Category Archives: Zelda

Ocarina’s Image: Fundamental Challenges of 3D (Podcast)

I recorded a truncated podcast version of one of my articles, Ocarina’s Image: Fundamental Challenges of 3D, for the Zelda Universe Podcast.

You can listen here:

Ocarina’s Image: Freedom in Breath of the Wild

“When I was a child, I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.” – Shigeru Miyamoto, 1993¹

Fifteen years after Ocarina of Time, the Zelda team finally retired its time-worn solutions to the problems of 3D. They shifted their philosophy, drew from the inspiration for the first Legend of Zelda, and rebuilt the beating heart of the franchise from first principles.

Previously we examined the challenges of building the first 3D Zelda, and the tradeoffs that Ocarina made to maintain accessibility. These compromises attempted to balance two unsolved problems: decreased readability, and greatly increased complexity. In this final article, we’ll see how Breath of the Wild found new solutions to those problems.

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Ocarina’s Image: Formulas Etched in Stone

Ocarina of Time was a seminal masterpiece. It was a model for how to make a third-person, 3D adventure game that was accessible and ambitious. It broke new ground in camera control, 3D melee combat, 3D level design, and immersive worlds. It maintained a high standard for readability and accessibility. It sold 7.6 million copies on the N64 and 11 million altogether. Nothing like it had ever been made before, and it set a high-water mark that wouldn’t be surpassed for years.

And it etched in stone, in gamers’ expectations, and in developer’s minds a blueprint for what a Zelda game was supposed to be. It cemented formulas that Nintendo would follow for fifteen years.

“…Ocarina of Time became the standard for me for home console Legend of Zelda games. The series built up from there and nothing ever got made from scratch. I think subconsciously there was a strongly conservative voice saying, ‘This has to be this way,’ and, ‘If you change it too much, people won’t like it.’” – Eiji Aonuma, 2011 ¹

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Ocarina’s Image: Fundamental Challenges of 3D

 

 “I wanted something that players could get so lost in, it would take them a whole year to finish.” – Shigeru Miyamoto, 1992 ¹

I thought that making the user get lost was a sin.” – Eiji Aonuma, 2016 ²

The Zelda series has a storied, 30-year history. Shigeru Miyamoto created the first game with a team of six people; it released in 1986. A decade later, Eiji Onozuka’s first role was the director of dungeon design for Ocarina of Time. He later took his wife’s family name of Aonuma, directed Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker, and went on to become the producer for the franchise.

There are almost 25 years between these two quotes, and they reveal a stark shift in the design philosophy for the Zelda franchise. I have long felt that the franchise lost something crucial in the games after Ocarina. It’s easy to blame Aonuma’s leadership. But I have a different take: The move to 3D in Ocarina was uniquely challenging and the Zelda team solved those problems imperfectly, then doubled down on Ocarina’s path for years after.

Until Breath of the Wild. It went open-world, had a non-linear narrative, and re-imagined how dungeons and items work. But those changes required a more fundamental shift: they needed to solve Ocarina’s problems, trust the player, and build their gameplay out of emergent systems.

This is the first of three articles, originally written for the audience of Zelda fans at Zelda Universe. In this series, I use my own experience as a game developer and extensive reading of interviews to infer why Zelda development decisions were made, and how Ocarina’s design shaped the series for years afterwards. But I wasn’t there! This is ultimately an act of speculation. Keep that in mind as you read!

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Link, the Legendary Heroine

Preface (9/20/2016): This was originally published on Zeldauniverse.net, a Zelda fansite. The intended audience consisted of fairly dedicated Zelda fans, most of which were in their teens.

Link! The Hero of Hyrule! A young adventurer who heeds the call to action and saves the land from darkness. Reincarnated time and again, forever destined to wield the Master Sword in defense of the Triforce and the people of Hyrule. Link, of course, is us, the persona we embody when we play a Zelda game, the avatar of our own heroism; the stand-in that represents us in the world of the game. Link is defined by many things: the tools we wield when we play, the land we save, the monsters we defeat, the dungeons we explore, the characters we meet. A green tunic, a sword, the Triforce of Courage. The actions we take and the fantasies we fulfill when we pick up the controller.

