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Should Sonic Team take notes from other developers for the Modern/3D Sonic series?


Blueknight V2.0
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Should Sonic Team take notes from other developers when it comes their Modern Sonic games. Sonic Team is always experimenting with the Modern Sonic series, sometimes it works and everyone likes it or there's something no one liked in the game. Other times it doesn't work so much, like the Werehog from Unleashed amongst other examples. Now, Unleashed (Day stages), Generations, Colors, Rush and Rivals series' and Forces (most of the reviews giving excellent reviews for Episode Shadow) to an extent are all very well received Modern Sonic titles. I know Sonic Team and Sega continue to evolve and experiment with 3D Modern Sonic games, but how well does it hold up to how other developers do.

Insomniac Games with the Ratchet & Clank series, is the best example of series experimentation and evolution. The 2 videos above are from Youtuber VTNVIVI, talking about Insomniac Games at GDC 2018 last week, Insomniac Games talked about 15 years of the R&C series, how and why to stack crates a certain way along with other stuff. They did discuss how some of their games, due to experimentation, strayed farther from the formula and tone. Like Deadlocked, which was darker from previous titles (which came from heavy inspiration of Halo) and pushing Clank aside completely. Then came the Future Trilogy, which was a return to form, then came the experimental games All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault, which also deviated from the formula. Then Insomniac Games, seen what worked and what didn't work with All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault, then they went back to the formula established in the Future Trilogy for Into The Nexus, however it was shorter than most games. So, so many things that the team went through to make some of the best games around, that's the difference between Sonic Team and Insomniac Games.

The movie being tampered with didn't help matters for Insomniac Games, because they had to change everything around in the PS4 remake to more closely match the movie, which is why Qwark is narrating through most of the game. So, you should be able to see the difference between the 2 developers and with their experiments and series evolution. Because some of you who have played Sonic Generation, then Lost World and now Forces knows (not me because I only played Unleashed and Generation on Xbox 360 and Lost World 3DS) what I'm talking about in comparison to the R&C series. Plus the Ratchet series is lot harder (especially in challenge mode) and longer story mode than the Modern Sonic series, while the Modern 3D Sonic games seem to have gotten easier and shorter with every game. So that's what I thought you guys might be interested in, Sonic Team should learn from not just their own mistakes, but from other developers as well. So what do you guys think, should Sega and Sonic Team take this approach to make 3D Modern Sonic better? Maybe they are for the Sonic movie I don't know, so be sure to post what you guys think about this.

 

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Making Sonic games longer isn't just a case of "hey, make it longer" - there's fundamental differences in the structure of a Sonic game and a Ratchet and Clank game.

Boost Sonic requires hefty amounts of terrain, hence resulting in padding through 'experiments' such as the Werehog, or the ungodly amounts of 2D in Colours and Forces. This is because he moves so damn fast. Forces has this even worse - the Hedgehog Engine 2 doesn't seem to have data streaming for the levels - so they can only be so big (hence Forces' pathetically short levels). I may be misremembering that last part somewhat, but I think that's the gist of it. 

Anywho, building all that terrain takes time and resources, hence making a Sonic game that's fair length and dropping shite like the Werehog or constant 2D sections isn't particularly feasible with the boost engine unless SEGA breaks the bank. Which they're less likely to do after Forces, contrary to your belief, did pretty damn badly in reviews. Granted it did alright sales-wise so they may take the approach of "hey they'll eat this shit up anyway," but the focus they're placing on Mania as of SXSW tells me otherwise. 

Ratchet and Clank meanwhile, is published by Sony. Who're probably slightly less fussed about breaking the bank on account of being Sony, and wanting good exclusives for their system.

tl;dr: Under the boost engine they can't make the games longer without the naff padding of Werehog, 2D etc, because it'd cost too much. They could learn plenty from other developers, but a lot of the changes they could make based on that would require fundamental changes to their workflow that I can't see them making, particularly after presumably spending so much on HE2. 

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5 minutes ago, Tracker_TD said:

Ratchet and Clank meanwhile, is published by Sony. Who're probably slightly less fussed about breaking the bank on account of being Sony, and wanting good exclusives for their system.

That's one thing I left out is that most Sonic games like Forces are multiplatform which requires alot more time and effort to make specificly for each platform, which sometimes doesn't turn out as good as an exclusive game like Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper or Jak & Daxter. Now I'm not saying all multiplatform Sonic games are like that, there's Unleashed and Generations for instance, which are multiplatform and get high ratings like Playstation exclusives.

