Blast from the past: The 3DGN Daikatana Feature

After having spent the better part of this morning carefully copying and pasting from a backup folder of all my old 3DGN articles, as well as adding a few light editorial touches for mistakes my then-editor missed, as well as a few screenshots and links, my feature piece on Daikatana written for the now-defunct is live for all to enjoy.

You can read it here.

This was a labour of love for teenage Ilya. And years later, I still absolutely adore and love this game. And of course, I was listening to the soundtrack as I worked on way on readying this piece for republishing.

I recommend you take a look at the archived version of the piece, if at least to enjoy the gorgeous artwork designed by our in-house artist, Joel Steudler.

3DGN Feature: Daikatana

Well this takes me back. This is some of my first professional material produced as a videogame journalist for, written back in early 2000. I’m still especially proud of this piece. A lot of time went into researching everything, structuring the piece, working out a captivating presentation, getting the artwork ready with our brilliant in-house artist, and trying to be the best journalist that I knew how to be as someone who was about to begin a degree in the subject at university.

You can still read the original piece via the Wayback Machine, if you’re so inclined.

Many moons ago, the angel Romero was expelled from the heaven of id and fell to Ion. Then many rejoiced, for angel Romero had repented for his evil ways, and thus came Daikatana. Slowly the whispers began of the sword and its mighty powers, then slowly less and less, and then came the wind and floods, and many a curses fell upon the Ion’s repented walls. With time, Ion rebuilt and grew again, and all was good.

Unless you’ve been living on an island all your life, you know who John Romero is and the history of what is one of the most anticipated games ever, Daikatana. And if you know of Daikatana, you know of the Dallas Observer Article. For now, pretend it doesn’t exist, because this is about the game Daikatana, not about the troubles of Ion Storm.

I. Genesis: The Dream

In the beginning Romero created the Doom and the Quake.
And the Quake was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the Doom.
And Romero said, let there be story; and there was story.
And Romero saw the story, that it was good.
And Romero called the story Daikatana, and the story was the first day.

When work began on Daikatana over two years ago, it was Romero’s dream to create the ultimate single player game. At that time, the gaming world was filled with Doom and Quake clones, but most of them lacked substance. The dream was to change this, to make the most spectacular single player experience ever seen, and with Daikatana, this dream is about to become a reality. Since then, with the emergence of Half-Life and Thief, the single player aspect of first person shooters has reached an all time high, and with Cavedog’s Amen due this summer, Daikatana will have even more competition for crown of best single player fps.

Despite that, Romero’s work continues unabated, and in recent months, the work that has been accomplished has been phenomenal. With new programmers working on Daikatana, things are up and running better than ever. In a recent interview with Romero, when asked about the new team working on the game, he mentioned that “The old guys were becoming unmotivated. They were not happy, I guess… and some people, when they’re not happy, are not gonna work real well. So things just kind of slowed down. But with everybody now, with a brand new team, work is moving fast.” The evidence behind this? Bobby Pavlock, who has become Daikatana’s most ardent supporter. If his and others’ beliefs are any indication, then Daikatana should more than live up to its promises.

II. Exodus: Graphics

And Romero took the engine Quake, and divided the graphics from the time, and it was so.
And the graphics and the time stream were the second day.

Imagine a story spanning four time periods, advanced AI, more monsters than any other game, a wide variety of weaponry, AI sidekicks, stunning level design, Doom style deathmatch, interactive environments, an rpg based experience system, environmental effects, 16-bit color, an improved Quake II engine, and in-game and cinematic cutscenes. The stuff that makes every gamer’s jaw drop in awe. If the latest screenshots released of Daiakatana prove anything, it’s that this is going to be one damn pretty game.

Big gun!

In an email I received from Ion Storm, the recommended system requirements at this time for good performance are now no slower than a 300 mhz cpu, 96mb, and a TNT. Romero has alluded to glide not being supported, only OpenGL and Direct3D at this point, which makes the TNT the ideal video card for Daikatana. For those of you who don’t want to upgrade, you’ll need to in order to run Quake III decently, as well as Unreal Tournament, and many other future games. A 233 is no longer acceptable for decent performance. For all you Voodoo 2 owners out there, a 12 MB card is recommended. Daikatana will run acceptably, but expect to have to turn off some of the eye candy. This ain’t your daddy’s Quake II engine anymore.

III. Leviticus: The Story

And Romero made three great lights; the greatest light Hiro to win the day, the second light Mikiko to light the way, and the third light Superfly to inflict the beat down.
And Romero set them in the story of the Daikatana to give light upon the Quake.
And to rule over the Daikatana and over the story, and to divide the Daikatana from the Quake; and Romero saw that it was good.
And the Daiktana and the story were the third day.

For those who’ve seen “Back to the Future 2,” the theme of time travel is a similar one. But I don’t think there’s ever been a game that’s used it quite to this extent. If Daikatana fulfills its promises, this could be the gaming equivalent of Terminator 2. The story is as follows:

Several hundred years ago, a weapons forger for the Shogunate Mishima by the name of Usagi Miyamoto crafted the Daikatana. After discovering that the clan Mishima wanted to use the Daikatana in dishonorable ways (read: kill lotsa people) Usagi realized what he had to do. Making his way to the tip of Mount Fujiya, he performed the ancient Japanese ceremonial act of Hara Kiri (belly slashing) as such is required of a dishonored samurai warrior and impaled himself on the Daikatana, and he and the sword fell into the volcano. The sword was then lost for an age. Time passed.

The year was 2455 AD. Through the determination and guidance of Dr. Toshiro Ibihara, the Daikatana was recovered from the bowels of Mount Fujiya. To test the power of the Daikatana, Ibihara’s daughter Mikiko and his proudest student, Hiro Miyamoto, volunteered to be sent into the future for a short period of time. During the time the two were temporally displaced, Ibihara’s assistant, Michi Yoshida, murdered his mentor and stole the Daikatana. With it, he traveled 425 years into the past, to amend the name of his clan: Clan Mishima. He stole the cure for the AIDS virus from its rightful inventor, Dr. Ibihara’s ancestor and presented it to the world as his own. Yoshida then used the wealth gained through the cure for AIDS to build a fortress, where the Daikatana would remain safe from those who know of its existence and powers.

The player controls Hiro Miyamoto, and with the aid of the AI-controlled Mikiko, the daughter of slain scientist Dr. Ebihara, and Superfly Johnson, the three set out to show Yoshida the Webster’s Dictionary definition of pain, obtain the Daikatana, go back into the past, set history straight, and prevent Dr. Ibhara’s murder from ever happening. Together, the three of you have to travel through time and stop Michi Yoshida and kick some serious ass along the way. Got all that? Good, cause there’s gonna be a test.

Thankfully, Romero had better taste than Core Design when concerned with Mikiko. The early depictions of Mikiko displayed her as nothing more than an Asian Lara Croft. Since that time she’s grown into a three dimensional character. Perhaps it was what Romero originally planned. Perhaps it had something to do with articles such as GDR’s “Sex Sells but I’m Not Buying.” Perhaps not. But despite that, Mikiko looks to be the videogame equivalent of Sarah Connor. Any woman who can make a man piss in his pants is ok by me.

What’s even more intriguing is the lack of any ‘wasp’ characters. Hiro and Mikiko are either Asian (or Japanese, at this point Romero has yet to say), and Superfly Johnson is black. I’m left wondering, political correctness in action? Most likely it has something to do with Romero’s own heritage. Toss in a dash of 1970’s blaxploitation for good measure and some pop culture reference to spice it up, and you have potential lightning in a bottle.

Now onto the four episodes.

Kyoto, Japan, 2455 AD

Straight outta Kyoto.

What should we expect? From the screenshots released so far, it looks as if BladeRunner inspired a good bit of the design for this time period. Sometimes the design is the message essentially. The first level of Kyoto, Japan, named The Swamp, has many glaring neon lights, trash cluttered streets, run down buildings, and robotic defenders of all sorts, such as the Robocrox, Roboskeets, Froginators, and more.

The second level is entitled The Sewer, where Hiro and Mikiko run into the sluge minion, which are big and nasty, kinda like that mean old grandmother on your mother’s side that always terrified you as a kid. But at least the Sludge Minion makes your death a quick one; my grandmother always banged on my hands with a ruler.

In the third level, entitled The Slammer, you run into Superfly Johnson (I won’t even touch on the sheer oddness of his name). Following this are four more levels: The Fortress, The Defense Zone, The Lab, and The Vault. Be on the lookout for access to a hidden level somewhere in The Vault.

