Why the crap is Sine Mora so visually flat?

Okay, so Sine Mora is a 3d Shmup for XBL with some pretty high production values. The game lends it’s self beautifully to screen shots. But this has to be one of the flatter games I’ve seen of it’s production value. It’s a shame too, because I like a lot of the stylistic choices in the game. I love that everyone’s speaking Hungarian. I love the boss title cards and UI elements. But the game is flat as hell — flatter than even PS1 era games. Lets compare some “Level 1s”

Compared to…

or something a bit more modern.

Everything is flat and in a straight line. Not just the backgrounds, but even the enemies. Coming on screen in straight, simple boring lines with no energy. Einhander has tons of energy and visual pacing. Enemies come on screen form different angles or linger in or out of the foreground and background. The angle of motion and the speed you’re traveling at changes. Ikaruga uses the ‘scripted’ nature of shmups to throw screen after screen of beautiful compositions at you. You move through the background in dynamic ways. Very thing in Sine Mora, while beautiful on a screen shot level is flat and without energy, save maybe the bosses (which still doesn’t really compare to Einhander’s or, more so, Ikaruga’s first bosses).

I have to wonder why this is. When I first saw videos of the game, I didn’t write anything because I figured it was “work in progress” footage, but now I’m amazed that a shmup with such high production value didn’t put the time in to really make their assets sing, by really playing with the composition of the screen and the pacing of how the player moves through the background of the game. Am I missing something here? Perhaps someone might say that einhander and Ikaruga are too busy (I can understand someone hating on Einhander’s 3/4th views for example), but does anyone actually think Sine Mora wouldn’t be visually improved by taking lessons from these two games? I KNOW they’re aware of them. The ship in Sine Mora has the radiant sword, so I know they looked into Radiant Silvergun.

Now this also isn’t a comment on the overall quality of the game. It could still be loads of fun and I heard the difficulty scales quite well. I’m just befuddled that a bunch of people who obviously cared about their game a ton missed this one artistic facet that really has made some games before it sing. I really want to know what you guys think, because I could easily be missing something here.

15 thoughts on “Why the crap is Sine Mora so visually flat?

  1. From what I’ve read on the shmups forums, it’s a necessity due to the game’s mechanics (basically, you pretty much have to be able to kill everything in order to survive the levels since it uses the Ai Cho Aniki “timer death” mechanic, and the ship’s gun is a pea-shooter).

    Also, the general reception on those parts has been pretty bad, if you’re wondering; people are complaining loads about bullet visibility, level design that’s more memo-heavy than R-Type, awkward ship movement (analog controls only), awkward and deceptive hitbox placement, and random power-up drops (which make the game unsuited for score-attack play).

  2. The memories come flooding back. When is Square going to get around to Einhander 2? (Zweihander?)

  3. Readability in shootemups is key. If you gave me the option to make the backgorund be just one color I’d take it.
    I definitely don’t want enemies flying at me from the background and making me wonder what I can shoot / what can hit me and what cannot.

  4. Your opinion is dumb and you should feel dumb!

    Well no, not really, but it’s reaaaally reductionist. Plenty of exceedingly popular shmups — even among veterans — do things like this and most people (though obviously not everyone) don’t want to play atari games with flat colors and square hitboxes flying around (though giving that option to people seems perfectly fine to me if it’s easy to implement!). Whether or not you’d take that theoretical option has absolutely nothing to do with what is there. Also given Sine Mora’s goals, they really have no excuse. They’re trying to do something visually stunning and end up doing something visually flat and boring and it fails at things that don’t even risk compromising readability (varies enemy speeds and paths and things like that) If someone was releasing a hardcore bullet hell that focused more on being hardcore than anything else, I’d have a lot less to say.

    As for readability being key, well… no shit, but that doesn’t mean “strip everything possible away that isn’t essential to gameplay”. It’s a balancing act. It’s how you use color, it’s how you display enemy projectiles. It’s contrast, it’s color, it’s all these things. Hell, it’s how you introduce things. Ikaruga rarely puts you in a rough spot trying to figure out what you can hit and not hit.When stuff drifts into the background, it’s when nothing else is on screen. Parking more enemies into the background while you’re in the middle of fighting enemies would be visually confusing, so they (generally, I can’t speak for later levels) don’t do that. By employing good visual design skills and applying some coats of polish., you can achieve strong readability and strong visual appeal.

    Sine Mora apparently has pretty shitty readability anyways and that clearly has little to do with them doing fancy visual stuff. It has to do with them not putting attention to some things that matter.

