After coming off the catastrophe that was Sonic ’06, everyone was right to be suspect of Sonic Unleashed. To the world’s surprise, there was half a good game there! The daytime stages proved to strike a chord with even the harshest of critics, and thus the affectionately named “Boost Trilogy” was born. Years later, petitions are popping up to port Sonic Unleashed to PCs, as SEGA has continued to ramp up their efforts in getting more games for Steam users everywhere.
Meanwhile, Sonic Generations continues to receive new mods since its release on PCs everywhere nearly five years ago. The Unleashed Project is one such mod, aiming to replicate every single daytime stage from the original Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 title. The Unleashed Project began with a team headed by DarioFF and was originally released back in March of 2013. Fast forward three years later, and the project is now being maintained by forum user, S0LV0, with the intent of porting over every additional bonus and DLC stage with the exception of Eggmanland (more on that later.) With over 30 new levels on board, the Unleashed Project 2.0 is looking like a massive upgrade for fans to look forward.
Thirty additional levels is no small task. Generations itself only contains 18 when counting the both acts for Classic and Modern Sonic. S0LV0 had the following to say about how fans can expect to get their hands on the additional levels:
“Truth be told, there still have been no breakthroughs in adding more level slots to the game, so for the time being, the plan is to split the extra content by ‘continent’ and package them into sub-mods which are used by setting them higher priority than the base Unleashed Project mod. It’s a tad more complicated than the original setup, something which I’m not fond of as I like making things easy to understand, but we have no better options right now.”
Generations modding has seen plenty of original levels or at least stages that are heavily inspired by past Sonic titles. In some cases, entire levels have simply been ported from games like Sonic Adventure 2 with minimal amounts of changes needed. Since the Unleashed Project’s goal is to port all of the aforementioned stages as accurately as possible, S0LV0 elaborated on how stages are ported and created:
“A decent amount of object assets will function properly out of the gate when a stage is ported, but quite a bit more of them will either be broken or won’t exist until fixed in the editor. This is usually because they either changed the name of the object, or the names of its configuration types. Those are the kinds of things that need fixing; enemies, level-specific gimmicks, NPCs, floating platforms, and more. The biggest hurdle in any stage is that Unleashed used a 2D camera object that no longer exists in Generations, and crashes the game at that. There’s a suitable replacement, but the properties of the original camera have to be recreated from scratch. Getting everything in a stage to function both fluidly and fairly to the player is a tough tightrope to walk, especially when creative design deviations have to be employed.”
S0LV0 further explained that creating an enjoyable experience was the goal, as opposed to dumping levels into Generations and hoping they would run.
“I always thought of the project as both something of a DLC-esque experience for Sonic Generations, and a fresh way to re-experience the best content of Sonic Unleashed. The latter came out quite a while ago now, so there’s a good chance many people haven’t played that content in a long time, if at all. What better way to get them back into it than presenting it with things like improved controls, framerate, etc.?”
At this point, the project has had most of the groundwork laid out. The goal now is the continue expanding, while keeping as close to the original as possible.
“I’ll happily admit I got the better end of the work, as Dario and the original team had to do the hardest parts of research and recreating things to port the original stages. For the “hard mode” stages a lot of things are pulled from those base ports, obviously with the new obstacles to make the level more challenging. Even with those advantages, the hard mode stages take by far the longest as they have a lot going on that has to be accounted for. Some non-main stages can be pretty lengthy and complex too, such as Savannah Citadel Act 5, but others almost painfully simple, such as… Savannah Citadel Act 2. Wow, what a bipolar continent.”
Although at a glance the boost trilogy of games seem to all play the same, all three games do differ in various ways from one another. It’s thanks to this that certain parts of acts will see some slight liberties taken, due to limitations within Generations.
“… at least once per level something has to be changed due to the alteration of mechanics. The most frequent example is the change from QTE ramps to trick ramps; the mechanic is completely different, and while Sonic can be launched different distances depending on whether he boosts, the player is almost always going to be boosting anyway. This is why many branching paths dependent on a QTE ramp were turned into a timing challenge involving a rainbow ring in Unleashed Project. Sometimes mechanics can be accurately recreated with clever workarounds, other times entirely new ideas have to be employed. For example, in Rooftop Run before the clock tower climbing section, there’s a cannon that completely breaks Sonic’s 2D placement when fired out of it in Generations. A fix for that couldn’t be found, so in Unleashed Project, it was replaced with a wall-jumping challenge. In the hard mode version you have to time your homing attack to hit a fountain which will launch you up to the higher path instead. While in part it’s unfortunate that not everything can be brought over, in many ways the alterations help with making the experience feel like something new; something updated and possibly even improved.”
S0LV0 also explained that some of these changes may be noticeable to avid players of Unleashed. She also expressed that, while these changes would be unavoidable due to said limitations, preserving the gameplay experience was more important than replicating everything surrounding it in a superficial manner.
