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How can we get 3D-fan developers to work for SEGA?

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Thanks to the passion of 2D fans we have Sonic Mania.

But what about 3D fans? Imagine the possibilities!! This article by Vizardjeffhor (Sonicstadium site) showcases an amazing fan 3D engine. I wish SEGA would take a look and hire the man.

Spoiler

 

  • What’s it called? Untitled at this time.
  • Who’s making it? Hero.
  • What is it? A 3D Sonic sandbox demo made off Unity, seemingly using assets from Generations.
  • Explain? An engine featuring a unified control scheme for Modern Sonic that combines the best gameplay mechanics from across the three mainline eras – without relying on 2D.

Wait, come again?

  • Classic: Heavy emphasis on gravity and momentum woven into physics. Spin Dash, Spin Attack, Super Peel-Out, Drop Dash are present, as are the Elemental Shields.
  • Dreamcast: Silky smooth steering and handling. Homing Attack is present, looks to carry momentum.
  • Modern: Boost, Wisps, tricks, and Extreme Gear for kicks!

The concept in Hero’s project sounds incredible, and seeing some of these retooled abilities from Sonic’s repertoire in motion like this truly feels like an absolute breath of fresh air. If I can make a bold claim, Hero’s project of combining the best of the many playstyles SEGA has introduced for the blue blur over the ages looks like it just might be the perfect culmination towards the ideal 3D Sonic we’ve been longing for. That’s what I thought since I first saw it for myself, at least.

Now I can admit that it could just be empty praise on my part, as quality gameplay is nothing without a quality environment built with it in mind. Hero’s 3D Sonic concept looks fine in a sandbox setting, but if I were to see it in action in just the right kind of level design though… oh man, that would be wild.

 

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If these fan engine makers want to work for SEGA they can develop a repertoire and approach them themselves. Taxman didn't make those remakes and Mania because of a Twitter hashtag.

They could create the greatest video game engine known to man, but if they don't get SEGA's attention themselves then nothing will happen.

 

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Considering that it took a long time until Sega could trust Taxman and Stealth to make Sonic Mania, they would need a long time to get things going.

Firstly it isn't a proof of concept that they need, its getting momentum. Taxman and Stealth were doing fan games and not just one either. In terms of Stealth, he also made level editors, ported Sonic 1 to the GBA unofficially and was involved with Sonic Megamix. It's like they needed a resume first outside of the typical game development. Most of these fan engines are really too early, just one level usually a Green Hill type but if they had a few levels or even a complete game then it would be perhaps enough to be shown.

Even then if they want to work for Sega, they would have to do something smaller at first. Christian Whitehead's first task was to port Sonic CD to mobiles that eventually went to consoles and PC as well. A little known fact but Sega actually had two Sonic CD proof of concept ports, one by Taxman and one by a porting studio that was based off the PC or was emulated (not Blit that did end up doing some of Taxman's ports, someone else), we know the outcome of this. So if they were to do a 3D game, then they need experience. Say that they wanted to do an Adventure era game, they would have to port the Adventure games somewhere and if they get a good reputation doing that too. If not Adventure games, then a game that would please the higher ups.

They also need contacts within the company and well having someone that they are looking for as well as the right qualities and the ability to work with Sega that we know can be very very hard work.

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7 hours ago, Blacklightning said:

And I think it's very telling that even with a ridiculous abundance of fanbase-friendly 3D engines available for anyone to use, nobody has actually created a finished game worthy of note yet.

 

Has anyone made a single level yet? Like, an actual level with a clearly defined goal? I saw the Sonic Utopia demo, and whilst it's very impressive that a hobbyist was able to create something like that, there was no game structure to it. It was a small Sonic running through the vast expanse of Green Hill, with no clear sense of direction, no challenges to overcome. It had enemies, but the play space was so wide and open that the player had to choose to engage them.

When you look at Sonic 1's Green Hill Zone, from the very beginning you have to tackle that first Moto Bug - you can jump over it, you can jump onto it, you can roll into it, or you can grab rings to allow you to take damage from it. Whichever you choose, you're making a decision in response to a threat, to avoid losing a life. In Sonic Utopia you can just run in a direction where you don't have to respond to any of the enemies. Sonic 1's Green Hill has platforming challenges - swinging platforms that require timing, collapsing platforms that require quick reactions, spike beds that require you to judge distance, ramps and slopes that let you reach high-up rewards and secrets if you've built up enough speed. In Sonic Utopia there aren't any platforming challenges or risk-reward, the player can take Sonic anywhere they want with no resistance. 

Green Hill Paradise has a better sense of scale, more thoughtful design structure, and hidden items to seek out, but the core problems remain. 

