Is the visual style of 2D/Classic Sonic capable of transitioning to 3D?

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Frostav, Jul 27, 2021.

  1. Frostav

    Frostav

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    The title would have been a lot longer, but word limits, ahh!

    There's a very distinct way the classic Sonic games look--it's already present in 1, definitely there in 2 and 3, and in CD and Mania is taken to its absolute limits. Frankly, when I talk about the visual style of classic I'm really just referring to CD and Mania, which have my favorite permutation of the idea. This style was never really attempted in 3D. I know you're going to replay with "but what about Generations/Forces", but in those, the actual aesthetics changed pretty heavily. GHZ in Sonic 1 is extremely geometric; Generations GHZ is much more organic-looking. If anything, I think the level that most gives off that surreal vibe of CD and Mania is Speed Highway, whose deep blues almost bare a resemblance to studiopolis:
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    Studiopolis wins in terms of color variety and the neon acid surrealism, though.

    What I want to know is: can you really bring that style to 3D? Sometimes I feel like the reason CD and Mania work is because they use drawn 2D graphics--trying to take that second picture and turning it into a 3D world you can freely move the camera around would look off in some kind of way. And Studiopolis honestly looks more reasonable in comparison to something like Collision Chaos which like uh...I don't know what on earth that would look like in 3D.

    I would love to see Sonic try its hand at this kind of surreal, hypervibrant art-style in 3D, but perhaps the fact that it is level tiles plastered atop several flat 2D parallax backgrounds is why it looks the way it does. Nothing about 2D Platformers makes sense--the characters are traveling on a completely straight-line path set against what is effectively a theater stage background. What even is the area that Sonic runs on in, say, Stardust Speedway? It's a completely chaotic mess of tubes that don't seem to have any coherent purpose, and how does it make sense in relation to the actual location it's supposedly in? When Sonic did 2D levels with 3D graphics (gens classic), it added all sorts of turns and twists to make the levels feel more plausible (and then Forces just abandoned that but lolforces :eng99:), but none of the classic Gens levels have that same bizarre liminal space sensation that 2D Sonic often gives me.

    Sonic Utopia's demo hews much closer to Sonic 1's GHZ than Gens does, and Sonic GT has a Studiopolis level. Both do not give me quite the same sense as their 2D counterparts, but they are also made by 1 person each (I know Utopia has a separate programmer but Lange did the level himself I think), so I'm not sure they're good examples here.

    For a while, I've been on the "Sonic Team just refuses to give the classic aesthetic a shot (even though they gleefully crib from classic elsewhere for nostalgia whoring) because they don't have the confidence to be creative" but I'm starting to feel that they don't do that because it's impossible to actually recreate this style in 3D without losing something in the process. Lost World for instance just looks plain and bland; SA1 is the mainline 3D game least concerned with realism and it still has far more grounded levels than the 2D games. On the other hand the Ark in SA2/ShtH is incredibly surreal and vibrant so maybe it can work.

    While looking for Speed Highway images I came across this art piece on deviantart that definitely tipped me closer to the "2D adds an inherent sense of surrealism that 3D struggles to match":

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    This is honestly pretty close to how Speed Highway actually looks in Gens--but it gives me that same feeling that 2D Sonic's zones also do. It has a surreal, otherworldly, hypervibrant tone to it that the actual 3D level does not.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021
  2. Shaddy the guy

    Shaddy the guy

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    *Parts* of Heroes and Lost World come pretty close, but the issue is simply that a ton of classic Sonic's world design simply does not have tangible, physical form that makes sense. What are Spring Yard or Collision Chaos even supposed to be?

    I think the fact that they keep trying to do realistic lighting engines doesn't help. Having a nice detailed gradient from light to dark was not what the classics did, they used more color than shades. Modern Sonic should have used cel shading from the start.
     
  3. SystemsReady

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    Just responding to the title, yeah: the special stages in Mania are basically THE thing I think of when I imagine "the 2D aesthetic, but 3D" :V
     
  4. snubn0zemunkey!

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    I think it's 100% possible to faithfully recreate the classic aesthetic in 3D.

    You say you like Generations Speed Highway because of how vibrant it feels? I get that vibe a lot from Beta Sonic Adventure screenshots
    as far as I know, the visuals had to be scaled back for performance which is a shame because I think these looked great!

