A Thesis on Sonic Level Design and How It Relates to SRB2

The Real Inferno

Blazing Fan
So, I'd assume many of you have played the original classic Sonic games, considering most of you are fans of SRB2. Now, would you generally say that the level design from Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 is ok at worst, and great at best? I'm here today to examine the level design philosophies of these 4 games, show their failures, their strengths, how S3&K ties it back together, and how SRB2 2.2 evolved on the level design of the classics to evolve and work in 3D.

Now, I'd like to establish 3 core principles and an overarching principle that doesn't really fall into these 3:
- Speed, how fast you can go.
- Exploration, how many paths and secrets there are.
- Platforming, how much platforming there is.
All of these come together to impact one major principle:
Flow: How often your ability to get to higher speeds is disrupted.

Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic CD each prioritized one of the 3 core principles to an extent that it hampered the other 2, and disrupted flow in some sense as a result. This is what I'll first cover.

Sonic 1: When Platforming Goes Wrong
Sonic 1 was the first game in the entire franchise, and with it going through so many iterations before it finally had it's final vision, it obviously will be unpolished in some areas. One of these is level design.

Most can agree that the level design of Green Hill in Sonic 1 is good, but then a lot of people complain about the major emphasis on platforming in Marble and Labyrinth Zone. Marble and Labyrinth aren't generally fast, and, of course, with Sonic 1 being Sonic 1, there aren't many branching paths in any zone in Sonic 1, so Marble and Labyrinth become mostly linear platforming puzzles in a game meant to encourage mastering the levels:

"I like fast things and I thought that it would be nice to create a game where the more skilled you become, the faster you can complete a stage. Games back then had no backup or saving system, which meant that you had to play right from the beginning every time...As a result, the very first stage would be played time and time again, making the player very skilled at it. So we thought it would be nice if this would enable the player to complete those stages faster and that's the basis of Sonic's speed. We also thought this feature would help differentiate Sonic from Mario." - Yuji Naka.

This led to many complaints about these two zones, in particular, being a slog to get through, which are complaints that still persist to this day. This is what happens when you put platforming so forefront in the Classic Sonic games.

Sonic 2: Going Too Far in the Opposite Direction
Clearly, they tried to listen to the criticisms of Sonic 1, because Sonic 2 goes the other direction, and not in a good way. Sonic 2 tends to focus a LOT more on speed, with Chemical Plant being a good example. As a result, they tended to slip up and place a lot of enemies in places where you could easily get hit, which doesn't help with how you're supposed to get to the Special Stages in Sonic 2. A lot of people point to Metropolis for this, but it occurs as early as Emerald Hill 2, with a ledge that leads straight into a tree with a Coconuts in it. Oh, and it's singular death pit.

On top of that, you also have stages like Metropolis, where any chance for speed is disrupted by enemy placement being horrible. I feel like the placement of enemies in S2 might have been effected by the fact that S2 seems to focus more on speed. On top of this, there's still not many paths to go down in S2, though some more have popped up, thankfully enough.

Sonic CD: When Time Travelling destroys Level Design
Tell me, how much do you have to explore in Sonic CD to even stand a chance at the good ending? How often are you able to maintain any speed you earn? Sonic CD places a LOT of emphasis on exploration, and platforming and speed, and as a result, flow, take a hit as well. The only times you can really go at any decent speed is when Sonic CD wants you to, and as a result, there is basically no flow in Sonic CD. This goes against the very original foundation for the classic games. This goes back to the time travelling gimmick requiring you to gain speed.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Tying It All Together
S3&K does a generally good job on balancing all 3 of these, and as a result, often having at least some sort of flow active, though S3&K isn't perfect (looks at Sandopolis Act 2). For an example of how it ties them together, let's just look at Angel Island 2. There's some speedy segments, such as with the ziplines, the rolltubes, and the double loops leading into the ramp right before the big waterfall. However, it also has quite a bit of platforming. For example, it's almost required on Sonic's path to jump between disappearing platforms, and there's a lot of platforming in general as well, which also ties into exploration. Did you know that in AIZ2 alone, there's an extra life right above the collapsing bridges after the first rolltube, at least 2 paths at all times, and more? And that's just the 2nd act of the game! It gets more complex whilst maintaining the same level design standards. Whilst S3 does have some instances of crappy enemy placement, they aren't as prevelant as S2. Flow is decently strong in S3, as even with some of the platforming, you can get right back up to speed in most cases...

