider, even if others played a crucial role in bringing his vision to life.

Jeremy Heath-Smith is clear in his mind how Tomb Raider came to be.

"Tomb Raider came out of my trip to the States," he says, "where Ken Kutaragi showed me the PlayStation.

"I got back on a plane, flew home, and called an off-site meeting of the company."

In 1994, Core was a relatively small developer of around 25 people who were all squeezed into a converted Victorian house on the Ashbourne Road in Derby. At the time, the developer focused on making 2D games for the 32X Sega Mega Drive add-on and the Atari Jaguar. The leap to 3D had yet to happen.

During the company-wide meeting, Heath-Smith declared the PlayStation "the future". "This is what we need to work on," he said.

Heath-Smith called for ideas for 3D games that would sit well on the PS1, and Toby Gard piped up with his idea for a third-person game in which the player would raid mysterious tombs deep under pyramids. 3D gaming was established on PC at the time with the likes of Doom, but these games were first-person. Toby Gard's game would let the player see the character running about.

"Everybody loved the idea of what mysteries can be found under the tombs of a pyramid," Heath-Smith says.

Enthused, Heath-Smith gave Gard the greenlight to begin work on Tomb Raider - but only after his work on BC Racers came to an end. Six months later, Tomb Raider development began.

Toby Gard got together with programmer Paul Douglas to begin work inside one of the ground floor rooms of the Core house. It wasn't long before the team was fleshed out.

Heather Stevens (née Gibson), a level designer who got a job at Core after a seven-year stint at Rare, joined the Tomb Raider team in the early stages of the project.

Concept art for the first Tomb Raider game.

"It was difficult, in all honesty, to try and get my head around what it was Toby wanted to create in that first month," she says.

It wasn't until Gard modelled a tomb scene using a software program called 3DS Max that the game clicked for Stevens. "It was a beautifully-rendered Egyptian tomb, with light shafts and dust clouds," she remembers. "As he panned the camera through it I thought, I know where he's going with this now. Now, I get it."

It wasn't long after that that programmer Gavin Rummery sat on the stairs of the Core house as Toby Gard described his vision for Tomb Raider.

"He was obviously really enthusiastic about it because it was his big idea and he'd managed to get the okay to make it," he says.

"It was all gonna be very visual, and he was on about how much it was going to be like a movie and groundbreaking, with a 3D character leaping about.

"I was just sitting there thinking, what? My god, who's given this guy the okay to do this? How's this going to happen?"

Rummery joined the team and took his place inside the Tomb Raider room. It was the first game he'd ever worked on.

Tomb Raider was also the first game level designer Neal Boyd ever worked on. He remembers Toby Gard giving him an early demo.

"I just remember thinking it was all so fluid," he says. "I was taken back. I thought, wow, even though I didn't know the context."

Programmer Jason Gosling completed the original six, who all fit inside Core's Tomb Raider room toiling away at the game that would go on to be the biggest the developer ever made.

Rummery's contribution was key. He created a custom room editor that made it easy for Stevens and Boyd to build levels. Up to that point it had been extremely difficult to get Lara running around in even a simple environment. With Rummery's room editor, the process was seamless.

All the while, the Lara Croft model continued to impress.

Lara Croft's animations were revolutionary.

Looking back at Lara Croft's first incarnation now, it's easy to sneer at her hyper-sexualised design. The tiny waist and huge breasts appealed to the teenage male gamer demographic of the time, but Tomb Raider found a female audience, too - unprecedented for video games at the time - because of Lara's other characteristics. She was strong and intelligent. Yes, she had massive tits, but she didn't need a man.

"Toby developed the model to look like his drawings," Boyd says. "I knew we'd get flak from people. But he wasn't bothered about that. He was happy with the way she was. I don't know whether he had a thing for big breasts? He was a very secretive guy. He'd never answer a question straight."

"Toby wanted her to be this kind of ice queen," Rummery says, "a totally resourceful British woman. They were things we didn't get much of in computer games.

"I thought it was just a great model. Straight away you could see Toby was excellent at what he did. Our character artists all marvel at the way he managed to build that model to be so iconic but yet made of so few polygons. It already had character.

"Toby was obviously trying to make her sexy, because that was meant to be part of her character. He always claims he slipped on the mouse and made the breasts bigger than he meant to, but how true that is, I don't know.

"She was just meant to be curvy and attractive. Toby said, if you're going to be following behind her, she might as well be appealing to look at. It worked for both men and women on that basis, because women liked they were playing as a female character in the first place."

More Tomb Raider concept art.

In an interview in 2004, Gard would explain what he was going for: "She wasn't a tits-out-for-the-lads type of character in any way. Quite the opposite, in fact. I thought that what was interesting about her was she was this unattainable, austere, dangerous sort of person."

Gard spent countless hours nailing Lara's animations, and sometimes he'd add new moves without telling his fellow developers. Gard added Lara's famous handstand move - more of an Easter egg than a useful ability - without telling the development team in the hope that they'd discover it for themselves. They did.

"We were testing every day, then somebody went, shit, I didn't know that was in the game," Boyd says. "Why didn't you tell us? Toby said, 'I wanted to see if you could come across it.' He would go that bit further to add something else in there, rather than just say, that's fine, then move on to the next animation."

Jeremy Heath-Smith, a businessman at heart, left the Tomb Raider development team to get on with it, and the team credit him with keeping publisher Eidos at bay as they worked on the game. There were loose guidelines, the developers say, but no design document the team stuck to. Decisions were made on the fly. Sometimes there were heated discussion (such as one to determine where Lara's health bar would appear on-screen), but the team of six gelled. Levels were built. Lara was animated. And as Neal Boyd says, "it all just seemed to slot into place".

Still, the development of the first Tomb Raider was brutal, with most of the team working long into the night and at weekends. This had little to do with arguments or issues with technology, more to do with meeting the deadline set in place by Eidos and agreed to by Jeremy Heath-Smith. Tomb Raider simply had to come out for Christmas 1996.

Tomb Raider's developers each dealt with the punishing work schedule in different ways. Some stayed at the office long into the night. Others drove home and continued to work there.

"I felt I had to get home, even if it was just to be in same room as my partner," Heather Stevens says.

"Granted, he might not have got much of a conversation out of me, but just to keep our relationship, there was no way I could afford to spend hours and hours in the evening at Core."

