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Realism in Sonic

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On 4/21/2020 at 9:57 AM, Kuzu said:

Its actually kind of how Eastern media views this versus how Western media does. Western media tends to make the anthropomorphic animals a natural part of the world, like Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

Eastern media keeps "non-human' elements as "alien" as possible. Stuff like the Transformers Anime and other Eastern takes on western properties.

Eh, I don't think that's the case. When it comes to the West and East, from my experience, it's taken for granted in the West that humans and obvious non-humans who are living beings with cultures and personalities (whether they're furries or elves or genies or martian) in a modern day Earth together without either being an alien outsider is really only "acceptable" if it's in one of the following:

A. It's a bombastic comedy or at least satirical in one way or another (Looney Tunes, Bojack Horseman, comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes).

B. It's fantasy or sci-fi set in an outfight fantasy setting (Warcraft, Shrek, Avatar: The Last Airbender).

When it comes to the East there are works like Animal Crossing (where the player's a human heading to town of talking animals but nobody comments on it as strange), Brand New Animal (a serious story where the beastmen are currently implied to just be descended from transformed humans and certainly have a society much like yours or mine), even Japanese mythology is filled with tanuki and kappa.

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I might have been able to buy a Roger Rabbit-type dynamic of cartoon characters next to real humans if it werent for the series' most notable human, Dr. Eggman. Even when the other humans are at least anime or even pixar-like in Unleashes, he looks like a big weird freak next to them. I think, in that case, humans were probably first considered to look stylistically in line with the other characters. Not looking just like them, but folling the same philosophy the Oshima used (strong and bold use of shapes, less detail, mixtures of circles and triangles, bright colors and rubber hose limbs). A style that, when told to make a comedic fat scientist, would make perfect sense to draw him that way. Given it's very japanese interpretation of old cartoon, the closest fit would be the human designs in 60s-80s gag anime.

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Again I think it's also the fact there's no founded reason for it. Roger Rabbit and Eddie Valiant will obviously look different because their universe established Roger's ToonTown habitat working different from the rest of the world. Same for any cartoon humans next to Eddie. It also explains why in some scenes we can have a realistic human in a cartoon world or a one or two cartoon characters in the real world. They originate from different habitats.

Sonic and Eggman's contrast next to the other humans is just.....because. Sure Sonic is from South Island but nothing is shown to suggest South Island worked by different rules and aesthetics over Station Square in those games, especially as the realistic areas ventured out of that field and dominated Sonic's world for the most part. Sonic X and the movie both seem to take note of this weird unexplained contrast and give similar reason for it as Roger Rabbit did, but the games don't bother.

Granted maybe I'm defensive of the old aesthetics because I kinda miss these guys:

450?cb=20150909220123

Sure they still kinda pop up time to time, but I miss when these guys made up the population of Sonic's world. Maybe it's because my first exposure to a story focused spin off was the early Sonic the Comic issues and UK annuals, which followed the games WAY more closely (boy THAT didn't last very long). I liked how they enlarged them a bit and gave them sapient personalities (at least until they made them humanoid in STC, that looked freakish), you could buy these guys as the default population of Sonic's world since they fit his aesthetic but just lacked the 'edge' his design had. The first game's bible in particular I thought had a nice touch of inserting them as close friends of Sonic who each taught him how to master one of his abilities (which fit with how Tails supposedly taught Tails the spin dash in 2). I could buy that as the default backdrop of Sonic 1 and 2 (well besides Robotnik's odd backstory).

I think it's also because they tended to tie much better into Eggman's niche and threat level. Even in Sonic Adventure 1 it's these guys, not the humans, that are put into his badniks as unwilling slaves, these are the guys Sonic has to directly bust open Eggman's artillery to protect. With the more realistic human worlds, and hell even the more arbitrary light hearted ones now, these guys are in the background at best, and Eggman's plans and machinations are more generic and lack an identity. We don't see him successfully putting humans into badniks or anything. He's not nearly as much a guy about mind controlling robotics anymore and often just relies on other more powerful forces that better fit the current backdrop to do most of his dirty work. I guess it's another thing where fiddling with Sonic's aesthetics dumbs down the identity and consistency of things.

