Yes. I'm not fond of it much and aside from it being largely obsolete I think it has even less of a place in this formula than it would in a new 2d Sonic game. Checkpoints will suffice, and the game will not be without a new powerup.
That's one of those tricky elements. One option is to take control of the camera, but Sonic's high-speed motion can already be really disorienting. Moving the camera in a way the player isn't expecting can compound this. It's an unpleasant experience to have to fight the camera.I was messing around in the demo earlier and realised that this ol' trick from the classics is a lot harder to pull off in 3D, mainly when using the mouse and keyboard, as you'd have to flip the camera around in midair in order to maintain as much speed as possible.
Any ideas on how to get around this, like some way of instantly rotating Sonic and the camera 180 degrees maybe? Or do you think this is just one of those elements that can't be translated into 3D perfectly?
Lange said:Thank you all for the feedback. I had a feeling most of what would be said would be echoing much of what has been said elsewhere, and believe me I'm well aware of these things already. I'll cover all this now.
I've already thought of pretty much everything. Every detail, everything carefully considered, the gameplay tested extremely thoroughly with all weak points noted. For some things, there is no perfect answer, but there are usually best answers.
It's important to recognize that a lot was rushed and cut to make it to SAGE. A lot of what's been asked for are things that were planned, and we'll be adding some of the cut features over the next few weeks, as well as generally polishing up.
For starters, I should talk about the level since that's the biggest point of contention and criticism in this demo, and understandably so.
It's not like I'm not aware the level is somewhat empty and unclear. This level was a huge experiment in design and I learned a lot in the process of making it. Making this wild, sloppy mess was important to get a grasp on how level design could or should work for this gameplay. For this demo, just consider it a playground to have fun in. It has a lot of different ideas for level design strung together without much direction, but many happy accidents have formed from testing it and I'm taking notes of all the strong points of its design, intentional and otherwise.
The "emptiness" of the level is half intentional. There are areas intentionally left open and boring because they're designated as "punishment" for not staying on the progressive paths. They're places that are a novelty to roam and take in the scenery, but are usually not conducive to progressing the level and this can be clearly seen. I felt this was a good solution to "linear path over a void", where a level could have the best of both open free roaming areas and dedicated level design. A few parts of the main routes I intentionally left bare to see how they would play, ie "how would this part be if it were just a few hills and loads of badniks". When building it, I was taking into account many variables, one being what would the player's visibility be like if this were here or what height that would obscure vision etc, and overcompensated this a bit leaving much of the level fairly flat.
However, because of the SAGE deadline, I did not have time to do a lot of the detailing I wanted to do on many portions of the level, and some parts were drastically cut and hurried. You might notice the second half of the level, that is, the whole area past the long road and field, has much weaker level design than the first half. This was done later and I had to spend less time on it.
Underwater is terribly neglected. I had whole underwater sections of level design planned that had to be cut, leaving only a few essential chunks littering the lake beds. Choppers were made but unfinished, leaving lakes that much more boring.
As for landmarks, I did actually have a few standout features planned. There were going to be giant bird statues at the cliff sides of the halfway point, and an Eggman statue on the cylindrical shape on the intersection near the end of the level.
Despite the lack of landmarks, I do not agree with the complaints that "the level looks the same everywhere, there's no outstanding features and nothing interesting". Despite the cut elements, the level has very distinct geography and several significant shifts in setting depending on the route taken. There's a jungle-like section, caves, a lake section with bridges, upper and lower shelves, and a couple hidden areas that change the theme completely.
I had a few more hidden areas planned too, such as a cave inside the largest mountain on the shelf above the midpoint, and an underground section based on Marble Zone.
Overall I do consider this level sloppy work, and I'm probably going to scrap it, especially since I improved my workflow over time and working with it as it is now is too rigid and complicated.
I would appreciate any screenshots or clips of what anyone feels is strong or weak design, with explanations. That would certainly help.
Why Green Hill Zone?
I knew there would be plenty of "not this again" responses. I chose Green Hill for a number of reasons.
Not only is Green Hill a way for the player to learn, it's a way for me to learn as well. It allowed me to create a more loose, carefree level for both myself to learn design, and the player to learn gameplay. Now certainly, this isn't an excuse to be lazy; the original Green Hill Zone is a well designed, finely tuned level. But this was less being lazy and more about learning. I put in a tremendous effort despite the result. And it has payed off, as I've learned so much and players are starting to get acquainted with this formula of gameplay, and I'm seeing more creative gameplay appearing already.
Along with this, I've felt that every depiction of Green Hill since its debut have lost its touch. Even in Sonic Generations, which was certainly impressive visually, does not capture the spirit of Green Hill to me. I wanted to show that even something as tired and repeated as Green Hill Zone still has so much life in it, and it just needs to be brought out. When Green Hill Zone is used to evoke "nostalgia" or the emotions it gave people, it needs to be done with understanding and intention. Simply mimicking its elements in a superficial way will not work. Same with Sonic as a whole, really. You have to understand what you're working with and what it made people feel and how, in order to revive it. The title "Sonic" does not have power in name alone. It is backed by a rich foundation of artistic and gameplay substance. That's what gave the title power in the first place, why people love the series, and that cannot be neglected. Abusing the title without its context will just destroy its value.
