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Sonic Level Design

#16 User is offline Shadow Wedge 

Posted 20 March 2012 - 08:11 PM

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Wow, this is great! I started drawing routes on some of the levels to show routes myself a while ago, but didn't get very far. I was hoping to make a random level generator, but I was having difficulty on determining how the routes should interconnect. I look forward to any updates!

#17 User is offline BarkingChaos 

Posted 20 March 2012 - 10:58 PM

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Fascinating. I will have to keep this in mind if I ever decide to try my hand at making a hack.I never really thought much about how the theme of the level determines terrain either. It makes a lot of sense since you pointed that out.

Whats so sad is that I never noticed just how small and linear marble zone actually is. Maybe because it kinda loops under itself, whereas Green hill is essentially a straight path. I'll also need to keep that map of Chemical Plant zone handy. Now I know where all the route are :specialed:

#18 User is offline Skyler 

Posted 21 March 2012 - 03:08 AM

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This, along with Science of Sonic, is damn golden.
This post has been edited by Skyler: 21 March 2012 - 03:17 AM

#19 User is offline Overbound 

Posted 21 March 2012 - 04:36 AM

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This is a great guide if you want to make levels like Sonic 1 and 2. However it doesn't address Sonic 3&K or Sonic CD much it seems.

To me Sonic CD's levels are a lot more open and the level structure more unique. CD also has levels build around gimmicks more than any other Sonic game which I find refreshing.

Sonic 3&k uses a lot of tighter paths completely enclosed so that that paths can be stacked. Because of this platforming movement in the left direction is more common in Sonic 3&K and the levels are longer.

When I design Sonic levels I try to combined these two types of level design.

As for the games you focused on. I find Sonic 1 designs somewhat basic for obvious reasons. But I still find some aspects of its design significant. Each level feels fairly different and it seems like the designer made a conscious effort to use specific types of ramps, slopes and loops or lack there of in each level. Which keeps the designs from feeling the same and gives each level a unique speed.

Sonic 2's levels I find uninspired. The levels lack as many interesting gimmicks of Sonic 3 and Sonic CD. Most of the levels flow fairly left to right and the first five zones spam loops where as the last 5 lack them entirely. This upsets to the flow of the game which in my opinion should switch between fast and slow levels regularly. There are a few good elements in this game. Most of which can be found in CPZ which has interesting speed sections some of which also move to the left. But that's nothing that can't be studied even better in Launch Base. Over all I find this game to be the weakest and most Dimps like of the bunch. Possibly because its the only classic game made by an American team.

#20 User is offline serpx 

Posted 21 March 2012 - 08:21 AM

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Great start, I could see this going in more depth with further research and analysis of levels.

What I would REALLY like to see is a very in-depth look at theories and research on why some of the top Sonic levels were enjoyable, vs. why some of the worst levels in Sonic history aren't (or even why current levels from, say, Sonic 4, aren't as enjoyable as they could be).

Now, "best" and "worst" are subjective so it would be cool to see people do small studies on the fanbase, and get somewhat nonbiased opinions on fans feelings for what's good and what's bad. Yes, doing actual studies may be taking things too serious, but it's fun, educational, and this site is highly research/educationally based anyways.

Also, if we want to persuade SEGA to make more of the changes we would like to see, giving them more statistical/proven reasons will definitely help in that effort.
This post has been edited by serpx: 21 March 2012 - 08:22 AM

#21 User is offline Yuzoboy 

Posted 21 March 2012 - 01:19 PM

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After all these years, I didnt know some of these areas existed. Very interesting information, thank you. I hope there are more on the way with the other zone routes analysed. They could become a feature on some of the videos I do.
This post has been edited by Yuzoboy: 21 March 2012 - 01:20 PM

#22 User is offline Sparks 

Posted 21 March 2012 - 02:53 PM

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Updated with Sonic 3K, Homing Attack, Y Axis maps, Character Specific Routes, and updates to elbow ramps. I'll be addressing Sonic CD, and The Right Mindset next time. Let me know if I missed anything else.
This post has been edited by Sparks: 21 March 2012 - 02:54 PM

#23 User is offline Tyty 

Posted 21 March 2012 - 03:35 PM

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Something I'd like to point out, would be the application of the homing attack to potential level design, especially if the homing attack is done well. Simply put, areas where the level is designed to have steps (Like this.). If you put something like a motobug on the steps, something already trivial to kill, Sonic could potentially homing attack his way up rather than jumping on each motobug individually. Hell, if you want it to be a bit more challenging, it could be crabmeats or some other enemy that shoots, as long as the player gets a chance to see what they do. The better player would recognize the chain and homing attack up, but it wouldn't really be annoying (especially if it's short. Just enough so Sonic can't jump the whole way at once). It would lend itself to simply using Sonic's skills, as natural as spindashing before a loop.

