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Sonic Fan J

A Level Design Approach to Encourage Better Gameplay

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3 hours ago, JezMM said:

The only way I can imagine a free-roaming skatepark style stage design working in 3D for a "Sonic 64" style re-think is to change the objective to be many within a stage rather than a point A to point B affair.  I'm sort of imagining something with Sonic Forces' "mission control" style voiceovers but... instead of the narrative of the stage just changing as you go through it, Sonic is actually doing stuff and solving the problems that are brought up.  Like the most basic scenario is "Eggman is attacking the zone, there's a badnik generator at the top of the volcanic hill!" and the player has to use the skatepark-esque stage to make their own way to that one tall part of the stage with smoke coming out the top.  Then once you get up there and bop the thing, two more generators appear, and you now have to make your way to those in whichever order you prefer.  Objectives would gradually become more complex/numerous as the stages progress, possibly with the order you do them in also affecting what objectives pop up next, leading to a dynamic play experience.

I always liked the multiple goals in the same level thing of Mario 64, it felt cool when you stumbled on one you weren't meant to get yet. I guess to me I felt like the Adventure games did that well? I enjoyed trying to find the hidden Chao and hard modes of stages. Getting 100 rings on some levels were really hard. Shadow also tried to do it and the idea wasn't bad, but a lot of missions boiled down to "destroy everyone on this side". I think if it had been a more reasonable goal it'd be more fun to replay (also better stage selection).

The idea of the missions in Forces wasn't that bad, but the timing made me want to do them less than if it was just an option.

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6 hours ago, Tarnish said:

Sonic Forces' OC says hi.

Anyway, a lot of talk about badniks, but I feel that should come after solving the problem of controlling Sonic, stage design and how the two can work together. But that's just me.

I think that in a platformer, enemy design and level layout are essentially part of the same thing and they influence each other.

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3 hours ago, Iko said:

I think that in a platformer, enemy design and level layout are essentially part of the same thing and they influence each other.

Sonic should learn how to walk before he can run...i.e., figure out how he moves, behaves and controls and interacts with the environment, his abilities before we complicate things with enemies, but that's just me I guess.

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8 hours ago, DryLagoon said:

I always liked the multiple goals in the same level thing of Mario 64, it felt cool when you stumbled on one you weren't meant to get yet. I guess to me I felt like the Adventure games did that well? I enjoyed trying to find the hidden Chao and hard modes of stages. Getting 100 rings on some levels were really hard. Shadow also tried to do it and the idea wasn't bad, but a lot of missions boiled down to "destroy everyone on this side". I think if it had been a more reasonable goal it'd be more fun to replay (also better stage selection).

The idea of the missions in Forces wasn't that bad, but the timing made me want to do them less than if it was just an option.

I should clarify that when I imagine multiple goals, I don't mean in the same sense that past Sonic games have had missions - I mean more like collecting emeralds as Knuckles in Sonic Adventure 1/2 works.  Your path through the level ends up being a big wibbly wobbly mess where you crisscross all over and part of the challenge is finding HOW you're gonna get somewhere as well as how you execute upon it.

Granted, one good thing about having wide open levels is you COULD easily make additional missions without having to worry about them being repetitive too much (beating a level in a certain time is a trivial mission if you can already play the level fast naturally, for example).

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Having been away for a bit I find it interesting to take Sonic away from a point-to-point objective, eliminating a multiple choice obstacle route approach. I also find it interesting that nobody suggested really slowing down play speed from the boost games. It's kind of a pair of interesting angles but probably not how I would explore level design routes myself. There is a reason I made sure to include obstacle courses in my description after all as I find point-to-point fits Sonic more so than staying trapped in a single map. I guess though I should probably throw some examples out to cover my own approach, though I'm not particularly good at articulating myself so bear with me please.

So, When I think of a Sonic level that mixes skateparks and obstacle courses I think more of a series of intertwined U-shaped tunnels that are leading to a singular destination. The would be tiered, and crisscrossed with floating platforms and side walks as well as much smaller tunnels and shortcuts to link them together in unexpected places. The outer walls regardless of what they would be would be designed to be high enough to keep Sonic within the field of play, and by using more than one intersecting and intertwined U-shaped tunnel even from high vantage points the level should look less like a hallway than a single U-shaped tunnel would.

