20 Years of TSS: Twelve Ways We Were More Than Just a Website

It’s true that for the last two decades, we’ve been on top of the latest and greatest Sonic the Hedgehog news. But I wanted The Sonic Stadium to be more than just an information resource. My goal has been to create meaningful contributions to expand and enrich the online Sonic community. Which is why you might remember Sonic Stadium just as much for its list of wacky projects as you might for news and opinion.

Some of those projects stuck, and turned into popular tentpoles of the Sonic community. Others weren’t quite as successful. And some were just a weird mix of the two – successful to start, before petering out due to lack of interest or a lack of time to maintain.

We wanted to take a look back at twelve such projects – covering multimedia, community engagement, network sites and more – and share some information about how they helped to bring a little sunshine to the community. In somewhat-chronological order…

SSMB Forums

Ahh, SSMB, where would we be without you? Probably in a place far more boring than this, that’s for sure. The very first thing I did when I launched The Sonic Stadium in October 2000 was to also establish a Message Board. They were all the rage back in those days – the Discord of its time. Despite a few false starts (and several name changes), the SSMB has endured to become one of the most iconic portals in the Sonic community – it’s perhaps even more famous than TSS itself!

It might sound easy to make a success of a forum (especially when everyone else was doing it) – install a forum, tell people to chat about Sonic, sit back and reap the rewards, right? Well, it’s definitely not as simple as you’d think. Establishing a community, creating new ways to bring new members in (see other projects below) and then making sure you can keep those members happy is a herculean task that still challenges us to this day.

But what helped make SSMB a success was the administration’s focus on ensuring the Message Board was as safe and friendly a space as can be for all users. We established a rules list that ensured a progressive community could thrive, and made sure that we acted whenever members were feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome through the actions of others. Our pro-active attitude was pretty much unheard of in the Wild West of online communities, and it perhaps remains so today.

Many generations of Sonic fans come to set up home on SSMB, and I’m proud that – no matter how long they stay – they can feel part of a bigger connected fanbase. There’s simply too much history and fond memories from SSMB to bring up, so I’ll link to a special 20th Anniversary thread I posted yesterday, here. Share your memories there too!

Sonic Battle Stadium

This was one of the first ‘interactive’ things I created to help drive the community and overall ‘togetherness’, and it was pretty popular at the time (2001). In fact the only reason it died really was because it required constant moderation and observation so people would pay attention to rules etc.

SSMB members created their own ‘mighty warrior’ who would take part in the specialised Sonic Battle Stadium forum where they’d battle others for rings (which you had to keep a note of, like you’d keep a note of your stats etc on a piece of paper during a DnD game). You set yourself as an elemental type, chose some moves (which you could name whatever but had to assign damage points out of a limited pool – bit like creating your character in Skyrim). To kick off a match, they would have to alert ‘GrandMaster Dreadknux’ to initiate a battle. And I’d oversee the proceedings and make sure it was fair.

It was a pretty cool mix of battling and online RPG creation – users wouldn’t just list attacks that they’d make to their opponent, there’d be a whole backstory that they’d create for themselves. Things like, why they had beef with this other SSMB user (they never really had beef, it was mostly a roleplay thing), or during battles they’d give their attacks some written flair. And some really got into the ‘lore’, what little there was of it (members mostly created it for themselves).

Anyway, it lasted a full season (where the finale was a tournament to whittle down to one person who’d face GrandMaster Dreadknux himself…), before introducing a second season which wasn’t as popular. I changed the rules around a bit and I think people just didn’t get into it as much. I wonder if we could do something automated, we could kick something like this up again…

Sonic Fan Club

In 2001, one of the ways I wanted to expand The Sonic Stadium’s coverage was to focus on fan-made community projects. The Sonic Fan Club was a special sub-section of the site in which I covered all elements of fan creation; fan games, fan art, fan fiction, fan comics… even fan-made hoaxes! Because I was the only person running the site for a while, updates were sporadic but the concept never really ‘died’, even if the name ended up fading into obscurity.

Funnily enough, at one time (circa 2007) I designed a prototype ‘neo Sonic Fan Club’, reviving the name as a part of the TSS Network (see below). The ‘neo’ form would be less about on-site fan coverage and more an interactive gallery where SSMB members could post their fan creations and provide feedback. It never got off the ground unfortunately, but maybe in the future… see the concept design below.

