Fan Works, Interview

Retro Spotlight: SRB2Kart and the Kart Krew – Part One

Sonic Robo Blast 2 has been around for twenty long, eventful years and despite this long development, the community has thrived throughout it all. Mods of all sizes have been the backbone of the project and one of the biggest, most recent mods is none other than SRB2 Kart, which changes the game from a platformer to a kart racer, similar to the Team Sonic Racing game released last month. We had a lengthy correspondence with the team behind the mod, Kart Krew, and like their project, their answers were massive!  After working for ages to compile their answers, we’ve decided to split this particular Spotlight into three separate articles, which will be released in the following weeks. So enjoy part one of this three part series from the Kart Krew and the development of SRB2Kart!

Q:How did the Kart Krew come to be/what’s your role in the team?

TehRealSalt: I’m a relatively new member, so I wouldn’t be the best one to ask about the history of the team, but I’ve quickly became one of the lead programmers! I helped convert our items to be Sonic-themed, coded the online voting screen, Battle Mode, 4P splitscreen, splitscreen online, and other huge code restructuring.

Jeck Jims: Krew mostly came together as people who had shown to have talent modifying SRB2, started getting recruited. As for me, my major contribution would be all of the 3D models used in the game’s OpenGL renderer. I’ve also helped with some sprite art in the game, and with characters in Bonuschars.kart. I became part of the team very early on initially as a playtester, being recruited because at the time I was the only one around who Oni knew could host a netgame.

Chromatian: After SRB2 Kart became separate executable from SRB2 Riders, a group of us became usuals in the netgames online came together in an IRC channel made for the game. After a few years, we started to work on another project called Top Down after the most recent version of SRB2 Kart at the time went on hiatus. We decided we needed a real name for our group so that users would be able to easily identify us, and Oni made an image with the KartKrew™ you see today! I’ve been around since the original Riders side version.

As for me, I offered to make levels for CZ64 back then, and have been doing that and working with Oni on design concepts and game balance since. We needed some sort of Singleplayer campaign for the first release, and I threw together a concept web-page of Staff Attack and organized the ghost set-up.

toaster: Like Sal, I’m a relatively new member of the Krew, but I’ve been around the block with regards to the SRB2 community – as an on-and-off content creator, then a three-year stint as a developer for the original 3D platformer, with an eye on many of its fruitful offshoots. I’ve messed with everything except music (coding, map design, spriting, etc) at one point or another, and when I wanted a clean break from the main game, Kart was fertile ground to get stuck into.

My claim to fame is that I am probably the only person alive who can keep up with Sal. [laughs] No, but seriously – I cowrote the fancy new acceleration/friction code (not with her, with one of the older coders) last year that really got the devteam’s attention, made some major improvements to menu and interface design, added the item dropping, assisted Sal in a ton of stuff, and (spoiler alert for those without 70 medals) built a palette-hack system from scratch for our very own Sonic Mania Plus-style “Encore Mode”! I’m very proud of that Sonic-style touch of flair to the traditional kart-racer “Mirror” staple. That style of attention to detail is probably the common thread for many of my contributions.

EzoRichards: Despite how long I’ve been around I’ve mostly forgotten the details of this. What I do know is that those of us who were around during the “Riders” era just sort of conglomerated around our mutual preference for its Kart mode, some of us knew how to code and took it further, and eventually after recruiting more people we ended up here. As for me, I’m one of the game’s main level designers, having contributed the most at…um, 25 maps to the game? Something like that (my Adventure-inspired maps are probably my most notable contributions, at least in number). In any case I don’t plan to stop there. In addition to that I’m also the main…”manager” of the game’s bonuschars.kart addon, because I’m one of those people who doesn’t like having a roster of only 5 characters. Heck, I learned to sprite just so I could contribute characters to the game; Chao, Gamma, Shadow (with a bit of help from toaster), Rouge, and Wonder Boy are all my creations.

