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Sonic Frontiers (2022) | MT | General Discussion (DO NOT discuss leaks here please)


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9 hours ago, The Deleter said:

Coming back to these now that I have the time to do so, wrt Cyberspace being the way it is and the idea that they're underdeveloped compared to the rest of the game

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you want an easy to read timeline of the game's development, I'm actually surprised at how well-rounded this launch-day interview on the Playstation Blog was, considering you usually have to hop between multiple interviews in order to get the full picture beforehand. Give it a read if you want a comprehensive overview of the development process tbh:

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

But first off, the reason the leaks were "incorrect" was because people, including myself, assumed that the cyberspace stages were absent from the earlier builds of the game, as the leaks only mentioned the open world (accurately mind you) but emphasized that there were no levels.

In comparison:
 

  Reveal hidden contents

Kishimoto, Iizuka, and Kawamura mention several times that the cyberspace stages were there from the very start of development, as one of the central conceits of the game's development, in fact.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1440960.html

Kishimoto:

"In the beginning, the world map was a photorealistic world where you could freely move around in a 3D space, and within that space, there were a few places where you could play stages. It took us five years to get from there to the current state."

https://news.denfaminicogamer.jp/interview/220917i

Kishimoto:

"First, we created an open-zone playable world map, a field where players can move freely in a 3D space, and scattered stages throughout it, allowing them to move and play from where they are.

Then I got some pretty harsh feedback..."

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202209/18276496.html

Kishimoto:

"When we first implemented open zones, or "playable world maps" as we called them, we had a huge field with linear stages scattered throughout it.

We wanted to create a photorealistic landscape in the field so that players could enjoy the experience of moving from one stage to another, but the testers said that the space was so empty with nothing but grasslands that it was boring to move around."

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060894/20221023002/

Iizuka:

"From the initial conception, we envisioned a new experience in which players would be able to move freely on an open-zone island, while at the same time being able to play the traditional linear action.

We wanted to create a game that could be played as a single game by simply moving into the cyberspace through the countless "portals" that exist on the map and playing through these stages in succession."

We heard about this idea in one of Iizuka's english interviews before, but the central premise that Kishimoto keeps citing as inspiration for the game's design was taking the stage-by-stage design of action games and Sonic games, (comparing it to SMB3 in the English interviews, and a Sugoroku board in the JP interviews) and expanding that map into a playable space, so that players could move freely stage-to-stage, enjoying the movement and exploration of their next point of interest.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"In order for Sonic Team to rise to the world's ring, I thought that we had to bring the open world mechanism that AAA titles use as a matter of course to stage clear action. For that reason, we decided from the beginning to use elements that seemed like an open world.

So, I thought about how to incorporate the open world into the stage-clearing action. For example, in a game that uses a world map with squares like Sugoroku, there is a mechanism in which the player's piece advances on it, and when it stops at a specific square, it challenges that stage, right? I thought about making the world map itself 3D, making it an open world, allowing players to freely run around and play, and to freely choose the stages within it."

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Kishimoto:

"Classic stage-clearing action games have a world map where you can choose stages and challenge bosses like Sugoroku. What if you could turn that world map into a 3D space so that you could play freely, and now you could choose your stage? I started with this idea.

So, I didn't try to make an open world game with 'Sonic', but as an evolution of action games, I thought, 'This is what next-generation action games will be like.' Sonic Frontier is what I decided to do ahead of the rest."

This is reflected in their description of the dev timeline, which describes the feedback they received on parts of the game, and the changes they made to the game in response. Crucially, players enjoyed the cyberspace from the very start, but found the open zone to be boring and empty.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://news.denfaminicogamer.jp/interview/220917i

Iizuka:

"The stage called "Cyberspace", where you can enjoy the traditional Sonic-like time attack, was well received from the beginning. [...] However, when you return to the open zone, you wonder "What can I do here?" It was playtested into what it is today, so it was almost empty at first.

That's why, at first, there were a lot of people who said , "Cyberspace is fun, but Open Zone is boring .""

In describing the dev timeline, they also simultaneously describe each aspect of the game that they overhauled in chronological order in multiple interviews.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"First of all, in response to the "boring movement" in the open zone, we prepared a lot of athletic devices based on the opinions of the users who tested it. Every direction in the open zone, wherever you go, there is something to play, and when you access them, something fun happens. It's okay to go straight to the destination in the shortest distance, but if you take a detour, something interesting will happen. Then we did another test, and finally people began to say, "Movement is fun."

However, once the movement became interesting, I was told that "battles are boring"."

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Kishimoto:

"If we were going to do a battle, we decided to give a real battle a shot here or there, so we tried to put together a battle in the style of a combo type action-adventure game. The elements are all over the world, so it was easy to get there. Once it was solidified, we did another playtest, but the impression there was "It's not Sonic!"

"It's monotonous just by punching", "I'm bored", "I mean, it's not Sonic". I took into consideration the various comments I received, thought about what Sonic's typical combo action would be, and reworked the game to create the battles we have today. I went through the birth pains again."

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202209/18276496.html

Kishimoto:

"In the beginning, some enemies had a lot of HP and required many combo attacks. However, we decided that this kind of force-intensive action was out of character for Sonic, so we changed our strategy to attack each enemy using a variety of different actions."

Iizuka:

"What we are making is not a fighting game but an action game. In an action game, the element of strategy, where you have to identify the actions of the boss and take action, is appealing, and we are making the game so that you can enjoy that."

https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1440960.html

Kishimoto:

"But next, they say the battles are boring. Then let's make the battles more like Sonic's! And this time, they are convinced. But then they come back and say, "The battles and getting to the destination are fun, but the puzzle-solving is boring. It was a process of breaking down and overcoming these problems one by one."

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060896/20220916177/

Kishimoto:

"For example, when we tried to add athletic action to the field, people enjoyed it, but they said that the battles were monotonous. So I tried to make the battle more interesting, but this time the puzzle solving was one step more unsatisfactory."

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"Even though I wrote the proposal myself, at first I was also thinking, "What would it be like to solve a mystery with Sonic?" Will people who love Sonic really buy this game to solve mysteries? Would they want that? However, based on the opinion that it was boring, I took a sharp look at it, and the game's reputation grew a lot. At first, it was all about solving riddles like brain teasers, but we shifted to using Sonic's high-speed action to increase the number of riddles to challenge. Thanks to Open Zone, I was able to reaffirm what Sonic's puzzle-solving style should be."

Note that Cyberspace is not part of the described iterative process in any of the interviews. Instead, as listed before, Cyberspace was one of the elements of the game that was received positively from the start of the development.

Kishimoto does describe some negative feedback about cyberspace, however, occurring immediately after the puzzles were made more interesting,:

  Reveal hidden contents

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"However, when the movement became more interesting, the next complaint was that the battles were boring. When we improved the puzzle-solving elements, the next complaint was that the stages of the stage-clearing action game were boring. In the beginning, the stages were the most popular (laughs)."

In response, Kawamura, the producer of the game Kishimoto himself wanted to collaborate with, was worried about the progress, as he wonders if the enjoyment is decreasing in relative terms in spite of players enjoying it at first, and whether the feedback process would end at that rate:

  Reveal hidden contents

Kishimoto: 

"[...] I think Kawamura was also worried, 'When is this going to end?'"

Kawamura:

"It's like, "Why was this so popular until recently?" When the reputation of an element with a low reputation increased, it often happened that the reputation of an element with a good reputation up to that point decreased in relative terms."

There are no mentions of iteration of the Cyberspace stages in the interviews beyond this mention of feedback, despite Kishimoto talking at length of the many differences and changes he made in every other aspect of the criticism

TL;DR summary for everyone:

  • Cyberspace stages were explicitly a part of the game from the very start
  • Stage-to-stage gameplay was part of the central conceit of the open world format on top of this, as an explorable, playable stage select at first
  • Cyberspace stages were received well during the feedback process, while the empty open world, combat, and puzzles were not
  • Open world, combat, and puzzles were gradually improved to meet criticism from playtesters; cyberspace is deliberately noted as something that already was well received. It receives some criticism after every other aspect of the game is improved, however
  • Kawamura was worried towards the end of development how feedback was occurring, and negative towards the cyberspace and other aspects of the game only in response to improvements everywhere else

...

 I don't know whether to be upset or not. I don't know how I feel

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After around last year - and Frontier's release, i now know not to trust any Leakers at all, 

they're just glorified hype merchants, - let alone many of them being 'connected' to the company for self-advertising 

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1 hour ago, TheEyclopediaHBookReader said:

After around last year - and Frontier's release, i now know not to trust any Leakers at all, 

they're just glorified hype merchants, - let alone many of them being 'connected' to the company for self-advertising 

You only now learned that? They've always been like this

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Personally, in spite of everything else, this is the most important detail, wrt frequent external playtesting:

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202211/22282968.html

Quote

じつは社内でも、海外のそういう手法を取り入れましょうという声は挙がっていました。で、今回実際にやってみたわけですが、プレイテストで出た意見をフィードバックできたのは、開発にとってものすごくよかったですね。

Kawamura:

"Actually, even within the company, there were calls to adopt such overseas methods. So, we actually tried it this time, and it was really good for development to be able to give feedback on the opinions that came out in the playtest."

