Summer, 1996. It started as a friendly bet between 4 friends. A bet to see who could create the coolest web site of the four. But one of them took the bet too seriously; WAY too seriously! The end result was a web site that would affect the lives of many people in a manor unheard of at the time. This is the tale of how Emulationzone.org came to be.
Well, it all goes back to the early 90's. One day, Guido Rongi, a friend of mine, claimed to me that he saw an magazine advertisement for a device that allowed someone to copy Nintendo games to floppy diskette. We pondered if it would be possible to actually play these games on a computer. Our thinking was that it should be possible because it took a computer to write these games in the first place.
Later, Intel released the Pentium processor. It was fastest processor for a desktop PC and considered a marvel of technology at the time. SEGA was toting Sonic 2 with its "blast processing technology." I used to tell him "If you think Sonic runs fast on a Genesis, wait until you see him run on a Pentium!" Sadly, we never got a chance to try this idea out.
A few years later, the wide spread popularity of the web came to be. With it came the birth of the console emulation scene. The idea of being able to play your Nintendo games on your PC was a dream come true. As you might imagine, I was hooked!
Why Was it Started? What was the Motivation?
TC, DC, Sir Lamer and myself made a friendly bet amongst each other to see who could come-up with the best website. I pondered over ideas and eventually came-up with the idea to have a Sonic the Hedgehog website. I liked the game and wanted to dedicate a site about the little blue guy.
I also wanted to create an emulator site to support the emerging emulation scene. My goal was to create an emulator website that had more to it then just a dry listing of emulators and some ROM links. I wanted to form a site that was a valuable resource to the console gaming enthusiasts and to support the console emulation scene, which was just beginning to form.
Events of 1996
After many weeks of planning, "Andy's Sonic the Hedgehog Webpage, My Way" and "Emulation Zone" were released.
How did I come-up with the name "Emulation Zone"? Well, one afternoon, while I was at work, I was trying to come-up with a name for the upcoming console emulation site that said "console emulation" but was cleaver. The theme music for the song "Danger Zone" from Top Gun was dancing in my head, so the name "Emulation Zone" was conceived. (Why was the theme dancnig around in my head? I don't know I never saw the movie, just the video to the song.)
First Genesis EMUs
MegaDrive is released and it becomes the first Genesis emulator ever created. It only ran Sonic 1, slowly and it was soon discontinued because the coder had a disk crash and lost everything. Later came GenEm which was far more promising. In any event, these emulators begin to realize my dream of being able to play Sonic on a Pentium! Sadly, the programs were not optimized and the game ran poorly on a Pentium machine.
Sonic Stuff: The Prequel to SSRG
With Genesis emulation starting to become stable and playable, ROM distribution groups were beginning to spit-out ROMs pack that they had in their possession to the general public. The most notable at the time was the CoNsOlE CoNsOrTiUm. During this time, I had a theory on how to "lock-on" the S&K cart to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3. However, getting your hands on their ROM images was not nearly as easy as it is today. Thus, I could not get my hands on those ROM images to test it out.
Then in the middle of Oct., the CoNsOlE CoNsOrTiUm released a series of game packs that included Sonic 3 and S&K. I finally got to test my idea and it turned out that it worked! Well, except for the part on how to combine S&K with Sonic 2. In any event, I documented my findings, posted them online, and named the section "Sonic Stuff." This section contained some Sonic-related goodies, along with the technique to combine S&K with Sonic 3, and my commitment to eventually figure out how to get Sonic 2 working with S&K, along with some other goodies.
With the advent of the 'Sonic Stuff" section with the juicy content of how to "lock-on" Sonic 2 and 3 with S&K, the 'Zone was ready to start getting noticed. I tried to advertise the site to may emulator sites out on the web at the time, but no one posted word about it, except for Robert Liston Jr. of the the ROM site "Emulating Life." Thanks to him, the 'Zone started getting attention, and traffic!
Zac Williams Short Stay
Zac Willams, future admin of ZTNET, volunteers to run the Coleco System console emulation section. He vanishes a few weeks later.
Of course, my claim to fame was challenge. See Info in Holy War section entitled "Skirmishes"
Events of 1997
Was someone copying my layout scheme? See Info in Holy War section entitled "Holy War 1"
SNES 9x/97 Included Sound Support
Don't laugh! This was a big thing when it occurred. On July 8, 1997 , the SNES 9X teams released a version of their emulator that had sound support! It was the first SNES emulator to support sound and it was an incredible feat for its time. I'd thought I would mention this tidbit because we all take for granted that most emulators support sound.
Slow Site Growth
The site grew slowly but surely throughout the year. The Emulation Zone expands it's offerings in the console sections by offering more then just emulators, such as utilities and info about the console sections themselves. My Sonic the Hedgehog web page grows as well thanks to the on and off support of Beano, and the regular contribution of Stealth, who would become a permanent resident on the 'Zone. Mark Palenik also joins the site by starting one of the first Sonic the Hedgehog fan games.