The 'crunch' hit its peak when Jeremy Heath-Smith came down to the Tomb Raider team to tell the developers that he had done a deal with Sega for the game to come out on the Saturn before the PC and PS1. This meant that the team had to deliver the finished game six weeks before they had expected to. "Can you do it?" Heath-Smith asked. This did not go down well.

"We said no," Rummery remembers. "He went, yeah, but it's a really good deal. I really need it to happen. Can you do it? No.

"We went round that circle three or four times. Suddenly we had to work like crazy loons. We had four and a half months, then we had three months. We lost a month and a half off the end."

From left to right, the original Tomb Raider development team: Gavin Rummery, Jason Gosling, Toby Gard, Heather Gibson, Neal Boyd and Paul Douglas.

Toward the end of the project, the developers were stuck to their desks pretty much around the clock. Testers would walk into the Tomb Raider room throughout the night with a list of bugs to fix, and the developers had to sort them out. An updated version of the game would be printed onto a CD, then the whole process would begin again.

"That's how we ran the business at the time," Heath-Smith says, 20 years later, "knowing the guys would end up putting in weekends and working until 11, 12, one o'clock in the morning just to get it done. That's how we got it done, by sheer grit."

"We were all in our mid-twenties and kinda coped with it then," Rummery says. "It was before we had kids to worry about. We all worked like nutters for a burst. It wasn't much fun, but we all got it done. We weren't exactly forced at gunpoint to do it. We just realised we needed to work, and we started working later to try and get things done, and then later and later, trying to get everything in. We didn't have producers breathing down our neck or anything like that. We just got on with it."

No-one at Core or Eidos knew Tomb Raider would blow up, but there were signs throughout development that it might do well. Tomb Raider had a strong showing at E3 in 1996 after the game had been ported to run on a fancy new Nvidia graphics card, then at ECTS after Eidos latched onto Lara Croft and focused its marketing around her.

Eidos employed models to dress up as the game's titular character. At ECTS there were three Laras: one of whom was a young Katie Price. As the video game press looked on in wonder at Tomb Raider's incredible graphics, Eidos thought long and hard about how to sell Lara Croft. It put "featuring Lara Croft" on the bottom of the box art - despite this being the first ever Tomb Raider game, and plastered provocative versions of her model on the side of buses. Sex, Eidos thought, would sell.

Ian Livingstone with the first three Lara models at ECTS 1996.

"She was such an iconic character and it was such a strong, unique selling point, that we thought Lara Croft was as important as the title of the game," Ian Livingstone, then on the board at Eidos, says.

"And we argued many many times whether it should become Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, or Lara Croft's Adventures, or, do we drop the Tomb Raider bit? We had endless discussions about the name of the game, and what was the best part of the brand."

Eidos' marketing worked. When Tomb Raider launched in time for Christmas 1996, it exploded. The game looked incredible, played brilliantly on the incredibly popular PS1, and the marketing tapped into the Britpop, Girl Power, lad mag culture of the 90s. Eidos had budgeted for launch sales of 100,000 units. After those sold out, shops called for hundreds of thousands more copies. Tomb Raider went on to sell 7.5m.

"You suddenly think, shit," Heath-Smith says. "We were all pretty excited."

For the six sat in the Tomb Raider room at Core, Tomb Raider's success came as a complete shock. They had worked tirelessly in a bubble for a year to get the game out the door. Eidos had flown a bunch of magazine editors out to Egypt to celebrate the launch the game, but there was no glamorous launch party for the developers. "We saw all these pictures of these journalists having a jolly in the desert by the pyramids," Rummery remembers, "and we were all sat there thinking, you bastards. We didn't get any of that."

Instead, the Tomb Raider development team was stuck working on translations so the game could launch across the world. But they were all, as you'd expect, delighted with the way Tomb Raider had gone. Well, nearly all of them were.

Toby Gard is described by those who worked with him as an enigmatic genius. They describe the animator as a quiet, intense character who would work late into the night on perfecting the way Lara Croft moved in Tomb Raider. They describe someone who cared deeply about his job and obsessed about the game he had created, fussing over everything from the way she was portrayed in the press to the clothes she wore in adverts plastered on the side of buses.

"He really was a genius," Heather Stevens says. "Quite geeky. Little round glasses. Stupid sense of humour. I could tell him a joke and he would look pan-faced at me. And then he could say something that was stupid and be in fits of giggles at himself. He was an odd character to some degree, but a very unique character.

"I just thought the world of him. He could be blunt and he could be brash and he would sometimes say things insensitively, but that was because he was just trying to make a point as clearly as he could. There was a little bit of a school teacher feel to Toby at times. But that was so in contrast to when he was relaxed. We used to have nights and he was a totally different character when he was chilled out. But he very much knew how to put the professional face on. When Toby was in professional mode, there was no messing about. It was like, right, this is a job. Let's just get on with it."

The box art for the first Tomb Raider game.

Toby Gard is also described as someone who now hates talking about Tomb Raider. Colleagues say Gard loathes press attention and in recent years has avoided doing interviews, preferring instead to focus on game development at his studio in California.

Eurogamer understands that after initially expressing interest in attending a recent gathering of Tomb Raider developers at an event in Manchester to celebrate the 20th anniversary, Gard pulled out. Many of his former colleagues, some of which say they were close friends, haven't heard from Toby Gard in years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gard failed to respond to Eurogamer's multiple requests for an interview for this feature.

Shortly after Tomb Raider came out, with Core already planning Tomb Raider 2, Toby Gard told Jeremy Heath-Smith that he and Paul Douglas were leaving Core Design. "It was devastating," he says.

"I took it personally quite badly, because I hired Toby when he was drawing pictures on the back of a crayon book. I took a gamble on him."

Those who worked with Gard said he was upset at Eidos' marketing of Tomb Raider and its portrayal of Lara Croft as a sex symbol. Gavin Rummery says he was angry that Eidos had rejected his attempt to work on the game's marketing, and felt he had lost control over his creation.

"He'd done poster designs that were meant to look like a movie poster," Rummery says.

"He showed them to the marketing guys and they literally batted him away. They said, who are you? Why are you trying to tell us what to do? You're a developer. They just couldn't believe there was a developer attempting to tell them how to market the game. He just got totally brushed off. My god that annoyed him. He was just so mad that his baby had been taken away from him at the last moment."

In an interview in 2004, Gard expressed his frustration at how his baby had been portrayed.

"I had problems when they started putting lower-cut clothes on her and sometimes taking her clothes off completely," he said.

"It's really weird when you see a character of yours doing these things. You can't believe it. You think, 'She can't do that!' I've spent my life drawing pictures of things and they're mine, you know?' They belong to me."

