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How should Sonic games be structured?


Wraith
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Unlike a lot of other franchises I can think of, the way Sonic games are structured changes a lot, and by structure, I mean how the player progresses. There might be a better word for that, but whatever. 

Basically, Sonic games start as these linear, level to level type experiences with little to no down time. All the relevant content is just handed to the player, making for a fast paced and memorable experience with little to no "fat". There are interesting ways to weave a story into this too. Sonic 3 gives a sensation that the player is travelling a long distance across the island and the journey has a sense of urgency as Eggman and Knuckles keep ramping up their efforts to stop you.

This changed with Sonic Adventure though. A relaxing hub world filled with NPCs was put in to give the player some down time in between levels. It allowed for more complex plot points and more fleshed out worlds than a classic game structure could provide and was generally a good solution to the dilemma of a straight marathon not being all that long in the grand scheme of things. Only 6 or so stages in a game where you can save your spot and hop back in whenever doesn't make for a very long full priced gameplay experience. 

Sonic Adventure 1 also takes the idea of different character campaigns and tries to make them vary a little more from eachother with different gameplay styles. If you want to do this, breaking them up like this so each player can play the characters that attract them makes the most sense imo. 

Most of the games after either take the level to level approach or put in a hub world to buffer things out with various changes. There are some side games, like Shadow, or Sonic Rush Adventure that take weirder approaches to things that you might want to consider for the main series as well. Colors tries to be non linear in the latter half, for example, but the story doesn't do anything with that and the gameplay doesn't adapt THAT much to your choice aside from where the wisps appear. You could explore Planet Wisp more thoroughly on your first go through if you play it last, for example. Could that be a valid approach?

The question is, what kind of structure do you prefer your Sonic games to have?

 

 

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I like the idea of a HUB, especially something akin to what Unleashed did because it allowed for a lot of world building through optional conversations with NPCs, and exploration through little mini worlds that were really varied. However, I think it would be best if it's also combined in with something like Adventure, which didn't limit your speed, or navigational skills. That way, getting around the world is still relatively quick to do. I think it would be a best of both worlds situation. Those who want to get directly into the action will still have their normal abilities and will be able to just go quickly to the next level, while those who like the optional stuff can go do what they want.

Although a open-world HUB for Sonic would be fucking awesome.

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I think the level-to-level progression or hub-maps (like in Colors or Rush) are fine, but there's always been something really special about the hub worlds in Adventure, and I'd like for them to return to that.

Adventure's hub worlds are nice and big and pretty dang open, but they still feel alive and meaningful. They're really relaxing, but not too relaxing. Plus the hub worlds are the only place in the game where the player has FULL CONTROL of the characters and isn't tied down by level design or gimmicks. When I say full control I don't mean like how Unleashed limited Sonic's actions, I mean the areas themselves are not limiting to Sonic's abilities, because there's nothing the player needs to do immediately. Players are free to roam and explore all they want, even if there isn't a whole lot to see, and can progress when they want to. I always really liked this approach.

Though I do have some complaints with the Adventure hub worlds. For one, the NPCs scattered around are for the most part pretty bland. They don't serve any real purpose and it would be nice if they did. Though they do like to give hints to characters about where to go next, which is nice. (Note: I haven't actually played Unleashed so I don't know much about how NPCs world there.) I don't really know if I want alternate missions like in Unleashed or anything, I guess I'd just like to see some more flair to the writing. Also personally I've always preferred the 90s-anime looking NPCs in Adventure to the Pixar-esque NPCs which always felt really out of place to me.

The second complaint I have with Adventure is that it takes a little too long to get between in some cases. Traveling to and finding the next stage is fun the first time you do it, but it would be nice if you could quickly access a stage you've already been to without having to leave the story mode. For instance, going from Red Mountain to Twinkle Park takes quite a bit of time since you have to go from one hub world to another. So I'm not really sure if I'd want to see multiple hub worlds. I think there are two ways this issue could be solved. Either implement some form of fast-travel to locations we've already been to, or design the hub worlds cohesively so they fit together as one. Perhaps if hub world(s) return they could be more circular or have multiple ways to get from point A to B.

Also I thought it would be nice if the hub worlds had more collectables. In Adventure you had emblems, upgrades, chao and chao gardens, and some rings that could be found, but it wasn't much. It'd be nice if we had more things to find and collect. These could be things that to 100% completion like emblems or something or they could be items like shields or rings that players could take to the next level. Oh and considering chao gardens, it would be nice if we had more "secret" locations in the hub worlds. I assume collectables would be put into many of these secret locations.

