June 11, 2015 6:40 AM   Subscribe

A fan takes a look at the downturn of Sonic the Hedgehog, and presents some ideas on how to breathe new life into the franchise. [SLYT]
posted by tocts (50 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is really interesting, and I really like a lot of his gameplay ideas, but dear god do I disagree with his aesthetic redesign of Sonic. That 'too cool for school' attitude is essential in my opinion, and it wouldn't be Sonic without it.
posted by Dysk at 7:01 AM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

What they'd really need to do is go all the way back BEFORE the first game and tear the whole thing down. Sonic's speed and style queues (and music) were really cool at the time, but the actual gameplay has always been really weak, right from the beginning. It makes no sense to have a big, fiddly multi-path level flow with a character that moves at one million miles per hour. You're either missing half the level or moving around thinking "I could be going faster".

Honestly, though, I think people should let that part of their childhood go rather than insisting Sega(which is slowly dissolving into an IP-holder anyway) continue to swing the horse corpse around.
posted by selfnoise at 7:13 AM on June 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Sega just announced another Sonic Boom game, Fire and Ice. Which led to this greatly awful/awfully great tweet. (Latest Game of Thrones episode spoiler contained in the Tweet.)
posted by kmz at 7:14 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Protip: If you're going to make a pitch, make sure you pronounce the name of the company correctly. Regional phonetics aside, the games themselves give you correct pronunciation as they boot up.

I agree SEGA need to ditch the 3D overkill of the newer games and move back toward a more flat-ish look. But, man, that redesign of the character itself is horrible.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:32 AM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

He makes some valid points, but I couldn't help but feel like he should take his gameplay ideas and apply them to an original design of his own instead of lobbying Sega to reboot Sonic one more time. Pretty much every Sonic game of the past four console generations has been positioned as a back-to-basics redux designed to "fix" the problems of the previous iteration, so it's a vicious cycle of over-corrections layered on top of half-baked design choices.

Agreed, Thorzdad, it's hard to take his pitch seriously when he pronounces Sega as "See-ga", in naked defiance of the famous ♫Saaaay-gaaa♫ intro from the VERY GAME SERIES that he's talking about.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:37 AM on June 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

I actually really liked Sonic Adventure 2 :(
posted by Itaxpica at 7:48 AM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I thought it was OK too. It played to the strength of "people want to see Sonic go really fast". I think it gets a lot of crap for emphasizing the Shadow stuff, which was even worse than the usual Sonic plot glurge (but not as bad as what was to come, holy craaaap).

The latter-day Sonic game that is most lauded seems to be Sonic Generations, and I think that game actually does a great job of pointing out why continually digging at the franchise is a bad idea. Generations has levels with old school 2D versions AND new 3D versions and they both kind of suck for the reasons that they have traditionally sucked. The 2D versions suck for the reasons I alluded to in my previous post and the 3D versions suck because you never really feel like you're in control (partially due to continuing camera/direction confusion). In both examples you are constantly guessing whether your inputs are having a positive effect or not. This is not good design.
posted by selfnoise at 7:58 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

"color and waterbrush"
Wha? Sonic games (like Sega games in general) are known for the eye-fucking catching, arcade style, vibrant colors. Turning it into indie game aesthetic would accomplish, y'know, shit, and his version would be ravaged by critics for "attempting to rip-off the visuals of modern indie titles". His Sonic redesign manages to be suck harder than the most recent redesign - funny how he mentions bringing the older fanbase, but then manages to make a lot of stylistic suggestions to the character that make me cringe. Also, I think he didn't mention the Sonic comics/cartoons. I think at this time there are more kids that view Sonic as a cartoon character with shitty games, not an iconic videogame character with some cross-over appeal.

The idea to use rings as some sort of currency to buy powerups (and yes, the different powerups on S3&K were the best) and include puzzles is not bad, but it's not Sonic, either. At this point should either be phased off, or become some sort of sidescrolling, non-stop, multi-path endless runner - 10 minutes to clear a stage, dying just takes you back to the previous checkpoint, time over and it's back to the start with boss fights in the end. Or just do a complete game based on the 2D bits on Sonic Generations, while picking up what was right on the 2D Sonic games.

And Thorzdad is completely right. I was almost tempted to turn the whole thing off just as he said his first "Siga".
posted by lmfsilva at 8:01 AM on June 11, 2015

I consider coming to terms with the state of the Sonic series to be an important rite of passage on the way to inner peace; an indie reboot of the kind proposed isn't possible while still being Sonic, and a really decent 3D platformer starring Sonic doesn't seem to be possible, and they don't want to only make 2D versions. But they still make money off the series, so they'll keep churning them out, and people will keep bemoaning how shitty they are.