Sryder: This is a question with a very long story, I know someone else has already answered it, but to make a snack out of a meal… Kart originally started as a side-mode to a different SRB2 mod called SRB2 Riders, made primarily by a user who went by Chaos Zero 64. A while after that stopped getting much work on it, another person called ZarroTsu decided to try and update it, I think Oni (Iceman404 at the time) was there too? Sometime after that, I ended up tagging along and messing with tiny things where I could, since I had nearly no programming experience at the time. That had a final release a while ago, while we still kept working on it behind the scenes for a while. Quite a few of us lost a lot of free time recently though, but we ended up getting some new help, and then productivity kind of exploded and we finally got to where we were today! As for why Sonic Robo Blast 2? I think it’s mainly because it’s what we all knew and had experience with for years, I can’t see kart being based on anything else right now. Besides, the moddability of the engine makes it not just fun to play, but fun to create for too!

VelocitOni: Kart Krew’s been one of the primary, if not the only other, branch of developers that aren’t the vanilla SRB2 team. The team itself’s existed for almost a decade, it’s just that it happened to become an actual solidified and definite thing around 2013 (the year I gave us a name at all). Of course, who’s been in Kart Krew actively’s shifted majorly over time as far back as ChaosZero64’s original Riders mod, but there’s been very consistent faces ever since: Chromatian, Blade, and I (formerly Iceman404) for easy examples. “Kart Krew” as a definite name was around the time Sryder took hold as the lead-programmer and started our other side mod (SRB2 Top Down). We finally had a very clear vision of what we wanted out of the game, and all the familiar faces at that particular point in time are pretty much the exact same people as now. I’m a bit confused at how it happened but I guess I’m the lead for the game design as a whole.

I have literally no talent for programming or making maps, but unless Chrome’s awake since it’s partially his job too, all the primary design decisions and aesthetic usually fall to me to decide on (though we usually compromise as a group). This is somewhat fueled by the fact that I’m the lead spriter for anything we do, so I can take the cosmetics to wherever I want which also helps guide and shape ideas. Most if not all of the graphics unique to the modification are probably by me. The new karts, all special effects, character touch-ups or entirely new ones, HUD elements, items, even some textures… I get kinda greedy with it (which isn’t good at times…) because I’m a perfectionist. The only place I have no control over is bonuschars.wad, but I’m the game’s style.

Q: What was the inception of SRB2 Kart? Obviously it takes a lot of inspiration from existing kart racers, but why Sonic Robo Blast 2 specifically?

Chromatian: Way, way back in 2008-2010, a developer for the Vanilla game, Chaos Zero 64, wanted to attempt to port Sonic Riders to SRB2 (It was the hip new game at the time!). He managed to get a working version so quickly he wanted to add a bit more to the exe. So he added a Mario Kart gametype and a Sonic R gametype along side the Riders main game. We just picked the game up where he left off.

TehRealSalt: I don’t think picking SRB2 was a concious decision, haha. We were a branch of another mod, Chaos Zero 64’s SRB2 Riders had a super simplistic alternate Mario Kart game mode; Krew just saw the potential lying within that basic little thing, and started to polish it up a ton! SRB2 continues to be what Krew is comfortable with regardless, the combination of the simplicity of the Doom engine, SRB2’s enhancements to it, and our experience with it lets us create polished stuff relatively quickly now. While it has it’s limitations, and SRB2 isn’t an obvious pick for an engine nowadays, I don’t think any of us would ever want to trade it for another engine.

Jeck Jims: After this mod was ported to SRB2 v2.0, it became very clear that the “Kart” mode, based off of Mario kart, had more potential as a stand alone game, and community members, namely Oni and Zarrotsu, started tinkering with what was already made, to develop the first instance of SRB2 Kart.

toaster:  My teammates have said a lot of things about how using SRB2 as a base was not really a choice, so much as a logical consequence of continuing a something that already existed – CZ64’s “[Legally Ambiguous Southern-European Tradesperson] Kart” offshoot of the “SRB2 Riders” project. I’ll take that a step further in my big ‘ol historianette expedition boots and say that SRB2 is probably the only possible way a project like this could even begin to exist. When you read a statement like that, your initial reaction is most likely the belief that I am engaging in hyperbole. But you would be incorrect.