The second episode begins in Athens, Greece, 2030 BC.

Fire down below!

The first level begins on Lemnos Isle and then from there to The Catacombs of Athens, and then Athens itself. From there the trio heads to The Parthenon, Minos’s Castle, and The Labyrinth of the Minotaur. Expect to run into (duh) a Minotaur, as well as some griffins, sirens, Medusa (my next door neighbor), Satyrs (the guys with the goat legs who play the flute. No, not those kind of goat legs. Get your head out the gutter.) This age contains a secret level as well that has old one eye himself, Cyclops of ancient lore, wandering about his own island.

As you travel through the different levels, remember to continue charging up the Daikatana by using it to take out enemies. Be on the lookout for the Sepukku power (actually, it’s Hara Kiri, but apparently Romero didn’t study the Bushido code of honor when writing Daikatana).

The third time period is my favorite one. The Dark Ages of Norway (where in Norway, John?), 560 AD.


The first level is Plague Village, and from there the trio continues to The Choice, Mountain Pass, The Dungeon, and finally Castle Keep. The secret level here? The Dragon’s Lair. I’ll let you figure it out. And I only wish I knew what kind of dragon. I’m hoping for red, but beggars can’t be choosers. Expect this age to feel not un-similar in style to that of Hexen II, as in this age you’ll have to deal with 4 evil mages.

The fourth and final age is San Francisco, 2030 AD.

“Gentlemen…welcome to the rock!”

This isn’t your daddy’s San Francisco anymore. The Big One (no, not a drugged up Levelord), an earthquake, which has now split a part of San Francisco into the Pacific Ocean. Don’t ya hate it when that happens? This age begins on The Rock (Alcatraz) and continues with Escape from Alcatraz. From there the age continues with the Tower of Crime, Research Complex, and finally Mishima’s Hideout.

IV. Numbers: Monsters

And Romero said, let the monsters under the darkness be gathered together not unto one place, and let the lands appear; and it was so.
And Romero called the first land Kyoto, Japan 2450 AD. He named the second land Athens, Greece, 2030 BC. The third land was named Norway, 560 AD. The final land unto Romero was named San Francisco 2030 AD. And the gathering together of the lands was called time traveling; and Romero saw that it was good.
And Romero said, let the Earth bring forth evils in each age, the age yielded the evil, and it was so.
And the evil spewed forth, and Romero saw that it was good.
And the ages and the evils were the fourth day.

I’m sure many people are wondering what relevance the four different time periods have to anything in the game. Well, outside of giving level designers an amazing challenge, it’s a step in the opposite direction when compared to most 3D shooters of late. Most fps games tend to stick to the ‘corridor shooter’ style that began with Wolfenstein 3D. Since then, few games have tried to focus on a different design, most notably Unreal. The trend continued with Tribes. And now it’s Daikatana’s turn. Throughout the game, Hiro, Mikiko, and Superfly will travel to four different time periods, and each time period will boast different weapons and monsters. Unlike Half-Life, this game is not trying to be realistic in any sense of the word, so please suspend your belief and hang on, cause the ride only gets bumpier from here on in.

Critters galore

What sort of enemies can we expect to see in each time period? In a recent editorial written by the girls down at OGR, Romero revealed that originally there were going to be a total of approximately 60 enemies, which then went up to 80, and then down to 55. Although which enemies have been removed is not yet known, there are at this time, 66 known monsters.

Kyoto, Japan 2450, AD

Roboco Crox (robotic crocodile)
Roboco Slaughterskeet III (robotic mosquito)
Roboco Slaughterskeet Protopod (slaughterskeet eggs)
Roboco Lethallick Froginator II (robotic frog)
Roboco Thunderskeet IV (large version of the slaughterskeet III, miniboss in the game)
Roboco Venomvermin XP5 (unknown at this time, probably a big ass rat based on the name)
Roboco Tentaclor (a gigantic robotic octopoid, miniboss in the game)
Roboco Sludge Minion (a man-size robot that tends to the sewers of the fortress)
Roboco Inmater (a box-like robot that patrols in front of the prison cells)
Prisoner (duh)
Roboco Ragemaster 5000 (robot with two huge hammer fists)
Roboco Battle Boar (four-wheeled robotic boar with long tusks)
Roboco Paindrone (floating, robotic laser sphere)
Roboco Track Attack (track robot with Gatling guns)
Roboco Track Daddy (a large version of the Track Attack)
Roboco Laser Gat (are suspended from the ceiling and shoot at the player)
Roboco Cambot (floating camera)
Lab Worker With Gun (the name says it all)
Roboco Deathsphere (a massive floating defense droid)
Psyclaw (a huge brain with four lion-like legs with claws and a long tail)

Athens, Greece, 2030 BC

Skeleton (duh)
Centurion (spear-throwing soldier)
Spider (duh)
Squid (duh)
Siren (kinda like an evil mermaid)
Ferryman (used to get across the Aegean Sea to the catacombs of Athens)
Harpy (beautiful winged woman with eagle feet and a large bow)
Griffon (half-lion, half-eagle, all evil)
Satyr (half-human, half-goat)
Thieves (I’ll let you figure this one out)
Caryatid Columns (huge statue of a woman with a sword, miniboss)
Cerebus (jumping, biting, three-headed hell dog, miniboss)
Medusa (humanoid with hair of swarming snakes)
King Minos (NPC)
Cyclops (big one eyed monster, hurls large rocks at you, miniboss)
Minotaur (large upright-walking bull-man, final boss)

The Dark Ages of Norway, 560 AD

Buboid (a Black Plague victim who wanders the streets)
Plague Rat (disease carrying rodent)
Rotworms (huge, slimy maggots)
Doom Bat (uglier and nastier version of a bat)
Lycanthir (bipedal werewolf)
Fletcher (archers)
Fly (non attacking fly)
Priest (an old priest who gives you information about your quest)
Dardic Dwarf (short, stocky dwarf with an ax and helmet)
Dragon Eggs (similar to Alien eggs)
Baby Dragon (a small, red dragon)
Dragon (what do you think?)
Celestril The Conjuror (the weakest of the four mages that must be faced, miniboss)
Wyndrax The Wizard (the second of four mages that must be faced, miniboss)
Sabikiis The Sorcerer (second most powerful mage, miniboss)
Nharre The Necromancer (Nharre is the most powerful mage of the four, miniboss)
King Gharroth (evil ruler that needs to be shown the boot, main boss)

San Francisco, 2030 AD

Black Prisoner (big prisoner)
White Prisoner (a white prisoner)
Gang Member 1 (Uzi-toting male)
Gang Member 2 (same as Gang Member 1, but with different clothing)
Female Gang Member (just a female Gang Member)
Rocket Launcher Dude (heavy-duty gang member with a rocket launcher)
Flying Chaingunner (similar to Gang Member 1, but wields a chaingun)
Monkey (I don’t even want to know)
Hummer GI (Hummer with a driver and gunner)
Apache Helicopter (Apache attack chopper that strafes the grounds)
Military Policeman 1 (a navy guy with a Navy-issued handgun)
Military Policeman 2 (a navy MP with dual heat-seeking rocket launchers)
Navy Seal (Navy SEAL in full combat gear)
Neal Seal Captain (big Navy SEAL in full condom gear)
Shark (very large great white shark)
Octopus (large, dark green octopus)

For the single player campaign, the monster AI will work through a node system to premap all the levels for the AI code. What does this mean? The enemies know the entire level. They know where the trio can go, where special areas are, and thus can chase you all over.

V. Deuteronomy: Weapons

And Romero said, let the waters bring forth an abundance of artillery. The moving laser that hath life, and rail that may fly above the earth in the arena of deathmatch.
And Romero crafted weapons of mass destruction and power, and every living creature that moveth stopped a moveth. They came forth abundantly, and every weapon after his kind of madness; and Romero saw that it was good.
And Romero sanctified them, saying, be fruitful, and deathmatch. And the seas became as blood, and the Daikatana was sanctified.
And the weapons and the sanctification were the fifth day.

Each age has its own separate weapons that will not port over to the next age. If you’re wondering why, I have no idea, I’m going by what Romero decreed. Imagine walking up to a main boss with over 10 weapons to choose from. Sounds a tad bit over the top now doesn’t it? Exactly my point. So how are the weapons? Bloody frickin powerful if you ask me. Unlike Turok 2 or Blood 2, Daikatana isn’t trying to go for sheer power but sheer fun and creativity. Any gun can be made to be powerful, but that concept has become rehashed, and now gamers want interesting weapons that aren’t just bigger versions of one another.

