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 when I said in my last article that…
“I’ve seen the footage from SXSW, and the Nintendo Direct, I have a few things to say, mainly on what bugs me about
Sonic Generations 2 Sonic Forces so far.”
I didn’t think that it would take less than 2 weeks before Sega did something that would mean I felt it necessary to actually talk about these things.
Based on what we have been shown from Sonic Forces… I have to say I am growing increasingly concerned.
Some people however like what’s been shown so far and don’t quite get why some people have a problem with it, so, I’m going to try and write this in a way which helps explain the problems without just going ‘you’re wrong! People will see it and die!’ As I’ve seen in some other YouTube video reactions and articles from some other places out there.
The Following Excuses Have Never Been Valid…
“It might be the tutorial stage!”
“It might be an early build!”
“It might change before release”
Imagine for a moment you had an assignment, be it for school, college, university or work. You come to a deadline where you have to show off what it looks like in it’s current stage and you are graded on that, or given money to complete the project. And it’s not very good… Are you likely to get a good grade or the extra budget?
The answer is no, if you think it’s yes, all I can say is that is how Sega and virtually every game developer behaves when another studio pitches for a game. If what they show is good, they get the cash, if it’s bad, the pitch is rejected.
So why should judging a trailer, footage, screenshots for a game be any different?
If you put out a trailer that shows an entire level, that is what we judge on, that is what our expectations are based on, so if what you have shown is bad, those who see it are going to think it’s bad. And if it looks really bad… we’re going to think it looks really bad.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with most of the things wrong with Sonic Forces.
“The Game is Playing Itself Son!”
Sonic 06 is over 10 years old, when Forces comes out it will be over 11 years old. So aside from all the other problems Sonic 06 has, why is it 11 years later we still have issues with auto-motion, huge sections of the stages in which the player has no control over the character, in which we’re just sat there watching stuff happening.
In some games, they have these huge set pieces in which you ‘watch’ something happening, typically they’re some kind of payoff for an action you did, for example, take any first person shooter, odds are there will be a scene in it in which you ‘push a button’ which causes a powerful airstrike… or the entire city to explode… the level then ends… of in some cases, the level starts… it gives you a sense of power right?
This is an issue with a lot of Sonic games and sadly a lot of fans are still buying it, a lot of Sonic games have segments within the actual stages in which the player looses all control to make way for spectacle, typically, this is done by either having Sonic fly around the stage in some way, or instantly travel at maximum speed.
And it’s not fun.
It’s not fun if suddenly you’re no longer playing a platform game, what’s the point, I might as well have watched a let’s play.
It’s even more dull and frustrating when there is utterly no reason for the automation other than either hand holding or complete spectacle…
The following examples are cases of where this is both stupid and evidence of a much wider problem with the level design.
S-Tubes + Boosters = Not Very Good
Before we get into this… here is how I ‘think’ Sonic, well actually, any platforming character that you give a speed or velocity to should behave… this is roughly based on other games in which there is an accelerator on an object (be it a car, runner, plane etc), and how it slows over time and we’ll factor in gravity or friction.
To put this into a very basic explanation for those who do not look at code a lot… this is ‘roughly’ what’s going on… or what should be going on.
Speed = Speed + Acceleration – friction.
So our speed is whatever our current speed is adding acceleration and we subtract friction. So if we remove the acceleration, we gradually slow down until speed is 0.
Now let’s look at rolling down a hill.
Speed = Speed + Acceleration + Gravity – friction.
So our speed increases due to both gravity and acceleration, meaning the speed increases faster, friction is still active, but odds are it cannot overcome the acceleration and gravity values, so we eventually hit top speed.
Sonic Forces however does this differently and in a way which is not fun and artificially gives the impression that you were playing the game well.
For every S-Tube in the stage, Sonic instantly goes to the Max Speed… this value should gradually increase over time due to the ‘rolling down’ mechanic of the tube… but this doesn’t happen because we artificially get boosted to max speed.
The arrow in this image illustrates the moment Sonic automatically enters into a ball and instantly hits top speed… this happens in every S-Tube.
Now this might be forgiven if there was a reason for the player to be at max speed on exit (however I would argue this shouldn’t ever occur), but every S-Tube in this stage has a serious flaw.
Here is how this tube ends.
With a speed booster, look at the timer there, it’s less than 1 second, absolutely no speed should have been lost, if anything, speed should have been gained… so why do we have another speed booster set to max speed?