    Let's also not forget what Sonic Adventure almost could've been.
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    I think the forest/jungle area is a pretty perfect translation of Sonic 3's more detailed environments
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    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021
  5. VectorCNC

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    I think Sonic Lost World does a decent job of showing how it might be handled aesthetically (not in terms of perspective though), but IMO it could still use much more variation and detail. I don't think it would look correct to simply make similar objects, in similar colors, transported into a realistic environment. This would probably look like a vaporwave music video. Perhaps some type of cell-shading or other artistic effects could be leveraged. I think the current 3D style is competent, but also shallow and lacks a iconic style. When Sonic moved into 3D they pushed for realism, which was probably the right move at the time, but with all the artistic capabilities available today, I think they really just lack the vision and ability to recreate that definitive style again. It would require a lot more artistic vision and further investment, and Sega really has no interest of putting much meat on the bones it seems these days. Part of what made Sonic so amazing back then WAS the aesthetics. I'm not saying the gameplay was bad, I obviously loved it, but it was especially captivating because of the graphics and I don't think it would be superficial to emphasize STYLE again. Sonic should be an artistic fashion statement, in my eyes. Sega has a failure of imagination, but what can you expect with such a niche gameplay style, limited audience reach and therefore limited budget.
     
  6. Metalwario64

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    I'd love to see something more faithful to the classics in 3D. To be honest, for me, the biggest issue is the model Sega made for classic Sonic in Generations and Forces, since it's a mix of the US and JP box arts, and looks ugly as a result, losing much of the cool factor that classic had back in the day.

    As for the levels, as much as I really, really dislike Heroes as a game, I feel it did a very good job modernizing the classic aesthetic for the most part. Considering the basic geometric shapes a ton of elements of the classic backgrounds used, it should be possible to get something that is both faithful and looks good in it's own right.
     
  7. Frostav

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    I have legitimately no earthly idea what the hell CCZ is supposed to be, but I think SYZ is some kind of mechanical warehouse or storage area on the outskirts of a city (seen in the background).
     
  8. Ehh, this is pretty difficult to answer since its a pretty loaded question with tons of implications.

    I will say though that trying to make a 1:1 translation from 2D to 3D almost never works out 100% of the time. Even the likes of Mario and Zelda had a bit of an aesthetic change when they transitioned, so its natural that Sonic would suffer the same, except Sonic being the series that it is, took it the extreme to the point of redesigning the whole setting.
     
  9. grantpa

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    Sonic Lost World and fangames like SRB2 or Sonic Utopia have come closest to replicating the style, I think, but it's also nice to see the series evolve its aesthetic style rather than being beholden to everything that's already come before.
     
  10. Beltway

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    Mildly shocked we're having this discussion without any mention of the Sega Saturn games up to this point. Presumably because they aren't 3D platformers/"spinoff games, I guess.

    I say that because for me, the Sonic World in Sonic Jam and especially Sonic R have always felt like a solid answer to the question in the OP. They're all kinda old-fashioned, since it's the Genesis aesthetics presented in early, blocky 3D (and regarding the Saturn, 3D done on a console that's more equipped for 2D graphics), but given the circumstances of the later games, I reckon they've come the closest. For that matter, I even think Sonic 3D qualifies as well, given its isometric pseudo-3D art direction. (Both versions, but the Saturn version especially with its updated visual effects and its fully-3D special stages.)

    I await the day we can get a Sonic game that's in line these games in presentation, but with today's graphics. (Though I'd say if we were to get a new 3D Genesis Sonic games that had the "retraux" aesthetic of these games, it would probably be something akin to the 3D Special Stages in Sonic Mania.)

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    Regarding the non-MD/SAT Sonic games, I do think certain parts of the Adventure games (Adventure 1 moreso than Adventure 2), as well as a good majority of Heroes, come pretty close to nailing the aesthetic otherwise in terms of environments and color schemes. Colors and the remade zones in Generations meanwhile I think are nice examples of taking some of the concepts of the Genesis games and re-interpreting them for the (then-)modern photorealistic aesthetic that Unleashed introduced.

    Conversely, I think Lost World is something of a bad clone of the Genesis aesthetic, in the sense of how it only takes some surface elements and doubles down on them. Few intrinsic details, mostly bright, primary/single colors (and only a select few of them), almost no trace of realism in its locales, and the overall direction is tinged with heavy color saturation. It's like a bad imitation of the NSMB art direction for the Genesis aesthetics, which is...somewhat fitting, given how much of LW is badly cloned from the NSMB games and Mario in general.

    (On a final note--going back to Sonic R for a minute, count me among those who really admires the recent "Sonic R Mania" mod that re-textures the original graphics with zones from Sonic Mania, among other things. Video embedded below is a playthrough of the mod, it's supposed to start at 1:35.)