If someone really wants to do this, they need to scale it down, forget the empty expanses and get someone who knows how to design levels.

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This legit reminds me of a reddit post I saw a few days ago:

Just because someone created an engine that doesn't mean they are suited to work for SEGA.

I belive SEGA would want people who do have a history working on (fan)games, not one engine without any level.

While I do like some of these fangames and such, i belive most still have to prove themselves worthy.

The Mania Team worked on ports and fangames for a while before getting the chance to work on their own game.

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8 hours ago, Blacklightning said:

And I think it's very telling that even with a ridiculous abundance of fanbase-friendly 3D engines available for anyone to use, nobody has actually created a finished game worthy of note yet.

Sonic Souls can be generously described as finished 3D game. Unlike Utopia or Green Hills Paradise it actually has multiple levels, characters, bosees, etc.

But yeah, I'm somehow doubtful this guy could make better official Sonic game than Sega.

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1 minute ago, MetalSkulkBane said:

Sonic Souls can be generously described as finished 3D game. Unlike Utopia or Green Hills Paradise it actually has multiple levels, characters, bosees, etc.

"Generously" is pretty fucking right - nevermind that the level design is nothing to write home about (hell, suffers from most of the same problems modern Sonic design does now that I think about it, forced 2D included) and that most of the roster are badly animated clones of one another, I find it pretty hard to call it a finished game when they haven't even applied textures to the geometry properly.

25 minutes ago, Pengi said:

Has anyone made a single level yet? Like, an actual level with a clearly defined goal?

A lot of projects made with Sonic GDK are single levels from what I remember. Quality will vary, obviously, but Green Hill Paradise isn't exactly the exception in that regard.

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The other problem that tends to be overlooked is that there isn't really a niche for such a thing to happen at the minute. By the time Whitehead got onto even just the CD port, the trend of original 2D games had died with Sonic Rush Adventure four years prior, and the experimentation with having Dimps doing classic-based stuff died when the interest in S4:E2 was proving far less than S4:E1 in 2010. There was basically a blank space when he got his foot in the door, one his team eventually got to fill by developing more ports and proving their pedigree. 

That niche simply doesn't exist for 3D gameplay since it's Sonic Team who do that. I don't think SEGA would be too happy with someone coming along and trying to muscle in there, even if they were further than just a tech demo.

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I think another point is that a lot of 3D fan engines are trying to be like Boost but aren't quite as good. They are very impressive, but not quite on the same scale as the Boost games. The Taxman and Stealth engine is better than the Classic Sonic engine.

The exceptions are Bumper Engine and Sonic Infinity. Bumper Engine tries to do something a bit different by mixing Adventure and Classic gameplay. Infinity is probably better than what Sonic Team are offering, but it's just an engine at the moment and the improvements aren't enough for SEGA to hire them.

Utopia is also different, but it's really Classic Sonic in 3D and I don't think is what people think of when they think of 'Modern Sonic' engines. I think Utopia has a lot of potential, but it still needs to be realised yet.

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I'm very impressed with the Bumper Engine and Utopia, but everyone here is right in saying that a great engine can only be worth talking about if it's used to make a great game. If someone used the Bumper Engine to recreate Sonic Adventure levels but modified to show off the classic style physics, that'd be worth talking about. If Utopia's Green Hill was a hub which took you to sandbox like levels with clear goals and stuff, that'd also be worth talking about. But Utopia is presumably not ready to show anything more yet and the Bumper Engine is essentially a level editor - neither one shows a team that has a solid vision to create the whole package that someone could play from start to finish - fan game or otherwise.

With the number of people that keep asking for SA3 or lament the boost style of gameplay, I think there is definite demand for a Sonic game beyond what Sonic Team are willing or capable of doing. But until someone actually steps up to create such a game, it's all hypothetical. There's no hard game to show they can do it.

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There's far more to the development of a game beyond a physics engine, and until fan creators step up to prove that they can actually step up to task and make a comprehensive game with such an engine. To be frank, I'm honestly get really sick and tired of the constant arguments and flack thrown towards Sonic Team and demanding that random physics engine guy should be in-charge because it shows a massive lack of foresight or even scope of what is actually being asked of making a game.

As someone who's done two years of game development studies, watched hours upon hours of videos showing development of games and the reasons for why cancelled games fail and successful games succeed, and had to learn exactly what different skills need to go into making even a half-decent title let alone a good one, the idea of bringing in an unproven developer based solely on messing around with a physics engine is far-fetched but letting them headline a game is absolutely insane to me. 

