SRB2's atmospheric design?

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My work is never done yet
I understand that how SRB2's levels feel as places isn't a huge factor in their design, especially compared to how they play as challenges, but I think it'd be interesting to discuss nonetheless. By 'atmosphere' here, I mean what kind of general mood or emotions these levels evoke, and what kind of semi-unconsious awareness of their structure you have when playing them. Gimmicks and stage layout can definitely be important here, especially the general pace of movement throughout the level, but things like music, textures, scenery, and the like are also significant. Which SRB2 stages have a strong atmospheric sense for you? Which ones should? Which have an appropriate mood, and which could stand to be improved?

My thoughts:
Greenflower doesn't really leave much of an impact on the player in any department. It serves its purpose as a tutorial level just fine, but in terms of visuals it's more or less like any other Sonic starting zone, and its stage design doesn't have much in the way of interesting features. It might be nice to set this level in something other than broad daylight, introduce more unique flora and Thing-based scenery, and/or give the various rock textures a more interesting geometrical pattern and a less bland shade of brown to spruce things up a bit.

Techno Hill certainly delivers atmospherically more than it did in 2.0.6, but it could still use a bit of improvement. Act 1 conveys the ruined landscape vibe pretty well in visual terms, but the music honestly fits the factory section at the end more than the level as a whole IMO. If Blue Warrior is reading this, I would suggest that (s)he consider slowing down THZ1's track and switching up the instruments a bit to give it a more 'polluted' feel when (s)he remixes it. Act 2 has a very consistent theme in all aspects of its design, but it isn't all that visually engaging. To be fair, though, it's probably about as pretty as a primarily gray robot factory can be, so I suppose it's fine the way it is overall.

Deep Sea has a lot of potential, I'll give it that, but the execution is hit-or-miss. The music really gets across how expansive and mysterious these ruins are, with Act 2 picking up the pace a bit just like it should, but a lot of the rooms are pretty blandly textured, as many have pointed out before. Act 1 probably suffers from this more than Act 2, but the complaint applies to both nonetheless. This probably isn't high on STJr's priority list, but a few new textures for this zone would be great, especially ones with more interesting colors and patterns than the endless walls of beige that we have now.

Castle Eggman undoubtedly has a very strong atmopshere, but maybe it's a little too strong for the level it occupies. Everything from the dark forest to the dungeon to the library gives off a vibe of gloom and oppression, and you can really feel the looming castle's presence no matter your distance from it. This can wear on the player after a little while, though, and IMO it's part of what causes a lot of people to complain about CEZ2's length. This zone feels considerably longer than it is because of how restrictive it is to the player mood-wise, and the often-slow pace of the stages themselves doesn't exactly help. My advice on how to fix this: Trim CEZ's fat and limit the amount of time the player spends inside the castle in Act 2. That's about all that can really be done.

Arid Canyon may just be my favorite zone in the game when it comes to atmosphere. The texture set and range of environments are just diverse enough to hold the player's interest and just consistent and almost-harmonious enough to make the desert feel like it stretches on forever--in a good way, of course. The level's pace almost perfectly matches that of the music, and nothing really strikes me as disrupting or out-of-place. I especially like the occasional depressions in the rock that you won't realize are dried-up riverbeds until you stop to think about it. Nice job, STJr, nice job.

Red Volcano, like Arid Canyon, has consistency as a strong point, but the kind of atmosphere it creates is not a very unique one. This kind of dark, hellish volcano setting isn't novel in the slightest in the world of video games, and it really shows considering the level's fairly standard repertoire of gimmicks. The most beneficial change I can think of is ramping up the tempo and general energy of the music, transforming RVZ from 'Mario World 8 but in a cave' to at worst something less overdone and at best highly concentrated awesome. It'd fit pretty well with the fast-ish pace of the level itself, too.

Egg Rock--well, everyone loves this place thematically, and so do I in the end. It's just that the repetitive guitar riffs and bombardments of gray just sort of fade into the background after a while, preventing this zone from living up to its full potential. I can't think of any obvious flaws with the atmospheric design, but ERZ just feels like it's missing something to me. I guess the music could use some touching up. (Again, good thing we have Blue Warrior for that.) There might be a little too much Egg and not enough Rock as well, as it's pretty easy for the player to forget that this high-tech space base is built into SRB2's central plot point, i.e. a giant asteroid with cool-looking green energy pulsing through its core. Now that I think about it, new level hazard, anyone?
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I can agree with you on just about everything except for maybe Castle Eggman, as it is my stage, both Acts stand out to me far more than the rest of the game does, even more so than Arid Canyon or Egg Rock. I personally love how they made Castle Eggman Zone Act 2 longer, it was too short before, I feel that it doesn't need to be changed. Castle Eggman Zone Act 1 however, made me a little upset at how it threw a annoying, tedious, and all around stupid section in for Knuckles. I understand that Knuckles can make the game cheap, but you don't have to add a bland tedious climbing section for him in the majority of the stages to fix that. Otherwise, I agree with you completely everywhere else.


Lawful Neutral
There's never a particular mood I feel in these zones, aside from Greenflower and Egg Rock. The vibe I generally get is one about the difficulty- GFZ textures make me think of a really easy level, and when I enter Egg Rock I know I'm getting my ass kicked. It'd really mess with my head if someone made an insanely difficult level with GFZ textures for that reason. (That'd be hilarious)
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