What Sonic can learn from Mario

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by RetrospectGreg, Nov 23, 2017.

  1. RetrospectGreg

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    With both Super Mario Odyssey and Sonic Forces coming out around the same time, one game is doing immensely well while the other is... not doing so good. I'm wondering what lessons Sega can learn from Nintendo.

    What Sonic can learn from Mario

    Let's hope Sega can finally get some fresh blood and realize how Nintendo keeps Mario so fresh and relevant throughout the years.
     
  2. Pengi

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    There's an oft-repeated tidbit about how development of Super Mario 64 began.

    http://shmuplations.com/mario64/

    This is the most important lesson Sonic Team can learn from the Mario games.

    If the game is going to work, truly work, Sonic must control well. He must control in a way that feels natural, intuitive and satisfying. He must react to his environment (slopes, springs, enemies etc) in a way that is natural, intuitive and satisfying.

    It's the number one reason the Mario games work. It's the number one reason the Mega Drive/CD Sonic games work. It's the number one reason Sonic Mania works. It's the number one reason why many recent Sonic games have fallen short. Sonic Forces is particularly egregious, since it mostly did the same thing as Generations, but with significantly worse controls and physics.

    It should go without saying that fun and interesting level design, unique ideas, variety etc are all very important (it's the difference between the delightful Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the so-so Sonic Advance). But without the foundation of a character who controls well and reacts to their environment in a fun and intuitive manner, you'll never have a great game.
     
  3. Xiao Hayes

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    Pretty much this. The less I feel I'm controlling my on-screen character, the easier I find the game unappealing. Gimmicks don't help when the character feels unnecessary complex, so, for example, Mario 64 tricks, caps, etc. felt right even if had to git gud; Sonic Heroes, on the other hand, made us have to constantly change characters to do things we already were able to do with a single character and simpler controls in the previous game, so it was a bad choice even if it somehow made sense.

    With that said, I think this topic's born to discuss something which has been discussed in other threads and over time; we've already even talked about Odyssey having better rolling physics than most modern Sonic games (in Forces thread, I think). We hardly can say something new here.
     
  4. Lilly

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    About halfway into the video, there was a fair bit of rambling about Sonic-specific wishful thinking that's unrelated to the theme of the video. (As well as this thread's title.) I think the retrospective could dwell on fewer tangents and keep itself on its rails whenever possible. A good balance of relevant information vs entertaining asides keeps people more engaged.

    That said, I have to agree with HedgeHayes. This video could have easily been linked in the Forces thread.

    This was a really nice read, and validates how I've handled prototyping things for some time now. A game isn't ready to build playable levels for if the limits of the controls/physics haven't been outlined and balanced in carefully made test environments, or if all the little subsystems holding together the mechanics that are visible to the player aren't fully streamlined yet. (Input or character state bugs especially make advanced tricks far more difficult to pull off.)

    There's obviously more to it than that, and like the interview says, some things are added far later. But, the basics have to be set in stone; I enjoyed reading that they gave it so much personal attention and care. Older Nintendo games had programmers dedicated solely to the combat, or the camera system, iirc. It's that important.

    Come to think of it, have test stages been found in Sonic games? It's very common for people data-mining or hacking Nintendo games to come across a fair few, comprehensively labeled test stages. Even Super Mario 64 DS, a remake, had one; it looked professional and clean too.
     
  5. urlogic

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    Even if this topic becomes 200 pages long, it's not going to teach SEGA anything. Taxman and Stealth already planted the seed of hope. If they didn't teach SEGA a lesson, 20 more ass whoopings from mario to sonic won't teach sega anything either. We're just gonna grow up and realize SEGA panders to children 13 and under until SEGA shapes up.
     
  6. Sir_mihael

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    Whilst I'm generally not the most active in trying to encourage change for the better, I'm certainly against telling others to stick their head in the sand when discussions can be had, regardless of what's it about.

