Rail grinding: a worthwhile mechanic in 3D Sonic or too limiting?

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Frostav, Aug 31, 2020.

  1. Gestalt

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    ^Can't say I disagree. However, rail grinding makes a lot of sense from a gameplay perspective. In a game that's all about speed, how do you give the player the sensation of moving really fast without having to deal with bad controls? If you've ever played Mario Kart 64, you know how frustrating it is to bump into walls or falling off the track because you were driving too fast. Grinding in SA2 can be frustrating at times, but is never unfun. Sonic Heroes' grinding mechanic kinda sucked tho. You know you're gonna fail the moment you jump on a rail. SA2 > Sonic Heroes
     
  2. Sid Starkiller

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    I think it would be a worthwhile thing, with caveats (some of which other people have already mentioned):

    1 - SA2-style interactivity. Having to balance made it feel like you were still doing something. Plus, since you're holding the button to speed up instead of tapping it, you actually have a way to slow down if for some reason you want to (that really applies to Shadow more than anything. I replayed it a few months back and missions where to had to shoot stuff while grinding AIR FLEET were a chore).

    2 - Balance meter. Just looking at Sonic works...if the camera's right behind him. Any kind of cinematic shot makes it impossible.

    3 - Quick Step rail switching. Leaves the stick just for balancing.
     
  3. Mr. Fox

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    To be honest, I dreaded the rail sections in SA2, it was so easy to fall off. And if you lose the momentum you're pretty much fucked, you will literally grind down to a halt.

    Don't really remember anymore how different it was in Heroes (only played that game a couple of times) but IIRC it was still quite tricky. I remember falling off and dying quite a few times in that canyon level.

    In newer games (e.g. Generations and Forces) you just boost through them and press LB/RB to switch between the rails instantly without any finesse required. Yeah, it's dumbed down, but there's no anxiety anymore. So I'm kinda torn on the issue.
     
  4. SuperSonicRider

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    Rail grinding does have "physics" after SA2 (to the extent of "upward slopes actually affect how fast you will go if you aren't boosting") in at least Heroes, Unleashed, and Generations. I think it would've felt better in Heroes had they thought of Shadow the Hedgehog/the boost games' rail switching mechanics earlier, because there actually is somewhat of a strategy to using the "gain speed" move in Heroes: you hold the button on straightaways or when going down slopes, and you need to repeatedly tap it if you don't have enough speed traveling up a slope. If you keep tapping it on a straightaway or going down, it won't do much. Balancing is also relevant to maintaining speed with Heroes' grinding but I don't think you can fall off the rail. Unfortunately, they kept the already really inconsistent SA2 rail switching in Heroes, and the problem is brought to the forefront more since there's a whole zone centered around grinding rails and they're also featured prominently in Final Fortress. But fundamentally I don't think Heroes' grinding was worse than SA2's.

    Where Shadow's differs from Heroes is that it ditches balancing completely, repeatedly tapping the "gain speed" button will increase speed at any time, and slopes don't really do anything, so the speed you can get with it is pretty silly. Maybe they had to simplify it a bit to focus on the new rail switching? (Also you can shoot while grinding rails which is helpful for some missions, so it was prob for the best to just focus on it reliably working. Funny how that game improved on random basic stuff like that. :V)

    Anyway as for the point of the thread, I have to at least say that rail grinding as a gimmick or mechanic to me hasn't felt like level "filler" in the same way that some other things have. I never even really thought that deeply about it until this very thread. :) But now that I have, I do think it's a valid point that being on them can feel too limiting. It feels like there are only so many different types of obstacles they can throw at you while grinding on rails to make different sections distinct. So maybe rails could stand to go away for a bit, but I wouldn't really care if they didn't, either.
     
  5. Bryn2k

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    For me these features should represent risk/reward mechanisms.

    The risk is you fall off and die because the rail is likely over nothing, but the reward is you either skip a taxing section of level or find a cache of goodies like 1ups or rings.

    They definitely should not be mandatory to complete a stage, as they're not that fun. But if incorporated into the classic mindset of "higher is better" then it could work.

    A 3D equivalent of something like Star Light Zone would be such a place where this rail mechanic would work well. You can follow the heavy platforming route and be relatively safe or you can, with the right skill, blast across the gaps on the rails of those "unfinished highways" and rack up rings and lives. If there was a timed mission for S ranks mastering your jump/homing attack to get the momentum for balance or else you wobble off and die would be mission critical.

    That said I was glad Mania avoided falling into the trap of Advance style grind rails or the sodding homing attack. Some things are not needed in 2D.
     
  6. Frostav

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    I actually kinda love how 3D Sonic makes literally zero effort to explain why the environment is a perfect video game level, honestly. Like Skyscraper Scamper Day is an utterly incoherent mess of death-trap highways that make zero sense and I adore how there's no explanation why. Sonic's world is just this surreal dreamworld of roller-coaster environments and that's that.

