Level creators are nothing new to video games at large, but throughout the long history of the series, Sonic the Hedgehog has only had one level editor officially released. While long since gone, as PlaySEGA itself has been shut down for several years now, those who played it will likely recall a less than stellar recreation of the original Sonic the Hedgehog with some new sprites thrown in for a fairly limited experience. Enter Lapper, a Sonic Retro user who has been working diligently since 2010 to create a more thorough and consistent level creator based on previous Sonic titles on the Genesis dubbed Sonic Studio (formerly known as Sonic Maker.) We took some time to grill Lapper about his project and what we can expect in the future.
Q: There’s a lot of Sonic fan game engines out there, but never something that’s quite as easy to use as Sonic Studio? What was the driving for or inspiration behind it’s inception?
Lapper: I’ve been making level editors ever since I started making anything. Officially, I was originally inspired by the PlaySega Level Creator from back in 2010 where you would place large pre-made tiles down in a grid. I started building editors which followed the tile method. In the end, it wasn’t too special. For a dedicated editor with Sonic to be truly worth while, slopes had to be the core of the creativity. I always knew a method for allowing people to create their own slopes was a … slippery slope. It’s not easy to regulate what someone makes when you aren’t bound to tiles. But for a style of a game such as 2D Sonic, I believe this is a fitting risk. I see this project as a challenge of sorts!
Q: Obviously creating levels is a big part of Sonic Studio, but what other features can you tell us about the game?
Lapper: You can choose characters, zones, decorate, and customise. Everything is pre-made in a sense, but have various attributes you can edit at will. Tilt a bridge, remove that grass, rotate a spring, lengthen that palm tree. It’s not hard to create something unique from what’s provided. Aside from editing, there will be a sharing aspect. I can’t go into specifics in that regard yet as it’s all in progress.
Q: Sonic is notorious for having a difficult to replicate engine, namely in terms of physics. Was it a challenge to nail them down and do they cause any issues when designing levels?
Lapper: That’s a great question because again it all comes down to slopes. The Sonic engine is as accurate as is sensible. It should feel very familiar. This is nice but also gives me a challenge. Users can make whatever level shapes they can think of, and as I’m sure you can imagine the original Sonic engine would easily break if you could throw any shape or corner or tight gap Sonic’s way. While I’ve created an engine that is I’d say 90%+ accurate movement-wise, it does mean that users can indeed make something that will break said engine. There aren’t many ways to prevent it either – perhaps there can be a use to it, who knows! Normal use should be fine however and the engine can handle high speeds very well in general.
Q: The sprite work in this game is absolutely phenomenal! Is there a particular style you’re going after and is this all being done by yourself or do you have others assisting with the art as well?
Lapper: So far it’s just me drawing it all! The style is originally based on Mania, the character shading methods certainly are. As for all such as backgrounds and tiles, I decided I’d ignore the constraints that the original games and some of the redone levels in Mania adhere to, and (for example) have distant mountains faded, overlap parallax, add designs never seen before into level tiles. I have fun with it, really. Tiles have to be altered slightly and added to in order to make them interesting in a flat user-created polygon, so that’s another factor!
Q: Studio’s big claim to fame obviously is being an easy to use level creator, but can we look forward to creating bosses at all? Or will there be some preset options to choose one of Eggman’s many contraptions from the past?
Lapper: Bosses are for sure a thing! Boss or Endpost, you can finish your level in style. The best way to picture it is to imagine an arena at the end of the stage where certain elements can be added or combined. I wonder what that Eggmobile would also be useful for…
Q: Speaking of bosses, what can we expect for enemies? And like we talked about with Sonic’s movement, have the enemies presented any challenges with getting them to respect how platforms are placed and making sure they move properly?
Lapper: Enemies simply spawn around where they are placed, and you can designate a home size for them to patrol (if they move like that). If the enemy falls and de-spawns it can spawn back, if you destroy it then it’s not so lucky and you free the animal. You can also combine elements like enemies and certain other hazards in interesting ways. These are the kinds of things that are currently being worked on.
Q: Sounds like there’s going to be a lot of ways for players to make their own levels unique! Will we expect any way to put in custom music or sprites or are those engine specific?
Lapper: I’ve had this question by many, it’s best I make it clear! Custom assets aren’t something that would be a part of SS. The aim of SS is to be simple. Here are your playthings, use them! The end user would get SS expecting at least the level of style shown so far, imagine they then open a level and are greeted to “Dinosaur the Hedgehog” in MSPaint world. Can sound fun at first glance, however, some upheld consistency in art and music will be appreciated long term. Adding assets would bring SS from a neatly packaged game to a new version of Game Maker for Sonic games… and that’s not the goal at all, those sorts of things already exist in some ways anyway. Particularly with the sharing aspect it’s best to have some level of predictability with what to expect in level content, mixed with general simplicity of such a feature. Custom assets would get very confusing very quickly, both locally and not. Finally, the fun ways you can customise and combine objects wouldn’t be possible if there was a feature to ‘program’ your own. The fun comes from the ease of use with so many options, not ambiguous and extremely complex (but limitless) ones. That’s what Game Maker is for. This wouldn’t be expected anywhere else but with Sonic’s massive fangame+modding community I can see why it is.
Q: And coming to music, we haven’t heard a ton quite yet from Studio. Should folks looking forward to the game expect remixes from the original games or something new? And like the art, is that also something you’re tackling personally or are you getting some help?
Lapper: Music is still being decided. I’m not musically talented so I should sure hope I’m not trying my hand at it! There will be others helping with both the sharing aspect and music.
Q: As odd of a question as this might be, what control options should those interested look forward to? Using a mouse for level editing is a given, but can we expect X-input or any kind of joystick support?
Lapper: There is joypad support for the gameplay, I feel it is necessary! The editor and menus are navigated with mouse clicks and keyboard combos, however.
Q: We’ve seen Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles all as playable characters. Is there any chance of others being added, say post release or are we sticking mainly with the original trio?
Lapper: For now, it’s the main trio and they are the focus – but I cannot speak for the future! I’d love to see more characters added with careful consideration.
Q: And we just have to ask… anything new to show us?
Lapper: I have some exclusive screen-shots! A work in progress title screen and level menu.
Q: Anything else you’d like to let the fine folks reading know? Perhaps where to find you or keep tabs on Sonic Studio?
Lapper: For sure! Frequent updates go up on @SonicStudioProj on Twitter, and more behind the scenes on @LapperDev (Shameless plug: I’m a freelance game artist, shoot a Message my way). All the major updates will be on YouTube first! Finally, nothing shown is final or even exhaustive. There is much more to see – and much more to yet be added!