We’re not ones to blow our own trumpet, despite the somewhat laid back approach we have to writing about Sonic the Hedgehog and just generally being fans of the series. Hey, we like a laugh, and we’re just here to have a laugh with you. But since its opening on the 24th October 2000, I think this little website has accomplished quite a lot, given its rags-to-riches story. We will be celebrating our tenth anniversary starting tomorrow, but first let’s take a quick look back at some of the things we’ve created for the community, for better or for worse.
The Summer of Sonic
It’s hard to think of life without the fan convention, even though it’s only just successfully completed its second year. I always had intentions to host and create a real life gathering of Sonic fans, but I was hardly the first or last person with this dream. Back in 2006, I didn’t have a penny to help launch such an event, so I took to the Interweb and created a website that acted as a kind of ‘online convention’. Under the guise of a celebration of Sonic’s 15th Anniversary, I created The Summer of Sonic as a portal for the best of the fanbase – a true example of what could be achieved when fans worked together.
I had desires to take the concept further though, but I sure as heck couldn’t do it all by myself. It wasn’t until late 2007 that the perfect opportunity arose – having also dreamed of a fan convention for some time, ArchAngelUK from SEGA Europe’s Community department approached me about teaming up to make this thing work. The result was The Summer of Sonic 2008; an energetic event held in a Covent Garden community hall that played host to Richard Jacques, TJ Davis, Nigel Kitching of Sonic the Comic fame and Bentley Jones.
This year we expanded the event and had over 200 people charging in Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery within the first half hour. Sumo Digital was in attendance, as was Kitching and Nigel Dobbyn (also of STC fame) and a return appearance from Bentley Jones. Tapping into a demand that had been there for some time, the Summer of Sonic convention has attracted people from all corners of the world. Not bad going for a fansite.
Sonic Site Awards
When The Sonic Stadium was finding its feet back in 2000/2001, I was thinking of a hundred and one different things to make this website stand out from the crowd. Everyone would be going to Sonic HQ for information and The Sonic Foundation for media, which left me with little but innovation to get noticed. The Sonic Site Awards was one of those fresh new ideas.
The concept of an awards ceremony is nothing new, but the lead-up to an eventful ceremony and the segmentation of ‘phases’ resulted in a new outlook on the event. Most important of all, unlike other awards where visitors could simply vote in already-assembled nomination forms, the user had complete control over the proceedings of the SSAs, making it the most democratic. Visitors were given a list of available awards, which they would submit their favourite (or their own) website for consideration. After a vetting process, successful candidates were placed into voting polls, and the results of these were kept secret until the big reveal at the Phase 3 Ceremony.
Over the years the event had ballooned from acknowledging up-and-coming fansites to also cover fan creation (such as Best Artist of the Year and Best Fiction) and a special ‘Elite’ award for already-established sites. This growth became too much to handle, and the event took a year-long hiatus in 2008. It returned this year with a grass-roots approach, which has given it a prestigious reputation within the online community.
SEGA Starts Listening
While we’re not quite in SEGA’s pockets as everyone might imagine, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Our relationship with the company is pretty tight, and is responsible for the attention the online community gets these days. It dates back to 2005, a few weeks before the release of Shadow the Hedgehog. After running into a SEGA Brand Manager who had set up an event in a London nightclub, I spoke of the idea that SEGA and the fanbase could be closer connected. The SEGA man said that this was the sort of thing that the company was looking to do, but didn’t have a way of going about it.
Shortly after, I had meetings with a group of SEGA people explaining things about the fanbase. I was essentially there for the company to pick my brains about how to tap into the loyal fanbase, but hey, I got lunch out of it. ‘Shadow Week’ was formed in collaboration with SEGA Europe, which allowed us to provide exclusive screenshots, media and host a competition for five copies of the game – one of which was signed by Takashi Iizuka.
