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An imaginary "Sonic the Hedgehog Maker" Discussion


JezMM
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So in the Sonic Forces thread, we kinda got off-topic talking about the pros, cons and possibilities of a level editor in a Sonic game, or AS a Sonic game...  Feel free to read the posts below the one linked there as a kind of prologue to this topic.

I assume conversation can pick up from where the above left off, but if not, some food for thought to inspire posts:

  • Would you want this, as a game or a seperate mode in a regular Sonic game?
  • Is it even possible, in 2D or 3D?  What limitations or compromises do you imagine would need to be made for a flexible, user-friendly product?
  • What features would you realistically or self-admitted unrealistically want or expect out of it?

One of the questions posed in the previous topic was "how would slopes even work using a grid block placement format"?  In my head I feel a potential idea would be a smart drawing feature where you can draw a freehand line to create geometry, and the game would smartly smooth it out and turn it into terrain.  First you'd choose your material - be it hard, impassable terrain like Metropolis, soft, passable terrain like Green Hill, or purely decorative background/foreground terrain to make solid wall backdrops or secret fake walls.  The created geometry would make a floating land-mass if you drew the entirety of the shape of said land (i.e. a rectangle), or automatically extend the land-mass to the bottom of the screen (or next landmass below) if you didn't connect it up (i.e. a single straight line across would create the platform that the held motobug is floating in front of in Tracker's photoshop screenshot).  You could then fine-tune what the game generates for you with a more typical block-placement mode.

Anyway yeah this feels like one of those concepts that has potential for a solid long form discussion thread so have at it.

 

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Crosspost from the Forces thread:

I'd take another 2D official title by Taxman and company than a level editor any day.

The worst case scenario would be getting a level editor and SEGA deciding 2D Sonic is done for good since there would be no point in releasing more Sonic Mania after the level editor.

A separate mode in a complete game would be cool though, I'd take that!

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I think it's a fun idea. Difficult to imagine in 3D though as Sonic is no where near as straightforward and established to a main gameplay style as 3D Mario is, but when we're talking about a Classic/Advance Sonic level creator it could definitely work. As for wanted features I'd think it'd be nice to have a feature where you get to create special stages, like the Blue Ball levels from 3&K.

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There is a precedent that exists, which i will write about inside this spoiler tab to save space, but it may interest you so do read if you have time! 

 

This precedent is encouragingly enough, from 1998, with development occurring prior to that.  Basically, the Sonic characters and games were a major inspiration for the earlier "indie" days of Epic (Mega)Games when they created the strange character and very fully realized pair of games, Jazz Jackrabbit and Jazz Jackrabbit 2.  The first is close to being a cross between Sonic and Metroid; and, the second is a bit more of its own gameplay style with environments that appear like animation backdrops and foregrounds, with the characters appearing fairly small within the environment, sort of predicting the eventual standard of HD/widescreen graphics. 

The second game from 1998 was released with a fully functioning level creator and the key was that this same software was used to create the entire game. :)^_^  It was/is tile and tileset based and centered editing, and that too is what allowed it to work so well for being a comprehensive 2D platformer level creator.  Each tile had its own masking.  If I remember accurately, there is a full range of objects that can be accessed by right clicking, within the "event" layer, and there are multiple levels that are accessible for background parallax and foreground objects rather than trying to set them up all in the same layer with which the player makes contact. 

 

I think that would be the key if this was to ever work for a 2D Sonic, that the maker/creator for zones would be the same one that was used by the development team.  They might have to develop a standalone software as they did with the above example.  Stealth/Headcannon already did this to a huge extent, without the support of as huge of a team with their additional multiple layers of experience, so that too is encouraging.

I think that loops, specifically, would be what would make this harder to develop than one might think.  However I feel like the current team, with any additional assistance needed, could figure everything out gradually over multiple years.  I feel like there are some special ideas they might want to achieve that would make whatever this would be its own peak Sonic experience.  Most likely they would want it to be accessible to many ages, although that could be done via different editing modes.  Each one would probably still have some type of learning curve, but that would not be different from any Sonic game experience after all! 

