How to fix Sonic the Hedgehog

Posted by MattBodega (1905 posts) -
Oh, God. Another one of these?

When I think of the the possibility of ANOTHER Sonic game(especially given the quality of the previous games), I can’t help but be reminded of an old adage my mum used to whisper to me just before I would drift off to sleep.

“Son”, she would say, “You can’t strike lightning twice…especially when it comes to franchises that haven’t been good since the early 90’s”

(True Story!)

Its hard to believe that the last important release in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was released more than 10 years ago. All those poor Genesis lovers plugging together their copies of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles. Did they know, even then, that poor Sonic would never again be associated with “fun”? Oh, the humanity! Oh, the copies of Sonic 3D Blast!

What happened to the poor Bastard? Why has Sega been dragging Sonic’s name through the mud all this time? Why can’t they conjure that magic that made Sega a force to be reckoned with?

Some game players( those who still remember the hay-day of Sonic games and could be bothered to give a care about) think that Sonic:Unleashed might be a return to form for the franchise, putting Sonic in a game that more closely resembles the 2D side-scrollers that made him Nintendo’s worst enemy all those years ago. Fans think that a healthy dose of nostalgia for “th good ol’ days” might be exactly what Sonic needs. Sonic fans, deluded by a gamers greatest weakness (nostalgia),bought copies of Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, and the “re-imagined” Sonic the Hedgehog.

If you were to put those titles on a list, then congratulations: you’ve managed to create an in-depth and sophisticated feature about the worst 3-D platformers ever created.
Remind me who thought this was a good idea.


Bad camera, boring level design, anime voice acting, a story: looking at the “features” those games brought to bear, its no surprise that some game players wants Sonic to go back to his roots: old school side scrolling platformer.

They couldn’t be further for the truth.

Nostalgia is a dangerous weapon: by conjuring up the aforementioned “good ol’ days” in a new product, game makers con the average “Joe Gamer” into thinking their having fun. However, if developers continue to give players nostalgia trips rather than new experiences, the series is bound to fall into a rut. Going back to the “fun years” of 2-D gaming certainly won’t bring Sonic back. Much like the Sonic Rush games (the only halfway decent entries the series has seen in a while) a “new” old Sonic game will only be enjoyable, as Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann wisely puts it, “in a retro sense”; it might be a neat distraction, but it couldn’t possibly stand toe to toe with faster, more interesting modern games. It wouldn't compete with the faster games, and couldn't be counted toe-to-toe with the better platformers. In a no man's land where the series can't please the modern sensibilities of gamers, the franchise would lose interest even from the most die hard fans, and Sonic would be no more.

That puts the Sonic franchise in a bit of a quagmire, doesn’t it? Continuing to make the terrible 3-D platformers will surely put a nail in the series’ coffin, while making a “new” 2-D platformer will regulate the franchise to a lifetime of smaller, less important releases.
I truly believe that the Sonic franchise is worth saving. Does the 90’s “EXTREME!!” appeal wear thin in this day and age? Hell yes it does. Has the Sonic franchise continually mocked and spited me since the 90’s? Sure has. And yet I AM nostalgic for those older games. I was shocked by how inventive the Sonic CD game was, with its simple-but-effective time travel mechanic, its excellent level design, and its awesome music. I remember having fun with the Sonic the Hedgehog games.



I assert that, at a certain point in the development of the more modern Sonic games(starting with Sonic Adventure), the design team made a decision that was instrumental in destroying everything that was great about Sonic. Most of all, I think I know how to fix it. I think I know what could bring the sound and the fury back to Sega’s premiere franchise.

A quick note before I begin: My main focus, in this article is going to be on the mechanical elements of the series(actually playing the game) and less in terms of the obvious stuff(like how every character created after Knuckles is totally and completely horrible, how Shadow the Hedgehog is the worst of anything ever, how the Sonic Adventure games don’t hold up, how Anime voice acting is dumb, how Sonic + Final Fantasy inspired graphics = horrible, and so on and so forth) .

Dilemma: Straight is Dumb

Its important to start this “If you love it, change it” entry by describing just how the Sonic series strayed down its path of nostalgia/ruin, and it’s impossible to talk about Sonic now(just as it was in the early 90’s) without mentioning the once and future king of the platformer: Mario.

Sonic, as it is well publicized, was a character specifically designed to “beat” Mario at his own game; Sonic could walk the platformer walk, and it could talk the side-scrolling talk. Sure, Sonic was essentially the same type of game as the Mario platformers, but it was his signature aspect, the one thing Sonic had that Mario didn’t, that pushed the character into the realm of medium’s greatest characters.
Remember when we associated Sonic with good games? Yeah, me neither.

That’s right: his mad style.

NO! It was Sonic’s speed, and the speed of the Genesis’ “blast processing.” The phrase may have been a marketing term to describe the faster speed of the Genesis's processor( in comparison to the SNES) but it was this speed that cemented Sonic as the mascot of the 16-bit era.

Part of his success was that Sonic, and the various abilities he had, could be perfectly emulated within the design limitations of the 16-bit era; all Sonic had to do was move to the right, and move fast. No worries! There was no “bad camera” and no “difficult control” that made Sonic difficult to handle. Essentially, the platformer, as a genre of gaming, was advanced enough at the time to handle the Sonic Boom (Sonic Boom! Sonic Boom!)

All a platformer had to do, at the time, had to do was create a level. Each level was, effectively, a straight line. The camera focused on Sonic as he moved to the right(and on occasion, to the left). Moving in a straight line at high speeds was totally within the capacity of game machines at the time.

