Shinesparkers Feature:

Shinesparkers Tenth Anniversary

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Exactly ten years ago today, on August 31st 2010, Shinesparkers opened its doors as a brand new Metroid community, offering the latest news and exclusive content to Metroid fans around the world. Since then, we have done our very best to support the franchise and its fans in a positive and fair way. Over this first decade, we have conducted some special interviews with game developers involved in our favourite Metroid titles, promoted great projects from fans across the world, and written features to educate, inspire, and entertain all who visit our website. As part of our exclusive content, we produced some musically-focused projects to celebrate the series that went above and beyond our wildest expectations.

As the creator of Shinesparkers, I felt it was a good opportunity to reflect on how we got here and the things I have tried to achieve with Shinesparkers and the wider Metroid community to help promote the franchise as positively as we can.

In 2009, I arranged to host a now defunct Nintendo forum called Nintendo Online, a predominantly UK-based website focused on Nintendo games, in an effort to keep its community alive during a period of transition before it became TheJoyPads. Originally, I loved the idea of creating a Metroid fan community but didn’t think there was anything unique I could contribute in addition to the few enthusiast websites that were already established online. The name Shinesparkers came from a podcast that featured on Nintendo Online, which we were originally going to call The Hyperbeam Podcast.

Once the Nintendo Online community transitioned to its new website, I had a change of heart and decided it might be fun to create a dedicated Metroid community after all, focused on creating exclusive content and interviewing the people involved in creating our favourite games. I felt that other websites weren’t seeking answers to the questions that fans wanted to hear, and the idea of discovering new information and bringing it to fans was a good enough reason for a new Metroid fan website. Thus, the Shinesparkers website came to be.

A good friend of mine called Wavehack kindly offered to host Shinesparkers, and a member of Nintendo Online (and eventual team member) Ben designed the original website. The three of us began work on the new Metroid community in June 2010, deciding what content should be initially included, and what our goals were going to be once we went live. We decided to launch the website alongside the release of Metroid: Other M, the latest game planned for release at that time.

Prior to launch, we spent time reaching out to other Metroid fan websites such as Metroid Database, Metroid Headquarters, Metroid Recon, and some Nintendo-focused websites to see if we could affiliate with them, in an attempt to get our name out there and noticed by a larger audience. Back then, fan websites would display an icon on their website with a link back to your website, which was an effective way of getting noticed. The initial response we received was very positive and welcoming. I recall a nice message from CapCom, a content editor at Metroid Database, giving us some advice on how to get our content noticed and how they would support us once the website went live.

One of the first people to respond to my initial email about affiliation was DoctorM64, who was in the early stages of development of his fan game AM2R at the time. He affiliated without hesitation and was incredibly encouraging. This early support from the rest of the community we were stepping into was highly appreciated, but DoctorM64 was the first person to immediately show interest and support for Shinesparkers.

We knew we were starting from the bottom and had to prove that we were serious about creating a brand new community from the ground up. I knew I had the passion to make it happen, but I wasn’t sure if the people we wanted to interview would care enough. Why would a group of Metroid fans with a small enthusiast website ever want to speak to us? Was it appropriate to even contact them? Surely they would just say no to us. Naturally I started to have doubts, and reaching out to people was nerve-wracking. I knew I had to remain professional and show genuine interest if we were to get anywhere. Thankfully, Gene Kohler was the man who gave us that first break.

Gene was a character modeller on the original Metroid Prime, credited for his work on Samus’ suits, Space Pirate design, and more. He revealed some really awesome details in his interview, covering things like his inspirations, what it was like to work on a huge Nintendo IP, and an insight into working at Retro Studios. That initial interview gave us a huge boost in terms of visibility in the community and the motivation and belief that we were doing something pretty great. My confidence was flowing, and from there it went from strength to strength.

Within the space of a few months, we had interviewed Timothy Miller who was the voice actor for Admiral Dane, Prime 3 and Mike Sneath, who was a Senior Artist on Metroid Prime. In the years that followed, we were able to interview Nate Bihldorff from Nintendo, and thanks to our translator Vectrex28, we were privileged enough to interview Metroid’s original composer Hirokazu Tanaka. These were heights I simply didn’t expect to be reaching, because I always kept my expectations grounded.

