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February 22, 2012 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Tevis Thompson writes about Nintendo's video game series The Legend of Zelda. Specifically about how it's gone downhill since Ocarina of Time. (via Kotaku)

Thompson's premise is that the games have largely discarded the most important aspects of the original: the awesome sense of discovery, the challenging play, the non-linear structure, and the sense of having to make your own way through a large world. He rails against the artificial world construction of later games, in which items are mostly keys for obvious locks. He writes:
Modern Zeldas do not offer worlds. They offer elaborate contraptions reskinned with a nature theme, a giant nest of interconnected locks. A lock is not only something opened with a silver key. A grapple point is a lock; a hookshot is the key. A cracked rock wall is a lock; a bomb is the key. That wondrous array of items you collect is little more than a building manager’s jangly keyring.

Almost everything in Zelda has a discrete purpose, a tedious teleology. When it all snaps into place, some call this good design. I call it brittle, overdetermined, pale. It’s the work of a singleminded god, a world bled of wonder.

Players are constantly reminded that they’re shackled to a mechanistic land. There is no illusion of freedom because the gears that keep the player and Hyrule in lockstep are eminently legible. You read the landscape all too easily; you know what it’s asking of you. One of the greatest offenders occurred early on with A Link to the Past: most bomb-able walls became visible. What had been a potential site of mystery in the original Legend of Zelda (every rockface) became just another job for your trusty keyring. Insert here. Go on about your business.
posted by JHarris (113 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I agree with his description of locks and keys. I disagree that Ocarina of Time represents a watershed of before and after wrt to those locks and keys.
posted by DU at 5:48 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


...how it's gone downhill since Ocarina of Time

Fair enough. I think it's been going downhill since A Link to the Past, or possibly Link's Awakening.

One of the greatest offenders occurred early on with A Link to the Past: most bomb-able walls became visible.

...Pistols at dawn!
posted by lumensimus at 5:50 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are a couple ridiculous examples in the latest Zelda, to be sure. The bow and arrow appeared rather late, and an obligatory "arrow lock" appeared out of nowhere to mandate its use. The hookshots had one of their lamest appearances in awhile, and the whip existed almost exclusively to activate whip-locks. Also, there is a dustbuster.

Twilight Princess' "Iron Boots" however, took an old and plain item and made it epic. Then again, Skyward Sword did some impressive things with the Beetle.
posted by mek at 5:56 PM on February 22, 2012


A couple of friends have independently raved about Skyward Sword, almost to the point where I've considered buying it. Much of what Thomson says rings true, though, for this player who missed out on the original Zeldas, played but didn't finish Wind Walker, and played Twilight Princess to completion (except for some infuriating side quests like the damned chicken-floating-game or whatever it was).
posted by jepler at 6:05 PM on February 22, 2012


I'm increasingly open to hearing about Zelda's flaws after Skyward Sword: for all the things it it did right, it definitely did many things wrong, and they're old mistakes. A tiny overworld, which required it to recycle areas shamelessly; escort quests; blocking player progress with tedious fetch quests that were literally "find all x," and even made time trials obligatory rather than sidequests; and oh god, the endless tedium of travel.

Skyward Sword is a series of puzzle dungeons, time trials, and boss fights. If that's what you're into, it's one of the best games around. If you want to explore a rich and detailed world, it's not what you're looking for. But it's true, that old Zelda died awhile back.
posted by mek at 6:07 PM on February 22, 2012


I got my son Twilight Princess at the beginning of August, and he loved it! It took him until nearly Christmas to finish it. Best value in a video game so far. We have just downloaded A Link to the Past (my personal fave).
posted by KokuRyu at 6:07 PM on February 22, 2012


It did not. If Zelda is to reclaim any of the spirit that Miyamoto first invested in its world, it needs to do a few things. It needs to make most of the map accessible from the beginning. No artificial barriers to clumsily guide Link along a set course. Players know that game; they know when they’re being played. Link must be allowed to enter areas he’s not ready for. He must be allowed to be defeated, not blocked, by the world and its inhabitants.

