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Strong Guy

Observations watching a newbie play a Sonic game for the first time

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I think watching people who don't play games, well, play games is not only agonizing but also intriguing. I was trying to get my gf to play Sonic Mania because she played Sonic 1 when she was really young (to the point where she didn't even remember the name of the game she just knew it was Sonic and remembered rolling). I turned the game on and at first she was player 2 and I said to her you can help me out and fly and lift me up and stuff. She was excited but then quickly disheartened when the camera wouldn't follow her and she kept not knowing where she was. Knowing this disappointment from when I played Sonic 2 & 3 I quickly let her be Sonic and i'd just fly her places or whatever whenever she was struggling. 

So as Sonic I explained to her how to spin dash because she was struggling to really make it anywhere just walking and not having enough speed to make it up slopes and the like. She kept trying to spin dash while she was running and jumping and going off springs and stuff and just ended up slowing rolling everywhere and was frustrated. I said you can only do that when you stand still. Eventually she got it but then she'd just hold the spin charge and not rev up and wonder why she was going so slow. Then I said you gotta tap it to charge up speed and then goes to tap the button probably no less than 80 times before letting go thinking you can just get infinite speed. As someone who's played Sonic his entire life I really thought to myself, how do you interpret something as simple as a spin dash in this way?

Moving on eventually she ended up taking a high path in green hill and fell off and thought she was gonna die. This happened several times throughout both acts but she learned that if you fall from a great height there's always safe ground beneath you. Not a bad lesson considering bottomless pits are an easy if not cheap way to add difficulty to platformers. After all, everyone hates the dimps games because there's pits everywhere while praising the classics for the lack of them. Anyway, soon enough she gets to her first special stage and I say "okay this is a special stage you need to try and get the emerald from the ufo" and she is actively avoiding the blue spheres. She wonders why she's going so slow and i say well you have to collect the blue spheres to go faster and she goes "oh I didn't know, I thought those would hurt you". I tried explaining well Sonic is blue and these orbs are blue and round, they look "friendly" and nice and like you're supposed to wanna touch them. I mean look at them, they're all bouncy and just look like they're screaming to get collected.

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Anyway she fails the stage and I go it's okay it's just a special stage it's no big deal and we press on eventually beating green hill and making it to chemical plant. 

So running around here what I noticed was she liked the pink water and she wanted to go in actively trying to find routes to make it into the water, and again as someone who's played Sonic pretty much his entire life this was just bizarre. But before long that we come across this:

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She see's this from afar and then stands there waiting for these to come out. She takes damage and looks at me and goes "I thought you said the blue orbs were good" and I literally didn't know what to say. Honest to god speechless. Soon after though she makes it into the pink water like she wanted and since green hill taught her you can't die from falling she goes as deep as she can and then dies. Then she goes "I don't understand this game I don't like this" and she never wanted to play again. So now my girlfriend doesn't like Sonic, even the good ones.

I'm not really sure what my point is with this topic, and I was initially gonna make this into a status but ended up being way too long. I do think it's interesting enough to maybe warrant a little discussion on what is good game design. We all give different Sonic games flack for being designed they way they are. Dimps Sonic's being of particular note. Lots of spikes and bottolmess pits, but if green hill had bottomless pits my gf probably wouldn't have died the way she did in the water in chemical plant. Did she learn the wrong lesson from exploring in green hill? Is the whole blue sphere thing actually bad design and we just don't see it that way because of our past experiences with prior games? Should spin dash be simpler and made more like the Adventure spin dash where you can just hold the button to avoid newcomers charging forever and trying to come to a stand still? How much should games cater to non gamers to try and get them hooked? Should new gamers just get good? I don't know fellas.

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One of the minor (and I emphasize minor) drawbacks to Sonic Mania specifically is a lot of it is built on the expectations that you're at least somewhat familiar with Sonic, so little quirks like the mega mack in Chemical Plant being poisonous and the water being dangerous would have been learned way back when playing Sonic 2. It's unfortunate that CPZ's mega mack is blue and circular like the blue spheres in the bonus stages, because that can confuse a newbie.

This problem is sorta unique to Sonic Mania, being a mash-up of old stages from different games with some new ones thrown in the mix. If you're familiar with these levels, the nasty surprises aren't as surprising, and the new mechanics are unexpected and welcome. If you're new, that doesn't register.

Again, that's a minor issue, as blue spheres aren't really seen in any of the other levels, however the way the stages are laid out from different games does pose an inconsistency that could confuse newbies, as you've detailed. Even with the changes made by the Mania team, each level does borrow it's design philosophies from their original iterations, with a lot of them looking the same. 

I don't think it's that big of an issue, though. It seems like your girlfriend gave up a bit too early, which is a shame because Sonic games (especially the traditional ones) always get better with repeated play. Whether or not that's a good game design mindset is subjective, but that's just how Sonic do. It is always interesting to hear these things, however. Thanks for sharing!

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3 hours ago, Strong Guy said:

.

I'm not really sure what my point is with this topic, and I was initially gonna make this into a status but ended up being way too long. I do think it's interesting enough to maybe warrant a little discussion on what is good game design. We all give different Sonic games flack for being designed they way they are. Dimps Sonic's being of particular note. Lots of spikes and bottolmess pits, but if green hill had bottomless pits my gf probably wouldn't have died the way she did in the water in chemical plant. Did she learn the wrong lesson from exploring in green hill? Is the whole blue sphere thing actually bad design and we just don't see it that way because of our past experiences with prior games? Should spin dash be simpler and made more like the Adventure spin dash where you can just hold the button to avoid newcomers charging forever and trying to come to a stand still? How much should games cater to non gamers to try and get them hooked? Should new gamers just get good? I don't know fellas.