The stronger our connection to Link, the stronger our link to the world becomes.

That is why future Zelda games should allow the player to choose Link’s gender.

This may be a controversial position. You may have some concerns with the concept, and that’s fair. I posit that (a) this would allow more people to enjoy the games we love, and (b) it would have no ill effects on the quality of the game, its story, or its characters.

Let’s dive in. Read More →

Zelda Fan Survey 2014

Preface (3/23/2015): This survey was originally published almost a year ago, at my small Zelda site, Zeldadata.com. The audience was Zelda fans, not game devs! I’m re-publishing it here mostly as an exercise to put my blog workflow through it’s paces, but also because I think it’s awesome.

I have spent years pondering and talking about what makes the Zelda games tick: why do so many people, including myself, hold them in such high regard? What is this “Zelda magic” that everyone speaks of, and what do they mean when they say it? So I decided to ask! I built a survey intended to give me a glimpse into the minds and tastes of Zelda fans, and distributed it within the online Zelda fan community. I got nearly 6000 responses, an outstanding show of interest from my fellow fans, and learned a number of interesting things.

The Sample

The first step is to put these answers in context: Who are the people that answered the survey? What group are they actually representative of?

The survey was advertised in several places, and got 5,890 responses:

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Zelda Sales Numbers in Context 2014

Preface (3/23/2015): I did the original research for this because I wanted to win an argument on the internet. I was fascinated enough by what I learned that I did it again, with more in-depth and better researched data, and published it a year or so ago on my small Zelda website, Zeldadata.com. It was definitely intended for a Zelda-fan audience.

Zelda sales numbers seem straight-forward: They’re simple data about how much each game has sold. They’re easy to understand, and they’re easy to reference when you need to prove a point. But the attention generally stops there, when there is in fact much to be learned from sales data! Let us begin with the most important list: the sales data for each Zelda game, ranked:

fig1_sales

 

So now we know how much each Zelda title has sold. There’s some interesting data there. It’s tempting to use this data, exactly as it is, to draw conclusions about things like popularity and impact on games. Ocarina of Time is clearly the most popular Zelda game on this list. And A Link to the Past must have had a bigger impact on gaming than The Legend of Zelda, since it sold so much more. Right? Read More →

Zelda 25th Anniversary: 2001

Preface (3/23/2015): I used to be a prolific writer at Zelda Universe, a large Zelda fansite, during my teenage years. When the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise loomed, they decided they wanted to run a series of 25 articles, celebrating each year. They contacted me and asked me to do one; I volunteered for 2001, and wrote the article below. My audience was primarily teenage Zelda fans, so I wrote for them.

Ah, 2001. It was a tumultuous year, and a watershed moment for the Zelda franchise and the game industry. It saw the release of not one, but two Zelda games – two Zelda games developed by Capcom, with Nintendo’s blessing.  It was a year that polarized and divided the Zelda fanbase more than any other, when the first footage of The Wind Waker surfaced at the final Spaceworld. We saw the launch of the Gameboy Advance, the Gamecube, and Super Smash Bros Melee. And, in the industry at large, Sega announced that it was going 3rd party, the Playstation 2 was in full stride, and Microsoft jumped in with the release of the Xbox and Halo. For me, a thirteen year old Zelda fanboy, the stakes were high and the drama was irresistible.

I was as happy as a clam, impatient, angry at various people on the internet (of course!), and ridiculously excited for all the ups and downs that my favorite gaming franchise had in store for me. I think I speak for all of the Zelda fandom when I say that 2001 was – wait for it! – legendary. Not convinced? We’ll see about that.

Your typical Zelda fan, in January 2001, had two things on his or her mind: the impending release of the Oracles and the Spaceworld 2000 tech demo footage that blew us all away with its hyper-realistic depiction of Link fighting Ganondorf.  We had been teased – marketed at with great success. We had tasted paradise, and it was the Gamecube’s power to render Ganondorf’s five fully-articulated fingers while he taunted us from across the sea, at Japanese trade shows. We wanted more – we were hungry for more of that juicy goodness, and it would take something hefty to sate us. Read More →