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THE ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR LARSON CONWAY REVISITED
[ 1 December 2021 ]
The following is an update to a guest article written by LateRaider from Tomb Raider Forums and documents the mystery surrounding Larson Conway from Tomb Raider. This work is part of a series of guest-written articles exploring the myths and mysteries surrounding the Tomb Raider universe.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is my favorite game in the franchise. While divisive for many reasons, I’ve grown a strong attachment for the game, partly because I feel it gives us the best look at the villains Larson and Pierre, whom I cherish deeply in their lovably, detestably oafish ways. That’s probably why in 2018, for the sake of authenticity I traded in my copy of PlayStation 3’s The Tomb Raider Trilogy for separate copies of Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary on PS2, and of course Tomb Raider: Underworld’s standalone PS3 release. Naturally this meant I had to unlock all the extra content all over again, but I was more than willing.
After achieving 100% completion in Anniversary, I leisurely perused the character biographies. It was then I noticed something strange: Larson’s surname Conway was absent. Surely this must be a mistake – after all, Winston’s surname is absent from his bio as well, and we’ve known it as Smith since Legend. But I could find no trace of “Conway.” Not in the developer comments, not in the credits, not spoken in cutscenes, not on any in-game graphics, and of course not in Larson’s biography… So where did it come from? Even official fansites and wikis referenced it, but there was seemingly no official source. That’s when I took my search to Tomb Raider Forums.
September 2018 – The Beginning
Surprisingly, responses started trickling in almost immediately. User Samz suggests that it originated somehow from Anniversary, perhaps something Crystal Dynamics added into their “soft reboot” of the game franchise. This seems plausible, but then what official source contains it? Samz checked The Official Tomb Raider Fact Files to no avail. Undeterred, I kept digging. It didn’t take long to be directed toward a Tomb Raider Forums thread from March 2007, started by Jo269976. Reading through the thread, it became apparent that this was “ground zero” for the Conway surname. Jo claimed that a Dr. Cheese on IMDb’s former message board had made the announcement, sourcing a magazine called PC PowerPlay. I immediately set out to look for the old thread, only to discover IMDb shut their forums down in 2017. The primary source was gone. Would this mean the end of the search? Of course not! I instead chose to seek out the issue of PC PowerPlay that gave the name.
After a bit of research, it became apparent that this was a longstanding Australian gaming mag geared toward PC gamers. I set off to contact the current staff, but the response I received was less than ideal: “It’s an interesting request, but unfortunately we’re in the process of moving offices and can’t check the archives right now.” I thanked them for their time and instead decided to find it archived online. Across the internet, fans have dedicated themselves to archiving old video game-centered magazines worldwide, and I had hoped PC PowerPlay would be no exception. And indeed, OldGameMags, a UK-based magazine archive site, hosted a digital reproduction of the issue in question. #135, February 2007. This was Dr. Cheese’s source, the magazine that spawned the name “Larson Conway.” I scrolled quickly to the appropriate page, eager to end this adventure. And I found nothing. Sure, Tomb Raider: Anniversary received a blurb, but it definitely didn’t mention Larson. That couldn’t be right. By way of Jo, Dr. Cheese said that the magazine listed characters to appear in the upcoming title. There had to have been some kind of mistake; surely there’s another PC PowerPlay out there? But there wasn’t.
I began to disbelieve in the very existence of Dr. Cheese. Maybe Jo had made them up? Maybe the rumor really did originate from Tomb Raider Forums? But my conspiracy theory was shattered as I found a link on Lara Croft Online leading to a deleted thread on IMDb’s forums… which of course wasn’t archived on the Wayback Machine. I even went through MovieChat.org’s archives of IMDb’s message board, and that led to nothing as well. The thread had to have been deleted sometime between 2007-2017 and was never preserved. That seemed to be all I could dig up, but I was left entirely unsatisfied.
Later in the month, I noticed the official fansite Raiding the Globe had the Conway surname listed prominently in their TR: Anniversary section, and contacted Roli, webmaster of the site. He responded in short order: “If I remember correctly his full name was revealed in the official Tomb Raider 1 and 5 guides by Prima Games.” So it was off to the races again, but this time with a bigger roadblock: I didn’t own any of the guides. While archives of game guides exist on the internet, they either fall into the “illegal reproduction” or “legal gray” areas. So I appealed for help from fellow Tomb Raider Forums users. Zreen001 and paul123456 came to my rescue this time. Upon checking the Tomb Raider I and Tomb Raider: Chronicles guidebooks by Prima, they came up empty-handed; paul even went an extra mile to check the guide for Anniversary. Each one only referred to the man in question solely as “Larson.” (I would later verify for myself that TRI’s guide would spell it Larsen while covering the first confrontation with him, and Larson during the second.)
