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Sonic Level Design

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

  1. Ell678

    Ell678

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    Welcome to Retro, great post!

    You are right about holding down the jump button to acheive a better bounce on enemies. While this doesn't show a different route per se, it does show you could shave off valuable seconds or get you to good hidden areas if the layout was designed in such a way.

    [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZV5UNS2y60[/youtube]

    I also agree about the homing attack, although if it is implemented I think you should have the option of taking them out manually. Maybe you got a higher score for taking out enemies by jumping rather than using the homing attack?
     
  2. Dragon Dude

    Dragon Dude

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    Wow. This guide will definitely come in handy for my current project (when I finally get motivated to work on it). I would like to see some tips on enemy placement though.
     
  3. theyogwog

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    No discussion on enemy placement would be complete without also looking at item and gimmick placement and how they all relate to one another, so, let's talk about that.


    [​IMG]

    Here is an example of enemy placement that just confuses me. This frog effectively serves as a backup speedbreaker in case you avoid the spikes on the ceiling, for everyone except super/hyper form characters and Sonic if he Insta-Shields successfully. I don't see why they would cut short the speed segment shown below like this -- completing the full sequence is fun and satisfying, and impressive to witness regardless whether you're playing or observing. It's true the difficulty adds to the appeal but it seems like somewhat of a waste, I don't know... anyway, here's what I'm talking about:

    [​IMG]

    Interesting to note, that frog is basically the same thing as the rotating spikeball-and-chain obstacles in Sonic 1's Labyrinth Zone. Except now you can kill it. This is an example of them breathing new life into an old idea and it demonstrates how slight changes to one thing (an object/obstacle) can turn it into something rather different (an enemy). They do this with gimmicks as well, both in terms of from one game to another and also repeatedly within the same game. Case in point: you'll notice the sequence I outlined above ends on a big rotating cylinder device that moves Sonic in a given direction. This basic concept appears in more-or-less the same state in several other levels, it's just so cleverly disguised, it's hard to notice.

    [​IMG]


    Now I'd like to talk about bad enemy/object placement, using an example I came across recently when playing a Sonic hack from this website. I'm all for giving credit where credit is due but I'm also not trying to discredit/insult/make the game in question look bad in anyway so I'll refrain from stating the name of the hack at this time, which isn't exactly relevant for the purposes of this post anyway, and I hope that is okay. In the first image you can see Sonic destroying an enemy with some hazards below. The trouble is, the game starts you out going quickly into a curve that sends Sonic towards where he is in the image, in a spin jump, and intuitively you want to destroy the enemy and hit the monitor. You're supposed to refrain from doing that and land on a spring that isn't shown in the image, which will allow you to bounce safely onto the monitor. In the second image, you can see I survived the first part, but look what's waiting down below. When I first played this level, I got a game over because my instinct was to jump blindly into the downward curve in the wall. :objection:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Now, contrary to what it may seem like at this point I'm not posting all of this just to whine and complain because I'm mad that I died. I think this is a actually a good example that clearly illustrates objectively bad design. It's seconds into the 3rd act of the 1st level of the game, and the difficulty "spikes" way too high. I had no reason to expect that there would be spikes there -- it's counter-intuitive, especially since mere minutes ago, in an earlier act, I performed this same maneuver with positive consequences. What really makes it bad, though, is the complete lack of power rings up to that point.

    The power rings in Sonic serve a dual purpose. They act as a safety net for beginners that help make the game easier, offsetting the often unpredictable nature of enemy/object placement in Sonic games for first-timers. As one becomes familiar with the levels, they take on a different role, no longer necessary for survival, they serve to in effect measure a players skill in a way similar to the more traditional score count. Which is pretty cool since Sonic games are fundamentally based around replayability.