It gives us a glimpse into how Sonic Team/SEGA internally actually had hopes for these kinds of changes before Frontiers. Even if future games in the series don't end up paying off, at the very least it offers SEGA in general a legitimately solid argument to embrace better working conditions for their projects and internal teams.

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11 hours ago, The Deleter said:
  • Cyberspace stages were received well during the feedback process, while the empty open world, combat, and puzzles were not
  • Open world, combat, and puzzles were gradually improved to meet criticism from playtesters; cyberspace is deliberately noted as something that already was well received. It receives some criticism after every other aspect of the game is improved, however

This in particular, actually tracks well. 

The cyberspace stages are widely agreed to be some of the weaker aspects of the gameplay, but not generally unplayable. Which makes sense, if they were there from the get-go, rather than just added in at the last moment. 

What's more, in the earlier build where the open world aspects weren't received as well as the final product ended up, I could see them being the best part of the game. But, as things were tweaked, re-arranged and enhanced for other aspects, as a result, the gameplay if the cyberspace stages probably didn't gel as well.

And with SEGA not giving Sonic Team optimum time to iron them out to flow better with the rest of the game, the rest is history.

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Who did say the cyberspace levels were last minute, anyway? I mean, that was a little suspicious if you ask me.

At least the cyberspace levels were not required to get the vault keys for the Chaos Emeralds. That said, if they were well received in the play testing, I wonder what made them flawed in the final game so easily?

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Reading that whole article about the development now, it's amazing to me how Frontiers didn't got cancelled. Seems like another case of Sonic Team wanting to make a certain game, but had to "convert it" into Sonic. At every stage of designing things they got players saying it wasn't fun or even like Sonic. One thing is getting those vibes at the very beggining of the project, but every step of the way just shows a lack of direction or understanding the basics of the character/universe you're working with. Five years figuring out basic elements of the game is not enduring, it's just being stubborn and clueless. Of course play testers said it didn't felt like a Sonic game, it never was. It was an open world game with combat and RPG elements, that got forced into becoming something of a monstrosity "Sonic game". Slap some rails, dash pannels, springs, forced 2D perspective... "-There you go now, looks guys, it's a Soonic gaem!". No amount of extra money or development time would chance something with such a messy core. The most amazing part is Kishimoto and Iizuka getting the feedback from players saying the regular ass Sonic stages were more fun, and not ever getting the clue. Perhaps, why don't you tried making the open zone a little more like a regular Sonic level? Big hills to go down rolling super fast, ramps to lauch you high up in the skies, a good old natural loop-the-loop, you know, the stuff that was there since day 1. Nah, let's just slap some rails and what-not. The combat is boring? Just make it flashy, no one will noticed it. Open zone still feeling empty? Well, just add any minigame you can thing of, ANY MINIGAME you can think of, even if has absolutely nothing to do with Sonic, make him play Tetris, but don't add a single head-to-head racing minigame.

I'll beat this horse untill the end of time: but the one project that trully showed how to take full advantage of Sonic's abilities and movements in a 3D space was, and still is, Utopia. And it's so fucking fun to play.

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Just now, Jango said:

I'll beat this horse untill the end of time: but the one project that trully showed how to take full advantage of Sonic's abilities and movements in a 3D space was, and still is, Utopia. And it's so fucking fun to play

Eh, not really. Utopia has its fair share of issues, and problems. Such as how it's lazer-focused on really just one aspect of motion and nothing else.

Frontiers managed to get a formula that definitely gels well, and has good methodology that was actually able to host a while game, while getting people excited for the future and what it held for said formula.

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17 minutes ago, Jovahexeon Jax Joranvexeon said:

 

Frontiers managed to get a formula that definitely gels well, and has good methodology that was actually able to host a while game, while getting people excited for the future and what it held for said formula.

Frontiers, from the perspective of its movement, is not very interesting.

Just like Utopia, there is room to improve...a LOT more room in Frontiers' case and the start of that improvement would first be tasked with giving Sonic actual movement options. Things that make moving around the environment fun, simply running fast is just a novelty, but what can Sonic do to actually gain speed, conserve it, convert it for the sake of vertical movement? Whether it's in Sonic's natural abilities or in how he interacts with obstacles.

Since all of Sonic's upgrades in Frontiers are combat focused none of these things actually mattered all that much to be answered, he has the boost,  apparently the drop dash, and...that's it.

---

Here's one example I thought of off the top of my head:

What if Sonic had a Shinespark-like ability, less exaggerated of course, similar to Samus -- Sonic could suddenly halt all forward moment for a high jump. I mean functionally this would be just like Amy's Hammer Jump, but for Sonic this would be an alternative to having to bounce multiple times to get to a higher platform.

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9 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

Frontiers, from the perspective of its movement, is not very interesting.

We'll have to agree to disagree on that. There's arguments to be made very much in its favor.

10 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

Just like Utopia, there is room to improve

That much goes without saying, hence the anticipation that players have in regards to future. Some of these are apparently set to come at least tested, in Frontiers' future updates.

12 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

Since all of Sonic's upgrades in Frontiers are combat focused

Not necessarily. There are speed upgrades in the game that do alter Sonic's speed capacities. The trick upgrade is also tied to boosting off the right terrain at times too. 

15 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

Things that make moving around the environment fun, simply running fast is just a novelty, but what can Sonic do to actually gain speed, conserve it, convert it for the sake of vertical movement?

We do get to see some hood looks at that with the slight return of park our in the game, and certain bouts that do challenge the player's knowledge of the map to maintain speed without bring ground to a halt.

But, yes, hopefully future games do improve and expand on that further.

16 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

What if Sonic had a Shinespark-like ability, less exaggerated of course, similar to Samus -- Sonic could suddenly halt all forward moment for a high jump. I mean functionally this would be just like Amy's Hammer Jump, but for Sonic this would be an alternative to having to bounce multiple times to get to a higher platform

Funnily enough, if the future DLC campaign update has good stuff for the multiple playable characters to show for, we could actually even see how the formula can work tied in with their different playstyles, while maybe even expanding on Sonic's in a form of differentiating him.

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3 minutes ago, Jovahexeon Jax Joranvexeon said:

We'll have to agree to disagree on that. There's arguments to be made very much in its favor.

I am not doubting you when I ask this, but can you list those arguments or some of them so that I can be reminded? You can do it in a "short as possible" manner if you'd like.

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1 minute ago, ShinyGems said:

I am not doubting you when I ask this, but can you list those arguments or some of them so that I can be reminded? You can do it in a "short as possible" manner if you'd like.

I did mention some of it in my post, but one of the bouts of fun in the movement people have is the challenge of maintaining the speed.

While not done strictly with momentum, there are the bouts of speed and maintenance with matters such as the park our system, or traversing different terrains in different fashions.

A big reason for Frontiers' success is how much fun people had with the open word gamepkay loop. Wherein, Sonic's movement does play a big part obviously.

Of course, there is room for improvement still.

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10 minutes ago, Jovahexeon Jax Joranvexeon said:

Not necessarily. There are speed upgrades in the game that do alter Sonic's speed capacities. The trick upgrade is also tied to boosting off the right terrain at times too. 

I meant the skill tree upgrades, I didn't think I would need to clarify since other one just makes him run faster.

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Just now, Jovahexeon Jax Joranvexeon said:

I did mention some of it in my post, but one of the bouts of fun in the movement people have is the challenge of maintaining the speed.

While not done strictly with momentum, there are the bouts of speed and maintenance with matters such as the park our system, or traversing different terrains in different fashions.

A big reason for Frontiers' success is how much fun people had with the open word gamepkay loop. Wherein, Sonic's movement does play a big part obviously.

Of course, there is room for improvement still.

Ah, of course.

Even if Frontiers was not a steady ride development wise, it was quite good enough to be successful. Sure, there is room for improvement, but to be fair, this is the first time they did an open world game for Sonic.

And while it is not the same as maintaining or even having momentum in the classics, the challenge of maintaining speed is a good and fun thing, possibly equally as fun as maintaining speed in the classics in my opinion. I do hope they expand on that if they can in future games, but I can see that this way of maintaining speed could work well with the series overall and be quite satisfying.

So while there may have been troubles in development, Sonic Frontiers was still a success in the end. If Sonic Team plays their cards right for the next Sonic game, and improve from Frontiers with that game, I can see things become better for Sonic as a game franchise.

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15 hours ago, The Deleter said:

Coming back to these now that I have the time to do so, wrt Cyberspace being the way it is and the idea that they're underdeveloped compared to the rest of the game

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you want an easy to read timeline of the game's development, I'm actually surprised at how well-rounded this launch-day interview on the Playstation Blog was, considering you usually have to hop between multiple interviews in order to get the full picture beforehand. Give it a read if you want a comprehensive overview of the development process tbh:

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

But first off, the reason the leaks were "incorrect" was because people, including myself, assumed that the cyberspace stages were absent from the earlier builds of the game, as the leaks only mentioned the open world (accurately mind you) but emphasized that there were no levels.