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here's what i think they should do:

- 2 styles: classic and modern. classic looks like 3&K or mania and modern looks like sonic advance or sonic 4 ep. II. both styles have exclusive gameplay elements. (classic has elemental shields, modern has homing attack and/or light speed dash) there should be two styles of the editor too. grid and free-form. in grid mode, you can see the amount of grid squares an object will take before you place it. (e.g. regular floor types=1 square)

- full control of level theming and music: drop-down menu allows you to change the level theme, like super mario maker. themes change between classic and modern. let's use mania and advance for examples. if you choose studiopolis in classic, it will automatically switch to route 99 if you choose modern. green hill turns to neo GHZ, flying battery goes to ocean base, etc etc. another drop-down menu holds songs from various sonic games that can be chosen in all themes.

- in-depth and intuitive level editor: levels can be built in the aforementioned two creation modes. moving in grid mode isn't as fast as free-form, you tap the stick multiple times and it can be used to make more advanced, complicated levels and can place items in specific places. things like space totals of the items (in squares) can only be seen in grid mode. free-form is easier to use. faster movement while holding the stick, but it's harder to place things in a very specific location, leading to simpler levels. meant for beginners. item monitors can be fully customized, with you being able to use presets or put one or two items from the toolbox into a monitor. loops can be automated or non-automated. automated paths can also be added to any part of a level to make cool level intros or setpieces, but all automation is optional.

- online publishing: players can publish levels from the save screen. up to 30 individual levels can be published, and up to 5 zones. zones have no effect on your level count, and can hold up to 4 acts each. title cards can be customized as well.

those were my ideas.

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Not that Sonic levels aren't doable in grid format like Mario Maker - hell, that's how the levels were originally put together in the Genesis games - but I can't help but wonder if it would be simpler just to use vectors instead, ala the stage builder in Smash Bros 4.

tygvwm7l2jyqsslcc2y5.jpg

Or hell, maybe even some weird hybrid of the two. Start off with blocky shapes and carve into them with vectors to create curvature, rather than having dozens of different tiles just for slight angle increments. Then have a few static props and objects like loops and springs you can glue to the scenery when you're ready to add them. Done and done.

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The problem with slopes is that the level editor would have to figure out where the trajectory of the thing goes so the level doesn't become unplayable. For example, Sonic CD has a lot of slope/ramp placement that is just right at the right speed to make certain jumps. I think a trajectory tool would be useful when creating slopes and ramps.

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2 hours ago, gracias por nada said:

The problem with slopes is that the level editor would have to figure out where the trajectory of the thing goes so the level doesn't become unplayable. For example, Sonic CD has a lot of slope/ramp placement that is just right at the right speed to make certain jumps. I think a trajectory tool would be useful when creating slopes and ramps.

This is simpler to fix with than you might think, especially considering Mario Maker already thought of this too. Whenever you flip back to the editor from the testing phase (or well, die while testing it), the game overlays the path your character took immediately prior to switching via a trail of afterimages:

960.jpg

Knowing how handy this was for gauging even basic jumps, it'd be absolutely indispensible wherever launches of any major distance are concerned.

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On ‎5‎/‎26‎/‎2017 at 6:36 AM, Blacklightning said:

Not that Sonic levels aren't doable in grid format like Mario Maker - hell, that's how the levels were originally put together in the Genesis games - but I can't help but wonder if it would be simpler just to use vectors instead, ala the stage builder in Smash Bros 4.

tygvwm7l2jyqsslcc2y5.jpg

Or hell, maybe even some weird hybrid of the two. Start off with blocky shapes and carve into them with vectors to create curvature, rather than having dozens of different tiles just for slight angle increments. Then have a few static props and objects like loops and springs you can glue to the scenery when you're ready to add them. Done and done.

I like this idea, I just wonder if it'd still work alright on top of adding different stage themes and putting in different enemy types with (possible) variants on said enemies too, i.e. giant motobugs, buzz bombers with coconuts on top of them, or eggman with a caterkiller instead of a giant ball and chain (in a possible scenario where this would work like Mario makers enemies do, wouldn't expect it to but who knows)?

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I'm less concerned with how you would construct Sonic's levels (Jez's suggestion does a good enough job of addressing that) and more concerned with how well users would be able to really create compelling stages based on Sonic's mechanics. 

Sonic is a single-button game, and the character has a pretty small repertoire of moves with limited applications.

  • Jump
  • Roll
  • Insta-shield (?)
  • Spin-dash

I don't really see a lot of possibilities, personally. It feels to me like Sonic games were always meant to be played a certain way. That's not a jab at them, so hopefully it doesn't sound like one. I've been trying to write this post without bringing up Mario, because I know some people here actually can't stand the comparisons, but I feel like I need to in order to explain why I think Mario Maker works.