    But I don't want to get sidetracked and start talking about things I'm not prepared to back up right now, so I hope it will suffice to say that by failing to utilize the power rings' duality in the example from the hack, what they're doing is simply punishing the player by charging them a life for falling into a newbie trap. I think this also raises the point that in determining enemy/object/gimmick placement, it's very important to evaluate what your purpose is for putting it there, IE are you trying to confound the player and show them how clever you are, or are you trying to entertain them and allow them to have fun? Create atmosphere or difficulty? This goes back to my previous post where I talked about developers and players having a dialog with eachother through the level design... the question is, from a developer's perspective, what do you want to say?

    It's late, I will post about good object placement later.
     
  4. theyogwog

    theyogwog

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    Examples of good enemyplacement, strategically to:

    -Promote the atmosphere and theme of the level.
    [​IMG]


    -act as filler when there's nothing else going on - very important as there should always be something happening for the player to do.
    [​IMG]


    -increase difficulty on first playthroughs and/or raise skillcap on successive playthroughs, which adds to replability, also very important.
    [​IMG]



    The general rule for all object placement (gimmicks, items, enemies, whatever) is they should always serve a purpose and never just be strewn randomly about. The different types of objects are all related in a level, and the better they mix and match with one another, the better and more memorable the level will be.

    Here, the spikes (obstacle) combine with the lay of the land to force you to push the block (gimmick), and the presence of the scorpion (enemy) makes things even more interesting. It adds to the atmosphere of the level, and creates a sense of more stuff going on at once by giving the player a hazard to avoid. It's also the first time you encounter these blocks in the game so this set up is essentially a mini tutorial on how they work. :eng101: Well done, Sonic Team!
    [​IMG]


    I wanted to share this image also even though it's perhaps less about enemy placement and more about item placement which I don't think I have mentioned that much yet. It's just an example of the invincibility power-up being placed effectively to maximize its return. It gives the player a choice of an easier way of getting past the frog and the... laser-gates I guess I will call them, that lie ahead, which are admittedly fairly troublesome to get through without either getting hit or slowing down... and I think it's no coincidence that there's just enough time in the duration of the power-up from that point, for you to reach and safely destroy an Orbinaut (normally invulnerable to Tails/Knuckles) before it wears off.
    [​IMG]



    By the way, did anyone ever wonder why was the elevator in LBZ not instead used in CNZ? It's highly reminiscent of a carnival ride, don't you think? Just a thought.
    [​IMG]
     
  5. Dashtube

    Dashtube

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    Amazing thread, level design is one of the most important aspects of Sonic games however alot of sonic fans seem to have the misconception that sonic is a line runner or something. Great guide. I applaud you, sir!

    Also, an important aspect that everyone seems to miss is that the gimmicks should somewhat compliment the sonic styled gameplay. And you should be careful on the way you first introduce it to players.

    [​IMG]
    Woop, dat's some fast paced strategy right deer!

    That should explain it. Please bare with my horrific mspaint drawing skills. :v:

    -

    That's why I love you, nick!
     
  6. Hukos

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    :objection:

    Most regulars here disagree with this sentiment. It's only popular among reviewers that don't even like platformers to begin with.

    But yes, this topic is fantastic. :colbert:
     
  7. Epsilonsama

    Epsilonsama

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    Indeed, here at Retro we are really critical of Sonic games, but for a good reason. We loved and played to death the original Genesis Trilogy, plus CD. We expect Sonic games not to be average but to be great. And to be fair there's a different opinions in here, some hating SA 1 & 2 while others liking it for what it is. I don't think anybody here really thinks "Sonic is all about speed"™. Sonic is a platformer that has momentum and flow to it. The ideal Sonic game has that. Games like Sonic Unleashed had flow to it, except the night stages, but it lacked platforming and momentum, while Colors had ton of platforming and a bit of momentum it lacked a certain flow to it utilizing to much block platforming. Generations, I believe is a return to form and I wish future games improve on that formula. Either Classic Sonic or Modern Sonic formula might be fine, heck why cant it be two different games using each gameplay style?