Christian Whitehead had at least a decade of fan-games under his belt which attempted to recapture and work on Classic Sonic's gameplay style, he had to start out on smaller projects to even get anywhere with SEGA - I.E Ports. He had a full team of people who all had experience in their individual fields and all had proven themselves previously. Like yeah. having a decent physics engine is all well and good...but you're primarily fixing an issue that isn't even the primary issue. 

Sonic Forces' biggest issue wasn't physics, it was level design. To be completely honest, the only time I've ever heard complaints of physics in a Sonic game is where it's insanely floaty (06), it's badly emulated Classic (4), and that's about it. I've heard complaints of the boost titles being too automated for their own good and having too much 2D sections as clutches, but never heard much about the physics getting in the way of things.

But if we want to run around with the idea that this is a major problem, then there's what was mentioned above:

18 hours ago, Blacklightning said:

Pretty much what @Shaddy the Zaphod said. 3D fangamers like to get on Sega's case for doing physics better than they do - which honestly, hasn't really been a huge accomplishment for decades now - but they've yet to really make an environment where that kind of gameplay actually shines yet, just basic geometric shapes to display basic functions of what is ultimately a tech demo and nothing more. I'm going to be totally blunt here - level design is fucking hard, and at this rate I would take good level design even at the expense of physics mechanics over period accurate physics shoehorned into Forces tier level design, because the former is nothing without the latter anyway. And I think it's very telling that even with a ridiculous abundance of fanbase-friendly 3D engines available for anyone to use, nobody has actually created a finished game worthy of note yet.

This won't matter one tiny ounce if the level design still sucks as hard as Forces. People complained a lot about getting new blood into Sonic Team and yet Forces' design was done entirely by the person who did Colours and completely new level designers which combined with the botched developmental cycle just meant that in the end, the entire thing was a mess in terms of level design. People need experience to pull these things off - and the idea of giving an entire project and budget to someone with just a physics engine, it wouldn't pan out well.

And to be fair, is it impressive that a person on their own got a decent physics engine going? Sure, of course it is. But that's a bare minimum thing expected in most cases when it comes to development teams and you can't make a successful game with that alone. You need to be able to make assets, graphics, music, level geometry that compliments your engine and it's gimmicks, fun gameplay as a whole, ensuring your game isn't glitchy, marketing, ensuring the game and it's design isn't cheap and leading to player frustration etc etc. Having a sole Physics engine isn't enough here, and to be frank, to even compare it to what StealthTax had to do to get recognized by SEGA and the years of work they had to place in training and making themselves masters of their own craft to prove to SEGA they have what it takes is frankly undercutting massively the efforts of StealthTax as a whole.

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Honestly I'm not sure I'd want 3D Sonic fangame developers to be stuck working for Sega. I'd guess that Mania's team had a bit of a longer leash than a team hired for a 3D Modern Sonic game would, because the whole "Classic dimension" business is a side experiment that they could drop in a second if things went poorly, while Modern Sonic is the "main" Sonic and failure there would reflect more poorly on the series. Even if competent, knowledgeable, and passionate people could get hired for a 3D project (which would basically require one or several miracles), I'd worry about them being held back by the suits and us ending up with something not all that much better than usual.

But before that, even, I'm not sure there's amateur developers out there worth promoting to that point. Indie-level 3D game development has made some great progress in recent years and more people are trying their hand at making Sonic work in 3D than ever before...but it's still very early going compared to the years of research and experimentation that shaped Mania's team, and lately it's felt like progress has ground to a halt. There's a number of engines available or in development now, but that's about as far as things have gone; I can't think of even one genuinely good 3D Sonic fan game level, compared to how many videos there are of someone running around in a test level showing off the dozens of features they've added or how polished their animations and visual effects are. Some of these engines are better than Sonic Team's attempts at replicating Genesis Sonic gameplay, and that's important, but it's also still pretty fuckin' far from being able to make a well designed and properly polished game.

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Ryan does a fairly well job on describing what people are missing on the technical level. But that's only part of the story; I'll develop on the other, dark and boring, part spectrum which is often ignored: You see, game development is really a controlled business. Let me elaborate (by still simplifying a lot of stuff).

You have time, human resource, etc., all of which are finite resources and ultimately a cost that you allocate on a budget. To balance that, you have to make sure that it will bring in not only the amount you paid to create the game, but more to turn in a sizeable profit. Why work on something that will bring you $10? (Or a magnitude more, if you're talking as a company). It's not a charity.

As everything you do costs money, you'll have to justify how working X would hold more value than Y, as an individual, and even as management. Should the answer be that what you're working on not what is planned/acceptable/not valuable enough, you'll be directed to work on something else, or be shown the door as it is their money that you, as a developer, are spending after all. There is very little time for experimentation. And even if there were, you'd be allocated a fixed amount of time doing that compared to something that brings sure value.