Sega could use it well in a 2D setting. They just haven't, because chains in the air is what they've been doing since Sonic Adventure.
This post has been edited by Tyty: 21 March 2012 - 03:36 PM

#24 User is offline Deef 

Posted 22 March 2012 - 12:21 AM

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Awesome topic and awesome OP. I've been hanging out for a good level design discussion since forever; there's so much to learn.

My position on the subject is one of very little knowledge. When it comes to actual creation I've always felt like I needed classes in it or something heh; like I know I'm missing too many aspects of it to produce anything more than some fast bits, some slow bits, and a few main paths that interweave then wonder it if it works. That really isn't much to say for having direction.

So I don't think I can contribute a lot, certainly no experience anyway, but I am hooked on the topic.

However here is one thing I want to say that feels right I think:

In designing a level you have to stay aware of the compulsion that the player is experiencing. Your level is something you're giving to the player, each step of it. A good example of this is EHZ1. Just after the first bridge there's that brief incline. That was deliberate. Or that devious spring mentioned in the OP, at the end of the act. So you have to have enough inspiration to build a level like this also. If you just want to get it done... well personally I wouldn't be able to make even an average level that way. But perhaps I'm over dramatising it and it is possible to still produce something people find enjoyable by simply ticking all the boxes.

Boy it's hilarious to look at a map of Marble Zone after a map of Marble Garden Zone.

Anyway, some direct responses to your OP:

· The low/average/high examples were really clarifying for me. See, that gives me a better sense of direction already. I've maybe heard that some time before, it doesn't strike me as completely new, but if I have I didn't absorb the points about each path having a role. So that was good to understand. I would like to hear more on Sonic 3's style in this light. I prefer Sonic 3's levels overall but I do miss the styles of things like GHZ, EHZ, ARZ, CasinoNZ as well, where a level is kind of like stacked layers. I think MHZ and ICZ2 are nice in this regard actually.

· Also looking forward to some Sonic CD discussion. I never know how I feel in those zones. Wacky Workbench is hell though.

· Personally I find EHZ more enjoyable that CPZ. Rather than argue level preference, I just want to raise 2 points about EHZ that I think matter in level design:
(1) I think having what feels like access to open sky makes a big difference.
(2) EHZ's paths are frequently connected, typically in falling from one place to another. CPZ's not nearly as frequently.

These 2 points combine to create an argument for an open sandboxy kind of feel in Sonic levels. For me, AIZ suffers among the green zones without a free sky, while ARZ feels nice with frequent sight of a way to change path, while I find PPZ, CCZ and StardustSZ to be a bit too overloaded with free access to other places. Anwyay, a big part of an act's fun for me was seeing how much I could twist (or at least think I am twisting) the path designer's original plans. Either by accessing places from other places it seemed I wasn't meant to access them from, or by simply being able to change path on a whim despite it serving no purpose or progress. CPZ lets the player change paths, but it also has very little in the way of feeling like you can do what you want until the designer's is explicit in allowing you. It has a lot of moments of keeping you glued to one path for quite a run.

Some examples of that former point (stretching the designer's original plan) are: leaping from a mobius strip to the top of the yellow-spring-to-4-coconuts loop in EHZ, getting on top of loops in HTZ, dropping long ways between gondolas in HTZ again, climbing to the top of ICZ with Knuckles (admittedly truly unintentional), getting from the low to the high path in MHZ or just reaching that very high very powerful diagonal red spring in MHZ that sends you soaring over a huge chunk of terrain. In that last example it's just nice to know there are paths you can't see below you that you're freely passing up.