To better picture it, imagine if you would the at dawn section of Speed Highway with more areas that actually crisscross and intertwined with catwalks and floating platforms but with a environmental structure more a kin to a fantastical skatepark. When you set it up like that you have an interesting level to explore with a plethora of routes and approaches without compromising the point to point gameplay. While a fair bit of expansion is necessary when using the at dawn section as a basis, the primary focus is on adding complexity and density. To me at least, when you build a level in this way, like the original 1991 game you challenge the player come up with ways to use Sonic's abilities to traverse the level and the topography should be dense and complex enough to make achieving and maintaining speed challenging and rewarding, but friendly enough to movement to allow it to be possible at all. the environments should flow organically, hence the skatepark influence.

And for a fun aside involving Sonic's speed, here is some fun information to consider. My younger brother once calculated that in the original game that Sonic's top speed was only around thirty or so miles-per-hour. The reason it feels so fast is due to the size of the surrounding environment In contrast to this and the parallax scrolling techniques. In comparison to this, we saw that supposedly Sonic's top travel speed in Unleashed is actually somewhere around three hundred plus miles-per-hour. If either of these estimates are right then you are looking at ten fold increase in speed so there really shouldn't be any harm in slowing Sonic down to allow for more engaging and involved gameplay while also minimizing the risk of Sonic just launching out of the field of play.

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"Slowing down" sonic is much less important that making him earn his speed.  Sonic should still be capable of high speeds, just like he was in the classic games, but only with greater understanding of how to master your environment. This is the essence of those games essentially, exploiting geometry and environmental objects to increase and maintain speed. Longer stretches of speed as a reward for skilled play is a far better system for a 3D platformer than making max speed instantly accessible and cheap to maintain. Making players feel more confident to try more difficult routes and paths because they are skilled enough with sonic's momentum.

In 3D the only way to do this reliably is to create a huge open space with many different areas, heights, depths, platforms, etc. Point A to B gameplay is still a part of it in principle, it's just segmented gameplay. Sonic should have a list of things to do. They shouldn't all be necessary for progression but some of them in such a way that makes sonic explore to new parts of the island (or zones). The easiest way to do this seamlessly would obviously be to create a narrative surrounding the adventure. Sonic isnt just chasing off robotnik from one end of the zone to the next, he has other goals that are essential to preventing robotnik from taking over the world. Write a neat story that has sonic encounter other characters and save little critters from robotnik's 'henchbots'. And then there may just be some fun side tasks that are just about fun and exploration. 

 

The key to all this is actually making sonic really fun and relatively simple to control. And shaping the environment to take full advantage of this and allow for players to continually get better and master Sonic. When the control is fairly simple and the gameplay smooth, people will want to spend more time controlling the character, not just completing the game to get it done and move on. See? This is not a 2D concept. These are boiled down principles that can be done in 3D and expanded in ways the 2D games couldn't do.

 

 

 

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This is definitely one of the best threads on this subject that has happened!!  It even may be a good sign as far as goes what discussions and decisions have been happening over time while developing the new 3D game! 

What I realized very recently about the Genesis (and thus Retro engine and similar variants') gameplay is: most button pushes/control inputs have a satisfying, interesting result.  Stringing these together can even feel like we are painting the motions and actions of each character with brushstrokes!   To say it another way, the gameplay is like the player is playing the role of the character's mind/thought processes!!

If there is any way that the Zones/environments can be adapted in 3D to actually include more quasi-scripted elements, but have many options via the controls for what that would be, it could be very interesting: The various parts of the landscape and present objects would be interactive depending on what button combinations/pressure/direction were used, and they would be arranged/placed so that there would be very few dud interactions. 

An example would be, say there is a platform within range and maybe a shoulder button would cycle through which one was highlighted (not obtrusively but some way that would be visible), Different buttons would allow, say, Tails to automatically approach this platform in unique ways. 

One button would have him jump from where he is standing or moving forwards: up to the platform and start flying to an additional height depending on button pressure, and stay above that platform (Falling off platforms in 3D is a lopsided challenge, i think the characters being able to have smart platforming behavior but still with some exceptions would be excellent!)