Absolutely. There's a mistaken conception among modern designers that fun is the ultimate goal of any game, and that challenge isn't fun, so therefore out it goes. They fail to realize that failing on the way to success is the fun. This gives way to the theme-park feeling that he mentions in the article, where (if the point of the game isn't to get better at some skill) then it's to show you epic set pieces with no risk and no real reward.

Zelda would be better if it had no story. Or more precisely, no plot to structure the adventure. The first Zeldas barely had any plot, and they were the better for it. With plot, sequence matters too much. The early Zeldas had situations, worlds and scenarios that framed the action, gaps to be filled in by the player, sequences to be broken. Optimal paths and shortcuts weren’t a given; they had to be earned. Items were the most prominent plot devices, and even they were not unduly strict about order. You could be slow and steady or blast straight through with a little know-how. The basic rules of the gameworld were what bound you, not some artificial necessity imposed for the sake of plot. You could even play through the entire first Zelda up to Ganon without ever getting a sword.

Absolutely. The story that you make in a game is what makes it a game and not a movie. Every text box and cutscene is something that makes the experience un-game like. Make the story about the player, instead of about the shell that the player is inhabiting.
posted by codacorolla at 6:09 PM on February 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I really enjoyed Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass. I found the worlds delightful and the story lines fun. This does not abate his criticism, but I really dug them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:14 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well now, no story at all isn't quite right - you need a narrative to direct the player generally, i.e. you're not just busting up pots for nothing. You're busting up pots because you're saving up for that new shield because the guys in that place you want to go shoot fireballs and your current shield doesn't block them. Something like that. But yeah.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:19 PM on February 22, 2012


I still think Twilight Princess is better than Ocarina of Time. As innovative? No. Better? Yes.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:21 PM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I kind of have a hard time with recent criticisms of Zelda games - lots of fans criticized Wind Waker, and lots of (presumably) other fans criticized Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword for (many times) opposing reasons. Wind Waker was too expansive, too many exploration quests. SS is too restricted, too linear.

I think all three are great games, and all three have flaws (OK, that's not true, WW is probably a perfect game for me). There are some really innovative aspects of SS that I am looking forward to Nintendo expanding on.
posted by muddgirl at 6:23 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I posted this because I've found myself thinking along Thompson's lines, regarding Zelda, for a long while now. I wrote the following as a comment when a friend linked to this article on his blog, about the challenges inherent in making a procedural-generated game with secrets like the original Zelda:

The original Zelda is something special, yes. I do think it would be difficult to do something like that procedurally, but the reason is somewhat obscure.

The best part about the original Zelda is finding the game's huge number of optional secrets. Although most of those are completely unheralded by the game, with no explicit clues given to indicate their presence, some are still easier to find than others. It's not ENTIRELY a matter of trial and error to find them.

If there's a single tree in the middle of a field then, in searching for secret passages, does it not make sense to try that one first? If there's a big lumpy rock in the middle of the screen, wouldn't one first try to bomb it open? These places are "obvious" places to hide secrets, and a good percentage of the time players investigating them are rewarded. There are plenty of more obscure things to find besides these, but in conjunction with some other subtle patterns in the game that the player can discover, some hinted at in the article (one secret per screen, no adjacent dungeons), finding them can still be made much easier.

Discovering these patterns, I submit, is its own play mechanic. A procedurally generated game would either have to have hard-coded patterns (where it would become just another set pattern for players to learn, great the first game but less on later or after reading a FAQ), or the game would have to devise its own kinds of patterns, which is a substantially harder thing for a world generator to create.

In essence, finding secrets in Zelda is you playing a game of wits against the world designer himself. Part of the reason this is fun is because there is an intelligent mind, rather than an algorithm, doing the hiding.
posted by JHarris at 6:27 PM on February 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


You always make the best game posts, JHarris.

