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Ideal 2D Sonic Level Design.

Diamond Sonic

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Hello SSMB!


What part of 2D Sonic games are the most important to you? What 2D level in the franchise best represents the direction you would like to see the series progress in? 


If you can, please do some little doodles and drawings of what you would ideally like to see in future 2D Sonic level design.


And please, no discussion on 3D level design. Thank you.

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For me, the experience is always more important then the actual challenges I'm facing, so I like the envirement to look like a nice solid chunk of land, that Sonic's really exploring an actual world.

Add some cool set pieces like lava rising, Tornadoes ripping the ground apart, ships in the background firing at Sonic, daring escapes, intense dangers, and I'm all happy.


Other then that I don't know what actual technical level designs would make me happy, altough I can at least tell you I hate the blocky claustrophobic level design often seen in Colors and Generations.

Sonic is speedy and constantly being stuck in small spaces having to make precise jumps doesn't work with how a Sonic game should naturally feel to me.

It's okay if it happens briefly, like Sonic 2 has the Chemical plant bit where slime's rising and Sonic desperately needs to climb a narrow vertical shaft to escape, that's great, because the claustrophobic level structure helps increase the intensity of the moment. So occasional moments in an otherwise wide open stage is good, but not to the terrible lengths the later Colors levels went.

So basically:


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I'm interested tough, has anyone actually checked if the classic Sonic games actually have a noticeble difficulity diffrence and higher rate of rewards regarding which path you take? I never noticed any big changes.

The only BIG example is Aquatic ruin with it's "boring underwater VS. fun ruin" section, and some of the gamegear games also used that idea.

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If Sonic 5 came into being and was actually good, I'd hope they'd pull a Mega Man 9/10 and make the spin dash a feature unlocked by completion of the main game. Rolling should be earned by building up speed over an appropriate stretch of Zone space. Having it be a quick shortcut at the press of a button combination hasn't sat right with me since I became an old man.


This could easily be cross posted into the Popular/Unpopular Thread under "Unpopular", as I know people adore the spin dash and probably view it as "essential".

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Retro has a pretty awesome thread on 2D Sonic level design (largely based on those from the Genesis games), courtesy of Sparks. (They have a thread on 3D Sonic level design too, courtesy of P3DRO, but you don't want it so OK I guess.)


There's some additional material covered in the thread like bottomless pits, HA chains, how the level design mentality differs depending on each Genesis game, etc.; but I'm just going to copypaste some of the main points touched on in the above thread:


- Routes. They can vary in having specific "height-specific" routes (usually a "low", "medium", and "high" route) as seen in the likes of Sonics 1, 2, and CD (this is based on the previously mentioned "higher risk/higher reward" concept Yasuhara had); though each Genesis game usually handled it in a different manner. That said, Sonic 3 & Knuckles handled things quite differently from the other titles by having big, expansive routes (where height-specific routes still exist, but they are less obvious than in the previous Genesis Sonic titles). Character-specific routes (again, Sonic 3 & K) are also possible too, though there are some rules to abide by when designing them:

1. Don't overload the character-specific gimmick (don't have the player constantly using abilities --flying, climbing, etc.-- that deviate from the main Sonic gameplay)

2. Don't make character-specific paths blatantly obvious

3. Don't let rules be broken (i.e. a Knuckles-specific route shouldn't allow the player to somehow access it with Sonic and/or Tails)


- Special note on routes - Routes that make use of the looping Y axis-or in other words, "wraparound" routes like in Metropolis Act 1 or Ice Cap Act 1 (used many times in Sonic 3&K). They have the potential to effectively break remaining boundaries of level design-no limits on length on vertical routes, which makes it ideal for levels that make use of vertical transportation; i.e. climbing-based (i.e. Marble Garden, Sky Sanctuary) or water-based levels that simulate water slides (Hydrocity). They also completely eliminate the concept of height-based routes by allowing all the routes have a consistent design, no matter where you go. The only problems are that this requires the bottom and top of level maps have to perfectly align together; and even then you need the proper engine and/or coding know how to pull it off.


Know Your Design

- Loops and their themes. They all fit a certain zone, and each have their own design. While some are similar, they should be designed enough to look unique. Loops should also fit the design and shouldn't be slapped in; and their inclusion shouldn't be overdone (in fact, for some levels loops aren't even necessary).


- Level themes and their layouts. A good rule of thumb to adhere to (but not necessary-its your level, so design it how you like) is that the theme of zone plays a big part of the layout of the zone: note how terrain for environmental areas are designed to be similar to their real life counterparts; whereas levels in manmade areas tend to be direct angles or straight paths. Ruins, while manmade, tend to lean towards one of the other aspects or combine both of them. Ultimately though, each zone should look unique.


