Disclaimer: The views in this piece may not reflect the views of TSS or other writers on the staff team. The intention of The Spin is to promote debate and discussion of an issue or something that’s happening in the fandom or the world of Sonic.
So the last time I did an instalment of the Spin, one user got so angry he wrote 4 whole lines of abuse on Tumblr, but panicked and deleted the post after it was pointed out that what he wrote and accused me of wasn’t exactly what I had said at all, and instead just wrote a whole 1 line about why he now doesn’t like the site… ok then. In fact one or two people got angry at the notion that I dared to suggest that people should not rush out and pre-order stuff when you know nothing about the product and how people shouldn’t be just saying “Whoa good on Sega for delaying a game!” and ask “Exactly why has it been delayed? Show us what’s wrong with it so we can see your improvements.”
So today, we’re all going to do a Big the Cat, we’re going to relax. We’re going to chill, we’re going to talk about language, and specifically, how we describe/talk about Sonic games.
I’d like to quote for you a number of things which I’ve read both recently and in the past over a number of different forums, odds are visit any site which has an active Sonic discussion and it won’t take you very long to read something like it, to save embarrassment I’m not going to directly link to these, but really do you need that? Odds are you’ve seen stuff like this from time to time, in fact just visit the Sega forums or GameFAQ’s forums, odds are you’ll find something very similar.
I want a new Sonic game which takes the adventure formula, polishes it, brings back crush 40 and adds exploration elements!
I want a Sonic game which just focuses on Sonic, Tails and Knuckles! It’s gotta be linear with multiple paths and mustn’t have puzzles!
I want a game which takes the adventure formula and builds on it!
And just for fun one more
I want a Sonic game which brings back the edge! Sonic must be edgy again! That’s why he was popular in the 90’s! When I first played Sonic it wasn’t like Mario! That’s why I like Sonic
Incidentally, that last guy was born in 2001…. Do the age math.
Anyway, am I the only one, who doesn’t really understand what all those people want? Would I be completely wrong in saying ‘I bet you don’t even understand what you want?’
Despite what many people think, when it comes to describing videogames, there is no universally agreed terminology or language structure. I’m sure you’ve all heard terms like polish, mechanics, flow, linear, open world, sandbox etc etc right? Well… around 20 years ago, two developers whose name escapes me right now, noticed that there was no language to describe game development so they tried to apply some terms and phrases to try and help communicate what it was that they did in order to aid development.
But these terms were never formally recognised and they never have been.
Think of it this way.
I can remember first playing Sonic 1, getting to Robotnik and saying out loud “Oh it’s the boss!” but before that, I don’t remember playing games which specifically used the word ‘boss’ to describe an end of level boss, I never collected magazines at this time which said ‘boss’ but I still called it that. Why?
Well, odds are it was because from other media, such as comics, cartoons and other TV shows, boss was a word used to describe the man in charge, or in the cases of comics and cartoons, a big foreboding person who was powerful and in charge. So it made sense to call it a boss, and to this day we call these fights ‘boss battles.’ But is that right? Are they really a strict definition of what a boss actually is? Think of a game like Dark Souls or Bloodborne where the boss fights are giant monsters, demons or other hunters like the player.
If we look at the definition of what a boss is, no it’s not right, but in gaming culture, it’s absolutely right!
In case you’ve not realised it yet. What we do when it comes to describing games and the culture is to take pre-existing words and try to apply them to the world of games. Polish, mechanics, flow etc, are all pre-existing words with pre-existing definitions, we’ve taken them because it best helps to describe the structure of a computer game, but because these words have all these pre-existing definitions, the interpretation of them can often be twisted or changed based on a persons own baggage or use of language.
Now over the last 20 or so years, both gamers and developers have used these words and built up some kind of understanding, for instance, when we say ‘this game has good flow and pace’ we all sorta understand that it means that the game seems to run or move along at a pace which doesn’t mean that the player becomes bored, but even then we can go deeper with that analysis, is it because the player is going through sections where nothing is happening? Or is there too much happening and it’s becoming dull? Or is the inaction not as engaging as it was previously?
But that said, there is still no defined universally agreed definitions for such terms. There’s a really close to home example here, in the last instalment of The Spin, I talked about the use of the word polish and how it was a term used to mainly describe aesthetics, well some people said “No I use it for bug fixing,” now from my experience and even from making my own games, I would never use the word polish to describe bug fixing, I would call it exactly that, bug fixing, or bug hunting, never polish, but some people do.
Nothing wrong with that, we’re just using the same word which has no defined or agreed term to describe problems with a game that need correcting.
Now lets chat about Sonic, and everyone’s favourite subject, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice. Something I have seen fans say about Fire & Ice and even the developers is the following line.
There is a lot less exploration than the last game.
What does that say to you? Think about it, exactly what do you mean about exploration when you hear that? Now try to contextualise it in a Sonic game, are you thinking about something like Unleashed and finding those sun and moon medals? Are you thinking Classic Sonic eras with hidden items in walls? Or going down seemingly dead end paths which offer the player a reward with items (think that Marble Zone wall with the extra life and rings)?
There’s quite a difference with both those.
I ask you to think about that because this is a quote from the original Sonic Boom Fire & Ice announcement.
The new title also delivers gameplay that enables players to run through the game at top speed, or take their time with deeper exploration and puzzle play.
Does this mean that exploration is optional? That it’s like Sonic 1 in which you are only penalised by lack of lives or point rewards? Or that it’s like more recent games in which you have to explore in order to either progress or get some kind of final unlock?
See the issue. The word exploration can be taken to mean a multitude of things when it comes to Sonic. If we think about the original Green Hill Zone, there is exploration to be had in that, we can take different paths which offer different experiences, but all roads eventually lead to the goal.
