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Do Sonic Team even know what makes Sonic good?

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Laura, Dec 5, 2013.

  1. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    In this topic I'm not trying to be needlessly negative, but I am honestly stumped by Sonic Team's ignorance on what makes Sonic good, or even popular. And no I'm not talking about 'physics' or 'rolling', I'm talking about the basic principles of game design.

    Now Sonic Team are very skilled in some ways, and I'm not trying to accuse the development team of ineptitude. They are clearly incredibly skilled in creating stunning graphics. In fact, they are arguably getting better in this regard. Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Generations and Sonic Lost World are examples of games that had stunning graphics upon their release. I would also say that Sonic Team have very capable composers who create consistently excellent music in the games. Even unpopular games like Sonic 2006 and Sonic Black Knight have popular soundtracks. Thus, I would like to give the team credit where it is deserved.

    However, with every Sonic release I find myself wondering if Sonic Team are even aware of what makes Sonic good.

    I'll start with Sonic Team's lack of understanding 3D levels since it is the most apparent and discussed.

    Let's look at Sonic Generations, a game which the majority of fans and critics like. I don't even think Sonic Team really knew what they were doing here. People tend to like the levels in Generations for two reasons: either because certain levels (like Sky Sanctuary and Seaside Hill) are so open and expansive or because specific levels are blindingly fast (Speed Highway and Chemical Plant). Players tend to like both type of levels, but they also tend to prefer open levels over linear ones, or vice-versa. But to be quite honest, I'm not quite sure if Sonic Team are even aware of this basic fact.

    In most games levels tend to get more complex and difficult as the game progresses. Sonic Team do make their levels progressively more difficult in Sonic Generations and Sonic Lost World but they do not make the levels more complex. In Sonic Generations the levels seemed to be more complex for seemingly no reason at all, as if Sonic Team are just throwing ideas at the game and hoping they stick. Why is Sky Sanctuary, the third level, way more complex and intricate than every level that comes after it barring Seaside Hill. One could make the argument that it is to capture the spirit of Sonic 3 and Knuckles: making the level complex and multi-tiered like the game the level comes from. I cannot agree with this though, simply because of Seaside Hill. Seaside Hill is the most complex and, arguably, best level in the game, but it does not capture the spirit of Sonic Heroes. Sonic Heroes had far less complex levels than Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and Sonic Adventure yet these games are represented by much more linear levels than Sonic Heroes is.

    In short, the complexity of the level designs make absolutely no sense, either from a sense of progression or a sense of capturing the spirit of the games the level represents.

    I had hoped that Sonic Team would learn to make the levels more complex and open in the next release by capitalizing on what they learnt by crafting Seaside Hill and Sky Sanctuary....but Lost World launched.

    Whilst Sonic Lost World may have ditched the boost levels and doesn't have any levels that are as corridor-esque as Green Hill or Chemical Plant, I would not call the levels as a whole particularly complex or open. In fact, none of the levels in Lost World even come close the complexity of Sky Sanctuary or Seaside Hill. Lost World also suffers from the same problem Generations had: that there is no clear progression in the levels. Aside from the trial-and-error crushing difficulty, the levels do not become more complex as the game progresses. Arguably, Tropical Coast 1 is the most complex level, yet it is one of the earlier zones. Even Windy Hill 1 is more open than later levels, and Windy Hill 1 is the first zone!

    How can Sonic Team not even understand this most basic principle?

    As for the levels that are designed to be all about speed, Sonic Team clearly have absolutely no understanding of this either. Sonic Lost World threw speed completely out the window, and made Sonic much more slow than he used to be. They do throw a bone for the speed junkies in the form of 'mach speed' zones, which amounts to secret areas and a total of two zones: Dusty Desert 2 and Sky Road 1 which are so randomly thrown into the game it is quite jarring. That's without even mentioning Lost World's final boss: which also follows this game-style for no clear reason. It feels as if Sonic Team throw in these areas to please speed fans and to create more game variety, but they fall flat on both fronts.

    Whilst many liked this move after the automated nature of Unleashed, and even Generations at times, was it really necessary to just throw speed out the window completely? The move was almost an admission by Sonic team that they have no idea what they are doing. Slowing Lost World down did also not take automation out of the game. Levels like Frozen Factory 1 are incredibly automated, much more so than Generations, and feature booster-spring-pipe chain areas that require literally no input. In fact, the game only seems to get fast during these automated sections.