    So for me a Sonic game is a great Sonic game if it has levels design with the idea to be able to flow trough them if you mastered the momentum based gameplay by knowing when to run or when to jump. Its not a Press Right to Win nor is it Jump or Die: Platforms Floating in the Aether Edition. A Sonic game is as fast as much as you are good playing it. If you suck at Sonic the game should punish you not by bottomless pits but by making you go slow. Speed should be a reward not a commodity and going slow should be the punishment not imminent death. Im not saying there's no death in a Sonic game but death should be metered and only done in a boss battle or in the latter stages, or if you are really bad at the game.

    Still I liked most Sonic games, I even like most 3D games with a few obvious exceptions. I don't delude myself thinking they are in the same league as the genesis games, but I still got a place for games like SA 1 & 2 and even Heroes.
     
  8. Sparks

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    Glad to see people are still contributing to the topic. I haven't given the replies a good read since I've been popping in and out during college, but I'm on holiday right now. :)

    I haven't looked into the enemy placement much, so I really like that point theyogwog makes about the Sandopolis scorpion contributing to the "introduction" of the block gimmick. The claustrophobia in that section really helps set the mood of Sandopolis Zone too, I'll add. I never thought much about enemies acting as filler either.

    There's often people who post the videos of where Sonic will perfectly bounce on each badnik non-stop in Green Hill Zone, and sometimes I wonder if it was a crazy co-incidence or if such a feature is something the level designers actually intended.

    That's also true about item placements (putting them in beneficial places), and something I felt Sonic Generations messed up on. The sneaker and invincibility boxes were just slapped in with little thought into certain areas, most notably there's a pair of sneakers in Crisis City.. ..right before a blocky platform section, thus giving the player little benefit. Back in Sonic 2 however, the power ups were placed strategically. I think the most obvious example is in Emerald Hill Act 2, which is placed right at the beginning of the upper route, so even a first time player can blaze through a huge chunk of the second act in a matter of seconds.

    I also like how you point out about the reusing of gimmicks, which brings me to remember another point (can't remember if I mentioned it before or not). All the Genesis games had some way of incorporating a "3D effect" into their levels (except Green Hill, though we could say that the loops was an early start to introducing a pseudo-Z axis):
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Angel Island Zone also has the tree gimmick (repeated in Sonic Rush's Leaf Storm) and Sonic Advance even has the wall run section.

    Optional areas to explore is also an important aspect of Sonic level design, as it gives the player a sense of satisfaction for going out of their way to explore an area that catches their attention by rewarding them with something. It makes the levels feel even bigger than they already are.

    As for hacks, it's a bit harder to use them to analyze the level design since they're fan made material.

    Sorry to keep it brief. :v:
     
  9. Hukos

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    Nonsense, I'm sure someone can analyze Megamix to death! :specialed:
     
  10. theyogwog

    theyogwog

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    I just want to share briefly something about backgrounds I noticed when I was playing Icecap Zone the other day:

    [​IMG]

    You can see, it's a really nice transition from one background to another within the same level. There's the icy, cavernous background and the arctic outdoors background (perhaps the best background in the game imo, btw), smoothly separated by the icy wall pseudo-background. It's little touches like this, that tend to go unnoticed but really add a lot to the sense of immersion within a game. For me, they definitely helped make this one of the more distinctive, memorable levels. Angel Island also stands out in my mind for its effective use of backgrounds to add to the level as a whole.
     
  11. Techokami

    Techokami

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    Funfact: That happens a lot in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, it's actually masking the fact that the game is loading the layout for the next act. This also explains the wall that comes down to block you off from going back - you're in Act 2, Act 1 is no longer loaded in memory.
     
  12. DustArma

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    Yes, Acts in the game aren't as clearly defined as one might think, this is evident in AIZ Act 1 where half of the act is actually taking place inside Act 2's layout.
     
  13. Hukos

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    There are also some glitches that can occur as a result of those backgrounds. Ever glitch into Knuckles section of Ice Cap Zone (Vertical scrolling glitch at the ice pillar that normally leads to Knuckles' act 1 boss will do this)? The backgrounds will get... a little weird. Of course once you go through one of those transition screens it returns to normal.
     
