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Bad level design


Lucid Dream
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I keep hearing "bad level design" to describe the negative aspect of several Sonic Games. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this if there is justification behind it. I know of several bad levels designs in Sonic, like in SA2 Crazy Gadget with those 3 switces, where 2 of them will send you to death and you have to guess the right one. But that's a rarity as far as I have played? Most levels in SA2 have pretty good level designs, with only a few glaringly bad choices. Or am I just being too positive?

People rarely jutify their statement that Sonic has bad level deisgn. Often when somebody says Sonic has good level design, they give an example of great level design, but I rarely see the opposite being done. Or, people will use bad mechanics to justify their statement, such as Sonic Heroes stages being suspended over bottomless pits being bad because slippery mechanics. That's not a level design issue, but a mechanics issue. 

Is "bad level design" just a unanimously accepted criticisement because it is unanimous throughout the Sonic games, and I'm too blind to the obscure difficult that this should induce? Am I far too positive over the level design of Sonic? As far as I have played and remember, most of the levels are fairly well produced with very few instances of bad level design. I've played other platforming games, many which are critically acclaimed (sometimes for mysterious reasons), and I don't feel like they are often superior to Sonic in level design.  

It's just so confusing. Recently I was debating over playing Sonic Heroes, since I didn't enjoy it much/at all as a child, but looking at it now it looks pretty fun. When I look at comments on the game, there are people saying that the game has great level design and giving a few examples, and a bunch of people saying the game is awful, often because it has bad level design, but they give no examples. A lot of people also criticise SA2's level design while not giving much of a reason why other than "linearity" which I don't consider a problem because SA2 isn't that linear... You know, with the treasure hunting stages and all.  So what are these people talking about?  

I'm sure there's some truth to these claims, beyond extreme cherry picking.

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47 minutes ago, Lucidream said:

Or, people will use bad mechanics to justify their statement, such as Sonic Heroes stages being suspended over bottomless pits being bad because slippery mechanics. That's not a level design issue, but a mechanics issue. 

It's both; bad mechanics combine with bad level design to create an even worse game. Narrow, pit-heavy design like Heroes has wouldn't be good design even if the controls were as tight and accurate as I could ever want, because it still massively inflates the number of pit-deaths when a bad turn or an unlucky hit happens.

47 minutes ago, Lucidream said:

A lot of people also criticise SA2's level design while not giving much of a reason why other than "linearity" which I don't consider a problem because SA2 isn't that linear... You know, with the treasure hunting stages and all.

The design of one stage doesn't make up for the problems of a completely separate stage. The treasure hunting stages could be as open and freeform as possible but that doesn't make the flat, narrow hallways that make up a lot of the Sonic/Shadow stages any more fun to play.

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Sonic levels being linear in their design and the stages having bottomless pits isn't inherently bad (and before I continue, I'd like to state the following--if you really enjoy these levels, then more power to you all the same), but I think where people (including myself) find fault with the level design of Sonic Adventure 2 (concerning Sonic/Shadow's levels), Heroes, and other 3D Sonics are due to the fact that most of the levels in those games seem to be designed with this underlying template in mind, despite the differing level themes. (And in my opinion, seeing this design mentality leak into the 2D games and virtually overwrite not just the existing game design, but also the existing game mechanics, was adding insult to injury.)

Unlike the Genesis Sonic titles, other 3D platformers (Mario/Crash/Spyro/whathaveyou), or even Adventure 1, there is little variety in the structure of the levels themselves. There's no range of level design that vary within the scale of linear and nonlinear paths or even platform segments/setpieces, virtually every level is operating on only one end of the spectrum, with no contrasting levels to balance it out. It's especially bad when you have these type of levels in settings that contextually make minimal sense. A level suspended in space like Final Rush, or a airship level like Egg Fleet, it would make sense to have bottomless pits; but not in a forest level like White Jungle or a casino level like Bingo Highway. If there was greater balance in the design of the levels, you could get away with it; but when all of the levels structurally blend together in this manner, it couldn't get any more blatant. I think these complaints also greatly apply with the (exceedingly high) amount of automation and scripting and the (relatively low) amount of level gimmicks that goes on with most 3D Sonic games (not just SA2/Heroes), but those are two other subjects.