I said something like this in a previous thread, but Tevis has a poetry that my kvetching lacks.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:31 PM on February 22, 2012


I didn't really like Ocarina of Time that much. My favorite Zelda games were the 2D ones, and I didn't even buy any Nintendo home systems after the. But there were 2D zelda games after Ocarina of time. Minish Cap came out in 2006 and I thought it was a lot of fun, very much in line with Link to the Past and Link's Awakening.
In essence, finding secrets in Zelda is you playing a game of wits against the world designer himself. Part of the reason this is fun is because there is an intelligent mind, rather than an algorithm, doing the hiding.
The problem here is the assumption that an algorithm can't seem intelligent. Playing Chess or Go against a computer probably feels like you're playing against something intelligent. You can't beat computer chess by "learning the pasterns" because there are far too many, and anyway detecting them would actually require even more computing power then the computer generating the patterns. Possibly exponentially more.
posted by delmoi at 6:38 PM on February 22, 2012


The author seems to imply that the best thing for games to do would be to return to the mid-80s style of design where they just plopped you into a massive world and encouraged you to explore.

Is the new philosophy of game design, where you hand-hold the player and make the path linear in order to minimize confusion a bad thing? I suppose that in many ways it removes the joys of exploring and discovery that existed in that era of gaming, but at the same time I don't see myself being able to handle a game like the original Metroid today.

JHarris: In essence, finding secrets in Zelda is you playing a game of wits against the world designer himself. Part of the reason this is fun is because there is an intelligent mind, rather than an algorithm, doing the hiding.

I've always contended that any good game is You (the player) vs something. Some games it's you against fate. Some games it's you against other players. But the old style of video games it was you against the designer, which is a notoriously tricky concept to balance. It's probably why Miyamoto is still so respected today, because in order to challenge a player you have to toe exactly the right balance of difficulty and at the same time have a great deal of empathy with your audience. Each puzzle has to be difficult enough so that the player feels rewarded after solving yet, but it can't be so difficult that they just throw their controllers in frustration. The solution to the puzzle also can't be so obscure that nobody else would think of that particular solution (in this respect, I'm looking at you King's Quest).

The level of sophistication in those simple 8-bit games was quite extraordinary, I don't fault the author here for missing it.
posted by C^3 at 6:42 PM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


If Zelda's anything like that other big Miyamoto franchise, stuff really started going downhill around '96. Every Mario game has been far more annoying than fun.

(Mostly I am of the mind that Mario should scroll to the right, should not be made of chromed polygons, and most of all, should shut the fuck up already.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:43 PM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


D'oh. Every Mario game SINCE has been far more annoying than fun.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:44 PM on February 22, 2012


The problem here is the assumption that an algorithm can't seem intelligent.

Except to think about hiding secret passages arbitrarily well is solving the wrong problem. The patterns aren't a flaw, they're the whole point, they give players a way to figure out where secrets are hidden without necessarily checking every spot. It allows them to bring intuition to bear on the problem rather than just brute force.

The game designer is actually communicating with the player in this. A good designer will provide a good mix of easy and hard passages to find. Finding the easy ones will provide enough information to make finding the hard ones easier.

I'm not saying that computer programs can't do this, but current thinking on the problem is misdirected.

Is the new philosophy of game design, where you hand-hold the player and make the path linear in order to minimize confusion a bad thing?

God it certainly can be. It depends on the kind of game you want to make. There's room for both extremes I think. There's got to be a reason though why I've wanted to play through the original Zelda so many times, but can't imagine finishing Skyward Sword even once; I lost interest in that halfway through.
posted by JHarris at 6:45 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know... this kind of smacks of 'it's not as good as it used to be' (see also Star Wars and That Band You Used To Like Before They Sold Out).

The experiences you'll have in a Zelda game are crafted for you. Sometimes it's conspicuously obvious that you're being led by the hand; but sometimes the experiences are really clever and delightful.