Mario games are generally a lot more free-form than Sonic. They rarely try and control your pace, except during specific challenges where they either rush you or make you slow down. Sometimes you're forced to backtrack, sometimes you have to solve simple puzzles and explore like in the Ghost House levels, but usually they're straight forward romps that you can tackle at your own pace.

Sonic levels, by contrast, usually alternate between having areas where you're expected to try and go fast (hills, loops, corkscrews, long stretches) and areas where it slows you down (platforms, elevators, crushers), that only the seasoned players are going to get through quickly. The better games have an element of exploration, but it's always optional. I think this is one reason most Sonic fan games (that I've played) always try to emulate the classic level design; the anatomy of a good Sonic stage is more consistent and harder to break.

And like I said, Sonic also has a fairly limited number of things he can do. Besides having just a couple of actions, listed above, he doesn't have very many ways of interacting with each level. One of the things that makes Mario so conducive to a level creator is the sheer number of ways the player can approach a given situation.Take the Koopa Shell for example.

200px-GreenShell_-_MarioPartyStarRush.pn

In Mario games, there are a lot of things you can do with this one item. You can immediately kick it to take out enemies in front of you. You can pick it up and kick it later. You can use it as a shield in case you run into another enemy and don't jump in time. You can throw it directly up, or in an arc if you're moving. You can hit a block from the side, either breaking it to reveal a new path, or causing an item to come out. You can bounce off of it to reach new heights, or send it down paths you can't reach to collect coins. 

This is probably why most of the Mario fan games and levels (again, that I've played) are less focused on making actual Nintendo-styled courses, and instead try to make new and unique challenges based on what you can do in the game's engine. The most extreme examples of this are those bullshit Kaizo levels, like this.

I don't see the capacity for something like this in Sonic. I think a Sonic Maker would probably be great for people who want to try their hand at designing Zones like SEGA (which would be fun!), but that there isn't a lot of potential to create something really original and interesting, which was the entire point of giving fans tools like that.

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I agree to an extent, but the thing about Sonic is that its most versatile elements are stage-specific gimmicks rather than game or series-wide staples. Take for random example these swingy things in Launch Base.

maxresdefault.jpg

You're actually able to jump out of these things at any time... but Sonic 3 never really gives you a reason to? For random example, it would be interesting to see a level type in which you're actually expected to bail to find a secret area or avoid being transported directly into a row of spikes instead. Hell, maybe the swing isn't reachable from the ground in the first place - you might have to latch onto one of these magnetic wheel things from Carnival Night and build enough speed on it to jump all the way up:

Sonic_3_-_Wheel.png

I feel like a Sonic Maker has a lot to gain from mixing and matching gimmicks from past levels that have never seen use together, on top of the added versatility Mario Maker gave to existing objects and mechanics (like being able to directly glue them together for example).

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That's a fair viewpoint. 

In fact, I was going to mention the level-gimmick thing in my original post. I think there is some potential there, but I'm not sure I agree with your example. Making the player bail from the spinny cup seems like a bit of a dick move given its intended use/how quickly it moves, and having the player launch off of the Carnival Night magnet wheel (which is a really cool gimmick by itself) to get to it doesn't really sound that fun. It sounds more like using gimmicks, one after the other, rather than using them together, especially since launching yourself to new areas was the point of the magnet wheel anyway. 

Maybe I'm being a bit stubborn- I don't really want to nitpick other people's ideas. But I think the problem with Sonic's stage gimmicks is that they all do primarily one thing, so actually creating challenges around them that suit Sonic's somewhat loose controls might get stale after awhile. 

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To be honest I literally just thought up that example off the top of my head to demonstrate there was some capacity for gimmicks from different zones to interact at all, so I'm willing to admit it was probably a clumsy comparison. In hindsight I probably should have looked to something like the gravity manipulation from Death Egg, or the shrinkers in Metallic Madness.

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It's true that environment gimmicks make the level in this series. Would a gimmick creation tool help with this? Or is that too complicated for a game maker game. I've never played a game creator game, honestly. I don't know if it's just complaining, but it would bother me how all the gimmicks (because Sonic is such a stylish series) are so aesthetically tuned to their levels. Would it be too much to ask for skins on gimmicks, like a chrome skin for the Aquatic Ruin head, and then being able to make it shoot lasers instead of arrows? Like I said, I never played a game creator. Is that a thing?

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It seems to me that that could work like the style changes in Mario Maker.  Instead of having styles for different eras, you would have styles for different zones.