If the weapons listed below do as I hope they do, I know I’ll be very pleased when I go to deathmatch with my editor. With Quake II and Half-Life weapons under fire for being slow, John Carmack saw the light and decided to speed them up in Quake III. The same can be said of Daikatana. The weapons in Daikatana are meant to be the perfect deathmatch weapons, with a good amount of variety for rocket arena style gaming (sidewinder), melee combat (silverclaw, disruptor glove), and free-for-alls (Eye of Zeus, Slugger, Kinteticore).

Kyoto, Japan 2450, AD

Ion Blaster

Ion Storm’s ion blaster

Hmm, I’m wondering if this fires an ion? Makes you think what inspired this one. It looks similar in style to Quake II’s firecracker gun. After staring at pictures until my eyes cried for Gillian Anderson, I came upon the decision that this gun must have to spin up to charge up, similar to my editor’s hamster.

C4 Vizatergo

This is going to be the nasty mutha of the bunch. This weapon allows you to fire C4 plastic explosives that adhere to walls. The C4 may then be remotely detonated, and several can be used at a time. But if you blow one, they all blow. Kaboom. Big toy.


6 round semi automatic shotgun. If you’ve ever seen a tommy gun (just watch some cheesy gangsters flick like Dick Tracey) this’ll remind you of it. A friggin’ gangster inspired gun in a fantasy game? Script doctor! Rewrite!


I’m not quite sure what this gun does, but so far, based upon what I’ve seen, it looks like it fires two missiles at once. Ooohh, this is going to make for a fun little deathmatch weapon. Rocket launcher? Hah! Why settle for one when you can double that? Add to that 6 mini missiles on the handgrip (look at the picture if you don’t believe me), and this all adds up to one lethal weapon. Yes, I definitely think the Daikatana deathmatch is going to be fun.


The shockwave looks really big (Ever notice that big spelled backwards is gib?) and really mean in a firefight. I’d imagine it chews up ammo like Billy “Wicked” Wilson does carrots.

Disruptor Glove If I had an image to go on, I’d talk about how cool it is, but I think the name speaks for itself. I can only imagine how cool it would be to demolecularize your opponent. The more I think about this glove the more I can imagine someone out there making a karate chop animation mod for this glove and running around on a server killing people with one swift blow.

Athens, Greece, 2030 BC

Poseidon’s Trident

Since this weapon has three prongs on the tip of it, it’d be safe to say that it doesn’t shoot water, which would be pretty damn lame. As a guess, it probably shoots those prongs and reloads, and fires again. It’d have to reload quicker than Quake II’s super shotgun to be lethal enough to show an enemy what dirt tastes like.

Discus of Daedalus

This could be a potentially nasty weapon. It consists mainly of a bronze disc with a sharpened edge. When thrown, if it doesn’t find a target it will come back after a while. (kinda like Captain America’s shield) It can bounce off walls and make sushi of an enemy. It can paint your walls, do your dishes, and can even vacuum your floor. Oh, that was a bad pun….


This is probably going to be the puniest of all weapons available. Just thinking about using this in a multiplayer game makes me want to puke. The Venomous is a staff that has two snakes entwined around it with the heads at the top and wings on the sides. When fired, the heads will alternately blow out clouds of translucent poison that float and hover in the air, until an idiot creature runs into them. This is just as bad as Quake II’s sorry excuse for a flare gun.

Sunflare I don’t even have a picture to go on, although I’m guessing this is going to be heat related with fire balls of heat giving those ever so pale enemies the tan they’ve always wanted. If this weapon does what I think it will, then pyromaniacs around the world will be very happy.

Eye of Zeus

Have you ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark? Of course you have. Remember The Ark of the Covenant? Remember how much ass it kicked at the end of the film? Well, folks, this is the hand held version of it. The Eye of Zeus is a magical staff with an eye at the tip. In an enclosed space, a bolt of lightning fires from the eye and nails the closest enemy. The lightning bolt will in turn chain from the hit enemy to any enemy that it can see. Every single enemy will want to pooch screw you even more for using this weapon, if they aren’t flashfried.

The Dark Ages of Norway, 560 AD


A close range weapon, this glove will allow you to show your enemies what they would look like if they were sushi. This is a weapon of lesser power, but a necessary weapon nonetheless, as this is the only weapon that can hurt the werewolves in the game.


Your normal everyday crossbow. Thank you, drive through, next?

Stavros’ Stave

A jewel-tipped scepter that summons meteors. Didn’t Heretic II have the same damn thing as a spell?


Rumor has it though that this is a supped up version of the bolter. Does it have sheep on it like Hexen II?

Wyndrax’s Wisp

I have absolutely no idea what this does, although somehow I imagine that is the sort of thing that Gandalf would carry. It looks like a walking stick with a claw at the end. Above the claw is a hovering sphere. All I can say is, it looks pretty friggin powerful.

Nharre’s Nightmare

This weapon looks damn cool, but Romero and his hair refuse to tell me what it does. The skull with the emerald on it makes this the choice weapon for all you Sauron wannabe’s out there, simply because it looks damn cool.

San Francisco, 2030 AD


Bigger than Quake II’s BFG, this weapon shoots laser pulses. I’m betting that these laser pulses are pretty friggin big. Secondary fire fires a Cordite Cluster. What the hell is a cordite?


Looks like Quake II’s chaingun. Hopefully the load up time has been increased. And this thing looks like it can hold a lot of ammo. I wonder if there’s a bullet to blood volume ratio that could be set up….


Who wants to bet this is just a regular glock pistol? A picture is worth a thousand words, except when it’s invisible.


It’s got a lot of hydraulic pipes connected to it, and has one single slot to fire from. Who wants to take bets that this is the bfg of the game? I would imagine the nova beam is just that, a beam. But from the looks of it, with the large base and small slot to fire from, this thing probably needs to be charged up a good bit.


Take the hyperblaster from Quake II. Make it shoot at railgun speed, and have it fire 5 balls at once that will bounce off walls 10 times and then evaporate unless they find a target. Sounds nasty don’t it? It gets better. When a ball hits a target, it causes a small concussion sphere. Now imagine getting nailed with 5 of these nasty suckers. This is going to be such a fun little weapon for deathmatching.


Remember the snarks from Half-Life? Imagine a mechanical version of one of those. It’ll hook to a wall after scampering around for a few moment. Once it adheres to the wall it’ll release a trip wire. Once someone runs over the trip wire the metamaser will lock a tracking beam onto the target and start charging up its laser blast.

Once it charges up, it fires a laser beam at the opponent. This is going to be an amazing weapon for deathmatch. Oh yes, just you wait and see, oh yes, it shall be so. Just imagine setting 50 of these loose in a level and hiding in a safe spot. Everyone would be dead so quickly! This is going to be such an amazing deathmatch weapon!

Although not counted as weapons, power-ups referred to here as artifacts are found in each age and can prove to be helpful:
Wraith orb
Golden soul
Temporary stat boosters

Found in Kyoto, Japan are: Jet Boots and an Oxylung
Found in Ancient Greece are: Earwax, a Spear, and a Shield
Found in Dark Ages Norway are: Ice Boots, a Ring of Fire Resistance, and a Ring of Undead Protection
Found in San Francisco is an Envirosuit

VI. Joshua: Multiplayer

And Romero said, let the ages bring forth the living creature after his kind, deathmatchers, and creeping things called campers and beasts of the Earth after his kind: KillCreek. And it was so.
And Romero made the beast of the earth after his kind, and deathmatchers after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after camper kind; and Romero saw that it was good.
And Romero said, behold, I have given you every ion bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the Earth, and every weapon, in the which is the ammo of a weapon yielding blood; to you it shall be for gib.
And Romero saw everything that he had made, and it was very good.
And the deathmatcher and the camper were the sixth day.

Daikatana is expected to ship with 4 different multiplayer options:
Co-op DM

Since the single player is the most integral part of the game, deathmatch is secondary to everything else. As Romero himself puts it, “You don’t really have to focus a whole lot on deathmatch to make it cool. It kind of works itself out, as long as you have good rules for how the world works and you have decent weapon balancing”. Fair enough. I’m certain many people will disagree with this, but in the case of Quake II, the multiplayer just worked itself out as well. Originally there were no deathmatch maps, and in the end it has become the most played multiplayer game other than Ultima Online.