You might argue “that S-Tube exits towards a vertical loop, you need max speed to make the vertical path.” If that were the case, it’s still poor design as it traps the player forever, but we have the very powerful spindash, so why is that booster there when the player can escape using a basic move from Sonic’s abilities?
For further commentary, sections of Sonic 2 have this same design… only without the artificial boosting, you have to use the spindash to escape if you become trapped, meaning you have to actually play the game.
Is the second S-Tube any different?
The speed loss is so minor you can barely see it in the video, but it’s there, utterly no point for this speed booster other than spectacle and hand holding. The gravity value from the slope is more than enough to compensate. It’s unnecessary design, which is bad.
The final S-Tube? It’s less than half a second after the last one, and guess what.
Artificial boosting, instantly puts you at top speed. Again, utterly no point. But then it gets even more silly.
Less than a second later, another speed booster… What hazard awaits you here? A gentle slope that goes up, to a spring.
In less than 2 seconds you hit 4 instances in which your speed is artificially increased to the max speed. Four. That’s like three, but one higher, all to overcome a gentle slope. This is ridiculous, the speed gained from the S-Tube alone is more than… it’s a gentle slope and they give you 4 max speed boosts? Can someone give me a gameplay reason as to why this is good design?
This is not playing a game, it’s a poor mans spectator sport.
This Spring Is Very Pointless
Once upon a time, I used a spring in a video-game, I used this spring because I needed to get to a higher level, in one occasion I found a spring hidden in a tree which led me to many extra rings.
This was an example of how I could explore a stage, how a spring was a useful device, how it didn’t interrupt the pace of the game unless I chose to do so.
So can someone justify this?
A hidden spring, by a low level ledge… which provides no rewards, which gives you no advantage to use, which doesn’t provide a route to any alternative path, which doesn’t do anything… except ruin the pace of the stage.
You could say it’s to prevent just holding right to win… like that slightly higher ledge just next to the spring… oh… Why is that spring there again?
There are a number which appear to be like this later in the level, so it doesn’t appear to be an accident but a design choice.
Actually, speaking of springs….
Springs Cancel All Horizontal Speed & Momentum
Look at any spring the player hits, Your X speed is completely gone, replaced by Y velocity. Compare it to any spring in the stage, the same thing happens.
The pace ends up being all over the place, it’s completely fractured, especially given the number of springs in the stage. for what appears to be an early level it both doesn’t make sense for the springs to completely cancel momentum like this, nor does it make sense to put so many springs in the same level like this, especially when several don’t appear to do anything.
Automated GamePlay Is Not Very Good
I have chosen this video, because when you listen to the audio clips, you suddenly realise just how bad the spring placement is, just how bad the flow of the stage is broken. Your control over the character is taken from you for automated sections, this includes moments where this should not happen, such as moving up and down slopes and hills.
With the exception of one small bit right at the start of the stage. The player is never allowed to just run or roll down a sloped path, there is always a booster to automate the gameplay. You can never enjoy it or feel like you are playing the game.
You might be thinking ‘what about that spot just before the 30 second mark? There’s a speed shoe power up right by that slope so… yeah… doesn’t really count does it?
Combine this will all the other automated moments in the stage, the springs, the S-Tubes, the boosters… it’s just… how much of this stage do you actually play?
When this game eventually comes out… here is a game to play. Every time you hit an automatic booster, or automated section, release the controller, see how much of the level is played for you before you absolutely have to take control of the character.
This Swing Bridge is Not Very Good
During the new GHZ, we see an odd throwback to the second act of the original incarnation. But… they didn’t get it quite right.
Do you see the problem?
Look at the original first, say you fall off the bridge, or fail the jump, you fall into a lower path… to make it back you have to travel back to the left and take the much lower path, or build up speed to make the vertical path back to the top (notice the spike hazard for new players to be wary of).
It’s a challenge and a clever use of level design and item placements.
So how come the new GHZ messes this up so badly?
If you fail the swing bridge.. it’s not a problem, there’s a hidden spring there that sends you back up… So why even have this throwback? What’s the point of this hazard at all? Is this even a hazard? What happened to that clever level design of the original?
It’s like they didn’t even look at the original when making this stage, just looked for iconic imagery and picked at random.
