Wednesday 21 September 2011

SAGE 2011: Part 2

The smell of fear.

A second batch of Sonic fangames, to enrich our lives no less.

Cosmic Rush

If you liked "Tails' Nightmare 2" at SAGE 2010, you'll probably like this one too. Cosmic Rush is slightly more generic than last year's attmept, which although is arguably better in terms of features, loses much of its originality by going down this route. Like Tails' Nightmare last year, I can actively recommend this one because it plays within the browser, but if you're expecting perfect physics and high frame rates, this one certainly isn't for you. A fine game though, even if it is only a few levels long.

Sonic Worlds Level Collab

As far as scraping the bottom of the barrel goes, Sonic Worlds Level Collab takes the cake this year. It's effectively new levels for the Sonic Worlds engine, so effectively a bit of a fangame rather than a whole one. There's not much to say - the levels are alright but there's only a couple of them, and though they're perfectly fine things to play through, it's hard for me to demand you rush out and give them a try. Perhaps if there was more content, causing the package to feel more like a collaboration rather than a partnership it would be more worthwhile, but I'm not sure. There are better options on the table I think.

Sonic Mobius

Yet more uneventful one-level Sonic Worlds fun, this time with a unfinished Nack the Weasel as a playable character. Parts of Sonic Mobius seem to have the right idea, but the level design is a bit bland and it faces heavy competition from games which use the engine more effectively. Of course, every fangame here at SAGE easily beats attempts at Sonic fangames made ten years ago, but this one is hard to recommend simply because its superseded by others.

Madcap Grotto Zone

Yet another Sonic Worlds level. Madcap Grotto Zone is easier to recommend on the basis it does funky things with the engine, but at the end of the day it's still a short demo and the fifth of its kind I've mentioned thus far at SAGE. Perhaps this can be deemed one of the better attempts, but the average consumer is much better off with Sonic Axiom or Sonic: Before the Sequel, if not just on the basis that those games are finished. Kudos for all of these releases though.

And this likely concludes the fangaming part of SAGE - I haven't yet decided whether I'll cover the hacking contest which is sharing the same time slot this year. Overall, it's been a nice turnout - nothing that really steals the show as was the case in previous years, but the overall quality of releases has certainly improved over SAGE 2010. There's also some finished fangames, which you don't often see these days, and interesting concoctions such as a 3D Sonic engine based on Unreal Engine 3 and a Sonic-themed Minecraft skin. There's also a fair share of, quite frankly, boring releases. Yeah let's dress up Amy Rose - that's clearly what we've always wanted to do.

But if there any real letdowns, it would have to be the SAGE website - it feels cramped, looks ugly and doesn't really give fangames the attention they perhaps deserve. There's also clearly been some bizarre booth requirements, where people have been forced to make oddly-sized splash pages for reasons I fail to understand (iframe issues?). Traditionally SAGE has an excellent website, but for one reason or another that doesn't seem to be the case this year, and the problems are amplified when you're viewing with big screen resolutions. The key is perhaps not to recycle layouts from five years ago, because standards change.

There's also a heavy reliance on the open-source Sonic Worlds engine, to the point that even though every game I've mentioned this year has been fun to play, releases don't feel... original. There are many similarities between the first three Sonic Mega Drive platformers, but one thing they made sure to do was not to blatantly recycle assets. When you see the default Sonic Worlds heads up display, incorrect spindash sounds and in some cases, the same music... it's difficult to get excited. Levels alone will not make your game stand out among the crowd - you need to deliver a unique experience if you want it to be judged as a fangame and not an "extension" to the works of others. And that's not so much a case of extending the core gameplay - just creating a game where the Sonic Worlds engine isn't instantly recognisable should suffice.

But a good SAGE and some good games. If nothing else you should hunt down Sonic Axiom, because lack of polish aside, clearly the most work has been put into that one.

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