I suppose it's praiseworthy Lost World and Runners tried to make them noteworthy again, even if they also solidified them as tiny non-sapient animals, once again making the main anthro cast outliers (I suppose the original games sorta already established that, I dunno, I guess with their promo designs, I just thought it was sprite limit or something, I'm weird). I guess Forces really was the first official attempt at homogenising the NPCs with the main lot.

..........

I think I've kinda lost my argument with myself here.

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Again the realism compared to the Genesis Era in the Adventure games wasn't really there. Plenty of environments were just as "unrealistic" as the ones in past games. On the flipside, plenty of the levels in the Genesis Days were "realistic" (were set in environments that were just sylish versions of places like beaches and jungles).

As for humans, Gerald, Maria, G.U.N. Commander, Mr. President were rather sylized in design (just compare El Presidente's proportions with Eggman). The problem is really they couldn't afford to or were too lazy to do more with the NPCs. You see the problem with Forces' NPCs too.

 

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41 minutes ago, Almar said:

Again the realism compared to the Genesis Era in the Adventure games wasn't really there. Plenty of environments were just as "unrealistic" as the ones in past games. On the flipside, plenty of the levels in the Genesis Days were "realistic" (were set in environments that were just sylish versions of places like beaches and jungles).

As for humans, Gerald, Maria, G.U.N. Commander, Mr. President were rather sylized in design (just compare El Presidente's proportions with Eggman). The problem is really they couldn't afford to or were too lazy to do more with the NPCs. You see the problem with Forces' NPCs too.

 

The thing is just because they were stylised doesn't mean they fit. Stylised can come in many different variations. Some will even say the Unleashed humans, while more cartoony, still kinda clash with Eggman (though I think Pickle's a pretty decent human design). I think it's possible to make the humans sleeker and more in tone with Sonic without losing all their distinction, this fan art is a good example:

dc4921e464ff4b865c20d190a393cb0f6d971094

 

I think as much an issue comes into the fact that not only did the NPCs get more drastically alien looking compared to Sonic, but the main cast tended to get homogenised more and more to fit his proportions, with only a few really diverse exceptions like Big and Vector (and even those maintain some key quirks among the main lot like the big gloved hands and their sleek candy coloured look). Uekawa's designwork for the main cast doesn't really come off as leaving a lot of leeway for divergence and creativity.

I mean if you at Tails' classic design, there's some subtle but effective differences there. He's plumper, smaller and has less exaggerated limbs. He actually looks a LOT like one of the fauna you rescue only promoted and given his own gear to match Sonic, which does arguably really fit his character.

sonic-the-hedgehog-2-4.png

In Uekawa style those elements are gone and he and the other characters have been progressively made more uniform with Sonic's proportions while nearly all the NPCs became more divergent in style, making the differences between them WAY more glaring.

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You make a good point, I often wish they stuck to this kinda idea.

Sonic_the_Hedgehog_Band.png.25a80178d1885afa81ede8d2a333cab5.png

All different shapes and sizes but still stylistically cohesive.

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On 4/19/2020 at 6:47 PM, Diogenes said:

But it's not so unfinished that they would've radically changed how it looks, unless they somehow got the go-ahead to scrap everything and start over entirely. They had all these assets made, all these levels designed, all these cutscenes animated and voiced. With more time they would've polished the gameplay and improved the visual effects and so on, but the overall aesthetic was what they were aiming for from the start with the game.

Honestly, it's actually fairly common for substantial changes to take place on games that are nearing completion. Texture and material changes, model swaps (assuming the bones are alike enough you could do this with only minimum amount of animation changes.) Doing those can really change up the way something looks without entirely scrapping and redoing everything. Textures and models swapping are more of a case of switching files -- think of it like variables in coding. A could represent a value and by changing A's value, every single instance of A in that code is changed. So, every instance that textures, materials, and models are called, they can be replaced by swapping out the files.

You can see these substantial changes when you look at beta material from, like, old magazines with screenshots, gameplay footage. A lot of time, a level can look almost completely different than the final products.

Now, I'm not saying 06 WASN'T intended to look the way it did (personally, I think it was but maybe more polished up,) but it's in the realm of possibility in terms of technical feasibility, yeah. It'd extend the deadline, but more by a few months than a year or something.

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You know, Psi's post got me thinking.

