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How Newcomers Play Sonic aka Dan from Extra Credits plays Sonic for the first time and it's weird

Indigo Rush

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Way to be beat me to the punch, I was planning on making this topic myself!

It really is fascinating seeing someone close to my own age play games that I've been playing close to 20 years experience them for the first time. Although it's frustrating seeing him make such newbie mistakes at the same time it's fun to see an new perspective on them, especially Sonic 3 since I know the game in and out (and I wince at how he pronounces Hydrocity). But it also makes me think that a lot of people that I've seen say they don't like Sonic games (at least the classics) believe that because they don't understand how to play them.

And does anyone else find it strange that he emulated the Sega CD version of Sonic CD instead of just buying the remaster? For someone new to Sonic games, it just seems like an odd decision to go through the trouble of setting up an emulator.

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I actually never knew that you could rev up the spindash with multiple presses of A until I heard it mentioned on this forum sometime in the past few months; I've never played the classics with that in mind.  I'm not sure how you're meant to learn this; do the manuals mention it?  The standard down + A combination produces the right visual effect and speed, so there was never any reason to assume that there was more to it.

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Been watching these too (anyone who has looked at the comments will be able to tell I'm always in there responding to stuff in the video and any misinformation from other commenters lol).

It has been super interesting.  I think one of my favourite things has been how intuitively designed the spin wheels in Marble Garden are.  He knew instantly what to try with them due to them LOOKING like Sonic doing a spin-dash, it's sort of cool because I always expect someone to not figure those out but people always do lol.



As for my first experience with Sonic... I was 4 so it's hard to remember other than "I was bad at it."  My first game was Sonic 2 Master System, and while it didn't take us a crazy long time to clear Under Ground, we did get stuck on Sky High 2's final hang glide through the spiky cave for weeks and weeks, just couldn't get a handle on it and the basic Hang Glider strategy of "just keep tapping left!" from Act 1 isn't clever enough to surpass it.

I first played the 16-bit classic games PROPERLY with a better grasp for learning how they worked as a teenager though.  In those I think I got as far as Carnival Night before my first game over in Sonic 3, and Flying Battery in Sonic & Knuckles.  Not sure about Sonic 1 and 2 since I DID play those as a kid at friends' houses.

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2 hours ago, FFWF said:

I actually never knew that you could rev up the spindash with multiple presses of A until I heard it mentioned on this forum sometime in the past few months; I've never played the classics with that in mind.  I'm not sure how you're meant to learn this; do the manuals mention it?

Checked, and yeah, the English manuals for 2, 3, and &K all mention tapping multiple times to rev up even more. It is something that's not immediately obvious in game unless you fool around with the controls, but at least it's something that (to my recollection) is never actually required.

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I remember learning how to roll pretty early on into Sonic and then actively avoiding doing it because I thought he looked cooler running, lol. I never considered how much easier it made it to avoid slamming into obstacles, but that's clearly why it's there.

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It's not really his first time playing Sonic; he's just not very familiar with the series in general. His comments on the animation are interesting (at least in the Gens videos I'm watching now). I don't agree with him that facial expressions should be difficult due to Sonic's fixed brow (because, well, it shouldn't be fixed in the first place - see Night of the Werehog or the Boom cartoon) but he's right about the rest of the animation.

As far as my first time with Sonic; I don't remember experiencing many hurdles outside of the end of Marble Zone. Once I'd learned to control the height of my jump, I was set for the rest of the series. Sonic's movement and weight felt sooo much better than any other game I played, Mario included. Rolling always felt perfectly intuitive. There were moments in the Classics (such as Carnival night's infamous barrel and ending S3&K with the sudden change in gameplay with Doomsday Zone) that definitely were not ideal but at no point did I feel that the games were designed any worse than other top platformers overall.

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So I might be able to offer an... odd perspective to this topic.


First of all my own experience... in Sonic 2... it took me about 2 days before I figured out how to do a spin attack... or is it spin dash?

Why? Well, I was young and didn't read the game manuals because most of my game manuals didn't really have much in them of use. So when I'm playing Sonic 2, every now and again Tails did this really awesome looking move and I could not understand how or why, then I got to the metropolis zone and got stuck, for the life of me I couldn't figure how how to get past this one section...


Then Tails began charging a spin dash, it almost as if he were mocking me with this move, as if he was trying to show me what to do, but I had no idea how to do it. I was so stuck on it I ended up getting a time over and had to restart the stage, this time I remembered the section I was stuck in and just took a good run up and cleared it... only to encounter a second trap just like it... thankfully, this time I discovered how to do the move completely by accident.