In comparison:
 

  Reveal hidden contents

Kishimoto, Iizuka, and Kawamura mention several times that the cyberspace stages were there from the very start of development, as one of the central conceits of the game's development, in fact.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1440960.html

Kishimoto:

"In the beginning, the world map was a photorealistic world where you could freely move around in a 3D space, and within that space, there were a few places where you could play stages. It took us five years to get from there to the current state."

https://news.denfaminicogamer.jp/interview/220917i

Kishimoto:

"First, we created an open-zone playable world map, a field where players can move freely in a 3D space, and scattered stages throughout it, allowing them to move and play from where they are.

Then I got some pretty harsh feedback..."

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202209/18276496.html

Kishimoto:

"When we first implemented open zones, or "playable world maps" as we called them, we had a huge field with linear stages scattered throughout it.

We wanted to create a photorealistic landscape in the field so that players could enjoy the experience of moving from one stage to another, but the testers said that the space was so empty with nothing but grasslands that it was boring to move around."

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060894/20221023002/

Iizuka:

"From the initial conception, we envisioned a new experience in which players would be able to move freely on an open-zone island, while at the same time being able to play the traditional linear action.

We wanted to create a game that could be played as a single game by simply moving into the cyberspace through the countless "portals" that exist on the map and playing through these stages in succession."

We heard about this idea in one of Iizuka's english interviews before, but the central premise that Kishimoto keeps citing as inspiration for the game's design was taking the stage-by-stage design of action games and Sonic games, (comparing it to SMB3 in the English interviews, and a Sugoroku board in the JP interviews) and expanding that map into a playable space, so that players could move freely stage-to-stage, enjoying the movement and exploration of their next point of interest.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"In order for Sonic Team to rise to the world's ring, I thought that we had to bring the open world mechanism that AAA titles use as a matter of course to stage clear action. For that reason, we decided from the beginning to use elements that seemed like an open world.

So, I thought about how to incorporate the open world into the stage-clearing action. For example, in a game that uses a world map with squares like Sugoroku, there is a mechanism in which the player's piece advances on it, and when it stops at a specific square, it challenges that stage, right? I thought about making the world map itself 3D, making it an open world, allowing players to freely run around and play, and to freely choose the stages within it."

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Kishimoto:

"Classic stage-clearing action games have a world map where you can choose stages and challenge bosses like Sugoroku. What if you could turn that world map into a 3D space so that you could play freely, and now you could choose your stage? I started with this idea.

So, I didn't try to make an open world game with 'Sonic', but as an evolution of action games, I thought, 'This is what next-generation action games will be like.' Sonic Frontier is what I decided to do ahead of the rest."

This is reflected in their description of the dev timeline, which describes the feedback they received on parts of the game, and the changes they made to the game in response. Crucially, players enjoyed the cyberspace from the very start, but found the open zone to be boring and empty.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://news.denfaminicogamer.jp/interview/220917i

Iizuka:

"The stage called "Cyberspace", where you can enjoy the traditional Sonic-like time attack, was well received from the beginning. [...] However, when you return to the open zone, you wonder "What can I do here?" It was playtested into what it is today, so it was almost empty at first.

That's why, at first, there were a lot of people who said , "Cyberspace is fun, but Open Zone is boring .""

In describing the dev timeline, they also simultaneously describe each aspect of the game that they overhauled in chronological order in multiple interviews.

  Reveal hidden contents

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"First of all, in response to the "boring movement" in the open zone, we prepared a lot of athletic devices based on the opinions of the users who tested it. Every direction in the open zone, wherever you go, there is something to play, and when you access them, something fun happens. It's okay to go straight to the destination in the shortest distance, but if you take a detour, something interesting will happen. Then we did another test, and finally people began to say, "Movement is fun."

However, once the movement became interesting, I was told that "battles are boring"."

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Kishimoto:

"If we were going to do a battle, we decided to give a real battle a shot here or there, so we tried to put together a battle in the style of a combo type action-adventure game. The elements are all over the world, so it was easy to get there. Once it was solidified, we did another playtest, but the impression there was "It's not Sonic!"

"It's monotonous just by punching", "I'm bored", "I mean, it's not Sonic". I took into consideration the various comments I received, thought about what Sonic's typical combo action would be, and reworked the game to create the battles we have today. I went through the birth pains again."

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202209/18276496.html

Kishimoto:

"In the beginning, some enemies had a lot of HP and required many combo attacks. However, we decided that this kind of force-intensive action was out of character for Sonic, so we changed our strategy to attack each enemy using a variety of different actions."

Iizuka:

"What we are making is not a fighting game but an action game. In an action game, the element of strategy, where you have to identify the actions of the boss and take action, is appealing, and we are making the game so that you can enjoy that."

https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1440960.html

Kishimoto:

"But next, they say the battles are boring. Then let's make the battles more like Sonic's! And this time, they are convinced. But then they come back and say, "The battles and getting to the destination are fun, but the puzzle-solving is boring. It was a process of breaking down and overcoming these problems one by one."

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060896/20220916177/

Kishimoto:

"For example, when we tried to add athletic action to the field, people enjoyed it, but they said that the battles were monotonous. So I tried to make the battle more interesting, but this time the puzzle solving was one step more unsatisfactory."

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"Even though I wrote the proposal myself, at first I was also thinking, "What would it be like to solve a mystery with Sonic?" Will people who love Sonic really buy this game to solve mysteries? Would they want that? However, based on the opinion that it was boring, I took a sharp look at it, and the game's reputation grew a lot. At first, it was all about solving riddles like brain teasers, but we shifted to using Sonic's high-speed action to increase the number of riddles to challenge. Thanks to Open Zone, I was able to reaffirm what Sonic's puzzle-solving style should be."

Note that Cyberspace is not part of the described iterative process in any of the interviews. Instead, as listed before, Cyberspace was one of the elements of the game that was received positively from the start of the development.

Kishimoto does describe some negative feedback about cyberspace, however, occurring immediately after the puzzles were made more interesting,:

  Reveal hidden contents

https://blog.ja.playstation.com/2022/11/07/20221107-sonicfrontiers/

Kishimoto:

"However, when the movement became more interesting, the next complaint was that the battles were boring. When we improved the puzzle-solving elements, the next complaint was that the stages of the stage-clearing action game were boring. In the beginning, the stages were the most popular (laughs)."

In response, Kawamura, the producer of the game Kishimoto himself wanted to collaborate with, was worried about the progress, as he wonders if the enjoyment is decreasing in relative terms in spite of players enjoying it at first, and whether the feedback process would end at that rate:

  Reveal hidden contents

Kishimoto: 

"[...] I think Kawamura was also worried, 'When is this going to end?'"

Kawamura:

"It's like, "Why was this so popular until recently?" When the reputation of an element with a low reputation increased, it often happened that the reputation of an element with a good reputation up to that point decreased in relative terms."

There are no mentions of iteration of the Cyberspace stages in the interviews beyond this mention of feedback, despite Kishimoto talking at length of the many differences and changes he made in every other aspect of the criticism

TL;DR summary for everyone:

  • Cyberspace stages were explicitly a part of the game from the very start
  • Stage-to-stage gameplay was part of the central conceit of the open world format on top of this, as an explorable, playable stage select at first
  • Cyberspace stages were received well during the feedback process, while the empty open world, combat, and puzzles were not
  • Open world, combat, and puzzles were gradually improved to meet criticism from playtesters; cyberspace is deliberately noted as something that already was well received. It receives some criticism after every other aspect of the game is improved, however
  • Kawamura was worried towards the end of development how feedback was occurring, and negative towards the cyberspace and other aspects of the game only in response to improvements everywhere else

Thanks for posting this. That’s a pretty fascinating insight. 

To be honest considering the premise of the story and way things panned out, it never felt like to me like Cyberspace could have just been shoehorned in at the last minute - especially as they were still figuring out the open-zone elements for what is now going to be a new style of gameplay going forwards.

Even so, whilst cyberspace is the weakest part of the game - it’s not broken and is still far more engaging than anything that was thrown at us from Sonic Forces (be it original levels or old favourites), and even then I still find it frankly amazing they got the old level designs to work within the framework of a new engine, that’s some pretty solid skill-work on their part if you ask me.  

What is positive is seeing how they went through so many iterations of changing X then Y then Z to iterate and improve. So of course it comes as no surprise that the “best” part of the game therefore became the weakest by the end of the development cycle.  

Whilst they clearly ran out of time to tamper further with Cyberspace levels, overall they are still relatively a minor part of the gameplay in comparison to the rest of the fun that can be had in the open-zones.

So honestly, I’m pretty thankful they at least iterated and reworked this into the beautifully mangled (yet magnificent) beast of a game.