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31 minutes ago, Blue Knight/Bluestreak said:

That's one thing I left out is that most Sonic games like Forces are multiplatform which requires alot more time and effort to make specificly for each platform, which sometimes doesn't turn out as good as an exclusive game like Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper or Jak & Daxter. Now I'm not saying all multiplatform Sonic games are like that, there's Unleashed and Generations for instance, which are multiplatform and get high ratings like Playstation exclusives.

Uh... Unleashed didn't get high ratings. In fact Unleashed was definitely on the poorly rated end of the scale, last I checked.

Anywho, the difference here doesn't lie in exclusivity - it's simply that Sonic games require huge environments that take more resources, due to Sonic's speed. The same would be true even if it were an exclusive - in fact the Wii-exclusive Colours (OK there was the DS ver but that was Dimps innit) demonstrates it, with the huge amount of 2D. That's not due to the power of the system (Mario Galaxy/Galaxy 2 prove large scale productions were absolutely possible on the Wii), it's just a matter of SEGA not having infinite resources. 

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10 minutes ago, Tracker_TD said:

Uh... Unleashed didn't get high ratings. In fact Unleashed was definitely on the poorly rated end of the scale, last I checked.

Last I checked it got better scores than Sonic 2006, Boom Rise of Lyric, Shattered Crystal and possibly Secret Rings or Black Knight.

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After twenty years of Sonic Team mostly working on a wavelength separate from nearly everyone else, I'd say the OP's question isn't so much whether they should they use other games as a reference to design but whether they even would do so in the first place....and at this point, I think we've all received our answer for quite some time now.

1 hour ago, Tracker_TD said:

Making Sonic games longer isn't just a case of "hey, make it longer" - there's fundamental differences in the structure of a Sonic game and a Ratchet and Clank game.

Boost Sonic requires hefty amounts of terrain, hence resulting in padding through 'experiments' such as the Werehog, or the ungodly amounts of 2D in Colours and Forces. This is because he moves so damn fast. Forces has this even worse - the Hedgehog Engine 2 doesn't seem to have data streaming for the levels - so they can only be so big (hence Forces' pathetically short levels). I may be misremembering that last part somewhat, but I think that's the gist of it. 

I know you said you're dismembering, but lmao, wow at the bolded if true.

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These aren't things exclusive to Ratchet and Clank. Sonic Team is kind of an outlier with how arguably wasteful they are with their resources. Even with how messy and wasteful AAA games tend to be, most of them are over twice as long as the last 4 Sonic Team games. 

As for more specific things, I'll be honest and and say I get a little miffed when people just throw out studios that make games they like and say Sonic should be more like those. For example:
 

17 minutes ago, Miragnarok said:

Batman Arkham Series? YES!

 

Call of Duty? Sure, to keep things action packed.

 

Doom!? ABSOLUTELY!!!!

 

Street Fighter? Yes.

Nintendo? Not really. 

...Yeah. I like how Nintendo specifically is called out as one to avoid when they're the only other major company attempting to make 3D platformers.

Anyway, Ratchet and Clank has platformer elements so it's not actually a bad choice for influence, but the series are aiming for two completely different things. At most, I think the PS3 games were written pretty well, did a good job implementing scenarios into the gameplay and making levels feel connected, and did good balancing their tone so if I were to talk about story/world building influence I'd point at those.

But let's be real here guys, Sonic at it's core is about movement, and there's  one major 3D platformer last year that happened to have movement down to a science.
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I'm not talking about the aesthetics or the tone of Mario or any surface level stuff like that. I'm talking about the procesc. How did Nintendo nailed Mario's movement? How did they get there. Why did they make the adjustments they made later on? 

Outside of that I don't really have much to add because I don't think there's anything like Sonic out there. It's a truly unique series even compared to other platforming games.

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I'd say every developer could learn something from other developers. Though Sonic Team could stand to learn more than most.

It's hard to nail down exactly who they should be looking towards, though. 3D platformers aren't exactly common these days, and even among platformers Sonic faces some unique challenges. Even before getting into the slope physics and wall running that the 3D series has largely abandoned, no platformer out there is as focused on speed and fluidity as Sonic. What works for Mario or Crash or Ratchet or whoever won't necessarily apply to Sonic; any lessons Sonic Team takes would have to be properly evaluated and adapted to the unique expectations for Sonic's movement.