It’s the advent of 3-D graphics that present Sonic, and(at the time) the platforming genre with its biggest challenge. Now games, so used to only dealing with the X and Y axis, have to come to grips with a mischievous little axis known only as..... Z. With the ability of modern machines to create full virtual worlds, game designers now had to account for a character’s(and a players’s) ability to deal with 3-D environments.

Twelve years after its release, and I still have trouble naming better platformers(you know, that aren't Rayman 2)
Enter Super Mario 64.


The original 3-D platformer(for all intents and purposes), Mario 64 can be credited for all number of important innovations, ranging from it pioneered “camera” system that allowed players to change the angle being displayed around the character, to its impressive 3-D graphics. For the purposes of this entry(and for poor Sonic) the key element I’d like to focus on is Mario 64’s approach to level design. Essentially, Mario 64 took the standard straight line levels that characterized 8 and 16-bit gaming and turned them into 3D: a level that was once a straight line was now a box. The result of this design choice was environments larger than any that had been seen in previous games. Mario had multiple objectives( the Stars he was supposed to collect) in every level, and by widening the straight line levels into boxes, Mario had plenty of unique, different places to explorer.


THIS is the blueprint for the modern 3-D platformer (and really, for 3-D games in general). Designers turned their straight line levels and made them 3-D boxes. With the camera situated above the box looking down at the character( or inside the box looking at the character), 3-D games could now be created and navigated. They could still have the tight controls and the excellent level designs of the older 2-D platformers.


Somehow, the folks at Sonic Team didn’t get the message.

Sonic introduction into 3-D gaming( not counting the atrocious Sonic 3-D Blast which viewed the Sonic action from an isometric perspective that made the action incredibly slow, crippling any chance of Sonic displaying his trademark speed) comes in the form of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. It is here that we to enter the shady, almost insidious world known as “That place where we insult the Dreamcast”

And we must, friends. Because Sonic Adventure is not a good game. It is a bad game in every way Super Mario 64 is a good game.
It was the 90's! We were stupid back in the 90's!


The designers at Sonic Team understood that, just as he did on the Genesis, Sonic was going to have to bring the ridiculous speed that made his games so successful. This time, however, that speed was going to have to translate into 3-D.

The focus of the game became to showcase the Sonic’s ludicrous speed, and, to show off that speed, Sonic Team decided, apparently, not to follow the status quo set by every other successful 3-D game ever created. Sonic Adventure did not feature Mario’s expansive levels, but, instead, featured the straight-line level designs that had made the older Sonic games so popular.

Levels in the 3-D Sonic games are long corridors. You can run really fast down them. Sometimes you turn. Occasionally you fight some enemies. These areas are, essentially, 3-D rectangles for Sonic to maneuver. Sonic had some small degree of movement inside the corridors themselves, but there was none of Mario’s explanation. The camera in these Sonic games insisted of staying behind Sonic, and the player watched mostly from behind as Sonic did his running.

So now, the level design for the 3-D sonic games consists of a long, mostly straight series of rectanglular hallways. The straight line level design of the old games hasn’t been expanded as it was in Mario 64, but rather, it was rotated: players (and Sonic) down into these rectangles. And then Sonic ran.

He's running in a straight line. Weeee.

This is the downfall of every 3-D Sonic game.

You see, by opting to stay away from, you know, the modern advances of the platformer genre, Sonic Adventure features these long hallways. Forget the fact that the controls were far too touchy in the game, or that the camera never framed the action correctly, or that the story and extra characters were lame. Beyond all that periphery, the core of Sonic Adventure was a game that was so squarely designed to frame the speed and make Sonic seem fast that it neglected to create interesting level design. The few moments of interesting level design that would appear in the games couldn’t even be properly navigated, as the “looking into the rectangle” perspective made judging the distance of some jumps far more difficult than it should have been. Compared to the interesting tricks and traps of Mario 64, Sonic 3-D rectangles, while graphically impressive at the time, do nothing to hide now the fact that the game is about as interesting as a Saltine( and far less practical)


Sonic Adventure’s approach to 3-D game play made the entire game boring.

Perhaps what’s worse about all this is that game players should have known, going in, that this was boring.
Because this game had been made and played before.

Years before Sonic Adventure and the 3-D Sonic platformers,Game players have already taken a mascot through straight 3-D rectangles with a minimum of interesting things to see or do.

That’s right, the game that Sonic Adventure(and all 3-D Sonic games) most closely resemble is not the masterpiece Mario 64.

It's Crash Bandicoot.
Running in straight lines years before Sonic was screwing it up.


Yes, the bizarre “mascot” of the Playstation featured almost the exact same design philosophy as Sonic adventure. Members of the design team have admitted that Crash’s straight line levels in 3-D rectangles was designed to be, effectively, a cop-out: a way to make the Crash series seem like a 3-D platformer in a world where game designers did not yet understand how to make a 3-D platformer.

If Super Mario 64 was the genuine article, and Crash Bandicoot was the cop out, Sonic Adventure is the rip-off of the cop out. In fact, Crash Bandicoot's better controls and less fussy camera make his outing a better game than Sonic Adventure

YOU HEARD IT HEAR FIRST: CRASH BANDICOOT IS BETTER THAN SONIC. FACT.