Since that initial meeting, SEGA has taken their own initiatives to get closer to the fanbase, including the Community department that ArchAngelUK is now a part of. While I couldn’t put my name to any of the awesome work made by the company (and it would be extremely egotistical to think so – you should all thank AAUK for that), I’d like to think my initial approach was a catalyst for SEGA’s reach out to the community.
SEGASonic Radio: LiVECAST
The Sonic community didn’t pick up on the live broadcast (or even audio broadcast) trend until test shows of The Sonic Hour went on air, way back in 2003. Starring myself, Roareye Black and ‘Anarchy Rat’, this weekly broadcast of unplanned, random and downright stupid behaviour became a cult classic to those who would dare listen in, and with a successful couple of episodes it was decided to roll out a schedule of live programming to evolve the SEGASonic Radio station.
LiVECAST renewed interest and added a new paradigm to the online radio scene, and The Sonic Hour became the flagship broadcast to promote the season of programming. Initially, LiVECAST was established as a separate channel to the SEGASonic Radio 24/7 stream – this was because our host at the time, Zone Radio Network, didn’t have the capacity for live broadcasts and we didn’t want to screw anything up. With Fastfeet, SpawnofSonic, Hawkz and others airing their own shows, listeners were treated to some very special and unique listening experiences.
It wasn’t long before the LiVECAST revolution kick-started a desire for people and other sites to start their own live radio station. As an extension to this, podcasting in the Sonic community would probably have not been a viable option were it not for the advent of both SEGASonic Radio’s LiVECAST programming and The Sonic Hour. You can catch old episodes of the flagship broadcast – which still airs every Sunday to this day, starring myself and Roareye Black – here.
NB: The term ‘LiVECAST’ is one that I created myself. Now everyone uses it. The more you know.
Sonic Battle Stadium
One of several games and events to take place on the SSMB Forums, this was a forum RPG that allowed members to form their own character and element-based attacks (under certain guidelines) then take part in turn-based battles with others to rise up in rank. At the time there were no scripts that did the calculations for us, so I had to make sure that every battle was conducted fairly and within the strict battle rules. I took the role of ‘Grandmaster Dreadknux’, and at the end of each annual tournament I would be the final battle for the prize.
Started in 2002, the forum game took the userbase by storm and helped draw more members to the ezBoard that was then called ‘home’. Once ‘Season 1’ was over and done with, I tweaked the rules a little so that I could spend a little less time overseeing the events (college courses were kicking my spare time in). These changes weren’t very well received, and shortly after the Battle Stadium was laid to rest.
Before torrents and media sharing sites, there was DefChamba – a portal which collected music and video files on almost every Sonic game whether old, new or obscure. But the real innovation behind it was Fastfeet Media, that created the concept and helped nurture the service on TSS. Fastfeet, a good friend of mine, approached me about hosting media files via a subsite on the TSS Network. I agreed, and even though it broke off some years later, Fastfeet Media remains a wonderful resource in music and video downloads.
TSS kept its media depository, but renamed it to DefChamba by request of coder extraordinaire B’man. The name stuck, and despite some server crashes messing us up, it has remained a faithful location for the latest and greatest soundtrack and trailer releases.
The Sonic Stadium’s Achilles Heel. Back in 2003/2004 I had an idea for a further evolution for the website – integration with both the site and the forum. More than this however, my plan was to create an online game using forum membership accounts that could be carried over to the main website. This was later announced to be ‘Sonic Smash Cards’ – a collectible card game that used ‘points’ on a member’s forum account to purchase packs and decks with random results. The cards users would collect would be saved onto their account, and any spares could be traded, and rarities sold at a black market.
At least, that was the plan. Back then, myself and B’man had been working on a bespoke system for the website which would allow some great integration. But B’man was not the original coder behind Smash Cards. Having asked an Australian Sonic fan to build the base of the system for me, it took roughly a week for the main card pack randomiser to be built. Unfortunately, some time after he lost all the data – I had never received a copy – and he never picked up the pieces. B’man attempted to make something of it, but our real lives got in the way of any real progress.