You can see a list of restored Sonic Fan Club content (as well as more recent posts where we’ve revived the name) by searching the ‘Sonic Fan Club‘ tag.

Sonic World League

Another 2001 project, only this one didn’t really get anywhere. I launched a sort of ‘leaderboard’ concept called Sonic World League, for fans to earn pure street cred by declaring themselves the fastest/best at a Sonic game. We ran one contest, for Sonic 1 on the Master System. We had exactly 0 entries.

To be honest, even at the time I didn’t have much hope in this one being a success – at the time The Sonic Stadium’s reach was absolutely tiny, and honestly I’m not even sure how I would have detected cheaters if anyone had bothered to submit any entries. So it’s probably for the best that this didn’t go far.

Unofficial SEGA Magazine

It lasted only for a short while in 2002, but Unofficial SEGA Magazine was a free monthly digital book that aimed to offer reviews, news and information on SEGA titles (which was particularly important since SEGA left the console business just a year before). The magazine was developed by our friends at SonicVerse Team, who at the time were adept at creating Sonic fan comics. They created three issues – work had started on a fourth but it was never completed. A shame, it could have gone somewhere.

TSS Network

Once The Sonic Stadium had an established number of projects on the go, I decided that each should get their own subdomain and microsite. That way, if fans wanted to get specific updates on SSMB or SEGASonic Radio, they could head straight there and get a tailored design/experience without having to go through the main Sonic Stadium site.

It also allowed us to link arms with like-minded affiliates and fansites who had unique projects of their own that they wanted to share. Some of those included: Sonic Showcase Network, a fansite dedicated to sharing sprite and artwork resources as well as highlighting the best talent in the community; Sonic Cage Dome, a tournaments group that set up online Sonic racing well before Twitch was even a thing; SEGADriven, which is a fantastic resource covering SEGA in general; and The Sonic Show, a pioneering online video series about Sonic that was way ahead of its time.

Sites in the TSS Network benefited from cross-collaboration between teams, as well as a unified community via the SSMB Forums. Some of the other tentpole sites in the network are outlined in more detail below.

SEGASonic Radio

Originally starting life in 2001 as ‘Sonic Groove Choons FM’ (ugh) and then ‘Sonic Spin Radio’, SEGASonic Radio was one of the ‘big three’ ideas I had that would help enrich the Sonic Stadium and Sonic community at large (the other two being Sonic Fan Club and Sonic Site Awards – below).

SSR was definitely one of the community’s best-loved institutions – and is still fondly remembered today, despite being offline for a number of years now. It was one of the first ‘internet radio’ stations, playing non-stop Sonic the Hedgehog music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

From around 2003 onwards though, SSR became a household name after we introduced ‘SEGASonic Radio LiVECASTs’, which was our fancy name for live broadcasts at certain times of the day. Think of it as mix between podcasting and Twitch; at scheduled hours the 24/7 feed would be automatically paused and one of SEGASonic Radio’s LiVECAST DJs spoke directly to the audience and took requests for music tracks via TSS’ IRC chatroom.

Many many incredible podcasts and live shows were born thanks to SEGASonic Radio. The Sonic Hour was the flagship Sunday-evening broadcast and was packed with Sonic news, hilarity and other weirdness – but other shows such as T-TIME, Turbo Drive Live, Blitz & Pieces and SpeedKnux Pie became the mainstays of many Sonic fans’ lives as well.

Sonic Site Awards

The Sonic Site Awards was always the main event in the Sonic online community. Every year, people would be talking about who would get into the Nominations round, who would eventually win (and why), and would get hype for the Awards Ceremony where results would be revealed live on air.

Established in 2001, the SSA was fresh in that it gave the Sonic community complete control over the awards process. It was split into three ‘phases’ – Phase 1 would be the Submission Stage, where award categories are revealed and fans would openly submit the creators that they feel deserve a nomination. Phase 2 would be the Voting Stage, where nominees are announced and the audience casts the ultimate vote. The results would then be revealed during Phase 3, the Ceremony Stage. These usually took place during a special SEGASonic Radio LiVECAST.

The SSAs ran annually until around 2007, with an additional event taking place in 2009. You can read up on the first two years of the event in our Site Legacy section here.

