Welcome back to the Retro Spotlight, with the second part of our three part interview with the Kart Krew for Sonic Robo Blast 2 Kart! If you missed part one, we recommend giving it a read before starting here. Otherwise, hit the jump and let’s continue!
When it came to the tracks, how exactly were the themes and designs chosen? Was it just a mismash of what everyone wanted to do or were certain ideas assigned to various members of the team?
TehRealSalt: Totally down to the mappers. We have minor plans sometimes, but 90-95% of the roster is down to whatever we felt like making.
toaster: Almost completely the former. We only really forced people to do things when they’d started a map but may not have finished it in time for some deadline by themselves – for example, “Sand Valley Zone”, “Paradise Hill Zone”, and “Grand Metropolis Zone”. Together, these were informally referred to as 3/5 of the “Last Minute Cup”, levels started and enjoyable but wouldn’t have been finished or polished in time for release without getting on people’s backs and asking them to knuckle down. We gave help and playtesting, of course, not just forcing them to slave over the map editor… A few people in the team have committed themselves to completing cups of similar level themes, but it’d be unfair to put undue public pressure on them, so instead we invite y’alls to speculate. Which existing levels could be the foundation for a cup linked by some shared characteristic? You’ll never know until we round ’em off!
Chromatian: SRB2Kart is entirely a passion project. No passion, no motivation, no new maps. We encouraged basically any theme so long as it strayed away from Mario and moved into something more from the author’s own head. Eventually we got more focused on trying to re-imagine Sonic Zones. Hill Top in particular used to be called Shy Guy Circuit, then was transformed into Ramp Park, then finally given the Sonic flair to become Hill Top from Sonic Drift. What made most of this maps possible was the encouragement from other members. I know I’ve had a few times where I’ve been less motivated to work on something thinking that it wouldn’t be good for the cut. But everyone is always willing to lend suggestions to help move a course from good to great.
Sryder: I think for almost all of the tracks it was often just a mismash of what someone wanted to do, we definitely ended up with quite a few strange tracks and maps as a result of that. The main thing we did with these when we could was keep the original theme, but work with the authors to make them fun to play. After all, I think a lot of motivation for making the tracks comes from wanting to work with the theme!
EzoRichards: Put simply, it was all on a whim, all of it. If a mapper wanted to make a map, they made it and it generally got in. There were little to no limits on this either, for better or worse.
With over 100 different tracks, were there any cut? If so, can we find out why?
Chromatian: At first, a vast majority from 2.0 indev were sliced away. Some had designs that could be salvaged, and managed to make it back into rotation. Others were either too hard (Crystal Abyss) or really polarizing (Retro Maze). I personally wanted both of these to stay, Crystal Abyss for the effort Blitz-T put into the map, and Retro Maze simply because it’s a hilarious romp when you’re up for something funky. I threw out a suggestion that Crystal Abyss have a 1% chance of popping up when someone picks random as a small nod to SRB2’s Red Volcano secret back in the day. This opened the floodgates into what’s called Map Hell and became the dumping ground for maps that were worth keeping, but not good enough to show off in normal rotation.
EzoRichards: Several maps were cut during the transition from 2.0 to 2.1, usually either because of low quality, uninteresting theming/layout, or some level of both. During the devlopment of 2.1 Kart itself, I believe only one track was cut while we were still figuring out exactly how to make battle mode the best it could be. Battle mode wasn’t in 2.0 Kart after all, so we had to experiment with the level design a little.
toaster: With a development timeline that exceeds a decade, there’s a veritable smorgeasboard of cut content. I could probably opine for yonks, but in the interest of not stealing all the oxygen in the room I’ll generalise!
There’s the stuff that managed to see a release as part of either SRB2Riders or “Super SRB2 Kart Z”, but was dropped about two, two and a half years ago – where the team decided these maps were better off left in the past. We ended up rescuing a handful from the recycle bin closer to release, but this was a BIG clear-out of existing content. Maps like “Lovely Afternoon” (a visually appealing mess) and a cascade of ill-fitting ports from various kart racers. Did you know SRB2 only got angled planes in 2015? Now imagine, like, a bunch of levels from [Legally Ambiguous Southern-European Tradesperson] Kart DS with awkward staircases replacing every single slight incline, textured using graphics only from the main SRB2 campaign unless absolutely necessary. No human being would want those things back unless their beating hearts were Star Platinum’d by ill-placed nostalgia.
