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Old 1 Week Ago   #1
time gear
 
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Default SRB2 level design philosophy compared to the classic games

This topic is intended less as a critique and more as a general comparison/contemplation.

The classic games on the Genesis/Mega Drive followed a general mentality of rewarding players for going slow by placing various hidden goodies along the path to find if you were looking for them, while also rewarding players for going fast by allowing them to maintain their momentum for longer stretches of time and get to the goal much quicker if they could stick to the right (Typically the upper) path. While skill was a factor in this, it boiled more down to what kind of mood the player was in. Did they want to go fast or slow? They could be rewarded for either choice. This generally lead to a lot of the levels being made in an overall downhill design mentality, so that remaining in your spin state was easier and therefore it was easier for the player to surpass their top running speed if they knew how.

SRB2 on the other hand seems to be made with going more slowly in mind for the majority of situations, only occasionally allowing the player to speed up before returning back to the slower paced sections. There's plenty of the hidden goodies for more explorative players, but maintaining speed can be something of a challenge as doing so tends to be based more on the player's moveset and their ability to make use of it rather than on the geometry of the levels themselves. There seems to be a tendency in the levels to lean towards going uphill a lot, a sort of "climbing the mountain" type philosophy.

There's definitely merit towards both philosophies, they both have their own way of handling player speed in a skill based manner, while still rewarding those who slow down and explore a little with hidden goodies. There are also some noteworthy exceptions to the downhill philosophy of the classic games, such as Sky Sanctuary in which the player works their way up the level to get to the Death Egg. Though it does make me curious what a level following the classic design philosophy would even look like in SRB2's more large and open style of level design. There would probably need to be some way to prevent Tails from just skipping the entire stage.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #2
D00D64
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I'd like to bring up my take on the level design by giving my take on something else: character abilities and capabilities.

In SRB2, your jump is very short. Unless you're Amy, It doesn't even get you up a 128 unit height, which is the size of a standard 128x128 box. As a result of this, as well as how Doom does its mapping, level design places an emphasis on X/Y axis movement, and not vertical Z movement. 2D mode had to boost your jump height just to make it more viable, but now all of the game's 2D mode levels are gone. This in itself isn't too much of a problem, but what about that horizontal movement?

A lot of it is invalidated by our main character having, you guessed it, the Thok. Sonic has the ability to instantly thrust himself to maximum speed with two button presses. Not even the Boost is to that level, as the boost requires meter management and has levels that are designed to be blasted through, treating Boost more like a gas pedal and the meter more like fuel. While you can spam thok in Greenflower for sure, it gets used far more sparingly in later levels, as reckless thokking can get you in trouble. It may reward the speedrunning player who learns the level layout, it makes most other moments feel less rewarding. Speed moments lack the impact when you can exceed your own running speed so quickly and easily.

Tails and Knuckles have their abilities copied from the classic games, and were clearly not meant for 3D space. This is why Adventure gave them different objectives to accomidate these moves. Tails is fine as he is being "easy mode", and Knuckles has his own paths to take, but it makes level design all the more difficult to balnce when Tails and Knuckles can so easily crack them, on top of the other characters. Metal Sonic can cross massive chunks of level just by jumping from a good neight, while Fang and Amy hve far less broken abilities for level design than any of the others.

Though, Metal Sonic and Amy have two special perks to them. Metal Sonic has boost mode, an abiity that actually rewards you for gaining speed and maintaining it. There's a reason you see custom characters just have boost mode, or mods that give the characters boost mode. It's a fun incentive to keep moving. Amy can just naturally jump just a little bit higher than the others, which makes moment-to-moment platforming far easier and more comfortable. That little bit of height gain makes the simple act of jumping around into an actual, viable playstyle for once.

So much of the character design revolves around your abilities, even when the classic games dint even have abilities as a factor until 3, where Sonic barely has an ability without a shield. Even then, Sonic was totally fine without using it! Meanwhile, in SRB2, its moreso about using your abilities to cheat out certain level gimmicks, if not because of your lower jump height and floatiness, then because its just more efficient to just skip things. Why waste my time climing up these steps covered in thorns when I can fly over it, or climb around it, or float above it?