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2 hours ago, Jango said:

Reading that whole article about the development now, it's amazing to me how Frontiers didn't got cancelled. Seems like another case of Sonic Team wanting to make a certain game, but had to "convert it" into Sonic. At every stage of designing things they got players saying it wasn't fun or even like Sonic. One thing is getting those vibes at the very beggining of the project, but every step of the way just shows a lack of direction or understanding the basics of the character/universe you're working with. Five years figuring out basic elements of the game is not enduring, it's just being stubborn and clueless. Of course play testers said it didn't felt like a Sonic game, it never was. It was an open world game with combat and RPG elements, that got forced into becoming something of a monstrosity "Sonic game". Slap some rails, dash pannels, springs, forced 2D perspective... "-There you go now, looks guys, it's a Soonic gaem!". No amount of extra money or development time would chance something with such a messy core. The most amazing part is Kishimoto and Iizuka getting the feedback from players saying the regular ass Sonic stages were more fun, and not ever getting the clue. Perhaps, why don't you tried making the open zone a little more like a regular Sonic level? Big hills to go down rolling super fast, ramps to lauch you high up in the skies, a good old natural loop-the-loop, you know, the stuff that was there since day 1. Nah, let's just slap some rails and what-not. The combat is boring? Just make it flashy, no one will noticed it. Open zone still feeling empty? Well, just add any minigame you can thing of, ANY MINIGAME you can think of, even if has absolutely nothing to do with Sonic, make him play Tetris, but don't add a single head-to-head racing minigame.

I'll beat this horse untill the end of time: but the one project that trully showed how to take full advantage of Sonic's abilities and movements in a 3D space was, and still is, Utopia. And it's so fucking fun to play.

 

I agree that it shows a lack of understanding, but I disagree that Sonic games themselves provide a better blueprint, as the main game that did what Frontiers attempts to do with it's "world map" is Adventure, which Kishimoto notes in an interview has been his blueprint for inspiration before this:

Spoiler

https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1440960.html

Quote

例えば、今まで第2世代のソニックをずっと作っていたので、アドベンチャーシリーズなどのお手本が常にあるわけです。最良のソニックとは? ならここをアレンジしてみよう、こんなアクションを入れてみたらどうだろうと。今回は、そのお手本がまったく無いところで、0からのスタートだったんですよね。産みの苦しみというのは、やっぱりスクラップアンドビルドを何度も繰り返さないと見えてこないんですよね。

Kishimoto:

"For example, we have been making second generation Sonic for a long time now, so we always have the example of the Adventure Series and others. What is the best Sonic? Then we thought, let's rearrange this part or add this kind of action. This time, there was no model at all, and we had to start from scratch. The pain of creation cannot be seen unless you repeat the scrap-and-build process over and over again."

(also fwiw the next game was going to be another linear Sonic game; Kishimoto just decided to walk back on it because he and Kawamura felt like Sonic cannot compete with the industry on the level they want to built around just linear levels anymore:)

Spoiler

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202209/18276496.html

Quote

じつは『ソニックフォース』の後、リニアなタイプのソニックゲームの企画もあったのですが、それを見送りにして、次世代のソニックゲームを作ろうということで、『ソニックフロンティア』の開発がスタートしました。

Iizuka:

"In fact, after Sonic Forces, there were plans for a linear-type Sonic game, but we decided to forgo that and started development of "Sonic Frontier" with the idea of creating a next-generation Sonic game."

Utopia doesn't work as a substitute for how Frontiers designs itself, because it's "open world" isn't the same as Frontiers' open world. Utopia in general has one direction in mind, just like a linear level, and is just incredibly "wide" as a result. It gets to lean off of the support of the rest of the series' approach to level design because it isn't exactly inherently different, and gets to play around with the route design in multiple ways in a fairly straightforward manner.

Utopia's approach definitely isn't invalid, especially considering it's built off of so much of what came before in the series, but it doesn't suddenly solve every issue surrounding plopping Sonic in an open world environment. Frontiers is addressing the direction that becomes the most problematic when the direction of the game is up to the player, being able to move in all directions.

With Adventure being the previous game to attempt an actually directionless "world" between stages, they got away with being fairly reserved in the level design they took advantage of. I'd imagine if you took away the level design of Frontiers' open zones, and left the oldest level design and springs in, it'd be fairly similar in execution:

Spoiler

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060896/20220916177/

Quote

一番最初に作った雛形では,もっと一般的なオープンワールド型のフィールドに,クエストの代わりに従来の3Dソニックが配置されたものだったんです。

Kishimoto:

"The very first model we created was a more generic open-world type field with traditional 3D Sonic instead of quests."

Minus the dozens of NPCs to talk to as, ironically, they believed that wasn't beneficial to the Sonic experience:

Spoiler

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202210/24280319.html

Quote

いわゆる“オープンワールドゲーム”というのはジャンルとしてはRPGやアクションアドベンチャーが多いですよね。ですからあれらは、そのジャンルがまずあって「自由度を高くしよう」という発想で進化してきたものだと思います。

 

 一方本作は、根底にアクションゲームがあってその自由度を高めるためにオープンゾーンにしようと、アクションゲームが進化した形なんですね。だから移動がダルいとか動きが鈍いとか、目的の街の人に話すのがたいへんだなんていうようなことは、ジャンルの出発点的にありえないわけです。

 

Iizuka:

"Many so-called "open world games" are RPGs or action-adventure games. Therefore, I think those genres evolved based on the idea of "increasing the degree of freedom" after the genre was established first.

On the other hand, this game is an action game at its core, and in order to increase the degree of freedom, we tried to make it an open zone, so it's an evolved form of an action game. That's why, from the point of view of the genre, things like things like sluggish movement or difficulty talking to people in the destination city are unthinkable."

When it came to improving that so that people didn't find it boring, both Kishimoto and Iizuka were notably confused on how to do so, as they compared planning actions for lines from A to B in linear stages, to having to account for every direction possible now:

Spoiler

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Quote

RPGなら、移動は移動でいいんです。アクションゲームは、そこにアクションがないとダメなんですよね。例えば、A地点からB地点に移動するだけなら直線なのでいいんですが、いろいろな目標地点を作ってしまうと、いろいろな線が生まれます。全部の線に対してアクションを設けるのか、と考えたら、頭がこんがらがってしまいました。

Iizuka:

"With RPGs, you can just move around. For an action game, there has to be action there. For example, just moving from point A to point B is fine because it is a straight line, but if you create various target points, you will create various lines. When I thought about how to set up actions for all the lines, my head got all tangled up."

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202210/24280319.html

Quote

いままでのシリーズ作品はいまおっしゃったように、ピタゴラスイッチのように仕掛けがつぎの仕掛けまで運んでくれるようなゲームデザインをしてたんですが、『ソニックフロンティア』のオープンゾーンでは、“コース”だったものが一気に“エリア”になったわけですね。

 これまではそこにルートがあったからその仕組みが作れたんですよ。プレイヤーは必ずここにアクセスするというものが、エリアになるとプレイヤーがいろいろな方向からそこにアクセスできるので、いわゆるルートが作れないシステムなんですね。

 そこがこれまでこういったシステムになかなか手を出せなかった理由のひとつでもありますし『ソニックフロンティア』を作る上で、いちばんチャレンジングな部分でした。

Iizuka:

"As you mentioned, the previous titles in the series were designed like a Pythagoreas switch, with one device taking you to the next, but with the open zone in "Sonic Frontier," what was once a "course" has become an "area".

Until now, there was a route there, so it was possible to create that mechanism. Players always access this area (open zone), but when it comes to areas, players can access it from various directions, so it's a system where you can't create a so-called route.

This is one of the reasons why it was so difficult to create such a system, and it was the most challenging part of creating "Sonic Frontier"."

Quote

そこで、その島の上にグラインドレールを使って、島の中にレール・ルートをどんどん増やして島が完成されていくという形を採用することで、3次元空間でも実現することができました。

"Therefore, by using grind rails on top of the island, and gradually increasing the number of rail routes within the island to complete the island, we were able to realize it in 3D space."

And this is an aspect of game design that not many have attempted yet. Sonic is best when moving forwards, sure, but that mentality also gave us the boost, and it's safe to say linearity is something that Sonic fans and arguably the gaming consciousness in general has grown a mite tired of for Sonic. Things like Sonic Islands ask what Sonic could be if he took a more sandbox-ish, Mario 64 style of world design, with the intent being behind how the player handles the physics to reach specific areas, so there is merit in approaching it from these separate angles. And the payoff for being able to use that design in easier to create, more typical open worlds would pay off dividends for Sonic as a series, especially when both Iizuka and Kishimoto believe a hybrid between them and traditional stages are the way to make it work.

Ultimately they came up with the grind rails to pseudo-lock Sonic into one direction of movement in the open world for those level designs, which... is a very Sonic-team Solution, yes. But it is a way to approach creating action lines to design challenge/complexity around in an open world space that hasn't been done before, so it does still count as a legitimate attempt on their end.

A loop-the-loop in an open world doesn't make sense in the same way it doesn't make sense in the Sonic Speed Sim. It only works in two directions, and without guidance through it before and after, it's basically a chunk of geometry that you could play around with, but doesn't lead anywhere new.