Known as ‘Operation Grandslam’ before officially revealed as Sonic Smash Cards, it was the best kept secret I ever had. The reason it remained so for so long was because I didn’t want to reveal a project that couldn’t be finished – thus disappointing people. But, despite a ray of hope (allowing me to announce the project), Smash Cards was let go as both B’man and I realised it wasn’t really going to happen.
Smash Cards became the focus of a practical joke one year on April 1st, where we pretended that the project was completed and ready to use – people who tried would end up getting PHP errors all the time until the afternoon when an April Fools message would appear.
People say that fan gaming teams never last. That they’ll start work on a project, and then never finish it. Shadow Team, formed by myself, Roareye Black and ‘Anarchy Rat’, were determined not to be added to that statistic. But ultimately, we did.
It was a match made in heaven at the start of it – Anarchy, a good friend of ours at the time, lived just up the road from Roareye and myself, which meant we didn’t have to deal with online animosity. Anarchy was also quite interested in making fan games, working with The Games Factory for many a spare hour, with Roareye helping out and myself planning designs and working on promotion for our games.
We released our first game, Sonic Avalanche, to a great reception. A one-screen minigame, you could play as one of an array of Sonic characters as you avoided waves of fireballs raining down upon you. The longer you survived, the more points you earned, and you could slide down the sides of the walls and perform tricks to increase your score. Avalanche was the precursor to our big project though – Sonic the Fighters 2.
With a great engine built for it by Anarchy, Sonic the Fighters 2 was the first real fan game attempt at making a ‘Smash Bros.’ out of Sonic. Games from other studios like Super Sonic Knockout would come after Sonic the Fighters 2 came, wowed online crowds, then died a silent death.
The reason for this was a falling out between team members. Anarchy was protective of his work, and Roareye – not having as much experience – took to looking inside the Sonic the Fighters 2 code to learn more tricks and help build the game with him. To get around this, Anarchy would start to lock development copies of the game when showing both myself and Roareye, effectively nuking the development relationship. We ended up leaving Anarchy to get on with it, while Roareye would start (and finish) his own minigame, Eggman Tug – a short, dumb but hilariously playable game of tug with Eggman as the starring role.
In real life, Anarchy would soon fall out with myself and Roareye over (separate) trivial matters, and our friendship ended soon after Shadow Team did.
Another forum game that was created on the SSMB, by moderator Aoi. It took the simple concept of video game clans and fitted it within the forum space, with topics and events themed around Sonic the Hedgehog. Users could join one of three different clans, each with their own moral code and status within the SoniClans ‘game world’. After filling in a questionnaire, users would be placed into a clan based on their answers – a hidden forum was dedicated to each clan so they could chat amongst themselves and plot to take on opposing groups.
A hub forum was established as a stand-off ground between clan members, and events were regularly organised to pit various clans against each other. The concept was fantastic and the Clans got to a real good start, but after a while SSMB moderators assigned to the project dropped off the radar or lost interest. As people with little experience with the system took their place, a lack of direction meant it couldn’t carry on for much longer. I ordered for the removal of the SoniClans, which wasn’t met by a very popular reaction, and Aoi temporarily left the forums to set up the system on a forum elsewhere.
SoniClans still sees some popularity, thanks to a change in direction and some added leadership. You can visit it here.
We’ve accomplished a lot at The Sonic Stadium in the last ten years. Some of what we’ve done have been hit-and-miss, but I’d like to think that other things have really benefited the Sonic community. Who knows what the two thousand and teens will bring, but I will continue to think of new events and ideas to make our site a better place for fans.
I have you guys – the readers – to thank for keeping me going for the last ten years, and you’ll all continue to be the inspiration to my events, sites and shows. Personally, I’d still like to be running this website for another ten years – it feels only like yesterday that I was launching the site on an Angelfire account at 15 years old. Time sure flies, huh?
We at TSS wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2010. Hope you stay tuned to The Sonic Stadium for another decade of awesome Sonic content!