And that( finally) is the inherent design problem with the 3-D Sonic games. They’ve been ripping off the design concepts of outmoded platformers. Rather than fix the concept, Sega continued making the games worse and worse over time, until the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in the 360 and PS3, the most boring entry of the series to date. Without interesting level design(the lifeblood of a platformer) the modern Sonic games have been disasterbacles( a disaster and a debacle....duh.)


So now that we have outlined the actual problem with the 3-D entry’s in the Sonic franchise. You may have also guessed how I would change the games to make them better!

As you have no doubt surmised I have an incredible love and respect for Mario 64. I think (and, given how many 3-D platformers are similar to it, the industry agrees), that the way Mario 64 turns the straight line 2-D levels of older consoles and turns them into large, open 3-D boxes with plenty to explore represents the best way to move a 2-D concept into 3-D.

And that’s what needs to be done to Sonic the Hedgehog. The franchise doesn’t need to stay in 2-D. Rather, it finally needs to make the jump to a fully realized 3-D world

How to change Sonic the Hedgehog

1. Create an Open World environment for Sonic
Certainly the use of the term “open world” conjures up images of the free-roaming nature of Rockstar’s sublime GTA series. However, to make the most out of Sonic’s unique abilities, don’t think about GTA.
Think Crackdown. (or Burnout Paradise, in a pinch)
Crackdown's open world gave players super powers and let them go around and explore the city. Sonic could learn a thing or two.


Put Sonic in a large, alive open world. Give him the ability to run though it at blazing speeds, to run directly up buildings, sideways across buildings. Give him a powerful jump to leap from the tops of buildings. Fill the environment with tons of various tasks for Sonic( he could be helping people in a city, or helping someone fight Robotnik, as an example.) Give Sonic plenty of objectives in the environment, as well as plenty of rewards for exploring around the environment. Don’t limit exploration to a city environment: create a whole world, with open world desert levels and open world ice worlds, etc. Give Sonic easy ways to redirect momentum and to regain speed after hard turns. There are so many directions you can go by putting Sonic in an open world game(more so than by keeping him in a 2-D platformer or a terrible 3-D platformer)

A large open world would offer Sonic an excellent environment to showcase his blazing speed, while also giving him enough unique/ridiculous environmental design to keep the actual experience of moving in the world fast and fun.

The key here is to make Sonic simply fun to control, and put him in an environment that takes advantage of the fun.

Every other good idea you could add to the Sonic franchise is essentially an extension of this first change. For example

2. Give Sonic moving baddies to fight
While its always fun to see the weird machines the Robotnik creates at the end of the levels in the 2-D Sonic games, most of the boss fights in the game aren’t very interesting; you would just jump on their weak spot until they’d explode. The BIG difference cam from Boss fights against any kind of fast moving enemies (think the race against Metal Sonic in Sonic CD, or Knuckles fight with the first boss in Sonic and Knuckles). In a new game, provide Sonic plenty of baddies for him to chase or be chased by, as these provide the most interesting encounters. Put them in a Open World environment with interesting level designs, and set up enemy encounters that interact or lead players to the awesome level design, anf you have a terrific fight encounter.

3. It’s not necessary to keep Sonic linear
At this point, Sonic doesn’t necessarily need to move linearly from level to level as in previous Sonic games, nor does he need to take one single path to the end of the level. Give the player a huge number of ways to “complete” an area(hopefully by completing tons of tasks) and offer the player different rewards/treats for exploring these different paths.

4. Make Sonic’s environment seem natural
Sonic world often features bizarre loop-di-loops , random underground tunnels, and a whole host of other bizarre physical obstacles. The challenge of a new game in this style would be to incorporate all of those bizarre landscapes into an environment. When an environment in a game seems to be natural –that is, it doesn’t feel like it was “created” by a “level designer” but has always existed- the player becomes more attached to the world, and can allow the player to have more fun than if placed in an extremely obvious an artificial environment. Games like Assassins Creed and the Naruto game on the 360 both featured extremely “natural” environments that enhanced the believability of these ridiculous games. Making that work for a Sonic game is certainly a tricky proposition, but a successful one will be remembered as one of the greatest areas ever designed for the franchise.
The Level Design in Assassin's Creed didn't even feel like level design. It was a surprisingly natural world, and it made Altair's powers more impressive in context.

5. Nostalgia should be subtle.
Yes, I know I spent the beginning of this blog post( God, that must have been 4 hours ago at this point) that nostalgia can ruin games and bamboozle players into thinking that they are having fun. However, a few clever references to older games/characters can provide players with the sensation that the game makers do, in fact, love the previous game in the franchise. When a game beats you over the head with nostalgia(Super Smash Bros. Melee) it ceases to feel genuine, especially when it doesn’t hide problems with the gameplay. Just a few references to Sonic’s past efforts or other adventures can remind players that this game was developed by people who LOVE games.


6. Fix the controls
Here we’re getting into the obvious stuff, but this new open world Sonic game would not be able to function with the old 3-D platformers control scheme. Put in a camera that actually works. Give Sonic more responsive controls especially for movement. Let Sonic navigate areas without forcing the player to destroy a game controller in rage and disgust.

7. Give Sonic some more subtle abilities
This is an idea I've been toying with in my mind since I remembered how good Starbreeze's
"The Chronicles of Riddick" game was. One of that game's most notable achievements was creating a very subtle way to let the player know that he was sufficiently hidden in the dark: the screen would be tinted purple. It was an extremely minimalistic choice that worked beautifully.