Long story short, hub worlds bby pl0x. And do something fun with them, but don't make them too wacky.

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I think a variety of formats can work, depending on what a game is trying to achieve. I'm generally in favor of cutting the fat when possible, though, so I think there should be a compelling reason to include something like hub worlds, not just "worldbuilding" or a desire to have some aimless space to run around in. Hubs feel really at odds with the actual gameplay, so I need good reason to want to hang out in them rather than rushing to the next level.

Also regardless of the way the game's structured for the story, there should always be an easy way to access levels after completing them. Even if it's separate from the main game, always have a list or a map or something that only takes a couple seconds to navigate.

12 minutes ago, Josh said:

[SA's hubs] allowed for more complex plot points

Did they, though? I'm struggling to think of any plot point that was reliant on or significantly improved by the hubs. They definitely add a certain flavor to the game, but I think the story could've been functionally the same with just levels and cutscenes.

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4 hours ago, Diogenes said:

Did they, though? I'm struggling to think of any plot point that was reliant on or significantly improved by the hubs. They definitely add a certain flavor to the game, but I think the story could've been functionally the same with just levels and cutscenes.

The OP was more of a spur of the moment thing and not something I thought out much, so yeah, you have a point here. 

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10 hours ago, N8te said:

Also personally I've always preferred the 90s-anime looking NPCs in Adventure to the Pixar-esque NPCs which always felt really out of place to me.

I think you got that backwards. Considering Dr.Eggman looks like he's from a Pixar/Retro-Disney cartoon along with Sonic & gang. Which makes realistic or generic anime style characters really out of place.

Back on topic. Outside of the classic level progression style… I don't feel SEGA has gotten a Sonic game adventure structure quite right yet for the main games. I think there’s multiple good ways it could be done. I’ll cover 2 ideas here today.

#1. Something similar to the concept of a improved version of the structure from Sonic Unleashed & Sonic LEGO Dimensions World mixed together might work I say. There would be nicely sized but not to crazily big hub worlds that are like a playground where you can interact not only with NPCs but also with the whole environment in many ways much like you do in a normal level... Except without the time limit or deaths. You could find extra lives/power ups along with other stuff while there to bring with you into the next levels. NPCs should have little more meaning to them, perhaps they give you rare items if you do things for them and I don’t mean by playing boring remixed level missions… it’d just be stuff such as talking to them enough times, giving them a item and or completing mini-stories with them... maybe stuff like find a lost family member for 1 of them later in the game from a different hub. And these hubs would be where some small simple minigames would take place, for example the race minigames from LEGO Sonic. The basic level select screen would still be around, the hub worlds would just be a bonus and shouldn't be mandatory to the main game.

#2. Another idea without full blown hub worlds is something I thought of little similar to a metroidvania style… but it’d be more streamlined for Sonic. You would not have to backtrack for important progression in the game. But maybe you could come across small break areas in the middle of levels where you could talk to NPCs for whatever reasons. The level timer would stop while there. Then when you are done, you can just leave that area and continue playing the rest of the level like normal... Basically the idea here is kinda mini-hub worlds within normal levels... Which means no loading screens between going to levels and the hubs with this idea, and you can easily ignore them altogether.

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9 hours ago, Lord-Dreamerz said:

#2. Another idea without full blown hub worlds is something I thought of little similar to a metroidvania style… but it’d be more streamlined for Sonic. You would not have to backtrack for important progression in the game. But maybe you could come across small break areas in the middle of levels where you could talk to NPCs for whatever reasons. The level timer would stop while there. Then when you are done, you can just leave that area and continue playing the rest of the level like normal... Basically the idea here is kinda mini-hub worlds within normal levels... Which means no loading screens between going to levels and the hubs with this idea, and you can easily ignore them altogether.

I mean, I'm one of 5 people in the world that loved Tails Adventure, so I'd definitely be up for a Metroid-esque Sonic game!

If you want it to be more streamlined, just make your checkpoints double as warp points so backtracking takes a lot less time. You could do stuff like Chaos Emeralds being collectables/powerups and grant permanent abilities and getting into secret paths requires creative use of classic Sonic style physics.

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Kid me would have preferred the Sonic Adventure style hub worlds. I still like the idea of it, but looking back, Sonic games don't really have terribly interesting hubs. I think it depends on the game, but now I would prefer either a quick map like they've been doing, or just smooth transitions between levels. 

I don't think there's a real need for a hub when these games are so short. 

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