tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Not quite Mach 1

I had some trepidation when I heard the next Sonic game was going to be outsourced to a Western studio with some Naughty Dog alumni, complete with new character designs and a Knuckles who looked like he had been drinking nothing but protein shakes for the last ten years. But hey, it might not turn out so bad, right?

Well some in-game footage apparently leaked ahead of E3 and it really hasn’t inspired any confidence in me:

Oh god shut up already

The main three takeaways I had were:

  1. The last time we had an ‘in-depth’ (by which I mean incredibly shallow) combat system in a Sonic game it didn’t turn out so well.
  2. I thought one of the key takeaways from Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog was that the characters really need to keep quiet. That seems to have been tossed in the bin for this iteration and I don’t know that the quality of the banter on show here justifies that decision.
  3. The platforming/speed sections look…serviceable, I suppose. I’m not seeing anything amazing that would necessitate a purchase at this point (especially compared to the daytime stages in Unleashed or Generations as a whole), but it doesn’t look bad, at least.

Overall, unless they show something else that blows me away at E3 I’m probably still going to be in ‘wait and see’ mode. I’m not going to quibble about it not being 100% like the older 3D Sonics but it appears to be rather…vanilla.

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This is awesome

That said I don’t know that Sonic 2 is necessarily the best game to show that stuff off…it’s pretty streamlined compared to some of the other games.

Oh well, still funny!

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There go the alarm bells

So apparently someone leaked a video of Sonic 4 running on the 360, and it seems like some of my concerns were well-founded. The physics seem really off – since when did jumping while running on a flat surface give you that much horizontal momentum? Why doesn’t Sonic accelerate as he falls? Why are his jumps so floaty? How is the game letting him stand on an inclined surface without falling? And so on. Not to mention booster pads. Leave those in the Rush and Advance games, please – I like to earn my momentum, not have it handed to me on a plate.

And apparently Dimps is developing, which again tells me that no-one inside Sonic Team probably has any idea how to develop a 2D Sonic game in the classic style any more. Not that Dimps is infinitely more knowledgeable about this, mind you – the only game they’ve made that came anywhere near classic Sonic physics was the first Sonic Advance. And so far this game looks like it’s using Sonic Rush physics. For a demonstration of the silliness possible in that game, I refer you to this video:

At least the game looks rather nice.

People are claiming this is an alpha build, and that’s true. Maybe I’m getting agitated about nothing. But at the very least you’d think they’d have nailed the physics engine before starting to build full levels. ESPECIALLY since they’re claiming this is the revival of classic Sonic.

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This looks better than I thought it would

Much better:

(Also I’m such a Sonic nerd that I noticed that they used the sprite from the beta version of Sonic 2, hurhur)

More details here. No boost meter anywhere in sight, although I must wonder why they left the homing attack in. It was a necessity for the 3D games, but in the 2D ones? Not so much, except in Sonic Rush and its sequel where it made the game a little too easy.

I wonder who’s developing it…the trailer says Sonic Team, but it’s entirely possible that they’ve subcontracted it to Dimps again, much like how Capcom went to Inti Creates for Megaman 9 and 10.

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Dare I get my hopes up?

Sonic is the only playable character in Project Needlemouse

I have to admit, that enemy concept art reminds me way too much of old-school enemy concept art. Having enemies with actual weak points that you can’t just hit anywhere will be most welcome.

That said, I’m not going to say anything substantive until I see some footage of this thing in action. I’ll just reiterate what I mentioned in my earlier blog entry on the subject – more Sonic CD/S3&K, less Sonic Rush, please.

Although I wouldn’t mind if they had Hideki Naganuma do the music again…not at all.

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The last thing I was expecting this week

A new 2D Sonic, in HD, to be released in 2010


Dammit, I don’t want to get my hopes up, just to be disappointed yet again.

When this does eventually show up, I hope it’s more Sonic CD and less Sonic Rush – while I had fun with that game, it was more about ‘LOL HOLD DOWN THE BOOST BUTTON AND PRESS A OCCASIONALLY’ as opposed to Sonic CD’s expert mix of momentum-based and timing-based platforming.


Back on the leash, sort of

So today’s the 18th anniversary of the release of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive/Genesis. It seems fitting, therefore, that I have some thoughts on one of the more recent Sonic games (which I bought after I traded in a bunch of Wii games) – Sonic Unleashed for PS3.

I find the core platforming mechanics (at least those in the daytime stages) to be much improved over Sonic 2006 – for one, Sonic Team has finally realised that modern gamepads have more than two buttons on them, and therefore all your face buttons are now used for non-overlapping actions. Not having to start the level from scratch because the game thought you wanted to do a bounce attack instead of a light dash even though you were in mid-air right next to a line of rings is definitely an improvement. On top of that, the game also shows you when your homing attack will actually hit something, as opposed to previous games where it was pretty much luck of the draw.

The daytime stages also draw more from Sonic Adventure 2 than Sonic 2006 – no more lifebars on enemies, and a much bigger emphasis on having to know the ‘best’ route through a stage in order to get an S-rank. However, it also takes a significant feature from Sonic Rush – the boost system. Knowing when to boost can sometimes be important (for instance, boosting off a ramp can help you reach alternate routes or items that are higher up), but otherwise it doesn’t really add to the game much. Much like in Rush, there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t want to be holding down boost all the time (the only exception is when you need to drift).

Fortunately, there are at least some stages where the game at least tries to make it harder for you to hold down boost, either by tossing numerous obstacles like spike traps and gaps that need to be maneuvred in quick succession, or by limiting the amount of rings present in a stage so that your boost capability is limited. These stages are usually found through town missions – while these mostly consisted of idiotic, mundane tasks in Sonic 2006, in Unleashed they typically whisk you off into a modified version of one of the daytime stages – versions that have usually been modified to be somewhat harder, containing more obstacles or featuring stringent time limits. Overall, the daytime stages are a pretty fun romp, and definitely the most fun I’ve had with a 3D Sonic since SA2.

That said, I still think the nighttime stages have no business being in this game. They’re a drag on the entire experience, and are not anywhere near as entertaining as the daytime stages. The platforming is very pedestrian, with nothing really special about it (and also features some weird control bugs), and the combat mainly consists of mindlessly mashing the same buttons over and over. There’s no real lock-on system, so flailing madly is pretty much the best strategy in most situations. There’s a block button and tons of combos, but there are one or two combos that overpower basically everything else in your arsenal, and you almost never need to block as there are very few things that can do significant amounts of damage to you. There are fewer nighttime stages than daytime stages, but they make up for the lack of number by being annoyingly long. Their length, combined with their utter blandness, only serves to make me wonder why these levels exist. Would it not have been better to include more obstacle-based platforming areas in the daytime stages?

Other changes that have been added to the game include an experience and level up system, although this only really matters for the nighttime stages – daytime Sonic has only two attributes, which control his top speed and the length of his boost meter, and leveling them up didn’t affect my experience of the game much. The Werehog has many more attributes, although the only really important ones are the ones that control attack power and learning new moves. If the Werehog weren’t in this game, there would be even less reason for this system to exist than there is now.

The visuals and audio are definitely an upgrade from Sonic 2006, featuring things like dynamic shadows, proper bump mapping and a very detailed set of stages for you to run around in. The draw distance is impressive, with very little of the pop-in that plagued Sonic Teams’s earlier current-generation console effort. The PS3 version of Unleashed does have some odd framerate issues – while the framerate isn’t locked to 30fps like the 360 version’s is, it experiences ridiculous amounts of slowdown in some of the hub areas and Werehog stages, as well as some of the more effect-intensive stages like Adabat.

Overall, Unleashed feels like two steps forward and one step back, really. The daytime stages are entertaining and occasionally challenging (an attribute that is rare in Sonic games these days) but the whole package would really be better off for the exclusion of the nighttime stages. The effort spent on developing them would have been better spent on improving the daytime stages – I’d have loved to see some of the alternate routes from the Wii version make an appearance here, for instance.

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PC maintenance is hard

I’d really like to kick the idiot at Intel who designed the Core 2 Duo heatsink/fan assembly. I had to use a screwdriver to force that thing into its locked position because my thumbs weren’t enough. Why can’t they just use a backplate and screws like just about every decent third-party heatsink out there?

As for why I was fiddling with my heatsink, well, today I added a fresh layer of thermal grease to my CPU. It’s been running way too hot for quite a while now (50 degrees Celsius at idle) so I decided to finally get to the root of the problem. And of course now it’s idling at a healthy 20 C, with the temperature under load being about ten degrees higher. Given that, since the 4GB of RAM I bought over Thanksgiving was causing my CPU to overheat at load when I installed it back then, I think I should probably give it another shot (although Windows XP won’t be able to use all of it, more RAM is always good). Hopefully it fares better this time.

I also did a reformat recently, and all I have to say is that the entire process has convinced me of the obsolescence of the DVD as a backup medium. I burned something like eight single-layer DVDs trying to back up all my files, which is pretty ridiculous. I’ve been pretty sloppy with my disk management, so I guess what I need is to either create a dedicated data partition or buy a new hard disk exclusively for data. Then again that raises concerns about what happens when that disk fails…

Maybe I should set up a RAID? Heh. As if I didn’t have enough trouble holding on to my money as it is…

On another note I got my hands on Maaya Sakamoto’s newest album かぜよみ (Kazeyomi) yesterday (and before you ask me where I downloaded it from, I paid for it with money, you goddamn pirate). So far, I like it more than 30minutes night flight and 夕凪ループ. It has a few singles on it that are anime-related, most notably Triangular, the first opening theme for Macross Frontier (which is a pretty great song in and of itself). The main reason I bought this album on release is because it was made with Youko Kanno’s involvement – a big plus for me since most of Maaya’s best songs were composed by Youko Kanno.

Tentative thumbs up – I’ll be listening to this a lot on my iPhone for the next few weeks to confirm that initial impression.

And now for no reason I’ll end this post with a Youtube video I capped off my laptop while I was playing Outrun 2006. No, I’m not normally this bad at the game…but I think the fact that Fraps was affecting my framerate might have had something to do with it. Not to mention the fact that I recently switched from using the keyboard to using an Xbox 360 controller to play (great controller, apart from the terrible d-pad).


More Sonic Unleashed stuff

I’ve more or less gotten everything I can out of the Wii version of Sonic Unleashed – I haven’t gotten all the medals, but I have pretty much S-ranked every stage (a few Werehog stages being the exception), so I think I can set it aside.

That said, the first thing I did after getting back from Singapore (literally the first thing – just a few minutes after I walked in the door) was download the demo for the PS3 version. I’ve taken it for a few spins since then (I’ve A-ranked it at least) and I have some…thoughts.

The game does look rather nice in terms of lighting, modeling and texture quality, but the PS3 version has a few hitches – for one, the framerate is rather inconsistent. Unlike the framerate-locked 360 version, the framerate on the PS3 version can go from 30 to 60 in an instant. On the one hand this is kind of annoying since it kills the sensation of speed that you get…on the other hand it means that someone at Sega has finally figured out how to program a variable framerate engine! Not that I’d want to be licensing it to anyone, given how crappily it seems to run on the PS3…

The game itself is a little uneven. The controls are somewhat floatier than the Wii version for some reason – they’re not as bad as the ‘twitch and fall off a cliff’ controls in Sonic Heroes and Sonic 2006, though. The demo only contains one level – the first level, Windmill Isle. The PS3/360 version of this stage is rather straightforward and linear compared to the Wii version, which has at least 3 alternate routes through the stage that I can think of. The stage also feels very cramped, and this affects the game to some degree, in that you can’t really see what’s coming up ahead of you. In that respect it’s somewhat disappointing.

As I already knew, the boost system in the PS3/360 version is plucked straight out of Sonic Rush, so you can hold down X as long as you like to continue speeding through the stage. There are a few obstacles placed in the stage to prevent you from doing this, like spike traps, bumps in the road that will trip you up, and, well, walls. The actual amount of platforming you have to do in the first level is rather minimal, but there is some of it.

Overall, I can’t say I was blown away, but at least it wasn’t awful like I was expecting it to be. That said, I have no idea how the later levels are (some people have told me that they’re significantly more challenging, although I have yet to verify this), and of course the demo contains none of the Werehog levels, town missions or any of that other stuff which most people regard as a drag on the whole experience. I’ll probably seek out the PS3 version when it’s down to $30 or less (right now it’s still full price at Amazon.com).

On another note, in the comments on my last entry Neochaos just pointed out something interesting to me regarding Street Fighter 4 – the game will in fact feature a full-featured training mode, and from this article it sounds like it’s very much in the vein of Virtua Fighter 4′s excellent Training Mode on PS2.

I stand by my earlier point that the game itself is not made more accessible to newbies by removing stuff like parries, but extra modes like this can help them deal with the learning curve somewhat. It won’t eliminate it, but it should at least show them what they need to master.


Well, that was a surprise

My opinion of Sonic Unleashed has improved somewhat from my last post, which was made after being made to slog through two consecutive Werehog levels which nearly put me to sleep. I’m at the final stage of the game, so I don’t think my opinion is going to change significantly – I might as well pen down some thoughts.

The regular speed levels are basically a combination of Sonic and the Secret Rings with fixed controls and a rather stripped down version of Sonic Rush. To be honest, I’m pretty satisified with how they turned out, barring a few minor issues that are holdovers from Secret Rings (the game doesn’t like it when you try to backtrack, and manual camera control is basically nonexistent). Even early levels like Apotos have a few alternate routes you can check out (and the key to accessing them is timing-based puzzles, much like in Sonic Adventure 2).

Here are a few things I wanted to note about the speed areas:

  • The boost move (done by pressing X on the classic controller) works significantly differently from the similarly-named move from the Sonic Rush series. Here, each button press results in a fixed-length boost, during which you can’t change your direction or stop, meaning it needs to be used judiciously. No more holding X throughout the entire level like in Sonic Rush.
  • Unlike just about every other Sonic game made to date (except Secret Rings, getting 100 rings doesn’t net you an extra life. The way lives work in this game is actually kind of similar to Sonic 2006, in that you can’t farm extra lives by replaying levels over and over again. You have 3 tries, and every time you lose one you get dropped at an autosave checkpoint while the timer continues to run (basically meaning that dying during a level run hurts your chance of getting an S-rank). You can get more extra lives from item boxes you find in platforming puzzles located in the hub areas.
  • Speaking of hub areas, the Wii version doesn’t have hub levels you can run around in, instead opting for an Ace Attorney-ish point and click interface for exploring the various towns you’ll visit. I like this, if only because it lessens the amount of time you need to spend there. The retarded town missions you had to do in Sonic 2006 are still fresh in my memory.
  • There are indeed side-scrolling areas to be found in the speed levels, but they play nothing like any of the sidescrolling levels in the older Sonic games or even in the Sonic Rush games. Just about all loops are scripted, meaning momentum plays basically no role in these sections. I’m not sure what the point of including these sidescrolling sections was if they weren’t going to at least try to apply some elements of 2D design to them.

That said, let’s move on to the Werehog levels.

The actual platforming in these levels is fairly nondescript and unremarkable – I don’t have much to complain about, but I can’t really say I enjoyed these sections either. On the other hand, the combat is just terrible. There really isn’t much strategy involved at all beyond ‘jump to hit enemies in the air’ and ‘make sure to use the roll-dodge if you’re fighting those big guys with the clubs’. Sonic’s main combo move basically consists of pressing X and Y alternately, and his level 2 combo (which you’ll earn by the second or third level that you play) covers a ridiculous amount of area on the ground, making it a very good crowd control move. You can press A at certain points in the combo to get more interesting finishing moves, like an aerial launcher (which is kind of pointless without any sort of aerial followups besides jumping and mashing more buttons) or a ground pound move that’s also great at crowd control.

On top of that, the camera is zoomed out way too far, making it difficult to figure out if my attacks are going to hit anything or not. More often than not I jump to try and tag one of the game’s annoying flying enemies only to whiff entirely. On top of that, I have a sneaking suspicion that the actual attack hitboxes and the effects on the player model don’t actually line up a lot of the time.

Add these facts to the additional fact that there are three times as many Werehog levels as regular Sonic levels (each town has a set of three Werehog levels and a single speed level, along with a bunch of side missions, some of which the game requires you to clear before you can go on to the next area) and we have a rather frustrating package overall. On the one hand the actual speed levels are the most fun I’ve had with a Sonic game in quite a while, but on the other hand the Werehog is mostly bland and uninteresting.

Unfortunately for my wallet, though, I think the game is good enough for me to take a risk on buying the PS3 version when it hits in December. Fingers crossed.


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