Another issue with trying to reward for speed-based play is how little slopes impact you if you are not rolling. If you ran down around slopes in most other Sonic games, you can still jump and control yourself to shoot yourself into all kinds of places. In SRB2, only with spinning can you truly take advantage of slopes, not only reducing what you can do, but also cutting two of the 6 cast members. Fang can get some speed with a pogo on a slope, but that feels less intentional and more of a quirk left in. n addition, most advantageous slope situations seem to be "spindash at the base of the slope" or "roll into the nearby horizontal springs". Slope play feels uninspired for a lot of the game, but given how limited you are with what you can do on them, I can see why.

Level design emphasizes exploration because it cant use the speed as the reward like classic Sonic can. Exploration is still tons of fun, but then you run into the problem where most exploration can be solved between Tails and Knuckles. A lot of my experience with emblem hunting was just combing places with these two. I ony really use Amy or Fang when they were absolutely needed.

I still have a lot of fun with this game, but it still feels like potential untapped. With some reworked characters, it could open up new ways to do level design too. Maybe things can still change.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by time gear View Post
There seems to be a tendency in the levels to lean towards going uphill a lot, a sort of "climbing the mountain" type philosophy.
I may or may not bother to write a more in depth post later, but I just wanted to highlight this part in particular. Thank you for putting into words something I understood intuitively but hadn't seen written in such a clear way before. "Classic Sonic level design is rolling down a hill, while SRB2 level design is climbing up a mountain."

To be clear, that's not a bad thing. I generally like SRB2 level design, but more variation is always good. Red Volcano for example has always felt noticably different from any other level.

Last edited by Unknownlight; 1 Week Ago at 09:39 PM.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #4
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Classic Sonic level design is "You failed this platforming section, but you can continue on this bottom route that is a bit more hazardous or less rewarding."

SRB2 level design, particularly in a lot of the older zones, is riddled with "You failed this platforming section, now do it over again."

This damages the game's sense of forward momentum, which is not good when levels are already intended to be easy to get lost in.

Poor physics also directly influences how our level design plays, so the two elements there are intrinsically linked. Certain gimmicks and platforming sections would be much more tolerable with increased air maneuverability, for instance.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #5
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I'd like to say that some zones, like CEZ1 and parts of CEZ2 and RVZ1, do indeed feature the classic Sonic style of path design, where the high paths are shorter but more difficult than the low paths. I doubt it's a coincidence that the zones that do this style of path stacking (which I really like) were remade from scratch in 2.2, an update that upped the ante in level design quality in so many way. I would personally love to see more zones get a treatment like this.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #6
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Old 1 Week Ago   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by D00D64 View Post
Tails and Knuckles have their abilities copied from the classic games, and were clearly not meant for 3D space. ... Tails is fine as he is being "easy mode", and Knuckles has his own paths to take, but it makes level design all the more difficult to balance when Tails and Knuckles can so easily crack them, on top of the other characters.

...

Meanwhile, in SRB2, its moreso about using your abilities to cheat out certain level gimmicks, ... Why waste my time climing up these steps covered in thorns when I can fly over it, or climb around it, or float above it?
Right now, I think of the character cast as being split into two categories: Characters who jump low, and characters who jump high.

Low-jump: Sonic, Metal Sonic, Amy (sorta)

High-jump: Tails, Knuckles, Fang (sorta)

Low-jump characters constrain path design. All platforming has to be able to accommodate Sonic, with long and low platforming. High-jump characters "break" the level design because levels are designed for low-jump characters. High jump characters have a different chronology through a stage, defined by adjacency rather than height.

GFZ1 is one of my favorite stages in the game. It's a good romp when played straightforwardly, but it also has a lot of exploration. However, it feels like the extra stuff up high is secretly the "Knuckles route". When I play Knuckles, I scour a level very thoroughly, and I try to discover everything. My Knuckles plays inhabit a different portion of the stage than my Sonic plays.

Frozen Hillside is a good Sonic level, but not a good Knuckles level. Knuckles doesn't like long, low platforming stages with vertically-shallow jumps. Knuckles wants a dense, explorable space. It feels like high-jump and low-jump characters want fundamentally different stage design typologies.