For all the discussion about characters looking so different that they clash with the others, I'm really surprised I don't see much talk about how homogeneous the majority the reoccurring cast is design-wise. It's really sad to me just how many Sonic characters have proportions so similar to one another that it almost feels like they were designed on tracing paper.

There seems to be this strange, persistent idea among both fans and actual character designers of this franchise that Sonic characters have to look exactly "like that" to not clash with the others. You know what I'm talking about. How many Sonic characters have Sonic's overall body proportions? How many have his exact facial proportions? A lot. If you tried to count them all on your hands, you'd run out of fingers.

And this is something that's so strangely specific to the Sonic series in particular. Think about the character designs in any other video game or cartoon franchise - Mario, Crash Bandicoot, you name it. Chances are, the designers made a conscious choice to make the characters visually distinct from one another while still keeping them looking stylistically cohesive. But with Sonic, if stylistic cohesion isn't disregarded entirely, it's applied to such an absurdly strong degree that the designers barely give themselves any room for variety - The kind of variety we'd take for granted in most other series.

 

And yeah, you're spot-on about how it retroactively crept back to pre-existing designs.

Look at Knuckles here:

Spoiler

SonicBodyComparisons.thumb.jpg.40b764a37fb15569e88f4d5879045561.jpg

You see how long his body is compared to Sonic's? Look at that leg-to-body ratio! Well, unfortunately, his modern design's body proportions are near-identical to that of Sonic's modern design. In a way, Modern Knuckles is sort of like an inverse situation to Boom Knuckles. He got all gangly.

At least Tails still has the whole "Shorter than Sonic with a pear-shaped body" going for him to this day.

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I suppose a reason for them having the same body proportions is to make it easier to implant them into the gameplay.
The closer they are to Sonic's size and presence, the easier they fit in the levels with him. Playing as characters like Big or Vector always feels a bit off for me for having entirely diffrent dimensions.
So thanks to the cast occupying a more universal character template since those dark days, all those beloved characters can now be easily implanted into the modern games and join Sonic in the spotlight in many of the recent games, such as...

....uh..
that one where...
uh..
Hmm...
Racing games.....Where their dimensions don't matter since they're in a car...
Uh.
Errr....
Well, the mobile phone games.

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Honestly, the body style similarities have been one of my lesser gripes for a while.

Really started thinking about it when I discovered that stupid "Ivo the Hedgehog" fan creation thing. Why does he look pretty much like Sonic? Shouldn't he keep his proportions? I mean, it's *already* stupid that people want to fuzzy him up, but at least be unique..

Then I began noticing that same slender, same height build for damn near every fan character. 

I've really grown to appreciate Big, Vector, Storm, and Bark (if you count Bark)

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It also leads to strange logic in how other medias try to make themselves uniform with it. They tend to keep the same ideal that humans and other alien identities can look like anything under the sun, but are fearful of making an original anthro character that drifts even mildly from SEGA's standard design format. Take how the Archie comics slowly withered away all the SatAm cast's unique design traits. Like Antoine seemingly lost his uniform and facial pattern because 'no male character in the games has that' and even stuff like Sally's bareness and distinctive eye pattern were ummed and erred over and ultimately dropped. Characters were not allowed to break the moulds, and thus not allowed to have unique defining design quirks. And yet some of the villains could still be any random abomination they can think of.

I find it downright surprising SEGA endorsed Boom's Sticks, she DOESN'T WEAR GLOVES.

i do think Uekawa's set route allows for SOME unique designs (see Big and Vector) but his way of keeping a very dominant comfort zone and homogenising most of the leads and yet the same games having the NPCs be any clashing design direction the rest of the creative team can think up leads to no real middle ground, nothing that really ties it all togther and makes it seem like one cohesive world.

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That's because any time they deviate from that specific artstyle, fans throw a bitch fit. Pretty much any character that looked "out of place" next to main cast got flak for this. So instead of adapting the cast to fit the world they were in, the world had to adapt to fit in for the cast. It's rather noticeable with the Freedom Fighters next to Sonic as well.

sonicsatam_7459.jpg

Sonic and Robotnik are the only ones with bright, stand out colors while everyone else (including Tails who went from Orange/Yellow to Brown) have more muted and downplayed colors. Sonic also has his signature Unieye design that nobody else in the cast shares. 

