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Thursday, November 20, 1997 Published at 23:09 GMT


Sony targets Lara Croft in games war

Cyber heroine Lara Croft has found herself cornered by the giant Sony corporation in the battle of the game consoles this Christmas. Made in Britain and created on computer, Lara blasts into action again when Tomb Raider II is released next week, just in time for the Christmas rush.

In the conflict with console rivals, Sony has signed a deal to ensure the eagerly-awaited sequel to Tomb Raider, the game in which Lara gained stardom, can be seen only on its Playstations. A PC version will be launched at the same time.

[ image: Lara in action (Courtesy Eidos Internactive)]
Lara in action (Courtesy Eidos Internactive)
The publisher, Eidos International, has announced a marketing blitz which should help Tomb Raider II to the top of the gaming charts. The Lara phenomenon has been a key to its success. She only exists on a computer screen but Lara has already been a special guest on rock group U2's world tour, appeared on the covers of more than 40 magazines and is the subject of hundreds of fanzine Web sites.

She was even named as one of the "Top 50 shakers of the digital world", by TIME Digital magazine. The rest were all real people in the industry.

A Lara pop song has been recorded, but its release has been put on hold so as not to spoil a deal for a big-budget Hollywood movie. Demi Moore and Liz Hurley are among the stars whose names are being mentioned for the title role.

Sony is also rumoured to be planning to buy Tomb Raider's creators, the Derby-based firm Core Design, to tighten even further its control over the game. While it strives to leave its competitors out in the cold, the rest of the games industry is busy analysing the secret of Lara's success.

The pixelated pin-up was dubbed "Shotgun Spice" in a recent Newsweek cover feature. Some women admire her for being in control, a breath of fresh air in the macho world of computer games. Others say her ridiculous figure, including breasts which are 150% bigger than normal, make her just another fantasy object.

J.C. Herz, the author of "Joystick Nation", a book on the history of videogames, told Newsweek: "Female characters are the rage because boys like to look at them. They're the pinup girls of the 21st century."

Many of the unofficial Lara web sites appear to bear this out. And, despite denials from Core, rumours still abound throughout the gaming community that a secret code will allow Tomb Raider players to watch Lara undress.

[ image: Lara Croft: tough, independent and beautiful (Courtesy Eidos Internactive)]
Lara Croft: tough, independent and beautiful (Courtesy Eidos Internactive)
Despite the hormonal hysteria, Peter Avery of Coventry University insists Lara is a breath of fresh air in an industry that has previously ignored the representation of women.

The Lara Croft character helped to sell more than 3.5 million copies worldwide of the original Tomb Raider. But she could have been a man - Lara was given a sex change midway through the game's development.

Core designer Jeremy Smith said: "Within probably four months of it being worked on, it was changed to a female character."

Not that success was then guaranteed. "I was certainly very sceptical whether we should use a female character or not," he adds.

[ image: Jeremy Smith: unsure about Lara's sex change]
Jeremy Smith: unsure about Lara's sex change
The launch of the sequel has been put back to November 28 to allow production to catch up with anticipated demand. But the massive marketing and merchandise campaign is already underway. Dominos Pizza are producing a special Lara pizza and Ms Croft is also set to appear on more than two million beer mats in British pubs.

With all this and a film and pop career in the offing, Shotgun Spice could be in danger of following the real-life Spice Girls as an example of girl power suffering over-exposure.

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