So why not apply it to an open world Sonic game? As Sonic is coming up to a 90 degree turn, slowly tint the screen a color(blue for example!). When the screen is tinted as much as the developers intended, offer the player some sequence of buttons to make the sharp turn.
When Sonic is coming up to a jump, slowly tint the screen a different color(let's say green!).Increase the tint's color untill, when it reaches the developers logical limit, the player is at the point where they need to jump. this saves the player from spending too much time spinning the camera to look for upcomming turns and jumps, while also keeping Sonic moving. This could be applied to any aspect of the game!

7. Get rid of anime voice acting
Hell, keep the characters from speaking all together. That’d be just fine too.
I hate you so much.

8. Ditch the ludicrous, extraneous characters
Sonic, Tails,, Robotnik, Knuckles. That's it.
If you like Shadow the Hedgehog, as a character or game, you are everything that’s wrong with video games.

There are certainly other little design choices and changes I could make to the Sonic franchise, and some of the design changes are pretty obvious but the most important change I wanted to illustrate was the shift from the fake 3-D of the new Sonic platformers to actual 3-D. this is the most radical change that could be made to the franchise, but it would ultimately provide so many opportunities for the design team to get creative, and to finally put out a Sonic game worthy, not just of its legacy, but of this ridiculous blog entry.
#1 Posted by MattBodega (1905 posts) -
Oh, God. Another one of these?

When I think of the the possibility of ANOTHER Sonic game(especially given the quality of the previous games), I can’t help but be reminded of an old adage my mum used to whisper to me just before I would drift off to sleep.

“Son”, she would say, “You can’t strike lightning twice…especially when it comes to franchises that haven’t been good since the early 90’s”

(True Story!)

Its hard to believe that the last important release in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was released more than 10 years ago. All those poor Genesis lovers plugging together their copies of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles. Did they know, even then, that poor Sonic would never again be associated with “fun”? Oh, the humanity! Oh, the copies of Sonic 3D Blast!

What happened to the poor Bastard? Why has Sega been dragging Sonic’s name through the mud all this time? Why can’t they conjure that magic that made Sega a force to be reckoned with?

Some game players( those who still remember the hay-day of Sonic games and could be bothered to give a care about) think that Sonic:Unleashed might be a return to form for the franchise, putting Sonic in a game that more closely resembles the 2D side-scrollers that made him Nintendo’s worst enemy all those years ago. Fans think that a healthy dose of nostalgia for “th good ol’ days” might be exactly what Sonic needs. Sonic fans, deluded by a gamers greatest weakness (nostalgia),bought copies of Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, and the “re-imagined” Sonic the Hedgehog.

If you were to put those titles on a list, then congratulations: you’ve managed to create an in-depth and sophisticated feature about the worst 3-D platformers ever created.
Remind me who thought this was a good idea.


Bad camera, boring level design, anime voice acting, a story: looking at the “features” those games brought to bear, its no surprise that some game players wants Sonic to go back to his roots: old school side scrolling platformer.

They couldn’t be further for the truth.

Nostalgia is a dangerous weapon: by conjuring up the aforementioned “good ol’ days” in a new product, game makers con the average “Joe Gamer” into thinking their having fun. However, if developers continue to give players nostalgia trips rather than new experiences, the series is bound to fall into a rut. Going back to the “fun years” of 2-D gaming certainly won’t bring Sonic back. Much like the Sonic Rush games (the only halfway decent entries the series has seen in a while) a “new” old Sonic game will only be enjoyable, as Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann wisely puts it, “in a retro sense”; it might be a neat distraction, but it couldn’t possibly stand toe to toe with faster, more interesting modern games. It wouldn't compete with the faster games, and couldn't be counted toe-to-toe with the better platformers. In a no man's land where the series can't please the modern sensibilities of gamers, the franchise would lose interest even from the most die hard fans, and Sonic would be no more.

That puts the Sonic franchise in a bit of a quagmire, doesn’t it? Continuing to make the terrible 3-D platformers will surely put a nail in the series’ coffin, while making a “new” 2-D platformer will regulate the franchise to a lifetime of smaller, less important releases.
I truly believe that the Sonic franchise is worth saving. Does the 90’s “EXTREME!!” appeal wear thin in this day and age? Hell yes it does. Has the Sonic franchise continually mocked and spited me since the 90’s? Sure has. And yet I AM nostalgic for those older games. I was shocked by how inventive the Sonic CD game was, with its simple-but-effective time travel mechanic, its excellent level design, and its awesome music. I remember having fun with the Sonic the Hedgehog games.



I assert that, at a certain point in the development of the more modern Sonic games(starting with Sonic Adventure), the design team made a decision that was instrumental in destroying everything that was great about Sonic. Most of all, I think I know how to fix it. I think I know what could bring the sound and the fury back to Sega’s premiere franchise.

A quick note before I begin: My main focus, in this article is going to be on the mechanical elements of the series(actually playing the game) and less in terms of the obvious stuff(like how every character created after Knuckles is totally and completely horrible, how Shadow the Hedgehog is the worst of anything ever, how the Sonic Adventure games don’t hold up, how Anime voice acting is dumb, how Sonic + Final Fantasy inspired graphics = horrible, and so on and so forth) .

Dilemma: Straight is Dumb

Its important to start this “If you love it, change it” entry by describing just how the Sonic series strayed down its path of nostalgia/ruin, and it’s impossible to talk about Sonic now(just as it was in the early 90’s) without mentioning the once and future king of the platformer: Mario.