 

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19 minutes ago, Kuzu said:

That's because any time they deviate from that specific artstyle, fans throw a bitch fit. Pretty much any character that looked "out of place" next to main cast got flak for this. So instead of adapting the cast to fit the world they were in, the world had to adapt to fit in for the cast. It's rather noticeable with the Freedom Fighters next to Sonic as well.

sonicsatam_7459.jpg

Sonic and Robotnik are the only ones with bright, stand out colors while everyone else (including Tails who went from Orange/Yellow to Brown) have more muted and downplayed colors. Sonic also has his signature Unieye design that nobody else in the cast shares. 

 

And yet the humans and the sci fi monster villains are cool. :P

As said part of this is because the games style for the main cast has very little leeway in divergent proportions now. You might be able to get away with these designs if they were cameos or ancillary characters like the NPCs, but for whatever reason the main cast keep a VERY rigid design structure. If more characters broke away just a little (like Sticks' lack of gloves) or they even kept some of the classic style's more flexible variation (like Tails having smaller limbs akin to the SatAm cast there) it would be easier to make them cohesive with the SEGA world without discarding all their unique elements.

I will however also acknowledge it's part down to, much like the games NPCs, the creative team of many of the spin off medias didn't really seem to even bother making their design format at least VAGUELY compatible with the SEGA ones or retooling most of the SEGA cast to their's, which again, leaves no middle ground (I can't help feel that the movie Sonic would mesh better with the SatAm style).

Satam's style is still at least cartoony, but it bases itself more on 40s cartoon conventions (Sally has a lot of Bambi qualities about her in particular) while the SEGA cast are basically more psychedelic takes on 30s ones like Felix the Cat. I do think a compromise is possible without genericifying one side too much, some 30s characters like Mickey Mouse did carry over into the 40s style after all, but there is some defining qualities about the characters that are tied to those varied eras (I always feel Archie taking away Sally's Bambi-eyes was a no-no in particular, they were signature to her, just like Sonic's cyclops eye).

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7 minutes ago, E-122-Psi said:

And yet the humans and the sci fi monster villains are cool. :P

As said part of this is because the games style for the main cast has very little leeway in divergent proportions now. You might be able to get away with these designs if they were cameos or ancillary characters like the NPCs, but for whatever reason the main cast keep a VERY rigid design structure. If more characters broke away just a little (like Sticks' lack of gloves) or they even kept some of the classic style's more flexible variation (like Tails having smaller limbs akin to the SatAm cast there) it would be easier to make them cohesive with the SEGA world without discarding all their unique elements.

I will however also acknowledge it's part down to, much like the games NPCs, the creative team of many of the spin off medias didn't really seem to even bother making their design format at least VAGUELY compatible with the SEGA ones or retooling most of the SEGA cast to their's, which again, leaves no middle ground (I can't help feel that the movie Sonic would mesh better with the SatAm style).

Satam's style is still at least cartoony, but it bases itself more on 40s cartoon conventions (Sally has a lot of Bambi qualities about her in particular) while the SEGA cast are basically more psychedelic takes on 30s ones like Felix the Cat. I do think a compromise is possible, some 30s characters like Mickey Mouse did carry over into the 40s style after all, but there is some defining qualities about the characters that are tied to those varied eras (I always feel Archie taking away Sally's Bambi-eyes was a no-no in particular, they were signature to her, just like Sonic's cyclops eye).

I think there's a huge difference between an NPC or a one-off antagonist versus characters that will be recurring, and therefore the audience will be seeing a lot more. 

 

Since most people really watched these shows for Sonic himself, think it's ideal to have characters in line with that specific style rather than trying to deviate unless it serves a specific purpose. If the audience are going to be looking at these characters, then its probably a good idea that they look somewhat uniform. 

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That's the thing, see. For some reason, being "in line with that specific style" somehow ends up meaning "looks exactly like this."

The argument that it's for gameplay reasons doesn't really sit right with me since the only real requirement there is that the characters fit roughly into the same hitbox. Mario and Luigi have looked different since 1988, and they've even had Toad and Peach playable along with them on multiple occasions. Crash and Coco are both playable in the N-Sane Trilogy, and they play identically despite looking anything but identical.

