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Are Sonic games getting a lower budget?


ShadowSJG
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People put a lot of weight into "tha budgetsss" when assessing anything. While it's certainly a factor, I don't think there's any real sense in jumping straight to the money front when something's content feels insubstantial or not to one's own liking. As far as I can tell there's been no real evidence that the budget allotted to new Sonic games has changed much at all as time has passed, and I think what's more important to look at is the huge amount of change in the staff producing the games, and the ever-elusive production cycle for the series that seems completely inconsistent.

It's not impossible that newer games have been given less money, but acting like "oh Unleashed had the most money which is why it's the greatest Sonic game ever and immune to criticism" is an acceptable or comprehensive explanation for why the series currently is the way it is is laughable. Most likely it has to do with a combination of a lot of different elements, between the staff changing, SEGA itself changing, Sonic's branding shifting between different areas of the company (both business-wise and geographically), and the series itself having been in a transitional period and not quite being certain of what direction it wanted to go at the time that all this started. The budget is probably the least of their problems, and it's not like you need a gigantic budget to make a good or even long game.

Acting like there's any sole or singular reason that the series is in it's current state is a mistake, but I've always bought the "budget" explanation as the least useful, mostly just serving as an easy-out to claim that a studio is being lazy or doesn't care about the consumers. Video games aren't just a machine that you pump money into and then good gameplay comes out. Money is only potential to be used by talented developers and creators with a vision, something that Sonic has not had permanently tied down for quite a while now.

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Yes. Most certainly yes.

It's clear that Unleashed pushed the production values big time just by experiencing it.

Colors, while definitely still good looking for the console it's on, toned down the level of detail a bit. Generations was interesting in that it a great middle ground between the two in addition to all the extra stuff that went into it(outside of the story, anyway). And Lost World, despite how polarizing and unforunately timed it was, went for the more colorful visuals it did as a deliberate stylistic choice.

By contrast, Forces is pretty obvious about how meager it's production values are, as evident from the lighting & texturing on certain things and even the soundtrack being primarily techno.

 

But moving away from Sonic specifically, there are apparently reports that SEGA is having money and/or production issues lately.

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1 hour ago, DabigRG said:

Yes. Most certainly yes.

It's clear that Unleashed pushed the production values big time just by experiencing it.

Colors, while definitely still good looking for the console it's on, toned down the level of detail a bit. Generations was interesting in that it a great middle ground between the two in addition to all the extra stuff that went into it(outside of the story, anyway). And Lost World, despite how polarizing and unforunately timed it was, went for the more colorful visuals it did as a deliberate stylistic choice.

By contrast, Forces is pretty obvious about how meager it's production values are, as evident from the lighting & texturing on certain things and even the soundtrack being primarily techno.

 

But moving away from Sonic specifically, there are apparently reports that SEGA is having money and/or production issues lately.

This is one of the most depressing things about Sonic Forces. A big chunk of development was making that fancy new engine and the game still looked worse than something released 10 years earlier.

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8 minutes ago, MetalSkulkBane said:

This is one of the most depressing things about Sonic Forces. A big chunk of development was making that fancy new engine and the game still looked worse than something released 10 years earlier.

Was it meant to be a lighting engine?

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Realistically unless we know the budget of every single Sonic game and we don't because very rarely gaming companies announce a budget for a game, it is hard to say. It is also harder to say because much of that budget goes into marketing rather than the development of the game.

From what we guess though Sonic games have been given a lower budget throughout the years just by observing how the mainline games come around. Sonic 1, 2 and 3 were given relevantly high budgets due to the large amount of marketing that those games had. Sega spent more money on marketing than they did developing the games, Masato Nakamura's costs aside for the music and even then Sega dropped him when it became too expensive. While they did do a high budgeted Sonic game, they also did lower budget games as well such as the Master System/handheld platformers and spinoffs as well as ports/emulation that received minimal marketing to balance things out. After 06 and Unleashed even though the last high profile marketed Sonic game was Heroes, things did change. The marketing for every game got less and less to the point where TV ads are no longer a thing and relied on online such as their website, blogs and later on, Twitter, Youtube, etc. Some people online call Sega's marketing non-existent and why many of their less known games failed until much later including the Yakuza series however this was changed more since the rise of social media. The handheld games went from a different experience to reusing the same music and tone as the mainline entries to stop making them even with their Sonic 4 experiment/Sonic Boom that was the closest thing to those.