Another button would have him jump and land under the platform, another would have him jump exactly onto the platform in attacking mode(s).  There could be "levelup" moves that would allow Tails to flip or push some platforms! 

The idea being that Tails can see the platform so he can decide what to do with it before jumping; it might be weird for it to be somewhat automatic, but it would feel for the players like the characters have minds again (Honestly a good working title for this type of project would be SONIC MINDS)!!

The cycling through surrounding objects using the controller sounds like it would be too powerful but we would also have to move the characters near to them on our own so they would be in range.

Whole segments of landscape could be selected too, again there would surely be a visually pleasant way to do this, in which different running styles could be selected for Sonic.  With a big slope that turns almost vertical, different buttons would have Sonic choose to clear the slope, use the slope to gain momentum back in the other direction; here is one that sounds tasty: maybe set up a quasi-quicktime event in which Sonic would jump off in a direction you choose when you press the button during the run up the slope!!  Many different potential places to jump would be adjacent to the slope, but it would be impossible to miss all of them, however tricky to get to some of them depending on timing!  It is sort of like extending the homing attack method but making it more beautiful and creative.

Platforming/navigating their world is implied to be a breeze for the Sonic characters because they have been doing it for a long time now: and so the controls could somehow reflect this.  If I had to choose a code name for development teams for what this overall system would be called it might be "Ultra Wall Jump"; to try and see if it is possible to make most parts of the zone environment interactive in multiple ways that would allow lots of functional brushstrokes of momentum and rather fluidly incorporate creative offensive and defensive moves when needed!   

Honestly this is sort of what we see in any of the cutscenes and of course the Sonic CD intro animation including interactions with badniks which have been mentioned in this thread already!!  Sonic makes decisions about where and how to jump, and what to do when landing, ahead of time.  The controls we use are essentially simulating that the characters have an idea of where to go and what to do.

Now I am also remembering the pinball physics ideas from Sonic Fan J: It would definitely be possible for amazing pinball interactions to happen by allowing some level of automatically reaching platforms; I am visualizing now Knuckles is rolling down a slope in a natural area in pinball mode and as landscape areas alongside pass by they are highlighted: and at the press of the corresponding buttons, he could spring up and land there without it being possible to mess up (It would be a lovely option to be able to turn on a setting in which characters could not walk over the edge of platforms, but they might fall very quickly or present similar challenges that would not come down to the controller itself being clumsy), and in midair or soon after landing (to the point that it would feel seamless) additional button(s) could be pressed based on what types of terrain are now within reach.  The joystick/D-pad would no longer be an invisible leash on the characters, instead, their minds and sequences of unique choices (with plenty of areas for fully free motion) would be what is seen hopping through the levels.

Difficult platforming would still be very possible as far as having to choose the correct options within a limited window of time, including the new challenge of having to select the platform in time, rather than having to use the directional controls to drag the character there based on a clumsy levitating default jump.  Maybe this would even keep Knuckles and Tails from breaking the flow, there really might not be a way to just climb or fly over everything: the player would always be choosing somewhere to land, free jumping would be unnecessary based on level design.  That could still be between maybe as many as 15-25 different locations which previously would have been between 1 and 5 at most discrete locations that the characters could reach by jumping, and multiple branching options of actions to take depending on the complexity of what the locations and objects are! 

I see that I didn't mention rings, and maybe that would be something interesting to consider!  Ring collecting is special but it is also very much like a minigame pick-em-up when it comes to controlling the characters to touch them.  So, maybe there would be fewer clusters of rings, they could instead switch their role to being selectable as a place for the characters to jump and maybe even activate different moves or other options during or after collecting them?  They could be switched to the medium-sized Chaotix/Mania ring type through some type of plot device, and then, even when losing them, it would be possible to select them and choose a movement to recollect them: in order to recollect all of them it might take a well honed level of selecting and choosing the right motion types for each one including in which order to be able to grab the next one very quickly! 

~

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TLDR: Brushstroke-esque motions could be selected to happen within the environments and reflect the characters' active, actual internal wisdom of how to interact with their environments. 