And with level design like hills and ramps, just like utopia, (and just like the grind rails and 2D sections in Frontiers, really) if you're going in any direction other than where they were designed to go, you're ultimately pushing against the flow of the level. Whenever players in utopia attempted to do just that, the level design started to fall apart for themselves.
 

Fair play on them leaning on puzzles and battles in the open world beforehand, though, but that just plays into how they feel about the series itself, and how they should handle it to attain success in their home country, alongside the realistic graphics and "manga-like" tone:

Quote

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060896/20220916177/

Quote

そのとおりです。日本のプレイヤーにも届けたいという思いが,本作の企画の根底にはあります。むしろ,そのための試行錯誤を何年もしてきた,と言い換えてもいい。
 例えば,日本のプレイヤーの多くはコンシューマ的というか,ゆったり遊べるゲームが好きですよね。あとは話題性。皆で同時期に話題のゲームを,情報交換しながら遊ぶ楽しさって,あるじゃないですか。その二つを「ソニックフロンティア」では何とかしたいと考えていました。

Iizuka:

"That is correct. The desire to bring the game to Japanese players is at the root of this project. In other words, we have been trying to achieve this goal for years.

For example, many Japanese players like consumer-style games, or games that can be played in a relaxed manner. The rest are topical. There is a certain pleasure in playing games that are popular at the same time while exchanging information. I wanted to do something about both of these things with "Sonic Frontier."

Quote

従来のソニックに“クセの強さ”を感じる人への答えが,今回のオープンゾーンでもあるんです。本作では,実はオープンゾーンを探索するだけでもお話を先に進めることもできます。電脳空間のプレイは必須ではなく,ストーリーを進めるための選択肢の一つでしかありません。

Kishimoto:

"For those who feel that the traditional Sonic games are too "peculiar," the Open Zone is the answer. In this game, you can actually advance the story just by exploring the open zones. Playing in the cyberspace is not mandatory, but only one of the options to advance the story."

(he brings up the "peculiarity" of linear Sonic stages in Japan throughout the other interviews in smaller blurbs)

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Quote

――素朴な疑問ですが、スピードに興味がない人でも、『ソニック』を遊ばれるものなのでしょうか?

 

飯塚:遊んでほしいという思いがあります。今回の我々のターゲットは、ソニックファンだけではなくて、それ以外の、アクションアドベンチャーが好きな多くのお客さんです。そういったすべてのお客さんに遊んでもらいたいので、そういうケアをいろいろなところに入れています。

岸本:そこを達成しなければ、先ほど言った世界で輝くソニックチームに慣れないと思っています。ファンだけが満足するソニックゲームを作っているだけでは、世界のソニックチームになれないという判断です。

 

 

――もっと多くの人を巻き込んで楽しんでほしいという思いがあるのですね。

岸本:そうです。世界中のアクションゲーマーを巻き込んでこそ、世界のソニックチームになれるんでしょ? というところで。

 

--- "I have a simple question: is it possible for someone who is not interested in speed to play "Sonic"?"

Iizuka:

"We want people to play it. Our target audience this time is not only Sonic fans, but also many other customers who like action-adventure games. We want all of these customers to be able to play the game, so we have put that kind of care into various areas of the game."

Kishimoto:

"If we do not achieve this, we will not be able to become the Sonic Team that shines in the world, as I mentioned earlier. We have decided that we cannot become a world-class Sonic Team just by making Sonic games that satisfy only the fans."

--- "So you want more people to get involved and have fun."

Kishimoto:

"That's right. We can only become a global Sonic team if we involve action gamers from all over the world, right? That's the point."

 

 

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5 minutes ago, The Deleter said:

I agree that it shows a lack of understanding, but I disagree that Sonic games themselves provide a better blueprint, as the main game that did what Frontiers attempts to do with it's "world map" is Adventure, which Kishimoto notes in an interview has been his blueprint for inspiration before this:

  Reveal hidden contents

https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1440960.html

Kishimoto:

"For example, we have been making second generation Sonic for a long time now, so we always have the example of the Adventure Series and others. What is the best Sonic? Then we thought, let's rearrange this part or add this kind of action. This time, there was no model at all, and we had to start from scratch. The pain of creation cannot be seen unless you repeat the scrap-and-build process over and over again."

(also fwiw the next game was going to be another linear Sonic game; Kishimoto just decided to walk back on it because he and Kawamura felt like Sonic cannot compete with the industry on the level they want to built around just linear levels anymore:)

  Reveal hidden contents

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202209/18276496.html

Iizuka:

"In fact, after Sonic Forces, there were plans for a linear-type Sonic game, but we decided to forgo that and started development of "Sonic Frontier" with the idea of creating a next-generation Sonic game."

Utopia doesn't work as a substitute for how Frontiers designs itself, because it's "open world" isn't the same as Frontiers' open world. Utopia in general has one direction in mind, just like a linear level, and is just incredibly "wide" as a result. It gets to lean off of the support of the rest of the series' approach to level design because it isn't exactly inherently different, and gets to play around with the route design in multiple ways in a fairly straightforward manner.

Utopia's approach definitely isn't invalid, especially considering it's built off of so much of what came before in the series, but it doesn't suddenly solve every issue surrounding plopping Sonic in an open world environment. Frontiers is addressing the direction that becomes the most problematic when the direction of the game is up to the player, being able to move in all directions.

With Adventure being the previous game to attempt an actually directionless "world" between stages, they got away with being fairly reserved in the level design they took advantage of. I'd imagine if you took away the level design of Frontiers' open zones, and left the oldest level design and springs in, it'd be fairly similar in execution:

  Reveal hidden contents

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060896/20220916177/

Kishimoto:

"The very first model we created was a more generic open-world type field with traditional 3D Sonic instead of quests."

Minus the dozens of NPCs to talk to as, ironically, they believed that wasn't beneficial to the Sonic experience:

  Reveal hidden contents

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202210/24280319.html

Iizuka:

"Many so-called "open world games" are RPGs or action-adventure games. Therefore, I think those genres evolved based on the idea of "increasing the degree of freedom" after the genre was established first.

On the other hand, this game is an action game at its core, and in order to increase the degree of freedom, we tried to make it an open zone, so it's an evolved form of an action game. That's why, from the point of view of the genre, things like things like sluggish movement or difficulty talking to people in the destination city are unthinkable."

When it came to improving that so that people didn't find it boring, both Kishimoto and Iizuka were notably confused on how to do so, as they compared planning actions for lines from A to B in linear stages, to having to account for every direction possible now:

  Hide contents

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Iizuka:

"With RPGs, you can just move around. For an action game, there has to be action there. For example, just moving from point A to point B is fine because it is a straight line, but if you create various target points, you will create various lines. When I thought about how to set up actions for all the lines, my head got all tangled up."

https://www.famitsu.com/news/202210/24280319.html

Iizuka:

"As you mentioned, the previous titles in the series were designed like a Pythagoreas switch, with one device taking you to the next, but with the open zone in "Sonic Frontier," what was once a "course" has become an "area".

Until now, there was a route there, so it was possible to create that mechanism. Players always access this area (open zone), but when it comes to areas, players can access it from various directions, so it's a system where you can't create a so-called route.

This is one of the reasons why it was so difficult to create such a system, and it was the most challenging part of creating "Sonic Frontier"."

"Therefore, by using grind rails on top of the island, and gradually increasing the number of rail routes within the island to complete the island, we were able to realize it in 3D space."

And this is an aspect of game design that not many have attempted yet. Sonic is best when moving forwards, sure, but that mentality also gave us the boost, and it's safe to say linearity is something that Sonic fans and arguably the gaming consciousness in general has grown a mite tired of for Sonic. Things like Sonic Islands ask what Sonic could be if he took a more sandbox-ish, Mario 64 style of world design, with the intent being behind how the player handles the physics to reach specific areas, so there is merit in approaching it from these separate angles. And the payoff for being able to use that design in easier to create, more typical open worlds would pay off dividends for Sonic as a series, especially when both Iizuka and Kishimoto believe a hybrid between them and traditional stages are the way to make it work.

Ultimately they came up with the grind rails to pseudo-lock Sonic into one direction of movement in the open world for those level designs, which... is a very Sonic-team Solution, yes. But it is a way to approach creating action lines to design challenge/complexity around in an open world space that hasn't been done before, so it does still count as a legitimate attempt on their end.

A loop-the-loop in an open world doesn't make sense in the same way it doesn't make sense in the Sonic Speed Sim. It only works in two directions, and without guidance through it before and after, it's basically a chunk of geometry that you could play around with, but doesn't lead anywhere new.

And with level design like hills and ramps, just like utopia, (and just like the grind rails and 2D sections in Frontiers, really) if you're going in any direction other than where they were designed to go, you're ultimately pushing against the flow of the level. Whenever players in utopia attempted to do just that, the level design started to fall apart for themselves.
 