Honorary mention – about a month before release, we’d committed to releasing not with 100 levels, but with 90!! We wanted the number of Race-gametype levels to be a multiple of 5 so that there weren’t any incomplete “cups”, and the total to be a nice round number for better “marketability”, so we were planning to intentionally hold back a bunch of completed content to avoid disrupting this. In the end, we decided to push back our “feature freeze” one week to clean up some truly magnificent last-minute additions and hit the big triple digits!!!
Sryder: There are actually quite a few that were cut at some point a while ago, either due to thematic reasons or gameplay reasons. But for the most part tracks were cut just because of how old they were and there being no drive to update them. Maybe we’ll see them updated in the future sometime? I can’t really say for sure. The 2 maps in the game I made were actually 2 of the last maps we added to the game, and were very nearly cut, both were started years ago! Grand Metropolis was in very old versions of kart, but never made the full update to even use slopes until a few weeks before our initial release, there’s a video of the old version around somewhere on YouTube. Power Plant is possibly our very first original battle map ever made. It was made so long ago that we had no functionality for battle at the time, and was very much a proof of concept, I don’t think the old version was ever shown off in public. A few weeks before release I put in a big amount of effort to work on it to get it into a much nicer gameplay and visual state than it was before, and I think it came out pretty great in the end compared to what it used to be!
TehRealSalt: A majority of the old versions of Kart was cut, for sure. Mostly Mario Kart ports were killed, for sure. A few original maps were also cut since they weren’t enjoyable, or didn’t keep up with the changing mechanics of the game.
We’ve got plenty of original levels but there’s also some recreations from the Mario Kart series. Were these voted upon by the team or was it just folks who loved them contributing to the project?
TehRealSalt: All of them were contributions, none were asked for. (We plan on phasing them out later on though, they kind of dominate online games just from the Brand Recognition™ alone… not to mention how stingy Nintendo themselves are about that kind of thing!)
Sryder: For the most part these ports were tracks that were made a while ago and were just still somewhat popular with us. In the past we had a lot of Mario Kart ports, a lot of them very much not nearly as well made or fun as the ones we still have in the game.
EzoRichards: These were made on a whim like as stated before, but yeah, in terms of the Super Mario Kart ones at least, we had to decide which five should get in. Expect us to focus more on original creations in the future, however, so don’t get too used to them.
Right now, the main cast consists of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Robotnik, and Metal Sonic. Are there any characters you’d like to add to the main roster, perhaps even from the bonus karts?
Sryder: There’s certainly not a lack of options from the Sonic series, but I’m not going to give any specifics!
TehRealSalt: Yes! We have characters for each major version planned down to the detail for each major version, some even started. We’re not about to give anything away right now, though! Shhh.
Chromatian: Who knows? Expect a few surprises, maybe~
EzoRichards: Who we’ll be adding in the future is a secret, but you don’t really expect a Kart racer to have only 5 characters, do you? Especially this one, considering how simple it is to make a character for this game. I mean, just look at all the character wads people have made.
toaster: I don’t wanna give any specifics away, because this is probably one of the major ways future releases can surprise people… but there are some pretty relevant choices we haven’t tapped into yet. I know for certain that the single most obvious choice is in fact visible as a teaser I drew on the back cover of the in-game manual – press F1 at any moment while playing to give it a gander, or find it in the options menu under “Tricks & Secrets”!
No earthly idea who toaster could be referring to…
SRB2Kart has exploded in popularity and seems to have drawn a lot more eyes to SRB2 as a whole! Were you expecting this kind of attention or did it come as a surprise?
TehRealSalt: Absolutely not. I was really working on polishing it to a point where it’d be enjoyable as a fan-game, but considering how niche of an audience SRB2 is, I wasn’t expecting anything more. Plus, ever since we stopped trying to just remake Mario Kart 1-to-1 and tried branching out into our own thing, I was expecting maybe lukewarm reactions to some of the changes we made. But, no way? The reaction blew us out of the water! Even the SRB2 forums had 17,000 people visiting just a few days ago, WAY over the old record of 8,000ish people, just from people wanting to download Kart!
toaster: I definitely figured breaking out of the SRB2 bubble was possible. “SRB2 Top Down”, the team’s previous major release – that got a big amount of attention, even though it wasn’t remotely as polished as it could have been. It was a comparatively niche concept really suffering from the limitations of Doom and SRB2 in tandem, and it STILL got a big spotlight on Sonic Retro and various online forums. If that was the reception a project that ran out of steam towards the end was able to get, imagine how they’d react to the passion project that brought us together in the first place?