    If anything, your mention of Taxman and Stealth is an argument for why these kind of threads should happen.
    Even guys like that didn't just spring out from the ground, day 1 knowing how Sonic 'ticks'. They spent time picking apart and discussing either with themselves or with others what works and what doesn't, just like what happens here.

    I mean, in the future, I could definitely see a team of fans making a definitive 3D Sonic title, whether it branches from the Mania team or not is hard to say, but overall it doesn't really matter what SEGA is doing right now as these threads aren't for them to read. They're for the future Taxmans and Stealths-mans.

    Even taking that off the table for a second - If everyone's brains were ticking to the time of "What makes a good 3D Sonic game?", then fingers crossed people would start to actually think critically about the media that's in front of them, which leads to more people voicing their thoughts and voting with their wallets, etc.

    It's small ripples, but then again, the chain reaction that led to Sonic Mania probably goes all the way back to similar discussions like this, and due to the complex nature of 3D Sonic over 2D Sonic, this kind of discussion is even more necessary in my opinion.

    If all else fails, the old saying goes- 'Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.' :v:
     

  7. I'll have to agree with urlogic and take it a step further; if SEGA and Sonic Team does not support the Mania Team going forward (assuming they want to keep working on Sonic games), that will essentially be all we need to know in terms of our continued support of the franchise. I'm quite positive that there are internal discussions going on right now of some nature surrounding this and how to move forward....but we've not heard a peep yet. If they don't do the common sense thing we cannot reasonably hope for a solution to Sonic going forward. We've been having these conversations for years and nothing changes because the brain trust doesn't change. The brain trust can't change without license to do so and if it doesn't, everything else is moot. It seems like quite the political battle and one in which I'm not too confident that reason will prevail.
     
  8. Metalsonicmk72

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    If memory serves, there's a test level hidden away in the Sonic Adventure Autodemo's files. There's one in SA2B that was able to be accessed via action replay on the gamecube and by a programming oversight in the PC port (plus hacking later), and there's a few for Shadow the Hedgehog. That's all I can think of at the moment.

    Edit: links added.
     
  9. Beltway

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    I feel nailing the controls of the character is one piece of an overall bigger picture that can be learned from Nintendo/Mario games. Mario games not only have great controls, the overall gameplay also preserves the roots of the original games. Outside of rare oddballs like Mario 2 USA, you can pick up any 2D Mario title --Mario 3, Mario World, NSMB, Super Mario Maker, etc.-- and it feels like a 2D Mario title. Despite additions, tweaks, and removals to Mario's controls, tricks, and suits; Mario's core gameplay still remains true to its foundations. Fire up New Super Mario Bros. U and it still feels like an evolved Super Mario Bros., and I'm sure the next 2D Mario game for the Switch will still be carrying that torch.

    This is also true for the 3D Mario games. Mario 64 in spite of the several changes established to bring the series into 3D, still retains some critical guidelines from the preceding 2D titles within its core; so while Mario 64 establishes itself as something very different from past titles, it also doesn't sow any doubt that Mario 64 is indeed still a Mario game. As with the 2D line of games, the following Sunshine, Galaxy 1/2, and Odyssey are also visibly built upon the foundations that Mario 64 established. Meanwhile, the 3D Land and 3D World games are a notable case of reworking the existing 3D Mario template to explicitly bring the playstyle far closer in line to the principles of 2D Mario gameplay; effectively serving as a hybrid of the two.

    Sonic Team completely flew off the handle in regards to making Sonic Adventure and proceeded to threw away virtually everything they learned and built with the preceding Genesis games; whatever material they kept was hardly meaningful to the source material. Because I like to come up with analogies that I feel best represents what happened: the studio got so caught up in trying to reinvent the wheel and reinvent Sonic, they took an entire rulebook they previously used to build the original Sonic games and tossed into a wastebasket, and replaced it in favor of a novella. Then they threw that out shortly afterwards and replaced it with a picture book, which had stipulations so superficial and loose, it gave the studio carte blanche to make literally any game they fancied. And every Sonic game since then --the 3D games, the 2D games, the games made by Sonic Team in-house, the games outsourced to other studios like Dimps, Backbone, BRB, and Sanzaru-- were in accordance to that picture book.