    So we have this disastrous situation where Sonic Team have literally learnt neither the speed thrills and pacing of Unleashed, or the more speedy levels of Generations, and have also learnt nothing from Generations' open levels. What the heck are Sonic Team playing at?

    Then there is the complete failure in the geometry of the landscapes. Generations was able to offer sprawling organic landscapes, even in the automated sections, that looked good (even if one could not interact with them). Yet even Generations has levels too straight and forward. Look at games like Mario, Spyro, Crash and Jak and Daxter: these games offer all kinds of movement to the player. Indeed, Sonic is at his best when he is going 'up down and all around' in his levels, such as the good levels like Speed Highway and Twinkle Park in Sonic Adventure and Seaside Hill in Sonic Generations. However, this is unfortunately a rare sight and often Sonic is tasked with simply running forward in a straight line in Unleashed and, yes, the majority of Lost World's levels. The Casino level and Frozen Factory 1 are the biggest offenders of this in Sonic Lost World, but this mentality is present all over Lost World. It isn't helped by the fact that Lost World's controls only feel natural when Sonic is running forward too. Even good levels in Lost World, such as Dusty Desert 1, suffer from this problem.

    However, I don't want to put all the focus on 3D, as I don't believe Sonic Team have any idea what they are doing with Sonic in 2D either. That may seem like a sacrilegious thing to could Sonic fail in 2D? But he clearly has at points in his life, and it's now all down to DIMPS as fans often like to shout out.

    I personally feel that Lost World has some of the most appalling 2D sections in Sonic history. If you honestly look at levels like Dusty Dessert and Tropical Coast 4, you have incredibly simplistic and straightforward level design that is virtually one straight line from A to B. It's honestly ridiculous and no worse than the 'boost to win' mentality that hovered over the 3D sections of Unleashed and Colors that so many like to mock. Many Sonic critics like to mock the series as being simply 'hold right to win' and this statement does not hold up with games like Sonic 1, 2 (mostly) and 3AK, but it certainly does with Lost World. And it's not just Lost World, Unleashed's 2D areas were just as simplistic, as was Modern Sonic's 2D sections in Generations.

    What I am not trying to claim here is that Sonic Team have never made good 2D levels in modern times. I think the Classic Sonic levels, such as Sky Sanctuary, Seaside Hill and Rooftop Run, are all fantastic and even Lost World has some great 2D levels, such as Windy Hill 2. However, are Sonic Team actually aware that these more complex levels is what makes Sonic as good as it is in 2D? The majority of Lost World is host to incredibly simplistic 2D levels that have to compensate the overly straightforward design with cheap and unpredictable difficulty, with an overabundant use of bottomless pits and sudden enemy jumps. This not only irritates fans who like Sonic for the complexity, but equally infuriates the fans of the series for it's unique speed appeal. There is nothing worse than having your speed session interrupted by cheap enemy placement and bottomless pits. I never remember Sonic 2 having these problems Lost World suffered from, aside from a few areas like Mystic Cave's spike pit which has become infamous for this reason.

    So, yet again, Sonic Team seem to not have a single grasp on how to create 2D Sonic levels. It's not that they can't create great 2D levels, they just don't seem to understand what it is that makes specifically Sonic great in 2D. The ratio of good:bad levels seems to be completely random depending on what Sonic Team feels like putting out.

    It's no doubt that Sonic Team are aware of the complaints from critics. Their paranoia of using Sonic's friends in either Color's or Lost World's multiplayer sections, the simplification of the story (for good or bad) and the safety they take with art design, drawing from nostalgia rather than creating new designs (which is a double edged sword) show that Sonic Team are aware of popular criticisms of the franchise. Yet, Lost World is a complete failure to even answer the most common criticisms even the critics have: a lack of flow and speed. They can't even answer this with the 2D sections.

    I do really like Sonic Generations, and parts of Lost World, but it is also becoming increasingly apparent that Sonic Team have no idea what they are doing, in either 2D or 3D. Is it acceptable to only have a few levels in a game be to up to par? It's at moments like these that I question if Sonic Team have any idea what they are actually doing. It's honestly stunning that this is the team that made Sonic 1, 2 and 3AK on Mega Drive/Genesis.