Lots of space for free movement of many different formats (walking, running, pinball rolling, unique defense and offense motions per character) would be available but jumping (also gliding/flying type lifting motions) could be limited to having selected a place to land.  Most or all aspects of Sonic-tier platforming challenges would still be possible without the least sensible and most limiting aspect of 3D Sonic, having to control complex movements through the air and in essence, through the environment, every time when in truth that is an intuitive ability of each character!  They themselves should basically be incapable of messing up the direction and strength of their jumps!! : ) : )

But with that level of difficulty removed: the environments can offer all new challenges and new levels of detail too!! 

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2 hours ago, expansivelovestories said:

long post

This is an interesting concept... so basically you still move the character freely but jumping and air actions are kinda automated, so the most confusing part of controlling Sonic in 3D is gone, and in exchange, the way how you automatically interact with "air" allows for some Sonic CD intro/ending like animations.

It kinda reminds me of Metroid Other M where Samus automatically aims at enemies, and this allowed for more spectacular actions through simple QTEs.

This is a creative idea, though, I personally would still try to search for a way to let the player be in full control of Sonic (including air actions), for the sake of continuing the discussion and finding new ideas. For example, I like the way how the indie game "Defunct" lets you see the landing point and the trajectory of a jump through a visible curve on screen so you can accurately adjust the landing point while you are still in the air, without having to deal with calculating it in your mind.

 

EDIT: To stay in topic of level design, I'm starting to consider the idea of planetoids. I mean, not Lost Worlds-like planetoids, bigger planets, so big that the curvature is barely noticeable. You start on a point, and you have to reach the opposite point of the planet, and whatever road you take makes no difference because it's a round planet, you'll eventually end at the other side as long as there are occasionally some natural barriers that keep you from backtracking; and you will never end out of bounds because there aren't limits in the first place (no endless pits, no invisible walls).

I think that the visible curvature may even be a cool thing stylistically... after all, if Animal Crossing's world is built over a big cylinder, sonic levels being huge spheres wouldn't be that bad IMO (think of the blue sphere minigame, but the planets are way bigger so the curvature is even less noticeable).

I don't even want to think how much effort it needs to design a level that's that big, but on paper the concept may work IMO.

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22 hours ago, UpCDownCLeftCRightC said:

"Slowing down" sonic is much less important that making him earn his speed.  Sonic should still be capable of high speeds, just like he was in the classic games, but only with greater understanding of how to master your environment. This is the essence of those games essentially, exploiting geometry and environmental objects to increase and maintain speed. Longer stretches of speed as a reward for skilled play is a far better system for a 3D platformer than making max speed instantly accessible and cheap to maintain. Making players feel more confident to try more difficult routes and paths because they are skilled enough with sonic's momentum.

We pretty much agree here fundamentally, but the speed I was referring to was Sonic's maximum. I mean think about it, when playing a platformer, what are the advantages and disadvantages of allowing the player to reach 300+mph? There isn't really much platforming you can do at those speeds, and as you point out, allowing those speeds at a press of a button further trivializes level design. It's part of what results in the boost corridor problem to begin with is designing levels around that gameplay.

At this point though I'm just repeating things you already know, but it's why I like a skate park as inspiration for level building as it forces you to think about momentum and how to build and maintain speed. It forces you to think about gameplay that will fit the environment instead level design that will fit that type of speed. I find reducing Sonic's maximum controllable speed to something more platformer friendly but still invoking of speed is something that will happen naturally regardless. Lost World tried it, but didn't really seem to know what it was doing and was so absorbed in it's artificial parkour that it forgot the importance of natural momentum in movement. As a result Sonic is perhaps the clunkiest he's ever been and it is rarely visually appealing not to speak of actually controlling it. Again, it is why I advocate building a level first and then looking at how to design gameplay that will work with the level and also possess tiers of challenge or the player.

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19 hours ago, Iko said:

This is an interesting concept... so basically you still move the character freely but jumping and air actions are kinda automated, so the most confusing part of controlling Sonic in 3D is gone, and in exchange, the way how you automatically interact with "air" allows for some Sonic CD intro/ending like animations.

It kinda reminds me of Metroid Other M where Samus automatically aims at enemies, and this allowed for more spectacular actions through simple QTEs.

