Friday, 3 September 2010

Sonic & Knuckles Gets Fan Made 3D Makeover

There has been a lot of flack surrounding the newly in-development Sonic 4, with many hardened fans criticising every aspect of the game, from level design and the way Sonic moves, right down to the colour of his eyes. Some of this criticism was genuinely plausible, but some of it was also just a bunch of nonsensical fanboy ramblings intent with rubbishing every facet of the game, whether or not it deserved such a response.

Adding more fuel to the fire no doubt, is a recently released video showcasing a brief non-playable demo of Sonic & Knuckles updated for 2010 using a 3D engine. This impressive tech demo of sorts first appeared on YouTube after a fan of Sega’s 16bit Sonic games decided to see just how one of the old Megadrive titles would look like if directly converted into 3D (or 2D with 3D graphics), keeping the original gameplay style intact.

Just days after being posted on the site the video has received more hits that any of the official Sonic 4 footage available for viewing, and in many peoples eyes represents how Sega’s flagship character should be like in a modern day 2.5D remake. Although this update is not immune to some negativity either.

Taking around two to three weeks to complete the video was put together by rendering 3D graphics over recorded gameplay footage of Sonic & Knuckles taken by the user. Most of the project’s development took place in 3DS Max, with special effects and additional polish being added via Adobe After Effects. According to the video’s creator it was “It was designed as a graphical demo to see how well classic Sonic gameplay and level design would adapt to 2.5D.” and the result I might add is particularly impressive.

As you can see, compared to both official, and unofficial gameplay footage of Sonic 4 this 2.5D demo of Sonic & Knuckles definitely seems to capture the true spirit of those classic Megadrive games. But of course, it would, being a direct recreation of one of them. However, what’s more impressive is the fact that for a simple non-playable, fan-made demo, it looks far more polished than anything we’ve seen of Sonic 4.

Whereas Sonic 4 still looks to be capitalising on the character’s speedy nature, this video shows a more traditional, sedate Sonic traversing a small opening segment of the Mushroom Hill Zone with far steadier, less erratic movements. You can also see, when sizing up the two games, how glitchy parts of the environment collision detection is in Sonic 4, with the blue hedgehog getting stuck after exiting from small half-loops, and other such areas.

The overall look of the demo video is also very impressive. Its creator has taken the familiar style of Sonic’s world and has beautifully adapted it into 3D with all its original charm and detail intact, whilst enhancing it with some stunning lighting effects, solid texturing, and plenty of anti-aliasing. None of it is being done in real time though, and neither of the current-gen consoles could authentically replicate theses graphics with the same kind of image quality seen in the video. However this CGI rendering of Sonic’s 16bit world is a good indication of what it could look like if a real 2.5D game were to be created.

In many respects the end result is significantly better than anything we have seen in Sonic 4, and makes you wonder just why Sega decided against going down a similar route when developing their re-envisioned Sonic sequel. Using recorded gamplay to build up a rough pattern of how the game engine could work seems like a no-brainer to me, and would perhaps provide a better base in which to build new features on top of in order to create a ‘fresh’ take on an old idea.

Seeing as the release date for Sonic 4 has been pushed back to sometime this fall, the team at Dimps has every opportunity to fix the few glaring issues that are apparent in previous builds of the game, and they are ‘aware’ of these problems. Although in the meantime maybe someone should point them in the direction of this S&K video, perhaps as a reminder to see just what many fans are expecting from an authentic Sonic sequel.

Either way this fan-made demo is an impressive piece of work, and could easily form the blueprint for a graphical reworking of the original 16bit Sonic games, keeping their original gameplay intact. Now that would make for an awesome series of XBLA and PSN releases.

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