By contrast, the last 'open world' game I played was Just Cause 2. It featured an absolutely immense game world populated by the same 2 or 3 kinds of enemies, who behaved more or less the same way anyplace you encountered them. So you could launch some poor guy into the air by tethering him to a little pressurized tank--hilarious!--and then travel 500 miles in any direction to a NEW location, where you could launch another one of those same guys into the air using a... yeah. It got old pretty fast, and left me wishing that somebody would lead me by the hand to something interesting.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:46 PM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I skimmed that article with a gimlet eye, ready with a savage comment if he said anything bad about Wind Waker, but he thinks it's a bright spot in the Zelda series. That was unusual enough that I settled in to read his essay carefully, and I found I agreed with most of it.

Basically, he thinks Zelda has lost all exploration and challenge -- it's just a series of set pieces, which you must experience in a set order. I think that's absolutely true, and I think the series has suffered terribly because of it.

But here he says:
It’s not radical to suggest that Zelda fans would prefer a game that is elegant rather than convoluted. Fewer, deeper items and utterly overhauled but central swordplay would go a long way towards solving this.
I think he's right. I think the players probably DO want that. But the problem is, they don't know they want that, and any Zelda game that did this would bomb. The squalling would be legendary.

I mean, consider: Wind Waker was roundly, roundly criticized for 'having bad graphics'. If you've actually LOOKED at Wind Waker, this is ridiculous, but it was such prevalent thinking that the game's sales were badly hurt. The graphics weren't bad, they were different, and incredibly stylish. As I was saying at the time, graphics like that will never go out of style. Never, never, not ever. You look at Twilight Princess, which was muddy and washed out and ugly the day it shipped, much less years later, and then you look at Wind Waker, and you probably wouldn't pick Wind Waker as the older of the two. That game could still look fantastic in 2050. All they'd have to do is render it to whatever crazy screen resolutions they're running... being cel shaded, it will be as beautiful and perfect in 2053 as it was in 2003. It's the difference between vector and bitmap fonts -- you can scale vector fonts to any resolution.

But the fans hated it. Fans often don't know good games. The games with the most devoted followings, the ones that people talk about in wistful tones for years, usually bomb.

So if Nintendo follows his advice and actually makes a game that's called Zelda, but has the bullshit taken out, and actual challenge and exploration re-inserted, they will lose a LOT of money. It'll take five or six years before people start saying, "Hey, that Zelda game in 2013 was pretty great, they should do more of those." And their 'long tail' sales will be excellent. But it'll never make up for the terrible sales they'll have at launch, because they're daring to Change the Formula.

What they need is a new franchise. They need people to go in without much in the way of expectations -- a clear mental palate, as it were. That would let them design something truly great, without offending anyone.

But they probably can't do that to Zelda without losing their shirts. Even if what you're giving them is better, violate fan expectations at your peril.
posted by Malor at 6:55 PM on February 22, 2012 [17 favorites]


Is the new philosophy of game design, where you hand-hold the player and make the path linear in order to minimize confusion a bad thing? I suppose that in many ways it removes the joys of exploring and discovery that existed in that era of gaming, but at the same time I don't see myself being able to handle a game like the original Metroid today.

If you like games that are challenging and fun, then yes. Unfortunately 3D movie-like games are expensive and casual is where the money is. It's a feedback loop that kills a lot of AAA titles. Hopefully Dark Souls gets enough recognition where things start to swing back the other way.

By contrast, the last 'open world' game I played was Just Cause 2. It featured an absolutely immense game world populated by the same 2 or 3 kinds of enemies, who behaved more or less the same way anyplace you encountered them. So you could launch some poor guy into the air by tethering him to a little pressurized tank--hilarious!--and then travel 500 miles in any direction to a NEW location, where you could launch another one of those same guys into the air using a... yeah. It got old pretty fast, and left me wishing that somebody would lead me by the hand to something interesting.

Just Cause 2 isn't a good example of anything, much less game design.
posted by codacorolla at 6:57 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wind Waker had a draw distance of fifteen feet before fading to blurry meaninglessness. I can't play it without feeling like I'm going blind.
posted by lumensimus at 6:58 PM on February 22, 2012


When I've brought up the issue of Zelda having kind of lost its way (for nearly all of the same reasons Thompson brings up, really I could have written that article myself, right down to admitting that Majora's Mask and Wind Waker are still good games despite the general trend) I have generally gotten blank looks in the past. That I now hear other people making similar noises is heartening to me.