     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
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  11. Frostav

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    I don't really have an issue with evolution, but the evolution starting with SA1 was an emphasis on realism, which then got cranked up even further in SA2. Heroes then went for a less realistic aesthetic, but the result was "generic video game level". Shadow then went BACK to "realism", 06 went EVEN FURTHER in that direction to the point of looking incredibly ugly these days (except for certain spots like Crisis City and that big dual-waterfall section of Kingdom Valley--AKA the parts where they weren't obsessively chasing realism).

    Unleashed remained firmly stuck in realism, despite the cartoony aesthetic--every locale is a real-world one, just twisted to have over-the-top Sonic levels. Gens is obviously trying to emulate the games its celebrating within the framework of Unleashed. Colors...is actually pretty nice looking, though I still feel that its levels aren't terribly "Sonic", if that makes sense. Lost World is just an ugly mess that pretends to be inspired by the classics as an excuse for barren levels. Forces is a mess that doesn't know what it wants to be.

    My point is: I'm not sure the 3D games really evolved the style, because it's more like the 3D games have never actually defined any kind of visual style to begin with. Even in each game the style is inconsistent--SA2 trends heavily towards realism, yes...but it still has stuff like the Final Chase/Rush, Crazy Gadget, Pumpkin Hill, etc. alongside levels such as Metal Harbor and Radical Highway.

    It's very hard to imagine what Rangers (or whatever it's gonna be called) will look like, for instance, because there's effectively no actual core style the 3D games go for. In contrast, when Mania was made, the new zones like Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon fit like a glove with the rest of the classic zones. Hell, Press Garden and Titanic Monarch were notable for NOT fitting in with that mold.
     
  12. Blue Spikeball

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    Honestly? I thought levels like Seaside Hill, Casino Park, Frog Forest, beta Windy Valley, Resort Island, Regal Ruin and Sonic World did a good job of adapting the classic art style in 3d. They were vibrant and surreal yet still looked natural unlike, say, SA2's Green Hill or SLW, which looked artificial and bland. Although in the latter's case, that might be because it seemed to be trying to ape Mario's style, rather than being fully faithful to the classic Sonic style.
     
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  13. Swiftbix

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    I think that if Sega wanted too they could pull off an accurate classic aesthetic in 3D, and like some people have pointed out, they've come close a few times. Imo, I'm glad that the series aesthetic in 3D isn't consistent. I think the fact that there's variation between the look of each 3D title is one of the series' greatest strengths. Mario (to give an example) does this too, and it also works. Sunshine doesn't look like Galaxy, neither look like Odyssey. Mario himself has had the same core design since Sunshine, but they make subtle changes by adding or muting details to fit the artstyle of each specific title.
    I respectfully disagree with you on that. I remember taking in screenshots of the game before it came out and being mesmerized with its artstyle. I don't know how to describe it, the game just looked so... "whimsical" both in-game and especially the CGI imo. Sure, there are some problems (like the badnik designs) but I feel like the game has a visual identity that holds its own.

    Also, I know the topic of this thread isn't about level design and I don't want to retread on things that have been said aplenty, but I don't think Lost World is barren. Rather, I think it doesn't implement Sonic's moveset enough in its levels by resorting to filler (skydiving, slot-machines, snowballing, etc.) and letting 2D overstay its welcome.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
  14. hiadlzupfer

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    I remember seeing the first trailer for SLW and I suddenly got that feeling I first got when I saw the first Sonic Adventure screenshots. Just this "this looks awesome! I feel like 8yo again, like for the first being mesmerized by the look of Sonic 1." It just had that "glow" - The final game, again, was a huge disappointment, I tried to pick it up again a few weeks ago, didn't even make the first level. The art style is still great though, definitely something that could qualify as something I had in my mind how a 3D Sonic, inspired by the classics, would have to look like.

    And DON'T even get me started on those SA1 concept mockups. I dreamt of a game like this since imagining the followup to S3K... It will haunt me forever that we will never get a Sonic like this...!
     
  15. Swiftbix

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    I can understand where you’re coming from. That game has a lot of flaws, but despite them I actually… quite like Lost World. I’m likely in the minority on that, but I’m glad I’ve found someone else who likes its artstyle at least.
     
  16. Gestalt

    Gestalt

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    I can't think of a single video game series that actually pulled that off, faithfully transitioning its 16-bit counterpart into 3D. Well, I know of several 3D Kirby titles that were silently cancelled and Castlevania on the PS2 was pretty cool I guess? Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed definitely has some gorgeous visuals, but obviously no Classic Sonic. Seems to be something they actively decided against... Maybe it was too retro?
     