SRB2's Place in All This
SRB2 seemed to have taken after S3 quite a bit, at least by the time of 2.2. These acts are MASSIVE, and have a lot hidden in them, and they STILL balance it out with speed and platforming in many cases. For example, even with CEZ2 being VERY large, there's still plenty of platforming and potential speed areas. Now... there is one issue with this. Sonic's not really able to go all that fast without the Thok, and the rest of the cast either can only go above 36 FU/T with an ability combo or just not at all. Now, this is why momentum is an important factor. With a friction code rework, a game that is somewhat lopsided in terms of level design principles can shift back towards full harmony, and therefore improving on flow. However, SRB2 DOES have some potential speed areas that establish a better balance. The GFZ2 slope, the CEZ1 collapsing bridge, the ACZ1 downwards slope headed towards the minecarts, and some more. And SRB2, overall, does do a good job with what it has, even with some flaws... (ERZ not counting due to being outdated)
 

time gear

Eternity in an hour
This is rather well put together, though it feels a tad incomplete. SRB2's influences/inspiration extend beyond the 2D games, and it's worth pointing out how slopes are used in the original trilogy to gain and maintain speed. I've done so before in other topics, but it seems appropriate to do so again here.

There's generally two main pathways through each level in the original trilogy; The upper, faster path and the lower, slower path. How you progress through the level is largely dependent on two factors: Skill and mood. With skill and memorization of the level layout, you are rewarded with the opportunity to make use of slopes to gain and maintain speed over long periods of time. This allows you to reach the finish of the level more quickly. However, if you are less skilled, or simply just feel like taking your time and exploring, you will find yourself on the lower path. Here, you find yourself having to deal with more enemies, but you also find more hidden goodies that reward your exploration.

This sort of design mentality has a natural inclination towards downhill level design. This allows there to be many downward slopes for the player to make use of to spin and maintain their speed/momentum. However, this is not without risk, and screwing up will often place you onto the lower, slower path on which it's much harder to maintain your speed. Speed is something that is earned both initially and through constant careful maintaining through memorization and timing.

SRB2 however has a design mentality that leads much more towards uphill level design. With a lack of much ability presently to gain speed through downhill momentum and then maintain that speed, this makes sense. Mobility is achieved not through speed, but through character movesets such as Tails and Knuckles who have ways of forcing themselves upwards. However, there is potential in the future for this to change. A more classic style momentum system being implemented presents the opportunity for more classic style level design.

The question then becomes one of implementation. SRB2 is not primarily a 2D game, and although the Adventure series made it's attempt, none of the 3D games make use of the same momentum based gameplay style the 2D classics had. Classic style upper and lower pathways may or may not even be feasible in 3D. Even if it were, 3D is far less limited as in 3D pathways can twist and turn and converge and deviate in ways that simply aren't possible in 2D. SRB2 could be in the unfortunate position of having to pioneer innovation into new level design territory as of yet unexplored by the official series should it choose to take this path.
 
So, I'd assume many of you have played the original classic Sonic games, considering most of you are fans of SRB2. Now, would you generally say that the level design from Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 is ok at worst, and great at best? I'm here today to examine the level design philosophies of these 4 games, show their failures, their strengths, how S3&K ties it back together, and how SRB2 2.2 evolved on the level design of the classics to evolve and work in 3D.

Now, I'd like to establish 3 core principles and an overarching principle that doesn't really fall into these 3:
- Speed, how fast you can go.
- Exploration, how many paths and secrets there are.
- Platforming, how much platforming there is.
All of these come together to impact one major principle:
Flow: How often your ability to get to higher speeds is disrupted.

Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic CD each prioritized one of the 3 core principles to an extent that it hampered the other 2, and disrupted flow in some sense as a result. This is what I'll first cover.

Sonic 1: When Platforming Goes Wrong
Sonic 1 was the first game in the entire franchise, and with it going through so many iterations before it finally had it's final vision, it obviously will be unpolished in some areas. One of these is level design.

Most can agree that the level design of Green Hill in Sonic 1 is good, but then a lot of people complain about the major emphasis on platforming in Marble and Labyrinth Zone. Marble and Labyrinth aren't generally fast, and, of course, with Sonic 1 being Sonic 1, there aren't many branching paths in any zone in Sonic 1, so Marble and Labyrinth become mostly linear platforming puzzles in a game meant to encourage mastering the levels:

"I like fast things and I thought that it would be nice to create a game where the more skilled you become, the faster you can complete a stage. Games back then had no backup or saving system, which meant that you had to play right from the beginning every time...As a result, the very first stage would be played time and time again, making the player very skilled at it. So we thought it would be nice if this would enable the player to complete those stages faster and that's the basis of Sonic's speed. We also thought this feature would help differentiate Sonic from Mario." - Yuji Naka.