    Would it be better if Sonic Team simply took the role as producers and hired another team to design Sonic games? In all honesty, I have lost almost all faith in Sonic Team.
  2. Aerosol


    Not here. Moderator
    Not where I want to be.
    Sonic (?): Coming summer of 2055...?
    This isn't the team that made Sonic 1, 2, or 3&K.
  3. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Then that explains rather a lot doesn't it.
  4. Dark Sonic

    Dark Sonic

    Working on my art!
    ^ I think the oldest people from back in the day that are still on the team are Iizuka and Jun. The rest rightfully jumped ship.

    I think they have some ideas on what makes Sonic good, but they have other problems. These are the same people that have reinvented the wheel about 7 times in the past 15 years in order to give us that "new Sonic experience" no one asked for. They listen to the feedback but they always miss the point or go too far. For example, people though SA1 and SA2 weren't Sonicy enough, so Heroes came around and they gave the game classic aesthetics but made the levels 10 minute long snooze fests. Then that game was seen as too kiddy, so they made Shadow, and that game is just grimdark oozing out the sides. This keeps happening a few more times and now we're here at Lost World.

    They always seem to have a different problem each game though, and with the exception of Sonic Heroes, Shadow, and oddly enough the Storybook games, I'd say it mostly boils down to both an extreme lack of confidence and a lack of level design knowledge (which does apply to those other games). They don't believe anything they make is endearing enough in it's own right, and even if they do, they don't know how to spread it across an entire game, so then we get this derivative crap. SA1, SA2, 06, and Unleashed had alternate gameplay styles to give people the break from Sonic's gameplay that no one ever wanted. Sonic Colors masks the main gameplay by giving Sonic Mario esq power ups. Sonic Generations is a funny one as it is a full game of nothing but Sonic, but it's two different kinds of Sonic... although then we're plagued with side missions. Finally, Lost World has a few good levels but a lot of it is trial and error gimmicks, almost as if they're trying to use this game as like a world wide focus group to figure out what works and what doesn't.

    I don't think all of Sonic Team needs to be scrapped or anything. This isn't the same group of people who made Sonic 06, now that's a team that needed to be fired. We desperately need new level designers though. As it stands right now, even if they have a good idea, they don't know how to spread it out enough to make it work across a whole game. I feel like if we had someone who knew how to design levels, the team as it stands now could pick up the rest, as long as said team didn't insist on the derivative stuff it loves (Colors powers, werehog, shooting, treasure hunting, guns, etc just no. Gone).

    They have put themselves in a tough spot over the past 15 years though. Back in the day, people who liked Sonic liked basically the same games, since we had the Genesis titles and the 8-bit games, and sure while people have preferences, it's the same style of game. Now though? Classic, Adventure, Heroes, Boost, Parkour. Thanks to Sonic Team's constant reinvention of the series, it's almost impossible for them to know what makes Sonic good because more than 50% of the fan base hates the new game because it departs from the type of gameplay they enjoyed. Honestly it's time for them to make a decision. I thought that Generations was great because it divided the series into 2 basic types of gameplay, which is manageable, and it basically retconned everything else out of existence, almost like they were saying those other gameplays never happened. Then they added the parkour and now we're back to this mess again. At some point they have to pick which gameplays are going to define Sonic and find a way to say fuck off to the other parts of the fan base, and since classic Sonic gameplay is basically out of bounds for the chopping block, pick one more and call it a day for the rest.
  5. GeneHF


    SEGA-ier than you'll potentially ever be. Site Staff
    Scenic Studiopolis
    Complete Global Conquest
    Also understand that staying too long the same will cause accusations of the formula growing stale. Mega Man got hit by it, Mario's getting hit by it now.

    Sonic's odd in that since his transition to 3D, it's been a constant change of formula to find what worked, and the only thing that stuck has been Sonic Rush style, which Unleashed adapted into 3D.

    It's been this growing pain to find something that works in both 2D and 3D, AND that keeps the fanbase from further fragmenting that has been the main crux of the design process lately. That's all there really is to it.
  6. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    You are definitely right that Sonic Team cannot get gimmicks away from their series. You say it's a lack of confidence, which is an interesting interpretation and I have never seen it that way before. I heard Iizuka say in an interview that he wants Wisps to become a permanent powerup in the Sonic Universe. Again, I think this shows a complete lack of understanding of why Colors was popular, as it was mostly down to the focus of the Sonic gamestyle rather than the wisps. Do critics and most fans even like the Wisps?