Looking back, most agree Eidos nailed the Tomb Raider marketing. "The thing is, of course, they knew what they were doing," Rummery says.

"They recognised Lara was going to be this huge thing, more so than we did. We all knew Lara was an integral part of the game, but when we first saw the box saying, introducing Lara Croft, we were like, what? Why are they saying that? This is a brand new game? Why would they put that on the front of the box? But they knew what they were doing, because they were one step removed, they could see that Lara was a big deal and it was worth focusing on her."

Eidos' marketing of Lara might have upset Toby Gard, but as far as the publisher was concerned, it had done the right thing.

"You look back at it and you might think it was too much focused on the sexuality of Lara Croft," Ian Livingstone says, "but we were living in the times of lad magazines. Everyone was a part of that culture. The world has moved on. We've matured as an industry, and Lara Croft the character looks a lot more realistic now and a lot more believable, but back then, things were different."

Jeremy Heath-Smith, mindful that he was about to lose his most prized creative asset, tried to convince Toby Gard to stay.

"I said, listen Toby, I'm now your dad, okay? Now, as your father, I'm telling you this is simply the worst mistake you'll ever make.

"He was citing creative differences and he didn't agree with the marketing, which was all a load of old bollocks. To this day, I don't think Toby really knows why he left. He left because he thought he was that good, and at the time he was that good.

"I said to him, listen, don't go. This will be the biggest mistake you'll ever make. I said, just stay for the next 12 months, don't do anything, don't even work on the game. I said, the money you will earn in the next 12 months will set you up for life."

Core was unique in that it offered its staff a royalties-based contract, but the stipulation was that they would only be paid these bonuses while they worked at the company. If they left, they wouldn't get a penny.

Lara on the cover of Face magazine in 1997.

This hadn't amounted to much before Tomb Raider, because none of Core's games were massive hits. But with Tomb Raider the money poured into Core's coffers, and it flowed through into the bank accounts of the developers.

Jeremy Heath-Smith says the first royalty cheque the Tomb Raider development team received was around £30,000 each, which came after the game had come out and sold incredibly well. But they stood to earn much more over the next year. Heath-Smith insisted Gard was walking away from being set up for life, "but he wouldn't have it".

It wasn't long before Eidos, mindful of its share price, got wind that Gard and Douglas were planning on leaving. "They started to kick the shit out of me, saying, how could you lose the two most important people?" Heath-Smith says. So he met with Toby again in a last-ditch attempt to convince him to stay.

It turns out that Gard and Douglas had been courted by a number of American video game developers who wanted to poach the brains behind Tomb Raider.

"He said to me and Heather, I've got these Americans interested in offering us a publishing deal, are you interested?" Rummery says. "It was like, um, no Toby, I'm not, actually, right at the moment. It seems crazy to be leaving the company right at this moment."

One of the companies that courted Gard was Interplay. Another was Dave Perry's Shiny Entertainment, which at the time was known for the likes of Earthworm Jim, MDK, Messiah, Sacrifice and Wild 9.

Perry had sent a headhunter out to Derby to sound out Gard and Douglas on whether they'd be interested in working for him in California. Colleagues say they took a couple of weeks holiday and flew out. There, they were treated to a helicopter tour of the state.

"I tried something rather aggressive," David Perry tells Eurogamer, confirming the story.

"I was trying to build the best company I could, and this was specifically the kind of talent I was hunting for at the time. "We managed to get them to visit our office and I think we managed to convince them to join us, but they ended up deciding to make a new team from scratch, which I respected.

"It would have been interesting to see what we would have created with Toby and Paul."

"Let's face it, he was probably the most wanted man in the games industry at that point," Heather Stevens says. "I've got no doubt his phone was always ringing, and his emails were full every night he got home from job offers.

"Imagine yourself in that position: you've created a great game, and suddenly the world is your oyster. These companies who were offering him jobs, they weren't just offering him a job, they were telling him that he'd got the job, and we need you, and we'll Learjet you to America and we'll helicopter you around California. We'll put you in five star hotels."

Toby and Paul returned to Derby after failing to agree to the move to the US. But they were still determined to leave Core.

"It was an incredibly sad day for me, personally and from a business perspective," Heath-Smith admits. "I was very upset. I was more upset for him. I didn't think for one second that he was going to collapse my business. I was more upset for him because I knew how successful this game was going to be for all the people involved in it. And it transpired it was.

"These guys were all on royalties. They were potentially going to earn a huge amount of money. And they all did - apart from Toby and Paul."

Gard and Douglas spent their time in a separate room, refusing to work on Tomb Raider 2. Gavin Rummery was in there with them, and describes the atmosphere.

"He didn't think there should be a sequel, because it was meant to be a one-off game. I sat in a room with him for three months where he did nothing but rant."

The trio were meant to be working on the idea Toby had for a new game, "but he was keeping schtum about it because he didn't want Jeremy to have his next big idea".

As 1997 neared, a fed-up Rummery picked up his computer and plonked it down in the Tomb Raider 2 room, declaring himself on the project.

"I just thought, clearly nothing's happening. Toby's clearly just so hacked off. And this atmosphere was toxic. So I just thought, I'm going to work on Tomb Raider 2. I don't think I even told Jeremy I'd switched teams."

It wasn't long after that that Gard and Doulas left Core to start a new studio, called Confounding Factor, in Bristol. There they began work on a pirate game called Galleon. The original six were now four. Lara Croft had lost its creator. Those who remained were baffled. There was no fanfare. "They just kind of went," Neal Boyd says. Toby Gard was 24 years old.

Galleon, which came out on Xbox in 2004.

"It made no sense," Rummery says. "He was bitter and twisted about it all, and there was no good reason to be at all. It should have been his moment of glory."

"I tried to talk him and Paul out of it," Heather Stevens says, "to the point where it was almost nagging him. Really? Please stay. Please work on the next game. We need you. We don't want you to go. It was begging.

"Listen, I come from a working class background. Dad's a miner. Mum worked in factories. I could see the value of what we'd got, and I knew it was a once in a lifetime trip we were on. I'd already been through the years at Rare when they'd promised bonuses and great games that didn't come to fruition. I'd got probably by that stage, seven or eight games behind me and not made any more than my wage. And that was a low wage. When I started at Rare I was on eight grand a year.