How’s the movement speed? Somewhere between Doom 2 and Quake. I don’t think I can say it any better than Stevie “KillCreek” Case has: “Holy S*#T!!!! There are no words for how fun the deathmatch is right now…and we are still in the tweaking stages. Do not fear action fans, Daikatana is superfast, hardcore carnage at its best. Cool effects, useful features, awesome art, and some kickass levels are really coming together to make this game ROCK HARD!….the pure carnage is amazing!!”

I can’t help but get excited to hear such good things about Daikatana, especially since this is all coming from Stevie Case, who not only beat Romero’s ass in Quake deathmatches on several occasions, but also helped design several Quake II levels that can be found online. If she’s excited about a game, then I know there’s hope. And with newcomer Bobby Pavlock going out of his way to defend the game he’s come to love after only a few short months of being a part of, this has reassured me that Daikatana does infact still have a chance to be the game I’m hoping it’ll be.

In order for the multiplayer to work, the weapon balance must be right, and if the weapons above are as good in the game as they sound on paper, then the wholesale slaughter seen in Daikatana will be unlike anything before. Everyone should be pleased; campers and ‘run and gun’ players alike. I’m still waiting for a railgun type weapon myself. As for the network code, it’s Quake II, and it’s John Romero. Now put those two together, and what do you get? No, not the love child of John Romero and KillCreek, but the fastest network code around.

Why do I say this? Remember, John had a hand in creating Doom and Quake, which have some of the fastest network code around, and this is the Quake II engine, so the multiplayer should be blazing as it is. And even without Carmack to hold his hand, Romero probably picked up a thing or two about networking from id, and with the addition of four different multiplayer options, Daikatana should have a long lifespan online.

Who knows, it may even blow Quake II out of the water. Although whether or not it can match Quake III is something else entirely, although in a recent chat with William Haskins & Justin Randall on MPlayer, it was revealed that Daikatana uses about 25%-75% less bandwidth than Quake II, which is good news, since now even hpbs will be pleased. Who knows, Quake III might actually have some competition.

VII. Judges: Sound

Thus the deathmatcher and the camper were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day Romero looked at his work which he had made; and he restored the music of the world.
And Romero blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had revived 3D audio from an untimely end.

Lately, sound has come to play as important a role in games as graphics, and if what the head DK sound guy Mike Monatague promises is as good as he says, then we’re all in for a lush audiofest. In a recent email received from him, he revealed to me the plans Ion has concerning Daikatana.

As soon as Mike came onboard the DK team, he began rewriting the Quake II sound engine using Miles 5.0. Since then he and the audio staff have worked towards making Daikatana support DirectSound, A3D 2.0, EAX 2.0, and Dolby Pro-Logic. What soundcard is recommended? Either a MX300 or a SB Live. Don’t start drooling yet.

He also mentioned that as long as of all these are out before Daikatana, it’ll be in the game. So A3D 2.0 is in. Direct Sound (an extension of DirectX) is in. Dolby Pro-Logic is in. Only EAX 2.0 has become questionable, but Creative Labs has a few months left to get their act in gear. What of the speakers? 4 channel speakers (4 speakers) or a 5.1 channel (6 speakers: center, front left and right, rear left and right, and subwoofer) speaker systems are reccomended.

The game will have at least thirty CD audio tracks. Written by Will Loconto, the music in the game will vary depending on what age you are in. And there will be a Daikatana soundtrack. Expect a mesh of ambient music, rock, and heavy metal. The music isn’t present here for the hell of it. Instead, just like Jedi Knight, it’s here to enhance the single player campaign and add more atmosphere to the game.

You can now also listen to the soundtrack for free online.

VIII. Romero Takes a Nap: Conclusion

On the eight day Romero took a nap.
And deathmatchers rejoiced at news of a demo.
The screenshots doth came and many bright days ahead on the horizon awaited.

What is there left to say about Daikatana that has not yet been said? After all the hype and after all the controversy, after all the delays, if you strip all of it away, what’s left? A potential blockbuster game that may turn out to be a surprise to a lot of people if done right. I’ve been waiting three years for Daikatana, and I don’t mind waiting a bit longer if the game will be that much better.

How will it stack up against the oncoming onslaught of Quake III, Unreal Tournament, and Team Fortess 2? I would imagine quite well, for the simple fact that similar to Jedi Knight and Half-Life, this is a game where single player mode comes first and multiplayer second. And in a year filled primarily with multiplayer games, Daikatana should stand out in the crowd.

I can’t imagine Daikatana not being a success. Each and every game coming out this year sticks to one type of theme: Quake III has the techno/goth look, Unreal Tournament has the spacey science fiction theme similar to Unreal, and Team Fortress 2 has a World War II inspired theme. Daikatana never sticks to one theme; it offers 4 distinct themes.

To me, Daikatana is more akin to a perfected sauce; it has many different ingredients that need to be properly mixed to work. And if you mix them just right, people will come back for more. And with four different ages, rpg elements, fantastic visuals, unique weapons, an actual story, and fast paced deathmatch all mixed together, the result could give Daikatana an advantage over all other games making it stand out above the crowd. May the hamsters sing the praises of Daikatana through the night.

IX. Gallery: Daikatana

Facing Lara Croft is now live

I started this lunatic project in August of 2020, during the height of the Covid pandemic in Australia. Having found myself with extra time on my hands during the week, I decided to revisit the entire Tomb Raider series.

Having been somewhat inspired by Steve Warr’s wonderful retrospective series, I went back to the series, but with my philosopher hat on, of course. (It’s a small newsie cap, if you must ask.) Thinking about themes, ideas, emotions, and what it was that made Tomb Raider speak to me far more loudly than any subsequent sequel, I started working on the first draft of what ultimately, three drafts later, turned into a 10,000 word monster.

And tonight, it’s finally live for everyone to read and enjoy.

It’s a labour of love, and the first in what I hope to be a series of long-form essays ruminating on the ever-evolving artform that is videogames.

And of course, a huge thank you to my editor Andrew “Edpool” Hindle. He made this sordid mess make sense and helped me focus on my strengths as a writer.

Facing Lara Croft

Core Ideas

Tomb Raider was released in 1996 and spanned six games, all produced by Core Design Pty Ltd., in Derby, England. The six series in this game are: Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II, Tomb Raider III, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider Chronicles, and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. For the purposes of maintaining a firm grip on sanity, it is referred to here as the Core Series – a reference to the founding studio.

A Legend Reborn

Following the critical and arguably financial failure of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Tomb Raider publisher Eidos Interactive handed the license for Tomb Raider over to American game studio Crystal Dynamics, who rebooted in the series with the 2006 release, Tomb Raider: Legend (referred to here as the Legend Series). From 2006 to 2008, three new Tomb Raider games were released in the Legend series: Tomb Raider Legend, Tomb Raider Anniversary, and Tomb Raider Underworld. This trilogy of games utilised a game engine commonly referred to as the Horizon Engine.

Survivor’s Story

In 2013, the Tomb Raider series was rebooted a second time. The title of the first game out the door was, to the confusion of more than a few people, simply Tomb Raider. Two sequels followed on its heels – Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This trilogy is referred to here by the nickname provided by the Tomb Raider community – the Survivor Series. The engine used for this trilogy of games evolved from the Horizon Engine into a new engine of its very own, called the Foundation Engine.

Bear in mind, also, that each iteration of the series has changed Lara’s background and given her a new backstory, so don’t go looking for “canonicity” here. You’re not going to find any, aside from a cute stinger at the end of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which ends with players seeing a letter on her desk from Jacqueline Natla (the antagonist from the very first Tomb Raider).

Core Design

Tomb Raider was built and produced in 18 months by Core Design Ltd., a team of six based out of Derby, England. Their publisher? Eidos Interactive. Derby is located in Derbyshire, in the East Midlands of England (smack in the middle of the country). It’s kind of important. To give you a sense of just how much of an impact the series had on Derby – there’s an actual road named after her. A local election voted in favour of naming a street after a videogame character designed by a local team of developers. Six developers, in fact. Gavin Rummery, Jason Gosling, Toby Gard, Heather Gibson, Neal Boyd, and Paul Douglas. However, Toby Gard is cited as the person responsible for creating Lara herself.

(The Core team, in Darby. Photo courtesy of Eurogamer.)

Creating Lara

Lara started out as an unnamed male character. Early iterations of the character featured a fedora and whip – an obvious homage to Indiana Jones, who has been cited as an inspiration for the series. Fearing a potential lawsuit, the sex of the character was quickly changed, and Laura Cruz was born. She would eventually be renamed Lara Croft to sound a bit more familiar to British ears. As Croft’s creator Toby Gard explained in a documentary, the team at Core went through a local phonebook looking for names that might sound better, and several were identified as potentials until finally the team agreed on “Croft”.