Fair play on them leaning on puzzles and battles in the open world beforehand, though, but that just plays into how they feel about the series itself, and how they should handle it to attain success in their home country, alongside the realistic graphics and "manga-like" tone:

Man this really highlights how much of an uphill battle creating a 3D Sonic game is in the first place. A lot of frustrations in the games are definitely caused by how much of a weird mindset Sonic Team can have about certain things, but on the other hand it's all too evident how much 2D Sonic's overall design ethos hinged on just being 2D to make something satisfying. It's a lot easier to lock players into a certain experiential mindset when they don't have the Z-Axis to potentially ignore a lot of it. Iconic elements like the loop-de-loop or corkscrew wind up becoming suggestions rather than obstacles like they originally were. It makes wonder if it's possible at all to create a 3D Sonic in likeness to the classics without having to sacrifice some important things about those games.

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4 minutes ago, ZinogreVolt said:

Man this really highlights how much of an uphill battle creating a 3D Sonic game is in the first place. A lot of frustrations in the games are definitely caused by how much of a weird mindset Sonic Team can have about certain things, but on the other hand it's all too evident how much 2D Sonic's overall design ethos hinged on just being 2D to make something satisfying. It's a lot easier to lock players into a certain experiential mindset when they don't have the Z-Axis to potentially ignore a lot of it. Iconic elements like the loop-de-loop or corkscrew wind up becoming suggestions rather than obstacles like they originally were. It makes wonder if it's possible at all to create a 3D Sonic in likeness to the classics without having to sacrifice some important things about those games.

Oh I definitely believe it's possible; again, like Utopia, or rather Utopia-scope with Sonic-Robo-Blast-2-style level design and forward momentum, a lot of the puzzle pieces are already in place. Far more so than it was 15 years ago when people were insisting rolling around loops in 3D just doesn't work right. It's probably the most fertile ground that 3D Sonic could go if they got the mechanics down.

That's ultimately still for the "A-to-B" type of Sonic game to discover, though. Sonic Team actually chose hard mode when trying to adapt Sonic to the basic "go any direction" open world while trying to satisfy Sonic fans at the same time.

I think Sonic Team in particular could stand to implement more platforming elements like one-way routes, "Pythagoras switch" roads and paths that activate that aren't automated like rails, leading ring trails, and more organic SM64 tower platforming design into the open zone gameplay already, since rail grinding is pretty much just easy-mode in terms of automation with regards to running up those routes. Once they get that down they can figure out the more complex "webbing" that makes up the most often traveled routes players make in an open world imo. Frontiers is a special case, though, since they pretty much jumped into the project assuming that a typical, barren open map would be received about as well as all the popular RPGs, adventure games, and open world games, and got a splash of cold water when they realized platforming fans actually severely dislike that lol

4 hours ago, Sonicka said:

Thanks for posting this. That’s a pretty fascinating insight. 

To be honest considering the premise of the story and way things panned out, it never felt like to me like Cyberspace could have just been shoehorned in at the last minute - especially as they were still figuring out the open-zone elements for what is now going to be a new style of gameplay going forwards.

Even so, whilst cyberspace is the weakest part of the game - it’s not broken and is still far more engaging than anything that was thrown at us from Sonic Forces (be it original levels or old favourites), and even then I still find it frankly amazing they got the old level designs to work within the framework of a new engine, that’s some pretty solid skill-work on their part if you ask me.  

What is positive is seeing how they went through so many iterations of changing X then Y then Z to iterate and improve. So of course it comes as no surprise that the “best” part of the game therefore became the weakest by the end of the development cycle.  

Whilst they clearly ran out of time to tamper further with Cyberspace levels, overall they are still relatively a minor part of the gameplay in comparison to the rest of the fun that can be had in the open-zones.

So honestly, I’m pretty thankful they at least iterated and reworked this into the beautifully mangled (yet magnificent) beast of a game.

The problem is that the cyberspace stages aren't supposed to be minor, though. If we had received the version of Frontiers with the empty open world to find the scattered stages in, they flat-out would not have been worth the price of admission, if they really have gone untouched since then. And now that the rest of the game has been stuffed to the brim with content, the theories of them running out of budget, being rushed to release as they're hastily shoehorned in to make the open world look better, or were flat out unfinished dominate the narrative. What both Kishimoto and Iizuka insist throughout the interviews as being the best of linear gameplay and central to Sonic's identity still are being essentially excused and pushed to the side as something that wasn't supposed to be the main focus, when they absolutely were, and still are in the gameplay loop, with the only other option being pouring money into the fishing shop to skip the gameplay loop outright.

There's an aspect of these interviews that I really appreciate, in that both Iizuka and Kishimoto both seem to have the absolute perfect mindset in how...

  1. combat should be handled in the open zones alone, as all other attempts Sonic Team has made to introduce combat into Sonic's regular gameplay only served to kill the momentum and pace of Sonic's gameplay, and
  2. since combat, bosses, and puzzles are only featured in the open zone, the value they add to the game is a net positive, due to the optional nature of all of these encounters

Not that the gameplay features should ideally be 100% optional, which they seem to be messing up by allowing you to earn keys and portal gears from a shop of all things. Ideally they should be optional to the degree of, "if you don't want to do it right now, you can avoid it and perform the task that you are actually interested in." Then once you exhaust those options, or get slightly bored by it, you'll start to engage with the rest of the content that didn't immediately appeal to you more naturally, allowing you to get a fuller experience out of all of the mechanics and content the game has to offer. Iizuka seems to understand this aspect, as it was his direct response to someone worrying that the combat would be similar to the Werehog:

Spoiler

https://dengekionline.com/articles/150019/

Quote

――個人的な話ですが、過去に『ソニック ワールド アドベンチャー』で、スピード感のあるソニックが遊びたいのに、またウェアホッグやらされるのか、と感じてしまったことはあります(笑)。

岸本:その気持ち、わかります。

飯塚:今回は、戦いたくないなら戦わなくていい、という条件が付いたがために、逆に自分から戦いたくなるんですよね。選択権は自分にあるので、バトルを純粋に楽しめる。ウェアホッグの場合は、“やらなければいけないもの”だったので、面倒と感じたところがあります。

 今回はそういった面でも、すべてが自由なので、パズル、謎解き、バトル、プレイヤーがやりたいことを、自由に遊べる。その環境が、ネガティブからポジティブに変わった要因だと思います。

--- "On a personal note, in the past, I have felt that in "Sonic World Adventure" I wanted to play Sonic with a sense of speed, but I felt like I was being forced to play werehog again (laughs)."

Kishimoto:

"I understand that feeling."

Iizuka:

"This time, because of the condition that if you don't want to fight, you don't have to fight, on the contrary, it makes you want to fight yourself. Because the choice is yours, you can genuinely enjoy the battle. In the case of the werehog, it was something that had to be done, so I felt it was a hassle.

This time, everything is free in that aspect as well, so players can do whatever they want to do, whether it be puzzles, riddles, battles, or whatever else they want to do. I think that environment is the factor for the change from negative to positive."

However, the most important aspect of all of this that Iizuka seems to understand, is that the merit of fun shouldn't come second to that optionality:

Quote

https://www.4gamer.net/games/608/G060894/20221023002/

Quote

「ソニックフロンティア」では,プレイヤーが自由にアプローチすることで,遊び方を選択できるゲームデザインにしました。島の中で敵である「守護神」が現れたときに,戦っても戦わなくてもいい。ただ,守護神との戦いが面白くなければ,それを回避する方向を選ぶようになります。プレイヤーに遊びの選択肢を設けるなら,戦いを面白くすることが絶対条件です。[...]

全てのスキルを覚えなくてもゲームは進められますし,守護神は倒さなくてもいいけど,バトルは面白いですし,勝てば見返りが手に入る。そこはプレイヤーが自由に選んで,進めてもらうという形です。

Iizuka:

"In "Sonic Frontier," the game design allows players to choose how to play by freely approaching the game. When the enemy "guardian gods" appear on the island, you can choose to fight them or not. However, if fighting the guardian deity is not interesting, the player will choose to avoid it. Making the battles fun is an absolute must if you want to give players play options. [...]

You don't have to learn all the skills to advance the game, and you don't have to defeat the guardian deity, but the battles are fun, and if you win, you get rewards. The player is free to choose what he or she wants to do."

If people are avoiding the cyberspace stages because of how poor they are, it may not be a big deal to people who can appreciate the greater sum of options outside of them, but it will be a big deal for everyone who had the most interest in them as an option to play through, and to those who feel the impact avoiding them has on the gameplay loop itself, with how central they are.

Frontiers is definitely an ambitious Sonic game practically filled to the brim with stuff to do, but the degree that the cyberspace stages let people down should be highlighted rather than swept under the rug, especially when feedback is so important to the development process currently. That's arguably the reason why they were so lackluster to begin with.

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The "It's optional, make it fun so players will choose to do it" mentality should be applied to everything, not just combat or cyberspace levels... every little element of the game should be like that. The more the freedom, the more the game should be designed with that mindset.

Kirby games are all designed with that approach... there are multiple optional abilities and they are designed to be as fun as possible to play with, so the player can choose to try them all even if it's not strictly required by the game. Squeak Squad (DS) was designed in a way so that even the miniboss fights were optional; ironically, fans of the Kirby series hate when a gameplay element is forced on them (the "super abilities" gimmicks, the puzzles which require a specific ability, etc.). In this case, it's not just a game mode, or a task... it's even the little details and elements such as popping a flower to get a little collectable, or using a specific move, that are designed in a way so that they are optional, but players will do it anyway because it's satisfying/fun. I'm surprised that, after having realized this, they didn't fill the open zone with stuff like the fireworks cacti to interact with and have fun for the sake of having fun.