Events of 1998
Though the site was growing, it did not seem to be enough, for traffic to the sites was low. I spent many months trying to draw visitors to the site, but it seemed hopeless. After operating under such conditions for most of the year, I begin questioning whether or not it was worth my while to run a site if hardly anyone visited it.
In August, with school coming up, I finally asked myself if it was meaningful to continue with the site, or if I should just give up. I asked the site ops of the big emulator sites to ask their users if people would be willing to give me a hand with the site. After all, it was around for 2 years. If the response was small, I was going to take it as a no and just quit. But the response I received was over welling, and shortly afterwards, I found myself with a staff of over twenty people eager to work on the site! Some notable staff members who joined at that time include Kaoslord, Sephiroth, Doughboy, Manu, Poleza, Psycothron, and RaEJaE.
I later got an email message from Zac Williams asking if I wanted to get free hosting on a server he was setting up. I agreed and that started the 'Zone's affiliation with ZTNET.
When I agreed to Zac's free hosting offer, he told me he was going to get us the domain name of emulationzone.com I announced to the public that we were going to move to emulationzone.com. Well, some jackass went out and bought the domain name before we could, probably to sell it back to us for 10x the cost we paid. Well ,the joke was on him, because we just bought emulationzone.org instead. To be honest, .ORG is more fitting to us then .COM because we are an organization, not a commercial website.
Holy War 2.0
Shortly after the domain name was registered, we got involved in yet another dispute! See Info in Holy War section entitled "Holywar 2.0"
SSRG Formed (Fall)
In the fall, Stealth directed me to an interesting site maintinaed by Andre Dirk with screen shots of a beta version of Sonic 2. I later ask Andre if he would be interested in getting hosted off the "Sonic Sutff" page of the 'Zone and he agreed. With the addition of Andre and all the stuff Stealth and I added to the "Sonic Stuff" site, I figured a name change was in call. That is when I came-up with the name "Sonic Stuff Research Group."
One thing I would do a lot is scan the web for quality website and ask if they would like to get hosted on the 'Zone. Many sites joined the 'Zone this way, such ChaosTheorm's "Blaster Master Underground" and Nevermind8's Nesticle Movie Archive. One sit that caught my attention was Sonic HQ. It was a large site that somehow managed to survie by spanning over several Geocities accounts. I offered Zifie Wu free hosting of SonicHQ on the 'Zone and they accepted, bringing order to the site from the chaos that is Geocities. :-)
Segaforever, a promising site all about SEGA, joins the 'Zone. The site grows heavily through-out the years, growing in both size and content.
Events of 1999
Simon Wai and the Sonic 2 BETA
In Januray of 1999, Simon Wai discovers the Sonic 2 BETA ROM and posts it to the world on a message board. A few weeks later, he joins SSRG and his site grows to become one of the most popular Sonic site of it's day. Shortly after Simon joins the group, various well known staff members joined the group, like Saxman, Rlan and Jan Abaze and Cyan. TomSonic joined later on in the year.
UltraHLE Sends Shockwaves
In January of 1999, the first "perfect" N64 emulator, UltraHLE, was released. Nintendo was not assumed and began forming a counter attack. They threaten to sue the authors of UltraHLE and declaring that all console emulators are "illegal." This was a huge change on Nintendo's stance against emulation and it sent shockwaves throughout the console emulation community, causing the emulation community to divide and many "in progress" N64 emulators to become discontinued.
But amongst the chaos, the 'Zone was determined to remain a pillar of strength in this storm and asked the emulation scene to make a stand against the chaos. As a result, the 'Zone started the site "Emulation Reality" or ER. The site started a petition asking Nintendo and Sony to lay off emulation of face a boycott. Forthmore, we wrote and posted a doc about how to distribute ROM images legally. The petition received well over a thousand signatures in a week or so of time and the "how-to" doc was never publicly challenged by Nintendo, even though Nintendo did publicly challenge other docs stating emulation was legal. The site was discontinued after Nintendo eased-up on their stance and never actually sued the UltraHLE team.
Some after thoughts. The whole counter-attack on Nintendo was quite scary. At that time, Nintendo was playing ads on TV for Zelda for the N64. But at the same time, an average Joe could go on the web, download the ROM and the emulator and play the game for free illegally. Nintendo could have begun suing the UltraHLE team, but they never did anything more then release public statements stating that the authors "must have broken through of security mechanisms" in the N64. Their lack of action seemed like a signal that Nintendo was losing the battle and the console emulation scene was winning. My greatest fear was that the whole movement would take an ugly turn and that the pirates in the console emulation scene would get their way, becoming a finical burden to Nintendo. Luckily for both sides, everyone kept a cool head and the situation was mutually resolved peacefully. No one was sued and no boycotts were started.