I will say that Odyssey should definitely be on their radar, though. Even though it's a relatively minor part of the game, the way Mario carries his momentum and the way his roll interacts with slopes feel better than...well, any 3D Sonic game.

Also Mania was made by different developers so it'd be nice if they could learn a thing or two from them.

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Uh, yes they should take notes from other games. I played and beat sonic forces for the first time like two days ago after having put it off for months. I knew it was gonna be bad, but I avoided most spoilers because the idea of going into a new sonic game blind can still be quite exciting for me. But man, that was some of the least fun I’ve had playing a sonic game since like, well Sonic Lost World... which uh... was the last main game... This stuff is inexcusable. Forces is a huge mess. The avatar is not only ugly, but feels god awful to play as, and you don’t even unlock most of the better outfits till after you beat the game. I’m not as disgusted by this thing as I initially was, but if your character is always gonna look like shit, at least let me choose the kinds of abilities I want my guy to have. I ended up making an angry pink Rabbit I affectionately named Bunno. He’s brave, strong, and tough. He clashes his fists together upon completing a level. Too bad in the game he’s a coward, a weakling with no worthwhile abilities, and has a stupid weapon I want nothing to do with. This thing is worthless.

Modern Sonic I thought would be what keeps me hooked to this game. But nah. The boost gameplay is worse than its ever been. I swear it feels 80% faster than it was in Generations. Which is ridiculous. There were times where I didn’t want to blast through the stage they a million miles a minute. Times where I wanted to feel like I was actually doing something. Especially coming off of Mania and Mario Odyssey, both games which conditioned me to explore. These games encourage exploration in the best way possible. You're rewarded with little treats for going off the beaten path. I can’t tell you how many times I naively believed, “oh this place seems hard to get to, maybe there’ll be a red ring or something there.” But nope. Just a whole lot of nothing. Most of the time you can’t go backwards anyways because of unnecessary boosters or invisible walls. And if not for those things, modern sonic’s movement sucks ass. A worthless double jump which doesnt help with anything. No way to move well horizontally in the air aside from a ridiculous air boost which you don’t even always have. It’s nonsense. Make sonic fun to move. Granted all the boost games have that problem to a degree. Though I feel it’s at it’s worse here. But yeah, you’re punished for trying to actually play the game. Instead you’re meant to just blast ahead without even being able to properly process what’s happening. It’s garbage.

I HATED classic sonic in Gens. It was the absolute worst to me. So I figured I’d feel the same here, if not worse since his physics looked more mangled than before and I was already sour of the guys inclusion in the game anyway. But I actually had the closest thing to any semblance of fun with these stages. The drop dash was probably a big part of my heightened enjoyment. It really helps with flow and just feels good to do. I felt like I was actually playing a video game during classic’s levels. I ran around, “explored” as much as I was able. It was surprisingly okay. But that’s all it was. Okay. Only classic sonic though. The other two were garbage.

This isn’t working anymore. I’m a huge sonic fan. I’m an early 2000s fan too, so my preference lies in the games most would consider bad or mediocre. The adventures, the Advance games, rush, Heroes, Unleashed. Even god damn secret rings. I can tolerate a lot. I can find fun in most games as long as sonic or his friends are involved. It usually comes easy to me. I just couldn’t with this one. I can’t do it anymore. I’m not getting what I want from these games anymore. I haven’t truly gotten what I want from sonic in such a long time.

If sonic forces had taught me any lesson, it’s that I’m a grown adult spending my money on trash. I won’t do that anymore. It’s sad because I’m always excited for a new sonic release. I love Sonics friends. I love that they were supposed to be given a bigger role. And I guess they were. Even though it wasn’t fulfilling. It was awful. I love that shadow is playable. I still get this mushy feeling in my heart when I see a more serious sonic story. I swear, I’ve watched the shadow the hedgehog cutscenes in Japanese all back to back and I love that shit. I love dark, shonen nonsense. I live for it. I was so excited for this game. But it’s a waste. Imagine if instead of the stupid avatar and classic sonic, we got to switch around to the perspectives of Sonics friends during this whole adventure. Playing as Espio, or Silver, or Amy, or Knuckles. Saving sonic and the world. Nah son. Some ugly mannequin you’re supposed to call a character, and classic sonic. 