So why the trouble? Well... same as the bouncy barrel... 

In Sonic 1, aside from the D-Pad and the jump buttons, you don't need to do anything else whilst playing the game...

Then here comes Sonic 2... and you have to hold DOWN + Jump to perform a special move. 

Whilst it may seem minor, it's a radical different, go from one game with no moves that require you to hold a button, to one which does, and right up until the end of the game there is nothing in the game that forces you to use it? 

Tempted to say bad level design there, just due to the fact no other zone forces you to use this move except for one near the end game and if you don't know how to do it.. it's game over.


But anyway, I've seen... a lot of people play Sonic games for the first time, mainly at game conventions... one eye opener was during GameFest 2011 when Sonic Generations was there... if you could only see the things I saw. 

There was the usual stuff, people couldn't figure how to to chain homing attack, mis calculating jumps.... but... would you believe... people got lost... in City Escape Act 1...  I saw people of all ages get completely stumped at the prospect of having to jump 'up' the side of the house or the collapsing scaffolding to escape the GUN truck, one guy thought it was a boss and tried to fight it.

Here's another fun theory I have about this section, that section was changed by Sonic Team for release, in the build I played it never had rings to show you the way, in fact that level had a lot less rings in it, I think they added rings as 'navigators' to help people find their way around the stage based on data they obtained from public showings.

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Watching him play Sonic 3K was pretty bizarre, mostly because it shocks me in how people play these games like regular platformers. The pace he takes is so much slower, and it makes the moments where the level design gives you brief sections of speed stand out all the more. It's weirdly refreshing, because the way he plays it makes it feel like a completely different game.

Also, it's only confirming to me what i have guessed in the past: the majority of people who go into Sonic do not understand rolling (whether its mechanics or even how to do it), and that's over half the reason people mess up while playing Sonic and then blame the level design. They believe enemies come out of nowhere and the game gives you no time to react, but they don't understand that it's because the game expects you to be rolling, which in turn also makes you move faster and helps reveal alternate routes to the player.

I think if anything though, that just highlights the single flaw of the classic Sonic games: a lack of explanation outside of the manuals, and even there a lack of fully explaining how rolling works. 90s Sonic Team expects the level design and control simplicity to speak for itself (and for 75% of people, it does), but for the last 25% it just kind of.. doesn't.

It's that very lack of explanation that probably led to the apathy from fans and developers alike in rolling and it's mechanics being a series mainstay, despite it being the gameplay's bread and butter (and being a much more mediocre game without it).

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Approaching the games with a platformer mentality would be fine if people only understood that one of their platforming tools in a Sonic game is speed.  Perhaps this is why we've subsequently seen so much in the way of speed boosters and automation?  People won't play the game the way they're supposed to, so the game has to be played for them...

Of course, there has to be a better way of doing this; a way of showing people how to play the game without just giving it to them.  I'm not a fan of the idea of forced tutorials or tutorial levels or on-screen button prompts in a - well, in a classic-style Sonic game, at least, though in a modern game it's a different story; with that said, if it were in the start-screen demo reel I'd see no harm in it.  But if we're looking to teach players the benefits of rolling in a classic-style game, it seems to me that a few of those tunnels you occasionally see in levels could be employed to great effect; force players to roll to go in, have it send them flying down a slope, let them see how much faster they're going than they did if they ran down the last slope they came across?  Of course, this also requires that the players be able to trust the level designers - to not throw them straight into a pit, or spikes, or a spiked badnik, say.  And players have not always been given reasons to trust.  I never recall having difficulty understanding the principles of rolling in the classic games myself, but I have sometimes found that the games can transition from a speed section to a treacherous platforming section without an appropriate signal, and one can become overcautious in that environment...


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I always thought that the s-shaped tunnels that you occasionally see were able to communicate to the player that rolling down slopes was how you built up speed, and since Sonic appears the same when rolling as he does when jumping, that it has the same ability to destroy enemies.

And its not like Sonic is exclusive with new players having difficulty understanding the skills necessary to succeed. How many times have you seen someone play a Mario game without using the run button? They may know it's there but even then they probably won't use it, because moving so much quicker feels uncomfortable to someone not used to how Mario builds momentum, and that holding the jump button longer lets you jump higher. There's no way to teach this, you just have to get accustomed to it yourself.