Edit - Oh, Violet already raised the issue of how branching occurs, so I look forward to more discussion on that. But I'm basically asking about the contrast of obvious branching, to branching options that do not appear to be deliberate, and if anyone else finds signficant value in that. (It would be self-contradicting to try and create branches that genuinely aren't deliberate.)

· What's a path swapper?
· I agree completely about the bottomless pit signs.
· I will argue against red rings in a later post (out of time).

Thanks for the topic and the work you put into the OP.
This post has been edited by Deef: 22 March 2012 - 12:12 PM

#25 User is offline XCubed 

Posted 22 March 2012 - 11:05 AM

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I didn't understand what a path swapper was either until looking at your posting. It's probably that circle thing in Scrap Brain Zone that shoots you down, or horizontal.

#26 User is offline KingofHarts 

Posted 22 March 2012 - 11:37 AM

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but path swappers are what switch the character from reacting to one set of tiles, to reacting to another, and weren't introduced until Sonic 2 (or maybe Sonic CD). They are primarily used for loops, as well as other forms of terrain to give a sense of depth. Such as the tubes at the start of Chemical Plant Zone. Sonic 1 didn't have these, instead using a more primitive method for their loops.

#27 User is offline Deef 

Posted 22 March 2012 - 11:55 PM

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If there had been a Sonic CD context to go on, I would have suggested the gimmicks in Stardust Speedway that literally switch paths on and off.

But you're probably right KoH. Can you say more about Sonic 1's simpler loop method though?

#28 User is offline KingofHarts 

Posted 23 March 2012 - 12:06 AM

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I have no clue how it works. I am not as familiar with the original code, as I am still new to hacking. (I prefer to work with GML) what I do know is pretty much what I told you.

#29 User is offline .Luke 

Posted 30 March 2012 - 08:43 PM

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This is a really beautiful guide; it's way more informative than most guides that I've studied in the past! I mean, just dang, never thought about changing the slope inclination of entrance and exits of loops, even after playing the 4th gen hits after all this time. I also feel like a major idiot for not taking character abilities into account either, and after adding a Knuckles-only path to a recent level of mine, I have to say it totally took the emptiness out it! Your guide really helped me out, Sparks, and now I don't feel so lost trying to design new levels for my own fan game.

If there's one thing I might add to this, it would have to be badnik variety and designs, which is really important. The whole game can feel repetitive if some enemies become reoccurring pests, especially if they don't fit the level theme. Sonic 2 (To some extent.) and 3 typically used between three to even five enemies in one act, whereas Sonic 1 reused certain badniks like Crabmeat in nearly every zone; which made me want to go out of my way just to bop that little nuisance every time! =P Heck, there are some badniks that only appear once in a specific area of one act! (Sonic 3 Hydro City comes to mind with its flies.)

Sonic After the Sequel and SRB2 are a couple of really great fan-made examples of this, because you're constantly encountering new badniks to troll you and get in your way, forcing the player to approach each section of a level in ways they wouldn't have in previous ones. Even something as simple as a tiny robot turtle can affect level design, and its a detail that I believe shouldn't be an afterthought in any stage.

#30 User is offline bluejayfusion 

Posted 30 March 2012 - 10:39 PM

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View PostSparks, on 20 March 2012 - 01:52 AM, said:

...This is a rough draft version which I'm posting so that I can get input in and revise any areas that may seem off, or add anything people want to contribute...

Well done, man!

Thank you for this insanely comprehensive coverage of Sonic level design. I don't doubt that their are casual gamers who probably don't appreciate how much thought goes into level design... I believe many of said gamers are currently known as Sonic Team / Dimps.

Kidding aside, I think its sad that recent Sonic games seem to let most of this stuff fall by the wayside. Because the gameplay is so fast, they largely overlook the amazing depth and character that once went into classic Sonic- all the great layered pixel art backgrounds, the multiple paths, the quirky traps and gadgets. It used to fill me with anticipation to play a new Sonic game and wonder what unique zones awaited.

I find it strange that the first Sonic Advance game that Dimps did had a lot of promise. Its almost like they lost their passion somewhere along the way... If you take Hot Crater Zone or Route 99 and removed the artwork, I doubt anyone could even distinguish them- all running, sparse enemies, no wonderment.

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