    But unlike, say, 3D Mario (and more specifically the 3D Mario games that are more linear, the two Galaxies and 3D World), the surrounding environment is still built up as this plausible place, and the levels aren't just floating in the middle of nowhere.
     
  7. Vanishing Vision

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    I remember talking with a friend and coming up with the idea that the citizens built the rails and placed the springs for Sonic's convenience. As a reward for protecting the cities from threats, and to help him reach new threats quicker. This explanation doesn't work for the looping roads, however.
     
  8. Beamer the Meep

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    Honestly, I think the idea of balancing on rails is a good one, just poorly executed in SA2. Like a few others in this thread, I've played the game for years and could never figure out how the system works for the life of me and i think it's because it's just very finicky. If they refined the controls for balancing, I think it would be a better experience than what we have been getting thusfar.
     
  9. Crasher

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    For what it's worth, I do think Unleashed was going to have SA2-like grinding mechanics at one point. It has all of the visual mechanics of SA2 - you can crouch, you can bend left/right, there's just no mechanical reason to do any of those things.
     
  10. Xiao Hayes

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    Grinding is a gimmick, and, as such, it shouldn't be abused. Modern games abuse springs, booster pads, wisps, badnik placement for homing attack chains... Well, pretty much everything, there's very little they add besides some occasional weird wisps like the music note one.

    When implemented, a lot of ideas posted in the thread sound good on how to do it, so I don't think I could add anything else, BUT, as many things with modern Sonic games, the real issue is why they are there, and there hasn't been any good reason for it since SA2, they're just one more thing to always add to the garbage pile that fills a lot of modern levels. Other than that, they're not really different from the tubes on chemical plant, so I don't see any trouble in adding them if the trips on them last only a few seconds and lead you to different routes. But they're usually related to bottomless pits on levels that have too many bottomless pits already, and replace the standard and more fun gameplay of just running with a less reliable and more passive one that ultimately decreases the quality of the game.

    My memories of them per (3D) game I played:

    DC/Adventure 2) Lots of leaps of faith rather than trying to switch rails because it was a more reliable way of reaching where I wanted to go. Having to crouch gave them some sense of real agency, just like boosting does when running on later games. Good thing they're placed in coherent places most of the time, with the standard way we find them these days being relegated to the design of the final levels.

    GC/Heroes) I remember controlling the rail switching better in this game, but it might have been a difference between DC and GC controllers. I did enjoy bullet station, more than many other levels in that game.

    GC/Shadow) Rails were one of my major sources of fear in that game: considering the many bugs and the poor collision handling, I even feared the initial jump on a rail section, and I don't remember switching rails properly.

    Unwiished/Colours) I don't remember the rails, boost gameplay took all my attention as I really hated that; well, the other things I was shitting about at the beginning of the post also applied.

    PC/Generations) Not good, not bad, not meaningful this time.

    PC/Lost World) Rails-based levels are probably the worst and most infuriating parts of this game, Silent Forest 1 included despite being rails only half of the time. This is how they never should implement rails, and they did that way several times.

    ***

    RE: Light Speed Dash
    I actually like this mechanic for how 3D games work: ring trails become paths to speed up that usually require at least a minimum skill to reach and use, happen quick and give an instant reward because rings. Of course, I'm talking the SA2 style, not the SA1 method, with that addition of having ghost rings to keep the trail intact in case you accidentally get some of the real rings.

    ***

    General conclusion: there are lots of cool tools for level design in modern games, but they ruin a lot of them with the way they're implemented, AKA level design in modern games sucks too often, don't blame the gimmicks for what's a different design issue.
     
  11. qwertysonic

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    This just goes to show how different people's tastes can be. I loved the grinding mechanic in SA2. It was a little glitchy, but I found that it's not too bad once you figure out how to deal with it. And I feel that if the kinks were ironed out it would be really great. On the other hand. I hate Bullet Station. It's probably my least favorite level in SH.

    In SA2 (other than Final Rush) most of time you aren't grinding over bottomless pits. In SH and on it seems like there are a lot of bottomless pits with rails on them. Especially since too often in SH when trying to jump from rail to rail you just fall off. I ended up doing all my grinding in fly position just so if you randomly don't jump up when you jump, you can fly back onto the rail. Fly position makes grinding so slow it's unfun.
     
  12. Zephyr

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    Sonic the Hedgehog, at its core, is a Super Mario Bros. game which has been enhanced by gameplay elements from Metroid, Pinball, and most relevant to this thread, Vert Skateboarding.

