Sonic Level Design

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Sparks, Mar 20, 2012.

  1. Strife

    Strife

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    There's something I thought about today regarding multiple routes and rewards.

    We know that generally, the more difficult a route is to stay on, the more rewards the player will receive for their efforts (I.e. staying on a high route nets you better powerups, or at least lets you finish the level faster). Of course, not all alternate routes are necessarily difficult to stay on, especially in the case of underground or indoor areas where it's really only a matter of preference which route to take.

    Let's say that we have a stage that splits into 3 possible routes. One route is very short, another route takes a longer time to pass through, and the third route is somewhere in between. Do you think it would make sense to have the longest route offer the best rewards? The way I see it, Time is an important resource in a Sonic game, and I'm wondering if shaving 5-10 seconds off your total time is enough of a reward in itself. Plus, if there's no other rewards in the shortcut, it provides that extra challenge for speedrunners, whereas people who need some extra rings or powerups can sacrifice time and go the long way around. (This is technically the idea behind secret areas, actually.)

    If your fangame has some sort of boost mechanic, what you could also do to balance out your routes is to make it easier to gain a boost on the longer route to allow players to "catch up" to those who took the shortcut. Heck, if all three paths merge into an area with a lot of enemies or spikes, you could put an invincibility monitor at the end of the long route, such that those who took the shortcut are more at risk but will be rewarded with an awesome time if they're skilled enough not to get slowed down by the hazards.
     
  2. Candescence

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    If I may, I'd like to interject with some thoughts about possible directions for level design. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair on XBLA and PSN, while admittedly a rather different kind of platformer to what Sonic is, provides a rather interesting take on multiple routes, each with their own challenges, secrets, and rewards. A couple of examples (huge images warning here):

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    There are even routes and gimmicks that make use of a particular character's abilities, such as the orbs that allow Shanoa to use her magnetic ability or Julius' whip-swing. There's a heavy emphasis on exploration, finding the best route that works for you, rather than the objectively "optimal" route. Marble Zone and Labyrinth Zone are probably the closest equivalents to this kind of level design.

    It also provides some very interesting takes when it comes to bosses, who, rather than simply wait around for you to come and kill them, sometimes make efforts to hinder you, or interact with the stage in different ways once you actually start fighting them. The first stage boss occasionally fires huge beams of energy from its mouth that can hit you anywhere in the stage if you're not careful. Death in the stage in the first image will leave his boss room to hunt you down in order to attack you, and you can't hurt him normally, instead using those spotlights to ward him off. Menance in the last image will, when actually woken up, rise to about several storeys high, and demolish all the stuff in the middle of the stage, and that huge bone-thing at the top of the stage can be used to knock him down so you can damage him more.

    Basically, HoD uses some rather unconventional quirks in its level design that aren't necessarily exclusive to that particular style of game.

    Just food for thought.
     
  3. Palas

    Palas

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    Iirc, that's more or less how Sonic CD works. The longest route is also the one with more power-ups, but also the one with more badniks. Quartz Quadrant Act 1 could be an example.

    And I like this approach. You see, the game will (or should) supposedly try to send you to the longest route all the time. If it actually succeeds in this, and this will happen to unexperienced players, then it would be a rather bleak game if all the fun was somehere else. Besides, what you said is true: "people who need [or even want] some extra rings or powerups can sacrifice time and go the long way around."
     
  4. Espyo

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    Meanwhile, we have Sonic Heroes' levels. Here's a sketchy sketch I made of Seaside Hill:
    [​IMG]
    Green is terrain, brown is alternate terrain, black is all available possible routes, red is also part of the route, but it's an automated section.
    Gah, as you can see, Sonic Team had 3 dimensions to work with, but made something... absurdly linear.

    On that note, Sonic Team Jr., the guys behind Sonic Robo Blast 2 have pretty complex 3D levels. Sonic Team should definitely learn with them.
     
  5. Turbohog

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    To be fair, Seaside Hill was the first level, so it shouldn't be over-complicated. I'd be more interested in seeing the level layouts from later in the game.
     
  6. Thousand Pancake

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    The problem I have with SRB2's early levels is that the texturing of the alternate paths makes them so similar looking that they're very easy to get lost in. The later ones are better with this, but are often a lot more linear.
     
  7. Hinchy

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    I'd go one step further, SRB2's level design is labyrinthine at best. The newer levels are hardly improved and have had me running in circles, like the revamped Castle Eggman and ESPECIALLY the goddamn canyon level.
     
  8. Palas

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    I appreciate how OP addresses issues that are often overlooked, specially by Dimps. Their level design is very, very structural - they have a template and then decorate it. But it ends up being more or less all the same.

    I must point out that I don't fully agree with this:

    Sonic CD comes across almost as a caricature of Sonic. It's Sonic's Be Here Now (or Blood Sugar Sex Magik if you're into RHCP more than Oasis, or White Album if you're into Beatles etc). It's Sonic's groundwork made extreme, because it imposes exploration on you (in to ways - both in terms of time travel and in terms of ring hunt, like Sonic 1 did) but also forces you to achieve speed. However, notice how the level NEVER helps you in the tasks. The level design never, ever reacts to you - it's also highly sctructural, but in a positive way. It's what you could call a playground or an amusement park. All the platforming is strictly constraint-based. I don't think I can remember action-inducing platforming element in Sonic CD.
     
  9. Espyo

    Espyo

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    I am aware of that. I also want to draw Emerald Coast and... say, Mystic Mansion. Problem is that these diagram things are hard to draw.


    I'll give it that, some of the levels are kinda confusing to follow. Some areas are too closed, that's for sure. Though some of the levels are fairly straight-forward without being linear.
     