'Zone Attempts Language Mirrors
In an effort to draw more visitors to the site, the 'Zone started work on creating mirrors of the sites on the 'Zone in several language: English (base) Spanish, French and Italian. the goal of the project was to allow visitors to select a default language off the main page and navigate through the site in that language, accessing the mirror of a page if it exists. The project was nicknamed the "Red Bar Project" because the red bar on top of the page was to allow a visitor control of what language mirror of a page they were looking at.
Sadly, the project ended, mainly because of the difficulty of implimentation. A more straight froward implimentation was implimented on SSRG and exists to day, event though pages are not translated as often as they once were.
The following people helped translate pages from English to another language:
Kaoslord (Italian), Wiseman (Spanish), Dario (Spanish), Nime (Italian) and Thomas Rodriguez (French)
In March, the 'Zone received some free PR (public relation) on C|NET. The posted an very informative article about console emulation on their site. At the end of the article, they had a list of links with one lead to the 'Zone. They noted us as "[One of] The Best Emulation Sites on the Net," proclaiming "This [site] needs an explanation?" The 'Zone was then mentioned in a Canadian computer magazine in Quebec later that year.
SSRG Moves and Gets Face Lift
The site was growing heavily and outgrew the location where it was at. As a result, I moved the site over to it's own domain from www.emulationzone.org/sections/sonic to ssrg.emulationzone.org and give the site a huge makeover. I also took this opportunity to encourage unification with the Sonic hacking community. At that time, many small wars were brewing between fans in the Sonic hacking community. If I could provide an example of what could happened if we worked together, then I could be certain people would stop attacking each other less. It worked!
WakdHacks Joins the 'Zone
WakdHacks, as promising ROM hacking joins the 'Zone in the summer of 1999.
gym2mid Joins the 'Zone
PJ coded a very popular app of it's time, gym2mid. The program can convert a Genecyst gym audio file to MIDI file format. The first day it was released, the ISP which the file was located was so overwhelmed with requests for the file that many were unable to retrieve it. I later emailed PJ and ask if he would like tto join the 'Zone to store his app on a server that could handle the traffic, and he did just that.
Front End Central Started
Haoshiro begins work on Front Ends Central (FEC), a site about console emulator front ends. What made this site special was it's goal to act as an embeddable "database" for any emulator site out on the web. In other others, an emulator site could embed FEC's content into their site, custimize it's look and leave the updating to Haoshiro. Sadly, only the 'Zone took part and the effort slowly died.
Sonic2000 Project Drop
After orignally starting as a 2D game, and then moving to become a 3D game, Mark drops the project to work on something else. Ironically, to this day, the website received 70+ hits/day and has cross the 100,000 hit mark, even though the project has been discontinued!
Simon Leaves for No Reason & Saxman named SSRG Head
Near the end of the summer of 1999, Simon Wai, for no stated reason, deletes his site off of SSRG and moves it to a free online web hosting service. On his site was a large collection of publicly submitted hoaxes. Most of these images were lost in the move, upsetting many. Simon later abandons his site and is deleted by his host for lack of activity. Lucky for us, Perlord kept a backup copy of the site on a floppy disk and was able to recover most of the site on SSRG, where it is today.
In sort of a backlash to Simon for leaving, Simon was suppose to be named the new head of SSRG. Andy's plan was to step down as head of SSRG so he could focus more on school and let Simon handle more of the day-to-day activities on SSRG. With Simon gone, Saxman was chosen instead. Though Andy stayed away from the day-to-day activities of the site, he did not go away completely and actually continued to contribute and aid Saxman with the site.
STJR Joins SSRG
At the end of the year, STJR joins SSRG and houses their efforts on the server. Sonikku was feed-up with problems at his old host and requested the move to SSRG. After a redesign of the site, the site moved to it's current home, stjr.emulationzone.org
Events of 2000
Andy had the idea of starting a console emulation-theme search engine called "emulinks". For around a year, Chaos Theorm was hard at work in generating a listing of console emulation-related sites that would be used for this project. It wasn't until the beginning of 2000 when work on the web site part of emulinks.com started.
Work on the site first started as a series of meetings between Kaoslord and myself. I basically feed him requirement for the project and he implemented the concepts into code using PHP and MySQL. Eventually, the domain name of emulinks.org was purchased and beta testing of the site begun. The nice layout that we have today was not incorporated until late 2000.
The interesting thing about EmuLinks.com is all collaboration was done online via email and ICQ. Not one voice or face to face conversation ever took place.
Andre Dirk retires from his "Secrets of Sonic the Hedgehog" website and passes control over to Tim Myers. (AKA Knuckles.)