While June 2008 marked the beginning of the fangame you could, with great difficulty, recognize as a very-heavily Theseus’d SRB2Kart, the mod it was borne from has roots in 2006. What was special about 2006? You could probably call that year the absolute fever pitch of post-millennium Hedgehog fever. Hundreds upon thousands of ravenous children, hungry for their fast, blue content like the world may yet never see again. That semi-eternal September may have been next-to-insufferable for the adults who were forced to experience it, but even the most petulant child who has discovered an online environment about their special interest will inevitably be encouraged to chase their passion and hone their skills, as long as the atmosphere is not aggressively toxic. In that way, SRB2 was perfectly positioned to absorb as many kids into its swirling mass of unrefined talent as possible.

It should come as no surprise to the crowd that regularly reads Retro, and I presume this fact is probably stated somewhere above in this interview, but in case you didn’t know it: SRB2Kart, its sister SRB2 Riders, and its mother SRB2? They’re all mods of Doom, *the* genre-defining 3D shootemup from 1993. Heavily, heavily spun-off mods, but mods all the same. And THAT is the case because Doom was built, by hackers, long before model format standards were but a twinkle in John Carmack’s eye. Environs were built by drawing architectual floor plans. Opponents and items were constructed with 2D art, best-suited for pixel art but forgiving enough to work with sketches of all styles. No game nails the balance between how much you can modify and how little work you have to do for your mods to work quite like that one does.

This low barrier to entry for producing content – any content, not just the exemplary stuff – is probably the reason Doom and its children enjoy such a long life, beyond being a cool game in the first place. From that, I don’t need to spell it out for you to say that the terrible scribbles every ten-year-old-the-kitsune drew that the official Sonic Twitter account now lampoons on a regular basis were the perfect precursor to experimenting with this engine, and when the children of 2006 would get bored with the main content the vanilla game provided, their terrible, terrible handiwork would slot right in the “eXtendable WAD Editor” and the cycle of exuberance would begin again. Rinse and repeat for years on end, and voila – those ten-year olds are now in their early twenties, passion renewed with time, education, and nostalgia. THAT’S the key.

What else could feasibly manufacture such a cycle? There’s the Sonic World project, a neat (if messy) Modern-style iteration of Damizean’s 3D Sonic engine, but the barrier to entry (heavily reliant on 3D modeling) is high, and don’t look now but I think they’re just recovering from a bit of rocky drama. The (G)ZDoom project probably has a significantly more stable technical foundation as Doom’s de-facto ambassador to the future, but the developers of the core project aren’t making a game, so there’s no centralised passion to rally around. If I had to put a wildcard bet on it, maybe we’ll see an equivalent density-and-quality project as a Minecraft mod in about six years or so, and even that’s a flakey guess.

I don’t mean to get too big for my britches with the following comparison, but it’s exactly this – nest eggs of long-term passion, talent, and creative potential coming home to roost – that’s why we’re seeing things like Sonic Mania and SRB2Kart pop up now.

Q: SRB2 has 2 player split-screen natively, how difficult was it to implement a 4-player split-screen, let alone getting it online?

EzoRichards: One of the other devs on the team, Wolfy, primarily took care of this at first, then TehRealSalt finished it up. According to Wolfy, re-enabling 4p was actually fairly easy. Ironing out the rough edges of it may have been a different story as Sal’s probably already explained, which is probably why SRB2 itself doesn’t have 4p despite the framework for it already sort of being there. Since I’m not a coder though I can’t say much more than that – I only really know what I’ve been told from Wolfy and Sal on this one.

TehRealSalt: Adding in 4P was tedious for sure, but not terribly difficult! What was difficult was our attention to detail for it; we made sure that 4P got its own HUD graphics to maximize visibility; drawing 4 screens is more costly than 1, so I expect it might be used for low resolutions. Making sure very little of the screen is covered was top priority to me! Online support was also actually supported in SRB2 in really ancient versions; we desparately wanted that for SRB2Kart, so I dove into the source code for several different old versions to see how it was done. Turns out it was only disabled for relatively minor things; after brainstorming some solutions, I got it to run pretty smoothly and eliminated the huge bugs that caused it to be disabled.