    It's absolutely cathartic to have Mania, a game that feels like it was made by designers who managed to recreate the original rulebook from scratch, and were somehow allowed to make a game that followed upon their custom-made rulebook. Meanwhile, Mario has at least three rulebooks (for 2D, sandbox 3D, and linear 3D) that all share some key critical chapters.
     
  10. Pengi

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    Definitely. A consistent series identity is important. But whether it's trying to do something crazy and different or going back to basics, if the controls and physics are lousy the entire thing falls apart. Sonic Forces is a prime example since it's a combination of a back to basics approach (Classic Sonic), a continuation of a more recent approach (Modern Sonic), and a new approach (Avatar and Wispons), but all three are hampered by a deep-rooted omnipresent jank.

    Super Mario Bros 2 USA doesn't feel like a proper Super Mario game, but it's still a fun game that controls well and is immediately accessible.

    So whilst it's one piece of the bigger picture, I do feel that it is very much the centre-piece.

    100% agreed.

    I'd argue that the New Super Mario Bros games also bridge the gap between "classic Mario" and "3D era Mario", though perhaps more subtly than 3D Land/World. Taking techniques from Super Mario 64 (triple jump, wall jump, ground pound) and integrating them into 2D Mario platformers further cemented the idea that you were still controlling the same character and playing the same style of game. Whether it was a 3D game or 2D game, Mario was still Mario and still doing the same things you'd come to expect. The 2D series and 3D series built off of each other. Similarly, Yoshi's flutter jump from his own games was implemented into his move-set in both 2D and 3D Super Mario games. The effect was the same - whether being controlled solo in a Yoshi game, or ridden by Mario in a 2D or 3D Super Mario game, Yoshi was always Yoshi.

    Interestingly, Sonic Team did for a while try a similar parity between the 2D and 3D Sonic games, but it used Sonic Rush as the base template rather than the original games.

    I think that's a bit too harsh on Sonic Adventure.

    It's immediately obvious that Sonic Adventure was created by a creatively fertile, passionate, experimental Sonic Team. So many ideas made it into that game and as such many of them ended up half-baked. It was a platformer, an RPG, a platform shooter, a platform racer, a virtual pet, a fishing game, a treasure hunt, pinball, a rail shooter, snowboarding, whack-a-mole... It's an unprecedented and kind of remarkable mish-mash of ideas.

    But despite all of that, at its core you could still see a sincere attempt at translating the Sonic of the Mega Drive games into three dimensions. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles generally behaved the way you expected. Knuckles had more of a Mario 64 open environment scavenger hunt thing going on, but it was still the Knuckles you'd come to expect from the 2D games.

    There were three key differences between the 2D series and Sonic Adventure that made for a wobbly transition.

    1. Slope, curve and loop physics. This was fundamental to the Mega Drive Sonic experience, the general idea that Sonic would gain speed going downhill, lose speed going uphill and with enough momentum could be launched through loop-de-loops like a rollercoaster. The extra wrinkle was that rolling into a ball would make Sonic even faster still when going downhill, but wasn't much use up-hill or on flat ground without any existing momentum. Sonic Adventure struggled at converting this to 3D, cool bits like running up the side of a curved wall were a bit too finicky to pull off consistently and there was great reliance on speed boosters rather than the terrain itself in areas where Sonic was to be propelled at high speed.

    2. Rolling. As just touched upon, rolling added an extra depth to the already inherently fun and interesting way sloped and curved terrain worked in the Mega Drive series. It could make Sonic faster or slower depending on how and when you used it, but also served as an attack the same way the jump did. I'd argue that the idea of a character who could turn into a ball (that could destroy enemies and terrain like a cannon ball and get bounced around bumpers like a pinball) was the core idea that separated Sonic from all other platformers, rather than just the high speed.

