On this day in 1996, the first Crash Bandicoot game hit shelves in the US. In November of the same year, the game was released in Europe. Only a few weeks later, the original Tomb Raider and its charismatic protagonist Lara Croft were introduced to the world. That was 20 years ago. Feel old yet? It’s funny how coincidental dates can be sometimes. Because, you see, I was born in 1996. I have played a lot of video games in my whole life. However, there are only two franchises which I started playing as a child, and never stopped playing ever since – and as a matter of fact, both of them were released on the year of my birth.Although it rapidly became a major hit back in 1996, Crash Bandicoot was by no means a revolutionary game. It does have the merit to be one of the first 3D platformers – even though most of its gameplay retains mechanics inherited from 2D platformers – but it didn’t bring that much novelty to the concept. But that never was the point of Crash Bandicoot. What I think made the success of the game, as well as that of its sequels, is its polished graphics on the one hand, and its original universe on the other hand. The original games were developed by Naughty Dog, but the whole cast of characters, as well as the setting of the first game, were imagined by Joe Pearson and Charles Zembillas, two designers from American Exitus specifically hired for the project. From Koala Kong to Pinstripe Potoroo (without forgetting the infamous Dr. Neo Cortex), they created a colorful universe filled with goofy and loveable characters, that contributed to make Crash Bandicoot such a memorable series. The franchise, however, has had quite a troubled history – after 4 games (including a racing game) developed by its home studio Naughty Dog, Crash moved on to different developers, which all had different visions and intentions regarding the character and the game. Not all titles released after that were great, but some of them were actually pretty good. Then, for many reasons which I won’t detail here, the Crash Bandicoot franchise became dormant for years, as almost no new games were released between 2008 and today. It wasn’t until E3 2016, during Sony’s press conference, that we heard about Crash again.
As opposed to Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider was much more of a revolutionary game when it was released in 1996. It actually was a double revolution: it was the first adventure game in 3D, with a dynamic camera system and huge, vertical environments, and it was one of the first games to feature a strong female character as a protagonist. Lara soon became a star, and if you’re interested in reading more about the history of Lara’s iconic status, I have written a whole blog post about it. Totalizing 11 main games, a large number of spinofff games, two movies and several comicbook series, the Tomb Raider franchise, although not as revolutionary and succesful as it used to be in the 90s, is remains critically acclaimed 20 years later, and Lara is still one of the most famous video game characters ever created. Crystal Dynamics, current developer of the franchise, even went as far as labeling Lara Croft “The Undisputed Queen of Gaming” during PAX East 2016.
Regardless of their own history, the details of which would require at least two other blog posts, Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider were present in many if not all of the significant steps of my life. First of all, I need to tell you that I was somehow predestined to be a gamer – my parents being gamers, themselves. They used to spend countless hours playing Sonic the Hedgehog, Castle of Illusion and The Lion King on their Mega Drive – and they still did when my mother was pregnant with me. Then in 1997, a year after I was born, they bought their first PlayStation, along with three games: Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider II. They very soon became addicted. They were playing all day and all night, trying to figure out how to obtain the purple gem in Crash 2, or how to defeat the T-Rex in TR1. And it’s not like they had an Internet connection to find the solution online. No, they had to call the official Eidos Interactive hotline (which cost an hefty amount of 2.23F per minute) to get some advice on where to go next in Lara’s adventures. Yes, my parents used to spend money on game hotlines. That’s how passionate (and also a bit crazy) they were about video games. So of course it wasn’t long until I started watching my parents play video games. Fascinated by Lara Croft’s adventures, I invented stories in my head about exploring the world as Lara. And in 1999, at the age of 3, I “accidentally” erased my parents’ save in Tomb Raider III. Well, not exactly erased. I let Lara fall into a deadly trap, and saved the game at this point, so that Lara would endlessly fall to her death whenever loading the game. This day shall then be remembered as “the day my parents almost committed infanticide”.
Again a bit later, I started playing, myself. Tomb Raider was too complicated for me, so I would only play and replay the tutorial level, in which you were able to lock Lara’s butler in the refrigerator of Lara’s mansion. The first game I actually played from start to finish, with the help of my father and sister, was Crash Bandicoot 2, and then Crash Bandicoot 3. At one point, my parents stopped playing games. It wasn’t a decision they made overnight, but progressively, they found less and less time to play. But the torch had already been passed on to me. That was it. I was passionate about video games. In 2001, my parents bought me a PlayStation 2, and the first games I played on that system were Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, and Herdy Gerdy (a game developed by the creators of… Tomb Raider). Years passed and video games became even more of a passion. Although I enjoyed many other games, Crash and Tomb Raider were never far. When my English teacher in middle school asked us to write a paragraph about one of our heroes, I chose Lara Croft. When my uncle died, I remember I played Crash Bandicoot 2 to change my mind. My 10th birthday gift was Tomb Raider: Legend. With my pocket money, I once bought the original Crash Bandicoot on eBay, the one episode that was missing from my collection. In 2008, I was counting the days until the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld. No later than last year, I bought an Xbox One coincidentally with the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider, and when I was asked to do a presentation about a specific medium for a class of Semiology I’m attending at the university, I chose to study the Tomb Raider reboot.