By the time we had reached the end of 2010, we had only been running the website for a few months but, in my opinion, had firmly established ourselves as an important part of the Metroid community, achieving our goal of providing something different to the rest of the fan sites. But Shinesparkers was about to become much more noticed, as the next stage of our plan for our community took shape: our original content!

On December 23rd 2010, I reached out to musicians across the internet to put together a musical tribute to Metroid to mark the series reaching its 25th anniversary, called Harmony of a Hunter. While I recognise that Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda were more appropriate to mark their 25th anniversaries, it became clear to me that Nintendo wasn’t going to encourage the same level of enthusiasm as their other major IP’s, which was disappointing to a lot of Metroid fans at the time, myself included. I felt that this would be the first opportunity to create some original content for Shinesparkers, and the idea for an album came from my passion for music and having befriended lots of people in the VGM community. 

I had never put together an album before, and I had zero experience in managing a project like Harmony of a Hunter, but I was driven by the desire to mark that anniversary and that the idea of celebrating Metroid’s birthday would resonate with others. My concept for this album would be that if we were to truly celebrate the anniversary, it would have to include music from across every single Metroid game released at that time, and in an effort to appeal to as many people as possible, we wanted to encourage as many musicians as we could into it who could bring a variety of different styles and genres together. My thought process was that Metroid’s anniversary should be celebrated by as many people as possible.

Equally, this also meant that people who weren’t fans of Metroid may appreciate the music enough to want to check out Metroid for themselves, and because the album offered a variety of genres to suit many musical tastes, it might act as a stepping stone for them to listen to the original Metroid soundtracks or even play the games! The only downside I could see at the time was that the cohesion of the album could suffer, due to trying to appeal to too many people at once.

The first thing I did was set up a forum post on the video game remix community, OCRemix, to gauge interest there, essentially using it as a platform to reach out to musicians on OCR. I outlined what Harmony of a Hunter would be, and the response was mostly positive. That being said, people did question the scale of the project’s ambition and whether it could be achieved. In addition to OCR, we sourced musicians from Newgrounds, YouTube, SoundCloud, and individual online portfolios. From there, musicians recommended others and slowly, the album started to come together.

The album featured many incredible people, and it taught me a lot about leadership and teamwork. There were so many talented people in the project that I was proud to work with, and while there are too many to mention in this article, my special thanks go out to Lee “The Orichalcon” Barber for the support and mastering of the album and Nate Horsfall for his OUTSTANDING artwork that complemented the album, featuring references to every Metroid game released at the time, from the original Metroid to Metroid: Other M. It continues to blow me away almost ten years later, along with all the additional assets he created for a physical album. I will never be able to praise this team enough for everything they did to mark this historic milestone.

Harmony of a Hunter exceeded my personal expectations, reaching a massive audience when it launched on August 7th, 2011, and it encouraged me to create a follow-up called Harmony of a Hunter: 101% Run in 2012 to include additional tracks we couldn’t fit into the original. I had felt a sense of guilt that I couldn’t include some key tracks such as Maridia from Super Metroid and SkyTown from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. With the assistance of my good friend Torby Brand, we corrected that, and created a successful sequel. My only regret is that those albums likely took the attention away from our original focus with the website, potentially cannibalising what we had done in terms of our Metroid content. Back then, I suppose I saw the Harmony of a Hunter albums as a victim of our own success, but ultimately I am very proud of what we all achieved together. I hope to give more thoughts into the musical projects of Shinesparkers in the future…

Our collaborative efforts continued over the years. In my limited capacity as a fan, I felt it was important to represent the franchise and Shinesparkers in the best way I could. In addition to celebrating Metroid’s 25th with Harmony of a Hunter, we worked closely with the now defunct N-Gamer magazine in the United Kingdom to create a four-page feature for Metroid’s 25th anniversary titled “Metroid: The Forgotten Anniversary?” where we collaborated with other Metroid fan websites to pay tribute to the series. I was very proud with this pitch and continued to find people years later who said they had read the feature. We also put together a tribute video featuring fans and notable people closely connected to the games and industry.

For Metroid’s 30th anniversary, I wrote a feature for Switch Player magazine and gathered quotes and stories from a range of people across the Metroid fandom, featuring short messages from the Metroid fan community, all the way up to developers and industry veterans. It was a pleasure to put together, and I thank Switch Player for the opportunity to reach even more Metroid fans.

