Around 1996, a woman known as “Ron Echidna”, and later as “Aimee”, began working on a project called Sonic and the 7 Rings. It was a very rudimentary project, being developed with Clickteam’s basic game development tool The Games Factory. The goal of this project was simple: bring the Sonic experience to the PC. Soon, however, Aimee began to feel that 7 Rings was going to be more complex than could be created using Clickteam’s simple tool, so she searched out for someone who was both a Sonic fan andalso proficient in the programming language “C”. She soon came across Thomley and his work. She felt bringing him onto the 7 Rings project could help quite a bit.
In the time between his original attempts to re-create Sonic on the PC and being approached by Aimee, Thomley, under the online guise of “Stealth”, had risen to prominence in the Sonic fan community, particularly the part of the community concerned with ROM hacking, fan game creation, and the exploration of prototype versions of games. “Prominence” is perhaps understating his influence. In 1996, Thomley essentially became one of the fathers of Sonic hacking and fan game development, cementing his place in the franchise’s history by helping create the Sonic Stuff Research Group, or SSRG. This was an online forum where users could discuss Sonic and ROM hacking, along with providing a place for hacking information, utilities, and projects to be distributed and critiqued.
Thomley already had a reputation within the community he had helped birth, and this lead to him being contacted by Aimee. This came at a good time as well. Thomley had recently come off another Sonic fan game project, which he had begun in late 1995 and had hit numerous dead ends. His main goal when joining Aimee on the 7 Rings project: port everything already accomplished in The Games Factory to “C”.
Sonic and the 7 Rings was soon renamed to Sonic the Hedgehog: Project Mettrix. The title change was meant to represent more of a new beginning than anything else. Development was conducted from beginning to end with the idea that gameplay was most important and should be focused on above all else. This didn’t stop the team from trying to come up with a plot, however. There were several major storylines that were considered during development.
The earliest, according to Stealth himself, involved the evil Dr. Eggman discovering mysterious plans for a machine that had the power to make all animals on the planet super intelligent. Then, said plans would be retooled by the evil scientist to turn all the animals into robots instead. The machine in question was just going to be called “The Mettrix”, though the team could not figure out how to work this “Roboticizing” concept into the game itself. The plot that was ultimately decided on was vastly different than this original plot.
Though never intended as a “Sonic the Hedgehog 4”, the plot of Mettrix was was set after the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles. The game follows Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails the Fox, and Knuckles the Echidna as they pursue the evil Dr. Eggman, who escaped unscathed at the end of Sonic’s last adventure. They must traverse through a variety of zones, fighting robots along the way. Eggman, much like in Sonic 3, is after the Master Emerald, which is the source of power for Angel Island, where Knuckles resides. The power of this massive gem keeps the floating island in question from plummeting into the ocean. The mad doctor hopes to use the emerald to power up his most powerful creation yet, known simply as “Project: Mettrix.” It’s a standard platformer plot, and exists mainly for there to be an excuse for all three playable characters to go through each area.
Where Mettrix would differentiate itself from other Sonic fan games of the time was with it’s gameplay. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, even in early builds of the game, play and feel identical to how they controlled in the Sega Genesis Sonic titles. Taking a cue once again from Sonic 3 and Knuckles, all three of them all go through slightly different routes throughout the game.
The game itself begins in “Wood Zone”, which is based off a scrapped level from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 of the same name. This was intended to act as a hub world, but ultimately just served as a glorified character select screen. From there, the player would set off on their adventure. What zones were gone through in which order was determined by which character was chosen in Wood Zone. For example, Sonic and Tails begin the game by going through Shining Island Zone, while Knuckles begins with Guardian Castle Zone, which is exclusive to his adventure. The end game is also different depending on each character, with Tails and Knuckles’ final zones being “Power Source Zone”, while Sonic’s is the aptly titled “Mettrix Zone”.
The levels here, along with varying in order depending on character, were also created with a design philosophy of making levels that felt almost as if they were lifted from a Sega Genesis Sonic game. In fact, two of the zones in the main game, Dust Hill Zone and Hidden Palace Zone, were based off levels from the beta version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Thomley especially wanted to include Hidden Palace, as it was around this time when prototype versions of Sonic 2 were leaked onto the internet, and thus assets could be ripped or copied from those versions of the game. The game would eventually even feature a level editor which allowed fans to create their own Sonic levels!
Perhaps the cherry on top of all this, done in order to make the game feel as close to official as possible, was a midi soundtrack created by Andre Schroder. Despite early versions of Mettrix having their fair share of bugs, it was truly the best fan-made Sonic experience out there.