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

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

  1. SystemsReady


    I Have No Idea What I'm Doing At Any Given Moment Member
    The Twin Cities
    trying to not fall asleep while writing Selenium tests
    Rail grinding is interesting as a mechanic because inexplicably it has shown up in nearly every major 3D platformer since the PS2/GCN/Dreamcast era.........and every time I see it I instinctively dread it due to my introduction being SA2 and then later Heroes.

    ^ because of that. Rail Canyon/Bullet Station is still my least-favorite Heroes stage for this reason.

    Yet, Ratchet & Clank did it fine, so it's clearly another way a basic mechanic was implemented into the Sonic series that makes it suck.

    I don't inherently hate the concept, but I generally find it a bit too limiting for my liking. The only time I feel it really adds anything is in games like Ratchet & Clank where your run speed isn't very high so grinding on the rails gives you a "fast" segment in a level to handle - in SA2 at least there were very few times where grinding was actively faster than running very fast.
  2. Hanging Waters

    Hanging Waters

    My ideal rail-grinding situation looks something like this:

    1. Grinding is physics-based like SA2. The speed at which you latch onto the rail affects how fast you start grinding, the speed at which you jump off the rail affects your jump height, blah blah blah you know the deal. We've all played the game. If they can can make the implementation of these mechanics less finnicky than they were in 2001, I think we're golden.

    2. I'd like to see placement of the rails that isn't just "long staircase with rail going down the middle" - or - "long rail suspended over bottomless pit". Something more like the rails strewn about the "park" sections of Generations' City Escape. Occasional rails placed around the environment that you could take advantage of to gain height, reach a higher path, go faster, or just gain some style points. Think more along the lines of how grindable surfaces are placed in cities or in skate parks. When bladers and skaters look for surfaces or rails to trick on, it's not just a long corridor with a rail going down the center. Jet Set Radio does this pretty well IMO, letting you access different parts of a level or find new ways to traverse terrain by grinding along and jumping off of rails. In Generations, there's a few cool sections where you're grinding along the edge of a wall, grinding alongside the top of a building via a powerline, etc. Even in SA2, I personally found that the funnest and most interesting rails were the ones that WEREN'T big setpieces that the level begged you to use. I liked when you saw a rail somewhere and thought "aw man I bet I could grind off of that and use it jump up on top of that thing over there".

    3. Generally, my idea of how rails should be is based on the idea that rails should be an interactable part of the level environment. And grinding should be a mechanic that is intuitive to use at a base level, but has a bit of a skill curve when it comes to actually using these rails to your advantage. In their current iteration, rails seem like they're practically QTEs - as Frostav said. They are used for spectacle and as setpieces in a level. But you have very few chances to actually interact with them in any MEANINGFUL way. Sure, the big long rails in Final Rush and the ones on City Escape's stairs gave you that boost of adrenaline as a kid, but that spectacle quickly expires once you realize that there is nothing more to it than jumping on and letting the game play itself. I know you still have control in the form of leaning, but by itself leaning feels like such a shallow form of interaction to me. Modern rails are almost always just straight horizontal lines that take you from point A to point B, which feels like a gigantic downgrade even compared to SA2.

    Think of slopes in classic Sonic. Wanna reach a new part of the level that's too high up? Maybe you got knocked down to the lower path and feel like you can't get back up? You can build up speed, maybe spindash, maybe roll down a hill, and jump at the apex of an upward slope to launch yourself high into the air. I think rails should serve a similar purpose. Some of the rails in Adventure 2 and Heroes feel like they just barely dip their toes into this idea. But otherwise I don't feel like rails do it at all.

    4. Sonic's jumping in 3D has historically been pretty floaty. I think it should have some decent weight to it to avoid making jumping onto a rail feel like it takes a century and a half, and to avoid you losing all your built up momentum as you try to jump on and start grinding.