Imagine a world where the low-jump characters had completely different ability designs. Sonic has double jump, Metal Sonic has jumpboost, and Amy just jumps really high (at least 192). You could design a very vertical stage, where all characters have tools to traverse those vertical obstacles. Tails and Knuckles can still escape the level in some ways, but the standard platforming could engage their skillsets. This ability design strategy could bring high-jump and low-jump characters closer, in terms of what kinds of stages they all enjoy.

Granted, maybe hard splits in character playstyles is a good thing? My Knuckles campaign save is giving me a very different experience of the levels, and homogenizing the character playstyles might make repeated plays with alternate characters less valuable.

(To be clear, I have no idea if my suggested ability design spread above is a good idea. If you know how to make WADs, you can actually do this right right now using P_SKIN. I will probably do this for myself, but not tonight.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by D00D64
Amy can just naturally jump just a little bit higher than the others, which makes moment-to-moment platforming far easier and more comfortable.
For my own personal design work, I've decided that I'd like to create some Amy-exclusive connections using a series of two or three 128-high jumps. Tails and Knuckles can supersede this connection, sure, but just jumping up a couple factory crate blocks is faster than climbing.

I bring this up to illustrate the fragility in the current height-chronology relationship.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CobaltBW
Classic Sonic level design is "You failed this platforming section, but you can continue on this bottom route that is a bit more hazardous or less rewarding." SRB2 level design, particularly in a lot of the older zones, is riddled with "You failed this platforming section, now do it over again."
I already responded to your thought on this here. When I read this thought, I basically wanted to say the same thing that I already did. Instead of repeating myself (and you repeating yourself in your response to me), here's the old discussion for reference.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As a footnote, I'd like to note that character skillsets changes could have dramatic implications for reworking existing SRB2 campaign content, and may make previously-designed custom stages less fun (or less playable). This is all interesting from a design standpoint, but at some point, the "efficiency in production" part of my brain wants to minimize the work required to solve a problem.

Last edited by BlueZero4; 1 Week Ago at 07:45 AM.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #8
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On the topic of designing the main path through levels with Sonic's moveset in mind and the thok being replaced in Sonic's toolkit eventually, in the hypothetical situation in which Sonic's thok is replaced with the SA2 bounce attack how would that impact SRB2's level design along the main path?

Horizontally speaking, Sonic would have a much harder time covering distance quickly on account of not having an instant full speed move, but in a vertical sense he would actually have more to work with than before because he could exceed his maximum jump height after a few bounces. This wouldn't place him on Tails' or Knuckles' level vertically by any means, but it would probably flow much better with the uphill levels than thok would and players wouldn't be spamming it to gain speed, and so would fly off the side of cliffs less.

What's also noteworthy is that one of the thok's biggest drawing factors to it for experienced veterans is that if you don't have much of a big jumping start thok bouncing off of badniks doesn't give you much distance, but doing so from much higher lets you rocket off. The SA2 bounce would also let you do this quite effectively, especially so if it retains most of your horizontal momentum during use.

I feel like it would free up the level design a bit to place slightly higher geometry/platforms along the main path without worrying so much about Sonic's max jump height, and could also be used to force Metal onto a side path without limiting Sonic to such. All while still giving Sonic a satisfying tool for jumping on badniks from great heights to gain great distance. Perhaps there could even be deliberately placed empty golden monitors for Sonic to make use of to traverse the levels with by bouncing on top of them. Characters like Tails and Knuckles could use them too, but Sonic would be best for it.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #9
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On the topic of character balance through level design, a compromise could be to adjust levels to be more restrictive, as to keep new players (especially Tails or Knuckles players) on the dotted paths and not hopelessly lost or blatantly flying over chunks of the level. When first picking up 2.2, I did get a bit lost around the start of CEZ1, so maybe a more liberal use of walls/enclosed spaces could help in that regard?

