Back in the fall of 2011, I did the following Q&A with John from JBTRFreak's Tomb Raider Site. Sadly, that site is no longer online.
The Tomb Raider Series
What is it about Tomb Raider that first appealed to you? And how long have you been playing Tomb Raider?
I've been playing since early 1997, shortly after the first Tomb Raider came out. My first impression, which I formed while watching over my husband's shoulder, was that the environments seemed very realistic and cool—at least compared to other 3D games of the day like Quake, Duke Nukem, etc.—and, hey, that's a GIRL!!!
Do you remember your initial thoughts when you were playing the game for the first time?
It's been a while so I don't remember exactly what went through my head, but I definitely recall being frustrated at times and elated at others. I'd mostly played RPGs and point-and-click adventure games up to that point, so the controls that seem second-nature today were a bit of a challenge for me at first. I definitely recall poor Lara's scream followed by that hideous thump-crunch when she lands after a long fall...a sound I heard way too often in those days. ;)
Everybody remembers the Lost Valley T-Rex. The Dragon in the Dragon's Lair, and many other great bosses throughout the series. Who or what is the most memorable boss to you?
I think Natla is the best and most memorable boss in the series. I can't tell you how thrilled I was when she returned in the Crystal Dynamics games. I know she wasn't that hard to fight in the first game, but her personality, the character design, and the fabulously snarky voice acting made her totally compelling. Over the years she's inspired a ton of great fan art and fiction—probably more than any other TR villain. Among my favorites are Ostercy's Tomb Raider Fables and Natla's Pyramid.
What is the most memorable environment from the Tomb Raider Series?
I'm a sucker for Egyptian ruins, so I'd have to say any of those. I especially loved Lara's nighttime return to the temple of Bast in the TR1 Gold levels. Also the sunny exterior locations in The Last Revelation. I vividly remember playing the Temple of Karnak for the first time and cresting the hill for a first glimpse of that little pool with the obelisk. I just had to stop and spin Lara around to take in the view.
What is your favorite Tomb Raider Game?
The first one, definitely. Maybe it's because it was the first Tomb Raider I played so I imprinted on it like a baby animal on its mother. But even 15 years on, I still think it's a masterpiece of game design. It's more challenging, immersive and downright magical than a lot of what's coming out today.
Angel of Darkness
What are your feelings toward Angel of Darkness?
It had a lot of potential that wasn't realized because the game was released unfinished. I'm sure there are many reasons for that—reasons most of us mere players will probably never know. I found it frustrating to play and the storyline interesting but muddy. I don't know if that was deliberate or a result of rushed editing, parts having to be left out, etc., but I didn't enjoy it as much as the others.
Do you think Core could've done better with AoD if they had not had such strict time constraints?
Maybe. Probably. I can't begin to guess the pressures they were under as far as time and technology go. I've heard that the team was pretty burnt by the time they got into AOD's development. They probably could have all used a year off before even starting the project. But I wasn't there so I don't know and can't judge.
Do you think AoD would even have a good enough story for two sequels?
Again, I can't really answer that since I don't know what the developers intended, but I seriously doubt they could have sold another game based on that same engine. Some things are best left to die a natural death. ;) Although perhaps the AOD story—however many parts there were supposed to be—would make a good novel. Lots of romance and intrigue. Can't go wrong there.
What originally led you to start up www.tombraiders.net?
I was into the games for a while before I decided to make a site about them. Around the time TR2 came out, I started asking and answering questions on the alt.games.tombraider Usenet newsgroup. Then I realized I was answering the same questions again and again. So, along with some other fans, we made an F.A.Q. for the group. That was helpful up to a point but didn't cover everything and didn't include screenshots or maps.
I was teaching myself basic HTML coding at the time, so I decided to combine the two interests and build a site about the games. I started with a walkthrough for TR2 on a little free site. Then later I added help for TR1 and Unfinished Business, and have continued to write walkthroughs for all the new games as they've come out.
How Many times would you say you play each game before writing a walkthrough?
It's hard to say since I don't always play through every bit equally. I usually make one complete run through the whole game just for fun—to enjoy the story, get the lay of the land, find as many secrets as I can. Then I'll do a second complete run, ferreting out any items I missed and making notes as I go. I'll use the notes to write a rough draft and then go back and load individual saves to test out different paths and techniques, make screenshots, and so on.