And when you design all of your games in such a very narrow manner, the level design comes off more as the developers trying to cut corners and produce the game as quickly/cheaply as possible instead of taking their time to put out a quality product. Concerning the 3D games, this would had probably been acceptable in the time when 3D platformers were still relatively new; but after nearly 20 years of professionally developing 3D games, Sonic Team really should know better by this point. When you compare a game like Sonic Lost World to a contemporary 3D platformer like Super Mario 3D World, the former game's level design seems absolutely archaic in comparison (and that's not even getting to Lost World's other shortcomings, like its controls and gameplay mechanics). Granted, I'm speaking in a climate where Mario's the only (other) notable 3D platforming series still around these days, but I feel the point still holds.

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4 hours ago, Gabe said:

Sonic levels being linear in their design and the stages having bottomless pits isn't inherently bad (and before I continue, I'd like to state the following--if you really enjoy these levels, then more power to you all the same), but I think where people (including myself) find fault with the level design of Sonic Adventure 2 (concerning Sonic/Shadow's levels), Heroes, and other 3D Sonics are due to the fact that most of the levels in those games seem to be designed with this underlying template in mind, despite the differing level themes. (And in my opinion, seeing this design mentality leak into the 2D games and virtually overwrite not just the existing game design, but also the existing game mechanics, was adding insult to injury.)

Unlike the Genesis Sonic titles, other 3D platformers (Mario/Crash/Spyro/whathaveyou), or even Adventure 1, there is little variety in the structure of the levels themselves. There's no range of level design that vary within the scale of linear and nonlinear paths or even platform segments/setpieces, virtually every level is operating on only one end of the spectrum, with no contrasting levels to balance it out. It's especially bad when you have these type of levels in settings that contextually make minimal sense. A level suspended in space like Final Rush, or a airship level like Egg Fleet, it would make sense to have bottomless pits; but not in a forest level like White Jungle or a casino level like Bingo Highway. If there was greater balance in the design of the levels, you could get away with it; but when all of the levels structurally blend together in this manner, it couldn't get any more blatant. I think these complaints also greatly apply with the (exceedingly high) amount of automation and scripting and the (relatively low) amount of level gimmicks that goes on with most 3D Sonic games (not just SA2/Heroes), but those are two other subjects.

And when you design all of your games in such a very narrow manner, the level design comes off more as the developers trying to cut corners and produce the game as quickly/cheaply as possible instead of taking their time to put out a quality product. Concerning the 3D games, this would had probably been acceptable in the time when 3D platformers were still relatively new; but after nearly 20 years of professionally developing 3D games, Sonic Team really should know better by this point. When you compare a game like Sonic Lost World to a contemporary 3D platformer like Super Mario 3D World, the former game's level design seems absolutely archaic in comparison (and that's not even getting to Lost World's other shortcomings, like its controls and gameplay mechanics). Granted, I'm speaking in a climate where Mario's the only (other) notable 3D platforming series still around these days, but I feel the point still holds.

I think I'm getting to understand what you mean. Looking at Sonic Heroes, it is abnormal and unpleasant to have practically every single stage have the: platform over bottomless pits -> battle hord of enemies -> do some character specific segment -> repeat. Looking back at 2 of its stages, it follows this structure very often. It does all feel too similar and repetitive. Sonic Colours doesn't quite have enough 3D segments to be able to judge whether it has an underlying template really. 3D in Sonic colours almost always just means "quickstep time". I did find the 3D gameplay to actually be pretty shallow and unappealing, except for the few times when it was extended and had several pathways. I havn't played many games with the modern 3D system, so I don't know much, but the modern games look like they are literally just high speed linear platforming. Is that what you mean by a consistant underlying template? It's definitely true that I don't see much of a difference between stages in 3D Sonic games.  I havn't played Sonic Lost world or even looked at its gameplay though. 