Sonic News

One of the ways we enhanced the TSS Network family of sites was to spin off (so to speak) the News section of the Sonic Stadium website. ‘Sonic News’ (which was located at news.sonicstadium.org) was a no-frills portal to the hottest stories as they happened. It allowed TSS to be more of an informational resource while still offering a space for more serious and up-to-date reporting from the Sonic world.

The subsite opened around 2005, and ran for a year or so before it was folded back into The Sonic Stadium. We later decided that it was better to centralise the news from TSS itself. Shortly after we re-integrated Sonic News back into TSS, we transformed the whole site into a WordPress-based blog format, so it was a pretty sensible decision in the long run.

Shadow Team

That’s right, TSS even tried its hand at fan game development! Shadow Team was established in 2003 and we were present at a couple of SAGE events during our active run. The core team consisted of myself, Roareye Black and Anarchy Rat and our breakout game was a simple action title called ‘Sonic Avalanche’.

In it, up to four players had to survive waves of falling fireballs in a claustrophobic elevator – you could rack up points for avoiding each wave as well as for wall-sliding (which also gave you some control over how you could avoid certain hazards). You could play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy or Cream, as well as a new Shadow Team-created character called Megumi the Cat. She was Big the Cat’s long lost sister, and much slimmer than Big ever was.

Shadow Team grew in 2004 to establish a US team, which was working on a project called Sonic Ultimate. Shadow Team UK, after Sonic Avalanche, released another game called Eggman Tug and was in development of the highly-anticipated Sonic the Fighters 2. Unfortunately, as with most fan game teams, despite the best will in the world other things just got in the way and development on all projects slowed. Eventually, the Shadow Team was disbanded. But we’ll always have Sonic Avalanche.

Summer of Sonic – The Website

Sonic the Hedgehog’s 15th Anniversary seemed like the perfect time to try an ambitious idea I had. A special website that brings the entire Sonic online community together to celebrate everything about Sonic. The Summer of Sonic in 2006 was essentially a ‘Birthday Party for Sonic’ – visitors could read special articles written by a selection of fansite contributors, enter contests, digitally sign Sonic’s birthday card and learn more about the latest Sonic games.

It ran for around two weeks in the Summer holidays (hence the name), and was a phenomenal success. SEGA lent its official support for the project, by offering prizes and access to Sonic Team developers that we interviewed for this website. You can still see the site for yourself by heading to this link here.

Summer of Sonic – The Convention

This is the big one. The culmination of all the past online events and projects, manifest into a real-world convention that has over 1,000 people attend with every show. I’m talking, of course, about Summer of Sonic. But not the 2006 one.

In 2008, the ‘Summer of Sonic’ name was revived and used for a little social experiment. If TSS and friends organised an actual convention, in real life, would people actually go to it? Using what little funds I had to hand, I hired a small hall in London that fit about 200 people, chucked in a stage and a couple of tables (one was an art station, another had a Mega Drive running Sonic 2) and let nature take its course. 300 people turned up on the day. It was pandemonium.

The first Summer of Sonic event in 2008.

To be honest, it’s been pandemonium ever since. In the best possible way.

Running annually between 2008 and 2013, each year the convention grew and grew. It became an officially-recognised event, with SEGA promoting it as part and parcel of its annual Sonic marketing strategy. As a result, the special guests we’ve hosted have been a real who’s-who of the Sonic world. Richard Jacques, TJ Davis, Sumo Digital, Jun Senoue, Johnny Gioeli, Sonic the Comic and Archie comic artists, Kazuyuki Hoshino, Mike Pollock. And even Sonic Team legends Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Naka!

…and the crowd in 2016.

The Summer of Sonic is an incredible team effort that’s managed and operated by so many dedicated like-minded fans, and the result of that is a convention that also speaks directly to the community in a way that hasn’t been achieved before or since. After a hiatus in 2014 and 2015, we came back for One More Run in 2016 and it was quite honestly the best show we ever pulled off. We love the project so much that we even held a mini-event in 2019 in association with Jun Senoue’s Sonic Adventure Music Experience, which went down an absolute storm.

I have so many fond memories of organising and running Summer of Sonic, it’s hard to truly articulate how much the event means to me. It’s probably the hardest yet most-rewarding project I’ve ever been a part of, and if there’s anything I would be proud of as much as this very website, it would be this one.

Published by

Dreadknux

Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.

2 Comments

  1. I completely forgot about SEGASonic Radio haha. I used to listen to that ALLLLL the time. Just brought back a wave of nostalgia.

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