In desperation, I decided to ask Justin (tlr online on Tomb Raider Forums), webmaster of Tomb Raider Chronicles itself. Unfortunately, my perception of good timing was… bad. Justin was busy preparing the site for the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. He never found the time to give a look through his material; or, if he didn’t find anything, I was left unaware. Regardless, the search was frustrated and full of leads going nowhere. But I still had one last trick up my sleeve.
October 2018 – Desperation
My last-ditch effort was to check the 2003 N-Gage port of Tomb Raider I. Due to its low specs, the N-Gage release removed the voice acting and cutscenes of its port of the first game. In their place was scrolling text narration. It was difficult finding legible footage on YouTube, but eventually I came across Angry Video Game Nerd’s camera-to-screen Let’s Play. The quality was as you expect, but it brought to light a curious revelation: it was spelled here as Larsen, with an “e” as opposed to the “o” we’re used to. There had been only one other instance of this: the 1999 Tomb Raider Collectible Card Game by Precedence. Featured in it were at least two cards that had spelled the gun-for-hire’s name in this fashion. What was especially interesting is that official materials for Tomb Raider: Chronicles had spelled it with an “o.” What was with this seesawing? Where did “Conway” come from? Was the entire fandom really deceived by someone named Dr. Cheese?
November 2019 – Revelations
The case went cold. There was nowhere else to go; all of my sources led back to the same places, or worse, my own Tomb Raider Forums thread. So I settled in to enjoying the DLC for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but I never forgot the search for Conway. It rested in the back of my mind, waiting for something to wake it back up. A series of seemingly unrelated events led me back to using Twitter as my primary form of social media, including for fandom use.
At the same time, Tomb Raider I developer Paul Douglas began using the site to freely discuss his time at Core Design in 1996, answering questions where he could. Naturally, someone asked about the secondary villains – in particular, Larson himself. Paul divulged a bit about the concept of the ne’er-do-well, but he dropped the biggest bomb of all: it’s meant to be a surname. In fact, Vicky Arnold had consistently written the name as “Larsen” while drafting up the script. It was the biggest breakthrough I’d had in the entire search, and definitively ruled out the “Conway” name – at least for the first and fifth games.
January 2020 – Gary and Milo
One thing had been bothering me: a few old threads I found back in 2018 had said Larson’s first name was “Milo,” coming from “The Tomb Raider movie script.” In fact, I was about to make a little Tweet about a hypothetical fan-canon full name for Core Design’s Larsen, and wanted to pay homage to this small blip in his name’s history by assigning a middle name, Milo. But where did this come from, and what script was this? I had deduced earlier that it was some form of canceled screenplay for the first Tomb Raider film, before it became Lara Croft Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. But I couldn’t find hide nor hair of it on the internet. A quick search led me back to the trusty Tomb Raider Forums, where the name Gary Whitta was dropped. Still, all I could find was his professional career: formerly editor-in-chief at PC Gamer magazine, turned into a Hollywood screenwriter in 2010.
Finally, an old GeoCities page that was miraculously still standing led me to TRmovie.com, a fansite in the infancy of the web dedicated to all things Lara Croft Tomb Raider. Unfortunately it seemed to have gone down in 2003, but luckily the Wayback Machine had most of the site archived. I hurriedly ran to see if there was some sort of evidence of Larson’s character being expanded, carefully copying and pasting every last page of the half-finished screenplay into LibreOffice Writer. When I hit Ctrl+F for “Larson” in the document, however… nothing came up. Searching in the same fashion for “Milo” took me to a character named Milo Trevelyan. Another loose end tidied up, but no closer to an answer than before.
January 2021 – It’s Official
I had thought I’d reached this journey’s conclusion… How wrong I was. Back on Tomb Raider Forums, user Enya Brennan blindsided me with the juiciest morsel thus far. The name was now canon. Meagan Marie, Crystal Dynamics Community Manager, had written a book 20 Years of Tomb Raider back in 2016. Within the section on Tomb Raider: Chronicles, she details the Rome segment of the game: “He proceeded to tell how she claimed [the Philosopher’s Stone] in Rome, tailed by longtime rivals Larson Conway and Pierre DuPont.”