Sonic, as it is well publicized, was a character specifically designed to “beat” Mario at his own game; Sonic could walk the platformer walk, and it could talk the side-scrolling talk. Sure, Sonic was essentially the same type of game as the Mario platformers, but it was his signature aspect, the one thing Sonic had that Mario didn’t, that pushed the character into the realm of medium’s greatest characters.
Remember when we associated Sonic with good games? Yeah, me neither.

That’s right: his mad style.

NO! It was Sonic’s speed, and the speed of the Genesis’ “blast processing.” The phrase may have been a marketing term to describe the faster speed of the Genesis's processor( in comparison to the SNES) but it was this speed that cemented Sonic as the mascot of the 16-bit era.

Part of his success was that Sonic, and the various abilities he had, could be perfectly emulated within the design limitations of the 16-bit era; all Sonic had to do was move to the right, and move fast. No worries! There was no “bad camera” and no “difficult control” that made Sonic difficult to handle. Essentially, the platformer, as a genre of gaming, was advanced enough at the time to handle the Sonic Boom (Sonic Boom! Sonic Boom!)

All a platformer had to do, at the time, had to do was create a level. Each level was, effectively, a straight line. The camera focused on Sonic as he moved to the right(and on occasion, to the left). Moving in a straight line at high speeds was totally within the capacity of game machines at the time.

It’s the advent of 3-D graphics that present Sonic, and(at the time) the platforming genre with its biggest challenge. Now games, so used to only dealing with the X and Y axis, have to come to grips with a mischievous little axis known only as..... Z. With the ability of modern machines to create full virtual worlds, game designers now had to account for a character’s(and a players’s) ability to deal with 3-D environments.

Twelve years after its release, and I still have trouble naming better platformers(you know, that aren't Rayman 2)
Enter Super Mario 64.


The original 3-D platformer(for all intents and purposes), Mario 64 can be credited for all number of important innovations, ranging from it pioneered “camera” system that allowed players to change the angle being displayed around the character, to its impressive 3-D graphics. For the purposes of this entry(and for poor Sonic) the key element I’d like to focus on is Mario 64’s approach to level design. Essentially, Mario 64 took the standard straight line levels that characterized 8 and 16-bit gaming and turned them into 3D: a level that was once a straight line was now a box. The result of this design choice was environments larger than any that had been seen in previous games. Mario had multiple objectives( the Stars he was supposed to collect) in every level, and by widening the straight line levels into boxes, Mario had plenty of unique, different places to explorer.


THIS is the blueprint for the modern 3-D platformer (and really, for 3-D games in general). Designers turned their straight line levels and made them 3-D boxes. With the camera situated above the box looking down at the character( or inside the box looking at the character), 3-D games could now be created and navigated. They could still have the tight controls and the excellent level designs of the older 2-D platformers.


Somehow, the folks at Sonic Team didn’t get the message.

Sonic introduction into 3-D gaming( not counting the atrocious Sonic 3-D Blast which viewed the Sonic action from an isometric perspective that made the action incredibly slow, crippling any chance of Sonic displaying his trademark speed) comes in the form of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. It is here that we to enter the shady, almost insidious world known as “That place where we insult the Dreamcast”

And we must, friends. Because Sonic Adventure is not a good game. It is a bad game in every way Super Mario 64 is a good game.
It was the 90's! We were stupid back in the 90's!


The designers at Sonic Team understood that, just as he did on the Genesis, Sonic was going to have to bring the ridiculous speed that made his games so successful. This time, however, that speed was going to have to translate into 3-D.

The focus of the game became to showcase the Sonic’s ludicrous speed, and, to show off that speed, Sonic Team decided, apparently, not to follow the status quo set by every other successful 3-D game ever created. Sonic Adventure did not feature Mario’s expansive levels, but, instead, featured the straight-line level designs that had made the older Sonic games so popular.

Levels in the 3-D Sonic games are long corridors. You can run really fast down them. Sometimes you turn. Occasionally you fight some enemies. These areas are, essentially, 3-D rectangles for Sonic to maneuver. Sonic had some small degree of movement inside the corridors themselves, but there was none of Mario’s explanation. The camera in these Sonic games insisted of staying behind Sonic, and the player watched mostly from behind as Sonic did his running.

So now, the level design for the 3-D sonic games consists of a long, mostly straight series of rectanglular hallways. The straight line level design of the old games hasn’t been expanded as it was in Mario 64, but rather, it was rotated: players (and Sonic) down into these rectangles. And then Sonic ran.

He's running in a straight line. Weeee.

This is the downfall of every 3-D Sonic game.

You see, by opting to stay away from, you know, the modern advances of the platformer genre, Sonic Adventure features these long hallways. Forget the fact that the controls were far too touchy in the game, or that the camera never framed the action correctly, or that the story and extra characters were lame. Beyond all that periphery, the core of Sonic Adventure was a game that was so squarely designed to frame the speed and make Sonic seem fast that it neglected to create interesting level design. The few moments of interesting level design that would appear in the games couldn’t even be properly navigated, as the “looking into the rectangle” perspective made judging the distance of some jumps far more difficult than it should have been. Compared to the interesting tricks and traps of Mario 64, Sonic 3-D rectangles, while graphically impressive at the time, do nothing to hide now the fact that the game is about as interesting as a Saltine( and far less practical)


Sonic Adventure’s approach to 3-D game play made the entire game boring.

Perhaps what’s worse about all this is that game players should have known, going in, that this was boring.
Because this game had been made and played before.