Regardless, I think that designing a game that's 3D and open, but still feels like a 2D game/classic game in the way how you approach to the level design, is very possible, even if complex to realize.

The idea of using 2D and rails to force the player into a direction is not wrong per se, the implementation and the fact that the idea is still rough, is. Forcing the player in a direction is correct... even the 2D games are like that. 2D Sonic, compared to (for example) Mario, which is a more basic platformer, is a lot more open despite being 2D. The games have a great variety of routes, layers etc. and a player can technically go where they want until the goal is reached. The level design itself forces the player into some designed paths, by putting physical barriers, or by automating the player movements through gimmicks (classics did it too, think about the water slides in Hydrocity, the classic games are full of stuff like that, and they are not much different than grind rails at their core). Even so, a player can choose to play as Tails/Knuckles/Ray/others and bypass most of those barriers, and explore freely.

The open zone is not much different than how 2D games are designed, the base concept is the same... there's this huge space (now it's fully 3D, not just 2D anymore) and you have to create obstacles for the player so that they have to make choices and think strategies in order to overcome them; in a way, forcing the players into designed paths through level design. The major difference is that the 2D "open space" is affected by gravity, and it will always push the player to the lower route... you have to fight and play well in order to stay on the top route, else, the game will push you down. In 3D games, taking the left route or the right route, or simply approaching an open area from a different angle, makes no difference, there's not a force pushing you to one side making the other side harder to reach (you can still build a gimmick on this concept though, but it wouldn't be the entire game). You can give unlimited options to the player, and make them fun, but in order to make those options feel like a challenge, like in the 2D games, you also have to make them, indeed, challenging, you need that force pushing you to the lower route even if gravity is not there anymore. Reaching one of those choices must feel like a reward (and this is where Utopia fails badly, Utopia is completely open and free, but all the level design is meaningless, there's no challenge, just moving around for the sake of it, ironically often on those narrow paths that go around the whole map like a rollercoaster... basically Frontiers' grind rails but not automated, just "suggested" to the player by making the rest of the map more empty and annoying to navigate).

Just as an example, that's my idea of how a loop can be adapted to the open zone and still be interesting:

-Make the loop start on ground level and end on a higher platform, a platform that's too high to be reached by a simple jump.

15.jpg

(Sorry for the bad jpg quality) This is from an old project of mine. It's a race track for a Mario-Kart-like racing game with cars, and cars can't jump. I modeled that loop so that it will let the cars climb that step and allow them to get that bonus monitor without slowing them down too much. You can technically get the monitor from the upper route too without need of crossing the loop, but you have to slow down (and during a race you don't want to), since there's a wall on front of it; you can't climb the step from below without jumping, the loop is the only way to climb it if you start from the lower route. This is a case where a loop in 3D makes sense. You can still avoid the loop, but it requires you to turn with a sharper angle (so, probably slow down more) and lose the reward of doing the loop (the bonus monitor). The loop in this game is hard to perform and at the end the lower route without going into the loop is always the fastest option, but this is because the gameplay of that game is not designed for such type of complex shapes, and in turn it becomes extremely hard to run into that loop. The thing could be completely different in the context of a different game specifically designed for that type of terrains, and maybe with some constraints which help the player to traverse the more complex shapes (a spline across the loop that activates if you run into it above a certain speed, and automatically locks the player into the loop's path - in fact making the loop temporary "2D").

-Don't make the loop an obstacle, make it an optional challenge with a reward.

This is the game with the cyloop, a move which lets you get benefits and interact with stuff if you draw a full circle on the ground. Make it so that if you perfectly run into a loop, the loop will reward you witha bonus for the "stunt". Sonic Rush (and Frontiers too) rewarded you from doing trick, ok let's treat the loop as a trick and let the player gain something useful from performing a full circle in it.

Sonic Unleashed had that gimmick that if there were ring formations in the middle of a loop, by performing the loop, all those rings would be attracted by Sonic and collected in a similar way as if you had an electric shield. Nights has this same mechanics. Kirby and the Canvas Curse rewarded you with a boost (that would also defeat enemies on contact) every time you drew a loop with the stylus

screenshot.jpg

Why not Sonic too? You can do this with power slides too, like in Mario Kart: if you slide, you get an invincible boost for a second or so... like a spindash in movement; gaining those "mini boosts" through playing well and performing tricks can be a side mechanics of the game and some interesting level design can be built around this concept.

This way, even if a loop is completely optional and can be walked around, players will still be motivated to try and get into it to attempt to get the reward. make it so you need a certain speed in order to fully get across the loop, don't make it too easy to reach that speed (put obstacles which will slow you down near the loop so it requires some skills to build up the speed), and you have a perfectly fine 3D loop that makes sense.

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3 hours ago, Iko said:

The "It's optional, make it fun so players will choose to do it" mentality should be applied to everything, not just combat or cyberspace levels... every little element of the game should be like that. The more the freedom, the more the game should be designed with that mindset.

Kirby games are all designed with that approach... there are multiple optional abilities and they are designed to be as fun as possible to play with, so the player can choose to try them all even if it's not strictly required by the game. Squeak Squad (DS) was designed in a way so that even the miniboss fights were optional; ironically, fans of the Kirby series hate when a gameplay element is forced on them (the "super abilities" gimmicks, the puzzles which require a specific ability, etc.). In this case, it's not just a game mode, or a task... it's even the little details and elements such as popping a flower to get a little collectable, or using a specific move, that are designed in a way so that they are optional, but players will do it anyway because it's satisfying/fun. I'm surprised that, after having realized this, they didn't fill the open zone with stuff like the fireworks cacti to interact with and have fun for the sake of having fun.

Regardless, I think that designing a game that's 3D and open, but still feels like a 2D game/classic game in the way how you approach to the level design, is very possible, even if complex to realize.

The idea of using 2D and rails to force the player into a direction is not wrong per se, the implementation and the fact that the idea is still rough, is. Forcing the player in a direction is correct... even the 2D games are like that. 2D Sonic, compared to (for example) Mario, which is a more basic platformer, is a lot more open despite being 2D. The games have a great variety of routes, layers etc. and a player can technically go where they want until the goal is reached. The level design itself forces the player into some designed paths, by putting physical barriers, or by automating the player movements through gimmicks (classics did it too, think about the water slides in Hydrocity, the classic games are full of stuff like that, and they are not much different than grind rails at their core). Even so, a player can choose to play as Tails/Knuckles/Ray/others and bypass most of those barriers, and explore freely.

The open zone is not much different than how 2D games are designed, the base concept is the same... there's this huge space (now it's fully 3D, not just 2D anymore) and you have to create obstacles for the player so that they have to make choices and think strategies in order to overcome them; in a way, forcing the players into designed paths through level design. The major difference is that the 2D "open space" is affected by gravity, and it will always push the player to the lower route... you have to fight and play well in order to stay on the top route, else, the game will push you down. In 3D games, taking the left route or the right route, or simply approaching an open area from a different angle, makes no difference, there's not a force pushing you to one side making the other side harder to reach (you can still build a gimmick on this concept though, but it wouldn't be the entire game). You can give unlimited options to the player, and make them fun, but in order to make those options feel like a challenge, like in the 2D games, you also have to make them, indeed, challenging, you need that force pushing you to the lower route even if gravity is not there anymore. Reaching one of those choices must feel like a reward (and this is where Utopia fails badly, Utopia is completely open and free, but all the level design is meaningless, there's no challenge, just moving around for the sake of it, ironically often on those narrow paths that go around the whole map like a rollercoaster... basically Frontiers' grind rails but not automated, just "suggested" to the player by making the rest of the map more empty and annoying to navigate).

Just as an example, that's my idea of how a loop can be adapted to the open zone and still be interesting:

-Make the loop start on ground level and end on a higher platform, a platform that's too high to be reached by a simple jump.

15.jpg

(Sorry for the bad jpg quality) This is from an old project of mine. It's a race track for a Mario-Kart-like racing game with cars, and cars can't jump. I modeled that loop so that it will let the cars climb that step and allow them to get that bonus monitor without slowing them down too much. You can technically get the monitor from the upper route too without need of crossing the loop, but you have to slow down (and during a race you don't want to), since there's a wall on front of it; you can't climb the step from below without jumping, the loop is the only way to climb it if you start from the lower route. This is a case where a loop in 3D makes sense. You can still avoid the loop, but it requires you to turn with a sharper angle (so, probably slow down more) and lose the reward of doing the loop (the bonus monitor). The loop in this game is hard to perform and at the end the lower route without going into the loop is always the fastest option, but this is because the gameplay of that game is not designed for such type of complex shapes, and in turn it becomes extremely hard to run into that loop. The thing could be completely different in the context of a different game specifically designed for that type of terrains, and maybe with some constraints which help the player to traverse the more complex shapes (a spline across the loop that activates if you run into it above a certain speed, and automatically locks the player into the loop's path - in fact making the loop temporary "2D").