Take that rock in the classic game, just look at it, it’s in a great place which was put there by someone thinking. Notice how it prevents the player from ‘easily’ using momentum to leap that gap? How the player has to learn how the game works to either make the gap by timing the jump just right, or using the swing bridge?
In new GHZ, there is no such hazard, meaning jumping the gap is even easier with a spin dash followed by a jump… however the player is going so fast, all they need to do is likely time a jump at the right spot.
Speaking of rocks… Let’s take a look at why new GHZ rocks are not that clever.
This Rock Is Not Very Good
This rock is on a perfectly flat route, both to the left and to the right. Just before it is an enemy, so for inexperienced players, a hazard that they’re likely to take out. For other players… just jump it… and likely the rock in the same leap, go momentum.
This rock is not in a clever or creative place, not on the edge of a ledge, not in a way to get to a higher plane… it is just… there. Sitting, doing nothing. Not being a hazard to any kind of player, not being a device to aid exploration and reward.
The only thing this rock does, is break just breaks the flow of the game because someone decided a rock should go there… for absolutely no reason other than to have a rock.
Actually… there is, it’s another badly done throwback.
Except this rock’s placement makes much more sense than new GHZ rock. See what you can’t see is just to the left there is a section of platforms you jump up and if you keep your rhythm is right, you can make it over the rock without any problems, not just have it randomly appear for no reason.
Rock appears at just around the 26-30 second mark.
Remember how DIMPS made the 3DS version of Sonic Generations? Remember how they left in really odd power ups and star posts which didn’t seem to have a use or provide a benefit to the player. For example star posts right by the exit?
Well that’s because in the original games, they usually ended with a boss fight, so the power up or star post made sense. However, in the 3DS version, this didn’t happen. They didn’t understand why they were there originally, they just copied it because they were there.
The GHZ Music Isn’t Very Good
If you like it, hooray, enjoy it. I however do not. A lot of other people do not. Whilst having something universally loved is hard, it shouldn’t be getting this many complaints about how bad it is.
Meanwhile… Majority of the reaction for the main theme was positive, yet everybody has forgotten about that… that’s… not great.
Modern Automated Game-play Is Not Very Good
So earlier I spoke about how GHZ was a highly automated experience… what about the modern section? Well… we have not even been shown the full stage yet… however lets count it up.
This video is 41 seconds long, however it cuts to black at 0:33, giving us a total of 33 seconds of gameplay footage. Here are all the moments that I can see where the game moves into automated mode.
0:07-0:08 (1 sec): Speed booster, this one is there to help you go up a small hill after a downhill section… absolutely no need for it.
0:13 – 0:15 (2 sec): Not one… but two boosters, less than a second after each other, the hazard, two small slopes with no enemies on them… again absolutely no need for it.
0:20 – 0:21 (1 sec): Another booster, the hazard is another small slope, no enemies, no rings, absolutely no need for it.
0:25 – 0:27 (2 sec): A handrail thing, this one leads to a red ring so it apparently has a use… first justified use of an automated section.
0:27 – 0:28 (1 sec): Less than a second after the last one, another booster, up a small slope… to a spring which sets your speed to a set velocity… again, utterly no point for it to exist.
0:28 – 0:31 (3 sec): A spring which catapults you into boost rings, player has no control. Barely any reason for this other than a spectacle moment.
0:33 – 0:35 (2 sec): Not one… Not two… But FOUR! Yes four boosters on a downhill slope. Yup, you need help to go fast downhill in this game! Utterly no reason for them. You are going downhill, these do not need to exist?
12 seconds, that’s how long control is taken from you, that is the time the game auto plays.
Out of 35 seconds of gameplay footage, 34% of the footage takes control away from the player and this isn’t even a full stage. You currently only playing the game for 66% of the stage. Buy a game, play only 66% of it, the game plays the other 34%.
Other Stuff I could Talk About…
How the marketing for the game has been really poor.
How the tone of the game is completely contradictory both to what Sonic is and what the game itself is trying to portray.
Why nobody should care about this third character given how new Sonic characters typically die after their first or second game.
Why having a third character with a third gameplay style is not a good thing since we’re coming into this to play Sonic.
Why for the last year Sega have been saying things like ‘We’re going to be taking Sonic into a specific direction and some fans won’t be happy’ only to then try and please everyone + fans of mystery third character.
There’s a lot more but you’ve read enough.’
In short, for the reasons stated above, I do not think Sonic Forces looks very good.