Capitalizing the P of Pierre’s surname, a habit certainly stemming from fan-canon, seems to hint toward Meagan sourcing fan wikis for the book. And because “Conway” had become so deeply entrenched into the fandom, Meagan adopting it unintentionally made it true, official canon. I was, in a word, floored. Dr. Cheese’s lie had ascended into the actual Tomb Raider universe. But nothing could prepare me for what was coming next.
July 2021 – In-game
The mobile game Tomb Raider Reloaded, a top-down title where the player’s objective is to dodge as Lara while she auto-shoots obstacles, was announced back in 2020. It seemed to be a retelling of Tomb Raider I, but I thought it would hold little relevance to the overarching search for Conway. Oh, how wrong I was. I loaded up Twitter one day to stave off boredom. Keeley Hawes was returning as Lara’s primary voice actress for Reloaded – a welcome surprise. Her first cutscene was implemented into a recent update at the time. I gave a short listen, only to be left utterly gobsmacked.
The line, “I wasn’t in Calcutta long before I was accosted by the tiresome Larson Conway […]” had just come from the voice of Lara Croft. Larson Conway. Not just Larson; there was the fan-canon surname, too. I immediately jumped to get in contact with TRR lead Ed Perkins, who still had a Twitter account then. A lengthy back-and-forth ensued, in which I explained my search, the history of the Conway surname, that Larson itself was intended as a surname by Vicky, then directed him to my Tomb Raider Forums thread. I ultimately encouraged him to keep the man as “Larson Conway,” if he could.
In the end, he informed me that he would need to reconvene with community leaders Meagan and Neha now that he had this knowledge. Mobile games give and take all the time, and Reloaded is still in soft-launch state as of this writing. It may or may not stay, but given that they’d need to bring Keeley back into the recording room, it seems likely that it will remain canon.
October 2021 – Meagan Strikes Back
Tomb Raider: The Official Cookbook and Travel Guide saw release. Co-authored by Sebastian Haley, Tara Theoharis, and of course, beloved community manager Meagan Marie, it’s a lovely little insight into the culture and cuisine of the locales Lara has visited from across the globe, as its name implies. Naturally, I wouldn’t have mentioned it if it didn’t hold relevance to the overall search. Though it’s uncertain when the final draft ended, it’s very possible that Ed had CC’d Meagan and Neha about my findings and they went ahead anyway – meaning this may have been momentous, as it would mark the first conscious canonization of the fanon surname. (Thanks to thetreeble on Twitter for the heads-up.)
November 2021 – Origins
Near the end of the year, KillerZ on Tomb Raider Forums came to me bearing some interesting info. Following the 25th anniversary of the series, Tomb Raider Chronicles is now home to a host of various design documents, including the original pre-release files for Tomb Raider I. In this, Vicky’s scripts are laid bare, including both narration and dialogue. Even back when she was Lara Cruz, it seems our heroine was always going to be accosted by a hunky blond mercenary. Only this time, a full name was written.
Karl Larsen. This was it – his original, full name before this whole fourteen-year mess began. Karl was never used in-game, and why would it be? Short of satisfying player curiosity, there was never a need for such a minor villain to have an expansive backstory. Logically I know this, and yet part of me wishes that some document somewhere had clearly spelled it out in full. There were plenty of opportunities to share the name of Karl and not a single one was taken. I took this knowledge with a sense of frustration that I made peace with rather quickly.
So many fandom legends debunked, the original name has perhaps resurfaced, and the fanon name itself seems now official. Yet still, after three years, the source of “Larson Conway” still eludes me. But I can’t help from feeling sated; I have accepted that I’ll never meet and interrogate Dr. Cheese. A baseless lie made 13 years ago left an indelible mark on both Tomb Raider fandom and staff. To me, it evokes the old playground rumors of a cheat code to make Lara undress, or to get weapons from Tomb Raider III in the first and second games, or to unlock more areas in Croft Manor. How many more of these TR myths have a radically different truth behind them? Perhaps we’ll never know. The only certainty is that there will always be someone who will eventually uncover the truth.