“In a Windmill Isle level there’s a crusher you narrowly avoid being flattened by with boosting and sliding at the right moments. The crusher object in Generations strangely has a delay before it starts moving, so I set up the section to slow Sonic for a second while the camera pans up and back forward, returning him to full speed. Basically, it’s a cinematic effect meant to both cover the delay problem and assure that the feeling of narrowly escaping is preserved. That’s the kind of ideology I keep in mind whenever making a creative decision, that even if it doesn’t look or play exactly the same, it gives the player the same feeling or satisfaction.”
As stated from the get-go, the Unleashed Project will not contain Eggmanland in any way, shape, or form. One can surmise that it’s due to the sheer amount of Werehog gameplay throughout the level (gameplay is constantly switching from Sonic and his Werehog form, thus creating a level that typically takes an hour to complete,) but what about the possibility of a streamlined version of the stage? S0LV0 felt that would be too derivative of what the project is.
“I think one of the best accomplishments of Unleashed Project as a whole is that basically every level functions as it did in Unleashed with only minor compromises here and there. Right off the bat, attempting to make Eggmanland work by cutting out the Werehog is a giant compromise, and the problems only snowball from there. Even if such a streamlining were feasible, many of the gimmicks related to Sonic’s sections don’t seem to have any Generations equivalents at a glance, as Eggmanland has quite a few level-specific ones. Like I said, consistency and coherency are big priorities, and I feel too much of that would be sacrificed in a struggle to make the stage work. It’s also for this reason we’re not porting the Wii version; this was always meant to be a project for the HD Unleashed content, and the (many) people who ask if we can just port the Wii version don’t seem to understand what kind of discrepancy that would create.”
When Sonic Unleashed hit store shelves in 2008, there were two decidedly different versions: the Playstation 3/Xbox 360 incarnation and the Nintendo Wii/Playstation 2 edition. While some fans prefer one version as opposed to the other, S0LV0 confirmed that the project would continue to use level design and assets from the Xbox 360 edition specifically.
“All of the content is taken specifically from the 360 version of the game. I’m not actually positive why it was specifically chosen by Dario and the team, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the 360 was usually the prioritized console for multiplatform games back then, and often PS3 versions would be sloppy ports of the 360 ones. Not sure if that’s the case for Unleashed, but choosing the 360 version is definitely a ‘better safe than sorry’ scenario.”
The massive undertaking of over 30 additional levels to the Unleashed Project is an ambitious project to say the least. With all the bricks in place, S0LV0 has opted to continue work primarily by herself on the project with assistance from some of the original members, such as DarioFF.
“While I keep in relatively close contact with Dario to make sure everything goes smoothly, I’m mostly working entirely by myself. I’ve gotten minor tidbits of help here and there, mostly from Dario himself (who has been extraordinarily patient helping me get to grips with the engine), but most outside assistance is relatively minimal otherwise. You can imagine one person doing 30+ levels worth of work is probably a stressful job, and it is, but I’m dedicated to it for the sake of providing people a fun experience like the original release provided me. I also want to assure people that the workload in no way means I’m cutting corners. I’ve been working on the project in pieces for a few years to make sure development isn’t rushed, and I’m also going to be running extensive beta testing to make sure things are polished.”
Finally, we asked the dread question: what if Unleashed really does get ported to Steam? S0LV0 says that won’t stop her and she’ll see the project through to the end.
“I’d like to think that should SEGA finally port Sonic Unleashed to the PC, Unleashed Project will still hold value as being more of a ‘Generations’ version of the content, which I can imagine some people preferring for repeat playthroughs. Even if it happened and no one played Unleashed Project again, I don’t think I’d regret the work I’ve poured in. I have the ambitions to make my own game one day, and this project has taught me a lot about the design process so far.”
S0LV0 concluded by saying the Unleashed Project’s already released levels would be seeing improvements and facelifts as well, giving a reason for fans of the first version to play everything all over again.
“As a last little tidbit, the existing stages found in Unleashed Project’s 1.0 release are being updated as well, with tweaks, bugfixes, and even new features. In the following video is an experiment with creating a close approximation of the firework explosion from Dragon Road’s rockets. It’s looking good so far, and we hope to make similar improvements to other levels!”
With this year marking Sonic’s 25th anniversary, and subsequently Generations’ 5th, S0LV0 says she can’t think of a better way to celebrate. There’s no exact release date yet, but you can expect to be playing the Unleashed Project 2.0 before the end of the year.
You can get more updates about the Unleashed Project from the links below:
Unleashed Project YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkTKDJx4zCUcYVjjWh3gC7g
Unleashed Project Twitter: https://twitter.com/UP_Mod
Unleashed Project Discord: https://discord.gg/0tSx4ExzeGKzfLqn