I'm aware of the camera issues. Also aware of Sonic not responding to slopes and halfpipes correctly when rolling, issues with homing attack, etc. There were plans for more nuanced controls that also didn't make the cut.
Lange said:Providing clear direction for the player is tricky. I believe it should be handled with subtlety and ideally the level design itself should be able to tell the player (though this could cost freedom in level design which is also a concern). Anything otherwise, like arrows or points on a map, could be considered a substitution for a shortcoming in design, unless it really were open world with multiple goals in different directions; even then, Super Mario 64 did not need this, and I want to avoid as much as I can in the way of excess UI elements and descriptions.
The problem with having a "beacon" or pointing the camera at the goal, is that this is not always going to align with the course at a given moment. For example, a level with multiple indoor rooms that change the course's direction throughout. Pointing the camera at the goal's position may not be the way to progress in that room at that moment, or even for several rooms in succession. It could even be pointing to the entrance of that room, and a lost player could be fooled into going backwards. For a start to finish course, the player would need to be lead the right way at all times, and this direction is variable. And even then, this only applies to a perfectly linear course. A specific given direction no longer makes sense for a level with multiple valid routes to take.
Lange said:A metroidvania format sounds like fun, and also like it might solve design problems, but it would actually create a whole lot more troubles. Not wise to attempt when the fundamentals haven't even been solved or proven yet. Variations and expansions are something to try when the foundation is done and strong. Reminder that this is not an open world game. I'm keeping it to brass tacks. Level by level, start to finish action courses, and trying to keep the levels and game as a whole in a manageable scope. This is not to say there won't be exploration; I consider that part of Sonic's elements. It won't be much more than you might expect of say, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles levels (though considering how complex some of them get, probably evened out some), but I will try to go the extra mile where I can and make the 3d space count; after all, there wouldn't be much a point of making this a 3d game if the 3d itself is underutilized. The highlights of exploration in the demo that players have especially enjoyed are not something I want compromised, such as going far off a central path to find an area unusual to the rest of the level.
UpCDownCLeftCRightC said:I'm painfully curious about how you all have decided to handle the level structure, from taking a more classically "point A to B" approach or building upon a more open philosophy. With this I'm sure you have your own plans and goals, as seeing as you're merely trying to get to full proof of concept, you don't have to worry about designing a full game yet. I wonder what road you'll take though. The purely A to B level structure of the classics would probably make for a pretty short game no matter how quickly one can design levels, so I'd imagine there'd be something more to the concept. And expanding Sonic's potential into something more than the classics could be may have you utilizing exploration in ways that couldn't be done before. There are a lot of really cool scenarios I can imagine Sonic in, in which Sonic can fully engage the terrain and independent objects within the environment. That I'm sure is also a matter of what kind of base level physics you have. Ugh, I just see soooo much potential for this, its driving me nuts.
Lange said:The levels will primarily be start to finish. Sonic does have to adapt its gameplay for 3d, and while it's understood that Super Mario 64 addressed the jump to 3d by going for an open world mission design, this does not mean Sonic has to copy Mario's approach in order to make the jump as well. Sonic and Mario have unique gameplay and priorities in their design. Granted, going with the SM64 approach would probably work nicely for Sonic in theory (Sonic CD already sets the stage for such a concept), I don't believe this is the ideal.
I consider traversing a world from start to finish an important part of Sonic's game, and I want to preserve that in a 3d setting. Being able to explore and make your own ways through is part of this experience. This can be capitalized on in 3d as you can scope out your environment and pursue places of interest. But, I would consider that part of the journey, and not an end goal by itself.
Note that I said primarily start to finish. There will be secondary objectives that reward exploring, collecting, and learning the game. There will also be special missions in each level that can be played outside of the main game (think Sonic Adventure 2; it had the main goal campaign and a separate stage select with selectable missions).
Lange said:I have seen a lot of comments along the lines of "this is what Sonic Team should've done on the Saturn/Dreamcast to begin with" etc. This is a certainly understandable sentiment, but I think it's worth explaining some things in their defense.