    5. I really don't see a use for rail swapping. In Generations and Colors segments that have you quick stepping between 3 parallel rails, I just see no reason why this can't take place on the ground and be a normal quick-stepping segment. In Heroes and Shadow these segments were basically the same, but without the quickstep you just had to rely on faith that you wouldn't plummet into a bottomless pit. I honestly feel like these rail-swapping segments are just QTEs in disguise, having you avoid simple obstacles or jump over gaps in the rails...... so I don't think rail swapping really needs to exist.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2020
  3. Fadaway


    I can't stand it personally.
  4. Yeah, that was my point. Rails were great when they were hidden gimmicks built into the stages themselves. You had to stop and think "huh, I bet I can grind on that". I can't convey the sheer joy I experienced as I played sa2, heroes, shadow, and 06 for the first times as i went rail hunting. Finding all the cool stuff i could grind on was the best part of the mechanic, and it's been lost to time since.

    This is why I made that sa2 rails video linked on the last page. I also plan to do a heroes one, and maybe more if I can down the road.
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  5. I think it's extremely dated.

    I have two problems with it. The first is that it was created with the in-line aggressive skating craze in mind (which has obviously faded away), And the second is that it takes control away from the player.
  6. It definitely is, but I think it's ironic how when most people see irl rail grinding, they think "oh! That's what Sonic the Hedgehog does!"

    I'm dead serious. I've met other people irl and even with all these other sources they could associate rail grinding with, they always seem to link it back to sonic, myself included. Sonic has kinda become synonymous with rail grinding, and frankly if they removed the mechanic from the sonic franchise, I 100% believe that outside of obligatory sports games, rail grinding will eventually fade out of culture as a whole.

  7. Hmm, I think that possibly only applies to people who are fans/grew up with the modern games.

    ...Although I'm in the small minority that thinks that Sega should rip up the Sonic playbook, and start again from scratch (apart from the Mania series) so I'm probably not the best person to be discussing it with haha
  8. Close! But not quite.

    I'm talking about people who have literally never touched a video game in their lives.

    I've showed my mother and grandmother irl rail grinding before, and they both said "isn't that from that sonic the hedgehog game you like?" I don't think it's a coincidence that rail grinding has become synonymous with sonic. It was the biggest new skill he got in the most anticipated game around that time. If sega permanently removes rails from sonic games, sonic's going to lose the first big step he took out of 2d forever. Rails are probably one of the first things people think of when they think of post classic sonic gimmicks, and for good reason.
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  9. Yes that's a fair comment. I see what you mean.

    I was in the skating community back then, so for us it seemed like a 'trying to be cool' move. But now, as you say it has been ingrained into the basis of Modern Sonic, for better or worse.

    Still, like I said, I'd rather see a re-invention/imagining. I'm old and I've been let down too many times watching the Sonic cycle play out on this forum over the years. Like BOTW was to Zelda and the new iterations of Doom, that's what I'd like to see. But then again, I'm no longer the target audience for 3D Sonic.

    Whether Sega has the finances and talent to take such risks, who knows, but I still have a little hope.
  10. Azookara


    yup Member
    I don’t see how Sonic grinding is any more dated than anything he did in the original games, to be honest. Roller coasters were a huuuge deal in the late 80s / early 90s, and pinball was big all throughout the later 20th century.

    Hell, with all the downhill strides, slopes, halfpipes and ramps in these games, I’d say implementing more skateboarding influence into how it plays only makes sense.
  11. And wouldn't you know it, they came full circle and gave him a skateboard in gens
  12. Metalwario64


    SA2, between the rail grinding and the punk rock-esque remix of "It Doesn't Matter" always felt like a time capsule of the late 90s-early 2000s skater culture, and I love it for that. I never really was into skater culture, but I did love the first three THPS games in my childhood and I always played them with my friends.
  13. Josh


    Well-said! Sonic Adventure 2 is raw, pure 2001 in video game form. I'll always strongly associate it with that summer, because the world seemed to get a whole lot more complicated when it was over.

