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Slashy

A possible solution for open level design in 3D Sonic games

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Change the objective from reaching a destination point to obtaining a set high score.

I think a problem with open level design with Sonic is that either it is too easy to avoid obstacles, the player gets lost, or the player takes the path of least resistance. If there is a goal that is build around open ended gameplay, then players will engage in the environment and will never need to worry about being lost because there is no set direction.

All there needs to be is a set score for a stage and the player succeeds once they hit that score. Ranks will be solely based on time. You can easily reward exploration and the very freeform nature will probably drive up replay value. Unlike fetch missions such as treasure hunting stages, Chaotix's missions from Heroes, or the various missions given to you in Shadow, the player can decide where he or she wants to go.

Let me give an example: Rather than going from point A to point B, the goal is to just obtain a set score. This is similar to trick challenges in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or Casino Street Act 2 from the Sonic 4 beta/mobile version. This means that everything the player may to do gain points (destroy enemies, perform tricks, leap through Rainbow Dash Rings, collect rings) all directly make progress towards the goal. The player is then ranked on how long it took them to achieve that score.

One more great thing...you suddenly make a lot of questionable Sonic design decisions work INCLUDING making Sonic's friends play differently from him while still having them all share the same stages.

Think about Tails? Not as fast as Sonic so getting around the map may be more difficult, but he can more easily avoid obstacles and reach areas that may take more time with Sonic, but since this is open level design it isn't overpowered.

Or Knuckles, he can explore easily, combat tougher enemies worth more points, but is not terribly fast.

Or Amy can be a hybrid of all three, one of the faster characters, has a hammer jump to reach higher places, and she can more easily combat groups of enemies.

But since the ranking system is still based on time, there is still the aspect of speed for all of them even in aspects that aren't about going from point A to B as quickly as possible.

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13 minutes ago, Diogenes said:

I hate it. It takes the emphasis off of platforming and moves it towards grinding for points.

Getting high scores works fine as a secondary objective but it is not what I want the focal point of the gameplay to be.

Preventing grinding just has to do with proper level design, and yes the emphasis is moved from platforming challenges to exploration. You fail to consider that since this type of game would introduce high score pickups, it still allows the design of platforming challenges to exist in the world and for the player to be encouraged to do them.

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1 minute ago, Slashy said:

Preventing grinding just has to do with proper level design,

No, it's inherent to the idea. Not grinding in the sense of finding one area where you can repeat the same action to gain points, but of focusing on making one number go up through arbitrary means for arbitrary reasons.

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I could possibly see score breaking as a side mode or set of side missions for unlockables, but making a whole game out of that sounds a bit underwhelming. It sounds like it would get old real fast.

I am open to seeing a 3d Sonic game that encourages exploration, and includes multiple characters, but not if it’s limited to time limited levels that require a highscore to advance. That undermines the concept of exploration, if you’re constantly pressured into achieving a score as fast as you can.

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1 hour ago, Slashy said:

Open level design in 3D Sonic games

Pls no. There's currently an entire industry en masse trying to sacrifice good level design for dull open spaces filled with nothing. I'd rather the few games offering an alternative experience didn't cave as well.

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1 hour ago, ZERO_ninja said:

Pls no. There's currently an entire industry en masse trying to sacrifice good level design for dull open spaces filled with nothing. I'd rather the few games offering an alternative experience didn't cave as well.

Solution is just to do what Forces did: squeeze the levels into linear corridors with pretty backdrops. No dull open spaces impeding in the ultimate goal of having the player do nothing except hold the X button. Genius!

But seriously I think if we did have open levels, the key is to incentivize exploration. It doesn't have to be mandatory but it could give players who elect to explore an advantage over those that just get to the end of the level. Make it so players don't feel like they're missing out if they choose not to explore and those who do explore just get minor bonuses like more rings, extra lives or chances at a special stage.

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46 minutes ago, Diogenes said:

No, it's inherent to the idea. Not grinding in the sense of finding one area where you can repeat the same action to gain points, but of focusing on making one number go up through arbitrary means for arbitrary reasons.

I'll add / elaborate on this and note that while the OP mentioned the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series as inspiration, it's worth noting that series has gameplay --in regards to mechanics and level design-- designed around being able to initiate and string together a large treasure trove of tricks to build your score at almost anytime. The bulk of levels in Tony Hawk games have half-pipes, quarter-pipes, and ramps everywhere that you can start nearly any aerial or ground trick from.

As a platformer game, Sonic is more limited in his moveset, and those few core abilities used to play the game aren't designed around skyrocketing the player's score. Building your score in Sonic games in the majority of cases also requires some level of interaction with other objects that aren't part of the level design. How fast you complete a level is really the only way you can trump up your score solely through the player's own actions.

Moreover, the objects Sonic needs to interact with in order to build the score are for the most part, destroying enemies scattered through levels (and if possible, chaining destroyed enemies together), as is the case in most Sonic games. Other interactive objects, such as performing tricks off of ramps, grinding on rails, collectibles, or using certain powerups; are mostly situational / rare objects in levels, and depending on the Sonic game in question might not even have any contribution towards your score at all. Building a score-attack game solely through these few tasks can quickly get repetitive fast, hence Diogenes describing it as grinding.

And while the argument could be made that you could design Sonic gameplay --core mechanics, level design, and system mechanics in regards to which game objects contribute to your score-- that was designed around score building, that's all fine and good....but at that point, you're not making a Sonic platformer anymore. The idea may have some merit in a spinoff, but not as a mainline title.

As for what goals could be handled in regards to open level design for a 3D Sonic, I think I'd prefer the approach of the pre-3D Land Mario games; which had a set number of self-contained missions in a moderately-sized sandbox; with the first goal being the standard get-to-the-goal approach and having other goals being secondary. Have a main path of the level that takes you to the goal (or boss), but still be large enough to accommodate having other missions.

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29 minutes ago, Tracker_TD said:

There was a fangame kind of along these lines. It wasn't particularly great and I wouldn't want a Sonic game in this style outside of spin-offs, but it's mildly interesting.

I think that while that game has elements of what I am talking about, it leans way too far in the Jet Set Radio direction. By doing tricks I meant something closer to how Sonic Rush or Sonic Generations handled it where it is an added bonus to interacting with the environment rather than being a basic part of Sonic's moveset.

 

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I believe the best way to do open levels in 3-D Sonic is a combination of two things:

1) Give the player a purpose to be in the level and run around, whether it's objectives to complete, macguffins and or trinkets to find and collect (Chaos Emeralds, Red Rings, etc.), anything as long as it incentivizes the player to run around and also gives purpose for the environment being large rather than for the sake of it. Also preferably take design cues from Breath of the Wild and how it handles towers and shrines being optional but still useful, instead of the Assassin's Creed approach where collectibles are optional but also worthless.

2) Make movement and traversal as fun as possible. There's no point to having a large sprawling environment to explore if it isn't fun to run through, and I think Sonic already has all the tools necessary for this, they just need to be properly applied. Take the early foundation of 3-D Sonic found in Sonic's gameplay from SA1/2, work out some of the kinks and then take Lost World's parkour and remove the aspect of activating it by holding down a run button and instead have it activate from the player's speed and momentum (similarly to how the wall run worked in SA1/2), then I think that would provide a fun means of control for open environments. In theory anyway.

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I think this is a great idea but i think it should be a type of mission along with other types i.e. like finding chaos emeralds (as stated by maxtiis). I think this idea could be applied well to a fangame with open level design called sonic utopia (worth checking out) which suffers the problems you stated about open level design (like getting lost).

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