After Lost World that already had a lower budget than Colours and Generations due to the art style as well as Nintendo helping them out for the game, Sega restructured so for a while it didn't get much at all apart from some mobile stuff and a very few console spinoffs that were much cheaper to make and easier to get a profit. The failure of Sonic Boom that lost Sega money also didn't help so it took a while for Forces to get greenlit however Mania was probably designed with a lower budget in mind but that might have originally gone over than intended due to its delay. It is most likely that Forces got the higher budget when compared to Mania just on the grounds of voice acting in multiple languages in multiple sessions, having known artists such as Jon Underdown doing the music, the engine as well as the staff while with Mania, the only things that could be considered expensive were the animation, the tribute ad and the rights to use the Masato Nakamura tracks. Oh and making the limited edition. Mania already used an existing but upgraded engine, the reuse of classic zones even though they were redone level design/retouched assets, one of the bonus stages was a scrapped plan on something else that Taxman/Stealth already got working, most of the development was just time working on the game especially with limited almost indie level staff. It was also because of its success and praise that Sega continued the game, touched it up and got a physical release while with Forces because of the game, sales aren't as strong as they hoped and still possible to see new unsold copies or in bundles a year after release desperate to get rid of them.

There are multiple reasons why Sonic games got a lower budget over the years from the company itself changing hands, restructuring among restructuring, games not getting as successful as they hoped losing them money and that the games are no longer sustainable to do a high budget game. I would consider that Unleashed was a Sonic game that got a high development budget when compared to the other Sonic games of the era due to its lighting engine that required multiple computers to be on over multiple days to calculate and staff at the time were willing to push Sonic into a different direction that backfired on them due to its mixed reaction and not making the money that it needed so much of the staff who worked on the game left even though Sega does have a high staff turnover, more so after the Dreamcast/when Sammy took over. Sega still sees the Sonic series as important but not enough to be their main focus or their only money maker in some cases anymore.

Also just because something has a high budget doesn't automatically think that they are expensive. Sega considers the Yakuza series to be their highest budget/main focused game due to the use of known actors, branding, emulating the bonus games, marketing (more so in Japan) and even then they recycle and reuse assets between each game such as set in the same area mostly to cut down on costs as well. Before Yakuza 6, the games ran on the same engine as well but games after Yakuza 6 will most likely use the same new engine including Judgement. Probably outside of the classic 3, maybe the two Sonic Adventure games and possibly Unleashed, most Sonic games or even Sega games outside of the AM2/Model 1-3 arcade era/Shenmue 1 and 2 aren't considered AAA games by their budget.

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Oh absolutely. There's no doubt about that.

However, more importantly, they've got lower creativity, lower quality, and lower care put into the craft of the final product. 

Basically, everything that can make the games better, they've got a lower amount of it.

Budget definitely doesn't dictate whether or not a game will be good, of course. Money can only buy you talent when you're paying someone talented to do work for you... and you let them do what they do without too much (or even too little) corporate input.

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22 hours ago, MetalSkulkBane said:

This is one of the most depressing things about Sonic Forces. A big chunk of development was making that fancy new engine and the game still looked worse than something released 10 years earlier.

I never quite understand when folks say this because... it really didn't.  Forces is a beautiful looking game.  The difference comes from the fact that Unleashed gave us a context for all these beautiful locations and made us care about them as places, whereas Forces does nothing to dispell the idea that all of the environments are just obstacle courses created for Sonic to traverse.  They couldn't even be bothered to give the city that defined Forces' overall aesthetic a dang name.