I'm not saying it always has to be drastic. Sometimes subtle differences can go a long way. Tails and Knuckles differed from Sonic about as much as Luigi does with Mario, so I think they had the right idea there. (Tails being a little shorter and chubbier with a boxier head; Knuckles being a little taller with a larger body and more almond-shaped head)

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There often tend to be little subtleties that are lost in the classic-modern translation as well. eg. Vector and Espio's more slinky lizard like abdomens, Amy's more docile non-furrowed eyes (even if modern Amy at least diverges from Sonic in other areas). The animations and acting also tended to be more unique for many characters as well. There were some clones (Mighty and Ray being two of the most obvious) but there seemed some more obvious and common breaches.

Mario I think is more sneaky since while it has several 'clone' like characters, there's a far larger amount of basis models than the Sonic lot (eg. Princesses, plumbers, dinosaurs, koopas, apes, etc) and even then most of them still have a similar cartoony style to make them seem like of the same universe, even the ones that look wildly different from each other. Sonic's are often more like if everyone in Mario followed the plumber model, and the best we got was someone like Wario who was somewhat different proportionally but still followed most of the same basis.

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17 minutes ago, Domino said:

That's the thing, see. For some reason, being "in line with that specific style" somehow ends up meaning "looks exactly like this."

The argument that it's for gameplay reasons doesn't really sit right with me since the only real requirement there is that the characters fit roughly into the same hitbox. Mario and Luigi have looked different since 1988, and they've even had Toad and Peach playable along with them on multiple occasions. Crash and Coco are both playable in the N-Sane Trilogy, and they play identically despite looking anything but identical.

I'm not saying it always has to be drastic. Sometimes subtle differences can go a long way. Tails and Knuckles differed from Sonic about as much as Luigi does with Mario, so I think they had the right idea there. (Tails being a little shorter and chubbier with a boxier head; Knuckles being a little taller with a larger body and more almond-shaped head)

I think the character homogenization starts getting blatant when Heroes came about, and every character was designed to fit into the specific Speed, Flight, and Power mold. Since then most of the characters have been designed with that in mind. 

The speed characters are slender, but still have a pretty noticeable edge and are designed for sleek movement and agility (Sonic, Shadow, Amy, Espio, Blaze, Jet, and Silver) 

The flight characters are usually the "kid appeal" characters who have much softer features to contrast the two older members of the group (Tails, Cream, Charmy, and Marine) Rouge and Wave are the exceptions to this rule.

The power characters stereotypically look like bruisers, so they big and burly builds and that includes Knuckles. (Knuckles, Omega, Big, Vector, and Eggman technically. Zavok kind of fits here too, but he has no designation)

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4 hours ago, E-122-Psi said:

There often tend to be little subtleties that are lost in the classic-modern translation as well. eg. Vector and Espio's more slinky lizard like abdomens...

Oh yeah, it's a real shame what happened to Espio. Take a look at his original design:

Spoiler

SonicEspioClassicComparison.jpg.92ee653689fe34f18a3538781dbff8f5.jpg

Look how much smaller his eyes are! And those are some seriously heavy brow ridges. Not only that, but his pupils are actually circular instead of elongated ovals. I'm serious. You can see this pretty clearly in his Sonic the Fighters model:

Spoiler

sonic-the-fighters-espio-the-chameleon-s

I don't see this mentioned a lot, but it's something that really made his design feel more distinct, not to mention more chameleon-like. Especially when lined up with the other characters.

His Heroes redesign, though...

Spoiler

SonicEspioHeroesComparison.thumb.jpg.31b14723ef3b9b42c7bf64d671140837.jpg

Oh boy, I think this is the point where the homogenization had fully set in. His pupils are now the same oval shape as the others, his eyes are larger and more triangular like Shadow's, and his brows are now less heavy than Sonic's. He doesn't even have those black areas between his eyes anymore. I'll be honest, he kind of feels like "Shadow, but purple" now. Almost like he could be an unlockable reskin for him.

 

 

4 hours ago, E-122-Psi said:

Mario I think is more sneaky since while it has several 'clone' like characters, there's a far larger amount of basis models than the Sonic lot (eg. Princesses, plumbers, dinosaurs, koopas, apes, etc)...