There are no easy answers to these questions since game design is so subjective.

I'd argue that classic Sonic has a lot of issues with clarity in It's design, but as you address you have to be careful not to lower the skill ceiling as you lower the skill floor. The spindash can have a dedicated button without taking the traditional input out, for starters. 

On the flip side I don't think every instance learning something through failure is something to point and shout bad game design at. Failure is an excellent teacher, and if people don't respond well to it and quit they're probably too impatient to learn the ins and outs of a game anyway. I'm not sure why someone would come to the conclusion that falling and not dying once would mean that the rule would hold true for the entire experience. Maybe its just 15 years of experience talking, but games throw curveballs and shake up the rules all the time. You have to be able to adapt to that.

 

Not every game has to be for everyone, but you can always make it easier for people to get on board, I guess. 

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Well, I'm definitely not new to games and to this day I've yet to successfully beat a Classic Sonic game without using the pause and save cheat from Mega Collection, which wasn't fun. However, playing through the game as intended wasn't fun for me either because of the constant dying and frustrations relating towards trying to come to terms with how to conquer the level design and not getting it. It was even worse when I tried to play Sonic 2 as a kid and kept being kicked back to the main screen.  To this day I still haven't beaten Sonic 3 or Sonic and Knuckles.

I've tried to go back to them multiple times and eventually came to the conclusion on my most recent attempt at a playthrough that something in either my brain or my hands just won't allow me to have any fun or get any better at these games. I have no clue how to properly explain it. 

I can give reasons as to why I generally prefer 3D games over 2D ones but as far as playing through them, having a moderate experience that saw me beating the game, and having fun, for some reason it just doesn't click with me. Which is why I didn't bother with Sonic Mania. I knew I wasn't going to enjoy it.

I can't do it and I don't think it's got anything to do with how good a gamer you are. Shadow the Hedgehog has exceedingly worse controls than the Classics and yet I managed to A rank every mission and beat the hard mode there. The KIND of game it is lends itself to being more compatible with me, regardless of its drop in quality.

I'm willing to bet there's a significant number of people who couldn't get into Sonic at all in the 90s because of how he functioned. 

I'm always surprised to hear how easy it is for some people and they're always surprised to hear how hard it is for me. 

I don't understand and it's frustrating not having an easy answer.

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It baffles me sometimes how Sonic games are so easy to me compared to other games and yet people still complain about them being too hard and me just being, "too good at it to understand," and then when I try to go play any competitive game or online fps I struggle just be average. Its a little frustrating for me because as time goes on Sonic games have been getting easier and easier while my skill (and age) has only increased. Its to the point now where I completed Sonic Forces on launch day with all S ranks and I beat mania with all chaos emeralds on my first attempt in no save mode after I had found exactly seven giant ring locations. It only took me one weekend to get all of the red rings in Forces and after that there really wasn't that much for me to do. This is not meant to be me bragging because quite frankly I don't believe any of these achievements were all that difficult and therein lies the problem. Gamers are playing video games now more than ever, and we are in a day and age where almost anyone has access to a plethora of online guides and walkthroughs if they get really stuck so I really don't see any reason for games to be getting easier. Do you know how people figured out how to beat difficult platformers before the internet? Trial and error, and honestly I think that is the best way to learn. If you are so new to gaming that figuring out what hurts you and what helps you is difficult then you are going to find any game frustrating, not just Sonic.

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That was a fantastic read , really laughed as I can relate to all of that when my wife tried to play the Sonic games a little while back. 
Labyrinth Zone nearly drove her to the brink of psychosis and when we tried a change of pace and went to the 3D games , namely Generations..... well. I thought she was going to cry 😂

I honestly do think there is certain type of person than can tolerate and enjoy these games and this series.

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I think it's easy to forget how bad most of us were when we started playing video games.

The first platformer I ever played was Super Mario Bros. 3, and... I beelined right into the very first Goomba and died. I was terrible for a good while, because 2D platformers weren't something I was experienced with yet, and I hadn't really learned the ropes yet.

Even years later, when I got into the Sonic series, I was pretty bad initially.

All this is to say I think your girlfriend had a pretty normal experience playing an unfamiliar game in an unfamiliar genre to her. I really think that - if she'd found it fun and decided to keep playing - she'd have gotten the hang of it in time. Sounds like it really wasn't her thing though, which is totally fair.

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On 10/16/2019 at 9:49 PM, Dr. Mechano said:

I think it's easy to forget how bad most of us were when we started playing video games.

You mean when I was 6? I still got as far as Starlight zone within a year, and that was my first ever video game.

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38 minutes ago, Mark_The_Dephiles said:

You mean when I was 6? I still got as far as Starlight zone within a year, and that was my first ever video game.

I did say most of us, not all, certainly! Definitely some of us were naturals the moment we picked up a controller, as you evidently were!

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39 minutes ago, Dr. Mechano said:

I did say most of us, not all, certainly! Definitely some of us were naturals the moment we picked up a controller, as you evidently were!

I wouldn't say I was a complete natural. It did take me about a year to get that far, and I wasn't able to finish the game until I was a few years older. I just had a strong drive to keep at it until I figured everything out for myself. (fun fact, the first time I played I did not realize that you had to press the start button, and I mistakenly believed I was the one controlling the demos. I figured this out pretty quick, but it was still probably pretty humorous to watch. Too bad the press start button text was mistakenly omitted from the final game.)

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