Years before Sonic Adventure and the 3-D Sonic platformers,Game players have already taken a mascot through straight 3-D rectangles with a minimum of interesting things to see or do.

That’s right, the game that Sonic Adventure(and all 3-D Sonic games) most closely resemble is not the masterpiece Mario 64.

It's Crash Bandicoot.
Running in straight lines years before Sonic was screwing it up.


Yes, the bizarre “mascot” of the Playstation featured almost the exact same design philosophy as Sonic adventure. Members of the design team have admitted that Crash’s straight line levels in 3-D rectangles was designed to be, effectively, a cop-out: a way to make the Crash series seem like a 3-D platformer in a world where game designers did not yet understand how to make a 3-D platformer.

If Super Mario 64 was the genuine article, and Crash Bandicoot was the cop out, Sonic Adventure is the rip-off of the cop out. In fact, Crash Bandicoot's better controls and less fussy camera make his outing a better game than Sonic Adventure

YOU HEARD IT HEAR FIRST: CRASH BANDICOOT IS BETTER THAN SONIC. FACT.

And that( finally) is the inherent design problem with the 3-D Sonic games. They’ve been ripping off the design concepts of outmoded platformers. Rather than fix the concept, Sega continued making the games worse and worse over time, until the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in the 360 and PS3, the most boring entry of the series to date. Without interesting level design(the lifeblood of a platformer) the modern Sonic games have been disasterbacles( a disaster and a debacle....duh.)


So now that we have outlined the actual problem with the 3-D entry’s in the Sonic franchise. You may have also guessed how I would change the games to make them better!

As you have no doubt surmised I have an incredible love and respect for Mario 64. I think (and, given how many 3-D platformers are similar to it, the industry agrees), that the way Mario 64 turns the straight line 2-D levels of older consoles and turns them into large, open 3-D boxes with plenty to explore represents the best way to move a 2-D concept into 3-D.

And that’s what needs to be done to Sonic the Hedgehog. The franchise doesn’t need to stay in 2-D. Rather, it finally needs to make the jump to a fully realized 3-D world

How to change Sonic the Hedgehog

1. Create an Open World environment for Sonic
Certainly the use of the term “open world” conjures up images of the free-roaming nature of Rockstar’s sublime GTA series. However, to make the most out of Sonic’s unique abilities, don’t think about GTA.
Think Crackdown. (or Burnout Paradise, in a pinch)
Crackdown's open world gave players super powers and let them go around and explore the city. Sonic could learn a thing or two.


Put Sonic in a large, alive open world. Give him the ability to run though it at blazing speeds, to run directly up buildings, sideways across buildings. Give him a powerful jump to leap from the tops of buildings. Fill the environment with tons of various tasks for Sonic( he could be helping people in a city, or helping someone fight Robotnik, as an example.) Give Sonic plenty of objectives in the environment, as well as plenty of rewards for exploring around the environment. Don’t limit exploration to a city environment: create a whole world, with open world desert levels and open world ice worlds, etc. Give Sonic easy ways to redirect momentum and to regain speed after hard turns. There are so many directions you can go by putting Sonic in an open world game(more so than by keeping him in a 2-D platformer or a terrible 3-D platformer)

A large open world would offer Sonic an excellent environment to showcase his blazing speed, while also giving him enough unique/ridiculous environmental design to keep the actual experience of moving in the world fast and fun.

The key here is to make Sonic simply fun to control, and put him in an environment that takes advantage of the fun.

Every other good idea you could add to the Sonic franchise is essentially an extension of this first change. For example

2. Give Sonic moving baddies to fight
While its always fun to see the weird machines the Robotnik creates at the end of the levels in the 2-D Sonic games, most of the boss fights in the game aren’t very interesting; you would just jump on their weak spot until they’d explode. The BIG difference cam from Boss fights against any kind of fast moving enemies (think the race against Metal Sonic in Sonic CD, or Knuckles fight with the first boss in Sonic and Knuckles). In a new game, provide Sonic plenty of baddies for him to chase or be chased by, as these provide the most interesting encounters. Put them in a Open World environment with interesting level designs, and set up enemy encounters that interact or lead players to the awesome level design, anf you have a terrific fight encounter.

3. It’s not necessary to keep Sonic linear
At this point, Sonic doesn’t necessarily need to move linearly from level to level as in previous Sonic games, nor does he need to take one single path to the end of the level. Give the player a huge number of ways to “complete” an area(hopefully by completing tons of tasks) and offer the player different rewards/treats for exploring these different paths.

4. Make Sonic’s environment seem natural
Sonic world often features bizarre loop-di-loops , random underground tunnels, and a whole host of other bizarre physical obstacles. The challenge of a new game in this style would be to incorporate all of those bizarre landscapes into an environment. When an environment in a game seems to be natural –that is, it doesn’t feel like it was “created” by a “level designer” but has always existed- the player becomes more attached to the world, and can allow the player to have more fun than if placed in an extremely obvious an artificial environment. Games like Assassins Creed and the Naruto game on the 360 both featured extremely “natural” environments that enhanced the believability of these ridiculous games. Making that work for a Sonic game is certainly a tricky proposition, but a successful one will be remembered as one of the greatest areas ever designed for the franchise.
The Level Design in Assassin's Creed didn't even feel like level design. It was a surprisingly natural world, and it made Altair's powers more impressive in context.