  14. Deef

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    Saw this, thought others might want to check it out:
    http://phoffstein.wordpress.com/essays/platformer-level-design/


    And this resource in case people don't know about it and are wanting to get a better feel for the topic:
    http://www.vgmaps.com/

    That is all.
     
  15. Tiller

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    ^ That's a good read, even if mostly basic, its easy to miss a lot of the easy stuff.


    So I'm starting up a project and right now I'm in "build characters, physics, and abilities to test them out on shitty slapped together design" phase tentatively using Sonic Worlds.

    I've taken to heart the unique loops rule of thumb...especially because my gimmick for the first stage is a whole lot of twisting and turning loops made up of tree branches. I've done a lot of shitty ms paint tier mockups of level design ideas just to get the ball rolling and just want some tips for approaching this the right way.

    So for example here's a shitty mockup for a small area centered around a slightly unorthodox loop:

    [​IMG]

    It may not look like much, but the idea is that there is an element of exploration, speedrunning, speed indexing, and branching paths obtained through manipulating the physics. Just running the normal path nets you a cool unusual loop, though you can jump over the whole thing to save time. However, if you roll at the right time in the loop, you can slingshot around it, giving it a sort of skill index for those who like to go fast. In theory this could actually be faster than simply jumping over the loop. Another option is using that slingshot momentum and jumping at the right time to propel the player upwards to an otherwise unreachable path for Sonic, thereby rewarding the player with a higher path for of successfully manipulating the game physics. The items below are there for exploration. The player has to willingly stop to fall down the pit, so that shouldn't be punished with spikes for a death pit. Instead, as a reward for stopping to smell the roses, exploring nets you rings and a life. However, a crafty player who knows the layout can use the upside down momentum from jumping off the bottom of the loop to land on the life monitor and possibly propel themselves upward into the high path, gaining both a life and the high path. And that's just how Sonic interacts with this bit.

    Oh jeez that's a lot of overthinking. I slapped together a Sonic Worlds implementation of the design just to test if they are actually viable. Ignore the first bit since that's testing another idea. The loop and pit are entirely oversized in part to test larger loops. Ideally the loops would be much smaller and either a trail of rings or the lowering the upper path to be more visible would denote that it exists and is just out of Sonic's standard reach. The monitor bouncing doesn't work right due to Sonic getting stuck on a pixel on the pits side, but you should get the idea.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvgbBWcFWnY&feature

    Also ignore the aerial spindash. It's a totally original idea in testing and not because I accidentally made the spindash ignore whether or not Sonic was on the ground interesting moveset idea I wanted to explore.
     
  16. Covarr

    Covarr

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    An outer-loop? Certainly an interesting idea, and a damn sight more interesting than anything Sonic Rush (Adventure) or Sonic 4 ever did with convex curves. Of course, the fact that it's a deliberate design decision and not just thrown together helps. I really like the new options this opens up in terms of exploration and use of vertical level design. In particular, I could see it working well with Knuckles, allowing him to reach climbable walls that he couldn't otherwise, the sort that normally tempts players only to let them down:

    [​IMG]

    Ignore the obviously fucked scale, I didn't feel like making it correctly. Hopefully the idea is clear. That wall could be positioned such that it's visible when you go into the tunnel, so players using Knuckles might think to go back and use the loop to glide onto it.
     
  17. Tiller

    Tiller

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    Indeed. It could work very well with Knuckles, and if you borrow one of my favorite level design pages from Sonic Axiom, you can bait it like this.

    [​IMG]

    Though my goal is to create new playstyles using other characters rather than Tails and Knuckles. They've been done over and over and I'd like to try to make my trio diverge from that a little bit.
     
  18. RetroKoH

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    Had an idea for a figure 8 loop. Wouldn't provide too much more than a standard loop gameplay-wise, but I feel it could make a nice aesthetic that has never been done. (to the best of my knowledge.)
     
  19. Sparks

    Sparks

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    [​IMG]
    Maybe like this? Could function similar to a Sandopolis loop.

    Edit: Looking back, could also work with making Continuation go left.
     
  20. RetroKoH

    RetroKoH

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    You sir, have just made my dream come true...