Indiana Jones was not, interestingly, the only influence upon the game. The original platformer that arguably created the cinematic platforming genre – Prince of Persia – was cited by Croft creator Toby Gard as an influence during the creative process of making the first Tomb Raider, as well as two other games one might not expect to see mentioned: Virtua Fighter and Ultima Underworld. As Gard explained in an interview, he wanted to combine these two games. Outside of gaming, the films Tank Girl, Indiana Jones, and Hard Boiled (the John Woo film) all helped give Gard “the idea for Lara”.

But success was not assured. 3D gaming was still a new frontier in the mid-1990s. Which is why, as explained in a comprehensive and highly recommended Eurogamer piece, “Eidos had budgeted for launch sales of 100,000 units. After those sold out, shops called for hundreds of thousands more copies. Tomb Raider went on to sell 7.5m”.

(It all started here, back in 1996. Image courtesy of

Core Design would go on to produce five more games after the release of the first Tomb Raider game. So taken was Eidos by the staggering success of the series, that they demanded Core have a new game ready each year in time for the Christmas holiday season.

Each subsequent game would tweak the formula and add new features, but all utilised the same engine (dubbed the “TRosettaStone Engine”). A punishing yearly release schedule hindered innovation, and though the sequels performed well, over time it became clear that the engine was getting long in the tooth, the franchise formula was becoming stale, and that change was needed. Gard, famously, left after the release of the first game, citing disappointment with the way in which Lara was marketed as the driving reason.

Thus, after the critical drubbing of the sixth entry in the series, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Eidos Interactive took the license away from Core and handed it to it to US-based studio Crystal Dynamics, who are based out of the San Francisco bay area. Crystal Dynamics have produced every single game in the series since barring the latest release, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which was produced by a third studio: Eidos Montreal (Crystal Dynamics provided additional development for the game, but the primary development studio was Eidos Montreal).

Core Design’s story did not quite end there, however. An attempt was made internally to design their own “anniversary” edition of Tomb Raider – and video footage of this game did eventually leak to the Internet and can be found easily. However, that game would ultimately be scrapped, and Crystal Dynamics would later release (in 2007) Tomb Raider Anniversary, the second game in the Legends trilogy.

And yet.

In the beginning, it all started with a small team of six people.

In a regional English city.

(Wave “hello” to Derby!)

Together, a small team of six developers created one of the most iconic videogame characters to ever grace PCs and consoles. An impressive legacy.

The Technology Context

Gaming and technology in 2020 is a far, far different world from that of 1996. Where now players have digital purchasing platforms, gamers in the mid-90s had to buy games from brick and mortar stores, and the content had to fit onto the spaces available on discs at the time. It’s not like today, where games can be as big as they need to be and purchased through platforms such as Good Old Games, Steam, Origin, or the Epic Store, where games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance can clock in at 75 gigabytes, or – *screams internally* – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which takes up a terrifying 209 gigabytes. At the time, it was common to fit a game onto a single, 650Mb CD. No director’s cut here. Core Design had to make peace with the technological limitations and craft a story that works within those confines.

Absent any ability for the game to provide more information than is physically possible, we’re left with a game that is forced to tell us a story through its environments, and what the state of those environments suggest to players.

Of course, some games required more space. Baldur’s Gate was an impressive five-CD install. Blade Runner spanned four CDs. The Curse of Monkey Island? Two CDs. Ditto for Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. Tomb Raider, however, shipped on one CD across all the platforms for which it was released (Playstation and Saturn).

Not unlike contemporary games, Tomb Raider featured a multi-platform release – both of which had the kind of game controller support that was (and still is) lacking from for the PC edition of the game. Want to give your pinkie a workout it’s not likely to forget anytime soon? Have a go at the original Tomb Raider.

The PC edition is widely regarded as the best of the three options, primarily on account of it having a Save Anywhere system. The console editions of the game, being mindful of available hard drive space, had save crystals, which allowed players to only save once per level.

That’s 15 saves total.

(Be grateful, PC gamers, for not having to suffer this annoyance. Thanks to tombraider.fandom for preserving this moment in gaming history.)

As each level can take upwards of an hour to complete, this was for many a point of considerable annoyance. And understandably so.

There is a lesson, a point, to this. The technology available at the time placed restrictions on the developers at Core Design. Would they have liked to have the ability to expand the story a bit further? By all accounts, the answer seems to learn towards “yes”, as at least one full motion video (FMV) was known to have been cut from the game, and Gard himself has alluded to wanting to have made plot points in the game clearer.



British treasure hunter Lara Croft is hired by American businesswoman Jacqueline Natla to locate one of the three pieces of the Scion of Atlantis (a pendant broken up into three pieces). After locating the first piece, one of Natla’s mercenaries attempts to betray Lara. This results in Lara seeking out the remaining pieces, interrupting Natla’s plans and becoming enmeshed in an ages-old conflict.


What plot there is includes a rather small cast of characters – 11 in total, including one character who only appears as a voice-over during a cut scene.

Lara Croft: the protagonist of the game, an English aristocrat and treasure hunter.

Jacqueline Natla: a wealthy businesswoman who hires Lara to find one of the three pieces of the Scion. For reasons that have never made much sense or been very clear, she betrays Lara by sending one of her henchmen, the mercenary Larson, to kill her and take her the piece Lara locates in Peru.

Qualopec: one of the three rulers of Atlantis, whose grave is located in Peru.

Tihocan: one of three rulers of Atlantis, whose grave is located in Greece.

Larson: an American mercenary who works for Natla.

Pierre Dupont: a French mercenary and treasure hunter.

Carlos: Lara’s Peruvian guide.

Brother Herbert: a monk who wrote about the potential burial site of Tihocan.

Bald Man: one of Natla’s henchmen.

Skater Boy: one of Natla’s henchmen.

Cowboy: one of Natla’s henchmen.


The game: Tomb Raider is broken up into four distinct areas, with a total of 15 levels spread across those four regions: Peru, Greece, Egypt, and finally Atlantis.

Peru: Caves, City of Vilcabamba, The Lost Valley, Tomb of Qualopec

Greece: St. Francis’ Folly, Colosseum, Palace Midas, Cister, Tomb of Tihocan

Egypt: City of Khamoon, Obelisk of Khamoon, Sanctuary of the Scion

Atlantis: Natla’s Mines, Atlantis, The Great Pyramid

Who is Lara Croft?

“Entertainment evolves generationally.”

– Filmjoy, Mikey Neumann

Manual Gaming

One of the fascinating things about the way games from the 90s operated is that they had limitations. Aside from obvious graphical and design limitations, games were also constrained by the technology on which they were deployed. At the time, that meant CD-ROMs. So somewhere between 650-700MB of data.

These restrictions meant that players would have to turn to game manuals to obtain background information on the games they were playing, be it information about the world or the characters they were playing.

In the case of Lara Croft, the first Tomb Raider game doesn’t provide players with much in the way of character history. Nor does the game challenge or reward players for engaging in different playing styles. Whether or not you choose to kill every wolf, bear, bat, crocodile, and velociraptor that comes your way makes no difference in the eyes of the game. An RPG it is not.

Instead, players are left do something absolutely shocking – read the instruction manual. Doing so will reveal an interesting bit of background context as to who Lara is and why she gets up to her tomb raiding hijinks. This is worth noting given the focus placed on developing Lara’s background and characterisation in the Legend and Survival timelines.

Raiding Manual, 1996

So who is Lara Croft?

Well, she is in fact “the daughter of Henshingly Croft, [Lara] was raised to be an aristocrat from birth. After attending finishing school at the age of 21, Lara’s marriage into wealth had seemed assured, but on her way home from a skiing trip her chartered plane had crashed deep in the heart of the Himalayas. The only survivor, Lara learned how to depend on her wits to stay alive in hostile conditions a world away from her sheltered upbringing.

Two weeks later when she walked into the village of Tokakeriby her experiences had had a profound effect on her. Unable to stand the claustrophobic suffocating atmosphere of upper-class British society, she realised that she was only truly alive when she was travelling alone. Over the 8 following years she acquired an intimate knowledge of ancient civilisations across the globe.

Her family soon disowned their prodigal daughter, and she turned to writing to fund her trips. Famed for discovering several ancient sites of profound archaeological interest she made a name for herself by publishing travel books and detailed journals of her exploits.”