I'm not quite sure if SA1 or SA2 have this underlying template. SA1 Sonic has a lot of change throughout the stage, while SA2 Sonic is definitely more linear, but still has a good range of gimmicks and variety. I don't think Sonic/Shadow lack gimmicks or variety in SA2, but maybe it's the linearity that's the problem? but I don't find Sonic/Shadow too linear in SA2 considering they often have shortcuts or multiple pathways. I like how the stages are set up, so I'm pretty happy if they're repeated a few times TBH. I still definitely find it more fun than Mario. 

I see your point with the linearity of the games. But I think it's a shift in mood and gameplay. The Genesis games did have a lot more pathways that often intersect and interract with each other. That does mean that if you fell you had ground under you and could climb back up. It had a multiple pathway, free gameplay style. 

But games now have something much closer to a one-true-path gameplay. There's one main path which you want to perfect so you can go as fast as possible. The difference is most noticeable between Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure. Sonic Rush has a lot less platform interaction than the genesis games, but there're often 2-3 various pathways, with one path generally being the fastest path (which you kinda have to try hard to get on). In Sonic Rush Adventure, you are generally by default on the fastest pathway which also tends to be the only pathway as well. It's incredibly linear and the stages are somewhat worse. Considering how fast you go in these games, doing more intricate platforming is pretty tough to implement, and stages need more length. Doesn't excuse fairly poor level design at times. That said, it is increadibly fun, with Sonic Rush being my favourite Sonic game. I think enjoyability is the aim, rather than a good game. 

 It's definitely a lot lazier and unprofessional, but it's still a gameplay style that can be fun. Doing a stage as fast and as perfectly as possible is exhillerating in a different way. Although Sonic Colours 3D parts and Sonic Rush Advanture takes this WAY too far, I don't think SA2 is particularly bad at this. It's pretty crazy to want to have a wide open stage which you're expected to go as fast as possible in. There will always have to be some linearity I think. 

I think I understand what you mean by bad level design for most Sonic 3D games (except  SA2 TBH). So you mean to say that it's often too linear, repetitive and samey throughout the game right? I don't quite feel like that applies too much of the 2D platforming games, although I do see it in Sonic Generations 3DS and Sonic Rush Adventure (that's only 2 games though). Could you give me some more examples as well? I don't think I'm understanding everything you mean to say. 

 

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I mean, what Sonic Adventure 2 fails at is what every Sonic game up until that point succeeded - the illusion of freedom. Emerald Coast is no less linear than City Escape, but the corridor that Emerald Coast presents you with is in wide open space. Classic Sonic levels are supposed to be full of alternate routes, but they are just shuffling you between two or three routes to the end. But City Escape just looks like a corridor, and thus the illusion is shattered.

Your 'one true path' has always been there, it's not a recent invention. In it's way, the twitch reflexes = alternate routes in the Boost games is not very far removed from the 'bounce off this enemy or jump over platforms to get to the upper path' that's in Sonic 1. It's rewarding a different sort of skill. But I don't think you can say SA1 was less linear than Unleashed. 

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I don't think the linearity was really ever an issue. Unleashed and the Adventure games are still very different, and it's all due to the boost ability. Instead of running at a constant, predictable speeds, you have to boost to reach certain obstacles. It changes everything: the platforming must be built around it. It's all too easy to miss hidden areas. I don't know about everyone else, but Unleashed has more of a trial-and-error type of feel, as opposed to playing a stage repeatedly to find secret paths. Imo, I wouldn't say Unleashed has bad level design. It's certainly frustrating to play on first try, at the risk of repeating of what was already said, once you have a stage memorized breezing through is definitely rewarding.

The Adventure games didn't have the same high speed processing as the modern ones do. Instead, they relied on other details to keep the player from getting bored. The camera would pan around and change constantly, especially in cinematic portions of Sonic/Shadow's levels. In Heroes, the camera is almost always at the same distance from the characters...

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