However, if we look at exploration in more recent games, it means going out of our way to find objects and other things to unlock stuff, some may argue that this should be called ‘collecting’ but since a lot of the time these collectables are hidden away or placed in these hidden areas, we can also apply the term exploration here too.
Sometimes, these exploration segments are required to progress, other times it’s to unlock key items or rewards, the exploration is not a natural curiosity, but a forced mechanic devised on the player.
Then we have games like Sonic 3 & Knuckles or Sonic 2 & Knuckles, games which reward player for exploring with unique character abilities, for instance, I can’t climb this wall with Sonic or Tails, but with Knuckles I can, there’s an extra life up here. Also, I can’t jump or glide over to that platform, but as Tails I can, there’s another reward here.
So in this instance, one word can mean a multitude of different possibilities, some reward for natural curious gameplay, a forced mechanic required for progression, or a device for rewarding unique play styles.
As a fandom, we don’t have an agreed definition as to what ‘exploring’ means, then when a game comes out which offers ‘exploring’ depending on the level and complexity of that, it can often backlash for the majority because it’s different/not what they wanted or expected.
The description also mentions puzzles, puzzles are another thing which we can’t seem to agree on. Everyone remembers that puzzle in Sonic 4 Episode 1, mainly because of how awful it was to do, nobody wants that back, and if you do… why? Same with Silver and his balls, but even some of the classics had some stuff which you could argue required you to think, remember those segments where you endlessly fell and had to jump off at the right spot? Not the most advanced thing, but it existed.
Then the Adventure games came and we had a lot of puzzle elements, ranging from a door password, to navigating a maze like area.
Now we have, swap out a character to use a special ability to push a switch then switch back to another character to run through the door.
What do we want or expect when we talk or hear about puzzles? There’s a lot here which can apply.
That Adventure Style Thing
If you’ve been on any Sonic forum, odds are you’ve seen this said in some way.
The adventure formula.
I have what I think is a reasonable question… Do we actually all agree as to what it means? Please don’t go to a random Facebook campaign group and quote what the group admin thinks it means, what does it actually mean to everybody?
This phrase is often used to describe the Dreamcast Sonic games, but which ones? Let’s be honest here, on the surface, Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 are really different, you have to get to really deep levels of analysis before you notice that they’re similar. So what are we talking about?
Even if we take away the most basic aspects of how Sonic in Sonic Adventure works, we can easily argue that up until around Sonic Generations, this hasn’t really changed or gone anywhere, lets be real here, Sonic 06 attempted to be some kind of glorious mess of an SA remake, we’ve got Wales, we’ve got Egg Carriers, we’ve got all this other stuff from SA which people had been asking for a return to… just one problem, the game is a tragic mess.
So wait, that doesn’t count? …Urm… well, actually.
Some people will argue tooth and nail that Sonic 06 isn’t using the SA formula, even though when you look at something as basic as ‘how do I play this/how does it work’ it’s very similar in some areas, and the same in the others. But because it lacks a chao garden and is terrible, and it is terrible, if you think it isn’t you’re wrong, yes you are, it therefore according to many doesn’t count because it lacks these added features which both the original SA’s had. How many times do you have to say that before it sounds a little silly?
So what exactly does ‘Adventure formula’ mean if we’re happy to apply it to SA 1 and SA 2, but not fine with applying it to Sonic 06? I’ve seen some say ‘well it has no chao’ urm… what? That has nothing to do with the core gameplay, that is an extra mode which some don’t bother with which has nothing to do with what makes the SA games somewhere between good and great games.
Lets think back to one of the original quotes.
I want a game which takes the adventure formula and builds on it!
But they’ve done that, they’ve been doing that for the best part of 10 years. Even Sonic Heroes which started off life as SA 3 still has elements of what the basics of SA is, however when we move onto Sonic 06, whilst it’s a complete mess of a title, how is that not taking the adventure formula and trying to do something else with it?
Unleashed and Generations. Pretend your boost button is broken, same question, however here we have gameplay and level design which means that the gameplay requires the use of the boost button, so whilst we’re still building on the SA era gameplay and methodology, we have built upon it in some radical way.
Yet still people say ‘we should go back to the adventure formula’ or ‘we should build on it’ or ‘we should polish it’ but… we have been? Right? I mean, that camera for one thing is so much better these days than it used to be, we have levels which get bigger in scale which still try to push hardware. Or is what we’re really asking for is ‘we want a game ‘exactly’ like one of the first Adventure games?’
Dark & Edgy Kids
At some point, someone decided that Sonic should be dark, then at some point after that, someone decided Sonic should be edgy, and at some point, some people started using that to describe what games should be like.
What happened here?
I think again it goes back to Sonic Adventure and to another point Sonic Adventure 2, for years we had games which were basically the bad guy did something bad and then he started to… … … you know what… no, let’s talk about this in another instalment of The Spin.
In this section, I want to write here about how some fans often use the words’ dark and edgy’ to somehow describe games, yet whilst on the one hand some fans are saying SA 2 is a dark game, then a few months later out comes Silent Hill 2. But I think there’s a more interesting discussion to that, so let’s park that for now and go back to our big blue hedgehog chasing a giant Eggman as flowers bounce around him which totally isn’t a kids game.
As for the edge, we can laugh about the use of that word in another instalment. For now enjoy this related video.
I think I’m going to leave it there for now, not a huge in-depth look at language, but a starting point. What about the rest of you, ever seen someone describe a Sonic game or even Sega themselves describe how a game should be and then it’s nothing like how you interpret that?
Also feel free to vote on the next subject that I should talk about, again this doesn’t set the next one in stone, just gives me an idea where to go with these.