"Toby hadn't had that experience. He'd walked into Core, done BC Racers, done Tomb Raider and I think that was what he thought would happen with every game he ever created. It was all going to be big games. But I could see the potential of Tomb Raider, and I knew it was something different. But I just couldn't get that through to him."

"It's a real shame," Heath-Smith concludes. "I respect to a degree his creative prowess. He was just being pigheaded, the daft sod, and it cost him a lot of money. It's sad he missed out on all that money."

Toby Gard and Paul Douglas walked away from Tomb Raider and Core and hundreds of thousands of pounds in bonus royalty payments. In a 1998 interview with Gamasutra, Gard was asked why, exactly, he had left. Here's his response:

"Paul and I left Core Design because we wanted to do something new. Partly it was a wish for more extensive control over marketing and PR decisions and partly it was because we felt that we were no longer being given the creative freedom at Core that we had enjoyed while making Tomb Raider. I enjoyed my time at Core Design and I was sad to leave, but it just felt like a good time to go it alone. I don't regret that decision at all."

For those who stayed at Core to work on Tomb Raider, the money kept on coming.

"I remember going into Jeremy's office," Andy Sandham, who worked on Tomb Raider 2, 3, The Last Revelation and Chronicles, says.

"He sat us down and he said, okay guys, I've got your royalty sheets here. This is going to change your fucking lives, so be super fucking careful with this. Of course, nobody did.

"In about a week's time, one of the team drove in in a gullwing car he could hardly fit in. We were all watching him out of the window saying, what the fuck is that in the car park? There's a £150,000 gullwing car, and he's climbing out of it with his arse hanging out the back of his jeans. It just became ludicrous, with people spending idiotic amounts of money. We had the stupidest looking car park in the whole of Derby."

Tomb Raider had been such an incredible hit that Eidos demanded a sequel in time for Christmas 1997. Jeremy Heath-Smith agreed, and the developers got to work. They had eight months.

The developers say Tomb Raider 2 was a constant crunch even more brutal than what had preceded it, despite the fact the process of development was smoother because the groundwork had been laid with the first game. With a deadline set in stone and player expectations through the roof, the handful of staff nearly killed themselves to get it out the door.

"We would sleep under the desk for an hour and then wake up again and make a coffee," Neal Boyd says. "You'd splash yourself with water. When you work seven days a week, you don't even get a day off to do your washing. It is very hard."

"I felt like I was working 24/7, and I did it for months," Rummery remembers. "I thought of nothing else. I didn't sleep properly. God, it was horrible. My mum would phone up, and because I knew she'd want to chat for an hour, I wouldn't take the call. It was that level. I wasn't doing anything except work.

"But I was still really enjoying Tomb Raider. We can't work out how we did it on Tomb Raider 2. Things like Winston the butler, and the whole last level where she goes back to the mansion and you have a final shootout, were all added in the last month of the game. We popped those things in just for the fun of it."

Lara Croft on the cover of Loaded magazine in 2000.

Core delivered Tomb Raider 2 for Eidos on time, and it was another smash hit. But the exhausted team of developers were left broken.

"My wife divorced me because she wasn't seeing me," Neal Boyd says, before laughing. "I don't know why I'm laughing," he adds.

"She sat me down and said, Neal, I haven't seen you for the past two years. Are you seeing another woman? I said, god, I wish I had time.

"I had a daughter and she just didn't see me. When I came home, she wanted to go out. And I was so knackered I'd say, look, I just want a beer and to sit down and forget about that game."

Neal Boyd moved out of his house and into a small flat. "But then I virtually lived at work anyway, so it was no big deal. It was having to deal with the pressure of working on the game and sorting a divorce out. That's life. You have your life planned out and it can just come to a halt."

"It's very easy to look back, 18 years on, and go, god, it was really bad and gruesome and the worst time of my life," Heath-Smith counters. "Ask them how many have got mortgages?"

"At the time it was really hard and really tough. We all worked - not only them, all of us, myself, my brother, we all were in every weekend for the best part of eight months, working late at night.

"And it was brutal and it was hard and horrible. But do you know something? As soon as that game came out, it was unbelievably rewarding, because not only did we write what I feel was the best of the Tomb Raider series of games, it sold a complete boatload, and everybody had an amazing Christmas. We took six weeks off. We didn't come back to work, and had tonnes of money to buy the family whatever they wanted.

"Were they burnt out? Yeah, it was tiring. But we closed the place for a month and all went on holiday. Then we came back and away we went again. You could argue that we should have taken longer. Well, maybe we should. But we managed to get Tomb Raider 3 out in the same period of time and the game still held up and was still successful. And the world kept spinning and so did the Tomb Raider bubble."

The many faces of Lara Croft.

Burnt out, Gavin Rummery, Neal Boyd, Heather Stevens and others who had worked on Tomb Raider 2 wanted two years to make Tomb Raider 3. They began early work on the sequel, but it quickly became apparent that the team wasn't up for it.

"Six of us went into Jeremy's office and we all handed our notice in at the same time," Neal Boyd says.

"He was shocked, but he understood where we were coming from."

Jeremy Heath-Smith, under pressure from Eidos to have Tomb Raider 3 out the following Christmas, said no.

"He said, 'look, I'm not going to accept them. I need to talk to some people.'"

According to Boyd, Eidos and Core made a counter-offer so that the developers would stay.

"We would help nurture a new team on Tomb Raider 3 and we would be allowed to do a game that we wanted to do for Core Design with a better royalty rate. We thought, it's a no risk situation and we get to work on our own game, so we stayed. They offered us more money than the royalties. I thought, wow, this is more like it."

Gavin Rummery has his own version of events. What if another team worked to build a kind of Tomb Raider 2 Part Two, using the engine that Rummery had helped create?

"But suddenly that was announced as Tomb Raider 3," Rummery says, "which we found out by accident via a press release in a magazine. We were pissed off about that. We confronted Jeremy about it, but realised we were burnt out on Tomb Raider. Ideas hadn't been flowing well for what we were going to do with Tomb Raider 3. So we decided to back off. We decided to do something else."

That something else was Project Eden, an action adventure game that came out in 2001.

For the new Tomb Raider development team, the crunch hit hard. Tomb Raider 3, which had to come out in time for Christmas 1998, was made it just eight months, just like its predecessor.

"We were a super close team," Andy Sandham, who worked on the game, remembers. "I assumed every team in computer game development was super close, and everybody got on with each other. Little did I know, after leaving those teams, mostly, computer game development is people wanting to stab each other in the face."

Sandham was an FMV artist on Tomb Raider 2, but for Tomb Raider 3 he worked as a level designer and environment artist.