We consider ourselves very lucky to have so many dedicated followers across our social media channels; they really stepped up when we collaborated with MHQThon over the years to help them raise thousands of dollars for charity. When Rainfall Films expressed their intention to put together a fan film based on Metroid, hundreds of our followers voted in a poll to help Metroid win; this resulted in the creation of Metroid: The Sky Calls, starring Jessica Chobot as Samus Aran.

But with all these impressive milestones and achievements, things haven’t always worked out. Around the time of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, Shinesparkers was fairly dormant between 2015-2017. There wasn’t a huge amount of interest in the series, and there was a lot of negativity thrown towards Nintendo at the time due to a couple of poorly-received titles. I had personally lost interest in the series somewhat, due to focusing my attention on other projects and passions, and I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm as I first did. Despite the support of our team member Naner keeping the website alive, Wavehack had decided to stop hosting us, and I genuinely felt like we had reached the end of the road.

Then, Nintendo threw us a lifeline with the announcement of Metroid: Samus Returns and that the first traditional side-scrolling Metroid game in thirteen years would be coming to Nintendo 3DS. A spark of energy flowed through me, and the desire to relaunch Shinesparkers was suddenly a thing. We created a cleaner-looking website from the ground up and expanded the size of our team to cover the content we wanted to put out on a regular basis.

This time around, our focus was primarily content, which began in 2017 with a focus on written features and reviews of Metroid: Samus Returns, signifying the first time we had been given the opportunity to review a Metroid game by Nintendo. In 2018, we began publishing Community Spotlights, where we made dedicated features for the many talented creative folk in the Metroid community, such as musicians, artists, speedrunners, cosplayers, and other fun and interesting projects, giving them a signal boost and raising their profile further, which I feel has been hugely important to smaller projects.

In January 2020, we brought ourselves full circle by releasing the Shinesparkers podcast, a monthly show featuring special guests, covering a variety of different topics and interviews, and hosted by our valued team member Amanda. It’s still early days, but we are confident in what we are doing and we are having a lot of fun with it!

If I went back to 2010 and told myself that Shinesparkers would still be around, working closely with Nintendo reviewing their games, and interviewing incredible people like the original composer of Metroid, Hirokazu Tanaka? I wouldn’t have believed it! I never thought that I would be able to speak to the amazing teams that worked on my favourite franchise, thank them for what they have created, and express what those games meant to me personally. I completely respect that Metroid may not stand as tall as other Nintendo franchises, but that has never stopped my passion and determination to bring this franchise even further into people’s lives, showing everyone that Metroid is one of the greatest franchises and has one of the best communities in video games.

While it is impossible to tell for sure what the future holds for our community, as it currently stands, I think we have a great team of people who have continued to support my vision, and I appreciate them massively. We continue to do our best to promote the Metroid franchise in a positive way, and I hope it will continue on for as long as possible. As we enter our eleventh year, we have a team of content writers, editors, graphic artists, translators, and a host that support Shinesparkers and Metroid. We have a great community that always engages positively with the content that we put out, and we thank them for sticking with us, especially those that have been there from the very beginning.

I want to end this feature by saying thank you to everyone who has supported Shinesparkers over the past ten years, whether you were a part of the team past or present that worked on great content with us, a Metroid fan who allowed us the opportunity to promote your amazing projects, a developer who worked on a Metroid title and gave us your time so we could interview you, a musician who worked tremendously hard to contribute to the Harmony of a Hunter albums, or a reader who has read our work and supported us over social media. Without you, there would be no point.

Finally, special thanks should go out to the people who created the many great Metroid games we have enjoyed over the past thirty-four years. To the team of Retro Studios, Nintendo R&D, NST, Mercury Steam, Team Ninja, and Silverball Studios, we thank you for bringing Metroid into our lives. To Metroid producers Yoshio Sakamoto and Kensuke Tanabe, we value your effort and vision that have brought us so many incredible titles, and of course, we will always remember and appreciate the father of Metroid, the late Gunpei Yokoi. While he may no longer be with us, Shinesparkers will always be indebted to his creation.

See you next mission.

Written by Darren