Sonic fans probably already know Sonic Retro, one of the best websites for informations about Sonic protos, hacks and various unseen stuff from our favourite blue hedgehog games. In these last years, the SR community was able to realize a wonderfull series of projects and researches, that help us to know more about the development of the Sonic saga. Sonic Retro is now a perfect example on how to organize a group of expert gamers, “hackers” and lovely geeks, that collaborate togheter to preserve informations on lost games. What’s the secret of their success? We have contacted Scarred Sun, webmistress of SR, and she was nice enough to take some of her time to answer our boring questions about their site, the Sonic Retro sceners and the beta-gaming world.
U64: Thanks for your time Scarred Sun, would you like to introduce yourself and your site to our readers?
Scarred Sun: I’m Scarred Sun, the owner of Sonic Retro, a site dedicated to all things old-school Sonic, but with a focus on prototypes, hacking and technical aspects of the Sonic the Hedgehog series of video games. I originally joined the Sonic scene in 2001 while learning about a pirated Sonic 1 cart that I had and ran a couple of sites that eventually evolved into what we now know as Retro.
Unlike most other webmasters in this genre of sites, I do not actually do much hacking or research myself; instead, I basically aggregate the discoveries and news of others and make it more accessible for a wider audience. I started this through a site called Sonic the Hedgehog Information Treasury (aka SHIT) and it eventually evolved into its own community. On a day-to-day level I’m responsible for the glue that holds the site together by resolving personal conflicts, helping and hanging out with the community, coordinating projects, design and direction for the site, and obviously editing the wiki and front page.
U64: On Sonic Retro there’s a big collection of hacks and informations about beta and canceled Sonic games: how did the site started to archive this kind of unseen stuff?
Scarred Sun: Sonic Retro as we would recognize it today didn’t really start until 2005; before then, it was built off a site called Sonic Classic, which was a spin-off for the “less serious” members of Simon Wai’s Sonic 2 Beta. However, several key members of SWS2B, including Hivebrain, Aurochs and Simon Wai himself saw the potential of the site and basically started putting more information on prototypes and hacking onto the site. Lately, as drx has been uncovering more and more prototypes, MathUser has been compiling information as we find out about it into pages on each individual proto.
U64: Why did you choose a Wiki based system for your archive?
Scarred Sun: The wiki system happened as a sort of happy accident–initally, the site was designed to act much more like the Commodore 64 Scene Database, where we would collect information on various sceners and the hacks and works they had done. However, we never publicly said this in as clear of terms as I just did, and as a result, the project became much more open-ended and as different people came to edit the site with their own ideas, we went in several different directions: not only did we become a source for general Sonic game information and the Sonic scene, we encompassed the technical aspects of hardware, forked off guides to make the Sonic Community Hacking Guide, gained our OSV collection and the most comprehensive archive of Sonic prototype information. The looseness of our goal–“document stuff”–has helped us out tremendously; even now, we’re gaining a lot of information about various developers through an intrepid editor named Kuover and one of our sysops, MathUser, is making what could be the biggest location for Sonic magazine scans.
U64: Which is your favorite food?
Scarred Sun: POWDERED TOAST.
U64: The Sonic Retro community is a wonderful group of people, that often works together on hacks, researches and to find more informations about unseen games. How did you manage to organize such a good community?
Scarred Sun: There are two key components at work here. First, fellow administrator Tweaker and I had a long talk about a year ago when we were proposing merging The Sonic 2 Beta Page and Sonic Retro to address our concerns about the research scene in general: the sense of “eliteness,” the hostility towards outsiders, the tendency for in-fighting to occur within a group of people. From there, our mantra of “Keep it classy; don’t be a dick” became how we would make our decisions. By taking the hostility out of the community, we were able to attract a wider group of talented members that we would not have otherwise joined us. There are a few dissenters to this shift in attitude, but the majority of our members think it has been a switch for the better.
The second is simply that we have a fantastic group of people at Sonic Retro, and every one of them has helped make the community stronger through their cooperation. We may have an open environment, but it requires outstanding people to make the site above and beyond and what most of you know it as. For instance, the Sonic 2 HD project managed to coordinate themselves from a “what if” topic to a tech demo release in six months, and they look primed to make a great recreation of the classic Sonic 2 game with the community helping and contributing along the way. SANiK, Vincent, Athelstone, Blue Streak, LOst and Canned Karma deserve a lot of credit for making such an unconventional thing work. We see things like this happen on a smaller scale all the time, with people trading skills in Talent Exchange and coordinating contacts and research for speaking to developers. It’s this attitude and willingness to work together that makes us shine.
U64: Which is your favorite “lost Sonic game” and why?
