The Emulation Zone is one of the internet's biggest and longest-running console networks. So of course we wanted to chat to the man behind it all. Andy Wolan is the former head of EmuZone - now 'retired' - but still runs the network's Radio Station service, 'ZRN. Check out our exclusive interview with Andy Wolan below.
TSS: Andrew here. Hey Andy, thanks for joining me in the interview. Tell us why you are famous in the Sonic Internet Community.
Andy Wolan: Auto response: I'm eating a happy meal, because I'm happy!
Hahaha! Gotta love that away message.
TSS: I'm gonna edit that part out.
Andy Wolan: Oh.
Editor, editing page: Tee hee...
TSS: Let's try this again. Hey Andy, thanks for joining me in the interview. Tell us why you are famous in the Sonic Internet Community.
Andy Wolan: Simple. I'm well known for starting EmulationZone.Org, one of the longest running console sites on the 'net. Also for starting Sonic Stuff Research Group, the first Sonic ROM hacking group that helped expose Sonic ROM hacking to the masses.
TSS: When did you start the Emulation Zone and what gave you the idea to do it?
Andy Wolan: I started Emulation Zone on August 28, 1996. The site started as a friendly bet among friends to come-up with the best web site. I choose to create a site about console emulation and, well, the rest is history.
TSS: Who won in that contest?
Andy Wolan: Well, DC created a site entitled "The Waste of Bandwidth" page, which had Java apps and some fairly large GIF animations. TC created a site called "TC Technologies", which was about his hobbies and had photos of his family. Another friend created a site that was so bad, his ISP deleted it. And then there's the site I created. Guess who won.
If you want a detailed look at the 'Zone's history, I suggest going to http://www.emulationzone.org/aboutus/history/history.htm
TSS: Onto a while ago... you posted a retirement message, but you seem to have a line through it, tell us about that.
Andy Wolan: Well, I came back. I originally retired from the 'Zone so I could focus on my grad school studies. However, I remained on board tending to 'ZRN, the locally run radio network, and EMUlinks.com. I only tended to them because it was fun. Now that Summer is here, I figured I'd go and tend to other matters on the 'Zone as well... well that was my plan.
I was going to help Stealth out in revamping SSRG, but I have decided not to do that because I don't want to get tangled in a web of political crud in trying to revamp the site. Instead, I'm helping out in doing smaller tasks, like getting various subsections updated, etc.
TSS: Do you plan on retiring again after this summer?
Andy Wolan: If it were not for the political web of crud, I'd be reluctant to take on new responsibilities because it's the Summer. I spent several Summers in front of the PC working on the 'Zone. I think I've donated enough time to the community and should just enjoy my life now.
TSS: Who do you plan on giving control over to?
Andy Wolan: Well, my objectives this Summer are to update 'ZRN, help out at EmuLinks and give Stealth a hand with SSRG. My work at 'ZRN is done... I've just scratched the surface at Emulinks and when the weather is bad, I'll tackle my tasks over at SSRG. Once my tasks are complete, I guess I'll just go back into retirement, poking my head out only when I'm needed.
TSS: How was the Happy Meal by the way? Can I have the prize?
Andy Wolan: They only gave me the "Ages 3 and Under" toy. It's some damn red and yellow block with Ronald McDonald's face on one side. Are you certain you want this excuse for a toy?
TSS: How long have you been a Sonic fan? What got you started?
Andy Wolan: Hmm, good question. I remember when Sonic 1 was released and it was the all the rave. I remember asking my friends about it, and people telling me "the rings are like the coins in Super Mario Brothers, except they also act as your life." I had a NES, so I never got to play it until they had it at Cosco one year. I guess you could say the game always appealed to me, but I never played it because it was not a "Nintendo game". That changed after I got a Sega CDX and was able to play all Sonic games.
TSS: What do you think of the 3D games compared to the 2D games? Which version of Sonic appeals to you most?
Andy Wolan: I remember the old ads talking about how fast Sonic 2 was thanks to "blast processing". I figured, "if Sonic runs that fast on a Sega Genesis, imagine how fast he would run on a Pentium PC"! Well, from that moment on, I guess you could say that my love for the game started. It also fuelled my desired to get into console emulation, which would be the only way to see Sonic run on a Pentium PC.
I personally like the side scrollers better. Yeah, 3D games give you more of an environment to explore, but they tend to be tedious and time consuming rather than fun. I'm not too fond of the "exploration" part of the games. If I wanted to "explore", I'd go hiking in the woods. At least there I'd get some fresh air.
I guess my bias against 3D games is because they are trying to mimic 3D space and the technology is not up to par to truly mimic it. At least to my satisfaction.
I personally like Sonic 2 the best. Most notably, the Chemical Plant Zone. Best level ever. If people want to experience a great side scroller using 3D technology, pick up Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. The 2D keeps the game simple, the 3D gives the game incredible graphics... I think the only other game to come close to this concept was "Clockwork Knight" for the SEGA Saturn. (Never played it, so can't be certain.)
TSS: Well if you think about it, the Sonic levels in the Adventure series are 3D versions of the side scrollers, making it all about the speed and getting through it faster. Wouldn't you say?
Andy Wolan: Yes and no. Yes, they tried to keep the classic elements, like the objective to "get through the level as fast as you can". But no - they failed in trying to keep the controls simple. Side scrollers are great because you have limited interaction with the level, meaning less things to worry about.
The thing I hate about Sonic Adventure is when you get into a "pipe" and start running really quick, you need to change the direction you're pressing on the controller. You need to adjust constantly, otherwise Sonic will slow down - or even stop! Not possible with a side scroller.
On the other hand, side scrollers limit where you go. I personally don't like games where you spend hours "exploring" some digital landscape... but that's just my preference.
TSS: Will you be buying Sonic Advance? If you already did, what did you think of that, and will you be buying the sequel?
Andy Wolan: Most likely not, no. I don't think much of games intended to run on a portable. However, I think the game has great graphics for what it is. Once a Game Boy Advance drops to around $30 and the game to $10, I'll consider picking the game up. As for the sequel, I've never played Sonic Advance 1, so I can't comment.
TSS: What is your opinion on Sonic Adventure 2? Did you buy it, was it what you thought it would have been, or were you disappointed?
Andy Wolan: SA2 was an utter disappointment. The Knuckles levels in SA1 weren't that bad because you could find the fragments in any order and the Emerald detector would give you a hand. Not so in SA2. I tend to beat those levels finding the fragments out of order.
Also, who is the idiot that forgot to lower the music volume during a cutscene?
Another thing that bothers me is that Eggman at one point tried to kill Sonic by launching him in an escape pod into Earth's atmosphere. Eggman always gave Sonic a chance. That move was so un-Eggman-ish.
TSS: Yeah, you can't hear the voice actors. What did you think of the Sonic/Shadow levels?
Andy Wolan: The Sonic/Shadow levels were pretty good. I don't have the time to master all of Sonic's moves but I can beat the levels and get an "A" rating. But bad camera angles and poor 3D object collision detection causes me to die unfairly in parts of the game.
TSS: What would you like to see in a future 3D Sonic game?
Andy Wolan: Better Camera Angles. Proper speech-to-lip syncing of the characters. Better collision detection so I don't slip through certain curved surfaces and plunge to my death. Allow the player to hunt the Emerald fragments out-of-order in the "hunter" levels and make those levels smaller. Make Amy a playable character (can't get enough of that hammer swinging action!).
TSS: And free Happy Meals for all. Anything else you'd like to say before we wrap this up?
Andy Wolan: I'm all set! Thanks for letting me rant on about SA2!
TSS: Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to do the interview Mr. Wolan.