Yeah, Mario has a thing where characters belonging to the same species tend to look like one another, but since there are so many different species, you actually end up with a lot of variety. And even then, there are many exceptions. I think the named human Mario characters avert this entirely. If you ignore superficial details like hats, overalls, and facial hair, Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi are all pretty different from one another physique-wise. The Koopalings and DK Crew also come in a decent assortment of shapes and sizes.

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Yea, I agree that the redesigns that Heroes gave to the Chaotix really took away their unique characteristics; you can still recognize them by silhouette, but oh man does that "Shadow but purple" comment right true. 

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14 hours ago, Roger_van_der_weide said:

I suppose a reason for them having the same body proportions is to make it easier to implant them into the gameplay.
The closer they are to Sonic's size and presence, the easier they fit in the levels with him. Playing as characters like Big or Vector always feels a bit off for me for having entirely diffrent dimensions.
So thanks to the cast occupying a more universal character template since those dark days, all those beloved characters can now be easily implanted into the modern games and join Sonic in the spotlight in many of the recent games, such as...

....uh..
that one where...
uh..
Hmm...
Racing games.....Where their dimensions don't matter since they're in a car...
Uh.
Errr....
Well, the mobile phone games.

And Episode Shadow from Forces. And the Boom games, remember those? Fire and Ice was decent enough. 

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2 hours ago, Domino said:

Oh yeah, it's a real shame what happened to Espio. Take a look at his original design:

  Reveal hidden contents

SonicEspioClassicComparison.jpg.92ee653689fe34f18a3538781dbff8f5.jpg

Look how much smaller his eyes are! And those are some seriously heavy brow ridges. Not only that, but his pupils are actually circular instead of elongated ovals. I'm serious. You can see this pretty clearly in his Sonic the Fighters model:

  Reveal hidden contents

sonic-the-fighters-espio-the-chameleon-s

I don't see this mentioned a lot, but it's something that really made his design feel more distinct, not to mention more chameleon-like. Especially when lined up with the other characters.

His Heroes redesign, though...

  Reveal hidden contents

SonicEspioHeroesComparison.thumb.jpg.31b14723ef3b9b42c7bf64d671140837.jpg

Oh boy, I think this is the point where the homogenization had fully set in. His pupils are now the same oval shape as the others, his eyes are larger and more triangular like Shadow's, and his brows are now less heavy than Sonic's. He doesn't even have those black areas between his eyes anymore. I'll be honest, he kind of feels like "Shadow, but purple" now. Almost like he could be an unlockable reskin for him.

It's not just the facial design. Look carefully at his body. It has a wider more lizard like abdomen, his tail connects to the bottom of his chest with his legs to the side of it, making it feel more like one consistent ligament, while in the modern design it's segmented and proportioned in the same way the other characters are. Vector at least keeps this design aspect, even if they still trade away some of his slinkiness to make him a bit more of a standardised bulky type.

2 hours ago, Domino said:

Yeah, Mario has a thing where characters belonging to the same species tend to look like one another, but since there are so many different species, you actually end up with a lot of variety. And even then, there are many exceptions. I think the named human Mario characters avert this entirely. If you ignore superficial details like hats, overalls, and facial hair, Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi are all pretty different from one another physique-wise. The Koopalings and DK Crew also come in a decent assortment of shapes and sizes.

The one exception may be the princesses, they're more clearly duplicates for the large part besides vague facial difference, likely because they're meant to resemble more realistic body proportions (while still having cartoony stylisation). Actually the Crash Bandicoot females tend to suffer this problem as well. It's especially apparent in Nitro Fuelled where nearly all of them besides Coco and Nina are comparable to the princesses in autonomy, while practically every other character has a really distinct and vivid design. Of course we tend to know WHY this is the case. :P

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Oh yes, I did notice his torso! The continuous body-to-tail shape really does help give him a reptilian feel. I neglected to mention it in my post since I saw you'd already pointed it out in one of yours, but maybe it would have been worth repeating.

I think Vector was luckier since his unique visual traits ended up being replaced with other unique visual traits. Bulkier animal characters are still pretty rare for Sonic. In the games there are, what, three of them? Maybe four now with the introduction of Dodon Pa.

All I can say about Charmy is that he doubled in size. That certainly was the biggest change for him.

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Charmy doubled in size, and got a jacket; also his eyes became the stereotypical kid eyes that Tails, Cream, and Marine have. 

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