"We all just hammered it," he says. "We were all competitive making levels. We were working to three in the morning. We'd come in about 10 and then just hammered the shit out of it."

Most developers who worked on Tomb Raider at Core admit they were in part motivated by money. Royalty payments were immense, fuelled by the phenomenal success of the Tomb Raider games in the late 90s. "To be honest, the royalties kept us going," Rummery says. "We knew there was this prize if we got it right."

"I'll tell you how we coped with it," Sandham says. "We got a massive royalty cheque at the end of it. And then we went, right, let's do this again. It was basically a situation where we didn't mind if we died, as long as we got the royalty cheque at the end of the game. It's an enormous motivator."

Tomb Raider 3 was another huge hit.

Sandham says one of the royalty payments he received after Tomb Raider 3 came out was for £300,000. That wasn't the only one he received while working at Core, but it was certainly the biggest.

"And I spent it all," he says, "which was fantastic."

On what?

"Probably on just buggering about, going on really expensive holidays. I did buy a house, but I've still got a mortgage, which is insane. There are a few team members who held on to that money and are still stockpiling it. Those are the ones who have gone mental. So I'm glad I spent it all. I don't regret a minute."

Heather Stevens used her Tomb Raider royalty payments to buy a farm house - one she still lives in 20 years later.

"It is the life Lara Croft helped build," she says. "I think that every day. I remember one of the most moving times in my life: my dad came from farming, he stood outside the house and cried and just said, I'm so proud of you. For all of our ambition, where your heart is in your work is that feeling of pride and making your parents proud of you. That's what drove me on."

Tomb Raider 3 launched in time for Christmas 1998 on PS1 and it was another huge sales success. But in true Core tradition, there was no launch party for its developers. In fact, the launch party that was arranged for that game annoyed the staff who had toiled away in Derby.

Andy Sandham had included a British Museum level in the game. The Tomb Raider 3 launch party was in the Natural History Museum. "I thought, they could have at least got the bloody museum right." Sandham only found out about the launch party after it had taken place. "Perhaps they'd realised if we'd gone to that do, we would have accidentally wrecked it in some way or another, as we tended to do whenever we were brought out in public."

Some at Core were jealous of the Tomb Raider developers. Other games such as Fighting Force and Herdy Gerdy failed to make anywhere near as striking a mark as Tomb Raider. The royalties were a factor, of course. But some of the Tomb Raider developers probably didn't help themselves with the way they carried on.

"Towards Tomb Raider 4, people used to think we were twats because we knew we were the golden boys," Sandham says. "We would stride about the studio like armour plated robots. People didn't know about the royalty cheques, but they knew we were required for the day to day running of Eidos.

"This wasn't conscious on our part, but we thought, we're the dog's bollocks. We're making Tomb Raider. We were cock of the walk. I found out afterwards, understandably, that I was irritating the shit out of a lot of people."

"It's amazing what dollar signs do," Heath-Smith says. "People saw the success of the first game, and suddenly they were like, I'd like a piece of this Lara Croft stuff."

As Eidos shareholders rubbed their hands with glee, the Tomb Raider machine at Core continued to pump out games: Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation came out in 1999, and Tomb Raider Chronicles came out in 2000, both for PS1. But internally, the fire that had burned so brightly for Lara Croft just a couple of years prior began to dim, and the games began to lose their edge.

Tired of Tomb Raider, Andy Sandham tried to kill Lara Croft.

At the end of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Lara travels to Giza. There, she climbs the Great Pyramid before finding herself in the Temple of Horus. After an exhausting encounter with Horus himself, Lara makes her way out. But we see her fall from a ledge as the temple collapses around her. Lara, it seems, is dead.

"We knew we wouldn't get away with it, but it was a moment of catharsis," Sandham, who wrote the game's script, says.

"We just said, look, let's just kill her. Somebody went, well, how are we going to get away with that? We were like, let's just do it and see what happens. So we did it.

"I can remember the loud fuck! coming out of Jeremey's office when he saw the FMV."

Jeremy Heath-Smith, as you'd imagine, wasn't best pleased.

"He dragged us all in his office and said, what the fuck have you done? We were like, well, we were getting really sick of her. He said, well, you need to fix it. So obviously with Tomb Raider 5, even though she got an entire pyramid on top of her, she somehow managed to crawl out from underneath it."

Sandham had thought about decapitating Lara at the end of The Last Revelation, but he bottled it "because we knew Jeremy would probably decapitate us".

As work on The Last Revelation ended, work on next Christmas' game, Chronicles, began. But the wheels were coming off. Everyone at the studio could feel it, and the royalty payments began to shrink.

"Tomb Raider 4 was the one we were most proud of, but it was dropping down," Sandham says. "Tomb Raider 5 was effectively a load of old shit. That was the most depressing one for us. We were effectively just doing that for a paycheck because no other team wanted to take it on. So we had to do it, basically. By that time it had taken its toll. Three years of hammering it, and we were burnt out. That shows in the product."

However bad the developers thought Chronicles was, it was a masterpiece compared to the sixth Tomb Raider game: Angel of Darkness.

With its coffers swelled by Tomb Raider gold, Core Design moved out of its ramshackle converted Victorian house into flashy new offices on an industrial estate on Derby's Pride Park. Inside was air conditioned meeting rooms and large desks befitting the creator of Britsoft's biggest video game. But something had been lost in the move: "Everybody who worked at Core says the same thing: it felt like something died a little in Core when we moved there," Gavin Rummery says. "Some of the spirit went with that old building."

With the PS2 looming over the horizon, plans were put in place to work out how to make games on Sony's all-conquering second console. The Tomb Raider team swelled from 12 to 60, then 100. Eidos wanted Lara Croft's debut on PS2 to wow the world. But in the end, it killed Core.

The Angel of Darkness' disastrous development, people who worked on the game say, was down to a lack of structure, a lack of process, and a failure of management. Core had no idea how to manage a project of its size. Staff were rudderless and demotivated. The game was too ambitious. It tried to do too many different things.

Rummery, who had left Core after Project Eden had failed to make an impact after three years of development, rejoined in 2002 to become the studio's tech director. The plan, he says, was to make a game engine that all of Core's games would be built upon. That would be sorted once Angel of Darkness came out. But the game was delayed.

Eventually, pretty much everyone at Core was drafted in to help bring The Angel of Darkness back from the brink. Rummery was horrified to discover the mess the project was in.

