1st Anniversary

The Sonic Zone was launched on August 1, 2009. It’s hard to believe that a whole year has gone by already. So to celebrate, I thought I’d give you a little retrospective of what all’s happened with the site since it was first thought up.

Pre-Launch

It all started in June 2009 when I decided that I was going to start up a new site for the first time in 2 years. At that time, I wasn’t really sure what the site was going to be about. I only knew that I was going to create a new website. After brainstorming over various ideas, I decided that I was going to make a fansite about one of my favorite video game franchises. But then came my next problem. What series is this new site going to be about? I thought about Zelda, Metroid, Mario, and all of the games that I grew up with. But everything seemed to already be covered by other sites. Then it hit me. There really aren’t any sites out there where you can read the different Sonic comics without having to download them. Sure there’s STC Online, and plenty of fan comics, but what about the older comics we all grew up with? I remembered searching for comics in the past and found a few scans here and there to read, but it was all a big hassle finding what I wanted. That’s when I decided to give people the chance to read the comics right here on the site.

I wanted it to be an easy process where readers could just flip from one page to another as if they were actually reading the comic books rather than just clicking on a link to a page and then hitting the back button to find the next page to click on. And that’s where our comic viewer first started, but I’ll get to its improvements later on in this article.

I didn’t just want the site to be about the comics. I wanted our visitors to know all of the different versions of Sonic’s story. That also includes the games’ stories. So I decided that the site also needed cutscenes from the games as well as the games’ manuals, since they usually featured a short telling of each game’s story. After many preparations, I finally had all the content I needed to start the site.

What’s In a Name

The Sonic Zone is a very basic name, I know. And we aren’t the only Sonic site that uses this name. But I knew that one day, I was going to have a lot more content built up and wanted the site to eventually be as informative about Sonic the Hedgehog as TheMushroomKingdom.net is about Mario. So with that thought, I decided I’d come up with a similar name. I was leaning heavily towards TheDeathEgg.net, but I really wanted the title to have Sonic in it. So in the end, I just went with what you see today. TheSonicZone.net. It just works.

Site Design

First Beta Layout

Joomla Beta Layout from June 2009 (Click to Enlarge)

I was first going to do the site using the content management system, Joomla. I tried it out a couple years beforehand and thought it would be just what I needed. But after using it more, I realized that I didn’t really care much for how it worked. I thought it would just be easier for me to do the site in basic HTML.

I figured for an HTML site, I would go with a template. I found a template that with a little imagination, looked very good in my head. I spent a good couple of days tweaking the template to have more of a Sonic theme. I wanted it to look somewhat like the inside of one of Dr. Robotnik’s spaceships, but still look Sonic-y. The top right of the layout had an image that featured various Sonic characters that would change everytime you refreshed the page. The image had a glass effect so it looked like a window and it had an outerspace background

Second Beta Layout

Second Beta Layout from June 2009 (Click to Enlarge)

behind the characters. That way it looked like they were outside floating in space. Unfortunately, that was the highest point of the whole thing. The layout was suppose to be bluish colored but turned out more purple than blue. After showing it to other people, the main feedback I got was “The purple really screams at you.” That was enough for me to go back to the drawing board.

This time I decided to just make a layout from scratch. That way, I would have a much better feeling of accomplishment once it was completed. My Joomla design was too simple and my second was to crowded, so this new layout had to be somewhere in between the previous two; not too little and not too much. I thought the best thing to do was put silhouettes of various characters in the background. I eventually decided that was a little to much and thought I’d just go with a gradient of blues for the main background. The content area featured silhouettes of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles while the navigation bar would feature a different character for each section. That way they didn’t stand out to much, but were still appealing to the visitors. The Main section featured Sonic. The Media section had Knuckles. The Networking section was all about Tails. And the Affiliates section was the place for Amy and Rouge. For a short while, I also had a poll section which featured the Chaotix. For the banner, I wanted to have a classic scene with an updated look. What I went for was a 3D view of the end of Sky Sanctuary Zone from Sonic & Knuckles. It was to look as though the camera was on the Death Egg and Sonic, Tails & Knuckles were jumping onto it.

Grand Opening

Original Layout

Original Layout: Launched August 1, 2009 (Click to Enlarge)

Forums

Shortly after opening the site, I ran a poll asking visitors if we should add a forum. Over 85% of the voters said yes. So I spent the rest of August designing our future forum. In September of 2009, The Sonic Zone Community was open to the public. The forums ran until November 2009 after we partnered up with SonicROMs where both sites used their forum. By March, I decided to disband from the partnership which caused the site to go without a forum altogether.

