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Sonic the Hedgehog - 50Hz Effect

#1 User is offline D.A. Garden 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 06:31 AM

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This is a strange topic to bring up, but I thought I'd ask, as it's been on my mind for a while now.

First, a note. This topic focuses on the Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Mega Drive (PAL) 50Hz, version, for many reasons. Please ensure that you consider this while reading this post.

My initial introduction to the Sonic franchise was with Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Mega Drive. Since then, I have been a huge fan of the franchise and, as some of you know, collect copies of the PAL (UK or EU) Sonic Games. I have been recently playing Sonic the Hedgehog in 50Hz. Some people may think I'm crazy (and question why I'd do that, when an emulator is more than capable of playing it in 60Hz), but allow me to explain.

See, this is how I was introduced to the franchise, and no matter how much I play the game in 60Hz, it doesn't contain that same level of nostalgia for me. Hell, it sometimes feels like a completely different game due to this small difference. I played Sonic the Hedgehog at this speed for years as a kid, before I started playing Sonic 2. I became accustomed to the speed of the game, the music (the tone, the speed, the somewhat negative [might be the wrong word, but I'm going with it for now] vibe to some tracks that feel different in 60Hz), and the general tone set by it all. The game felt like a typical 'platformer' game of the time, in the vein of Mario but with a neat rolling mechanic and a simple attack system. This change in game speed also took away from the huge emphasis on speed seen in the US marketing campaign.

Where am I going with this, you may ask? Well, this initial introduction made me grow to love and appreciate the game. I enjoyed 'platformer' games anyway, so this felt like another one, just with some extra things that seemed to hit the right spot. Nice, fluid controls. A simple attacking mechanic. Rolling into a ball for safety, or for going down a hill. The 'speed cap' that is often changed in hacks feels more at home in Sonic the Hedgehog's 50hz gameplay, as this restriction pushes you towards more of a methodical platform-based affair. When I got Sonic 2, I was surprised at the speed change, and how different the game felt. Not only was the game faster, but the layouts accommodated this speed with long stretches of running, corkscrews, running based objects (Metropolis' nuts, for example) and even the Special Stage where you were always running forward. These changes continued into Sonic 3 (& Knuckles) and while I love them as games, I still see Sonic the Hedgehog as a different beast entirely.

I think that, somewhere along the line, I realised that my love of 'platformer' games was what drew me to the franchise, and that Sonic the Hedgehog cemented that feeling. However, this has also had an effect on (and still does, now that I think about it) how I perceive modern Sonic games in relation to the classic games. My opinion is different to others in what I'd like to see in newer games in the franchise, but how many of us are still influenced by our initial experience? How may of us enjoy the 'platforming' aspects of the franchise? How many of use see the fast-paced gameplay and running as a secondary thought, that should be included only if the rest of the game works? While that last sentence may seem a little extreme to some, it's still the same sentiment I follow when making levels in ROM hacks, so...

What I'm curious to know is, 'How many of us have the 50Hz effect on our view of the Sonic game franchise?' Am I talking rubbish, or is there some merit to this small issue having such a large impact on how some of us see the franchise, and ultimately how it may have contributed to such a differing opinion on what is important in a Sonic game?
This post has been edited by D.A. Garden: 24 February 2016 - 06:34 AM

#2 User is offline Blue Blood 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 07:15 AM

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Well, I grew up with the 50Hz PAL versions S1 and S2 too. A few years later on got SKC on PC. And until I got Advance 1 for Christmas 2001, those were the only Sonic games I had. But these days, I can't touch the old 50Hz versions. They feel so wrong and don't give me a sense of nostalgia at all.

Speed is an important factor in Sonic games. The platforming and controls/physics need to be on par too, but speed really is essential to make Sonic what it is. Sonic is, one way or another, and fast paced platforming series. S1 is still a relatively fast game, even with the likes of Labyrinth and Marble Zone. But the version doesn't just make the game slower, it makes it feel unnatural and floaty.