I don't know... this kind of smacks of 'it's not as good as it used to be' (see also Star Wars and That Band You Used To Like Before They Sold Out).

Sometimes the people who say this are correct. Just because you can easily categorize these arguments say nothing about their rightness.

The experiences you'll have in a Zelda game are crafted for you. Sometimes it's conspicuously obvious that you're being led by the hand; but sometimes the experiences are really clever and delightful.

See above about Majora's Mask and Wind Waker. At their best, the Zelda folks can put together some really stunning storywriting. But generally, more and more, I don't want experiences that other people have made out of games. For every good Zelda there are three annoying ones, and a hundred other stupid games. It is really hard to write a good story -- sometimes, so hard as not to be possible within production schedules.

I have not played Just Cause 2, but it sounds more like your problem with it is that the world is not well designed more than a problem with open world games in general.
posted by JHarris at 6:58 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


JHarris: God it certainly can be. It depends on the kind of game you want to make. There's room for both extremes I think. There's got to be a reason though why I've wanted to play through the original Zelda so many times, but can't imagine finishing Skyward Sword even once; I lost interest in that halfway through.

Most of the releases that I've played recently have followed the linear hand-holding have been enjoyable experiences. Usually nothing that I'd consider great, but at least good enough to finish and say "I liked that" after I'm done with them.

But when I think back to the games that I consider to be my favorites, most of them did implement the ideas of non-linearity and exploration...and the sense of achievement that comes with finding something that wasn't explicitly pointed out with flashing neon arrows does play a big part in my fond memories of those games.
posted by C^3 at 6:59 PM on February 22, 2012


Wind Waker had a draw distance of fifteen feet before fading to blurry meaninglessness. I can't play it without feeling like I'm going blind.

You must have played a different game than I did. Maybe you should have your eyes checked?
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The differences that the author makes in the OP are also reasons that I would say that Morrowind (despite having inferior combat and graphics) is a better game than Skyrim.
posted by codacorolla at 7:01 PM on February 22, 2012


This is rather like complaining that the Doom and Quake games have lost the stealthy action that made Castle Wolfenstein so great.

Zelda has moved on and become a different sort of game series than the original NES game. And a whole lot of people really like the current Zelda games. If what you want is challenging combat instead of puzzle solving, there's plenty of games not named Zelda that offer that.

To me, the essence of Zelda is a dungeon that has some difficult and/or tedious monsters or obstacles or navigation. And then half-way through the dungeon you are given a new item that makes that challenge easier and much more fun to meet. That rhythm of creating some frustration and then relieving it by giving you an item you didn't quite know you wanted is genius and never gets old for me.
posted by straight at 7:02 PM on February 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


In essence, finding secrets in Zelda is you playing a game of wits against the world designer himself. Part of the reason this is fun is because there is an intelligent mind, rather than an algorithm, doing the hiding.

The first three Gothic games (and their spiritual successor Risen) have challenging combat and worlds that consistently reward exploration.
posted by straight at 7:09 PM on February 22, 2012


straight: That was that Zelda has become, has been for a while now, and is what most people think of the series.

It was interesting for a while, but really, I'd much rather now play more games like the original. Evidently, more and more people are coming to see the limits of the modern Zelda design.
posted by JHarris at 7:12 PM on February 22, 2012


You must have played a different game than I did. Maybe you should have your eyes checked?

Maybe. I came back to it right after beating Twilight Princess, if I remember correctly. Maybe it wasn't blurriness -- could have been a sharp dropoff in level of detail or something, but I remember that I only played for a half hour before giving up in disgust.
posted by lumensimus at 7:13 PM on February 22, 2012


Some ways off at sea objects are blurred, or distant sights in a large room, but that's at a range of much more than 15 feet.
posted by JHarris at 7:17 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I'll never forgive Nintendo for making Link squeaky.