Big Sonic News

It seemed starting a Sonic site was the right idea. A few weeks after the site’s launch, Sonic The Hedgehog 4 [Project Needlemouse at the time] was announced. I knew that with big news like this, I had to do something. So I decided to start up the Sonic 4 Update Blog. I made it a point to update the blog anytime Sega announced new information on the game. At first, the “blog” was just a simple section of the site that couldn’t be commented on or anything. But after a few people stated that they wished to comment on the updates, I decided to grant their wish. The easiest way for me to allow comments was to go with an old blogging software I used for another site back in 2006 known as CuteNews. With this, I could easily incorperate comments to the site without having to do a bunch of extra work. I ended up using CuteNews for all of the site’s other updates as well. As of today, (August 1, 2010) I am still updating the Sonic 4 Update Blog, although nothing new has been announced in quite some time.

Comic Viewer

The early versions of the site’s Comic Viewer were fairly basic and a major pain for me to update since each page of every comic was in it’s own separate HTML page. I continued to work this way for a few months until a friend of mine known as Fullmetal from Hyrule Forums created a JavaScript that allowed me to simply use one HTML page for an entire comic. Changing from one page to another loaded up the image into the HTML page you were already on. This made things much easier for me and saved on load times for the readers.

New Section Leads To New Staff

Around the same time that I opened the forum, I also added a fan art section to the site. Unlike most sites, this Fan Art area featured some of the best Sonic fan artists I could find and linked to their art galleries. Two of those members were a pair of siblings known as Hazard-the-Porgoyle and GuardianMobius. Soon after featuring them, Hazard contacted me saying that if I ever needed some help with the site, he and GuardianMobius would be glad to contribute. So of course, I was very pleased to take them up on that offer. They joined the site under a joint account known as HazzMobi and promptly created 5 error page images for the site featuring Sonic characters.
HazzMobi’s Error Pages
400 – BAD REQUEST
401 – AUTHORIZATION REQUIRED
403 – FORBIDDEN
404 – PAGE NOT FOUND
500 – INTERNAL SERVER ERROR

Halloween Layout

The error images turned out better than I could have ever imagined, so I asked them if they would be up for designing a new banner for the upcoming Halloween layout. And they did just that. On September 22, 2009, I launched the new Halloween layout with HazzMobi’s banner and a black & orange gradient background.

Halloween 2009 Layout

Halloween 2009 Layout (Click to Enlarge)

Layout 2.0

I figured that after the Halloween layout, I would give the site a fresh new look. So throughout October, I began designing an entirely new layout for the site. This time HazzMobi supplied the Navigation background rather than the banner. One of my main focuses was supplying an easier experience for the visitors. So I added a second navigation bar on the right side of the site featuring the latest comic available and other features. I also decided to go with a more original background rather than the same old gradient I used in previous layouts.

Layout 2

Layout 2.0 November 2009 (Click to Enlarge)

Christmas Layout

It wasn’t long after the launch of the new layout that Christmas was coming. So I decided to add a snowy look to the tops of the menu bars and have HazzMobi once again supply the site’s banner. If you didn’t notice, the banner was a throwback to the old Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Christmas Special where Dr. Robotnik took the place of Santa Claus. Not being a fan of designing backgrounds, I just gave the site an icy background image and left it at that.

Christmas 2009 Layout

Christmas 2009 Layout (Click to Enlarge)

Entering 2010

I didn’t want to just go back to the same layout I had before Christmas, so I thought I’d collaborate with HazzMobi on tweaking the layout a bit for the new year. We didn’t change to much but HazzMobi supplied me with a new banner and background image. The new layout was much darker than the last one, but it worked for the time being.

2010 Layout

Layout 2.5 from January 2010 (Click to Enlarge)

WordPress Conversion

By April 2010, the CuteNews format that I installed months earlier was attracting a lot of spam and became a big hassle to take care of. There were many useful fixes for CuteNews in the past, but most are now obsolete since the creators of the program abandoned it. It was now inevitable that I had to get with the times. Since I had recently gotten acquainted with WordPress from my other site, I knew what I had to do. The WordPress conversion took weeks to complete but it paid off well. The new WordPress version of The Sonic Zone was launched the day after Easter and is still going strong.

With the new format, I added pages for various Sonic games and will eventually have a page for all of them. These new pages have links to the manuals, cut scenes and soundtracks rather than a different page for each. This makes it much easier for you to find what you want without the added hassle of searching through each category. And since I’m using WordPress, I had to design yet another layout. And that is the current layout you see today. The new layout is more interactive than the previous layouts. Many people don’t even realize that you can minimize each section of the side bar. The sections are “Egg Capsules” like the ones found in the classic Sonic games. If you click on the little Sonic icon, it will change into Eggman and the section will close up into the capsule. Give it a try!

The Future of The Sonic Zone

Now that the site has been around for a year, I’ve decided to bring back the forum. It’s completely new, so none of the content from the old forum was carried over. The best part is, if you already have an account here on the site, than you also have one on the forum. We’re holding a contest until September 1, 2010 for a few lucky members to win Sonic prizes! So you should definitely get to posting.

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