The following appeared on Matt's Tomb Raider Blog in August 2011. Matt's blog is no longer online but he's given me permission to share this here.
There's a particular website that most Tomb Raider fans are familiar with. They seek it out when things seem impossible, they turn to it for a little hand holding if they're uncertain, and in some cases have even been known to head over there just to prove a point.
Yes, I'm talking about Stella's Tomb Raider Site.
It would have to be the most informative Tomb Raider fan site online, without a doubt. Where else can you find out how to get 4 out of a possible 3 secrets in Coastal Village? But you have to ask yourself, how long has it really been around? What started it all? and what is the story with that UFO in Tomb Raider 3? I emailed Stella to find out more.
Matt: What sparked the creation of "Stella's Tomb Raider Site" and when? The Way Back Machine tells us it's been there for at least 12 years now.
Stella: It's a bit of a funny story really. I first discovered the original Tomb Raider a few months after it came out. My husband got a copy from a friend who'd just finished playing it. He got stuck at the timed run across the fire pillars in the Palace Midas level. You should have heard him cursing and slamming on the keyboard. Eventually he got so frustrated he literally threw the game in the garbage. The next day I pulled it out and decided to give it a go. I had no clue what to do, so I went back to the beginning, played around in Croft Manor for a while, and then started the game from the beginning. The rest, as they say, is history.
That was maybe January or February of 1997. I got stuck a few times myself and went to the internet for help. Back then there weren't a million fan sites, but alt.games.tombraider was already going strong on Usenet. So I started asking and answering questions and enjoying the camaraderie of a group of people interested in the same thing. I didn't write my first walkthrough until late that year when TR2 came out. I put it up on a little free site, later added help for TR1, and have continued to write walkthroughs for all the new games as they've come out. So although I've only been at the tombraiders.net address since 1999, Stella's site has technically been around since May or June 1998.
Stella's site in 1999 courtesy of The Internet Archive Wayback Machine
Matt: Where do you find the time to play the games, (We've all got time to play Tomb Raider!) write the walkthroughs, revise the walkthroughs and update your site then continuing to revise your walkthroughs? Surely this would take absolutely hours and hours of your time finding every nook and cranny to explore.
Stella: You're absolutely right that it takes a lot of time if you want to be thorough. When I first started doing walkthroughs and game help, my son was little and I was a full-time mom. So I'd work on the site when he was sleeping, playing on his own, etc. Launching a fairly popular fan site during the dot-com bubble certainly didn't hurt. So I've always been able to work part time at a "real" job and make ends meet with income from the site itself.
I pray that people will stay interested in the series, that after the new Tomb Raider launches next fall, it will go on and on...and that players will continue to visit and support my site. I couldn't keep it going without help from my fellow fans. [Note: Fall 2012 was the projected release date for Tomb Raider when we did this interview.]
Also, I enjoy using the expression "playing video games like it's my job" because technically it is. ;)
Matt: You recently mentioned on Twitter than you were planning a redesign of your website, do you have any other plans in the pipeline such a forum, chat room or perhaps something else?
Stella: Ugh. Now I feel bad because I haven't followed up on that. I do have vague plans for a redesign but, to be honest, I haven't come up with any ideas I like better than what's there now. Maybe when we get a little closer to the release of the new game.... I definitely need to revisit existing pages and tidy things up. Lately, though, I've been spending more time working on one of my other sites, brickraiders.net, which features LEGO Indiana Jones game help.
I have no plans to add a chat room or forum, mostly because I don't have time to police them. There are way too many trolls out there who enjoy causing trouble and trying to ruin other users' good times. So I'd either have to spend my whole day watching out for them or deputize other players as moderators. I'm not a very good delegator, so for now at least, I've decided not to go there.
Stella's site in 2011, when this interview took place, again courtesy of The Internet Archive Wayback Machine
Matt: What was your first encounter with Lara and what were your thoughts at the time?