This is a creative idea, though, I personally would still try to search for a way to let the player be in full control of Sonic (including air actions), for the sake of continuing the discussion and finding new ideas. For example, I like the way how the indie game "Defunct" lets you see the landing point and the trajectory of a jump through a visible curve on screen so you can accurately adjust the landing point while you are still in the air, without having to deal with calculating it in your mind.

Yes!!  I sort of think that the creative teams would be able to make something work that wouldn't be quite as automatic as what i described!

 

19 hours ago, Iko said:

EDIT: To stay in topic of level design, I'm starting to consider the idea of planetoids. I mean, not Lost Worlds-like planetoids, bigger planets, so big that the curvature is barely noticeable. You start on a point, and you have to reach the opposite point of the planet, and whatever road you take makes no difference because it's a round planet, you'll eventually end at the other side as long as there are occasionally some natural barriers that keep you from backtracking; and you will never end out of bounds because there aren't limits in the first place (no endless pits, no invisible walls).

I think that the visible curvature may even be a cool thing stylistically... after all, if Animal Crossing's world is built over a big cylinder, sonic levels being huge spheres wouldn't be that bad IMO (think of the blue sphere minigame, but the planets are way bigger so the curvature is even less noticeable).

I don't even want to think how much effort it needs to design a level that's that big, but on paper the concept may work IMO.

 

yes!!!! Any situation like planetoids (or various sizes of islands) are hopefully where we are headed for the next 3D game!  Designing zones/environments to be entire would be very exciting and among other things make replay value much higher!  What you are describing would have at least 30 different paths to explore and maybe several more hybrid ones!!  And, I am not sure about procedurally generated zones as a whole but maybe parts of zones would change over time either through internal coding or patch updates to simulate it: like water levels etc!   

Sonic as a pioneering gameplay experience is primed and ready to happen again!!   With forgiving and immersive zones, completely free movements would be possible!  I have suddenly remembered the Game Gear Sonic items which were very playful and even somewhat chaotic (The rocket shoes and personal springs!!).  wisps are of course in that realm, but I feel like they would come up with some new sorts of mechanisms that would give lots of potential to move in unusual and effective ways!           

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5 hours ago, Sonic Fan J said:

We pretty much agree here fundamentally, but the speed I was referring to was Sonic's maximum. I mean think about it, when playing a platformer, what are the advantages and disadvantages of allowing the player to reach 300+mph? There isn't really much platforming you can do at those speeds, and as you point out, allowing those speeds at a press of a button further trivializes level design. It's part of what results in the boost corridor problem to begin with is designing levels around that gameplay.

At this point though I'm just repeating things you already know, but it's why I like a skate park as inspiration for level building as it forces you to think about momentum and how to build and maintain speed. It forces you to think about gameplay that will fit the environment instead level design that will fit that type of speed. I find reducing Sonic's maximum controllable speed to something more platformer friendly but still invoking of speed is something that will happen naturally regardless. Lost World tried it, but didn't really seem to know what it was doing and was so absorbed in it's artificial parkour that it forgot the importance of natural momentum in movement. As a result Sonic is perhaps the clunkiest he's ever been and it is rarely visually appealing not to speak of actually controlling it. Again, it is why I advocate building a level first and then looking at how to design gameplay that will work with the level and also possess tiers of challenge or the player.

You have to build some level to tune the physics anyway. In the SA1 prototypes we saw many interesting level 'skeletons' that were there just to test the engine. 

We're in agreement. I think though that setting an arbitrary limit to speed isnt necessary, the level design takes care of it automatically. Remember in the classic games, sonic accelerates to some fixed speed limit but can accelerate higher based on how much momentum he gains from geometry. But he cant ever carry that speed through the entire level, it's only for stretches and completely controlled by object placement and other natural design factors. In a open world 3D game sonic will only accelerate as fast as the level allows him to and even at high speeds he will lose some momentum in the air and when he is inevitably halted by some object if the player doesnt react quickly enough. But even the crashing can only happen as often as you design ultra high speed sections, which isnt going to be much. 

I just want scenes like the sonic CD opening where he rolls down a slope to gain speed and then blasts off a cliff at high velocity. Very rewarding, authentically sonic experience, that wont be overplayed because there is no boost button and its controlled by the terrain.

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