Tomb Raider has a long history as both a character and franchise, but where will the brand head as it moves into the future?

Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise have come a long way over the years. Younger gamers may not recall the way the character invaded the cultural landscape in the late 90s, appearing in everything from comic books and toys to theme park rides. We took a look back at some of the features that shaped the character and the game series in the past, and more importantly, spoke with Crystal Dynamics about what it will take to relaunch Tomb Raider with a brand new vision.

“We got contacted not so long ago from someone looking to renew a contract for a strange water park ride in south Italy, where they have a girl dressed up as Lara Croft who comes out every single day and starts the ride,” laughs Karl Stewart, global brand director for the new Tomb Raider franchise.  “And we were like: ‘We do what? Are you serious?’ There was a time when that must have made perfect sense.”  From the moment that the first Tomb Raider game launched in 1996, the character had a special appeal. One of only a handful of true video game heroines, Lara Croft was capable and deadly, smart and resourceful, and for many audience members, undeniably sexy. Her twin guns and curvaceous figure cast a big shadow for other characters to follow in the coming years. Even as the years passed, her look and demeanor continued to evolve.

Along the way, numerous media beyond games got in on the action. Comic book maker Top Cow launched a successful Tomb Raider graphic novel series, one that often integrated with the other major characters of their comic universe. Ballantine Books began a series of three novels that tied in with game continuity. Two major Hollywood movies starring Angelina Jolie did big business at the box office. Through that film licensure, Paramount Parks opened several theme park rides across North America built around the brand. And, of course, as the years passed, nearly a dozen actual video games released. “In the past, a number of opportunities have presented themselves to the IP, and those opportunities have been taken,” Stewart tells us. “And that’s great. But that was for that vision. Now we have a new vision.”

In 2006, Crystal Dynamics released their take on the franchise with Tomb Raider: Legend, a newly reinvigorated style that still seemed to stay mostly true to the series roots. The game was met by positive critical and commercial success, but the developers knew that sometime soon a change would be required. After 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, Crystal Dynamics knew the time for that more dramatic change had come. “Iconic characters are a product of their time,” explains franchise director Tim Longo Jr.. “Specifically with franchises, they need to evolve with the times. The ones that don’t get ahead of that problem are going to fail. They’re not going to be around anymore.” But how to take such a well known character and bring back her relevance? “We talked about our medium and audience changing,” Longo continues “It’s not only become bigger, it’s wider on the types of audience members. And our medium has matured as an art form and entertainment.”

The Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film opened up an entirely new audience for the franchise, but gamers had mixed impressions of the treatment