"There hadn't been enough organisation," he says. "Everyone was keeping their head down. No-one wanted to take responsibility, so it had no leadership. It was just the mess you would expect to get if you allowed 40 people to do their thing without anyone coordinating it."

Core moved into new offices on Pride Park. They're now used by a transport company.

In a desperate bid to get the game out before the end of Eidos' financial year, and with increasing pressure from shareholders, Core Design hacked chunks out of The Angel of Darkness.

"The whole Paris section of the game became this weird desert of gameplay, because half the things that were supposed to be going on weren't there any more," Rummery says.

"There was an entire shop built where you have one line of dialogue in it because the actual shop was never built. So Lara never could buy anything. It ended up being very disjointed and not very polished at all."

Eidos had wanted a revamp of the established Tomb Raider gameplay, Jeremy Heath-Smith says. Core had wanted to remake Tomb Raider 1 for PS2, which it thought would go down well with fans and help get the studio up and running on the new tech. But Eidos wouldn't have it.

"I should have stuck to my guns, but I gave in to pressure from Eidos," he says. "They just wanted more. They wanted bigger. They wanted interaction. They wanted Lara to talk to people. They wanted decision making - do you go down this street, that street, take this from them, ask them this? Just stuff that was happening in gaming at the time, we shoehorned into Angel of Darkness."

The Paris level, for example, was meant to be freeform. You were meant to be able to explore and chat to people. But none of the dialogue elements had been worked into the game, and nobody could say why.

"I started off with the lead programmer and said, so what's the problem?" Rummery remembers. "Why are these not getting sorted out? He said, oh well, blah blah blah. You need to talk to the person who's putting them in. I went to talk to this guy and he went, blah blah blah, you need to go and talk to this person. I went through a chain of six people. The last person went: yeah, you need to go and talk to the lead programmer.

"Oh my god. I'd gone in a circle. So I went, right, you six, come with me! We need to talk this out! We thrashed out who needed to do what and what the problems were. Everyone was waiting on someone else."

While the PS2 was the lead platform for The Angel of Darkness, the game was coming out on PC, too. But the port was an afterthought, and it was being built with a PS2 controller. There were no PC controls.

The Angel of Darkness' camera came under fire when the game launched.

A month before the game was due to ship, Rummery was asked to build a PC control system.

"They'd designed the entire game with a PlayStation controller in mind. It used dual sticks. That doesn't exist on a PC. So I had to hack together a mouse and keyboard control system, and obviously do it in a way that didn't require anyone to do any animations because they hadn't got the time. I put the control system together in about a week."

Morale was at a low point. Staff say the constant crunch had exhausted and demoralised the development team, which wanted shot of Tomb Raider even before it was delayed into 2003.

"It was no surprise it came out as it did, because they were just forcing it out the door to hit the Eidos deadline," Rummery says.

Everyone at Core knew The Angel of Darkness was a mess, but they also knew it had to come out, or the strong arm of Eidos would come down hard.

"We were up against the wall timewise as we always were," Jeremy Heath-Smith says.

"The game wasn't finished. I told Eidos the game wasn't finished. They didn't want to know. It was a case of, well, we're going with it, whatever. We'll figure it out later. The game was rapidly brought to a halt and literally shoved onto a CD. It needed another six to eight weeks to have finished it properly, but we didn't have that because we were chasing the share price."

The Angel of Darkness was mauled by critics. The controls and camera were a mess. "The camera was just a complete pig," Heath-Smith says, "We never managed to get the camera right. And that was the biggest problem with the game."

But there were other issues. Aside from technical problems, fans didn't get on with Lara's new direction, the levels she went to, nor the outfits she wore. Despite selling millions of copies, The Angel of Darkness was deemed a disaster by Eidos. Tomb Raider had suffered its first flop.

"There was a 'what went wrong' board meeting in which I was held accountable, which was fine," Jeremy Heath-Smith explains. "To which I said, well, it wasn't finished, so therefore, be it on my shoulders. I said, I'm happy to resign. They said, no, we don't need you to resign. I said that's all good. Two weeks later it transpired anyway.

"At the time, we were all living in a different place. All our egos are high and I was like, well, fuck you, I'm outta here anyway, and let's see what the City makes of that, I'm going to start my own development company and I'm going to take everybody out of Core and like I care. I was fairly arrogant at the time, because that was the world I'd spent the last seven years in. So off I went. And they paid me handsomely to go. It was all good.

"We were in the City. The share price was under pressure. They needed a head to give to the City. That was me, served up on a plate. Which was fine. I don't live in a world of regret."

Officially, Heath-Smith was put on gardening leave, but it didn't last long. He set up Circle Studio and took a number of Core staff with him. "Then they were going to sue me," he says. "I said, fine. Bring it on. Of course they didn't. There was no point in suing me."

With Heath-Smith out the door, Eidos assumed full control over Tomb Raider and Lara Croft. Its first move was to tear the franchise away from Core and put it into the hands of Crystal Dynamics, the Californian developer of the Legacy of Kain series.

"We had to take the decision, even though it was a horrendous decision at the time," Ian Livingstone remembers.

"It was just horrendous because we all owed a huge gratitude to Core Design for what they'd done in establishing Lara Croft as an iconic gaming figure. They'd created incredible sales through the first five iterations of Tomb Raider on PS1. And suddenly they were going to lose the franchise to be developed elsewhere. It was a terrible thing to have to do, but it really had to be done."

But why? Why, after a string of huge hits and just one misstep, did Core not get a second chance?

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was a disaster for Eidos and Core.

Some believe Eidos was looking for an excuse to take control of Lara Croft. Others believe they had grown frustrated at Heath-Smith's management of Core.

"Core was very independent," Rummery says. "That was part of the reason the knives were out later on. We were doing our own thing all of the time and not engaging with the Eidos guys at all."

"There had been various deadlines that had been missed," Andy Sandham says. "At that point they were looking for an excuse to ditch us, basically. Eidos board members kept requesting the release date. Jeremy kept sending back faxes that said, when it's ready, which was driving them mental. They were getting really angry at Jez and they wanted an excuse to get him off the board."

Livingstone explains the decision: "Unfortunately there was a bottleneck in the development at Core and it just couldn't get the technology to work right," he says.

"They were fantastic at developing on PS1, but just didn't quite make it on PS2. In the meantime, we knew Crystal had this incredible physics engine they'd been using for Legacy of Kain, and they could quite easily create an intense, puzzle-solving game which would be the next Tomb Raider game. And they did.