You can't change it, so make your peace with it. As is suggested above, maybe look at making a new game?

(I had to go through all this after buying Sonic Lost World, primarily for the bonus Nintendo content. So very much the opposite of an interesting game.)
posted by thoughtless at 8:07 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Repentant Christian Sonic the Hedgehog.

thoughtless: "I consider coming to terms with the state of the Sonic series to be an important rite of passage on the way to inner peace"

Yeah I always get the feeling that being an oldschool Sonic fan is like re-enacting the bathtub scene from Jacob's Ladder in a psychic sense.
posted by boo_radley at 8:17 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the reasons Sonic Team are one of my favorite developers is because they were never really afraid to just get rid of Sonic for long periods of time. From the mid 90s to early 2000s, they were largely turning out original games that only occasionally only tangentially related back to Sonic. That's more or less true even of the Adventure titles. Somehow I ended up loving SEGA and Sonic Team for their enormous creativity, willingness to experiment and gorgeous, vibrant, utopian aesthetic, without ever growing up with or caring a whole lot about Sonic beyond, "I like colorful happy blue skies, too!"

I guess I got lucky.
posted by byanyothername at 8:17 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the fundamental problem the Sonic series has is that it’s legitimately difficult to portray a character with fast movement when that character needs to be controlled in real time, especially in a 3D game environment. Most of the 3D Sonic games have addressed this by making the fast-movement sections largely on-rails, which doesn’t lead to interesting gameplay.

It would be interesting to see a Sonic game that played up the illusion of fast movement while not necessarily forcing quick decisions. Sonic is frequently portrayed as having a lot more control over his movement than players feel they have when they have to control him in real time. Maybe the solution is just a Viewtiful Joe-style tactical slow motion that you can activate at will.
posted by LSK at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2015

This is really interesting, and I really like a lot of his gameplay ideas, but dear god do I disagree with his aesthetic redesign of Sonic. That 'too cool for school' attitude is essential in my opinion, and it wouldn't be Sonic without it.

psssh… nothin personnel… kid…
posted by clarknova at 8:24 AM on June 11, 2015

I think the game play ideas have promise, but going "Your real audience is 18-30 year-olds who grew up with the game, like me" automatically earns you an eye-roll.
posted by RobotHero at 8:31 AM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

"It makes no sense to have a big, fiddly multi-path level flow with a character that moves at one million miles per hour. You're either missing half the level or moving around thinking "I could be going faster".

That was actually my favorite bit of the games - zooming past a hidden area, and realizing that the fact you *could* go REALLY FAST, but the game would reward me for stopping and exploring from time to time.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nthing that those are good gameplay ideas, but re: character design: Sonic was born as a Poochie and that is an integral part of him, as dated and annoying as that is.
posted by ignignokt at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

To be fair, that retro-twee character redesign is pretty much the Poochie of the present era.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2015 [9 favorites]

Sonic has always worked best for me in small bursts, those little bits of levels where you get to have fun going top speed making split-second decisions. I think Sonic would thrive as an N or Super Meat Boy style platformer where his speed and unique physics is used to clear small but difficult stages. Collect X rings and Y chaos emeralds in Z time in this insane obstacle course that sends you flying around the stage off bumpers and through loops, dodging spikes and enemies at top speed, maybe fight Robotnik in some contraption every once in a while. Zoom way out to see more of the stage, one of the problems with the original Sonic games is that he was HUGE on screen and you had a narrow field of view and they tried to fix it by letting you nudge the view to the side temporarily to look ahead. Unlock Tails and Knuckles to use their special abilities so you can try clearing stages as them, and have some Tails/Knuckles specific stages as well.

So do all that, and make a level editor with a way to share levels. I'd play that like crazy.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2015

Also a large part of Sonic's appeal is sensory overload so always keep that in mind with the aesthetic choices.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about a Sonic game that's all underwater levels

Nothing but underwater levels and timers and trying to get to air bubbles before you die a watery claustrophobic death

Why are you all curled up on the ground shaking like that
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2015 [16 favorites]

Clearly the reason Sonic didn't succeed on newer platforms is newer platforms have no Blast Processing and can't keep up.
posted by aubilenon at 9:59 AM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

prize bull octorok: "Why are you all curled up on the ground shaking like that"

He's gonna drown if you don't stop sobbing. Can't you hear his watery, choking noises?
posted by boo_radley at 10:04 AM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I can't wait to hear the score for that one, prize bull octorock!

