Tomb Raider is 25 years old now. Daryl Baxter releases his book documenting conversations with the integral members of the first two games. Is it a good read? Lets find out. The Finger Guns Review;
Home Sweet Home
I think it is pretty accepted within Finger Gun’s HQ that when it comes to anything Tomb Raider, I’m ya’ girl. From having an extensive past with Tomb Raider, it starts on the arrival of Lara Croft being released into the world herself. I grew up inspired by the ‘main character’ being the badass female for once. I even dressed as her for World Book Day (I argued that she was in gaming magazines, and walkthroughs and therefore that counted as a book!) and she lives as part of some of the fondest memories I have with my Dad.
So when offered to do a book review on the making of the first two TR games. I couldn’t turn this down. As a gamer, I am not an avid reader of things that are not reviews, or articles, or research (who knew right?). I think I got this book around 5 days before writing this very review you are reading now, which should give you some indication of where this review may head. I’ve never actually reviewed a book before, and I want to make sure that I do it justice without just giving you all the best bits from the book. So let’s dive in.
Opening the Right Door
This book it authored by Daryl Baxter, a UK based writer and podcaster who’s work have been featured on sites such as WIRED and TechRadar. Daryl seems to be a huge fan himself. His previous work has covered the likes of Sonic and Metal Gear Solid, but as a reader you can tell his passion also lies within Tomb Raider.
Boasting a hardback, 139 A4 pages and 11 chapters, the book focuses on the depths of the first two games in the franchise. Specifically the games that were developed by CORE design. Daryl has taken the time to interview the members responsible for the development of Tomb Raider 1 and 2, and the people involved of those who are alive today. The book recounts interview transcripts that were conducted by himself during the COVID-19 pandemic. What you read within this book, you may have heard of in other forms, but not in the depth where you can literally read this from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
From the offset, the book invites you to get to know Daryl – Why is he writing this book? What got him into writing? Why does he care 25 years on? This book is a documentary, paying tribute to the games that have shaped his childhood. Within 10 pages of this book, I feel as if I can hear his voice and the excitement in the written word for what he is about to share.
Having finished this book, I think it is important to note that if you are not a fan of Tomb Raider, or you haven’t played the first two games, that this may not be the book for you. Having said that, there is caveat that it does offer a really interesting insight to the gaming development world still 25 years ago and the history of design, progression and uniqueness Tomb Raider as a game brought to the industry. However, if you are a fan of Tomb Raider, and I do think you really need to be *a fan*, then the amount of Joy will likely get from revisiting not only the game, but discovering the depth of design to it, will be second to none.
The beginning chapters detail the underpinnings of Core. How the first game came to fruition and an introduction to most of the people involved. Sadly, some have since passed before Daryl spoke with them. It depicts the inspirations, the foundations of ideas for the game and gives perspective of how such a small team started the wheels turning to one of the biggest games in the industry.
Chapters review the design of Lara herself, the structure and level design, game engines and construction of those engines, sound, and much more before really delving into post quality assurance and press. Shining a light on the realities of ‘crunch time’ as we still know it today and the impact that had on the team. It is a hard reality that workers for development and production companies still face, regardless of press and controversy. It is a shame it feels the industry is not all that different to what Daryl’s interviews describe 25 years ago.
Speaking of interviews, this is something that brings the book to life. Although on paper, (ha) reading a bunch of transcripts sounds monotonous and a bit shit, Daryl does a fantastic job of sectioning the right amount of script to really understand the method behind every decision. By multiple chapters in, with minimal description of who anyone is, you get a real sense of every member of the team, their likes, dislikes, temperament and their personal motivations, inspirations and aspirations for the game. You can tell just how close knit this team was, and their ability to reflect on not only the day to day grind but the moments that really shifted the progress of Tomb Raider. It’s all great reading the ‘25 things you didn’t know about Tomb Raider’ articles on google, but it really is an experience hearing the nuanced background about that 14th or 25th thing.
It was interesting to see the conversations from behind the scenes, how difficult the controls became to port over to other consoles, the bugs found in post release, the ideas that nearly never happened, and of course, the story behind Winston the Butler.
It is really enjoyable is the relationships between the members. Specifically Heather and Neal who are responsible for the structure and level design. Big fans will enjoy a breakdown of who made what level and appreciate their personal nuances described within the book. When something you are such a big fan of, not only has a special place for you personally but is 20 years plus with someone writing about it today, is such an odd yet nostalgic experience to remember your favourite level. To remember which bits were your personal favourites, and read about those bits and discover things you never knew, or something that never even crossed your mind.
All the elements of the both games as mentioned above are spoken about in depth. What is also a great nuance of the book is the reminiscing of highs and lows post release. How Tomb Raider sailed the charts, from SEGA to Sony, to film. It delves into the role of stockholders, advertising and even E3. Like ‘yo, remember when Lara was the face of Lucozade?’, I’ve never really forgotten that. Yet, it was 25 freaking years ago.
Importantly, in a time where Bond and Indiana Jones ruled the roost in being badass hero’s in the spotlight. Lara and the choice to put her in the front row, paved the way for the future with females in the industry. 25 years on, we have many sequels, multiple films, and a boat load of merch and memories.
Most importantly, links fans may have made between the first two games and the rest of the series, may be uncovered. The story behind the future of TR post TR2 is explained. The impact the busy years had in creating the iconic-ness we have today is delved into.
Round Up Raider
It’s difficult to say more without just spilling everything new I learnt about the franchise I love. You could go ahead and call me bias because I do love the series, but equally if this book gave me nothing to shout about, and I didn’t feel the passion in what I read, then I would certainly be shouting that out too. It felt like being a part of a dinner table, having good food and drink listening to conversations you so desperately want to soak up and remember every word that is spoken as it pieces together a story.
Daryl has done a magnificent job in this written word documentary of the games that start the adventure as we know today. As previously mentioned, you have to really love this franchise, and/or be interested in the making of this game or the game that started revolutionary technology that we see today in modern gaming. You might be a fan of the more recent editions in the family such as the reboot and that might be okay too if what you have read here peaks your interest. Do be warned, this breaks down those games in huge detail. This is not an overview of the series by any stretch. However, if TR 1 or 2 is your favourite game in the family, then it would be difficult to even argue how this book wouldn’t be for you.
From a couple of typos and a paragraph that repeats itself almost word for word a few pages later, this book is difficult to fault. It was difficult to put down and makes me feel every bit deserving of the word nerd I can hear being yelled at me from afar. The pictures used are either from the members of the team such as schematics or pencil drawings of ideas for levels, or pulled from the game as a healthy reminder of the polygons on display. Would it have been awesome to be one big encyclopaedia of TR? Sure, but actually having this focus on just the first two games really makes you appreciate the intricacies that made this franchise come alive.
If you like what you read here, then it’s an easy recommendation to go buy The Making of Tomb Raider, by Daryl Baxter.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the book. For our full review policy, please go here.
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