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Fan Spotlight: Tomb of Ash

Apr 19, 2024

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Ash Kapriyelov, dubbed 'Lara's biggest fan' by Retro Gamer magazine for his exceptional effort in organizing a celebratory panel for Tomb Raider's 20th anniversary in 2016 which brought together the original developers for the first time, is the founder of the Tomb of Ash website. Tomb of Ash has been conducting insightful interviews with the game's original developers and serves as a preservation platform for all things Tomb Raider. With a string of ambitious Tomb Raider projects under his belt, we are going to explore Ash's remarkable creations and contributions to the franchise. 

Q: How did your Tomb Raider journey start? 

I saw my friends playing Tomb Raider II on their PlayStation, but at that time I was not interested; I was more captivated by Resident Evil 2. In 2000, when I got my Windows PC, I bought Tomb Raider: Chronicles, and it hooked me. I started learning English as well as software packages to create artworks. My first projects were 3D renders. Eventually, I moved to the UK from one of the Central Asian countries where I was born. 

Q: How did Tomb of Ash come to life? What was the initial motivator for creating the website? 

When I moved to the UK, I started helping my friends at Laracroft.ru with pictures of Derby, the home of classic Tomb Raider, and such. Eventually, I interviewed Andy Sandham, which the team from Laracroft.ru translated and published in Russian. I realised it would be a shame if no one read the English language version, so I published it on my personal Tumblr. This gathered a lot of attention, and I decided to rebrand it to Tomb of Ash.  

I began networking and getting in touch with other people from Core Design, asking for interviews, concept art, things like that. What stood out to me was how little they knew about how much their work is still valued and appreciated. Here I am, a guy whose whole life was impacted and shaped because of the game they made, and they lived their lives for years without thinking that anyone even remembers them. I started adding everything I found onto my Tumblr, but later moved to WordPress as my website outgrew Tumblr's functionalities. 

Q: Your first larger-scale project was the short animation film 'Baba Yaga.' Baba Yaga is also featured as one of the DLCs for Rise of the Tomb Raider. What inspired you to create your own version of the Baba Yaga myth? 

As a Russian speaker, Baba Yaga was something that I was acutely aware of. My grandma used to tell me stories about Baba Yaga. Russian fairy tales are quite grim, come to think of it. Anyway, I wanted to make an explainer that would portray the most archetypical version of the Baba Yaga myth for those who aren't familiar with it. I spoke with Shelley (Blond), and she agreed to narrate it, while Inna (Vjuzhanina) offered to create a few drawings. Later, I nominated it for the Royal Television Society award, and it made it to the semifinals but ultimately didn’t win. Still, it was great to make it that far in the competition.   

Q: To celebrate Tomb Raider’s 20th anniversary, you gathered the Core Design developers for a celebratory panel at PLAY Expo in Manchester, UK in 2016. Can you tell us what sparked the idea to do such a panel?  

Boredom, really. After working on the Baba Yaga animation, I was thinking it would probably be the biggest project on my blog. But then, during a Christmas break, I thought, why not organise a Tomb Raider 20th event at PLAY Expo, since they really love retro games there? So, I sent them an email with a proposal to organise it. 

PLAY Expo Manchester - Core Design Panel

Q: How challenging was it to bring together the former Core Design developers after so many years for the panel? 

I think the most challenging part was convincing them that people still remember and love their work. They had never met the fans before this; it was always the higher-ups or marketing who dealt with the community and media side of things. Other than that, it was rather smooth sailing. Yeah, there was a lot of work involved with logistics and such, but I managed to do it in my spare time after studies. I'd get into a hammock in my flat and work for a few hours a day. I think I did a good job considering I had no budget and it ran on pure enthusiasm.  

PLAY Expo Core Design Panel Audience

The event was rather crazy as we had fans flying in from all over the world - Canada, Ukraine, Italy… It now feels extra special and heartwarming to know that Neal Boyd, the original level designer for Tomb Raider 1 and 2, travelled all the way from Thailand to meet fans and see his friends. He sadly passed away a couple of years ago, but it's touching to know that he was able to see his work still being loved even after 20 years. 


Q: Were there any panel reactions that stick in your memory as best moments? 

I hoped to move people with the event, so I asked fans to send their stories about how Tomb Raider changed their lives because surely, I wasn’t the only one affected. We received numerous messages, some very personal, which we added onto slides and projected along with Tomb Raider themes before the panel. We aimed to capture emotional reactions from the audience. Ironically, I was the one who ended up breaking down in tears in the middle of Tomb Raider IV’s theme. I have no idea whether it was the realisation that it’s all done and dusted, that they’re about to see the fans for the first time and I had something to do with it, or both of those things… But yes, I broke down unexpectedly. We had a book of memories passed around where fans could leave a message about Tomb Raider, and it had some interesting entries. 

Nathalie Cook, the very first official Lara Croft model and Ash

Q: The PLAY Expo Core Design panel was a grand undertaking that required, as you mentioned, a lot of resources and logistics. However, that wasn’t the end of your major projects. Can you guide us through The Dark Angel Symphony project, explaining how it came to be and discussing the challenges the project brought? 