"How can we make Sonic stop sucking" is definitely an interesting question. The last one I played was, I think, Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast, so I haven't really got a detailed opinion on that - the post-Sega hardware games didn't mesh with my platform choices during the years I wasn't taking a break from consoles in general. Now I'm kinda tempted to see if the Xbox/X360 Sonics can be bought cheap as downloadables or used discs, and form my own opinions on how and/or why they suck.
posted by egypturnash at 10:08 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Did I just watch a really bad resume? This video screams "SEGA please fund me to make this game for you" which is generally a bad strategy, and doubly so when you're proposing a redesign for a character that was just redesigned less than a year ago at great expense and you can't even get the name of your employer right.

He does have some valid points, even if his redesign is fucking awful. Sonic was a product of his time, and the things that made his games compelling in 1994 don't work in modern games. However, my 4 year old son loves the shit out of Sonic CD on our iPad, so it's not like the core gameplay doesn't work. Just put out Sonic Jam HD on new consoles and call it a day.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2015

Love of his wonderful accent aside (yes, I found his mispronunciation of Sega pretty hilarious, yet charming -- I'm surprised everyone is blasting him for that), I think these are great suggestions for breathing life back into (what was) one of my favorite franchises. I grew up with the 2D, old school Sonic and started losing interest right around when Shadow was introduced -- Unleashed was when I gave up on the franchise entirely.

I really liked the redesign offered up by this guy for Sonic himself -- he looks more like an actual hedgehog -- organic, fluid and natural -- and featureless enough for just about any player to identify with*, which is a nice change of pace from the 'edgy' blue Saiyajin/Super Saiyajin (DBZ) look they've increasingly gone for. By taking away the hard expressions -- the 'I'm too cool for school'/arrogant bad boy features -- more people can find the character likable too. Some attitude can still be conveyed with the eyes if that's a character trait people insist upon. That said, I'm intrigued with the gameplay suggestions as well, as it brings the game out mindless 2D play (run, grab the rings, jump on things) and brings in a greater need for problem solving (run, coordinate your attacks, jump on things, grab the rings, decide what power-up you need for which situation, etc.). And it accomplishes this while still retaining the qualities of 2D gameplay that made it such a hit in the 90s.

I doubt Sega will see this guys suggestions or do much about it though. I see many comments (here and YT) where people are getting up in arms over the suggestions and decrying that the proposed changes don't make it 'Sonic' (as they know it) anymore. However, to that I say... continuing to make new games that depict the same, tired Sonic clearly isn't working and changes are needed if the franchise is to come back or thrive. The direction of the newer Sonic games have alienated the old-school fans, and yet apparently aren't good enough to appeal to a new demographic (ie: see how poorly the new games have fared against their competition). Keeping Sonic the same will simply result in it's disappearance entirely as there'll be no incentive to make them anymore.

Either way, I would love it if he took his ideas and built a non-Sonic game with them though. There's tons of potential there.

* Some articles (including one study) that focus on more simplistic character design and how it affects players' ability to identify/relate to those characters (and how influential it can be for game enjoyment):
posted by stubbehtail at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The video is well done, and there are some good points made. However, his vision is not compelling. He's pitching a side-scroller with a currency and inventory system. Would this sell without the Sonic name attached to it? I like retro reboots as much as the next guy, but the video shows a cash-in more than a re-invention.

Here's a Sonic reinvention; show me the whole level as a gleaming, bouncing diorama in full VR. Sonic is actually hedgehog size, and the virtual level could be 15-20 virtual feet long. Let me set him loose on his autonomous and frantic run, and let me see where he fails. Let me plop down my inventory of power-ups where they could be useful, or even make a ramp with my hands to launch him over spikes. Let me play the environment, and let good old Sonic play with me.
posted by iloveit at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay I'm doing this. I just powered up my 360 and typed 'sonic' into the store search, and am downloading all the demos that I can.

But while they download I'm gonna play the used copy of Jet Set Radio Future that I just snagged yesterday. The original Jet Set Radio did not age well, mostly due to its clunky camera, but I remember having a blast playing another used copy of JSRF about four years ago. Colorful characters hopping and grinding about a bright environment at high speed, displaying just enough Attitude to be appealing - sound familiar?
posted by egypturnash at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2015

Sonic is one of those things that keep me awake as a parent. My son knows Sonic as a funny animal on his tshirts and I've told him Sonic "runs really fast". I dread the day he discovers it's more complicated than that. It will be like finding out the truth about Santa.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 10:38 AM on June 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

sonic has to run fast so he can deliver presents all over the world in only one night
posted by RobotHero at 11:28 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sonic was born as a Poochie and that is an integral part of him, as dated and annoying as that is.