Of course I have played other games. And of course, many other games were released in 1996, some of which I have played a lot as well – Resident Evil and Pokémon for instance. But they did not have the same impact on me as Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider. These are two games I literally grew up with. They have forged my tastes in gaming – I mostly enjoy two game genres: platforming and action-adventure – and maybe they have forged who I am as well. It’s not just that I’m a fan. It’s not just that I enjoy these games. It’s not just that they’re fun to play. They’re more than games to me. I associate a huge part of my personality, a huge part of my personal history, to both of these game series. I have always been a dreamer. I have never felt like I belonged in the real world – in fact, as a child, I would rather spend time in the imaginary worlds I invented, or in the imaginary worlds that video games provided to me (and most of the time, they were connected), than spending time with kids of my age. And although I now like socializing a lot more than I used to, the truth is I still enjoy being immersed in virtual, fantasy worlds, in which anything and everything is possible. Video games are my way out, my one means of escape from the real world whenever that’s necessary. And I think it all started with the colorful universe of Crash Bandicoot. The game didn’t stop when I turned off the console – it continued to live in my imagination. I imagined new adventures for Crash, with Dr. Neo Cortex once again scheming to steal all crystals and gems.
As for Tomb Raider, it has affected me, who I am today, in many, many ways. First, it is thanks to Tomb Raider that I have always been curious about ancient civilizations, legends and mythologies. I never would have studied Latin in middle school if it weren’t for Tomb Raider. And I tend to give credit to Lara Croft, who speaks dozens of idioms, for making me love learning and translating foreign languages. Lara Croft herself has always been an inspirational character for me. Some kids idolize their comicbook superheroes – for me, it was Lara Croft. As a kid, I was always very shy. It is thanks to Lara Croft’s exceptional repartie, and all the witty punchlines she throws at her enemies, that I was able to overcome this timidity. Lara’s courage even in the most perilous situations has always inspired me to go further, to do the best I can, whatever the obstacles. And of course, Tomb Raider has allowed me to meet all kinds of incredible people. The very first website I discovered as a teenager, when I first had the right to go online by myself (I know you’re thinking it was porn, but IT WASN’T), was a French Tomb Raider fansite and forum called Captain Alban. I discovered its community of Lara Croft fans. Since I was still very shy at the time, it was difficult for me to make friends “in real life”. So I made friends online. I realized how easier it was to talk to people online, especially people who share the same passion(s). I met people from all ages and locations, and started to feel at home in what feels like a community. It made me develop a taste for “Internet relationships”, even before the era of social media – which explains why, today, I spend so much time meeting and chatting with new people on Twitter and Facebook. Today, almost all of my “irl” friends (and above all, my boyfriend, who has been sharing my life for 4 years now), are people I met on Twitter. I’m positive that it wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for Captain Alban, thus for Tomb Raider. Six years ago, I also became a member of the writing team of Captain Alban’s Tomb Raider fansite. I discovered the pleasure of writing about your passion, and sharing that passion with others. I wouldn’t have created this blog had I not realized that. It also led me to realize what kind of career I want for myself. I haven’t finished studying yet, so I let myself a bit more time to think about the actual job I want, but I know one thing for sure: it will be related in a significant manner to the world of video games and game development. I know it. It’s in my veins, litterally – I was born from gamer parents, remember? I know video games are my whole life. It’s a vocation. I know it doesn’t sound as fancy as wanting to become a doctor and save lives, but hey, I DON’T CARE. I want to dedicate my life to video games. I have known it for as long as I can remember. And they say you shouldn’t expose kids to video games… In my case, it was the best thing that could ever happen to me.
I’m not saying that I owe my whole personality to Crash and Lara. Yet they definitely played a huge part in forging who I am as an adult, much like the books I have read, the people I have met, all the other games I have played, and so on. Crash and Lara are more significant to me, simply because they were there right from the start. Another proof that video games are more than just games… Happy birthday, Crash! Happy birthday Lara! I’m glad we’re turning 20 together.
As a celebration of his 20th anniversary, and after an almost 10-year-long hiatus in the franchise, Crash Bandicoot will come back as a toy and playable character, along with his arch-nemesis Dr. Neo Cortex, in Skylanders: Imaginators, the newest entry in Activision’s toy-to-life franchise, set for release on October 16, 2016. His cameo in the game includes a whole hommage level set in the Wumpa Islands, developed by Bandicoot veteran studio Vicarious Visions. The studio will also bring back the three original Crash games in a remastered vision, to be released in 2017.
Celebrations for Tomb Raider and Lara Croft’s 20th anniversary include the release of a special edition of Rise of the Tomb Raider with added DLCs and bonuses, an expansive book of anecdotes and trivia about the Tomb Raider franchise written by community manager Meagan Marie, a CD and a concert of Tomb Raider (re)compositions conducted by veteran composer Nathan McCree, a special statue collection and the re-release of all classic comics.