#3 User is offline blueswirl 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 07:26 AM

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I grew up with the PAL version of Sonic 1 on the Sega Master System and later on the Sega Mega Drive, so I also played the 50Hz version. Nowadays I prefer the 60 Hz version of Sonic 1 because of the faster gameplay and music and I don't like the 50 Hz version for the difference in gameplay and music, it's just slower. I don't hate the 50 Hz version, but I just prefer the 60 Hz version.
This post has been edited by blueswirl: 24 February 2016 - 10:25 AM

#4 User is offline High Fidelity 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 07:47 AM

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I've never really thought about this in depth before DA Garden (apart from when I got SA1 on DC and you could easily switch it). It makes sense it would feel a little different so I'm gonna try it out! :)

#5 User is offline tokumaru 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 08:58 AM

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View PostD.A. Garden, on 24 February 2016 - 06:31 AM, said:

When I got Sonic 2, I was surprised at the speed change, and how different the game felt.

Wait... Aren't all 4 games slower on PAL? I thought Sonic 2 (and the next 2 games) fixed only the music, no?

#6 User is offline Master Emerald 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 09:07 AM

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Yep, that should be the case. But Sonic 2 was 'faster' than 1, due to the level layouts and spindash, though.

#7 User is offline ashthedragon 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 10:05 AM

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I grew up with PAL Master System Sonic 1 and 2, so I know what you feel. Even if I know it's not how it is suppoeased to be, I enjoy them much more when played at 50th than at 60th. the music, the pace, everything, feels more "real" that way.
As it if it was always meant to be like that.

#8 User is offline GerbilSoft 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 10:33 AM

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Not exactly related to the MD and SMS games, but there's a bug in Sonic Adventure 2 where, if running at 50 Hz, some button inputs are randomly duplicated. This results in e.g. instant homing attacks instead of jumping. This applies to both DC and GCN; it *might* still happen on Windows if you set your monitor's refresh rate to 50 Hz.
This post has been edited by GerbilSoft: 24 February 2016 - 10:39 AM
Reason for edit: +platforms

#9 User is offline Blue Blood 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 11:32 AM

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View PostGerbilSoft, on 24 February 2016 - 10:33 AM, said:

Not exactly related to the MD and SMS games, but there's a bug in Sonic Adventure 2 where, if running at 50 Hz, some button inputs are randomly duplicated. This results in e.g. instant homing attacks instead of jumping. This applies to both DC and GCN; it *might* still happen on Windows if you set your monitor's refresh rate to 50 Hz.

This bug was the worst thing. It happens, on the PAL versions at least, regardless of whether it's set to 50 or 60Hz. And it seems to happen more in certain areas than others, particularly in during both of the Egg Golem fights.

#10 User is offline Ell678 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 12:21 PM

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I had a huge gap between playing the originals on the Megadrive before emulating them. When I emulated them, it didn't feel different at all, and in fact, it's how I remember playing them when I was younger. I dug out the Megadrive shortly after just to get the entire nostalgic package, and I couldn't do it. It just felt wrong, and I couldn't believe that I used to play them like that.

#11 User is offline tokumaru 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 01:06 PM

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I think it's perfectly natural that those of you who grew up with the 50Hz version feel at least a bit nostalgic for it. For years that was all you had, and as far as you knew, that was the real Sonic. For those of us who always played at 60Hz, however, the PAL versions are unbearably slow! It's like we're pushing harder on the D-pad trying to make Sonic go faster and it just doesn't work! It feels like the opposite of the speed shoes power up.

As a retro programmer, I can see why games were hardly optimized for PAL back in the day. Too many things about the engine were locked to the frame rate, such as animation delays and physics constants. Adjusting such things would mean tweaking fractional numbers, which back then were always represented as fixed-point values, and had limited precision. The lack of precision would cause small errors between the two versions to accumulate over time, and eventually things would be noticeably out of sync. There are also problems caused by limitations in the engine... For exemple, if the engine can only scroll a maximum of 16 pixels per frame (due to how fast the map can be decoded and the amount of changes that can be made to the tile map), you can safely allow Sonic to move that fast. But on PAL, which has less frames per second, you'd need to move more pixels per frame to cover the same distance, and the scrolling system would simply not be able to keep up. In this case, supporting both PAL and NTSC would mean slowing down the NTSC version, which would be unacceptable.