...Of course, that brings up another problem for a Sonic Maker: In Sonic, the invention of new level themes is prized, but it's hard to see how a Sonic Maker could allow for anything but pre-existing levels, unless it had a sophisticated graphic and palette editor.  At a more basic level, maybe you could just have generic themes like "hills," "metal," etc., and then allow players to colour-edit and name it whatever they want?

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While something more limited like the Mario Maker style might be easier to get into for casual players. But personally I'd prefer if they would go the LittleBIgPlanet direction where you are free to build any kind of levels or minigames you want. On LBP3 if you know how, you can even build 3D gameplay levels with little effort.

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14 hours ago, Solly said:

I'm less concerned with how you would construct Sonic's levels (Jez's suggestion does a good enough job of addressing that) and more concerned with how well users would be able to really create compelling stages based on Sonic's mechanics.

You are tapping into something very accurate!  A Sonic zone editing/creating software would be more likely to emerge either packaged with or following the introduction of a new CW/HC/PWG Sonic title that would introduce some new mechanics, perhaps such as additional layers of puzzle solving and item collection.   

If  something were to be released without any additional mechanics available, it does often seems like many (not sure of a specific percent) enthusiasts of 2D Sonic will always be appreciative of zones with numerous sublocations and branching paths, the depth of the zones themselves!  As long as the characters can enjoyably and effectively explore/navigate the zones, that becomes the focal point of the playing experience. ^_^:)   

 

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17 hours ago, Solly said:

I'm less concerned with how you would construct Sonic's levels (Jez's suggestion does a good enough job of addressing that) and more concerned with how well users would be able to really create compelling stages based on Sonic's mechanics. 

Sonic is a single-button game, and the character has a pretty small repertoire of moves with limited applications.

  • Jump
  • Roll
  • Insta-shield (?)
  • Spin-dash

I don't really see a lot of possibilities, personally. It feels to me like Sonic games were always meant to be played a certain way. That's not a jab at them, so hopefully it doesn't sound like one. I've been trying to write this post without bringing up Mario, because I know some people here actually can't stand the comparisons, but I feel like I need to in order to explain why I think Mario Maker works.

Mario games are generally a lot more free-form than Sonic. They rarely try and control your pace, except during specific challenges where they either rush you or make you slow down. Sometimes you're forced to backtrack, sometimes you have to solve simple puzzles and explore like in the Ghost House levels, but usually they're straight forward romps that you can tackle at your own pace.

Sonic levels, by contrast, usually alternate between having areas where you're expected to try and go fast (hills, loops, corkscrews, long stretches) and areas where it slows you down (platforms, elevators, crushers), that only the seasoned players are going to get through quickly. The better games have an element of exploration, but it's always optional. I think this is one reason most Sonic fan games (that I've played) always try to emulate the classic level design; the anatomy of a good Sonic stage is more consistent and harder to break.

And like I said, Sonic also has a fairly limited number of things he can do. Besides having just a couple of actions, listed above, he doesn't have very many ways of interacting with each level. One of the things that makes Mario so conducive to a level creator is the sheer number of ways the player can approach a given situation.Take the Koopa Shell for example.

200px-GreenShell_-_MarioPartyStarRush.pn

In Mario games, there are a lot of things you can do with this one item. You can immediately kick it to take out enemies in front of you. You can pick it up and kick it later. You can use it as a shield in case you run into another enemy and don't jump in time. You can throw it directly up, or in an arc if you're moving. You can hit a block from the side, either breaking it to reveal a new path, or causing an item to come out. You can bounce off of it to reach new heights, or send it down paths you can't reach to collect coins. 

This is probably why most of the Mario fan games and levels (again, that I've played) are less focused on making actual Nintendo-styled courses, and instead try to make new and unique challenges based on what you can do in the game's engine. The most extreme examples of this are those bullshit Kaizo levels, like this.

I don't see the capacity for something like this in Sonic. I think a Sonic Maker would probably be great for people who want to try their hand at designing Zones like SEGA (which would be fun!), but that there isn't a lot of potential to create something really original and interesting, which was the entire point of giving fans tools like that.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that, I mean yeah it would be nice if sonic had a wide variety of things that he could do while still keeping simplicity like Mario but Mario can't do speedy platforming like Sonic what with the winding paths, lots of branches and routes to take to the end of the level (not all the time this is true of course but at its best everything melds so well that the paths can seem singular) and with good application of sonics physics and momentum usage, you could use it in a multitude of ways to get the player to different places.

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