"We gave it every chance. They had the best part of three years to get it right and it didn't happen. Pressure from shareholders, pressure from consumers - we had to make the tough call.

"It was not a nice thing to have to do."

"It was always going to happen," Heath-Smith laments. "I even recommended they take it away from Core and give us a rest. Let somebody else have a go at it, then we'll do something else on it and we'll be working in the background. For me, it was, let Crystal do the next one for the next two years, and we'll do one in four years' time."

Those who'd worked on Tomb Raider at Core were sad that Lara Croft had been taken away from them, but there was a surprising sense of relief. The pressure was off. Perhaps the brutal crunch would end, too. Most had grown sick and tired of Tomb Raider, anyway.

The hope was that Core would be "leaner and meaner" in a post Lara Croft world. It would try to come up with new types of games. "They asked, has anyone got any new ideas for games?" Rummery remembers.

The house Tomb Raider was built in is now apartments.

"There were 40 or 50 people at Core and they got 60 game ideas put forward. It seemed we were getting back on our feet."

Core converted to making PSP games. Smart Bomb came out in 2005, but amid its development, Eidos ran into trouble. A month after becoming boss of the studio, Rummery was told Eidos would restructure and close down Core. "I was like, oh my god. I persuaded them, we're doing the PSP games. We can build ourselves up. And I got a stay of execution. And that was it for the next two years: fighting to keep the studio open."

As Core tried desperately to stay alive, the studio moved onto a PSP game based on parkour called Free Running. Rummery and others at the studio thought Core could use the engine it had created for PSP to make a Tomb Raider 10th Anniversary game. This would be a remake of the first Tomb Raider game, launched 10 years after its debut on Saturn, PS1 and PC.

Rummery pitched the idea to Eidos, and was surprised to find them lukewarm. With Eidos collapsing, all looked lost. But in early 2006 British games manufacturer SCi Entertainment bought the entire operation. Was Eidos' demise the fault of The Angel of Darkness?

"Clearly, Tomb Raider was the ace franchise of the Eidos portfolio," Ian Livingstone says, "but let's not forget we also had Hitman, Deus Ex, Championship Manager and Just Cause - it wasn't too shabby a portfolio. It's just that Tomb Raider was a super hit. Clearly it's joined at the hip, but not solely dependent."

Jeremy Heath-Smith says the Eidos "monster" was being "fundamentally supported" by Tomb Raider, despite the other games in the portfolio. It truly was the company's cash cow, its golden goose. "In real terms, Tomb Raider was cheap to develop, because we owned Core," Heath-Smith says. "So it was only royalties we paid the guys and to me."

But perhaps Eidos, with dollar signs in the eyes of its shareholders, got too greedy. Heath-Smith remembers a meeting in America with Eidos executives who continued to ramp up sales expectations for the Tomb Raider games even when enthusiasm for the series had faltered - just to keep the City happy.

"Right, the numbers are down, the market's on its arse, Tomb Raider is coming out - we're just going to put another couple hundred thousand on the Tomb Raider number," Heath-Smith remembers of the conversation. "That will cover it. Suddenly Tomb Raider's got to sell six and a half million copies out of the shoot rather than the original three million it started at."

In that kind of environment, is it any wonder Tomb Raider ended up failing to hit sales expectations?

Rummery found SCi more receptive to the idea of a 10th Anniversary Tomb Raider, and got the go-ahead. "So off we went and started really going for it. The guys on it were really into it. It was meant to be a celebration for the original Tomb Raider. We were really going for it with the graphics."

In the background, however, SCi executives wanted to cut the number of studios it held, and Core was in the firing line. Crystal Dynamics was reviving the Tomb Raider franchise with the well-received Legends ("when I saw Legends I thought, that's the vision I had in my head when Toby described Tomb Raider a decade before," Rummery says). But at the time, the Californian studio had yet to prove it to the world it had what it took to make Lara Croft great again.

"They had a lot riding on that, and it was a year late," Rummery says. "We were making the Tomb Raider remake, and they suddenly put forward their own demo. It was a basic demo, using a bit of the beginning of the opening scene of Legends running on PSP. I didn't think it was a big deal. I thought, come on, look how much we've got! We've nearly finished on this! I didn't foresee it as a particularly serious threat, and it didn't seem to make a lot of sense because they were going to have to outsource it.

"But politically it made more sense for them to build it. Their trump card was, hey, we can do 10th anniversary across Xbox 360 and things like that, which we couldn't do at all because we didn't have that kind of capability.

"So I was told, no, we've decided to go with their version, which obviously went down like a cup of cold sick at our place. And they didn't hit the 10th anniversary. So they had to call it just anniversary. It came out on the 11th anniversary. The only bit I proposed that came to fruition was the idea of doing it in the bloody first place. It was gutting."

Core never fully recovered.

In May, SCi announced it had sold off Core Design to Rebellion. The studio was renamed Rebellion Derby, and set to work on a sequel to Vietnam War-themed first-person shooter ShellShock, called ShellShock 2: Blood Trails.

"They'd put Gavin in charge of piloting a plane when the wings were on fire," Andy Sandham, who worked on the game, says.

"It was plummeting. Core was looking at Tomb Raider Anniversary as revitalising their fortunes. When that was canned, a lot of people left because they could see it was just going to be work for hire and we were a satellite studio."

ShellShock 2 did not go well.

"We had to put ShellShock 2 on the Xbox 360. We'd just got the new technology and we were trying to understand it, and we were trying to push out a triple-A game with a studio of 50 people," Andy Sandham says. "We knew as experienced developers that we couldn't do that. So there was a feeling of malaise."

Neal Boyd remembers his time working on Shellshock 2 with a grimace. "It was meeting after meeting after meeting," he says. "It was going nowhere. They settled on a theme and I thought, oh my god, I'm going to be working on this for three or four years, and it's got four out of 10 written all over it. I don't want to be associated with a game like that. I thought, if I could change it I would stay. But I didn't have any say. I was told, no, we've employed a writer and we're going along this route."

Increasingly upset at the situation at the studio, Boyd took a three month sabbatical to travel around Mongolia, Tibet, India and Thailand. When he returned to Derby, he found Core - and ShellShock 2, in a depressing state.

"When I got back I went into the office, pulled the blinds up and it was the same grey sky over the same grey industrial estate," he says.