    Sonic Adventure didn't have a dedicated crouch/curl-into-ball function. It only had the spin dash. In Sonic 2 the spin dash was introduced as a manual way for the player to gain high speed. But the only way it could be performed was by first coming to a stand still, holding down on the D-pad, then "revving up" with the jump button before releasing down on the D-pad. Easy speed, but with the trade off of having to come to a stand still and judging how many "revs" would be necessary to overcome the terrain ahead of Sonic. In Sonic Adventure the spin dash is mapped to a single face button, so coming to a stand still is no longer a necessity, giving the player the option of a free boost with the tap of a button.

    The satisfying feeling of running to build up momentum and rolling Sonic into a ball, the give and take of it, the joy of wrecking enemies and obstacles in your path, was lost.

    3. Homing attack. Precision jumping has always been problematic in 3D games, a problem that's exacerbated when you're dealing with a high speed character. The homing attack in Sonic Adventure, drawing Sonic towards the nearest enemy, spring or other such object with a double jump was a logical compromise with good intent behind it. But it was a compromise nonetheless, taking a degree of control away from the player and also resetting Sonic's speed.

    Overall I wouldn't characterise Sonic Adventure as a betrayal of what came before, but a noble effort, a first attempt that showed a lot of potential.

    I think the bigger change of direction came with Sonic Adventure 2. SA1 attempted to convert traditional Sonic gameplay into 3D, despite some rough patches and compromises along the way. SA2 did nothing to further this goal. Instead of improving upon the rolling and the spin dash, the team removed it entirely. The homing attack became an even bigger focus. The level design became more linear. Trying to get Sonic to run in a half-pipe was still janky. Sonic's gameplay in SA2 was in many ways more refined and polished than its predecessor, but they chose not to refine, polish and improve any of the elements that tied Sonic Adventure to the original Mega Drive series. SA2 unquestionably built upon what came before it, but like in a game of Chinese Whispers, the original message had become lost.

    Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying that to truly realise the potential of a 3D Sonic game, Sega/Sonic Team need to make one where Sonic can actually roll into a ball and create environments where this is a fun action (think three-dimensional Spring Yard Zone).

    Which! As of last month! Is something Sonic can learn from Mario! In Super Mario Odyssey, Mario can roll into a ball. He picks up speed when rolling downhill. He reacts to bumps and curves in the terrain exactly the way you'd expect a ball to. It's not a focus of the game. In fact you barely ever need to use it at all, beyond a small handful of optional Power Moons. It feels like they put it in simply because it's a fun movement to perform. It's that very Nintendo idea of the platonic idea of "play" itself being what's most important.

    In Odyssey the roll is a bit of a two step process. For a 3D Sonic game it could be streamlined to a single button (let's say the right trigger and/or the Y button on a Nintendo controller) that behaves the same way pressing down on the D-pad does in the classic 2D Sonic games.

    There's also a part of the game where Mario can possess a ball-shaped creature who can roll and bounce on angled surfaces that send him ricocheting. It felt like a decent template for making something like Casino Night Zone's triangular bumpers work in 3D.
     
  11. Linkabel

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    I think the main problem that started with Sonic Adventure was that Sonic Team was not confident that Sonic's core gameplay can carry a game by itself.

    A lot of resources went into creating the treasure hunting and shooting gameplays because in their eyes the average modern gamer wasn't going to be interested in just the core gameplay. And by the way, we're talking about the 90s Sonic Team here.

    That to me was what sealed the fate of the 3D games because that reasoning never really left.

    We got team mechanics, shooting, telekinesis, vehicle gameplay, combat, avatar etc etc but I think they were onto something all the way back in Sonic Adventure with just Sonic.

