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Forums - Gaming Discussion - Sonic as an idea used to be more interesting

Note that i did say "interesting", not "good". Just a collection of random thoughts(or ramdom, as they say in greener lands).

Today, sonic as a thing is so surrounded by sarcasm and molded by rage and sadness that is hard to look at is just as a collection of games. Everyone is tired of analysys about how the franchise is the biggest marketing stunt in the 90's, or how it didnt translated well to 3d because they were more worried about making the game play like the ads than making it work more gracefully, or how ken penders being alive and free is a menace for all kids in a radius of 100km and so on. What i want to do here, however, is just to look at the original game as a simple platformer of the early 90's.

And i want to do that because how the game plays, what it represents, and the type of answer it was to mario and nintendo is more interesting than all the consequences that followed it. Before the NES, videogames were basically designed for early arcades, by arcade developers that were mostly just programmers. Games were usually set in a single non-scrolling screen, with very rudimentar controls and even simpler objectives. They were made to be immediatly understood once you simply looked at the screen. When the Super mario bros game came, nintendo basically created(or,at least, made popular) the concept of incremental permutation of challenges.  You would learn a mechanic, or how to avoid a certain enemy or obstacle, and then that would be presented again and again in different scenarios, with equally variants of difficulty.

And that worked so well that it is still how we judge good game design today. If a game kills you with a new trap or enemy that didnt appeared before, there's a fairly large amount of reviewers in the game press that would rush to call it lazy or bad implemented. It's a concept that is easy to understand and it feels fair, even if a bit predictable. However, designing a game is, by definition, not an exact science. And even if i do happen to agree that mario's imcrementional design choices are elegant and work very well, i usually am against the use of the term "good" in a objective sense. And i do think that thinking so, like many seem to do, can limit the potential of games as a medium.

So, to offer a contrapoint, here's where sonic comes. And it comes from the other wild side of videogame history. While the NES raised a generetion at home, with games designed to play in such settings, arcades had to think another way. As an arcade developer, you could present more visually impressive experiences than home consoles, and you could also make your own control scheme. You had, however, to still make money out of it. So games were made based on the reasoning that players would had to spent money to see the the ending, which basically meant games that required a fair amount of skill out of the gate. You would start, find an obstacle or enemy you were not ready to deal with and then die. Rise and repeat until you learn what you had to do to proceed. Sometimes a hidden move, sometimes the layout of the stage, and sometimes just the plain old memorization of boss patterns(snk fans know this very well). So, in a very broad and generic sense, while console games teached you the game in a more organic and "educational" way, arcade games evolved based on a sense of skill. To earn the right to go ahead, you should be good enough, and only the hundreds of experiences you had before would get you on that level.

Sega was a very prolific arcade developer, and so it isn't a surprise sonic came from that last side in of design phylosophy. The game was, fundamentally, about the joy of maintaining momentum. You would learn the layout of the stages and then figure out the way to retain speed for the longest amount of time possible. And, until you learned that, you would hit a lot of non telegraphed enemies and fall into some barely unavoidable death pits. It did, however, made a big change from the coin eating machines; it gave you almost infinite health. The ring system was made, i assume, because sonic could go so fast that mistakes would happen way too often, to the point a restart would feel too frustrating, even for arcade standards. It basically gave the less patient players the chance to bruteforce a lot of the game, which was a change that was incentivated by the choice of making it a home console game.

It does feel like a half-assed solution however. While it is true that in arcades people could just burn money to stack more chances to finish the game, when it is a system that is directly implemented into the game it robs it of the real grace of that type of challenge. As long as you keep track of one ring, you're good to go. It breaks the game and that is an unfortunate side of that choice.

 Over the years, it is clear which side became the dominant one. As home consoles thrived, the death of arcades in the west also represented the death of sega consoles and sonic's original principles. Nintendo's incrementional design is now the default, and it is the standard by which all other games, past and future, are judged against. So while i am not saying that it isn't something you can't do(in fact by all means do that if that's how you define a good experience yourself), i think it's a good mentality to recognize that; had things went in a different way with sega and the arcade marketing in general, what we consider good game design or not would have a very different look to it.

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"which basically meant games that required a fair amount of skill out of the gate" So Sonic was the original DARK SOULS, a game I've heard is very hard.

This is a really interesting well thought-out point. It is fascinating to think about what it would be like if say, for example, Sonic became the game that we judged and compared all other titles to. I'm not sure how much I'd actually mine trial and error gameplay since I'm not sure how representative Mania is of the older titles, but I tend to prefer playing platformers as memorization type games anyways. 

"Original Dark souls" that and every arcade game of the era and NES game. I hate that saying with a passion.