Mario Odyssey was the best game I’ve played in years. Mario has a roll that functions beautifully, as if to call Sonic out on his nonsense. Mario is so well animated, so expressive. The worlds are so big and encourage you to scrounge around through every nook and cranny, and you’re even rewarded for it. Mario has so many excellent abilities that he can use to traverse the world around him in so many unique and fun ways. Mario is everything Sonic is not. So much love and care went into Odyssey. It’s probably my favorite game that’s come out in the past 10 years. If we don’t get a Sonic Odyssey, I won’t be spending my money on Sonic again. Except for more Mania games, and the awesome racing games Sumo puts out. Unless they make a 3D game with the Chaotix playable in full force or something then I’ll eat my words. But yeah. Main line Sonic won’t get a penny from me anymore. It was a good run. Sonic means so much to me. So things really shouldn’t be like this. But what can I say.

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Every developer out there stands to learn something from others in some shape or form. Developers within Nintendo could absolutely learn a lot of things from studios like Naughty Dog or Bungie in terms of online support. Vice-versa, those same developers could learn a thing or two from Nintendo in terms of out their thinking and development philosophies (like not shipping a game out until it's well and ready). Some developers could certainly stand to learn more than others, like ST. Though, the kicker there is the series itself.

Sonic, when it's done right (again imo seeing as what sonic means is about as factual as your favorite pizza topping being the best one in the world), just isn't like anything else out there. The answers to how to make a good Sonic game don't really exist in other series so a simple copy and paste job wouldn't do a whole lot of good. What ST really needs help on is basic structure. How did Mario get to where it is? Well, Nintendo spit-shined the fuck out of that gameplay formula for decades on end. Each game only adds surface level functionality to the perfect base that's already there. As opposed to Sonic where he's had more core gameplay styles than ST knows what to do with. They'd more often than not rather change the series entirely than stick to something.

Take a look back at what many widely believe to be some of the best games in the series across the years. Notice how most of them came with a gameplay style that was introduced in another game that came out shortly before it. Like really, this is basic stuff. You get better with practice. What is Mania but the result of a group of people studying only classic styled gameplay for years? ST never likes to stick with anything so, along with the constant staff changes, they rarely ever improve.

Also, that's another thing, the staff changes. Why was Forces so mediocre when Generations was a success? Well, the level design team from Generations was long gone by the time Forces (and possibly even before LW if I recall) actually started development. Most successful studios usually have the same core people working on their games. Changes to them happen gradually and with enough time to teach the new talent coming in. Unlike ST which seems to be a revolving door most of the time. It adds to the problem of there never being any consistency and inability to give the series a chance to actually get better.

So yes, ST can learn a lot from other studios but not really much in the way of game mechanics. More in the way of their own studio dynamics. At the end of the day, you can have the best gameplay concept in the whole wide world down on paper but it'll stay there and won't mean shit if you don't actually have a skilled team that's able to execute on that vision behind it.

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Also forgot to put this in the main post but Insomniac Games pointed out at GDC is that in the original Ratchet & Clank, there were complaints about the story and Ratchet's characterization, his character (as well as Clank and Qwark) evolved over the course of the series, hence why Ratxhet's voice actor was switched in R&C 2. Now the Sonic series does this for only a few characters like Sonic, Shadow, Blaze, Eggman and other characters that recur throughout the series. While others don' really get that chance to evolve like Infinite as well as others and has changed the voice cast 3 or 4 times since Sonic Adventure in 1999.

Also there is the matter of a games overall story is another matter entirely, the R&C Future trilogy and prologue's story was amazing and I wish they finished the cliffhanger at the end of Nexus. Sly Cooper series also has some of the best storylines in games, again the series ends on an unresolved cliffhanger that needs finished, same goes with the amazing Jak & Daxter series and you guessed it another cliffhanger in J&D The Lost Frontier. Final example is The Legend of Spyro Trilogy, now I'm not entirely sure if it has a cliffhanger, but my guess is it continues into Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. Sonic games in terms of story are usually knocked back by toned down voice acting to match the characters animations pre-Unleashed, but most Sonic stories make up for flaws with the iconic, cinematic CGI cutscenes by Marza Animation and Blur Studios. Sonic stories also seem to be one-off stories with some continuation between games, that's what made Sonic Forces' story, cutscenes, voice acting and character animations stand out from the other Sonic games.

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