Hardwood background
Hardwood transition
Community Spotlight
Community Creations

Fan Spotlight: Stella - tombraiders.net

Mar 31, 2024

Stella's Website Header

Stella has been a beacon, the guiding life-line of the community for so long, it's hard to imagine a time when fans couldn't rely on her thorough guides and download resources. Her website, tombraiders.net, has become a trusted source for players seeking assistance, and her dedication and commitment to delivering comprehensive guides has made her a respected figure among fans and developers. 

We are proud to present Stella’s invaluable work and share the insights gained from her contributions. 

Q: How did your Tomb Raider journey begin, and how did you become involved in the community? 

I've told my Tomb Raider "origin story" many times, but it still makes me laugh. It was January or February of 1997, and a friend had received Tomb Raider (1996) for Christmas but didn't really get into it. He gave his copy to my husband, who got as far as the fire pillars in Palace Midas, then rage quit and literally threw the CD into the garbage. I rescued it, started up the training level - as you do - and was immediately hooked. To say these games changed my life is an understatement. 

Stella's Website in 1999

Stella’s website in 1999 

Q: What inspired you to start your own website for the Tomb Raider games? 

My becoming involved in the community and starting my own site happened soon after discovering the game. There were a few secrets I had trouble with, so I turned to the alt.games.tombraider Usenet newsgroup. These were the days before social media, when message boards and newsgroups were the only ways to make connections if you didn't know other gamers in real life. I started out asking questions, but by the time Tomb Raider II came out, I was answering them and contributing to the group FAQ. After a while, instead of fielding the same questions over and over, I thought, why not post complete walkthroughs? So I made a little free site on Geocites with a Tomb Raider II guide. (Remember Geocities? It was like Wix or Squarespace only without templates and with animated gifs and midi files.) The Tomb Raider II guide got some traffic, so I went back and wrote one for Tomb Raider (1996). I've been doing walkthroughs for every major Tomb Raider release, and most of the minor ones, since then. 

Q: Can you share some insights into your process for creating detailed walkthroughs?  

My process has evolved over the years, but I generally start by playing through each game casually, just to get comfortable with it and see what's new in that particular title. Then I wipe my saves and start over, making notes and taking screenshots as I go, testing out different strategies for more difficult sections, and trying to put myself in a new player's shoes. Where might I get stuck? Where are the jump scares? How can I get through each section using the smallest amount of health and ammo? Then I actually write and format the pages, and edit the screenshots to include annotations like arrows showing where to go, circled pickups, trap triggers, etc. I also try to include a little humor where I can. A wall of text saying, "Go left, pick up X, kill so-and-so, avoid such-and-such," can be so boring. 

My main goals are to make the games accessible for new players and help seasoned raiders get 100% completion. So I always include way too much detail, but I also try to make the guides easy to skim, with bold, descriptive headers for each area, colored text for enemies, hazards, pickups, etc., plus lots of screenshots and video for especially challenging bits. I can't always anticipate where someone else will need help. I want people to be able to follow along step by step if they enjoy that kind of narrative—or jump in anywhere they happen to be stuck. 

I also try to revisit each completed guide at least a few times each decade. Every time I do, I find minor mistakes, new things to add, and better ways to tackle certain areas. I also incorporate tips that other players have shared. 

Stella's Website in 2008

Stella’s website in 2008 

Q: Your website is the most famous for being an incredible resource for walkthroughs as well as save files and similar resources. Throughout your time creating walkthroughs for the Tomb Raider franchise, what have been some of the most challenging aspects you've encountered? 

Thanks for that! I try to do good work, and I'm glad people still look to tombraiders.net for guides, even in this age of YouTube and Twitch. For me, the biggest challenge is how slowly and methodically I work. I have nothing but admiration for content creators who stream the games or make video walkthroughs for YouTube, but putting together an accurate, somewhat entertaining written guide takes 10 times as long. I also work a regular job (as an artist's studio assistant and office manager), so gaming is an after-hours gig for me. I really feel the pressure when a new game comes out and everyone is playing faster than I can write. The upside is, unlike a video guide, if I do make a mistake, it's easy enough to go back and fix it. I don't need to redo the whole level. 

Q: Are there any particular Tomb Raider games or levels that you found especially enjoyable or memorable to create walkthroughs for? If so, what made them stand out? 

The remasters come immediately to mind. I'm still in the process of revising my classic guides, but it's been a wonderful nostalgia trip playing through my old favorites with gorgeous new graphics. I also enjoyed playing and writing about Rise of the Tomb Raider. There's so much detail, especially in the collectibles, and I'm a treasure hunter at heart. I'd also love to see Expedition-style DLC return in future games. 