Stella: Well, as I mentioned, I discovered the series fairly early on. I thought Lara's boob-a-licious appearance was kind of comical, but I loved the fact that she was this cool, British lady who talked like Mrs. Peel and acted like Indiana Jones. I mean, how awesome is that?! I've also had a long-time fascination with archeology, Egyptology, and treasure-hunting in general. So to see a strong female character doing these things—and then to actually be able to live that adventure through her—was amazing.
I don't watch television (except for downloads and DVDs) so I was spared the media blitz. Most of what I know about Lara comes from the actual games and not the advertising. Many female players—and a few guys as well—have told me they were turned off by the ads and only later discovered how much fun the games actually are. I think the current developers have gotten wise to that and realized they don't have to alienate half their potential customers. The upcoming game could very well outsell even the most successful entries in the original series.
Matt: Which is your all time favourite/least favourite Tomb Raider game? Also which level/area did your most enjoy/despise?
Stella: Hmm...good question. I think it changes depending on the mood I'm in and what I feel like playing, but I guess my "desert island" Tomb Raiders are the original and Anniversary. The first game is the one that got me hooked, so I'll always have a soft spot for it. And the level design is absolutely brilliant. Even with its blocky, 1996 graphics, it can still give most modern games a run for their money. Anniversary is my favorite of the new games. I think Crystal Dynamics did a brilliant job recreating that adventure and tying it in with the Legend-Underworld story arc.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light isn't technically a TR game, but I enjoy it a lot as well. It's kind of light on plot, but it's so much fun and has so many goodies to find and achievements to unlock. I love a big inventory and lots of challenges, so that one really appeals to me.
My least favorite is Angel of Darkness. The plot is interesting enough, but it's just too glitchy and the controls are so awkward. Still, even the "worst" Tomb Raider is better than most other games, in my opinion.
As for favorite levels, visually I like the Egyptian tombs and ruins in TR1 and Last Revelation, but I think the levels that are most fun to play are the ones where Lara either loses her weapons (e.g., Natla's Mines in TR1, Offshore Rig in TR2, High Security Compound in TR3) or doesn't have any (Ireland in TR5). I like the challenge of getting by on smarts and stealth instead of guns. I'm excited about that aspect of the upcoming Tomb Raider. Lara starts with basically nothing and has to use her wits to survive and ultimately triumph. I can't wait to see how she does it!
Matt: Where do you think Lara should travel to next?
Stella: Well, I think she will travel to Japan. ;) But I'd like to see her go to Australia one of these days. Maybe the ruins of Mycenae...and of course she must return to Egypt. There's got to be some undiscovered ruin out there that she could find.
Matt: What do you do when you're not working on your website or playing Tomb Raider?
Stella: I'll admit I'm a terrible game and internet addict so I sometimes have to force myself to get off the computer and do other stuff. I love walking outdoors and I'm fortunate to live in an area with lots of beautiful trails [Google] so I try and get out when it's not too hot or cold. I also like to read, mostly sci-fi, modern fantasy and thrillers, and to cook. Before I had my son and turned to raiding, I was a restaurant cook, food writer and cookbook editor. That seems like a past life now. lol
Matt: Do you have any pets?
Stella: No pets, per se, since I have bad allergies, but I do keep chickens. They're super cute and friendly and there's nothing like fresh eggs. Here's me showing off my flock
Matt: If you had a million dollars and had to spend it at just one store, which store would you choose? Why?
Stella: Oh, man! Great question but hard. Can it be an internet store? If so, then I'd have to say Amazon.com. They have just about everything and I do most of my shopping there anyway.
Matt: What is with that UFO in Tomb Raider 3?
Stella: Didn't you get the memo? They are among us. O.o
Tomb Raider 3: Area 51 screenshot by Sheepman.
I would like to thank Stella for taking the time out of her busy life to do this email interview and supplying the beautiful photo of herself.
If you would like to be better informed on the Tomb Raider series, need a little hand holding or are unsure about something Lara Croft related, then head on over to Stella's Tomb Raider Site.
I hope you guys enjoyed this interview, I had heaps of fun doing it. Happy raiding. –Matt