    I agree that Sonic Team really do need to make a strong decision and stick to it.

    I don't think anyone would attack Sonic for the formula getting stale right now because of the horrendous predicament he is in. He's had two good games, Sonic Colors and Generations, which seems like a gift from the heavens for Sonic. Realistically though, it's not that impressive considering the long chain of awful Sonic games and now Lost World being less than stellar. Yes, perhaps after a chain of genuinely good games Sonic Team could worry about it, but that's hardly going to happen is it?

    In fact, the only ones who have criticised the Boost formula for being stale have been the fans who hate boost. I've certainly never seen casual gamers and critics mention it, or fans of boost (unsurprisingly). Sonic Rush, Rush 2, Unleashed's Boost and Generation's Modern Sonic have been almost unanimously loved outside the hardcore fanbase who call the formula stale (and already have a problem with it's fundamental design).

    I also do not think Sonic Team really does consider the fanbase as much as most think. I honestly think it considers the game market and answering the critics to be far more important. The virtual axing of characters (even from multiplayer), imitation of Mario and story direction is evidence for this.
  7. Palas


    Don't lose your temper so quickly. Member
    But is still selling more than Sonic can ever hope to. The thing is, how long is too long? Doesn't it depend on the circumstances? The trends, the market? If it took Mario almost 30 years to get hit by something so subjective as "growing stale", why not go for it?

    Sonic Team isn't Sonic's only problem. They could be the most talented level designers in the world, which they more than clearly aren't. But the fact that Sonic has swallowed SEGA over the years and now has to keep going on with a game per year no matter what doesn't help at all. Sonic Team can't control their schedules.
  8. Jason


    *Results not lab tested. Member
    Sonic Team probably needs a break from Sonic. They haven't made an original IP in almost a decade (Feel the Magic XX/XY), and it feels like they don't want to do it anymore. The problem is that their non-Sonic efforts usually flop financially, and corporate obviously demands more Sonic because it's been a million-plus seller for almost every major installment. Remember way back in 2005 when Sonic Team was going to try to do a first-person shooter?

    I know FPS isn't a genre associated with freshness, but at least they were willing to break out of Sonic, until 2006 came along and some reorganization was in order. I would be fine with Sonic skipping a few years to have them see if they are a team that can make another Chu Chu Rocket or Samba de Amigo, but with some financial success as well. Clearly being stuck in Sonic with some PSO and Puyo Pop is draining their drive.
  9. Rosie


    aka Rosie Member
    I feel it's worth noting that both Iizuka and Jun both started with S3K, and their first proper game was Adventure. In that respect they're not exactly old guard, and certainly aren't responsible for what made the classics great.

    SEGA need to throw big bags of money at Yasuhara.
  10. Knucklez


    I love 2B 'n' ass. Member
    Mario is just now get slammed? Surprise, surprise. Well I know it's not because the 1985 style is stale. People are stupid. Very stupid. They just want 3D games, which is what Sega can't quite figure out a proper formula for.

    2D is the best way to go for a Sonic game. You all remember how crazy we went over Generations' classic Sonic levels. But what can you say to this new generation of gamers? Jack shit.
  11. LordOfSquad


    bobs over baghdad Member
    Winnipeg, MB
    making cool music no one gives a shit about
    No. As you outlined very well.

    Sega sees sales come in, so, unless we see another Sonic 2006-tier fuck up, they won't really care what Iizuka & Co. do. No need for them to even attempt to make a game that plays as well as Sonic 3K or looks as good as Sonic CD as long as the money keeps coming in. No need to adhere to smart visual or game design, just keep half-baking concepts wrapped up in old aesthetics and the kids will buy it and the rest of us will shrug apathetically and say "it could be worse".
  12. Azu


    I must be stupid. Member
    The new Sonic fans are the market, much to the dismay of you guys. I personally don't care so long as it a decent game. I'm quite certain that they'll never go back to the old formula simply because if they really wanted too, that could have. Sega is a business first.
  13. Machenstein