5. Nostalgia should be subtle.
Yes, I know I spent the beginning of this blog post( God, that must have been 4 hours ago at this point) that nostalgia can ruin games and bamboozle players into thinking that they are having fun. However, a few clever references to older games/characters can provide players with the sensation that the game makers do, in fact, love the previous game in the franchise. When a game beats you over the head with nostalgia(Super Smash Bros. Melee) it ceases to feel genuine, especially when it doesn’t hide problems with the gameplay. Just a few references to Sonic’s past efforts or other adventures can remind players that this game was developed by people who LOVE games.


6. Fix the controls
Here we’re getting into the obvious stuff, but this new open world Sonic game would not be able to function with the old 3-D platformers control scheme. Put in a camera that actually works. Give Sonic more responsive controls especially for movement. Let Sonic navigate areas without forcing the player to destroy a game controller in rage and disgust.

7. Give Sonic some more subtle abilities
This is an idea I've been toying with in my mind since I remembered how good Starbreeze's
"The Chronicles of Riddick" game was. One of that game's most notable achievements was creating a very subtle way to let the player know that he was sufficiently hidden in the dark: the screen would be tinted purple. It was an extremely minimalistic choice that worked beautifully.

So why not apply it to an open world Sonic game? As Sonic is coming up to a 90 degree turn, slowly tint the screen a color(blue for example!). When the screen is tinted as much as the developers intended, offer the player some sequence of buttons to make the sharp turn.
When Sonic is coming up to a jump, slowly tint the screen a different color(let's say green!).Increase the tint's color untill, when it reaches the developers logical limit, the player is at the point where they need to jump. this saves the player from spending too much time spinning the camera to look for upcomming turns and jumps, while also keeping Sonic moving. This could be applied to any aspect of the game!

7. Get rid of anime voice acting
Hell, keep the characters from speaking all together. That’d be just fine too.
I hate you so much.

8. Ditch the ludicrous, extraneous characters
Sonic, Tails,, Robotnik, Knuckles. That's it.
If you like Shadow the Hedgehog, as a character or game, you are everything that’s wrong with video games.

There are certainly other little design choices and changes I could make to the Sonic franchise, and some of the design changes are pretty obvious but the most important change I wanted to illustrate was the shift from the fake 3-D of the new Sonic platformers to actual 3-D. this is the most radical change that could be made to the franchise, but it would ultimately provide so many opportunities for the design team to get creative, and to finally put out a Sonic game worthy, not just of its legacy, but of this ridiculous blog entry.
#2 Posted by snide (2413 posts) -

I honestly think Sonic can not be saved. The speed thing just isn't as impressive as it was back in the day. Sonic's world was also never as fleshed out as his plumber competitor.

#3 Posted by LuckyWanderDude (929 posts) -

Sonic could be saved if it were only a 2D series.

#4 Posted by Sweep (8863 posts) -

How to change sonic the hedgehog??


Arguably it was sonics inability to cope with change that lead to his downfall. Nostalgia can be a powefully destructive tool but can also be harnessed to create awesomeness. Look at Bionic Commando

By "return to basics" i dont think anyone really wants another 2d platformer. But there should be elements of the franchise which are easy to migrate to the current generation and its aesthetics.

I personally think Sonic began to fail when convoluted with excessively uninteresting bonus characters and outragously out of touch characterisation. I want to be sonic and I dont want him to be a smug prick. I want him to be fast, jump on robots, and collect rings. Also I want Tails to die in a fire. How hard can it be.

Your suggestions of "open world adventure" games are exactly the sort of thinking that got Sonic caught up in all this mess in the first place. He doesnt NEED to move anywhere else, his classic genre of game can be easily revamped to be a great game once more.

SO yeah. I disagree with you MattBodega. But you are obviously a sonic fan like me (dont protest, I can see past that stony exterior of hate). Sonic will have his moment. Personally this Sonic Unleashed footage is getting me pretty stoked.

Oh wait, theres a ware-hog isnt there? Crap... Maybe next time...
Moderator
#5 Posted by JonathanMoore (1858 posts) -

The only way Sonic is going to be revived is a new game on the Wii-Ware, and to keep the Wii-Ware series as the Main Series...that's the only way...everything else is as good as stupid.

#6 Posted by Oni (2098 posts) -

Every time SEGA takes Sonic "Back to basics", something goes horribly wrong. Either the game just plain sucks, or they CANNOT fucking resist doing something dumb like making Sonic turn into a Werehog, of all things, or giving him a SWORD (haha). I wish they'd stop these pathetic attempts at making Sonic more palatable to people that don't know why Sonic used to be awesome and just make a good game.

#7 Edited by Snail (8606 posts) -

Sonic adventure was one of the greatest Sonic games of all time you tasteless bastard, but I do agree with you in the stupid characters section. In my opinion it should be sonic, his friend tales and his friendly rival Knuckles every once in a while. The formula should be very simple.

#8 Posted by OfficialJab (151 posts) -

Can't say you're cool with Metal Sonic and not Shadow.... don't need to commit to liking the guns and cars, but rivals (as opposed to villains) are a great thing to have. I gotta say that there are too many characers in the Sonic world, FOR the Sonic world. Since most of them are nobodies as far as the universe goes.

#9 Posted by clarke0 (1077 posts) -

Very interesting post. Too bad SEGA will never use any of these ideas because they are too focused on running the franchise into the ground with shitty games.

#10 Posted by Snail (8606 posts) -
clarke0 said:
"Very interesting post. Too bad SEGA will never use any of these ideas because they are too focused on running the franchise into the ground with shitty games."
Good titles Sega has released this year so far: monkey Ball for the Wii (for anyone who likes that franchise), Super Monkey Ball for the iPhone (for people that like frustratingly hard games, such as myself), Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.
#11 Posted by Thordain (959 posts) -

Just give up Sonic. Sega has moved on and made some nice games in other genres. I say that the company should cut their losses and end the franchise.