- Level gimmicks. Without them, your level can come off as dull. Every level should not only have gimmicks, but also have a huge collection of them. Having a huge number of gimmicks is crucial when it comes to keeping the acts/zones of your level fresh; with a limited number or usage of gimmicks, your zone runs the risk of being bland. Ideally, one should more than enough gimmicks for each zone, whether to spread them throughout the zone a la Sonic 1/2/CD or having each act hold a variety of gimmicks a la S3&K. Like level design, the gimmick in most cases should usually match the theme of the level. It also helps to also design level-specific gimmicks that are fresh and original, and not something you've seen before in most cases.


- Springs. Use them to expand the level layout, but don't use them to usher Sonic throughout the level with minimal effort on the player. This means use of diagonal springs will likely be not much.




Additional sites I would recommend would be Zone 0 (which has level maps/layouts of all of the Genesis games; and has walkthroughs for each zone) and Sonic Science (which is incomplete, a bit outdated, and covers the gameplay aspects of Genesis Sonic more than anything else but it's still a great site). And fellow member Palas also has a great thread on level design as well at the Sega Forums (HISS).



....if one hasn't noticed already (and I do apologize), I'm a very, very, very big fan of Genesis Sonic level design. Sorry for the infodumping, but yeah. :)

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Hm... I dislike most classic level designs, but I really, really loved the giant, super long downhill incline in Chemical Plant Zone. More of those pls

I don't really care about multiple paths but I don't see any harm in having them.

And uh... I dunno. Maybe fewer bottomless pits? Although I don't remember many outside Sky Sanctuary...

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They do. Play Sonic 1 and 3 again thoroughly and you'll see it as clear as day. But I've never fully comprehended your "analysis" of the franchise, so maybe not!

Good point, instead of my "analysis", I should adapt your "Do it correctly and you'll magically agree with me" attitude.


JA lot of the time, the punishment for failing the "challenge" in the upper path is simply falling onto the lower one.

Excelent point. Interestingly, this seems to make it mostly a psychological and self-inflected challenge and reward system. And that's very much one of the strenghts of classic Sonic.



And uh... I dunno. Maybe fewer bottomless pits? Although I don't remember many outside Sky Sanctuary...

Classic Sonic did a pretty good job with the pits far as I remember. They only appear in specific moments.


....if one hasn't noticed already (and I do apologize), I'm a very, very, very big fan of Genesis Sonic level design. Sorry for the infodumping, but yeah. :)

Oh no, this is great stuff and makes the discussion less redundant. Thanks for creating a small center of links to previous discussions.

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Multiple paths and sections dedicating to rolling and precision platforming. I could just post a Yasuhara doodle to illustrate this point, but instead I decided to just rip him off:







I'm very vehement about debunking the theory that Sonic levels in the Genesis are made of (at least) three paths in which the bottom one is the path of least resistance but less has rewards whereas the upper path has more rewards but is more difficult. Here is what actually happens:


The primary desire of a Sonic player, indeed any platform game player, is to finish the game. It may seem obvious, but there is a very strong implication to this that people often forget because they think as someone who has already beaten the game: the players' behaviours are based on the contrast between the primary desire and long term objective - to survive and finish the game - and midterm and short term objectives, which are respectively finishing a stage and dealing directly with what's on screen. This means going fast isn't a priority - surviving is. The strength the rewards have more to do with how much you need them versus how risky it is to get them before how much you want them.


Because of this, all else constant, a player will keep going forward. If the path of least difficulty was the easiest one to access, players would keep going forward endlessly and just... finish the game. What happens, however, is the opposite. Ever noticed how each and every classic Sonic speedrun takes place on an upper route? It's not because of the rewards but because they are fairly easy to cross, but demand high skill to access, whereas bottom paths only demand that you keep going forward, but have enough dangers that it gets impossible to keep repeating the same behaviour forever and either s/he


  1. builds up skill because of the threats
  2. dies

Every level in Sonic without a ceiling is a blatant example of this. The stage keeps trying to bring you down to the bottom routes, including the fabulous artifice of gravity, but the rewards don't have so much to do with routes, but rather they have to do with your desires, specifically affecting short term objectives according to how attractive they are. They aren't rewards, they are baits.




Yeah, that thread I created years ago on SEGA Forums. I totally disavow it nowadays. My theory has developed since then-- but it's in Portuguese and I still haven't had the time to translate it yet. It's pretty much a book now.

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