"I said, can you show me how you've progressed on this game, taking into account three months had gone, and they hadn't nailed anything down. I thought, right, I'm going to sell everything and go to Thailand. I couldn't work on the game because I had no interest in it or faith in it. I tried to pluck up the enthusiasm and just be professional and buckle down, but I felt it was the bad thing to do.

"Everyone felt the same. Morale was very low. Decisions weren't getting made. Things were done by committee. They didn't want to take any chances. I lost my enthusiasm. Also working with other people in the company who were just there to do a job, they'd like to just come in and you tell them to model a gun.

"Everybody on the early Tomb Raiders, they were into everything. We did a bit of everything. We had enthusiasm and ideas. We were on a roll. Here I was at a standstill and I couldn't get anyone motivated. It was terrible."

ShellShock 2 was universally panned and was a commercial flop. "It managed to reach the second from bottom on Metacritic at one point," Sandham says. "It's the closest I've ever got to being at the very bottom of Metacritic with a game."

Rebellion Derby moved on to Rogue Warrior, the ill-fated first-person shooter starring a rapping Mickey Rourke. It would go down as one of the worst video games of all time.

"I was saying to the design team, because I was lead level designer, that they needed to go out and get a job as quick as possible, otherwise they would be in trouble," Sandham says. "They didn't seem to be getting it."

It wasn't long after Rogue Warrior came out that Rebellion closed the studio. It was a messy closure, with reports of unpaid wages and withheld redundancy packages emerging from whistleblowers. But the inevitable happened in March 2010: in one fell swoop, what was left of the creator of Lara Croft was dead.

Four months later, Lara Croft Way opened.

Where did Core go wrong? Should Jeremy Heath-Smith have pushed back against Eidos? Should he have insisted The Angel of Darkness had more time? Should Core have better prepared for the project, for the transition to PS2? Did Eidos and Core simply grind Tomb Raider into the ground? If Toby Gard had stayed, would Lara Croft still be in Derby?

There are a lot of what ifs to the Core story. Reflecting on what happened on the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider, Jeremy Heath-Smith believes the studio's undoing was that it failed to move with the times.

"I'd always run Core like a cool gang," he says. "As Tomb Raider became bigger and bigger, the culture of developing games at other companies, from Electronic Arts to Activision, was changing from producers to associate producers to team leaders. A process was being put in for how to develop a great game that would sell six million units.

"We didn't embrace that new culture. We wanted to keep it as 12 people rather than 120 people doing it. The reality was, we should have had 150 people doing it, and producers and associate producers and lead this and lead that. We didn't.

"We got left behind as a developer, which then showed when we did The Angel of Darkness, because we went to a team of 100 and didn't know what we were doing. It was like, what the fuck is this all about? How are we supposed to manage all of these people? Who's head of this and who's head of that?

"No wonder it turned out to be a complete cluster."

Heather Stevens remembers popping into Jeremy's office to ask a simple question: what the fuck happened? "Jeremy couldn't tell me," she says. "I think it ultimately got out of Jeremy's control. He'd gone from somebody who was master of his own universe, to somebody who was overseen by a bigger bully.

"There wasn't room any more for a Toby to walk into Core with a totally new idea and be able to run with it. Everything had to be safe."

Toby Gard's Galleon came out on Xbox in 2004, seven years after he left Core in 1997. It failed to make an impact, but there were flashes of the genius that had spawned Tomb Raider.

"I could see so many elements of Tomb Raider in it," Heather Stevens says. "Watching the character climbing walls inside a cave, I thought, crikey, if he'd had just stayed for Tomb Raider 2 and implemented those ideas and put together some of our ideas for transport for Lara, we'd have been probably four or five games ahead.

"It's a shame. Some things just don't work out."

Heather Stevens is a full-time mum, having left Core after the release of Project Eden to have a family.

"I'd only ever cried twice at Core," she remembers. "Once was when Jeremy didn't want to pay us the money he owed us. (He did pay us in the end, I should add.) The other time was to tell him I was pregnant and I was leaving. It broke my heart. I was really caught between two things I desperately wanted in life, but two things I knew I couldn't make work together."

Neal Boyd lives in Thailand. He is considering getting back into video game development and has just bought a PSVR headset.

Gavin Rummery works at social games company Legendary Games in Nottingham. It's currently building Mordheim: Warband Skirmish, a mobile adaptation of Games Workshop's tabletop.

Jason Gosling works as a programmer at Sumo Digital in Sheffield, having left Core in 2000 to work at Eurocom.

Jeremy Heath-Smith is CEO of Spike Global Ltd, which makes software for business.

Paul Douglas, who followed Gard out of Core and onto Galleon in Bristol, left Confounding Factor mid-development. He hasn't been seen or heard of since.

After his stint consulting with Crystal Dynamics on the Tomb Raider games, Toby Gard fell off the radar. But he made a surprise return as the game director of Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z at Spark Unlimited. In 2014, Gard founded a new studio called Tangentlemen. It's just released a PlayStation VR game called Here They Lie.

When you ask the creators of Tomb Raider whether the series can even return to the glory days of the late 90s, the response is pretty much the same every time: almost certainly not.

And yet, Lara endures. Crystal Dynamics has rebooted Tomb Raider yet again with two action adventure games that present a very different Lara Croft. While both 2013's Tomb Raider and the recently-released Rise of the Tomb Raider are modest successes compared to the Core Design games, they are successes, nevertheless. Clearly, there is still an appetite for our Lara.

Ian Livingstone with Toby Gard after Square Enix had bought Tomb Raider.

Much of her enduring appeal is down to the brilliance of Toby Gard, whose original Lara model remains iconic some 20 years later. Apart from Mario and Sonic, is there a more famous video game character in the world?

"People always say, You must be gutted about Tomb Raider," Toby Gard said in a 2004 interview.

"All that money you've thrown away. But I'm not. If I'd have stayed I might have become rich. But I'd have been so arrogant. Plus, I'd never have made Galleon, this earth-shatteringly cool game."

Core Design's story is one of stonking highs and crushing failure. It is an uplifting story of how a British company changed the video game world. It is a story of a certain time and place, unlikely to ever be repeated. And it is a story of 90s game development crunch and corporate greed that ended in inevitable disaster.

The people who built Britsoft's biggest ever video game may have dropped off of the radar. But as the cars continue to speed through Lara Croft Way on dreary Saturday afternoons, one thing is certain: Tomb Raider will not be forgotten.

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About the Author
Wesley Yin-Poole avatar

Wesley Yin-Poole


Wesley likes news, interviews, and more news. He also likes Street Fighter more than anyone can get him to shut up about it.

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