EDIT: Well, I just played the first act of all 4 games and I have to say that the problem is not as bad as I remembered (the effect is much more pronounced in Sonic 1, due to the slower music constantly reminding us that everything is slower!). If I had only played the games in 50Hz, I'd probably have loved them just as much. And if I could only play them in 50Hz from now on, I'd still do it. It's still Sonic, just a bit slower. After a while you get used to it. =)
This post has been edited by tokumaru: 24 February 2016 - 04:16 PM

#12 User is offline RuRi 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 04:03 PM

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I'll play 60Hz if I just want to play Sonic 1 normally, but sometimes I'll dig out my Mega Drive to play it in 50Hz for nostalgia. I do find the slower pace makes the game seem more...sad? That's the impression I got as a kid, especially with the slower music.

#13 User is offline Josh 

Posted 24 February 2016 - 07:15 PM

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View PostD.A. Garden, on 24 February 2016 - 06:31 AM, said:

See, this is how I was introduced to the franchise, and no matter how much I play the game in 60Hz, it doesn't contain that same level of nostalgia for me. Hell, it sometimes feels like a completely different game due to this small difference. I played Sonic the Hedgehog at this speed for years as a kid, before I started playing Sonic 2. I became accustomed to the speed of the game, the music (the tone, the speed, the somewhat negative [might be the wrong word, but I'm going with it for now] vibe to some tracks that feel different in 60Hz), and the general tone set by it all. The game felt like a typical 'platformer' game of the time, in the vein of Mario but with a neat rolling mechanic and a simple attack system. This change in game speed also took away from the huge emphasis on speed seen in the US marketing campaign.


This part really jumped out at me. I've never played it at 50hz, but I've seen it.

One thing I touched on while I was doing that Classic Sonic retrospective was how it seems like generally, European Sonic fans tend at least a bit to have quite a bit more affinity for the exploration and platforming elements of Sonic, whereas Americans, myself included, generally like to play through stages as fast as possible and focus more on the whole "skill=spectacle" thing. It's the difference between whether you'd rather play Sonic CD or Sonic 2, or put in more modern terms, Sonic Lost World or Sonic Unleashed.

At the time, all I really attributed this to was that perhaps the fact that the Master System was so much more popular in the UK, and the 8-bit Sonic games HAD to be more traditional platformers, could have had something to do with it. But you're right, whether you first played the series at 50 or 60hz really would have done just as much to set your perception of what Sonic was all about. Strange, isn't it?
This post has been edited by Josh: 24 February 2016 - 07:16 PM

#14 User is offline ExecByte 

Posted 25 February 2016 - 03:19 AM

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I prefer platforming more then speed so I see your point. I don't mind having parts of levels be fast but I don't like when you just get going fast and then watch as 1/4 of the level is played for you. You can miss out on a lot of a level when you just speed through.

#15 User is offline Pigeon 

Posted 25 February 2016 - 07:18 AM

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My first Sonic experience was with Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive, and when I got Mega Collection Plus on my PS2 I remember thinking that Sonic 1 felt a lot slower than 2, since even on that collection, Sonic 1 ran at PAL speed. I think playing quite a bit of Sonic 1 at that speed has kinda gotten me more accustomed to the slower elements of Sonic (probably why I love Colours so much, and even liking some of the Werehog stuff too) but at the same time, I was getting speedy thrills from Sonic 2. Usually if I'm playing Sonic 1 now it's at it's intended 60fps speed, but every now and again I'll put in my (newly acquired) Sonic 1 cartridge in my Mega Drive (or bust out the PS2) for some nostalgic gaming. I especially love the music for Green Hill and Star Light at PAL speed, they're just so relaxing and nostalgic to me, and the boss theme at PAL speed always used to make my heart race!

tl;dr, I only really play PAL Sonic 1 for nostalgia but playing like that in my childhood probably formed my preferences for a Sonic game.


(Also this is my first post in aaaaaaages)

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