Sonic Utopia is relying on technologies that did not even exist back then. Aside from the robust amount of geometry and calculations at its disposal, it's also utilizing Unity's PhysX implementation to power motion and collisions. The Dreamcast had comparatively very limited technology, Sonic Team had to do things like movement and collision way more raw, and they were tapping into unexplored territory. Trying to compare Super Mario 64 and Sonic Adventure is terribly unfair for Sonic. Mario is a much simpler platformer and translating it to 3d was already a very daunting task. Doing the same for Sonic is exponentially more complicated in terms of technology and game design, and so you can safely bet the probable reason for Sonic being in limbo during the Saturn era. You can see they made an earnest effort in the earlier stages of Sonic Adventure, particularly with the Windy Valley beta. It's much more natural and there's a much greater emphasis on slopes and exploration in the level design, showing they were attempting a genuine translation of 2d Sonic, one that was based more around momentum and slope physics. The final contrasts this with much more linear level design filled with boosters and scripted events. When you take this into account with the untethered slope physics being pretty buggy, it paints a picture of them having to abandon their intentions and make some big compromises. They ended up with a stable, understood formula, and the rest is history.
Morph said:I know the Sonic Adventure thing is sort of a tangent, but having only just scratched the surface of how its collision works under the hood, I cannot stress that point enough. Right on the money. They had to design their own robust collision system capable of handling high speed collision, and it had to run fast and efficiently on a 200 MHz CPU. Not easy by any means, and it shows!
That aside though, I look forward to seeing more of Sonic Utopia in the future. I loved it. You guys are doing a fantastic job.
Lange said:Thank you. And not just high speed collisions, but functioning 3d slope physics with good control. Not even ordinary ball physics either, but the abstract kind unique to Sonic. You're looking at a game that demands not only these systems made from the ground up on limited hardware, but large levels that demand extra polygons for defined curves, a comfortable accessible control scheme in tandem with all of this, a well behaved camera to go with it, and figuring out the game design for all of it and applying it properly across huge levels for an entire game, and none of this had ever really been explored before. All things considered, even the compromised state of Sonic Adventure is an impressive feat, and one can't help but be forgiving of them for the challenges they were facing.
Lange said:The story has been figured out and is pretty well planned. It was tricky for a while because there's some surprises we'd like to have that make a story difficult to fit around, but it has worked out wonderfully. It's a bit weird but still based on what's been established to work with in the series, synthesizing something new and interesting from it.
rebelcheese said:Interesting. Will there be any dialogue in the narrative or will the story be told without words like Hyper Light Drifter or the classic Sonic games?
Lange said:Still deciding. On one hand, it'd be more directly faithful to the classics without dialogue, but there's some parts of the story that would be really difficult or impossible to convey that way. Though, it may not be too important; there's parts of the story in the classics that only exist on paper. Some feel that dialogue would dilute the classics.
I don't feel that strongly about it. There was dialogue in the Genesis version cutscenes of 3D Blast (granted the cutscenes in the Saturn version were without). There's messages in the tutorial mode of Knuckles Chaotix. But the most important thing is that there are intended personalities and dialogues with the characters conveyed in official media by Sonic Team outside the games, such as the stories in the manuals, albeit scarce. I'd like to see this actually adapted to in game scenes, trying to depict the characters as they were intended to be. The OVA does a good job of this but, kind of its own thing and only a sample of what could've been, and only in the form of a short movie.
This is all of course, assuming Utopia will have cutscenes, which is something I'm aiming to do.
Lange said:We've been taking it slow lately to take care of our personal lives, but we're getting back up to speed. Especially thanks to our new member, tripplejaz. He's on board as a concept artist and is showing to be a great fit for our team.
He's been making concept art for the new stage, turning ideas into pictures, adding new things, and helping a lot with planning and design. Here's a small sample of his concept art for the upcoming stage, and a hint of what to expect.
Lange said:I'd like to make the first "blog" post (I hate to say blog... maybe we should put a site together for this too) to talk about some of the design process.
This post is about the most iconic item in the Sonic series.
Many subtleties compose the aesthetic theme of the classics, and I consider them important. The golden rings should be given attention and thought, as much as any other element in Sonic's world.
The primary role of rings in gameplay is to grant protection, but they have secondary roles such as adding lives and granting entrance to the Special Zone.
They certainly have a mystical power that's connected with other elements in Sonic's world, such as the chaos emeralds. There's a big loop tying things together under the surface, setting the stage for a consistent concept of related elements.
Since Sonic Adventure, rings have gradually lost their deeper conceptual value in the series. They've also been interpreted as a donut shape.
However, if we take a closer look at rings in the classic series, they're often depicted as being flat on the inside.
While it's barely interpretable in their normal sized sprites, you can see it more clearly in big rings.
They're also depicted this way in other games including the 8 bit titles.
Other forms of media at the time depicted rings this way, which could have been creative liberty, but there might have also been standard designs passed around or artists took notice of their in game appearances.
There's common aesthetics that permeate the family of media during that era, between games like Sonic, Ecco, Ristar, and a variety of others. Ecco has a similar style of rings, a hint at this stylistic thread.
(also worth mention is the crystal; crystals and gems are another significant theme in that era of media, and I'll talk about that more later)
So, I modeled rings according to their suggested appearance.
Rings had an elegance to them, as did other things. It's easy to take them for granted, but the rings didn't exist just because. Rings had a reason, a mystical connection with other elements, and followed a subtle artistic theme.