The Fan-Made Sonic Game That Won't Die

By Bryan Menegus on at

When Doom was released in 1993 it was an undeniable boon to the game modding community, and among the many fan projects built on its bones was Sonic Robo Blast 2.

Its slippery physics recalled the most celebrated Sonic titles and Doomguy’s inhumanly fast movement meshed perfectly with a a franchise all about speed. Development first began in 1998, and hasn’t really stopped since. Unlike many of Doom’s dusty one-off level mods, SRB’s most recent patch came in May of this year. After almost two decades, the game isn’t just surviving—it’s thriving.

The earliest versions of SRB2 were built by Johnny “Sonikku” Wallbank and AJ “SSNTails” Freda, and their efforts became the first fan-made 3D Sonic game, as well as the first to support online play. Both have long since stopped working on SRB2, with Freda leaving in 2009 and Wallbank stepping down from Team Sonic Junior sometime in 2002.

A founder’s departure can just as often be a project’s funeral, but the community maintains a forum, wiki, and a highly active IRC populated by many of the current developers.

Rob Tisdell, one of the level designers, told Gizmodo via email, “anywhere between 5-10 people are active on the project at any given point.” Many among the geographically disparate team had fond memories of Sonic games, though the majority were born well after Doom’s release.

Working on the game’s updates can be chaotic though. On the all-volunteer Team Sonic Junior, specific roles are rarely assigned, and developers often fill multiple jobs between coding, sprite design and the soundtrack. “People’s interest in this game (and their ability to work on it) comes and goes, and long absences are routine for veteran developers,” texture artist Vivian “Toaster” Grannell told Gizmodo via email. “The offer to rejoin development is almost never revoked.”

Being at the intersection of two massive fanbases—Sonic and Doom—has no doubt helped buoy SRB2's popularity through the rising tide of gaming advancement. And modding itself, the thing that made the project possible in the first place, helps keep the fanbase involved and contributing. “I doubt this project would’ve reached even a 5-year anniversary, let alone nearly 20, without the support of the modding scene,” Tim “RedEnchilada” Bordelon said. Sam “Prime 2.0" Peters added, “our longevity is an asset in and of itself, since you often have people who were around and making content as far back as a decade ago coming back just out of curiosity, and then staying and making yet more stuff when they see what’s changed.”

In a certain sense, the SRB2 community is utopic: a gathering place for committed fans largely free of the idle oversharing and trollery in most online forums. And for that reason the game itself is almost incidental to many who spend time in the forum or IRC. As Prime 2.0 wrote, “Lots of people stick around after they’ve lost interest in the game just because this happens to be where their friends hang out.”

A full update of the game—Sonic Robo Blast 2 v2.2—is slated for release in the near future.