20 Years of TSS: A Short History of The Sonic Stadium

Two decades is a long time for most people. For Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s probably an absolute eternity, actually. On 24th October in the year 2000, I launched the very first iteration of The Sonic Stadium. I was fifteen years old, a year away from my high school finals and the worst of what we called the ‘World Wide Web’ was still only being foreseen by the late and great David Bowie. It truly was a different time.

And for as many years as The Sonic Stadium has grown, evolved and changed with the times, we’ve attempted to cast a look back at what once was in multiple different ways. So this history lesson will be a little different this time around – we already have a few articles (here, here, here, here, here, here and a whole bunch of stuff here) chronicling the website’s journey through time, and to be honest you’re probably sick of me repeating myself.

So instead, I’d like to spend today’s feature by taking a quick sweep of the site’s most iconic designs and ‘eras’, and throwing up a weird anecdote or two about that particular period. You may have heard or read about it before. You may not have. But I’ll try to keep it quirky.

How The Site Came About

Spring 2000. Geri Haliwell (the Ginger Spice) had a solo music career and it was going pretty well (for her). Al Gore was the US Presidential hopeful, whatever that meant. And things on the internet were not so much about Google and TikTok but rather AltaVista and Habbo Hotel. And for kids my age, having discovered the Information Superhighway after my high school’s computer library installed hyperfast… 56kbps, that AltaVista homepage was the doorway to a whole new world.

Kids at my school quickly realised that they could use the internet to download GENS (a Mega Drive emulator) and ROMs of Sonic 2 that they could then play on the library computers using the floppy disk drives. I’d never seen so many screens of Emerald Hill Zone running at once – intermittently that is, since they were shut off as soon as a teacher came walking by.

Lazily remembering that I liked Sonic once (when I was like 8 years old), one day I searched for Sonic the Hedgehog on Yahoo, thinking that I’d find absolutely nothing. Turns out, I was wrong. Hundreds of pages dedicated to the blue blur living on crude free webhosts like Angelfire, Geocities and more. Dozens of bandwidth-crashing animated GIFs of Sonic darting from one side of the screen to the other, while a screeching MIDI of Scrap Brain Zone jumps down your earlobes.

Among the Wild West were a series of well-established fansites. Sonic HQ, The Sonic Foundation, Moogle Cavern… I discovered the Message Boards of these sites and made loads of friends from other corners of the globe. It was truly something. I decided that I’d make my own Sonic page, so I took a book on how to code HTML from the school library and basically copied all the example code and mashed it together until I was able to create a design that I liked.

Development took about six months, on and off, using my mum’s brand new TinyPC desktop for the allotted hour or two at a time that I was allowed (with irregular internet access depending on whether my family had an incoming phone call – back then, dial-up used the same line as the phone so if your auntie called home, you had no internet for at least two hours). The result can be seen below – the very first iteration of The Sonic Stadium.

2000: Version 1

I’ll always have fond memories of this design, but the first few years of TSS were a real horror. I was happily hosted on an Angelfire account until I decided that I wanted more than the free 20MB(!) webspace they were offering me. So I joined another dodgy host called Stas.net. It collapsed (thanks, Dotcom Bubble!) in 2001, along with my entire site. From there it was a nightmare juggle between four different Angelfire accounts, a Topcities account, a service called HostOnce and many more. No wonder Internet Archive can’t find anything solid from this era – the whole site was fragmented everywhere!

It all came to a head when I agreed to merge the site with another guy’s Sonic site – a project that lasted all but two weeks before it crashed and burned. The story could have ended right there in July 2002, but I stuck with it and reincarnated the site. Turns out that was a good idea.

2003: Version 5

I really like this design. It’s terrible by today’s usability standards, but I still admire it like you would an ancient TV programme or something. There’s a classic kind of retro feel to it. I started playing around with graphics properly at this point, and Macromedia Fireworks was my weapon of choice here.

I also went a bit mad on having a presence on multiple platforms. Yahoo Groups, Message Boards, Radio Stations, Guestbooks, AOL Instant Messenger chatrooms, IRC chatrooms, Webrings… I think I even considered a Myspace at the time but I don’t think they allowed fanpages to exist (I can’t remember). Later, I’d help establish a TSS Network which housed SEGASonic Radio, a fan game studio called Shadow Team, and an annual awards show among other things.

Anyway, I’ll also think fondly of this time because I went hard on Sonic Team coverage alongside Sonic, and back then Sonic Team was having something of a creative rebirth with Billy Hatcher and a couple of other projects. Sonic on Game Boy Advance was an exciting time as well; even spinoffs like Sonic Battle and Pinball Party were pretty good titles.

2006: Version 7

A lot of readers have told me that, of all the versions of TSS that we’ve had, this is their favourite. I listened to that feedback as well – later versions of the site (when we transitioned to a blog format) adapted the above design and made it work for then-contemporary browsers.

Quite proud of this design because of the backend – it was a custom-made CMS entirely developed by ourselves (by which I mean my coder, Bmn). I designed it though, and it was super-functional and really great at managing pages. Unfortunately, having to maintain a CMS like that was eventually too much work (especially for a hobby site), so we had to retire it in the end.

2008: Version 8

With a new CMS platform and blog format came a new approach to writing about Sonic. We kept all the old information pages (at first… before we ended up losing them in yet another server crash) but I felt that WordPress really lent itself to a more authentic and approachable reporting style. So we became a little less stuffy and ‘formal’ in reporting news and more about just writing as if we were your pals at the arcade or pub, just shooting the stuff about the latest crazy announcement.

Took us a while to find our feet on that, to be honest. We probably over-egged the pudding on the tone and ended up being a bit too edge-lord for our own good (we’re better now, it was just a phase we were going through!). But I think the positives we found from blog-style reporting are still driving our amazing content today. And more importantly, you guys love what we’re doing. So that’s nice.

2016: Version 11

Which brings us to present day! Since migrating the site to WordPress all those years ago, the site has had a number of design changes (see our Layouts page within the Site Legacy section for more) but most of them were iterations on the initial blog design. This latest version (which now has the honour of being the longest-running design we’ve ever had) really leaned hard on the blog-style approach in terms of the homepage and post visibility.

Who knows what the future holds for TSS? But I know that there’ll probably be more designs, platform changes, weird quirky writing approaches and more that we’ll explore yet. Hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. More retrospective features coming soon!

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Been a follower since year one. Thanks so much for keeping this site going. It has been my source of Sonic info pretty much my entire life.

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