#12 Posted by Vaxadrin (2297 posts) -

CHANGE DR. EGGMAN BACK TO ROBOTNIK, YOU ASSHOLES!

#13 Posted by Snail (8606 posts) -

What if Nintendo bought the Sonic franchise, eventually good games should come out!

#14 Posted by albedos_shadow (1485 posts) -

I truly believe the story is what killed Sonic games. I mean seriously, did Mario ever need anything beyond "Go save the princess!"? Cut out all the outer space, Chaos Control bullshit and just say, "Robotnik is bad. Kill the dude."

#15 Posted by Willy105 (4690 posts) -

I love this new Blog on Forums feature! This blog is awesome!

Many of your ideas have been made a reality here:

  
#16 Posted by Vigorousjammer (2503 posts) -

While I agree with you on the overall point, I think I should add a few characters to your list:
Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Robotnik are all must-haves... but you also need your Amy and your Metal Sonic, as far as I'm concerned...

Also, while reading your post, I couldn't help but think of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie... if they took the world from that movie, and put it in an open-world Sonic game to explore... That would be EPIC!
It could even have plane travel with the Tornado to quickly get from place to place...
an open-world sonic game sounds REALLY great!
you explore the different areas...
you find chaos emeralds in various caves or mines...
you get various quests to do... but quests seems like the wrong name, they could name them tasks or something...

The only problem, however, is the controls... Sonic Adventure, while you hate it, does have some portions of it where you do exploration... the actual levels are complete garbage, I agree... and big the cat is the most fucking retarded piece of bullshit I've ever seen conceived!!! But, if Sonic Adventure had GOOD controls during it's exploration parts, and baddies to fight... then, THAT WOULD OF BEEN FUCKING AWESOME!!

MattBodega, I think you need to send a letter to Sonic Team and tell them about your idea, cause I really want to see this turned into a game... because, if the controls are done right, it would be AMAZING...

and while you're sending a letter to them, I'll fill Sega's inbox with letters saying "hey! where the hell is the new Jet Set Radio game?!" or "Hey! where the hell is Shunmue 3!!!"

Honestly, they could just take the engine they've been using for the Yakuza series, get Yu Suzuki on the project for storyline stuff, and make an awesome Shenmue 3...

But really, Sega needs to get back on the ball, cause they've been falling off for far too long now... and this is coming from somebody who has owned every Sega system since the Genesis... yes, that includes the Saturn...

#17 Posted by Emilio (3380 posts) -

Sega did good with F-Zero, now please give Sonic to Nintendo, just for one game.

I think Brawl gave us the best looking/controlling/Animated 3D Sonic around.

#18 Posted by Discorsi (1390 posts) -

You know what be a badass way to fix sonic.... Make it first person/ like mirror's edge.  That'd be so epic running through one of those loops in first person xD

#19 Posted by get2sammyb (6412 posts) -

I think all they need to do is 2.5D level design - 3 acts to a zone, 15 zones, time attacks modes, alternate routes, unlockables, memorable set pieces.

Basically just do to Sonic what Capcom have done to Street Fighter. That would work.

#20 Posted by SamFo (1529 posts) -

"NEW Sonic the Hedgehog" on ds like "NEW Super Mario Bros"

#21 Posted by Red (5995 posts) -

No, there's a much simpler way to fix this:


Give him a sword.


....oh waiiiiit.

#23 Posted by Willy105 (4690 posts) -

The comic book characters are very deep and aren't lame. But there sure are a LOT of them.

#25 Posted by Willy105 (4690 posts) -

I can't believe how Bioware messed up Sonic RPG. They had so much to work with!

#26 Posted by Manachild (511 posts) -

Maybe what this all prove's perhaps is that sonic's uber fast speed ended up being a gimmick but took until the 3d era to realise as simple an idea as it is. I'm not saying that that is the case but its something to consider.

#27 Posted by oraknabo (1467 posts) -

I agree, they need to drop all the characters except Sonic and Eggman and go for a simple, possibly cel-shaded style for the characters and give him big, open environments full of enemies to roll through and bounce off of. I liked a few things about Sonic Adventure, but I agree that most were just linear tracks on a corkscrew instead of a flat plane.

I agree with the idea of a faster paced Assassin's Creed. I think another decent example is the Konoha race missions in Naruto:Rise of a Ninja. That kind of gameplay in a more rollercoaster-like environment of intertwining paths would be a lot of fun.

Also, having just played the Mirror's edge demo, I had a lot of fun trying to get through the levels as smoothly as possible and only wished I could have run faster and had more alternate routes to take.

Even racing games on a set track are more fun when they give you alternate routes. It's something I liked a lot about Excite Truck and I remember liking it about San Francisco Rush 2049 back on the DreamCast.

#28 Posted by kashif1 (1428 posts) -

Heres an idea, give us sonic levels, no emrald hunting levels, no shooting levels, no werehogs.  The sonic levels in almost every 3d sonic game are actually descent.  its just that the utter horribleness of the other levels over shadows the speed levels

#29 Posted by Shadica (2 posts) -

i don't care wha you say. i still like shadow than any other sonic charaters in the world!(not counting the ones i made up). and sonic is my second favorit!hahaha!lol. so ner!

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