Dot-Co Meltdown affects ad revenue.
In March, the internet bubble bursts, triggering the dot-com meltdown. As a result to us, the revenue we received from the ads drop in half, forcing us to find new ways to generate revenue for the site so we could keep it a float.
Holy War III
This time we were thrown into a situation Seems that some See Info in Holy War section entitled "Holy War III"
TSSZ Joins the 'Zone
After experiencing many problems with his old host, Tristan accepts an offer to join the 'Zone. His site, TSSZ, adds a very active SEGA and Sonic news site to the 'Zones offering.
WEMU (radio) kicks-off
We attempt to enter the internet radio bizz by launching WEMU, our own independently operated and controlled internet radio station. Initially, it was a live Shotucast relay running off the server. Realizing that a live relay is not attractive for those on dial-up accounts, we move to a Live365 setup. Tristan later took over the station and renamed it to "Seven."
Not giving up on the idea of having out own privately controlled and operated internet radio station, we installed and configured a Linux-based streamer that worked with shoutcast. It sucked and both were replaced with FLUID, which crashed a lot. Two local stations were started using these programs: WEMU (which later was renamed to WSTM) and SGRS. The 'Zone Radio Netowrk ('ZRN) also formed around this time, consisting initially of Seven, Blazefire Radio , WTMK and our two "local" stations WSTM and SGRS.
FLUID was later replaced with the far superior and more stable combo of jREV and Shoutcast.
Ultra the Vampire (UV) Attacks
(Holy War "4" the undocumented attack)
Rlan was (and still is) the head admin of the Fan Made Games HQ on SSRG and the Fan Games Network on the 'Zone. He got some outside help from UV, who was also working on a few unimpressive sites on the 'Zone. Then one, for no apparent reason, Rlan's Fan Made Games HQ vanished. After looking over some FTP logs, it was determined that the attack was done by none other then UV. Later, a site on the Fan Games Network was deleted. Though it was not reported, UV did the attack. Before his initial attack, he would used Rlan's account retrieve email messages with account passwords sent in from new users for the Fan Games Network Site.
Console Sections Close for Good
This was a hard decision because the console emulation sections were a corner stone in the formation of the 'Zone. When the site started, the section in question contained a key chunk of the data on the site. It grew and changed in many ways. Nut not too long after Andy handed off the sites to outside help in the fall of 1998, the sections began to become outdated. Though much effort was put into reviving the section and many attempts were made to find good people to help maintain the sections, none of them successful. Perhaps the fact that the web was saturated with "console emulation" like sites killed any motivation to work on the sites? Regardless, after 4 years of service, the console emulation sections were officially closed down for good so we could focus on efforts that were more meaningful to the public.
'Zone Mentioned in A Brazilian Magazine
The 'Zone was mentioned in either the October or November edition of "Revista Da Linux", a Brazilian magazine all about Linux. Oddly, they mentioned that we were a site with many ROM images for download. Not sure how we got in the magazine but Sephiroth, who write articles for the magazine claims he had absolutely no part in getting us listed in the magazine.
Events of 2001
Gerbil Soft Joins SSRG
Gerbil joins SSRG, adding his popular Sonic ROM hacking utility, Sonic Hacking Wiz Pro, to the site.
For some odd reason, activity on the site slows down. People send in applications stating that they are eager to work on a section only to disappear and vanish shortly after beginning work. Many existing staff members take a similar roll and just flat out disappear off the face of the earth. As a result, many projects and task go unfulfilled and many sections fall out of date and begin to rout. With few exception, as the whole, the site had its worse showing in its near 5 year history.
WEMU (News site) Closes
After being in operation since the fall of 1998, WEMU (the news site) closes for good. WEMU was the 'Zone implementation of an up-to-minute console emulation news station. Primarily Sephiroth maintained the site with help from others, who came and went. Though much effort was put into the site to expand on what it offered, such as interviews and articles, it never became popular with the public. Sephiroth and I agreed to pull the plug on the site after realizing that no one really had interest in the site.
On a side note, the headlines on the main page of the 'Zone reserved for the WEMU headlines was replaced with those generated from TSSZ, a far more active news affiliate of the 'Zone.
8/28/2001 - Retirement
After running the site for 5 years and being a mentor to many, Andy retires from his duties to focus more on his own personal life. Though he did not want to leave, it was simply time for him to to move on.
So Who Won the Bet?
DC create a site entitled "The Waste of bandwidth" page, containing several Java applets and several very large GIF animations.
TC started a site that had sound files and family pictures. He then renamed it to "TC Technologies". He did some web design for some family. His site was redone and is now about him and his family and he personal interest.
Sir Lamer's site was so bad, his ISP deleted it!
And me, well, you know my story.