Last edited by Soufon; 1 Week Ago at 10:30 PM. Reason: clarify how this ties into character balance
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Old 1 Week Ago   #10
time gear
 
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Originally Posted by Soufon View Post
On the topic of character balance through level design, a compromise could be to adjust levels to be more restrictive, as to keep new players on the dotted paths and not hopelessly lost. When first picking up 2.2, I did get a bit lost around the start of CEZ1, so maybe a more liberal use of walls/enclosed spaces could help in that regard?
Personally I would caution against this direction when attempting to fix that problem. It comes at a large risk of making the levels more linear, bland, and uninteresting in exchange for being easier to traverse for newcomers. This could end up having the side effect of making the game have less replay value.

I feel like when it comes to herding new players along the right path, this should be done more psychologically than physically. That is to say, rather than fencing newer players in so they don't get lost, there should be more visual cues helping them to figure out which way to go. This could be done by literally placing down arrow signs pointing in the direction of progress, or much more subtly such as placing landmarks that help the player recognize where they have been before.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #11
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<Garrean> i once heard someone describe pre-slope srb2 as a "fast-paced mario"
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Originally Posted by D00D64 View Post
...it makes level design all the more difficult to balance when Tails and Knuckles can so easily crack them
So, I just played So2ro's Frantic Freeze Zone within the past few days, and it changed my opinion on the character abilities.

Right now, slopes downward are not super useful because of current friction physics. That's fine, we've established this.

But slopes upward are interesting because they give all characters height. A good running jump from an upward slope goes a long way toward giving you height and distance. In my post above, I argued for giving the "lowjump" half of the cast extra height, but there may be a simpler solution which requires less design rework.

If stage design moves to be more momentum-based, with larger jumps made possible by upward slopes, I think that the height from the slopes would comparatively scale down some of the benefits of glide/climb and flying. The current ability design spread might be better fixed by level design changes, rather than ability changes. (Also, there's apparently an indev physics rework for the vanilla game, which is very hush-hush.)

In other words, the design thought "give lowjump characters more height" is part of "fast mario" level design paradigms.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #12
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Originally Posted by BlueZero4 View Post
If stage design moves to be more momentum-based, with larger jumps made possible by upward slopes, I think that the height from the slopes would comparatively scale down some of the benefits of glide/climb and flying.
Yeah, slope launches will be pretty powerful for height gain.

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Old 1 Week Ago   #13
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Yeah, slope launches will be pretty powerful for height gain.
Time to remake all the stages because of slopes! Again!
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Old 1 Week Ago   #14
time gear
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlueZero4 View Post
Right now, slopes downward are not super useful because of current friction physics. That's fine, we've established this.

But slopes upward are interesting because they give all characters height. A good running jump from an upward slope goes a long way toward giving you height and distance.

If stage design moves to be more momentum-based, with larger jumps made possible by upward slopes, I think that the height from the slopes would comparatively scale down some of the benefits of glide/climb and flying. The current ability design spread might be better fixed by level design changes, rather than ability changes.

In other words, the design thought "give lowjump characters more height" is part of "fast mario" level design paradigms.
I feel like you are on the right track here, but while upward slopes do hold most of the individual potential, it's when you combine the two types of slopes that I feel SRB2 really has the chance to shine. Sections such as the ramp in GFZ2 come the closest in the entire game to capturing the essence of what makes the classic 2D games so addicting, and reminds me a lot of that one section in Green Hill where you launch up super high and collect a bunch of rings, with a chance to bounce off a buzz bomber to collect a few more.

Perhaps a combination of the downhill and uphill mentalities could work within SRB2's level design. Keeping the overall philosophy of climbing the mountain, but making occasional use of downward slopes leading down to ramps to get the height necessary to advance, with more skillful players being capable of maintaining their speed for extended periods of time through careful maneuvering and the occasional badnik/monitor bounce.

What might compliment that kind of level design would be a design change on the thok in which using it from a standstill only brings you up to normal max running speed, but if you somehow manage to get moving faster the thok matches your current speed. This would make the thok more clearly a momentum redirection tool, mostly get rid of thok spamming since it wouldn't make you go any faster than you already are once you are already moving, and in theory might actually be better for both newcomers and seasoned veterans. Newcomers would be less inclined to thok off cliffs into bottomless pits since the speed boost from a standstill would be minimal, but veterans using it for badnik bouncing might actually get a boost in practicality once they get the hang of it due to being able to launch Sonic even further than before with enough setup.
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