Johnny Wallbank is better known online as 'Sonikku', and runs Sonic Team Junior, the guys responsible for bringing Sonic Robo Blast 2 to your PC screens. He was milling about at SAGE 2002 so we had a word. Visit the SRB2 Website here.
TSS: Sonikku, it is a pleasure to meet up with you.
JW: No problem.
TSS: For those that have been living under an online rock for the past four or so years, what is your Fan Game all about?
JW: SRB2 is the sequel to unusually highly-acclaimed SRB1. This was the first fan-game to not only to be in 3D, but also to feature online play functions. The purpose of the game is to offer to feel of the classic Genesis / Mega Drive Sonic games in the form of 3D; whilst we appreciated Sonic Adventure, it was a long way away from the classics roots from which it all begun.
Obviously, some tweaking has been made to fully support the transition from 2D to 3D (such as Sonic's 'Air Spin Attack'), but overall the game operates in the same way the classic games did.
TSS: How aware were you that making a Sonic 3D game, especially the first 3D Sonic game, would be a little more than ambitious? How did the idea to create a 3D Sonic title actually come about?
JW: Actually, the change to 3D was not so much to do with choice. We felt that 'The Games Factory' was far too limiting for what I wanted SRB2 to do, and thus, moved to C. However, once the programmer for the 'SRB2-C' project went AWOL, and on his return, progress went at a snail's pace. Thus, we were left with little choice but to move the project to 3D.
The plans we had for SRB2 were highly ambitious at the time - we started with 'Sonic' (or rather, the 'Doom Marine') walking around half of a Doom-textured GFZ1 (the same one that still stands today) and have since come a very very long way.
TSS: Sonic Robo Blast 2 is a dramatic leap from Sonic Robo Blast 1, which came in 2D form. What functions and special effects are you able to manipulate and take advantage of that would be nigh on impossible in a 2D game?
JW: The leap from SRB1 to SRB2 is unspeakably vast; considering that SRB1 was finished around four years ago, when I was using Klik & Play. Now we're using the Doom Legacy engine and there is a vast amount we can do with it; online play, working with a full 3D world.
TSS: SRB2 was built completely from scratch off of the Doom engine. Is building a 3D game easier to develop from the Doom engine rather than just from a 3D development program?
JW: Actually, as of Demo 4.5, polygons are now supported under OpenGL in the form of MD and MD2. While we still have no plans at the moment to convert the sprites to model format, the technology is finally in place.
Developing in a 3D is surprisingly easy and rewarding - as those who have spent a few hours in WADAuthor have found. As we're using so much new stuff, dealing with the level editors that already exist for Doom can be a little frustrating, but once you know how to get around these barriers, level editing becomes very easy.
TSS: Has there been any advantages or limitations that you guys have come across as a result of using the Doom engine to build SRB2 instead of a 3D development program?
JW: Over the years, previous limitations and barriers we have encountered have been torn down by programming around them. Two years ago, floating platforms were a huge impossibility. Now they're commonplace in the SRB2 levels. None of our plans are 'too ambitious' any more and can be executed.
On saying this however, there are limitations in terms of the rendering engine - loops will simply not happen in the Doom engine; it would be far easier to just reprogram the Quake III engine than to deal with loops - particularly with the physics involved in a Sonic game - authentic 3D loops that give you full control are not only irritating (as seen occasionally in the Sonic Adventure games), but very, very difficult to program.
TSS: This game has taken Sonic Team Junior a rumoured four or so years to develop, and it's still being worked upon. How far has the development actually progressed in terms of level construction, enemy AI, playable characters etc?
JW: This depends - back when we begun developing the game in 3D form at the end of November 1998, we had far fewer plans than we do right now; we keep adding stuff to make the game cooler and cooler. Right now, getting all the set pieces in place is our current priority.
The multiplayer modes are more or less done, textures need to be worked on, as do enemy sprites, and most of the player sprites are done. Once this is in place, level construction can be done in a matter of weeks.
