Sunday, 8 February 2015

Sonic 2 8-bit ending

My most recent post drew a bit of traffic to this blog, and a couple of people responded really positively to my old writings about the intro movie for Sonic CD. My friend and contemporary Chris Cox posted a sweet little redesign which he said was partially inspired by it.

On its own it actually sort of reminds me of Sonic Pocket Adventure, a little-known but surprisingly competent game for the Neo Geo Pocket Color.

However, he also made a dusk version of the same image, with a different colour palette...

...which reminded me of something else entirely: the ending sequences for the 8-bit version of Sonic 2.

Although the 8-bit Sonics are definitely less developed than their mainstream 16-bit counterparts, I had a Game Gear long before I had a Mega Drive, so these games hold a very special place in my heart. The ending sequence to this game is very simple: it's just Sonic running from left to right across a scrolling background (joined by Tails if you got all the Chaos Emeralds for the good ending), with credits displaying at the bottom of the screen. However, they do something really nice, by changing the colour palette through 9 different iterations to convey a transition from midday, through afternoon, to dusk, and finally to night.

Aren't these colour palettes wonderful! I love Chris's redesign and colours, but his dusk version still feels a little bit like there's just a magenta filter over the image. Each of these, though, feels almost like an independant, new colour idea in its own right! There are such bold, shameless changes in saturation, hue, and tone. The almost pure grey sky in the second image. The bright, cold blue trees against the rich, almost cherry red sky in the sixth. The way the default neutral grey of the checkerboard pattern completely takes on the ambient colour.

Even the whole balance of contrast is played with to suggest the changing light conditions. Take a look at just the 5 colours used in the trees and grass.

At the start a strong, overhead, midday light is suggested with a high contrast between the lightest and darkest tones, and a gradual gradient formed by the 3 colours in the middle. However, as the sun goes down, this balance changes. The first colour actually becomes darker than the second, to suggest a strongly tinted light catching on the edges of leaves. In the 5th and 6th palettes, the second and third colours are almost, if not completely, identical, and quite bright, while the shadow tones remain very dark, to suggest the sharp, long shadows and the light getting right in your eyes that happen at sunset. And as night falls, the contrast within the trees becomes muted, so that,where before they were mostly darker than the sky, they are now entirely lighter. And all this is done without actually changing any of the pixels in the artwork, just shuffling the palette.

It's really brilliant. I want all lighting changes in cartoons to be done this way!

The music on the Sonic 2 endings is really lovely, too. I kind of prefer the bad ending theme. The soft attack and slow decay of the lead instrument give it a wistful quality, and the melodies, while still upbeat, are a little melancholy too, so it really does the job of marking the fact that you've beaten the game but something sad still happened (that is, Tails died because you're a failure).

They also both have this bouncy triplet rythm to them which really matches the pacing of Sonic's running animation!

I think 8-bit Sonic 2 actually has a really good soundtrack in general. These games are from a time when credits lists for games weren't really exhaustice and often used pseudonyms, so the composers for this game are listed as "Tomozou", "Simachan", and "Ray". The only one I can get any more details on is the first, Tomozou Endo. I may have mentioned this before, but a long time ago I was kind of into making covers of stuff in a PC version of the music maker from Mario Paint called Mario Paint Composer. I started a project to cover everything from the game but lost interest before I finished. I think some of what I did still kind of holds up though!

Linking to my old Youtube account is kind of embarassing but hopefully the stuff that's on there isn't too weird.

This is kind of a tangent, but all that colour stuff made me think of  the cartoon My Life as a Teenage Robot. It did some really really nice stuff with colour in general, and would just entirely replace the main character's normal white and aqua colour scheme to suit the mood and lighting.

It's actually a pretty good cartoon overall, from what I can remember. I had a quick thumb through some episodes to grab those screenshots and it made me want to rewatch it. I think it went a bit under the radar at the time but it had a respectable run of three 20+ episode seasons and a couple of specials.

I've got alot on my plate in terms of cartoon watching right now, though. I only just got round to properly starting to watch Adventure Time a little while ago and oh my god I love it so much. All the characters are so perfect and the writing is consistently great. I think about writing about it sometimes but chances are the fandom's already said everything there is to say there. Anyway after that I need to get up to speed on Steven Universe as people seem to be responding really positively to that, too. So it's kinda hard to justify the time I'd spend rewatching something right now.

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