  14. Sonic Advance episode. I'll be doing Advance 2 next. I think these videos will be good for demonstrating how rail grinding has evolved over the years.
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  15. ChaddyFantome


    The problem in modern games when it comes to grinding is less a fault of grinding and more that it has like other systems fallen prey to over streamlining of the gameplay out of fear of players having the possibility of messing up.
    Often now, Grinding is implemented as level design substitute as opposed to supplement of variation. In the past, outside of dedicated grinding levels, grinding was a part of the level geometry the player either had to actively interact with, or was woven into the level design in an organic way.
    Nowadays you get these long set of 3 lines of grinding lines inexplicably floating in the air with no real context as to why to have the player propelled forward automatically, and this is used as a convention for level design in all levels as opposed to having some have sparse amounts with others being more dedicated grinding levels.
    In essence, grinding was very much like utilization of momentum in the classics, where control was actively given up at the players discression in order to interact with the given level geometry.
    Its just that this has been lost in more recent games in general.
  16. Frostav


    Interesting discussion. I've been thinking about how Tony Hawk, probably the most well-known series to heavily utilize rail grinding, uses it in comparison to Sonic. While it may seem odd to compare the two series, I think they actually have more in common than one might. In Tony Hawk, the main goal is to utilize the mechanics and level design to string together long combos and gain points (as well as perform map-specific things, but these things actually silently teach the player how to make good combos). For me, Sonic should actually be about the same thing, except you're trying to get to a goal at the end of a mostly linear level. That is, Sonic should be about using the mechanics and level design to string together a mostly-uninterrupted "combo" of actions till you reach the end. Note that I didn't say Sonic should be about going fast--going fast is just a fun side effect of this flow. Sonic should be about flow. In my eyes at least. This is a gameplay philosophy that meshes well with the classic games (that is how I play them, as speedrunning challenges where the draw is learning the level and then perfecting my route, the exploratory side was never my thing, personally) and the Adventure/Boost games (in fact, the Boost games basically have this style, but the way I want it is with a vastly stronger emphasis on physics and player freedom--the boost games instead have a lot of simple, shallow mechanics like grinding, quick-stepping, drifting, etc. and simply ask that you perform the correct action at the correct time in what is effectively a long string of borderline QTE's). This isn't the only way 3D Sonic could work--SRB2 is much slower and focused on platforming and is an excellent game in my eyes--but it's what I would do if I were given the chance to make a 3D Sonic game.

    So rails in Sonic should be like rails in Tony Hawk--extenders of your "combo", not utterly unavoidable and simplified setpieces. As such rails should actually be more common, but they should be organic parts of the level you can choose to utilize to keep Sonic moving forward. Rarely should a rail just be laying out in the middle of nowhere or over an death pit. Grinding in this gameplay philosophy goes from "oh, now it's time for The Grinding Section" to "how can I utilize rails to help maintain my momentum?", which I think is a much much more solid foundation with more depth than what we have currently.
  17. This 100%. Sa2, heroes, shadow, and 06 are super good about this.
  18. SystemsReady


    I Have No Idea What I'm Doing At Any Given Moment Member
    The Twin Cities
    trying to not fall asleep while writing Selenium tests
    rail canyon and bullet station are levels of nothing but grinding over bottomless pits tho? frog jungle and whatever the name of its sister act is also has similar sections too?
  19. Azookara


    yup Member
    Considering most people want Sonic games to be more about building momentum down slopes, I don’t see why have the occasional rail section is a problem. Especially since they simplify the idea to a forward vs reverse only moment; almost in a Crash Bandicoot kind of “3D with 2D philosophy” way.

    Granted doing them for extended periods over bottomless pits can be tiresome if overdone (Heroes gets excessive with it), but when used for more overall challenging stages (Final Rush ie) it can be satisfying.
  20. SuperSonicRider


    06 definitely has among the most automated rails. A player will never get slower on a rail regardless of its slope, and the only option is to press a button to speed up. Shadow's are similar, but you at least actually carry momentum into the initial grind before any speed ups (and have the "modern" implementation of rail switching, which for some reason wasn't in 06).