As much as possible, the roadmap of things to do is planned. But sometimes, things don't go as planned (Hah! Okay I jest: Always). You can't always extend the time of the project, because that would increase the planned budget. Instead you'd just have to cut on things that has the least value, or that cannot be done in time for sure. The planned revenue stays the same no matter how much additional work you do.

And lastly, say you get in the team as a developer, for example as one that has the skillset to develop a game engine; You likely won't get to fully participate (or even at all) on other aspects such as level design, setting, story. In more complicated project (as soon as you hit 3D, you likely get in this category), you may not even have anything to do with what you think you can tackle, like anything graphic (lights, particle and effects, animation). There are other, better people suited than you for that after all. Ultimately, you're a simple small gear as part of a whole game creating machine. When participating in these kind of projects, your individual contribution, while important, means little in the grand scheme of things.

Also, It's really not an all-fun industry, and many people fail to realize that.

Project Mania seems to have have put some ideas in some people's head. I'm not undermining the work our 2-D devs are doing, but the fact is that typically, 3-D projects operate at very different scales.

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I don't really think that would happen anytime soon. I mean, all we've had for 3D fan developers are either engine after engine of Classic moves on a Modern Sonic model, or we have someone reusing an engine and making one ginourmous level with a subpar to no flow and level design. If anything, 2D would be more accepted simply because 2D fan developers usually have a much, much higher standard to quality.

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Another thing that's being missed with the whole good engine =/= good game design talk and what separates Whitehead and Thomley's accomplishments on a different playing field from other fangame makers is that so far, most people have been using their engines to accurately reproduce some desired Sonic gameplay mechanics in question. Whether it be Genesis, Adventure, Boost, or some other thing, plenty of these exist. (Same goes for ROM hacks, tons of Sonic hacks [esp. classic Sonic hacks] that change their color palettes, swap out character sprites, and retool their programming.)

What Whitehead and Thomley were doing with the Retro Engine and past works prior to Mania were actually figuring out how the original games worked and using what their programming knowledge to reproduce the original games in new environments that were made by scratch (as opposed to emulations or ports). CD 2011 wasn't just recreating the physics and gameplay on his new engine (and might I add, also adding bugfixes and certain design choices that weren't in the original ST games), Whitehead was also able to get the data the original games and then run the data on his Retro Engine. Virtually no other fangamer has done this. How are they going to take a ROM of a 20+ year old game, extract the level data, duplicate it near-perfectly into their own code, and run the data on top of their work? Nobody else has pulled this off with even other 2D Sonic engines, even those with near-perfect/perfect physics engines; let alone accomplished this in 3D with the 3D games. (By the by, Whitehead during the early phase of the CD 2011 PoC approached Thomley on reverse-engineering/documentation on CD, with Thomley in the process developing his own port of Sonic CD to the Nintendo DS at the same time.)

Even before the CD projects, Whitehead and Thomley had PoCs like Retro Sonic (which included a custom-built Emerald Hill Zone, with Sonic 2-accurate physics...that could played on the PC OR Sega Dreamcast) and Sonic 1 port to the GBA (a much more faithful port of the original game to the platform than the infamous hot mess of a GBA port Sega pushed out around that time). At this point, they're pretty much technical wizards; they don't just understand the gameplay, they understand the entire structure of how the games were put together.

The closest thing towards a 3D alternative to Whitehead and Thomley's work is...Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 PC.

Which aside from not being made on a custom engine (the process is being done through the Unity engine) and being a relatively new project (started less than five years ago)...is a port of Sonic 2006.

Not either of the two Adventures games (which is surprising, considering that they are, y'know the first 3D Sonic games), or the moderately better-liked Heroes, or even the Saturn projects (Sonic World in Sonic Jam, Sonic R)....Sonic 2006.

...so there you go.

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The simple answer: We don't.

The important thing to note about Mania's development team is that they have over a decade's worth of experience with mods and fangames, they've perfected the art of 2D Sonic probably better than even most people at Sonic Team could do. 3D fangames are a rarity, even then, most of them are extremely rough proof of concepts that never advance past the demo stage.

There's no real, solid background in 3D fangames in the Sonic community that anyone can point to. 3D games are exponentially more expensive and time consuming to create than something like Sonic Mania because of the very nature of 3D games; it's a significantly higher risk to hire a bunch of people that made a "pretty alright but rough around the edges" proof of concept once than a team that has an extensive history of successful, well-made 2D mods and fangames plus has earned Sega's trust with remakes widely considered to be the best versions available of those games.

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