This led to many complaints about these two zones, in particular, being a slog to get through, which are complaints that still persist to this day. This is what happens when you put platforming so forefront in the Classic Sonic games.

Sonic 2: Going Too Far in the Opposite Direction
Clearly, they tried to listen to the criticisms of Sonic 1, because Sonic 2 goes the other direction, and not in a good way. Sonic 2 tends to focus a LOT more on speed, with Chemical Plant being a good example. As a result, they tended to slip up and place a lot of enemies in places where you could easily get hit, which doesn't help with how you're supposed to get to the Special Stages in Sonic 2. A lot of people point to Metropolis for this, but it occurs as early as Emerald Hill 2, with a ledge that leads straight into a tree with a Coconuts in it. Oh, and it's singular death pit.

On top of that, you also have stages like Metropolis, where any chance for speed is disrupted by enemy placement being horrible. I feel like the placement of enemies in S2 might have been effected by the fact that S2 seems to focus more on speed. On top of this, there's still not many paths to go down in S2, though some more have popped up, thankfully enough.

Sonic CD: When Time Travelling destroys Level Design
Tell me, how much do you have to explore in Sonic CD to even stand a chance at the good ending? How often are you able to maintain any speed you earn? Sonic CD places a LOT of emphasis on exploration, and platforming and speed, and as a result, flow, take a hit as well. The only times you can really go at any decent speed is when Sonic CD wants you to, and as a result, there is basically no flow in Sonic CD. This goes against the very original foundation for the classic games. This goes back to the time travelling gimmick requiring you to gain speed.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Tying It All Together
S3&K does a generally good job on balancing all 3 of these, and as a result, often having at least some sort of flow active, though S3&K isn't perfect (looks at Sandopolis Act 2). For an example of how it ties them together, let's just look at Angel Island 2. There's some speedy segments, such as with the ziplines, the rolltubes, and the double loops leading into the ramp right before the big waterfall. However, it also has quite a bit of platforming. For example, it's almost required on Sonic's path to jump between disappearing platforms, and there's a lot of platforming in general as well, which also ties into exploration. Did you know that in AIZ2 alone, there's an extra life right above the collapsing bridges after the first rolltube, at least 2 paths at all times, and more? And that's just the 2nd act of the game! It gets more complex whilst maintaining the same level design standards. Whilst S3 does have some instances of crappy enemy placement, they aren't as prevelant as S2. Flow is decently strong in S3, as even with some of the platforming, you can get right back up to speed in most cases...

SRB2's Place in All This
SRB2 seemed to have taken after S3 quite a bit, at least by the time of 2.2. These acts are MASSIVE, and have a lot hidden in them, and they STILL balance it out with speed and platforming in many cases. For example, even with CEZ2 being VERY large, there's still plenty of platforming and potential speed areas. Now... there is one issue with this. Sonic's not really able to go all that fast without the Thok, and the rest of the cast either can only go above 36 FU/T with an ability combo or just not at all. Now, this is why momentum is an important factor. With a friction code rework, a game that is somewhat lopsided in terms of level design principles can shift back towards full harmony, and therefore improving on flow. However, SRB2 DOES have some potential speed areas that establish a better balance. The GFZ2 slope, the CEZ1 collapsing bridge, the ACZ1 downwards slope headed towards the minecarts, and some more. And SRB2, overall, does do a good job with what it has, even with some flaws... (ERZ not counting due to being outdated)

I don't like this idea of sonic not being good if he's not going fast, but i'm also too lazy to write a proper answer.

So just know that i don't agree at all
 

The Real Inferno

Blazing Fan
I don't like this idea of sonic not being good if he's not going fast, but i'm also too lazy to write a proper answer.

So just know that i don't agree at all
I outright say in the thesis that Sonic 2 suffered from going too fast.

Sonic's good when you can maintain speed if you are good enough, not when you are just given speed.
 
I outright say in the thesis that Sonic 2 suffered from going too fast.

Sonic's good when you can maintain speed if you are good enough, not when you are just given speed.
ok, ok, mb
i meant to say i don't think it should be "speed centric"
Post automatically merged:

like, speed is an important element that should be present, but not the most important thing
 

time gear

Eternity in an hour
ok, ok, mb
i meant to say i don't think it should be "speed centric"
like, speed is an important element that should be present, but not the most important thing
My general philosophy on the matter is that in Sonic games the player should be given the opportunity to go fast if they have the skill to obtain it to begin with, but shouldn't be forced to go fast. Quite the opposite, actually. The level design should fight against the player to slow them down, but reward them with speed for overcoming it.