  17. Frostav

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    I understand what you mean. I didn't explain myself well enough: when I saw LW is barren, I mean in the sense that its levels are so clearly just video game levels. Of course, all Sonic levels are, but the difference is that the zones of the classic series felt like...well, zones, places that existed outside of the area you played on. That is one of the most striking differences between the Sonic and Mario games back then: Mario levels were completely paper-thin dioramas that did not try to have any distinct sense of place at all. Even 64's levels are surreal and nonsensical, in comparison to Adventure's clearly grounded levels. The only Mario game that doesn't do this is Sunshine (Odyssey's worlds still feel really surreal and "video-gamey" to me) and that's the weird black sheep of the franchise.

    No matter the game, Sonic has always at least attemped at making its levels feel like they exist inside a bigger world. Green Forest may effectively be a racetrack floating over a bottomless pit, Green Forest in SA2 is clearly in some kind of absurdly huge jungle with mile-high trees submurged in a veritable inland ocean. Unleashed and Colors actually do their best to have the levels integrated into a wider place and only rarely dip into "racetrack over bottomless pit" syndrome* Lost World's levels are all just floating miles above mostly featureless terrain. They feel so...atmosphere-less.

    *: For the record, I only consider levels that are almost exclusively pathways that have seemingly no other purpose over a huge deathpit to be ROBP: Final Chase, Sky Troops, Rail Canyon, etc. A level like Skyscraper Scramble does have deathpits everywhere, but the level is clearly integrated into the surrounding world and isn't just this inexplicable track miles from everything else.
     
  18. Wraith

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    If we're talking about Sonic 2-3, then Sonic R-Adventure was already along those lines. You'd just have to tone the realism back down a couple notches and you'd be about where Sonic 3 was.

    I don't the earlier games like Sonic 1-CD are impossible, but those games gain a lot from only being able to be looked at from one perspective. It's genuinely really hard to imagine some of those locales existing in a 3D space. Plus, I can't see the plastic foliage and the eccentric color palate winning people over. Some sort of grounded take like what we saw in Generations feels inevitable for the sake of the longevity of the series, as much as I prefer developers to prioritize uniqueness.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2021
  19. Swiftbix

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    Fair point, I wish Sonic Team had pushed away from that a bit more.
     
  20. Xiao Hayes

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    The more posts I read on this thread the less I seem to understand OP's point of view and the more I see people have different perceptions of the art in classic games.

    With just the OP and a couple of later replies, I thought I got what Frostav was wishing for, and I more or less agreed, but I also agree there have been times when the games got closer to that feel. And there's indeed an added difficulty in adding a dimension to that style, since everything gets bigger and there's now a camera that can look around instead of having a static perspective and doing tricks with it, so, as I say, I think I get what everyone says, yet I find hard to understand where everyone's opinion comes from. I'll tell my "story" instead of replying directly to anyone, to see what replies I myself get.

    I actually think GHZ in SA2 did quite a good job on translating the classic aesthetics to 3D. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the level looks gorgeous or carefully developed on the art side of things: the textures were flat and very basic, and there wasn't that much to see when looking around beyond the limits of what used to be the parallax background. But green hill, that surreal geometric terrain in the middle of the ocean surrounded by other landmasses with waterfalls and greenery, was still that. Where other levels have their geometry float in a void surrounded by some diffuse background out there, which we could say the same about the classic levels from a technical point of view, this one at least had solid ground and the background was out of reach but integrated in the landscape. Yes, it looked like minecraft and they could do that a lot better today (and probably back then), but it was a place.

    Heroes, on the other hand, never looked any classic to me. Checkered terrain on the first levels and flat colours on levels like metropolis or sky troops don't make it look classic, they just make it simple or "for kids", which I'm not against, but it's a very different thing. Modern/3D Sky Sanctuary in Generations does look like it should: it's not just looking gorgeous, you recognize the place despite being totally overhauled and you expect that kind of "coherent surrealism" on its design. Of course is a different thing like having the trippy palettes of CD and Mania, and it could be tweaked a bit too look more colourful like S3K was, but it got right how to put a classic level on 3D.

    I want to add something to this: when I originally played PSO on DC, that game's locales looked to me like a Sonic game. This became crystal clear to me when I reached the middle room of Caves 1, that huge room with insanely high walls of lava and a random hole with bursting lava in the middle of the metallic platform over the molten you walked on. Even clearer it got when I reached Mines, with all those textures and flashy elements that could have easily been in SCD2 (Mines 1 = good future, Mines 2 = bad future, for example). That game told me Sonic aesthetics could be translated to a 3D game without issue, and, funnily enough PSO series has had more areas that could belong to a classic Sonic game than actual modern games.