    When I first picked up that game I wasn't lost at all playing with Sonic, even with the homing attack. To me it felt like what I was playing back in the Genesis days but just in 3D. It was the other styles that threw me out of the loop.


    So one of the first steps they can take is realizing that people still like the Genesis gameplay and that it can carry a game (just like the Mario series can by sticking to its principles) but that the extra fluff is what ruins the 3D games.
     
  12. Sean Evans

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    This isn't true. Sonic Team's initial vision for Adventure demonstrated that they knew the original games had a lot that drew players in. The original concept kept the visuals and feel of the classics, with the surreal fantasy/pseudo realism that they had attempted. And based on what we've seen of early layouts and stages, it's clear they were at least attempting to create a free-er, looser, curvier game in the vein of the classics. What got in the way was brand management and meddling from higher-ups. Sonic's existence was meant from the beginning to be a marketing tool, and this overrides any and all genuine merit it may have in Sega's eyes. As a result, effort was placed more on making a game that could demonstrate the console's capabilities (how it handles more realistic graphics/textures/effects/game styles ect.) and push the brand's image to appeal to a wider audience, and new generation. This has been something the series has continued to do to this very day, going as far to even imply a split between the two branches of the franchise to give themselves an easy out. Nintendo treats Mario like a fragile vase. He's in a very important position and they put all their effort into keeping him there. They don't reinvent Mario because they understand that his simplicity and lack of direct character make him appealing to the widest possible audience. Sega invented what is supposed to be the antithesis to that, and now they don't know how to preserve it, so they just keep trying new shit to see what sticks.

    Yeow made a good point, but I'd take it a step further and say that because of the series well developed foundation it has strong adaptability. They can do something creative and unique without running the risk of changing everything to accommodate it. Sunshine, Galaxy, 3D Land, and Odyssey are very different in terms of features and moment to moment gameplay, but they all carry 64's structure. It's flexible enough to do basically whatever Nintendo wants, giving them freedom to experiment and incorporate new ideas without compromising the essentials that people liked about 3D Mario. Meanwhile, Modern Sonic can't do shit unless it adds another character or gameplay mode that superfluously increases content and takes attention away from the core mechanics that it's meant to focus on. They never had time to even establish a core concept because they have to keep tacking new things onto ones they do have. Classic Sonic had brief stints with experimentation in games like CD and Chaotix, and even if they didn't too incredibly well, they demonstrated the potential flexibility those games had while staying true to what made them work. Naka was even interested early on in trying to do new things with Sonic, but corporate meddling and fear of ruining brand identity stifled the team's creativity. And now we have some of the most locked-in concepts in the series history.
     
  13. Linkabel

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    I never said they didn't have an initial version of SA where they knew the classics drew people in, and I know about the test levels, but they were worried Sonic might not attract a wider audience like he did before, hence the different gameplay styles. From the Retro wiki itself:

    There's also a lot interviews with Naka (I think the last one was by Game Masters?) where he mentions the rise of shooters and platformers with puzzles and collecting items gave us characters like Gamma or Knuckles' treasure hunting.

    I'm not sure where you're getting this decision was made by the higher ups, I would love to see it. Did they perhaps suggested to the team? Maybe. But looking at some of their decisions, to me it looks like Sonic Team have made those calls themselves (big examples are Shadow' gunplay and the recent avatar gameplay from Forces).
     
  14. Chimpo

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    The Retro quote you're linking does not support this assumption that you're making. Different playstyles were always in the plan for Adventure, but associating those styles to completely new characters makes it far easier to market. None of this means they were worried core Sonic wouldn't sell. The game is still called Sonic Adventure. Sonic still has the most amount of content in the game than any other character in the game. It's still largely Sonic's game. Maybe not a 1:1 translation from 2D to 3D, but neither is Mario 64.