The stage design is so dull that, again, it heightens the idea that we're travelling through a set-path, unlike Unleashed which somehow managed to evoke the idea that Sonic is blasting through a locale that wasn't custom built for his arrival despite very much doing exactly that gameplay-wise.  In this case, the hub worlds letting us experience a rich taste of how each setting feels to a normal human being before letting Sonic have a go at it was probably a big factor.

Finally, the camera being controllable in Unleashed did add to it.  It wasn't useful in gameplay, but being able to have the OPTION to stop and look around was usually pretty visually rewarding for any player that cared to.  Fan-made free camera mods in Forces are disappointly quick to reveal how much of each stage is a total charade as soon as you're able to look in directions that the game doesn't usually allow.

These, of course, are the details that garner Unleashed so much affection and forgiveness after all these years by those who still defend it.

Still, the parts of Forces you CAN see, dang gorgeous.  The corner-cutting that brings down the overall effectiveness of those gorgeous graphics are where the real flaws lie, and budget may be a factor there.

 

Having said that, folks without a decent idea of game design are quick to make a judgement on what a game's budget was based on the visuals alone.  Even going a step above and judging it on the amount of playable content isn't necessarily much better either.  For everything that we get in the final product, there are tons of ideas and pieces of content that get discarded along the way, for good or bad reasons.  Budget factors into all that too, and on a mismanaged project, a large budget could be wasted.  On a well-managed project, a small budget can be stretched to great results.

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Sad to say it, but I have to agree with that. I will admit, I am going to defend Unleashed because of what it went for (mainly because I loved playing and never finishing Unleashed a few years back). However, that's no excuse for how bad Forces did in graphic design in that way. Forces is another game I like (I have the Bonus Edition on Nintendo Switch), but that's one of the things I dislike about it. 

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4 hours ago, JezMM said:

I never quite understand when folks say this because... it really didn't.  Forces is a beautiful looking game.  The difference comes from the fact that Unleashed gave us a context for all these beautiful locations and made us care about them as places, whereas Forces does nothing to dispell the idea that all of the environments are just obstacle courses created for Sonic to traverse.  They couldn't even be bothered to give the city that defined Forces' overall aesthetic a dang name.

I dunno I am just about 100% ok with "obstacle courses" but no stage in Forces looks anything more than passable to me.

Though it's probably got more to do with aesthetic direction than technical execution.

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5 hours ago, Diogenes said:

I dunno I am just about 100% ok with "obstacle courses" but no stage in Forces looks anything more than passable to me.

Though it's probably got more to do with aesthetic direction than technical execution.

That's fair since aesthetic direction is much more subjective.  I found City breathtaking, the building design is so much more creative than generic buildings, I love it being on the water and surrounded by more "classic Sonic" terrain, as well as the big bridges and underground subway areas adding some variety in visuals along the way.  Metropolis was also great with some very creative design, and while Death Egg and Chemical Plant were just... Death Egg and Chemical Plant, I do love the amount of creative and stunning background scenery in Classic Sonic's stage for the former, and the blizzard aesthetic is a really nice twist on the latter, really gave it a unique vibe for me, particularly Space Port where the arrival at the titular destination really captures that looming feeling of a big adventure ahead.

Granted...I guess when I was praising the visuals I DID forget about the levels that aren't so hot.  Green Hill is a total dud.  City may be under attack, but it is still vibrant to look at.  Green Hill's "destroyed" state is just duller than the original due to all the sand everywhere.  Mystic Forest isn't particularly interesting as a forest, the casino takeover is just limited to neon lights over everything with the same copy-pasted buildings in the background rather than being a believable transformation, and the forest fires don't really feel like anything more than background noise without any real sense of threat or danger to them, I mean you never even go near one.  Eggman Empire HQ was a decent finale visually speaking, no complaints on the interior, though the barren wasteland surrounding it was absolutely crap and considering you only even see it in cut-scenes, that feels particularly lazy.

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