-Don't make the loop an obstacle, make it an optional challenge with a reward.

This is the game with the cyloop, a move which lets you get benefits and interact with stuff if you draw a full circle on the ground. Make it so that if you perfectly run into a loop, the loop will reward you witha bonus for the "stunt". Sonic Rush (and Frontiers too) rewarded you from doing trick, ok let's treat the loop as a trick and let the player gain something useful from performing a full circle in it.

Sonic Unleashed had that gimmick that if there were ring formations in the middle of a loop, by performing the loop, all those rings would be attracted by Sonic and collected in a similar way as if you had an electric shield. Nights has this same mechanics. Kirby and the Canvas Curse rewarded you with a boost (that would also defeat enemies on contact) every time you drew a loop with the stylus

screenshot.jpg

Why not Sonic too? You can do this with power slides too, like in Mario Kart: if you slide, you get an invincible boost for a second or so... like a spindash in movement; gaining those "mini boosts" through playing well and performing tricks can be a side mechanics of the game and some interesting level design can be built around this concept.

This way, even if a loop is completely optional and can be walked around, players will still be motivated to try and get into it to attempt to get the reward. make it so you need a certain speed in order to fully get across the loop, don't make it too easy to reach that speed (put obstacles which will slow you down near the loop so it requires some skills to build up the speed), and you have a perfectly fine 3D loop that makes sense.

My problem with grind rails is that "locking" players in a single direction isn't necessary to achieve 2D Sonic design similarities. Progress being directed in one direction or another is, and guiding the player in that direction is, but we already have multiple gimmicks that accomplish that task while still retaining a degree of freedom that makes 3D platforming fun with the rest of the automation arsenal in springs, boost pads, homing attackable objects and basic camera shifts. And even more gimmicks could be created that expand that toolset. Platforms achieving a linear progression from one end to the next accomplishes the same thing, as well, except it's entirely on the player to overcome the challenge of scaling it.

Forcing a direction through an open space is antithetical to the nature of open worlds, but simultaneously locking the player to it to make it easier, while also removing the nuance that the 3D gameplay would have otherwise, separate from the rest of that world's content, is practically a cardinal sin when it dominates the content of said world. Just look at the reception of Chaos Island. Like we were pitching as an idea earlier, if players had the ability to disengage from the route itself, half the problems would be fixed to begin with, but the route design can go even further than that in fitting well with the open nature.
 

Of course Utopia is filled with level design that is essentially moving around for the sake of it, though. It's a tech demo with only one actually finished goal being the endpoint. That disappears the instant you do what Frontiers did and place a collectable at the end of one of those routes, or actually balance the map so that achieving the highest and fastest path carries you through the level further than just running in a straight line, and is more difficult to reach. Or balancing the speed so that you don't easily fly across the entire level, which both Utopia and Sonic GT were less concerned about, but had at their disposal if they wanted more meaning out of their platforming.

That doesn't make those winding roads inherently flawed compared to grind rails; they still accomplish the same task in a 3D space, but more engaging (albeit harder to manage, much more thrilling) since there's actual player engagement while traversing it. It doesn't matter if falling off of them only has a flat "floor" that is either boring or a pain to get off of, because in a non-tech-demo setting, that floor wouldn't be there, or would be an actual lower route in terms of level design that takes you another direction. In the case of Frontiers, the flat floor or death are still the only two options that exist for failing to stay on the route design. It's still the punishment for failing to platform correctly, or choosing not to take those routes through the map. It's just not as painful because, well, it's not a tech demo and the world is inherently more interesting than a flat plane.

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5 minutes ago, The Deleter said:

My problem with grind rails is that "locking" players in a single direction isn't necessary to achieve 2D Sonic design similarities. Progress being directed in one direction or another is, and guiding the player in that direction is, but we already have multiple gimmicks that accomplish that task while still retaining a degree of freedom that makes 3D platforming fun with the rest of the automation arsenal in springs, boost pads, homing attackable objects and basic camera shifts. And even more gimmicks could be created that expand that toolset. Platforms achieving a linear progression from one end to the next accomplishes the same thing, as well, except it's entirely on the player to overcome the challenge of scaling it.

That's my point when I said that the concept is not bad but the execution is. Gimmicks in the 2D games almost always limit the movements and the freedom of the player, but they do it in a fun and creative way. The point of gimmicks is to create some variety and spectacle in level design, and when all the gimmicks of the game are just boring and samey grind rails, you are doing it wrong.

16 minutes ago, The Deleter said:

Forcing a direction through an open space is antithetical to the nature of open worlds, but simultaneously locking the player to it to make it easier, while also removing the nuance that the 3D gameplay would have otherwise, separate from the rest of that world's content, is practically a cardinal sin when it dominates the content of said world. Just look at the reception of Chaos Island. Like we were pitching as an idea earlier, if players had the ability to disengage from the route itself, half the problems would be fixed to begin with, but the route design can go even further than that in fitting well with the open nature.

Regarding linear progression, I think that a somewhat sense of linearity is needed if you want to create a classic-like (or 2D-like in general) experience in a 3D game, and occasionally pushing the player through a set direction helps the flow of said linearity. Chaos Island annoyed most players, but Ares Island, which is by many considered the best one (when it's not Ouranos), has plenty of linear moments, such as the canyon sections, the underground caves/ruins, the paths floating over the sea, and the Wyvern chase sequence in the middle of the open desert of all places, even. The island still feels very open and the player is free to do whatever they want, but those little bits of linearity and set direction help giving more flow to the exploration, to give a better sense of travelling from place to place.

I've nothing to add about the rest of the post.

 

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53 minutes ago, The Deleter said:

Or balancing the speed so that you don't easily fly across the entire level, which both Utopia and Sonic GT were less concerned about, but had at their disposal if they wanted more meaning out of their platforming.

While balancing speed would still be a necessity, something Sonic usually does to stop this from being a flaw in its level design and maintain interactivity would be to cut off the terrain and for you to go to a different path or aim for a specific target.

Pretty much any time the path smooths out you have to aim for a spring or enemy and that'll slow you down for the next bit of level geometry whether it's just another pathway or a platforming sequence.

-----

On the other hand GT kind of had the solution of making things just vertical enough so that you couldn't just fly over everything if you had enough momentum and doing so would just land you on an upper path that doesn't really allow you to build up that much speed. This doesn't really do anything for the lower paths though.

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21 hours ago, The Deleter said:

The problem is that the cyberspace stages aren't supposed to be minor, though. If we had received the version of Frontiers with the empty open world to find the scattered stages in, they flat-out would not have been worth the price of admission, if they really have gone untouched since then. And now that the rest of the game has been stuffed to the brim with content, the theories of them running out of budget, being rushed to release as they're hastily shoehorned in to make the open world look better, or were flat out unfinished dominate the narrative. What both Kishimoto and Iizuka insist throughout the interviews as being the best of linear gameplay and central to Sonic's identity still are being essentially excused and pushed to the side as something that wasn't supposed to be the main focus, when they absolutely were, and still are in the gameplay loop, with the only other option being pouring money into the fishing shop to skip the gameplay loop outright.

 

That's a good point actually - I suppose before the kinks of the Open World were ironed out as they iterated, Cyberspace was supposed to be on equal footing as opposed to becoming the "optional side content" (maybe optional is the wrong word for me to use - but they certainly came across akin to "Special Stages" to me when I played the game due to their brevity).  But I would agree the manner in how you can progress the game with engaging or missing this element probably could have been handled with more finesse than "go to the fishing mini-game" (and calling that a mini game is being generous).

Trouble is, I don't think Cyberspace is objectively terrible - they are actually serviceable bite-sized levels and occasionally can be very fun. What helps is that they are mostly short and sweet so never feel unwelcome, and this especially holds true because the rewards are not solely "finish this level". That might have not been true in the beginning of the games inception, but I'm glad this is the case now. That being said, Cyberspace does not come close to capturing what made Unleashed / Generations Linear levels fun, and this is what brings it down for a lot of fans (not to mention that the length of the linear levels have been in decline since Sonic Colours anyway). The decision to also lock the controls to a preset style when you have gotten used to your custom style out in the Open-Zone is additionally jarring - even if the intent behind this was pure. 

I just hope they fully embrace the Open-Zone next time and leave linear level design behind (or incorporate those elements within the Open World sensibilities). Sonic Frontiers feels very much like the transitional gateway to their "3rd Generation" of titles which is probably why comes across as a bit Jeckyll and Hyde most of the time. 

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8 hours ago, Iko said:

Regarding linear progression, I think that a somewhat sense of linearity is needed if you want to create a classic-like (or 2D-like in general) experience in a 3D game, and occasionally pushing the player through a set direction helps the flow of said linearity.

This is an interesting quote, since it sums up your ideas. But also because this is probably what some people, devs and players alike, are trying to get away from. By now, everyone has their own ideas of what a Sonic game should be, and often are clashing.

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