The Man Behind Lara Croft

  • SEXY AND SMART: An archaeologist with broad appeal

    Adrian Smith is not 17 years old. The British game designer's hormones are about a decade and a half past the raging stage. Yet talk to him about his creation Lara Croft--buxom heroine of the Tomb Raider series of computer games--and his face lights up with a naughty-boy grin. "Lara's changed fairly significantly," he says of her latest outing, Tomb Raider IV: The Last Revelation. "She's got a bottom now. She's got cheeks. She's smoother. Now she exists just as we first imagined her."

    So, thanks to the wonders of advanced computer graphics, our heroines can now be ogled more realistically than ever. But Smith's enduring relationship with Lara has been about more than building a better bottom. In Tomb Raider, players guide Ms. Croft, archaeologist and daughter of an English lord, through a series of brainteasing, Indiana Jones-style adventures. Just five years old, Lara has become the foundation of one of the most successful franchises in video-game history. The first three Tomb Raiders sold an incredible 17 million copies, helping boost sales of Sony PlayStations and 3-D graphics cards for PCs.

    When Tomb Raider IV hit stores last week, you were also able to pick up a Lara Croft comic, a Lara Croft candy bar, a Lara Croft action doll. A Pokemon-esque Lara Croft card game is selling briskly, as is Lara's Book (a cultural dissection by Generation X author Douglas Coupland). Coming soon: a Lara Croft movie from Universal Pictures and 60-ft.-tall Croft wall paintings in major cities across America.

    All of which is not entirely due to her pixelated butt. "Lara's an enduring icon for adolescents," says game analyst Jeremy Schwartz of Forrester Research, "but she's also popular with younger kids, who aren't really thinking, 'Wow, she's a babe.'"

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