If you've ever followed my progress after a game's release, you'll see I tend to post a few levels at a time. Then when I've gotten everything up on the site, I take a break and wait for the vultures to descend. ;) I know a lot of players are much better at this than I am. There just aren't many who have the patience to write it all down. So I count on them to send me corrections and suggestions. I try to credit everyone who contributes, and lately I've been tracking updates with footnotes on the pages where they appear.
I continue to make changes even now. I just revised the TR2 walkthrough for the first time in years. I think I added about 1,000 screenshots and fixed a lot of bits that were vague or broken. I plan to tackle TR3 again while waiting for the next game to come out.
Would you consider yourself an expert when it comes to Tomb Raider?
Not as much as some people. The real experts are the speedrunners, like the guys on tombrunner.net. (I say guys because most of them are male. I've seen a few female runners but they are few and far between.) These people know every level inside and out. They practically reverse engineer the levels to find out exactly how each surface is arranged, where the various triggers are placed, etc. If you haven't watched a Tomb Raider speedrun video, I highly recommend it. If you felt you were a good gamer before, you will be humbled.
Check out my blog for an introduction to Tomb Raider speedrunning.
There are also lots of fans who know more about the mythology or 'canon' behind the series than I do, who can answer every trivia question and recite dialogue from memory. More power to them. I've got a finite amount of space on my mental hard drive and I need it for things like my kid's birthday and where I put my car keys.
I think my forte is helping gamers in distress. I try to figure things out and then explain them in ways other people can understand.
A while back I remember reading about how you took Katie Fleming's Tomb Raider site and added it to your server? Care to tell your side of that story? How did it happen and how long have you been "Internet Room Mates"?
I'm so glad you asked this question. It's a bit of a long story, though, so please bear with me. Fans who've been around for a while may remember that tombraiders.net and tombraiders.com were "sister" sites started by Theresa Jenne, one of the most devoted Tomb Raider fans I've ever known. She invited me to be her "internet roommate" back in January 1999. We had several great years together. Without her support and encouragement my site would never have become as successful as it has. Sadly, she became ill and stopped updating her site around the time Angel of Darkness came out, and she passed away in 2006.
I had to ask Katie because I couldn't remember exactly when we "met." I put that in quotes because we've never actually been in the same room together, although we've been online friends for ages. She says she first emailed me when for game help when she was 12, so about 13 years ago. Soon afterward she started a little free site with a bunch of cool screenshots and the beginning of her fan fiction collection. Then, in late 2002, when she started to outgrow her existing hosting I asked her to join me on tombraiders.net.
At the time, I felt like I was not only doing a favor for a friend but also honoring Theresa's legacy. I've tried to "pay it forward," giving Katie the kind of support that Theresa gave me. Katie certainly doesn't need my help anymore, but we've gotten used to each other. ;) And I think Theresa would have been proud of how far Katie and I have come.
Unfortunately I can't offer server space to everyone who comes along, but I always try to be helpful and encouraging to other fans who want to start sites of their own.
Tomb Raider Level Editor
Have you played any custom Tomb Raider Levels? If so, could you name a couple that you could call your favorite?
It's been ages since I played any custom levels and, to be honest, I don't remember any of their names. I hear there are lots of good ones, though. TR fans are a very creative bunch.
Have you ever considered trying to build a level with the editor, yourself?
Considered? Yes. Succeeded? No. I tinkered with the level editor shortly after it was released. It was fun but very, very time consuming. I think this is like speedrunning. You need to be really devoted and put in lots of effort in order to build a level that's worth playing. I just don't have that kind of free time. Maybe someday....
Do you think the release of the Level Editor was a benefit to the Tomb Raider Community? Why or Why Not?
Absolutely! The Level Editor has helped to sustain interest in the classic Tomb Raider games for many years beyond their normal expiration dates. Entire communities, like TRLE.net and Skribblerz, have grown up around players' passion for building and playing custom levels. The same is true for next-gen tools like XNALara.
Some developers seem to believe that allowing fans access to building tools will undermine their efforts or cost too much. I believe it's just the opposite. User-created mods, levels, etc., help enlarge the fan base and keep interest up between game releases. Savvy developers like Core and Crystal know that.
Thanks so much. Hope to talk to you again soon.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to ramble on about myself and the games. Best of luck with your site!
Some screenshots on this page courtesy of Katie's Tomb Raider Site.