  5. Honestly, I’m not sure what you mean by “flat,” and I’m not trying to argue semantics as much as I’m having trouble figuring out what you’re criticizing when you say that. I’m guessing it means something along the lines of ‘not having good aesthetic movement,’ which I can agree with. From the little I can deduce (i r dumb), Sine Mora falls apart in those videos in how little *motion* is going on in terms of enemy patterns and how there’s not enough standout elements from moment to moment (the aggregate experience is kind of muddy and boring). It’s got a kind of problem that a lot of HD graphic games fall into of being graphically powerful but forgetting aesthetic values.

    I recall you once talked about flow of levels from handheld Castlevanias to those in Super Metroid. Sine Mora’s visual artistry reminds me of a handheld Castlevania’s level design.

    The squid boss was neat though.

  6. You’re right on the mark, Trynant. Now, that flatness can be counteracted in other ways (Just visual presentation in general) but even Gradius is ‘less flat’ than sine Mora. The openning waves you see in gradius games are hella memorable and complex. They’re not doing enough to counteract this problem on any level.

    Yeah, it’s like Handheld Castlevania level design… or the Marble Gallery from SoTN. Boring, flat and repetitious. I’m sure they have better moments in later levels, but your first level is supposed to have some real punch and Sine Mora has none.

  7. One color backgrounds would actually hurt “gameplay” a ton. Anyone who has played Touhou games will tell you that it’s a lot harder to memorize stages when you’ve got a “repeats every 5 seconds” background vs. when you’ve got a “real”, Cave-style background.

  8. That’s also actually a really good point. During my short time occasionally playing Dodonpachi, it’s clear to see the level actually indicating where enemies are going to be on the ground, not to mention the background’s use as a memory aid.

  9. It looks to me like they were trying to go for the “look and feel” of an old 2D Shmup, but it really doesn’t mesh well with their 3D aesthetic.

    I’m having SSF2 Turbo HD Remix flashbacks in that regard. Still frames look nice, but a 2-frame kick animation looks disgusting in high definition.

    They either should have used dynamic camera angles and animated the ship a bit more or just used 2D Sprites in the same vein as a ninety’s arcade game.

    Perhaps the team had a specific vision that they desperately held onto, even to the determent of the final product.

  10. Three things stood out to me.

    1. The game is made for widescreen, but the speeds seem tuned for a standard definition. So the time to cross the screen is pretty significant for some of the enemies which makes them feel slower even if they really are moving at a decent speed.
    2. There’s a lot of foreground layer… stuff… going on. In the air portion I saw it was kinda foggy and hazy, then underwater you have the watery effect. So everything in the main portion of the screen feels a little washed out.
    3. No contrast. The bullets and the player stand out, but everything else just lies flat. I remember Einhander managing to have a lot of contrast by using some bold greens, oranges, etc. which still allowed the white/blue enemy projectiles to stand out. In the video all the enemies are the same dull grey as the background.

  11. Kayin, I know you’ve said in the past that you’ve had a hard time getting into shmups; do you have any particular grievances against Dodonpachi (the first one you’ve mentioned that I have any real experience with)? If the insanely anal score system insane number of bombs bothered you in DDP, give Ketsui or Espgaluda a shot. Ketsui’s scoring system is complex, but you don’t really need to understand the nuts and bolts; just blast something up close with your shot, then switch to your lock-on laser and kill as much stuff as you can while the timer counts down, and you’ll do OK. Ketsui also has the coolest bullet patterns ever, with bullets that curve, change speeds, and split into more bullets, sometimes mixed in with patterns that are optical illusions designed to make it look like the bullets are doing wacky things that they aren’t really. Espgaluda’s score system is kinda a bitch, and it gives you 4 bombs per life (more than most Cave games, still less than Dodonpachi), but it’s a lot of fun to slow down time and milk as many bullets as you can, and even though scoring in it can be quite hard, it’s easier to figure out where you went wrong than it is to figure out why you dropped a DDP chain.

  12. @Obscura

    Honestly I never played a shmup to the point where I cared about scoring systems. It’s more that no game in the genre has yet to compel me to come back to it enough for me to get hooked. I’ll still give both a try though!

    @Logo

    Just a note on speed, “reasonable” is relative to the screen orientation and distances between the player and enemies so the speeds are still ‘unreasonably slow’. I’m guessing the game is still wide screen even on an SD display. If it isn’t, that is a travesty of a different sort! The game COULD get away with such slow engagement speeds by putting more dynamic motions elsewhere (how enemies approach and enter/exist the screen). But yeah, being nit picky, but I think it’s an important point. Rest is spot on!

  13. If you’ve never tried to score in a shmup, that might be why you’re having a hard time getting into them. Playing early stages for survival gets boring really quickly (unless it’s stage 2 of DOJ, Ibara, or Ketsui, haha), but playing them for score allows you to always see improvement and always have a challenge.

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