    I also don't think this silly idea that test levels and lack of honing down controls and mechanics is the issue with the games. Sonic Team has no interest in giving the player control, so they simply do not bother in polishing that aspect. They've been removing our ability to control Sonic with each entry. They seem to be far more interested in designing a roller coaster ride that we watch rather than something we participate in. This isn't an issue with Sonic Team lacking fundamentals or understanding of the core mechanics of the classics. This is an intentional design where this new style of play is, to them at least, what makes a Sonic game, Sonic.

    You guys like to argue that they don't understand, I'd like to argue that they don't care.
     
  15. Amnimator

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    Worded it better than I could've myself. Truth is a constrained, spline driven, more binary-like player controller is much easier to debug than something that's extremely variable under many different conditions. I'd imagine it would also help skip a bunch of R&D done in platformers to make sure the player controls well. If I'm not mistaken a large portion of Mario 64s dev time was making sure the player controlled well, and design the game around that. Regardless, for whatever reason, it's clear their intent is to remove variability from player control, not that they couldn't do it if they wanted to. Perhaps to ensure they can push a product given a specific budget or deadline?

    What I wonder is why they decided to roll with making the player control worse in Forces. Unleashed Daytime for example was constrained but chose to benefit from it, and wasn't nearly as constrained as it is now. They would have legitimately been better off had they copy-pasted the player control from Unleashed/ Gens instead of building up from Lost World. My personal theory is that since we know Forces was developed as a VR game at some point, they were experimenting with making dynamic player physics with minimal motion sickness, hence the stop and go gameplay where you halt at a dime.
     
  16. Beltway

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    I do think that Adventure 1 did retain some principles of the original games, I only meant to refer to Adventure 1 as the starting point of when they began disregarding what they laid down with the Genesis games; rather than the point they completely threw out everything and the kitchen sink. I should had been more clear in connecting the two with my analogy, but when I said that Sonic Team threw out the rulebook for a novella, I was referring to Adventure 1 (and Advance 1) in that regard. As far as I'm concerned, Adventure 2 and Advance 2 are when the novella games ended and where the picture books began.
     
  17. Fadaway

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    Short answer is....don't release half-assed games.

    On the surface, unnerving decisions and iffy game design have lead Sonic the franchise down bizarre roads. Super Mario games, nearly always, are made with quality standards in mind. It seems most (all?) decisions made in Super Mario game development land have likely been second guessed and put through the mill multiple times before being green lit. There seems to be more effort put into meeting those standards.

    Below the surface, I suspect this is due to a few contributing factors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Sonic the Hedgehog never made the impact in Japan it did elsewhere. I seem to remember that being noted a few times throughout the years. Although, I'm not one to speculate, but I do think that aspect can't be glossed over if true. The early games are pretty damn great and I'm sure the popularity in foreign markets helped the franchise stay afloat much longer than it otherwise would have.

    Once the transition into 3D began, it became more of a niche series. Popularity waned and more risks were taken. Sometimes, risks pay off. Sonic Mania is a risk that paid off in the best sort of way. It makes all those catastrophic Werehog-esque decisions almost worth it.

    Innovation isn't always easy. Experimentation leads to innovation. I'm sure Sonic Team did a fair amount of market research and were all in on steering the series in a less treacly direction than Mario. This was inherent in Sonic's design since the beginning.

    I think it's important to know why some of these decisions were made. Trends in key demographics, such as the 18–35 crowd, probably play a large role. Mario's devs kept their hooves in it and that's commendable. Iizuka-san, quite possibly, has been looking for the main nerve for the 3D canon. He hasn't hit paydirt with that yet, but I can't fault his team for experimenting and playing to old demographic cues. A genre-bening slash-em-up? With the right kind of execution, could have been gold. More often than not, execution has hindered the whole ordeal.

    What can Sonic learn from Mario: if the water gun seems like a bad idea, make it a fucking fun game anyway and play it as often as humanly possible before releasing it and tweak and correct until it's interesting and fun.