    I don't think there's necessarily anything out of place being done by incorporating more elements pioneered by Vert Skateboarding (such as grinding, even if this was originally done around empty pool rims rather than along rails). The problem with Sonic Adventure, and every game that builds off of it, is that many of the Vert Skateboarding elements which were integral to Sonic the Hedgehog's principal mechanical innovation in 1991 were either lost in translation or left on the cutting room floor (for reasons ranging from technological limitations and corporate mandates, to time, talent, etc).

    I won't say that the game designers and programmers made "The Wrong" creative call in 2001 when they added grinding to their 1998 endeavor, rather than giving said endeavor the same elegant movement and platforming experience that their 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 endeavors benefited immeasurably from. After all, removing elements of an existing idea or concept or piece during the iterative/creative process always has the potential to give rise to a new aesthetically-valuable phenomena.

    However, if that's the case, then I think that they took a shot and missed. Not being able to roll, not being able to abuse half pipes for building vertical momentum, not being able to travel back down a quarter pipe one had just traveled up, etc. is a decidedly less fun platforming experience for me than one where I can do those things*. So, I think there were more important things to do than add grinding, in 2001.

    That said, they didn't do the worst possible job in 2001. I'm not opposed to the idea of adding sloped rails in "A Proper 3D Classic Game", or to Sonic being able to grind along the rims of half pips and quarter pipes (and maybe other parts of the terrain) the way a skateboarder would be able to (or the way you would in a Tony Hawk game). I guess I'd then be in favor of a "grind" button, which I could see maybe being controversial (and which I could see maybe changing my mind on after more thought on the matter).

    *There are so many more "crucial" elements that Adventure fails or neglects to employ that contributes to the platforming experience being less fun:
    - the Super Jump from Super Mario Bros. 3 (where you hold the jump button while landing on an enemy to recoil super high) being absent makes the game feel dated by 1988's "Momentum Based Platforming" standards
    - lacking the rolling ability is effectively lacking the sliding ability from Super Mario Bros., which in turn makes the game feel dated by 1985's "Momentum Based Platforming" standards
    - that Adventure 2 then incorporates the somersault move as a static ability, replaces the finesse required to slide between a gap with a manual button press while facing the correct surface, which makes the game feel even more dated by 1985's "Momentum Based Platforming" standards
    Nonetheless, this thread is about grinding, not jumping, or sliding between small spaces.
     
  13. Azookara

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    Grinding was a good idea for Sonic and I think in SA2 it was incorporated well enough. The same rules of standard Sonic gameplay apply within it, and it works! You slow down up them, you speed up down them, if you compact yourself at the right times you can barrel through them at lightning speed, and if you can't get enough speed then you either slide down in reverse or fall off. Thaaaat's Sonic!

    All it needed was a more concise way to swap between closeby rails, which is about as simple as "crouch + direction", or the L or R button approach from Unleashed; either with a visual cue to show Sonic smoothly move from one to the other rather than jerkily magnetizing with little time to register it like every game does prior the boost games.

    Now talking about where grinding should be in a game is a matter one could make a greater case against, but to me there's no doubting that grinding fits Sonic's game design. Sonic's already a platformer with skateboarding elements on the base level; might as well go the full monty.
     
  14. Vaiz

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    I would dig rail grinding if it were treated in more of a Tony Hawk sense. It would be neat if there were levels where rail grinding wasn't necessary, but if you were good at it, and could spot the places to properly use it, you could get to secret areas or entire shortcuts in levels. That said, I kind of think it would be neat if all extra skills aside from the base classic movement (jump, spindash, glide, fly, etc) in Sonic were treated like THPS trick movement in this way. Would be neat.
     
  15. qwertysonic

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    Actually I really liked how the different skills (grinding, flying, and power) were used in sonic riders. If something akin to that we’re implemented in the main games I think it could be really cool.
     
  16. Shade Vortex

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    I mean, that's pretty much what Sonic Heroes was...?
     
  17. qwertysonic

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    I guess. Just implemented poorly. I’m referring to using different character’s abilities to discover alternate routes for more replayability. Playing as one character at a time: only sonic can grind on rails, only tails can fly up to reach fly rings, only knuckles can break through walls etc. like it was done in Sonic riders. That feels more like how the classic games handled Tails’ and Kniuckles’ alternate paths. By giving only Sonic the grinding ability, that would differentiate him from just being a less good tails or knuckles.
     
  18. SuperSnoopy

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    That would be a bit too much "collectathon" for me, I think. Having a random setpiece only be accessible by one character for some reason.
     
  19. Sid Starkiller

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    It worked well enough for Knuckles-only walls in S3K and Mania, though. Knuckles' lower jump also locked him out of some Sonic-and-Tails-only areas. I fail to see the distinction between qwerty's idea and that.

    I'd had a similar idea for the Light Dash in a theoretical Metroidvania Sonic, but since my only ideas are the basic mechanics, and I have no programming talent to make it work, I'll leave it in my head.