    All Sega needed to do after Generations was split the series into two. One split would be for 2D games starring classic Sonic, preferably using Taxman's Retro Engine, and it would have physics and level designs that actually require player input. The other split would be for 3D games starring modern Sonic which would further refine upon the boost formula in many ways such as a parkour system, less automated sections, or more complex levels. There would also be little to no bottomless pits which only exist to add cheap difficulty compounded by an antiquated life system that only lingers on for the sake of tradition, a life system that Mario is just as guilty for. Instead, Sega insists on making these Frankenstein monsters such as Sonic 4 and Lost World that try to appeal to both crowds and end up pleasing no one.
  14. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    I agree with this. Whilst Mario was criticised with growing stale with the New Mario series, they were still good games and greatly enjoyed. Mario's staleness became a problem because of how fresh the Galaxy series were, which emphasised how stale the New Mario series was. Even Super Mario 3D World, which is a sequel to 3D land, looks really fresh and innovative.

    There is always a way to put a spin on something.

    See I don't entirely agree with this. Sure, Colors sold really well, but that was due to the combination of the Wii's extreme success and that it was the first Sonic game that was consistently good since Sonic and Knuckles. It had a lot going for it. Generations also did well, because it was a good game.

    Lost World on the other hand, has done very badly. Now granted, the Wii U is not exactly in a great position, but it will be very interesting to compare it's sales to games like Mario 3D World and Rayman Legends.

    Sonic sells well when his games are good...bottom line. Kids aren't stupid, they know which games are good. Look at Sonic 2006, which was very disappointing sales-wise.
  15. Shadow Hog

    Shadow Hog

    "I'm a superdog!" Member
    IIRC that FPS concept wound up being turned into Silver, didn't it? Something about that game heavily showcasing physics-engine-based telekinesis powers.

    ...well, I swear I heard that, anyway, but watching that trailer isn't really corroborating that much.
  16. NoNameAtAll


    MY HAT'S ON FIRE. HALP! Moderator
    Woah, woah, woah. Sonic 06 did well enough for Platinum Hits. So no, for awhile, folks didn't just go for the games because they were good. They went for it because it was Sonic.
  17. Shade Vortex

    Shade Vortex

    The Black Vortex Member
    USA, WA.
    YouTube Memes
    The thing is, even if Sonic Team finds something that works, they don't want to stick with it too long. That is actually kind of a compliment I can give the series/franchise and the developers. They never stop thinking about new things to do, so staleness is not a complaint we ever really have to worry about. However, it's a double-edged sword. Each gameplay style has had basically a rough beginning. Unleashed had the trial-and-error QTEs that I never thought fit into Sonic (plus he controlled badly at slow speeds), and the slow-and-melee-centric Werehog, plus the required Medals for progression, and dumb RPG-esque stat increases that I found to be needless. Lost World has the issues we all know by now- Forced gimmicks with dumb or unintuitive controls, questionable design choices, and frustrating difficulty, in addition to the recurring problem of too much automation, and also the problem of not sticking with the main style of gameplay (and the main style not being as polished as it should've been as a result of stretching out ideas too far in too little time, a problem Sonic Team keeps encountering thanks to the yearly release schedule for Sonic games and lack of confidence in the replayability/fun of the main style).
  18. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    I remember reading an article that said Sonic 2006 was disappointing sales wise. This was around 2007-2008.

    Sonic is a huge franchise, it would be surprising if his entry on a big new console that had few games would not be successful.
  19. Dude


    Tech Member
    Southbridge, MA
    Random VR/AR trash
    This is pretty much the biggest problem they have. Even if they did just decide to up and make a fully 'classic' sonic game again, they'd be back to square 1 after a game or two, because of the risk of being stuck with the 'rehasher' label that haunts so many other developers. Each experiment with game design they make teaches them valuable lessons about which mechanics work with certain spatial designs. Give it time, they'll polish their current model and then move onto something new. I do think they should slow down a little, since the pure volume of Sonic games makes the library seem abit saturated, and it would give them more time to polish their experiments. But I can't even imagine how difficult it would be to convince a room full of executives that this thing that they've been making every year or so that is a veritable cash cow might be better if they made *less* of it.
  20. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Then again, is it actually acceptable to wait for several games for Sonic Team to get the formula right.

    Imagine if Mario Galaxy wasn't good, Mario Galaxy 2 was mediocre, Mario Galaxy 3 was okay and finally Mario Galaxy 4 was actually good.

    I'm sure many development teams could put out good games if they had such an accepting and devoted fanbase.