Later in 2016, I contacted Peter Connelly and offered to organise a remastered version of his Tomb Raider music. This turned into the incredible Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony music album project. It was a lot of work, and just when I thought my job was done, the Covid-19 lockdown happened. We had a choice to delay the shipment of the album until we could get together to organise the logistics chain or think of something else. This resulted in all the albums, vinyl, etc., arriving at my house, and I was shipping about 100 parcels a week, often staying up until 3 am (while also working full-time), packing, organising labels, and arranging for the courier to collect, etc. It was an exhausting project to manage, but ultimately, I am proud to have been a part of it and I am very happy I was involved. I think I could do something similar in terms of scale again; I just need to find a new 'thing.'


Q: You brought together a group of fans and individuals who have previously worked on the Tomb Raider franchise to create a new short, animated film titled Tomb Raider: The Myth of El Hawa. This film portrays Lara's adventures in North Africa following her near-death experience depicted at the end of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind creating The Myth of El Hawa? 

During one of Terenete’s livestreams, she was discussing the story between Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and The Angel of Darkness, which gave me an idea. I contacted Murti Schofield (the writer for Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness) to confirm that story and asked him to write a proper script for a short, animated film. I wanted to do it in the style of my Baba Yaga short film. I asked Jonell Elliott to do the voiceover as Lara, Dean Kopri to compose the music, Jasmin Steiner to create the drawings, and Terenete (Tina Ljuebnkov) to provide some extra help with the direction and voice-over editing. It felt great to create an animated film that finally provides an explanation for the classic timeline of what happened to Lara after the end of Tomb Raider IV. The film premiered at the annual Tomb Raider event in Derby on the big screen, and the feedback it received was fantastic. I am very proud of it.


Q: You've made an outstanding contribution to preserving Tomb Raider game files, earning you the Citizen Award from the Salford Mayor. Through extensive interviews with Core Design developers and thorough investigations, you've unearthed long-awaited answers to fans' questions as well as unveiled many never before known facts. What inspires you to continue these deep dive investigations and file preservation efforts?  

I like to think of my blog as a digital version of 'Tomb Raiding.' You discover an artefact, uncover the mysteries it holds, and then preserve it in your treasure room. For me, my blog is that treasure room from Lara’s manor that everyone has access to and where they can borrow all the artefacts to examine them. There’s something exciting about discovering how the levels were initially planned and how things have changed over time. I believe there's still a lot to uncover, and each new discovery allows us to piece together the story behind the series and its creation. While we already know much about the series, every unseen asset provides further insight into the entire game design process. It's fascinating to see how these games were made back then, especially considering how the process has changed over the years. Videogame preservation is a fairly recent thing, which means many valuable insights and older games have been lost to time. If I can do something to help preserve the original series, I will. 

I also enjoy having the original developers join me on Twitch to play either the original games, remastered collections, or fan mods and share their impressions. There’s something special about engaging in Q&A sessions with the audience and speaking with the creators of the games I love, even if it is virtually. 

You can watch the Developer Streams on my YouTube channel

Q: Could you share the story behind receiving the Mayor's Citizen award? 

This February, I received a call from my local council saying that Peter Connelly had nominated me for a Mayor’s Citizen award for my work on preserving Tomb Raider games and my volunteer work with Ukrainian refugees. It was such a huge achievement for me, not only being nominated by one of my childhood heroes but also winning a citizen award a year after I became a British Citizen. Both the certificate and trophy are proudly displayed in my living room. 

Mayor's Citizen award - Tomb of Ash

Q: What are your future plans for Tomb of Ash? 

Same old - looking for more unreleased stuff and preserving the original series. I'm also working on a book that will cover the history of Tomb Raider from 1996 to 2006. I hope to publish it for Tomb Raider’s 30th anniversary. I'll likely offer it as a free digital download, unless I find a publisher to do a printed run, because I want the story of my favourite franchise to be preserved. Here's a work-in-progress title and cover:

Tomb of Ash - TR Bible - mockup

Just to make it clear, this is an unofficial book, and the cover will reflect that in future revisions. 

Q: Is there a message you would like to convey to the Tomb Raider community? 

Preserving Tomb Raider games and bringing the creators behind them to the forefront is very important to me on a personal level. Classic Tomb Raider games were incredibly intricate; they allowed me to immerse myself and escape the horrors of my life as a child. My parents were alcoholics, my schoolmates didn’t like me because of my ethnic background, and my country wanted me imprisoned because being gay is illegal there. When I fired up Tomb Raider, suddenly I was in Egypt, Greece, China, or simply exploring the posh manor. Lara gave me strength, the will to live, and introduced me to many people who are still my friends. It’s because of her that I pushed and still push forward. Was Lara Croft a relatable character for me? No, absolutely not, she was the opposite. But just like a kid who reads Superman comic books and feels inspired by the character, I felt inspired by Lara.  

In Lara’s original biography, her family disowned her because she rejected following the future they had planned for her, such as marrying the Earl of Abingdon and becoming an aristocratic lady. She said no to those things and, despite being disowned by her parents, found happiness in following her own path.

My family was destructive to me in general, not just because of my closeted sexuality. This is why I aspired to be like Lara. This is why, after working since the age of 15, I used all my savings to move to the UK. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t from the EU, US, or any Commonwealth state with preferential agreements. I spent money on crazy tuition fees, maintenance, and visa fees every year until, 13 years later, I finally became British. 

Looking back, it feels insane that I, a person from a small Central Asian country, managed to conquer all my demons by immersing myself in video games, moving to the place where the games were made, getting in touch with the original developers, and doing various cool projects in my spare time. It's often hard for me to believe I achieved all this on my own. So, my message is probably relevant to those who find themselves in a dark place – you can do this! If I could, so can you. 


You can follow Ash’s work on the following platforms: 

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