Q: What was the process behind modifying SRB2 to make it play like a traditional kart racer? Was the transition easier than expect, or did it require a huge undertaking?

Chromatian: At the start, the transition was nothing more than some new sprites for Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and the Sonic Riders characters in Go-karts with modified stats. (Lowered speed and jump height). SRB2’s match mode weapon rings were reskinned into Mario Kart items (homing ring became a Red Shell, for instance). It wasn’t very polished, and didn’t really feel much like a kart racer, but back then the concept really blew all the kids away (myself included!). Some time after CZ64 drifted away from the community, another member, ZarroTsu, decided to vastly update the engine with real drifting and character stats (that update known as Super SRB2 Kart Z). It was still rather rough around the edges, but it looked and somewhat functioned as a Kart racer at this point. From then on, we slowly made improvements via rigorous testing to find something that played exactly as we envisioned.

TehRealSalt: Again, I’m a new-ish member, so the other Krew members would be able to dig into this topic more than I can, but when I dove into SRB2Kart’s code for the first time… I was actually really shocked how much of it is shared with vanilla SRB2! The player movement code is a big difference obviously, as well as the extra objects for throwable items like Bananas and Orbinauts. Other than that, maintaining it to be up-to-date with its parent is pretty simple on the code-side of things!

toaster: I think the only thing I can add to this that my pals haven’t is that, against all reasonable recommendations, we got high on our own supply. [laughs] We playtested this beautiful thing SO much. We developed the game, and then the meta, in an extremely engaging feedback loop… hell, it probably could’ve gone on forever if we didn’t have any external stresses like uni and jobs and life and what have you.

One of the most clear-cut examples of how this development style works is that the head (game designer, artist, etc) discovered a physics exploit in the turning code when combined with a boost item, so him and I set aside an evening to add a nice little effect to it. When the effect was made clear to everybody, ALL of our power levels in the Krew rose overnight as a result. It got a little insular at times, but I’m super glad that people ended up loving what we made together.

EzoRichards: The modifications toward making it happen over time weren’t nearly as difficult as the team just deciding what direction the game should go, honestly. You’d be surprised at some of the trifling things we’d have stupid fights over sometimes…obviously it was worth it in the end, and we were able to create something truly magnificent. I can only wonder how easy or not-so-easy it must’ve been for Chaos Zero 64 to make SRB2 Kart’s first version…considering it was just a side mode he threw in to complement the main Riders gameplay, probably not too difficult. But the amount of polish and time it took to get Kart to what it became today is just mind-boggling.

Sryder: I think it’s been a pretty huge undertaking. Maybe not if you think about it as one big thing, but when you start to consider all the small additions that were made to get things to work and play how they do, you can start to see how big it really is. We’ve been through so many revisions of how gameplay from drifting, to acceleration, to even player and level collision was changed from SRB2, that I’m just glad we finally managed to get to gameplay we all enjoy on the team. Of course, there’s still a more work to do to make it an even better kart racer, as well as make modding for the game better, so that’s what we’ll be doing in time.

VelocitOni: Can’t speak again for the code side, but as the one who sort of pushed for several different gameplay feels, its kind of a miracle we have something we all unanimously like. It went from clearly the standard SRB2 physics, to Mario Kart DS, to Super Mario Kart, back to DS, to what it is now, all in the same development period between (Vanilla) 2.0 and early 2.1… there’s a point where Chrome and I wanted to throw it all out entirely for an F-Zero-x-Kirby Air Ride approach for instance. It’s a pain for everyone when we all consider a different kart-racer’s handling and physics to be the best of the series, sometimes literally opposites of what the other guy says. It ironically happened to be best to just go for something more original instead based on what aspects we enjoyed from the games we like rather than replicate them blindly, the Sonic aesthetic that SEGA never really takes advantage of lets us do whatever we want.

This concludes Part One of our three part series with the Kart Krew! Join us in two weeks for Part Two, where we dive into the mod’s tracks, how they were chosen, the game’s cast, and more!

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