TSS: Some people, who adore this game, cannot play it because the combination of sprites (instead of polygons) and the game's speed makes them queasy. I'm not sure this is a problem that can be resolved easily. What are your thoughts on that?
JW: *Laughs* In all honesty, in the two or three years in which SRB2-3D has been available in demo form, I've never heard of anyone suffering from queasiness or motion sickness whilst playing SRB2! The alternative might be to play as the slower characters (Tails and Knuckles) - I have no real thoughts on this, as no-one else has ever brought this issue up.
TSS: How did you manage to use the Doom engine to its full potential to actually assign the game to look like a true Sonic game? For example, the speed (much faster than Doom in the first place), getting rid of the Doom bar at the bottom and so on.
JW: Either by changing the controls available through existing Doom editors or by reprogramming the game; the simpler stuff (such as the 'Doom bar') could have been achieved easily by spending a few minutes in Wintex. Creating a whole new set of physics for Sonic to use takes many months of programming.
TSS: Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are confirmed as playable. Are there any secret characters you may like to reveal or give hints about to?
JW: Us? Give hints? You wish...! ;D Rest assured however, we'll throw in some extra characters for you to play with. Technically, 'new characters' are already available through skins, and by making a few changes to the WAD file, you can have the character perform a special skill (air spin attack, fly, glide/climb) and change their maximum and minimum speeds.
The only extra character that I will confirm at the moment is that Super Sonic will appear in the game after getting all of the Chaos Emeralds.
TSS: Seeings as SRB2 is soon to hit Demo 4.5, and the game has been under construction for almost half a decade, it seems unlikely that SRB2 will actually be finished in the very near future. However, would you guys like to estimate at the current speed that you are progressing, roughly when the game will be complete? Or how about when you would like it to be complete?
JW: This question has been asked dozens of times; the only reliable answer that I've given over this period is the following: 'The game will be out when it's done.' If it worked for 3D Realms, it worked for us.
Seriously though, we make so many changes to the game and implement so many features that we have no idea when the game will be done. Also, bear in mind that we are still doing this in our spare time - if this was a professional project and we had access to an extensive team, the game would have been done a long time ago.
TSS: Have there been any major hitches in the development of Sonic Robo Blast 2? Spill the juices on Sonic Team Junior's biggest problem so far in the making of this game.
JW: The major hitch would probably be initially getting the game off the ground - it took us nine months to find the correct engine we'd use, let alone deal with development.
Demo releases can sometimes be very stressful; it is obviously difficult to work to a schedule when the development team lives all over the world, and sometimes bugs slip in at the last minute that can seriously ruin people's fun.
However, rest assured, that this is only the state of beta products; the final product will be VERY heavily bug-tested.
TSS: Apart from the obvious 3D-ness of it all, are there any special features that you are particularly proud of in SRB2?
JW: Right now, it'd have to be the huge success of the online play function. I was especially pleased when I saw even the folk at the GameFAQs Sonic Adventure II Message Board were taking a huge interest into playing SRB2 online.
TSS: Finally, what's the best game at SAGE that you've seen so far at this year's expo?
JW: Right now, my favourites are Sonic MAdventure II and Sonic Epoch. MAdventure II for simply being such a fantastic parody on RPGs (and fan-games in general, in places). Epoch however, is an epic; the game is huge, and the plot is equally huge. To boot, it's a very fun game to play. Rob Showalter and the rest of his team have put a vast amount of effort into that game, and it shows.
Retro Sonic also deserves a special mention, although I haven't had as much of a chance to see this in action as I have with Epoch and MAdventure II. What I've seen however, looks very promising and lives up to the title.
TSS: Johnny 'Sonikku' Wallbank, head of development for Sonic Robo Blast 2, it has been a supreme honour to be able to interview you this fine day, sir. ^_^
JW: No problem. Keep up the good work with The Sonic Stadium!