However, should a player choose to go slow, or mess up and end up on a slower route, there should also be lots of hidden goodies for them to find. Some in plain sight, but others actually fairly well hidden so as to encourage slowing down and exploring. This could be things like shield monitors, ring monitors, 1-up monitors, or even emblems.

This way, regardless of whether the player chooses a playstyle of going fast or slow, the level design accommodates it with suitable rewards. Hidden prizes for the slower players, and faster goal times for the speedier types. There's a little bit of something for everyone.
 

The Real Inferno

Blazing Fan
My general philosophy on the matter is that in Sonic games the player should be given the opportunity to go fast if they have the skill to obtain it to begin with, but shouldn't be forced to go fast. Quite the opposite, actually. The level design should fight against the player to slow them down, but reward them with speed for overcoming it.

However, should a player choose to go slow, or mess up and end up on a slower route, there should also be lots of hidden goodies for them to find. Some in plain sight, but others actually fairly well hidden so as to encourage slowing down and exploring. This could be things like shield monitors, ring monitors, 1-up monitors, or even emblems.

This way, regardless of whether the player chooses a playstyle of going fast or slow, the level design accommodates it with suitable rewards. Hidden prizes for the slower players, and faster goal times for the speedier types. There's a little bit of something for everyone.
THIS is what I'm thinking of. Level design should allow players to go fast if they can obtain it, but shouldn't be forced, and there should be plenty of goodies.
 
My general philosophy on the matter is that in Sonic games the player should be given the opportunity to go fast if they have the skill to obtain it to begin with, but shouldn't be forced to go fast. Quite the opposite, actually. The level design should fight against the player to slow them down, but reward them with speed for overcoming it.

However, should a player choose to go slow, or mess up and end up on a slower route, there should also be lots of hidden goodies for them to find. Some in plain sight, but others actually fairly well hidden so as to encourage slowing down and exploring. This could be things like shield monitors, ring monitors, 1-up monitors, or even emblems.

This way, regardless of whether the player chooses a playstyle of going fast or slow, the level design accommodates it with suitable rewards. Hidden prizes for the slower players, and faster goal times for the speedier types. There's a little bit of something for everyone.
yeah that sounds about right, kinda like metroid
 

Linlam

That's cool and all but u should watch Evangelion
So, I'd assume many of you have played the original classic Sonic games, considering most of you are fans of SRB2. Now, would you generally say that the level design from Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 is ok at worst, and great at best? I'm here today to examine the level design philosophies of these 4 games, show their failures, their strengths, how S3&K ties it back together, and how SRB2 2.2 evolved on the level design of the classics to evolve and work in 3D.

Now, I'd like to establish 3 core principles and an overarching principle that doesn't really fall into these 3:
- Speed, how fast you can go.
- Exploration, how many paths and secrets there are.
- Platforming, how much platforming there is.
All of these come together to impact one major principle:
Flow: How often your ability to get to higher speeds is disrupted.

Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic CD each prioritized one of the 3 core principles to an extent that it hampered the other 2, and disrupted flow in some sense as a result. This is what I'll first cover.

Sonic 1: When Platforming Goes Wrong
Sonic 1 was the first game in the entire franchise, and with it going through so many iterations before it finally had it's final vision, it obviously will be unpolished in some areas. One of these is level design.

Most can agree that the level design of Green Hill in Sonic 1 is good, but then a lot of people complain about the major emphasis on platforming in Marble and Labyrinth Zone. Marble and Labyrinth aren't generally fast, and, of course, with Sonic 1 being Sonic 1, there aren't many branching paths in any zone in Sonic 1, so Marble and Labyrinth become mostly linear platforming puzzles in a game meant to encourage mastering the levels:

"I like fast things and I thought that it would be nice to create a game where the more skilled you become, the faster you can complete a stage. Games back then had no backup or saving system, which meant that you had to play right from the beginning every time...As a result, the very first stage would be played time and time again, making the player very skilled at it. So we thought it would be nice if this would enable the player to complete those stages faster and that's the basis of Sonic's speed. We also thought this feature would help differentiate Sonic from Mario." - Yuji Naka.

This led to many complaints about these two zones, in particular, being a slog to get through, which are complaints that still persist to this day. This is what happens when you put platforming so forefront in the Classic Sonic games.

Sonic 2: Going Too Far in the Opposite Direction
Clearly, they tried to listen to the criticisms of Sonic 1, because Sonic 2 goes the other direction, and not in a good way. Sonic 2 tends to focus a LOT more on speed, with Chemical Plant being a good example. As a result, they tended to slip up and place a lot of enemies in places where you could easily get hit, which doesn't help with how you're supposed to get to the Special Stages in Sonic 2. A lot of people point to Metropolis for this, but it occurs as early as Emerald Hill 2, with a ledge that leads straight into a tree with a Coconuts in it. Oh, and it's singular death pit.