(I’m not even kidding. That’s from the actual manual.)

(Photo from the actual manual. Yes, I actually own a copy.)

This is how we did things in the 90s. We didn’t bother trying to explain the plot to you within the game! There wasn’t enough space on the disc for such conveniences! Remember Diablo? Starting the game results in players picking a few basic details about their characters, arriving in Tristram, and then learning about everything else as they went along.

It was by reading the manual that more could be learned about Khanduras, King Leoric, the Sisters of the Sightless Eye, the Brotherhood of the Vizjerei, The Great Conflict, the Sin War, etc. Reflecting the narrative constrictions placed upon games in the 90s, user manuals operated as a must-have to properly understand a game’s lore and character information.

Survivor’s Manual

Whereas the manual for the original Tomb Raider gave us an idea of the character, the manual for the first game in the Survivor series, by comparison, gave us something closer or akin to a synopsis of the game:

“Tomb Raider is the first chapter in the story of Lara Croft. As the game begins, Lara is a young college graduate, eager to find adventure and make her mark on the archaeological world. With her best friend Sam, Lara joins an expedition aboard the research vessel Endurance in search of the lost kingdom of Yamatai.

Thought to have existed on an island somewhere off the coast of Japan, Yamatai’s true location has remained a mystery for centuries. Trusting in Lara’s research, Conrad Roth, captain of the Endurance, takes the expedition into a dangerous area of the sea known as the Dragon’s Triangle. It is here that everything goes horribly wrong and Lara discovers the true price of adventure.”

The Survivor series, being a modern series with more disc space for brick and mortar editions (to say nothing of digital download editions, which in theory do not have space constraints[1]), can focus on a more robust amount of character progression and growth in-game. Whether or not the game succeeds is, of course, a more subjective point.

Other games at the time found different ways to bring players up to speed on their story and characters. For example, Star Wars: Dark Forces, a Doom clone, used the famous Star Wars opening crawl to bring players up to speed on the plot. The sequel, Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, utilised FMVs across two discs to tell a more grandiose – and comprehensive – story.

Between the Core Series and the Survivor Series, there also existed a trilogy of games known as the Legend Series. We’ll get back to that shortly.


As Mikey Neumann pointed out in a piece on Blade Runner 2049, “entertainment evolves generationally”, so the expectations of audiences in the mid-1990s are not the same as those of audiences in 2020. So let’s talk about the gameplay, shall we?

In 1996, it was necessary for a game with limited disc capacity to use the game world to tell the story. After two FMVs that set up the story, the game officially begins in Peru. As the FMV comes to a close, a pair of doors swing shut behind Lara as she looks out onto a snowy tunnel extending before her.

Throughout most of the first part of the game there’s little to no real music, no real narrative propulsion. There’s no journal or quest menu, no specialised button that highlights important objects or characters. Instead, players are left to explore the astonishingly massive set of levels that comprise the Peru section of the game. Tomb Raider invited players to observe the surroundings and figure things out on their own. The emphasis in the first game is decidedly on “exploration”. As designer Gard himself said once in an interview: “Tomb Raider is essentially about solving mysteries and exploration and these will always be interesting.”

The first two regions of the game, Peru[2] and Greece, place a heavy focus/emphasis on exploration. It’s also quite low on combat. This reflects designer Toby Gard’s feelings on killing in games. “Well the explanation’s dead simple really,” Gard explained in an interview with Gamasutra. “I wanted the game to start off with enemies that were reasonably realistic so that the player could begin to believe in the Tomb Raider world and hopefully be more surprised when it all went weird at the end. The problem was that we knew it would be really hard to put in lots of believable human characters because they’d be so immobile in comparison to Lara. I’m also not keen on just mindlessly killing humans in games anyway. So it had to be dangerous animals”.

It is fascinating to note that Gard’s iteration of Tomb Raider features far fewer humans than any other game in the series. It manages to easily avoid the ludo-narrative dissonance that plagued later sequels and iterations of the game by making Lara’s foes primarily ones found in nature – bats, wolves, bears, jackals, hyenas, and – *checks notes* – skinless Atlantean Centaurs and gargoyles.

By modern standards

By 2020 standards Tomb Raider would most likely frustrate players, with its random placement of switches in seemingly random locations that open doors and barricades in unlikely and sometimes distant locations, forcing players to return (sometimes frequently) to previously visited locations. For example, early in the game whilst exploring a beautiful underwater location, the player is required to pull on a lever that throws open a hatch that leads into a small home. A later level, based in a mine, features a hidden room above a mine cart tunnel with a switch that needs to be pulled to open a wooden door that’s hidden behind a waterfall.

Why the disparate placement of levers? Why have a trapdoor inside a house that leads into an underwater tunnel? Who knows? The puzzles in Tomb Raider rarely make much sense. They exist to prompt exploration, not to reflect the culture being, uh, tomb-raided.

Curiously, for a game called Tomb Raider, there are surprisingly few tombs actually being raided. Each segment of the game is in fact focussed on, well, Scion Hunting, rather than the raiding of tombs. Perhaps the closest we get to actual tombs being raided is the discovery of Tihocan’s crypt (where we find the second piece of the scion). Upon discovering his tomb, the game cuts to an in-game video of Lara deciphering the images and texts located along one wall in his tomb.

For a moment Lara, rather than the player, is in the narrative driver’s seat, where she reads: “Here lies Tihocan. One of the two….just rulers of Atlantis, who…even after the curse of the continent, had…tried to keep rule here in these barren other lands. He died without child, and his…knowledge has no heritage. Look over us kindly. Tihocan.”

(“Here lies Tihocan.”)

Of course, there is more to the game than exploration and the raiding of tombs. The game does provide player with combat. Notably, from approximately Egypt onwards, the game provides players with more opportunities for combat – with both unsettling Atlantean monsters and human foes alike. The final location in the game, Atlantis, is the most action-heavy portion of the game. And the most relentless. The final portion of the game is like a final exam, asking players to put to use all the skills they’ve honed in previous areas, to ensure Lara’s survival. There are more spiked pits, hidden boulders, booby traps, fake floors, sheer drops. The game simply throws everything at Lara in a last-ditch attempt to kill her in the most unpleasant ways possible. It’s as metal as it gets…in a Tomb Raider game, anyway.

But what’s the game like?

Well, if you haven’t found a way to mod controller support into the game, it’s going to be a 100% pure keyboard experience. For approximately 15 hours your mouse will feel alone, abandoned, and unloved. And your pinkie will get an Olympic-level workout. Remember, this is a game from 1996! The TRosettaStone Engine was built with grids in mind, so most – if not all – of the puzzles are informed by the design features of TRosettaStone – a marked difference from the Horizon Engine, which placed a greater focus on physics-based puzzles. The way in which Lara moves throughout the duration of the game and its sequels (until Angel of Darkness, which finally introduced mouse control) are therefore effectively designed to operate within a grid-based framework.

Central Themes of the Game

What does the game say? What does it make you feel?

Most, if not all art, is a conversation with the medium in which the art is created. If the first half of Tomb Raider is a reaction against action-driven popcorn cinema fare, then perhaps the second half of the game is a reaction against romanticised imaginings of Atlantis. Upon reaching the ruins of Atlantis, players are greeted with sights and sounds that are quite at odds with what might be expected. The soundtrack? The rhythm of what appears to be a beating heart, with the EQ set to ‘max subwoofer’ levels.

The sights? They perhaps tip the hat to Fantastic Voyage. Pulsating crimson walls. Stretched veins for ceilings. A visually and sonically unnerving experience, and a dramatic about-face into the realm of science-fantasy horror, full of corridors patrolled by skinless winged mutants, firebomb-hurtling centaurs, and even a skinless doppelgänger. Every new chamber and corridor reveals new ways to die a horrible death.

(Welcome to Atlantis. Come for the tourism, stay for the butt-ugly monsters!
Screenshot courtesy of Tomb Raider Hub.)

Long gone and abandoned is the sense of wonder at exploring a lost and forgotten civilisation. Instead, we’re invited into the halls of madness. To witness first-hand the second breath of a civilisation that should be allowed to wither away and simply refuses to do so. It’s the legacy of madness writ large.

Story through art design and negative space

There is a literary/narrative theory called negative space – in short, sometimes a story reveals a theme or tells a story not through what is explained or presented, but rather, through what isn’t shown. In the art world, a common definition for negative space is “the space between objects”. When applied to gaming, it has a slightly different meaning. As described by video game journalist Patricia Hernandez, “negative space, when applied to the rule-sets of games, refers to those necessary limits that provide context for and give significance to the decisions that the player makes”. Negative space defines the scope of what we can – and conversely cannot do – in a game.