— To be fair, that retro-twee character redesign is pretty much the Poochie of the present era.

"I feel we should Zach Braff-ify him by ... ten percent or so."
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:16 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Was Jazz Jackrabbit before or after Sonic? Man, I miss that game.
posted by Fizz at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2015

After, and in response to as part of the post-Sonic parade of anthropomorphic animal platformers (I guess Earthworm Jim is my favorite of those, even if Doug TenNapel comes with some...slight caveats).
posted by byanyothername at 12:59 PM on June 11, 2015

kmz, one of my fav Sonic related twitter accounts is @badsonicfanart
posted by Fizz at 1:15 PM on June 11, 2015

So if they just embraced it and had Sonic run like an idiot and make goofy faces and do batshit crazy stuff would that work? I guess they'd probably screw it up somehow like brands saying bae or whatever.
posted by RobotHero at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2015

Me: Sonic is still around? That game sucked, and was boring after playing for, like, 20 minutes.
SonicLover: Yeah, well, that's just your opinion, man.
Me: Touche. I think the Sonic series will go the way of Sega arcades in the mall...
SonicLover: Let's go get a burger at Sonic.
posted by Chuffy at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2015

This was a really well-crafted video for a franchise that just doesn't deserve it. Less Sonic, time to bring back Fighters Megamix. (So many options! You could fight as the Daytona car or a an inflatable panda!)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:29 PM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

SEGA is clearly already aware of what the franchise needs.
posted by sparkletone at 3:05 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's clear from his sales graphs that making a game a Sonic game doesn't drive sales. And it's clear from the graph of reviews why this is the case; the best Sonic game was as well-reviewed as the median Mario game. So why re-invent Sonic when you can make something new, free from the weight of Sonic's past mediocrity?
posted by aubilenon at 3:51 PM on June 11, 2015

It's not the first time I've said this, but jeez, Sonic people. We're talking about a series with, what, 6 hours of fun? That's just a guess at combined completion time for the Genesis games, minus all water levels and real do-or-die platforming segments, to which Sonic's movement mechanics are not really very well suited. It's not the eternal hope for a good game that perplexes me so much as the affection for the characters, which... well there's kind of a blank space in my mind where the characters go except though I did always like that the villain is an egg man with a spectacular mustache.
posted by atoxyl at 3:57 PM on June 11, 2015

byanyothername: "I guess Earthworm Jim is my favorite of those"

Well done.
posted by boo_radley at 4:21 PM on June 11, 2015

That was actually my favorite bit of the games - zooming past a hidden area, and realizing that the fact you *could* go REALLY FAST, but the game would reward me for stopping and exploring from time to time.

I feel like if you're being rewarded for not doing the thing your game is entirely about, something has gone dreadfully wrong with the game design.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:12 PM on June 11, 2015

Meanwhile, in official Sonic news, today saw the announcement of "Angry Birds Sonic Dash Epic". A game so important that the five words of its title demand four different fonts.
posted by egypturnash at 5:15 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree that the whole problem is that the premise of the series is the thrill of "What if you could go super-fast and have super-fast reflexes and pull off crazy stunts at insane speeds?" but there's no way to actually deliver on that power fantasy because players don't have super-fast reflexes.
posted by straight at 5:49 PM on June 11, 2015

You know, from the Sonic Twitter maybe their plan is to just embrace the internet weirdness. Latest tweet is calling for MS Paint skills
posted by RobotHero at 6:55 PM on June 11, 2015

In a perfect world they'd embrace it enough that the next game would feature a bunch of weird MS Paint Sanics and Original Characters (Do Not Steal) and is basically the Sonic version of Spider-Verse.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:09 PM on June 11, 2015

Holy shit, the Sonic Twitter account really is a thing of beauty.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:22 PM on June 11, 2015

Good platformers aren't that easy to make. I mean, if you wanted to make a good sonic game, just make sonic 2 again, with a similar design aesthetic. If you want to adhere to modern sensibilities? Well then you're making a different game that happens to have sonic in, just as the mario games do.