On top of that, you also have stages like Metropolis, where any chance for speed is disrupted by enemy placement being horrible. I feel like the placement of enemies in S2 might have been effected by the fact that S2 seems to focus more on speed. On top of this, there's still not many paths to go down in S2, though some more have popped up, thankfully enough.

Sonic CD: When Time Travelling destroys Level Design
Tell me, how much do you have to explore in Sonic CD to even stand a chance at the good ending? How often are you able to maintain any speed you earn? Sonic CD places a LOT of emphasis on exploration, and platforming and speed, and as a result, flow, take a hit as well. The only times you can really go at any decent speed is when Sonic CD wants you to, and as a result, there is basically no flow in Sonic CD. This goes against the very original foundation for the classic games. This goes back to the time travelling gimmick requiring you to gain speed.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Tying It All Together
S3&K does a generally good job on balancing all 3 of these, and as a result, often having at least some sort of flow active, though S3&K isn't perfect (looks at Sandopolis Act 2). For an example of how it ties them together, let's just look at Angel Island 2. There's some speedy segments, such as with the ziplines, the rolltubes, and the double loops leading into the ramp right before the big waterfall. However, it also has quite a bit of platforming. For example, it's almost required on Sonic's path to jump between disappearing platforms, and there's a lot of platforming in general as well, which also ties into exploration. Did you know that in AIZ2 alone, there's an extra life right above the collapsing bridges after the first rolltube, at least 2 paths at all times, and more? And that's just the 2nd act of the game! It gets more complex whilst maintaining the same level design standards. Whilst S3 does have some instances of crappy enemy placement, they aren't as prevelant as S2. Flow is decently strong in S3, as even with some of the platforming, you can get right back up to speed in most cases...

SRB2's Place in All This
SRB2 seemed to have taken after S3 quite a bit, at least by the time of 2.2. These acts are MASSIVE, and have a lot hidden in them, and they STILL balance it out with speed and platforming in many cases. For example, even with CEZ2 being VERY large, there's still plenty of platforming and potential speed areas. Now... there is one issue with this. Sonic's not really able to go all that fast without the Thok, and the rest of the cast either can only go above 36 FU/T with an ability combo or just not at all. Now, this is why momentum is an important factor. With a friction code rework, a game that is somewhat lopsided in terms of level design principles can shift back towards full harmony, and therefore improving on flow. However, SRB2 DOES have some potential speed areas that establish a better balance. The GFZ2 slope, the CEZ1 collapsing bridge, the ACZ1 downwards slope headed towards the minecarts, and some more. And SRB2, overall, does do a good job with what it has, even with some flaws... (ERZ not counting due to being outdated)
That's an incredible analysis of the classic formula, It's so exciting to see the community studying the games and seeing what works and what doesn't.

I think the only part I disagree a little bit is about Sonic CD. Now, Sonic CD is one of favovites, I am really biased. I also played it a lot, so I know how to get through the stages. Having said that, I think first we need to clarify what "the game wants you to go fast" means. I've recently replayed S3&K and Sonic 2, the only times where I was going really fast were where the game wanted me to go that way. Sonic 2 specially has a lot of these max speed sections, just as you said. Sonic CD doesn't have these parts, the only instance where Sonic CD wants you to go fast are in the time travel sections, but these are pretty boring and uncreative compared to the speed sections in Sonic 2 and S3&K (they're boring and uncreative even on their own). Now, it's still possible to go fast with Sonic's normal speed. I'll admit that it's way harder than in Sonic 2 and S3&K, but it's an improvement if you compare Sonic CD with Sonic 1.

I understand that this is coming from someone who is very familiar with the level design and enemy placement, but I think Sonic CD is an unpolished version of what Yuji Naka said when talking about the player's skill level. I wouldn't say the time travel destroys the level design, it could have been better, but it's not the worst thing (except for Wacky Workbench, that thing is hell).
 
Last edited:

Icarus

Phantasy Savior
The whole "gotta go fast" thing was from the marketing to promote the Genesis' Blast Processing.

Ironically Super Mario Bros 1 was faster than Sonic 1, Super Mario Bros 3 had a P-meter that was being filled by speed and even Mario World had some speed-focused stages and area.

Speed is a normal component in most platformer, Sonic is the first one to bring the focus on momentum as well.
 
all i gotta say is:
don't fall for the "gotta go faesst" meme
don't listen to people who go "speed this, speed that, speed speed speedy speedy speed"
alright? calm down, play game, have fun
 

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