As far as the most frustrating to write, that would be Angel of Darkness—and not because I don't love the game. I do! But when it came out, in 2003, my current PC was at the end of its useful life. Even with the graphics settings turned down, my computer was struggling. The level ‘Boaz Returns’ was literally impossible. Even when I sussed the controls for switching targets to aim at the boss's poison sacs, all of that splashy green goo was slowing my framerate to a crawl. I'm ashamed to say I had to get a save file from a friend to pass that level. Needless to say, I got a new computer as soon as I could afford one. 

Q: Tomb Raider I-III Remastered uses a different save file system where all save files are bundled within one file, whereas in the original versions of the games, save files were separate files. How did you approach creating save file resources for Tomb Raider I-III Remastered? 

The save file structure is my one complaint about the remastered games. As you mentioned, I like to offer saves for other players to download if they get stuck, but I also use those save files myself. They're handy whenever someone asks for help and I need to go back and check a particular area. But never say never, right? For this one, we decided to make saves for every level start, finish, and secret, beginning with TR1 and continuing through all the games and expansions in order. Worst-case scenario, someone will have to download multiple save files if they get stuck in more than one game. We'll probably add more saves later on, but this seemed like a good start. And I say "we" because I can't take credit for the remastered saves on my site. All of those were made by DraxxYaruga, who graciously donated their time and expertise. 

Stella's Website Banner by Inna

Q: Do you have any interesting stories of community members or Core Design devs using your guides? 

I honestly don't know how many devs and other community members have used them, but I can say with some pride that whoever ran the Square Enix Twitter account back in 2014 said that my guides are "the bee's knees." I'm old, but that expression is before my time. I think it's a good thing! :D  

More recently, Gavin Rummery, one of the original crew at Core Design, mentioned using my guides when playing the remastered TR1—a game he helped design! That was pretty cool. 

I also happen to know that at least one of the current Crystal Dynamics community managers used to be a regular visitor to tombraiders.net. Hunter and I have been friends since he was a teenager and even managed to connect in real life at New York Comic Con, shortly before the first Tomb Raider Survivor trilogy game came out. 

New York Comic Con Square Enix Booth 2012

Square Enix booth at NYCC, October 2012.  

Q: Looking ahead, are there any new projects or goals you have in mind for your website? 

I took a long hiatus after Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so once I'm done with the remasters, I would like to revisit that game and finish the DLC I left uncompleted. Apart from that, my main goal is another successful Extra Life charity marathon. Extra Life is an annual event, similar to Child's Play or Games Done Quick, involving thousands of gamers across all franchises and interests. I've been leading the Tomb Raider Community team since 2012. So far we've raised more than $75,000 for children's hospitals. This year, we'll be doing two events: a midsummer Twitch marathon focusing on Tomb Raider Level Editor games, players, and creators; and the official Extra Life marathon the first weekend in November.  

If anyone reading this is interested in signing on to make a difference for sick and injured kids, please check out our Extra Life team page https://extra-life.org/team/tombraider, and feel free to contact me. 

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

As someone who's been part of this fandom since the early days, I've seen the games evolve and change. I've seen fans and fan sites come and go. We all have our favorite and least favorite games. We all have versions of Lara that we connect with more strongly. But even when we disagree, we have more in common than we might realize. When you see a bit of content you disagree with, as long as the person making it is not being hateful, just breathe and let it go. Remember that the other person probably feels just as strongly as you do about their ideal game or their ideal Lara. Be kind. Welcome others into the circle. Share your knowledge, creativity, and enthusiasm, and encourage others to do the same. We're all here because we love Lara and her adventures. Take a cue from her. Fix your eyes on your next goal and just keep moving. 

Stella’s website recently received a visual upgrade, featuring stunning title banners created by the talented Inna Vjuzhanina, who was recently showcased in our Fan Spotlight

You can follow Stella’s work here 

Community Spotlight
Community Creations

Related Articles

Paper Top Overlay
footer transition

Join the new Society of Raiders

Sign up to join our Society of Raiders and receive monthly newsletters & exclusive rewards. Adventure is calling!

© Crystal Dynamics group of companies. All rights reserved.

CRYSTAL DYNAMICS and the Crystal Dynamics logo, CRYSTAL NORTHWEST and the Crystal Northwest logo, CRYSTAL SOUTHWEST and the Crystal Southwest logo, TOMB RAIDER and the Tomb Raider logo, and LARA CROFT are trademarks of the Crystal Dynamics group of companies.