  10. TheInvisibleSun

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    You would almost have to draw them architecturally (as diagrammatic plans), for the necessary spatial clarity. Now that I think about it, I bought an Adventure Strategy Guide roughly 10 years ago that had plans of every stage. I gotta try to find it.
     
  11. Knucklez

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    If you find the Strategy Guide, you should definately post scans of those plans. I'm eager to see some of them. Weird, I know. :v:
     
  12. Hukos

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    That would be quite something special to look at. I wonder how many Sonic games those were made for.

    As for Sonic Heroes, didn't Egg Fleet feature a decent amount of branching paths? Not as many as say S3&K would on average, but I wouldn't say it was a painfully linear level.
     
  13. TheInvisibleSun

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    Turns out, I didn't even need to find it after all; EmuParadise has almost all of the Guides (Or eGuides) nicely scanned for us. Found them after some quick digging.
     
  14. Knucklez

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    Ohhh Yeahhh! Lol, I forgot about EmuParadise. I came across those by accident a while back, but never bothered to look through for anything Sonic. Thanks for reminding me, though!
     
  15. Retroman

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    Looks like a Fallopian Tube.
     
  16. TheInvisibleSun

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    Seaside Hill is so linear that Prima drew most of it in 2D!

    EDIT: I think I'm gonna just compile each of the map parts into single images for each stage in Adventure, as the layouts are pretty nice. Prima even included axonometric diagrams of certain parts of the stages!

    EDIT2:

    Emerald Coast

    [​IMG]
     
  17. Palas

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    Man, this gif in your signature is so amusing, I can't stop watching it.

    Anyway~! Are there any guides for Sonic Colors? I'd like to analyze this game's level design further, because I have the feeling that there is something really wrong about its alternative paths.
     
  18. TheInvisibleSun

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    I've been searching or them but I haven't been able to find them yet. I can try and draw them, if someone could supply me with the stage models.
     
  19. Palas

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    I found it more appropriate to bring this discussion here.

    Linearity is not the only reason why Sonic Adventure's is poor to me. It's a matter of gimmick and challenge placement. Challenge is, well, non-existent (the game will always kill you ith bottomless pits) and the gimmicks - I'm counting loops here - appear, like, once in the stage and are never seen again. If it wasn't automated as it is, I ouldn't mind. But everything looks introductory in this game. It looks less like an amusement park and more like a walk in the shopping center - except with security guards pushing you forwards so that you don't stop at one showcase.

    Fun? yes, naturally. But any game can be fun, and every game MUST be fun. It's the least they can do. And I feel Sonic Adventure is fun in the same way a racing game could be fun.
     
  20. Hukos

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    As someone who has played old school Castlevania and Megaman games to death, bottomless pits are something I'm quite used to, so they've never really bothered me in 3D Sonic games. Hell, even Sonic 1 has a decent amount of bottomless pits, moreso than people give credit for (Marble and Labyrinth are the only levels in the game without bottomless pits).

    Loops were a very minor factor in my enjoyment of the classic Sonic games. Hell, I've never understood the fascination with them. They're nice to look at, and they show off the physics of the classic Sonic games well enough, but when I go look back at why I enjoy them so much, loops are not something I think of.

    As for gimmicks, the structure of how the levels were setup I think allowed the game to get away with a lack of said gimmicks. Like previous Sonic games, Sonic's levels (Which is what I'm basing Sonic Adventure level design based off of) are split into multiple sections each, and each section has it's own theme even within the same level. Take Red Mountain, for instance. The first section has Sonic racing to the outside of the mountain chasing down the Egg Carrier while maneuvering around the dangerous heights of the mountain itself. The second section has him traveling inside the volcano, which has it's own theme and vibe separate from the first section so there really isn't a need to have any kind of gimmick, as the change in location makes it so a gimmick is not really needed (Unless rising lava counts as a gimmick, though it's kind of a staple in lava levels in every platformer ever). Not to mention Sonic Adventure's Sonic levels are quite brief and short, making it so gimmicks will have very little lasting effect (Sonic 2 also shares this. So many levels are so brief that the supposed gimmicks present in Sonic 2 have very little effect whatsoever).

    Automation? Honestly, I never felt like the levels were automated. If you mean linear, again, I don't think linear design is a bad thing (I don't mind non-linear design either). In fact, I'll be frank here, I tend to prefer linear over non-linear design. The classic Sonic's tend to be an exception because knowing where to go is not an issue despite their non-linear design, you can continue to go forward and be just fine if you don't give a fuck about collecting mass amounts of rings or extra lives. Or if you're feeling adventurous, you can explore the levels to your liking and collect everything you want to. But linear level design bothers me not at all. I've played Megaman 2 about 100 something times, and I have always gone through Metalman's stage first, and it's always done the exact same way every time (Because the level design is about as linear as you can get, minus the optional E-tank). And I don't mind that at all because it's a damn fun experience, regardless of how many times I've gone through it.

    So with all this in mind, Sonic Adventure's level design does not bother me in any way whatsoever. Is it different from how the classics presented themselves? Absolutely. But it's a 3D game, not a 2D one, so I'm willing to allow some compromises in light of this. It's a new game, a new era. I don't want classic 2D rehashes forever despite how good they were, even if it means moving away from what the classics did. But hell for an example, people love the shit out of Ocarina of Time and the way OoT handles dungeon design and the overworld is quite different from that of Link to the Past (For the record, I think OoT's overall design is incredibly poor in comparison to LttP and just about every other game in that franchise, but that's a discussion for another time!)