In addition, I think things were kind of primed for us. It was pretty convenient that things were ready AFTER the 20th anniversary of SRB2 – with a big trailer (that I actually worked on!) that got a bunch of oldbies’ attention, and the community had gotten a bit more active as a result.
That said: I don’t think I could have expected the scale of things. We got streamed by Vinesauce. We got an article in Rock Paper Shotgun. Those things… I mean, we’ve got a lot of love and attention from across the board, and I don’t want to disparage anyone else who’s given us their time, but those two? I don’t think anyone can deny that they’re… “mainstream”, maybe? A regular gamer who might not even care about Sonic the Hedgehog could find them, and thereby find us. They’re big names. And so it feels completely unreal.
The thing that is the most funny is that we’re completely unprepared for this… it is through the generosity of SRB2 that we even have a stable hosting place at all, and we completely nuked their bandwidth. I don’t know if I should say the number, but, like. It is a completely ridiculous amount, and it’s truly humbling that something we worked on is cared about so much. I’m so thankful for that.
Sryder: Part of me was expecting that the game would be popular as being quite fun, which is just how I felt during development. We hit a point where I just thought to myself “Wow, this has become really good.” I definitely wasn’t expecting quite so much attention to it though, 40,000 thread views in just the 3 weeks since we released is amazing to me! Not to mention us appearing in some more mainstream, not necessarily sonic related, media is really incredible!
EzoRichards: We definitely expected some breakout popularity, but a stream from Vinny and an article from Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shotgun? THOSE were a surprise. I gotta say, I’m amazed and extremely happy at the level of popularity we’ve received and it just makes me wanna work on the game more.
Chromatian: I definitely expected a boom within the community itself, but some of the other devs started spreading the news into areas of the internet they like to frequent, which turned the into a flood of users that broke the Most Users record the SRB2 Message Board has had for years! Twice! I would have been content with just the usual members playing the game, but the more the merrier honestly.
On top of the popularity, are there any particular fanmade wads that have caught your eye?
Sryder: I really haven’t been able to keep up with all of the fanmade WADs as much as I’d want to! There’s currently over 400 released on the SRB2 forum at the time of writing, it’s crazy just how many people have gone into modding SRB2 Kart so fast! That said, I did recently see an Ulala WAD and Model someone was developing on our Discord, that’s something I’m looking forward to seeing at least!
TehRealSalt: I’m super into the maps being made. In particular Lake Margorite by MK.exe stuck out to me, which has really impressive sloped terrain. There’s also a ton of cool characters… the weirdest one and my most favorite so far has to be Segata Sanshiro by MotorRoach, he’s really impressively sprited. He even drives a Sega Saturn! Thanks to the ease of creating characters we’ve been seeing a lot of people willing to create odd stuff, whereas vanilla SRB2 characters are such a huge undertaking that people wouldn’t want to commit to it, haha
Chromatian: What probably love most about our release is the amount of enthusiasm to make content for Kart. While most of them are beginners, we’ve gotten an absolute ton of characters that look great, too many to list. Custom tracks are much more rare due to how much time it takes to get used to Zone Builder and all of the differences between Kart and Vanilla. Lake Magorite by MK.exe is definitely my favorite so far, with Green Greens by Maximus Universal being a very close 2nd.
toaster: Ironically, I’ve been much too busy attempting to catch up on life
(and failing) to actually play anything the community’s put out. Can I say “all the girls”? [laughs] Like, Compile-era Arle from Puyo Puyo, Tangle the Lemur from IDW, someone’s indie OC called Hex, Hatsune Miku and Blaze the Cat from Rush (both of these were absorbed into bonuschars.kart) – I love how those character .wads look, even if I haven’t had the opportunity to try most of ’em out. I know Archie isn’t super popular, but Sally Acorn is probably the only significant gap… There’s so much talent out there, and we are so blessed.
This concludes Part Two of our three part series with the Kart Krew! Join us in two weeks for Part Three, where we take a peak at some upcoming features, discuss the mod’s soundtrack, and more!