Scarred Sun: This is a bit of a difficult question. I have a lot of sentimental value for the Simon Wai Sonic 2 prototype, as I think it captures the true joy of a prototype–you’re able to see how the developers were thinking creatively and follow their path from prototype to product. All the famous lost zones–Hidden Palace, Wood, Genocide City (Metropolis act 3) and even Dust Hill show up in some form or another. It’s definitely the prototype that sparked most of the community and helped in large part in our understanding of the process and the technical aspects of the games themselves.
On the other hand, I must admit I was really excited by the Sonic Adventure DX preview; the community was able to find several missing prototype objects, such as the infamous dragon seen in several magazine photos, and the enabling of debug mode has helped us understand the 3D games better. I imagine in a few years we’ll see the first major 3D hack by way of SADX, and it’ll be yet another option for people wishing to hack Sonic games.
And obviously, I’m always excited when we dig up a game that we never even knew existed, such as Sonic Eraser (for Sega’s Meganet service), Sonic’s Edusoft (an unreleased Master System game) and a possible early build of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Amiga, which we found out about thanks to Unseen64!
U64: What are some of your favorite released games?
Scarred Sun: I suppose that the Sonic series is a bit of a given. :) That being said, most of my favorite games have one of two qualities: they raised the bar for their genre of video games or they raised the art of video games to something beautiful. Some titles I love off the top of my head are Phantasy Star IV, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Shenmue, Shining Force II, SimCity 2000, Pirates!, Garou: Mark of the Wolves and most recently Cave Story. I’m also super-excited about the upcoming English translation of Mother 3 for the GBA.
U64: What do you think about the scene behind beta/canceled games, their collectors and their fans?
Scarred Sun: I have a lot of mixed feelings about the “beta scene.” At the end of the day, I feel a prototype is historically important to gamers in the same way, say, an unfinished Hemingway manuscript is to the literary community. By studying what was to be and what could have been, we see the developers’ train of thought, creativity and testing of ideas. For instance, in the Sonic 2 Nick Arcade prototype, we see where the developers implemented a crash if Sonic ran into a wall too fast. Obviously, had this been included in the final game, it would have massively slowed down the feel of the game, but we can see that they threw the idea out there.
Because of this historical importance, I feel very strongly that it is our goal to preserve these prototypes and prereleases for others to understand and appreciate the history of video games. In order for this goal to be best realized, we need to be able to preserve these prototypes by dumping them and ideally making them available to the public. Because of this, the scene is incredibly fortunate to have drx of Hidden Palace, whom this site interviewed earlier. He has made large strides in recovering prototypes that would have otherwise been lost to the pages of time, and we at Sonic Retro are lucky to be able to work with him on a regular basis.
I am disappointed in those who hoard prototypes and refuse to at least privately dump their code for fear of their prototype losing value. This community should not be about money, as far as I’m concerned, but towards the common goal of knowledge, be it by dumps, interviews or third-party research. On the other hand, the fan community has a way of shooting itself in the foot, be it by the ASSEMblergames Sonic X-treme auction or the messing up of interviews with Brenda Ross and Howard Drossin. I do believe overall that fans do far more good than they do bad towards this preservation and uncovering of knowledge, though.
U64: It’s not common to see a girl as “the boss” of a website dedicated to games, how is your relationship with the other boys / men that follow Sonic Retro and its community?
Scarred Sun: Approximately 2 percent of Sonic Retro’s membership of thousands is female. Given that studies have shown interest in video games splits pretty evenly along gender lines, this is a very strange phenomenon. Part of this, I assume, has to do with the strict technical aspects of the scene; while I think both males and females are interested in the discoveries we make, it’s a bit harder for women, who traditionally aren’t in fields such as computer science, to really see what makes a discussion about lost mappings exciting.
As I’m a digital technician when not working on Retro, I’ve been more comfortable with this–I have a lot of male friends in the “real world” and potentially offensive behavior doesn’t really phase me anymore, but I can understand why some women would be uneasy concerning the scene. This is slowly changing, and I’ve been trying to combat what my other community calls the “boyzone” by making the guys take it easy towards other females. I hope my status as a head AND a female who works with girls, guys and transgendered members from around the world helps show that we’re willing to accept anyone into Sonic Retro.
U64: Did you already knew Unseen 64 before this interview?
Scarred Sun: Yes, actually! I stumbled upon the site a while back when you covered the Sonic’s Edusoft release, and I’ve been reading the English updates ever since. Keep up the good work, guys!
U64: That was the last question, thanks again for your time! :) Do you want to add something?
Scarred Sun: Sonic Retro is always looking for new, intelligent people to become part of our community! You can sign up to edit our wiki or join our forums at http://forums.sonicretro.org. Our IRC server is the hub of activity for the site, and you can visit the channel at irc://irc.badnik.net/retro or by using the CGI:IRC link provided at the forums. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to the readers of Unseen64.
U64: It was our pleasure!