I think putting players into a situation where they're forced to utilize these skills is the best way to teach something like this as long as it isn't made obvious to the player that it's a tutorial. Like when you have to learn wall-jumping in Super Metroid. If you fall into that pit with the etecoons (those alien monkeys) you can't get out unless you learn to wall-jump. A similar example is in Super Mario World in the level you find the Cape Feather there's a pipe that leads to a long area with coins in the sky that exists to teach the player how to fly indefinitely with the cape. If you wanted to make the Sonic equivalent to this you could use the U-shaped slope like the one you see in Spring Yard, just make the only way out requiring the player to roll up and down until they build up enough speed to clear the top. As long as the player is limited in what they can do in a certain situation but have the tools necessary to escape, they can learn what's required of them. Well if they want to take the time to learn it.

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I posted this a little while ago in another thread about how you could teach the player about rolling, and I think it'd be fitting to put it again here.



I've also thought a lot about how the spindash and rolling in the classic games was never really taught to the player, and for a long time I really had no idea on how it could be taught without on-screen instructions which is really lazy and immersion breaking imo. Recently though I thought of something that could potentially do that. This wouldn't really work in Sonic 1 cause it would require Tails, so I still have no idea if you can teach it there any more than just with the S-tubes, which shows you that rolling exists but doesn't tell you the input, but this has been discussed already.

Lets say you started up Sonic 2 and entered Emerald Hill Zone. You've never played a Sonic game before and you're just going though the level by going right like any other platformer. Eventually while you're heading right you run into this rock that would stop a first time player in their tracks, and past the rock is this huge ramp that you can't possibly run up.


Once you get here a scripted sequence occurs. Tails automatically jumps over the rock on to the bottom part of the ramp.


Then you see him in a crouching position for a second or two. At this point a new player has no idea why he's doing this but doesn't have to wait long to see what happens.


Eventually, Tails starts charging a spindash for let's say about 3 or 4 seconds.


After that, Tails releases it and rolls up the hill making it over. 

Now the player knows two things as to how to get up there. 1: they need enough speed to do it, and 2: The action they need to preform requires them crouching first. I'll be pretty easy for them to interpret what to do to crouch. Obviously that position indicates going downwards so pressing down on the D-pad should be a no-brainer. As for activating and charging the spindash, the player will probably put together that since crouching doesn't really do anything by itself aside from lowering the camera after a while, they'll probably have to use another input. Seeing how all 3 buttons on The controller preform the same action there's no chance of them messing up or not knowing what to do. Then when the release their thumb from down on the D-pad, they'll start rolling up the ramp with a lot of speed and bam! They've gotten across and learned about the spindash.

Additionally, when Tails goes up the ramp there could be a Buzzer badnik flying by and stopping in the air right when Tails launches off of the ramp destroying it. This would show the player that as long all you're in a ball you can attack enemies in any direction, and you don't just have to destroy them by jumping on top of them. 


All of this should clue the player in on how to roll, but if not, after the ramp there could maybe be like a small downward slope with a badnik at the bottom. Tails would then roll down it (not from a spindash), gaining speed and destroying the enemy. The player will probably get a clue as to what to do, as they should have a connection in their head after learning about the spindash that holding down on the D-pad equates to rolling. After this all the Tails scripted sequences would end.

Now an important thing to note about all of this is that Sonic wouldn't be locked in place. You can always move freely and if you know what to do you can just breeze by this section in no time at all. Also, I'm not a programmer so I have no idea how plausible making something like this is, especially back in 1992. This is just a little idea I had. 


As for my experiences playing first playing Sonic, I had played SA1 and SA2 beforehand so I already knew about the spindash. Even though those games don't teach you about it either (unless I'm forgetting something), it's pretty easy enough to find out about since it's just mapped to the B button. As for how I learned how to do the spindash, I remember reading something on this old official Sonic site (I don't remember the name), where "Sonic" would answer questions that people brought in and in one of them it was asked how Sonic does the spindash and "he" said something along the lines of him standing in place and somersaulting while moving his feet super quickly (which is like... uhh?). So eventually when I played the classics I had it in my head that whatever it was that I had to do involved standing still. Then I figured "Well when sonic rolled in the other games he was closer to the ground, and in SA2 he did like a somersault. So maybe I gotta like hold down?" After that and seeing how just holding down didn't really do anything I tried pressing some of the buttons, started charging the spindash and was like "Ooooooooh". As for rolling I honestly don't remember. I have a feeling I just found out about it cause my thumb slipped downwards on the d-pad or something like that.

Then after playing the classic games over and over again and getting to grips with the physics I realized how much faster rolling made you go and how helpful it was to get rid of enemies I started doing it just any time there was a big downward slope.

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