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Churning out Tomb Raider games in the '90s 'just about killed us', says former dev

"We worked long, long hours," Core Studios cofounder and former game dev Jeremy Heath-Smith tells Polygon in a new interview. "But we also earned an awful lot of money."
"Tomb Raider 2 had to be written within a year, which means the development time was probably about eight months. We worked long, long hours. But we also earned an awful lot of money."

- Jeremy Heath-Smith speaking to Polygon about his time at Core Design (which he cofounded) making Tomb Raider games.

In 1996, Core Design made a bit of a splash in the game industry with the launch of its PlayStation game Tomb Raider.

For the next seven years, at least one new Tomb Raider game with Core Design's logo on the box was released every year, ending with Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness in 2003. Speaking to Polygon, departed Core cofounder Jeremy Heath-Smith reflects back on this period of his life as a ridiculous rollercoaster that both thrilled him and eventually drove him out of games entirely.

"I love where games are ... but it’s just too big a business,” Heath-Smith told Polygon. “It's turned into a multi-billion dollar revenue business now, which it was always going to do. For me, that kind of takes some of the fun out of it.” 

Devs curious to hear about the "fun" of making Tomb Raider games in the '90s should appreciate Heath-Smith's anecdotes (see quote above) about his time at Core, which sounds both lucrative and insane.

"Angel of Darkness just about killed us all, and it was a life-changing experience for everyone involved in it — and not necessarily a great one,” he said, painting a picture of a frenzied studio trying to crank out Tomb Raider games while also staying on top of Sony's rapidly-shifting hardware situation.

“I was basically co-running Eidos ... and everybody had software problems because Sony changed the development systems we’d been working on after 18 months, so we had to start again."

Heath-Smith was at this point serving as an Eidos exec after the company acquired Core Design; he tells Polygon that he knew it was time to leave the company after his experience on Angel of Darkness, but was still somewhat irked that he was fired over the phone rather than in person.

"I was so pissed off about that, because I knew it was coming. This was not a shock. We had talked about what needed to happen," he recalled. "At the end of the day, I was ready to go. I was done."

Departing in 2003, Heath-Smith went on to cofound the British game dev Circle. That company in turn seemed to quietly shut down a few years later, and now Heath-Smith works outside of games as the chief of tech firm Spike Global.

For more of his comments about why he left games (and a few more anecdotes about life as a Tomb Raider dev) check out the full Polygon feature.

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