As for Sonic. It was never difficult. Sonic while I like some older games. It has always been SEGA's least interesting IP they had in the 90s. They had much better IPs ranging from arcades to consoles. These days Sonic is 100% pointless. He was created to rival Mario. SEGA no longer makes consoles and is no longer a rival. He was seen as a mascot for a slightly older crowd than Mario. Now they are the same. Sonic should have died when DC died. Jet Set Radio Future, Skies of Arcadia, Shenmue, Gunvalkyrie, Panzer Dragoon Orta should have been the ones to have success when DC died. Those are better IPs all around. I can't even begin to name all the ones in the 90s. Sonic was always and still is a cash-in. Alex Kidd wasn't cutting it so they needed something else. It was never a passion project like Panzer Dragoon. He was always a corporate we need something as popular as Mario.

You look at how unique Panzer Dragoon or Sakura Wars or Rent a Hero or Virtual On or Ranger X or Phantasy Star or Wonderboy and the list goes on for hundreds of games and series. We have a revival of Shmups right now and there is no new Thunder Force. RPGs are thriving on Switch and no hint of a Skies of Arcadia or Phantasy Star revival.  SEGA doesn't want to touch anything from back then and rather let indie studios do it. I'm at least glad for that but I feel we have had enough Sonic. Yakuza studio while I love the Yakuza series they tried to make something cool in Binary Domain,IMO one of the best cover shooters from last gen. Bombed hard so they are stuck just making Yakuza and they got bored making Yakuza so Y7 is a full-on turn-based RPG *sigh*

I'd gladly kill the Sonic franchise in order to have some lesser-known franchises from SEGA get some love. Same with Yakuza as much as I love it.

Bite my shiny metal cockpit!

I guarantee if Sonic was more difficult in 90s then he wouldn't of been as popular. They could have included a hard mode though but the premise of rings was to keep it reasonable. Heck you eventually run out of rings because they don't all drop or it is impossible to get them all back so eventually you'll be down to one ring then zero and then death.

Sonic was basically developed to have a face to sell the Genesis with, to compete against Mario. Since Sega chose to use Virtua Fighter to sell Saturns and ignored Sonic, and then was well on its way out of the hardware market by the time the Dreamcast launched, Sonic lost a lot of his purpose, and Sega couldn't really figure out what to do with him. He didn't have a game to transition him to 3-D that was anywhere near the caliber of Super Mario 64.

But hey, the Sonic movie did really well at the box office, so hopefully that will give him a revival in the video game world.

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You put a lot of work into the OP and it's well written but I disagree with most if not all of it.

The part about arcades making money was pretty spot on but console games were often super hard so you couldn't just rent them and beat them in a weekend, as well. Especially in the NES era. When Sonic came out, he was just fast and cool with great graphics. Kinda pushed the limits with every new game (during the 16 bit era, at least). Never felt arcadey to me, though.

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Sonic is a game that originally focused more on the fun of speedruns in games like Mario and has already been answered by Yuji Naka. I also think Sonic is a fun and exciting type of game with lots of amazing gimmicks, but without the arcadey elements. He doesn't miss when he takes damage.

Just in recent years Sonic Mania has been a very nice game, but
Sonic Force was extremely disappointing with its horrible level design and direction, and I'm worried about future Sonic titles.

I went into this thread thinking thematically/narratively. Environmental themes are massively in at the moment, and Sonic is essentially the charismatic leader grassroots uprising against industrialism. The look, feel, and heart of Sonic has been cheapened right along with the quality of the gameplay since the Genesis era. Imagining big, open, sandbox sonic levels with an Odyssey level of polish just makes me wish Sega would double-down on creating something amazing with the franchise.

It's kind of crazy that after all this time, Sega still hasn't really figured out how to make Sonic work in 3D. A number of fan projects have done a decent job of nailing the feel of the controls, and a mixture of open areas with lots of enemies to crash through, and some "channeled" areas that feel more like race tracks than platforming levels could yield some amazing results.

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I'm not sure what to think about how arcade-y Sonic is, or how different Mario's impact on game design was.

But when I played the Sonic games, I didn't think of them as games where I should memorize the layout in particular.
Although it was obvious why that would be beneficial, I just didn't think I'd get the chance to do so. And I didn't, thanks to the infinite health system you mentioned.

Not dying often lead to me not replaying the stages often either. So I was mostly getting through them an a less efficient manner.
And I still had fun with it that way.

d21lewis said:
You put a lot of work into the OP and it's well written but I disagree with most if not all of it.

The part about arcades making money was pretty spot on but console games were often super hard so you couldn't just rent them and beat them in a weekend, as well. Especially in the NES era. When Sonic came out, he was just fast and cool with great graphics. Kinda pushed the limits with every new game (during the 16 bit era, at least). Never felt arcadey to me, though.

And to hide that most of them were 30min long

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