Now, games are a kind of bricolage of systems, art, music, and gameplay mechanics. It’s a powerfully interactive medium that allows us to utilise multiple sensory organs at once. And in the 90s games were still in their infancy, and game studios were still figuring out what games could and could not do as they navigated changing hardware architectures, software systems and APIs. So while genres did exist, the late 90s was a period where gameplay styles had not yet fully solidified.

As video game historian Chris Franklin pointed out in his fourth Children of Doom episode, which focused on the game Marathon, it was commonplace for games from the late 90s through to the early 2010s to feature storytelling and character building through level design scenarios and enemy placement. “A linear structure where each level contributes some plot-forwarding elements and some gameplay variations for pacing and emotional effect to reflect what’s happening in the story.”

Tomb Raider certainly fits that design. The first half of the game eases players into the gameplay mechanics, lets them explore, eases players into the different weapons, enemies, level and platforming challenges – before forcing them to put everything they’ve learned to use in the final area of the game, where absolutely everything is relentlessly thrown at players like some kind of challenge gauntlet.

But in the first half of the game puts the idea of negative space to excellent use – not only in terms of gameplay mechanics, but also narratively. Peru and Greece are presented as places that have crumbled into disuse and been abandoned. The first “stage” of the game, Peru, presents the remains of Qualopec’s kingdom[3] as full of greys, blues, and one very green and leafy valley full of – of course – dinosaurs (because what’s an adventure game without a nice tip of the hat to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, right?).

(The city of Vilcabamba.)

But it’s also full of the remains of a civilisation. The detritus of the past lies strewn throughout the Peru section of the game. Lara will come across jars, bits of pottery, corpses, corridors overrun by ivy, and abandoned buildings. As the first stage of the game is set in Peru, the architectural design throughout this section of the game is meant to depict the remains of the Inca Empire. But within the game’s narrative, there’s a bit more it than that.[4]

Among the remains we also wander through, under, and over waterways and craggy, rocky ceilings that nature is slowly reclaiming. We discover mats of hay sprawled throughout old, abandoned rooms, before finally leading to a slightly more colourful palette of maroon and marigold. And eventually, a pedestal holding the first of the three pieces of the pendant that constitute the Scion of Atlantis.

(Scion shmion!)

But the environment? The atmosphere? Wind whistles from unseen places. A rickety bridge overlooks a room full of hungry wolves. Vines of emerald slowly overrun the remains of a ruined and/or abandoned civilisation. Bears roam freely among the remains of Qualopec’s mountain kingdom. What little music we get takes the form of obligatory action music (pulsating violins recreated on a synthesiser).

Otherwise, aside from a bit of gothic chant to lend a sense of wonder, there’s scant little noise or music aside from the crunch of Lara’s boots against rock and snow, or the sound of Lara diving into a pool of water. The open, uninhabited space in some ways feels reminiscent of a design feature used in the first Myst game: information is at a minimum, ambience is through the roof, and the imaginations of players are ignited as they are left to draw their own conclusions, and wonder about what happened.

(Tomb Raider sound effects. Courtesy of RasperryLovers1994 on Youtube.)

The gameplay enables this sensory experience by not pushing players forward. It doesn’t distract or seek to alleviate boredom. It lets the player look. And feel. It lets us feel a sense of abandonment, loneliness, isolation, sadness. One of the three rulers of Atlantis attempted to preserve (it would seem) their civilisations in the Peruvian Andes, and failed. We’re invited to ruminate on a society that failed to save itself and that was ultimately forgotten.[5]

Who will remember us? What will be our legacy?

– Mikey Neumann

It’s not until we get to the tomb of Tihocan that this question really hammers the point home. Tihocan’s crypt is located underneath a monastery in Greece, and requires Lara to navigate through an assortment of puzzles, as well as rooms and corridors full of broken columns, a coliseum fallen into disuse, a cistern overtaken by nature, and finally a lone building housing what remains of Tihocan.

At the end of the Greece segment of the game, the game switches to an in-engine cutscene. The music swells. Lara looks upon a mosaic with [blurry] text. She then read what’s written, informing the viewers. It’s a passive activity. We’ve led Lara to the crypt, now she does her part in the game of telling us what we’re looking at. We’re the agent of action, and she’s the agent of information.

And this is what she tells us:

“Here lies Tihocan. One of the two just rulers of Atlantis, who even after the curse of the continent had tried to keep rule here in these barren other lands. He died without child, and his knowledge has no heritage. Look over us kindly. Tihocan.”

(Tihocan’s legacy. Video courtesy of Stella’s Tomb Raider Site on Youtube.)

Intimations of concerns around a legacy, remembrance, memory. Who will remember us? What will be our legacy?

However accidental it might have been, it’s impossible to ignore that a cohesive set of themes does begin to emerge when one starts putting aspects of Tomb Raider’s gameplay and design under a microscope. A palpable sense of sadness arises from the level design and object placement and is even expressed, however briefly, by the game’s central antagonist. Late in the game, Lara and Natla finally meet face to face on an island that’s suggested to be part of a larger network of what we might call the ruins of Atlantis and Natla expresses, amid frothy, dim-witted rants about the survival of the fittest and the waning of the species, a rather sudden and sad sentiment: “The cataclysm of Atlantis struck a race of languoring [sic] wimps; plummeted them to the very basics of survival again. It shouldn’t happen like that.”

(Lara and Natla chat. Video courtesy of Shrensh on Youtube.)

Yes, Natla’s a bug-fuck insane Atlantean that was put on ice for possibly thousands of years by Qualopec and Tihocan. Yet for a moment, she manages to express a profoundly human sadness. For a scant, brief moment, she elicits pathos. Her singular moment of decency is a summation of the themes that have been presented to players through the art design and exploration gameplay mechanic. It’s the sadness of collapsed civilisations, of what was lost – of what we lost.

By the time she utters these sentiments, the player has played through roughly 90% of a game that is approximately 16-17 hours in length, and as a result has had a chance to witness firsthand the decline alluded to in the line “plummeted them to the very basics of survival” (recall that the narrative implied Atlantis as having been a technologically advanced society).

That Which Remains

Sadness is arguably the theme at the very centre of this game. After having spent 15 or more hours exploring civilisations that have collapsed, players are presented with an antagonist who says that “it shouldn’t happen like that” – an expression of sadness at the collapse of civilisations. They could have been saved – maybe. But their passing is still expressed as being profoundly sad.

This sadness is reflected in the design of the first half of the game. Don’t believe me? Look at it again. Peru: abandoned buildings, rooms, huts and reliquaries. Collapsed bridges, structures that have been taken over by nature, as ivy clings to the sides of walls and grass shoots out of doorways. In Greece, columns have fallen over, doorways appear rusted and decayed. Gorillas, crocodiles, rats, lions, panthers, and bats all make appearances, reiterating the idea that nature has started to reclaim that which remains.

There’s less sign of human habitation here. No shelters, tents, fires, or tools remain to convey a sense of former human habitation. Instead, we get a world that’s been emptied of human inhabitants. Perhaps the closest we get to anything suggesting human settlement is a level named ‘The Cistern’– a beautiful area whose colour palette is interestingly reminiscent (perhaps intentionally) of the Peru levels. I’ve come to wonder if it was meant to be a visual clue, suggesting a shared history between the two remaining rulers of Atlantis.

(I got your cistern right ‘ere, pal!)

Again, bearing in mind the design and technology limitations of 1996, this might be reaching. But it’s fun to think about, given the storytelling restrictions of the time.

The Nightmare at the End of the Tunnel

It’s only after we leave Greece and arrive in Egypt that things take a sharp right turn into a Giger nightmare with the lights turned on. The third piece of the scion is located in a region that, to the best of our knowledge, wasn’t ruled over by any Atlantean. An in-game FMV poetically shows the third piece being tossed to the wind, not unlike Maglor throwing his Silmaril into the sea.[6]

And for reasons that are never quite made clear, players are given their first encounter with Atlantean creatures in Egypt. Did Natla create them following her escape from stasis in Nevada back in the mid-20th Century? Did they somehow manage to survive being captured after Natla’s downfall in Atlantis, presumably thousands of years ago? It’s really not clear.

Egypt is where the game shifts its tone. It’s not that Egypt doesn’t feel like a place whose inhabitants have abandoned it. In fact, it doesn’t even feel abandoned. A pristine sheen remains over most if not all of the walls. Frescoes abound. It feels more like the idea of Egypt than a formerly inhabited location.

(Welcome to Egypt! Thanks to for the excellently-angled shot!)

It’s also at this point in the game where the puzzles start to become worryingly tedious and frustrating, and involve an increased amount of back-tracking. I increasingly found myself wondering about the purpose of any of the rooms, and asking myself “who lived here? Where did they sleep?” It’s at this half-way point that the game slowly pivots to a more action-oriented style of gameplay, where player responsiveness takes on an increased level of importance as the game begins to escalate and moves away from the slower, ambient tone that dominated in the first half of the game.

It’s interesting to wonder if the developers were engaged in a thought experiment about the rise and fall of civilisations. If all civilisations wax and wane, if they all have their time in the sun before exiting stage left, are the Atlantean mutants that linger about Egypt and throughout the island ruins of Atlantis metaphors for the mental decay of Natla? The game gives us plenty of negative space to fill in, but also leaves us feeling a certain way about the world we’re exploring.

The Potemkin Effect: The Legend-era Remake

Legends and Anniversaries

It’s difficult to talk about the original Tomb Raider without addressing the 2006-7 anniversary edition produced by Crystal Dynamics and Toby Gard, the creator of Tomb Raider – who famously left Core Design after the release of the first game. It would not be until Tomb Raider Legends that he would return to the franchise he created – initially as a creative consultant. However, “his work became ‘hands on’ during the production and eventually included Lara’s visual redesign, overseeing character design and creation, co-writing the story, designing and implementing parts of the character movement system, and directing the cinematics”[7].

(It certainly is more cinematic.)

Once Crystal Dynamics completed work on Tomb Raider Legends, work began on a 10th anniversary edition of Tomb Raider that would tie directly into the storyline begun in Legends. To their benefit, Crystal Dynamics managed to convince Lara Croft creator Toby Gard to expand upon the narrative established in the 1996 game.

How It Differs

Let’s make this clear right away: Tomb Raider Anniversary is not a one-for-one remake. Entire sections of the game have been shortened, tweaked, modified, and otherwise made to change the focus of the game from exploration to adventuring.

Some of the more die-hard fans of the franchise have done commendable work in going through both games and writing up the differences between the original and the anniversary edition. A comprehensive post on Reddit (preserved by laracroftonline) providing a list of the changes made it clear to users interested in playing through the anniversary edition that: “this is not a 1:1 remake of the original Tomb Raider (TR1). Crystal Dynamics has not only rebuilt the game from the ground up–improving on TR1’s visuals–but they also added a good amount of new content; yet in the process, they removed a great deal of old locales from the original. Overall, the game is shorter and some of the puzzles have been simplified from the original 1996 version (although some have been improved)”.

Sound Design

An interview with the composer and sound designers at Crystal Dynamics provides a clear understanding of the sonic shift that could be expected in this new iteration of Lara Croft. Composer Troels Brun Folmann stated a desire to convey a sense of adventure with his music, while Mike Peaslee, the game’s sound designer, said “without audio things seem dead and repetitive”.

(As shown off in the above clip at NeoGamer, Tomb Raider Anniversary almost always has some kind of ambient music playing in the background.)

This statement is quite at odds with the original Tomb Raider, which was notoriously quiet and filled primarily with natural ambient sounds. There was, of course, the sound of Lara’s footsteps or that of wild animals attempting to turn Lara Croft into their afternoon snack. And aside from the occasional moment during which Nathan McCree’s oboe-led theme appeared, much of the game was silent. Anniversary shifts gears considerably, with sound that’s much more involved in every aspect of the gameplay. Quiet moments are few and far between in this adventure.

Level Design

A new engine – the Horizon Engine – means new points of focus and design interest. With Legends, Crystal Dynamics introduced a grappling hook and skilfully integrated it into the reimagined designs featured in Anniversary. Though Anniversary it is arguably prettier as a result of having access to more contemporary graphical features (circa 2007) there was, as always, a price to be paid for beauty. In this particular instance – the scale and size of levels suffered. A not uncommon observation among some players was that levels felt reduced in scale, more claustrophobic, and narrower. Although some areas were increased in scale (e.g. a waterfall in Peru), others felt smaller or more streamlined, as was the case with the Lost Valley. What was once an open and expansive location with multiple tunnels, waterfall, and rope bridge was now little more than a circular area with a bit of platforming on the side.

(Tomb Raider Anniversay: The Lost Valley)

The village of Vilcabamba in Peru was also observed as having been reduced in scale. Also changed was the swimming mechanic, with the length of time that Lara could hold her breath being shortened. The knock-on effect from that decision? The underwater portions of the game were notably shrunken down. And in keeping with a gaming trend at the time that had been kicked off with Shenmue, Anniversary featured Quick Time Events.

(Vilcabamba, but not as you know it.)

Admittedly, the goal with Anniversary seems to have been to convey a sense or feel of location rather than a location itself. Combined with the need to push the player forwards, reduced size and scale of locations, and more action-oriented gameplay, the locations in Anniversary feel – if anything – more like a theme park than an actual place. It’s a digital Potemkin Effect[8], as the mechanics inform level design rather than the inverse. Sadly, despite the reduction in the scale of the levels, the number of enemy encounters does not seem to have changed much, resulting in the game feeling more action-oriented than the original.

This, combined with the integration of “checkpoints” – a feature that would appear in all subsequent Crystal Dynamics iterations of Lara – would result in a somewhat changed beast. Though players could save absolutely anywhere, each and every save game would load at the nearest checkpoint in the game world, resulting in players having to redo entire sections multiple times. Some of these cases might only add a few seconds of extra gameplay, but some might take longer – especially during scripted sequences (sometimes called “on the rails sequences”).

(You couldn’t just implement a save anywhere feature instead?)

While the Core Series was by no means a systemised game series in the spirit of immersive sim “0451” games, they did at the very least avoid the use of Quick Time Events and heavily scripted sequences – features that would appear in both the Legend and Survivor iterations, much to the frustration of some gamers who found the addition of this gameplay mechanic unnecessary and frustrating.


Art can be a happy accident. Regardless of the medium an artistic piece is created, and the artist hopes it will mean something to someone. Hopes their efforts were not in vain. In the world of gaming, we’re still figuring out how to talk about the medium in a meaningful way. And despite assorted scandals, accusations of gatekeeping, pushback towards academic analyses, and other issues, continued analyses are not likely to diminish. Either we acknowledge that game creation is an art and thus merits critical analysis, or we accept that it is not an art and therefore doesn’t merit being researched and discussed.

The first Tomb Raider is a game that asks players to engage in a specific set of gameplay mechanics, observe artistically rendered environments, listen to a specially-crafted musical score, and study and learn about a forgotten – and imagined – history. The journey across Peru, Greece, Egypt, and finally the remains of Atlantis is an auditory, kinaesthetic, visual, and emotional experience. And though, like many other artistic works in other media, it was inspired by works that came before it,[9] Tomb Raider was ultimately a unique and masterful experience that took the best of what came before and built upon it to create a wholly new and unique experience. A unique experience that arguably has not been replicated by any of the subsequent sequels.

[1] There’s an argument to be made that public perceptions of how big a game should be allowed to get now dictate storage usage.

[2] Interestingly, 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the final instalment in the Survivor trilogy, features Lara travelling to the Peruvian city of Paititi – a legendary lost Inca city. Whether or not this was an intentional nod to the original Tomb Raider is unclear.

[3] Let’s call it that, for the purposes of thematic exploration.

[4] Interestingly, the Tomb Raider wiki at suggests “After the destruction of Atlantis, he [Qualopec] escaped to Peru, where he presumably tried to re-establish his civilization. The result was the birth of the Incas.”

[5] Croft creator Toby Gard pointed out in an interview that “one of the main reasons the original game was set underground was because we couldn’t really do a convincing outside”.

[6] You’re welcome, Tolkien fans.


[8] Referring to the famous Potemkin village – where a construct’s sole purpose is to provide a façade.

[9] Creator Toby Gard has cited Prince of Persia, Ultima Underworld, Virtua Fighter, the Indiana Jones films, Tank Girl, and Hard Boiled as works that had a direct influence upon the creation of Tomb Raider.

(A great many thanks to Andrew “Edpool” Hindle for his editing efforts on this project. I couldn’t ask for a better – and funnier! – editor. Andrew “Edpool” Hindle can be found on Twitter @St_EdPool. His blog is and his books are available here.)