So I want to talk about speed. I don't think Sonic was that much about speed. In Sonic 2, at the end of the level you wanted to be rewarded with a continue. This gave you (essentially) three extra lives. There were two ways to do so. You could either finish the level very quickly with a decent amount of rings, or you could complete the level with over 100 rings, within the time limit for the level (which was 10 minutes, a limit you were unlikely to ever hit, apart from on the later Metropolis levels). So the game there is rewarding two styles of play, fast and slower, more considered. From memory you could blaze through Emerald Hills and hit 100 rings, but it required memorisation, and it was easy to miss a few and have to backtrack (you could go backwards in Sonic, provided you didn't get to the final screen, which would cut you off from the rest of the level), so going slow was usually easier, and the game didn't punish you for that. You'd still have moments of speed, but moments of pausing to carefully get past an enemy too. The latter play style didn't require perfect muscle memory as well, which was nice. And, of course, getting over 100 rings would net you an extra life on top of the continue you would get anyway.

Speed in Sonic 2 was the reward for good level knowledge. You didn't have to go fast, but if you could it felt great, and it would make certain sections easier: in Chemical Zone Act 2 there is a rising water section which you can, if you are fast enough, utterly avoid. Otherwise you'll need to do some fussy platforming with a time limit, something which meant my family always get stuck on level 2 of that game (that, and the death pit in the Mystic Cave Zone Act 2 are probably the hardest parts). But I think rewarding level knowledge is a problem for modern platformers. Sonic was originally designed on the assumption that you'd be playing it from the start, and you'd be replaying it a lot. Saving on the mega drive was reserved to either passwords or larger cartridges, so a game could be quite short (you can complete sonic in a couple of hours, especially if you ignore the chaos emeralds). But modern platformers have to deal with modern sensibilities. They can't expect you to learn 2 hours of game off by heart (and I know it so well now that I can do all the way to Oil Ocean Zone almost perfectly), so have to design based on that, unless they are "I wanna be the Guy". If you look at indie design, like VVVVVV or SuperMeatBoy, they have punishing sections, but these are deliberately limited to a screen at a time (with some exceptions), so that challenges which require memorisation can be compartmentalised and solved on their own.

Looking at 3d platformers, I don't think anyone ever solved it very satisfactorily. Crash Bandicoot limited you to a 2D track where you had limited upwards and downwards movement (jumping, and occasional platforms) and could only go so far left or right. Jax and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank empathised more open spaces, but both tended to focus more on action rather than tricky platforming, and when they do deploy platforming, they tend to again limit the space in which you do it. I know that of course Super Mario Galaxy presented a different method, but I'm not actually a huge fan of the idea, I think it's disorienting in a way that distracts from the gameplay a lot of the time. Note that of these examples the only one that really emphasised speed was Crash Bandicoot, and this was usually as an additional challenge, which was intended to be difficult.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:31 AM on June 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

The gameplay idea sounds pretty iffy. ... Sonic zooms up to some obstacle. He stops and has a thoughtful interaction with the vending machine he keeps in his backpack. What are the outcomes? If he doesn't have enough rings, he has to go back and grind for more. If he has barely enough rings but buys the wrong thing, he has to go back and grind for more. If he didn't find the power back in the level he probably tries the powers he's got, then goes back to grind AND search. If he guesses the right thing the first time, is it a challenge? If he guesses wrong is it a chore? It's like an adventure game but with economic restrictions.

I feel like the sonic version of USE BOULDER ON BRICK WALL would be like: Sonic zooms past a boulder so fast it gets caught up in his wake and tumbles around behind him. When Sonic stops on a dime the boulder hurtles past him and smashes through the barrier. At some point Sonic should be running around with a whole Katamari mess a crap tumbling around behind him.

Though I think Sonic should be more about the go-fast. There are (sorta) fun games about going fast: racing games, the single-button runners, Super Hexagon, those surf/parkour mods. I think Sonic should be trying to explore that kind of thing, not indie puzzle platforming.
posted by nom de poop at 11:28 AM on June 12, 2015

I do really agree with his idea that limited lives should be a thing of the past. It adds challenge but in a largely annoying way and it's just a holdover from arcades. To keep the rings relevant without limited lives, it might be interesting to try out a variation of Sonic where you start out sloooow and need to collect rings to go fast, maxing out your speed and rings at 100. Or alternatively for a glorious clusterfuck of a game you start the level with an insanely fast and barely controllable Sonic and the more rings you collect the more it slows you down to a controllable Sega Genesis Sonic pace.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:31 PM on June 12, 2015

« Older The Prince Of Darkness   |   What is Code? said jesting ftrain Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments