Chronicles Impressions and more
Saturday, 1st November 2008, 12:40pm (GMT), 9 Comments
Not to worry, I'm not dead. Just busy. Unfortunately juggling a full time job and work on the big Zone: 0 reinvigoration that finds itself falling further and further behind schedule, is not easy, especially when your job is looking at a computer screen all day anyway. Still, progress has nonetheless been fairly consistent, and to recap, I'm planning a massive revamp to the whole site. Although the actual writing will receive only minor amendments, based on the suggestions that visitors have helpfully sprinkled across the pages (so if you've suggested something good months ago that I haven't done yet, don't worry, it is probably coming!), and the overall layout and organisation of the site will remain the same, all of the underlying code has basically been completely rewritten in order to offer fully dynamic content, with lots of new features. It may still be two or three months off at least (and there will therefore be no more updates until that time), but hopefully it'll be worth the wait. Right now I'm working on a new, very comprehensive admin system for me to control the layout of the pages, and I'm almost done, so it'll make the whole process so much easier from here on out, and hopefully I'll be able to bash out several dynamic versions of old levels and pages in a matter of days. Visually, the new design is already there and it's a vast improvement and I'd like to think that the whole thing will help Zone: 0 become more and more recognised in the Sonic community as I continue to add new pages of content. It's just unfortunate that the place has to sit quietly in suspended animation for the moment, and I can see my visitor stats decreasing as a result.

Before I talk about Sonic Chronicles and Sonic Unleashed, was I the only UK-based Sonic die-hard to be crushed in disappointment while leaving the Video Games Live event in London last Friday? Don't get me wrong, it was a great show, but after 3 or so years of wanting to go, and after all the excitement of finally getting to see the excellent compositions of Sonic 1 performed by a live orchestra against the background of a history of Sonic game clips, they chose not to include the Sonic segment this time around. I don't mind telling you, I was mighty pissed off. If you don't know, Video Games Live is a world wide tour of game music from across the generations performed by a live orchestra, and with over 50 segments each dedicated to a particular game, I suppose it's not surprising that they only have time to include 20 or so in each show. I suppose it was my own fault for not realising this beforehand, but according to their FAQ on the site, favourites like Mario and Zelda are performed almost every night. You would think, given that Sonic is listed as seventh in their list of 50 titles, that he would be included among that elite group as well. I would try and go again next year, but how will I know if I'm not to be disappointed again? Posting up a list of the segments planned for each event beforehand would be helpful.

My, rather belated, two cents on Sonic Chronicles then. I've played, I'm guessing, past the half way point now, into what I would assume is the so-called second act of the game, and I must say, I'm really impressed by it, and I'm not sure I was necessarily expecting to be either. Sure, the prospect of a Sonic RPG from Bioware sounded great at first, but I soon found the eventual cascade of videos and behind the scenes documentaries to be not-that-riveting, under the mighty shadow of Sonic Unleashed anyway. Still, it's a game that needs to be played for quite a while before you can form a valid opinion of it, and initially I was a bit put off by a certain quality about its comic-book style cut scenes and opening sequence that, while subtle, was at the same time jarringly un-SEGA-like. Indeed, the game starts off a bit slow and boring, with limited attacks to use and at first there's little immediately outstanding dialogue, as everyone said there would be. Before you know it though, a change happens quite quickly and if you're anything like me, you'll start to love it as new characters, moves, strategies, enemies, puzzles and plots emerge. I'm no big turn-based RPG fan, in fact the only one I've really played in full is Pokemon, and generally I can't be arsed with the more strategic approach to a video game battle, but despite this being a Sonic game, which generally insists on a more care-free style of play, Bioware have somehow managed to take those characters and let you use them in an environment where levelling up, buying moves and employing particular strategies for attack and defence against various enemies actually works. All of which are things that have largely failed in past Sonic games, such as Secret Rings, in my opinion.

In Sonic Chronicles, I'm not in the mood to rush through scenery and get on with things as fast as possible anymore, I want to explore, to hone my skills and spend time finding out more about the story, and for Bioware to pull that off where others have failed, to successfully stretch Sonic rather than stretching the properties of an RPG, is actually quite an achievement in itself. Further kudos to them for finally focusing back on the story of the echidnas and Angel Island (although it does present some continuity errors, seemingly mistaking the large piece of land capable of holding several levels - and the Death Egg - that it actually is, for the often mistaken tiny piece of land shown in Sonic Adventure that is actually just an internal plateau used to hold just the Master Emerald). It's nice to see this story, undoubtedly the best ongoing arc they've ever come up with, brought back again after Sonic Team have seemingly forgotten about it entirely, leaving Knuckles as little more than a second sidekick to Sonic, and whose exploits with Angel Island and the Master Emerald usually appear only in his instruction manual bios.

One thing I'm really not big on though is the music. Most of the tunes come straight from Sonic 3D, largely the PC/Saturn soundtrack by Richard Jacques (often hyped up, but I personally prefer the Mega Drive alternative), though it's not that that bothers me, in fact that moment where you match up a tune in a new game, unexpectedly with a track from a previous game is always one of those somewhat rare joys in Sonicdom. No, it's the incredibly minimalistic and uninspiring technical translations of these tunes to the DS hardware, which I thought was capable of a lot more, as the superb soundtrack of Sonic Rush Adventure certainly proves. It's all very slow, thin and low quality techno-sounding, the likes of which you'd probably expect more from the Gameboy Advance and I really don't know if I want any of it in my personal Sonic music collection, despite the links to past tracks. I can see what they're going for with the more subtle approach in levels that you tend to spend more time in than in platformers, but it really feels like they've just slapped on the soundtrack at the last minute as an afterthought (and the re-used tunes actually add some weight to that argument methinks), and Sonic music should NEVER be an afterthought.

Although the game feels a bit rough around the edges in places in terms of its presentation, the fantastic drawn area maps give it a real unique graphical touch, and although before playing I had concerns that there wasn't going to be much of a puzzle element to the game, which I suppose is still true, it doesn't really matter that much, as the battles, story and missions requiring you to explore the maps are enough to keep you hooked. Most maps do have one puzzle each however, where you use the characters to press certain buttons at certain times in order to interact with the puzzle presented to you. Such tasks include recognising patterns that are within a grid of squares and avoiding ones that aren't and the good old match-a-tune-by-hitting-buttons-in-order chestnut. Although thinking about it, this statement isn't saying a lot, as I can't really think of a non-platformer in the Sonic series that really ranks up there with the best platformers, but I would go so far as to say that Sonic Chronicles is probably the best Sonic spinoff game yet.

Meanwhile, Sonic Unleashed is really getting to the point now where I'm seriously in danger of seeing too much before I play the game, with, frankly ridiculous amounts of new trailers coming out that are spoiling specific level contents for me and official websites that threaten to reveal all the level locations and names! Disaster! This happens every time, I end up seeing bits of virtually every level in the game, thus degrading, to various extents, the thrill of exploring brand new environments. It's a simple thrill, but one that's important to me, so I really need to employ more self control and keep my eyes away from these tempting morsels. From the amount of new media and info that's been flooding in over the last couple of weeks, you wouldn't think that we still have a whole month to wait! I saw four new movies last night for crying out loud! Still, I've managed to stay away from anything in the official sites, and there remains at least three, perhaps four levels that I'm yet to see anything for and I'd really like to keep it that way. I'm going to have to try and ban myself from taking in any new information for what will be an extremely long month now.

I must say I'm finding it difficult to match my enthusiasm for the Wii version with that of the 360. I plan on getting both, as they're clearly quite radically different from each other in terms of levels, which make the game as far as I'm concerned, so they may very well be classifiable as separate games in their own right. It's just difficult to truly accept the low end graphics when the 360's look so gorgeous, but the endless, unnecessarily wide and empty roads seen all too much in the Wii footage don't do it any favours for me either. Looks more like courses in a racing game in some places.

My hopes are really high for the title in general though. I'm sure it won't get amazing reviews, largely down to the Werehog, but it seems to be on course to at least inspire hope in the disillusioned. One of the reasons that the failure of the last primary platformer, Sonic the Hedgehog, came as such a surprise was, I think, due to the lack of decent information about how it all played out in the months leading up to release. I remember looking for previews in the latter weeks, and finding only a foreign one that seemed positive, though the translations were hard to make out, and that's about it. There was no warning - any other, earlier previews neglected details about poor frame-rates and dodgy controls etc, and we were lead to believe the demo was based on a much older build, which of course turned out to not be so different from the final release. This time however, there have been loads of previews that haven't been afraid to give us the full story, poor frame-rates and all, and the good news is that the previews have generally been getting more and more positive the further on the development gets. Check out IGN UK's opinions on several level's worth of a near final build. They report minimal technical issues and what's more, fun gameplay on both sides of the coin, and this comes from generally one of the biggest Sonic critics out there as far as I'm aware. I think the final proof will be all down to how the whole story mode plays out in full, but it's all certainly looking very positive. Exactly how good the game needs to be in order to win over some people into thinking that Sonic still has it remains to be seen. It doesn't bear thinking about if we end up facing another critical failure.

Sorry my blog posts have to be so few and far between for the moment, but my free time is fairly minimal so I need to devote most of it to rebuilding the site, and blogs always take much longer than you expect them to. I'll probably return to discuss the Sonic Unleashed demo whenever that decides to pop up, if indeed it precedes the actual release. Fingers crossed! And I'll certainly be offering a highly thorough verdict on the final game too.
Comments   9 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by mercury on Monday, 3rd November 2008, 1:10am
That inconsistency about the nature of Angel Island bothered me, too, but it reminds me of something that has always bothered me about Sonic 3 & Knuckles. So I figure I'll ask a certified Sonicologist about it. :)

In the beginning of Sonic 3, Sonic and Tails are seen flying the Tornado in for a landing on what is assumed to be Angel Island. However, they pass over what appears to be a traditional beach, not the edge of a floating island. Now, this could easily be construed to be an inland lake of Angel Island, and not the ocean at all, but you'd think if Sonic Team wanted to emphasise their magical floating island they'd make it look like one. So perhaps Angel Island is actually in the sea at the time Sonic and Tails arrive? When playing Angel Island as Knuckles, the background is different (only sky is seen above the treeline, rather than a sea with other islands), perhaps adding evidence for this - when you play it as Sonic, the island is down, when you play it as Knuckles, the island is up. In fact, the Japanese Manual for the game states that the Death Egg's crash forced Angel Island down to the sea, so apparently the mystical floating island the entire game is predicated on doesn't float at all during either game when you play as Sonic. Am I the only one who finds that a little odd?

When the Death Egg crashes at the end of Launch Base, it (and you) are seen as falling down into Mushroom Hill. The Japanese Manual states that Mushroom Hill is indeed on Angel Island. But in Hidden Palace, a transporter takes you high into the sky, into Sky Sanctuary. In Knuckles' game, in the background of Sky Sanctuary, Angel Island can be seen. The transporter Knuckles takes in Hidden Palace very clearly sends him straight upward, so how can Angel Island be seen in the background? If Knuckles was just there a moment ago, in the volcano, did the transporter send him sideways? Are there two floating areas? It makes my head hurt. Any thoughts?

(and also, what the heck is a carnival doing on Angel Island? Did the Echidnas build it, or did Robotnik? And when?)
#2. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Monday, 3rd November 2008, 7:37pm
Haha, there are certainly many little things that do need clarification about the story, despite its overall brilliance. As I recall, I do go into these issues in the S3&K guides a little bit (which you'll all see someday, I hope!), and I've wrestled with all of those questions before, but I think I can answer most of them as far as logic is concerned, although we'll probably never really know for certain.

The Japanese manual does indeed state that the Death Egg forces the island down into the sea (I don't have the translation to hand right now, but I'm sure it suggests that Angel Island does not stay afloat in the air while supporting the Death Egg), so that would make sense for Sonic and Tails to cross water in order to get to it.

About the Knuckles issue, there are several clues to suggest that, although you can choose to play as Knuckles from the start, his game appears to take place entirely after Sonic's story has finished, making it somewhat less epic. First of all it explains why we never see Sonic pop up in his story, and as you said, why the sea isn't visible in Angel Island Zone. The Death Egg's face is also no longer sitting in the Volcano when you go to the end of Lava Reef Act 2. I believe that it's basically a big clean up operation, as Knuckles rids the island of badniks, and then eventually takes the Master Emerald back from Mecha Sonic (if that is indeed his official name, I'm not sure to be honest).

I've always thought of Sky Sanctuary as being just a collection of floating ruins suspended separately from the rest of the island, but still held up by the Master Emerald. I guess the transporter's trick of sending Knuckles upwards, and then he appears to the side of Angel Island, is just the best that could be done to illustrate the peryl of an ever slanty Angel Island, with the 2 dimensional resources they had at the time. It is odd that they finally give players the chance to play as Knuckles, a very popular character at the time, and then he seems to get quite a rushed and incoherent story that's very much a side dish to the main course that is Sonic's story.

And as for Carnival Night, I can only think that Eggman had a spare carnival lying around that he had shipped directly onto the island (if you had enough helicopters you could probably do it - The abundance of Eggman's machinery seems to know no limits anyway, so why not?), probably without the permission of Knuckles, and perhaps to make money by opening up a tourist attraction as a side project, while also restoring the Death Egg. Far-fetched explanation, but it is a far-fetched concept anyway.

Oh well, food for thought I suppose. Are these the sorts of storyline issues you're tackling with your big remake project of the Mega Drive titles you mentioned before?
#3. Comment posted by mercury on Monday, 3rd November 2008, 9:05pm
That's brilliant - Robotnik has to fund his exploits somehow, so why not with a carnival? Although, he'd probably have better luck airdropping in prefab Wal-Marts staffed with Badniks. XD

Yes, these are the very things I've had to sort out for my remake, although I take a bit more creative licence than something like, say, Sonic Chronicles. I think it's more important to match the spirit of the original, than the actual resultant cartridge, especially since we now know Sonic 3 & K were rushed, and not initially meant to be released separately. For instance, I try to consolidate some of the Death Egg sequences so it doesn't feel like a bad yo-yo, being launched and crashed and launched and crashed.

However, a lot of my restructuring of the Sonic universe is selfish, really. When I first played these games at 7 or 8 years old, I didn't have the benefit of translated manuals. Furthermore, I was thoroughly confused by the TV series, OVA, and comic books. How I envisioned the Sonic universe was therefore different than any one iteration of it, and certainly nothing like the original Sonic Team's vision. So, when remaking the games I adhere more strictly to my own impressions of the characters and world more than anything else, though I do love trying to combine them wherever possible. Because I had some of the ideas that will eventually shape the game so long ago, it could be said that it's been in development for over a decade. In a way, I've never stopped working on it.

I'm aiming for a 2011 launch date, which seems interminable, I know. But I just finished making accurate 360 degree loop motion, and floating platforms, two of the hardest things about any Sonic engine. I've also studied the physics of the Mega Drive Sonic games, using debuggers, so that I know all of the true velocities used in the originals. You gotta know the rules to break them, after all. I'm now at the point where, if that's what I wanted to do, I could emulate the entirety of each of the games in Game Maker, and a heck of a lot more indistinguishably than Sonic Genesis for the GBA. If only I wasn't so ambitious... Anyway, I'm hoping that the wealth of information I gather can also benefit other Sonic game creators, helping them have more accurate Sonic engines, because, let's face it - most Sonic fan games have a lot of trouble with these things. It's not like making a Mario game.

My other great interest besides Sonic and music is science, and I grew up reading the likes of Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. When hearing them describe physics so engagingly, I always wished that I could have been like Isaac Newton, discovering the properties of light and motion and countless other things. But calculus has been invented, and we already have Euclidian geometry. All the fun stuff has been figured out, and you need to be a string theorist to be in physics today, it seems. That and I probably don't have the brains for it, anyway. So it comes as a great source of enjoyment for me that my love of Sonic can somehow result in my having an experience akin to those old scientists. I may not be able to study real physics, but I can study Sonic physics, and the discoveries I make on that front can actually benefit my "generation". Sonicology is a rewarding field, even if it won't someday result in FTL travel.

I've been rambling again... Anyway, thanks a bunch for the answer, I appreciate it.
#4. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Friday, 7th November 2008, 12:34pm
Sounds like an awesome project! Ramble away, by all means, that's what this site is all about afterall!

No matter how long it takes, you certainly sound committed to your game. It seems we only ever see as much as a few demos from most Sonic fangamers before the game is eventually scrapped, often in favour of a whole other Sonic project that is largely pretty similar anyway. A Sonic engine is certainly a lot more complicated than it looks - I tried my hand at a Sonic fangame many years ago for the Game Maker, before I really knew how to program at all, and my abilities couldn't match those high expectations of a Sonic engine. I'd never share it, but I do look back at it fondly however. It's interesting to see that even back then I had a pretty good grasp of what good level design was about, as there were tonnes of multiple routes and hidden areas etc. It's a different scene now, as there are lots of good, ready made engines out there such as yours, and I'd really love to one day use one of them to build my own ultimate levels, completely original graphics and ideas from top to bottom.

It's interesting that you talk about Sonic allowing you to expand other interests such as Science. I'm experiencing a similar sort of thing with this site. At first it was all about Sonic, before I even knew how to program PHP and use databases etc, but now that I do, it's just as much about building the best site and content management system I can, and expanding my knowledge of programming and web technlogy. I could just build it all in static html, but I want the luxury of creating text and image boxes by merely filling in a few form fields, and my new admin system with which to do that is now practically done. I guess the best thrill is creating stuff that figures things out for itself and creates the tired and tedious html for me.

Now I'm rambling, but I guess my point is how much Sonic seems to be a way of life for some of us, as a conduit to other passions. Fascinating!
#5. Comment posted by mercury on Monday, 10th November 2008, 10:19am
Hey, that's cool, I was thinking about asking you if you'd ever tried your hand at making a Sonic fangame. Now I find not only that you have, but you were using the same programme I am now. If you ever finish one and feel it's up to public scrutiny, I, for one, would love to play it. Good Zones are the most important thing about a Sonic game, after all. Too bad naming them is so hard. ;)

Sonic Extractor 3&K mix is around a fortnight from completion. While working on it, I've discovered some ways to improve the CD mix version, as well, so there might be an update in the near future. Don't worry, though, it'll still be compatible with any work you may have already done. One of the improvements is the ability to enter the Layout without any wait time at all!

Instead of posting the links to each of the things I release to Rapidshare independently, I've made a permanent Rapidshare folder. Now, all anyone needs is a link to this folder, and they can check it periodically for updates, new releases, and anything else (such as Sonic Physics FAQ's, and eventually my game proper). This way I don't have to keep posting links in comments every time I do something new.

The url is http://rapidshare.com/users/6F4GHR

You could even put the link to this folder on Zone 0, on a sort of links page, as a way to advertise Sonic Extractor. If this is asking too much, however, I would understand.
#6. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Monday, 10th November 2008, 10:07pm
Oh, by all means! Linking to your folder is the very least I could to as gratitude for the many hours your programs are sure to save me! I do plan on adding a links section, on the main page most likely, and perhaps a designated links page too. Fantastic to hear that the S3&K Extractor is so close! Can't wait to give it a spin - I'll be sure to keep an eye on your folder.
#7. Comment posted by mercury on Thursday, 13th November 2008, 7:52am
Thanks! I'm in the middle of adding the objects to Hydrocity right now. I've added the ability to import and export different palettes (in Tile Layer Pro format), so that maps can have more accurate depiction of underwater areas (since Sonic 3 has so many). I've also made a small, separate tool that makes creating palettes as easy as "eye-droppering" them right off the screen. I'll be uploading it, soon, too. And finally, I've made progress on the Sonic CD special stage mapping front, so that should be in the update to the CD mix version, also.

On another note, have you seen the "Night of the Werehog" short trailer? And if so, what do you think of it? I can't tell what it has to with Sonic Unleashed, but it does make me wonder what a full-length Sonic Unleashed CGI film would be like, especially with Hashimoto comparing the new visual style of Sonic with things like Pixar's Ratatouille. I wonder if Sega will ever try to make a full-length Sonic feature.
#8. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Saturday, 15th November 2008, 6:36pm
I thought it looked pretty cool, but ultimately I felt somewhat indifferent to it - didn't really have that much of an impact on me and I do wonder what it's all for really. To promote the game, obviously, but considering the short is apparently ten minutes in length, it seems quite an expensive and elaborate way of doing so - I would rather they have put that ten minutes worth of CG work into the game somewhere, where it wouldn't have been done in CGI otherwise.

However, I liked reading that the full thing has no voice overs necessary, and all looks very cartoony. This smash bros style approach is something that I think would work really well for a Sonic game. Not because I don't like the VA's, they're alright, but I just think a lighter, more comical approach would be quite nice. We are talking about a big blue hedgehog afterall, it doesn't all have to be serious, epic battles with monsters that live at the center of the earth.

That said, I must admit I do occasionally daydream of a full blown, CGI movie as a mainstream blockbuster, reminding everyone else of Sonic's existence, along the lines of what TMNT did for the Turtles fairly recently. But of course, videogames to movies are never the most popular of translations, especially for the fans of the series in question. I think if Sonic regains more mainstream popularity, and Sega get more money to spend, it may well be a possibility for them to consider.
#9. Comment posted by mercury on Wednesday, 3rd December 2008, 10:18am
It took a little longer than I expected, but I finished Sonic Extractor 3&K Mix, and it's now up at my LinkList. I hope you find it useful.

I've also got a gmail account, now, so feel free to send me any feedback or suggestions you may have about the programmes.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!
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