Zzzup! Haah! Sssig! Ahhh!

And when they released Four Swords for the GBA, retroactively replacing perfectly passable sword-swiping sounds with "aaah!", I was sad.
posted by lumensimus at 7:17 PM on February 22, 2012


That was that Zelda has become, has been for a while now, and is what most people think of the series.

That's my point. Given that this is the case, that the meaning of the word "Zelda" has changed for most gamers, isn't it kind of silly to hope for Nintendo to make a game more like the original Legend of Zelda and call it "Zelda"? Wouldn't you be better off hoping for a different game series to do well what the original LoZ did?
posted by straight at 7:19 PM on February 22, 2012


I just finished "Twilight Princess" and while I enjoyed a great deal of it, I get exactly what this guy is saying. I was playing along and congratulating myself on how I'd learned to "read" the game but really, it's not "reading" so much as "recognizing what's being telegraphed at you." Unlike, say, Super Mario Bros., where you really *do* start to read level design as if it is another language telling you to try something here, or see if you can go higher there. I like the idea of having the entirety of the world available from the start. I remember the first time I encountered that kind of thing in Super Metroid, heading into the fire world before I got my fireproof suit...I thought the game was broken! I haven't experienced that kind of disorientation -- or the reward of figuring out what I'd screwed up -- in many a long year.
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:22 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's my point. Given that this is the case, that the meaning of the word "Zelda" has changed for most gamers, isn't it kind of silly to hope for Nintendo to make a game more like the original Legend of Zelda and call it "Zelda"?

No. Because it's still the original Legend of Zelda, the game that spawned all that followed, because it's still in living memory and still loved for its qualities, and...

...and because the original Legend of Zelda still does those things better than any other game.

There ARE games that have tried to ape the original Zelda style. Just off the top of my head: Golvellius, Golden Axe Warrior (both (Sega Master System) and Neutopia I and II (TG-16). They all tend to miss those fundamental aspects of the original game that make it wonderful. Parodoxically, maybe, they do it by leaning more towards the kinds of gameplay that Nintendo themselves would adopt in Link to the Past.

But anyway, the result is there is still no name that better exemplifies the kind of game The Legend of Zelda is than "Zelda". It is a case where the name is ripe for reclaiming, and because the series it spawned, in decayed form, is still around, it makes sense to examine those in terms of the original. In any case, there are other games that have tried to be modern Zelda -- why not take those as exemplars of the kind of game that you like, and leave the Z-word alone? We were here first.
posted by JHarris at 7:26 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh, and so I don't turn everything else you ever read into part of a gigantic parenthetical remark inadvertently begun in my last comment:

)
posted by JHarris at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


leave the Z-word alone? We were here first.

Because the Z-word actually belongs to Nintendo, who have been using it quite successfully for something different for a very long time now?

I get the emotional attachment to the original game. I just think it's fantastically unlikely you'll ever get what you want from Nintendo. On the other hand, I think the odds are pretty good that some indie game maker will come along and make a 2D game that's a lot like LoZ but significantly better in several ways. A true sequel in all but name.
posted by straight at 7:43 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


the best Zelda game of the last decade was Okami, hands down.
posted by radiosilents at 7:43 PM on February 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


By the way - if you're interested in a Zelda-like game with similar properties (merciless, big, more or less doesn't give you a clue what to do), check out La-Mulana - the original is the one I've played (for a few hours, never beat) but the remake is looking good as well.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:44 PM on February 22, 2012


That wondrous array of items you collect is little more than a building manager’s jangly keyring...Almost everything in Zelda has a discrete purpose, a tedious teleology. When it all snaps into place, some call this good design. I call it brittle, overdetermined, pale. It’s the work of a singleminded god, a world bled of wonder.

Look, we who grew up playing Zelda (as children, let's not forget) have a distinct soft spot for it, but when you're complaining about a video game with gratuitously overwrought undergrad locutions like "tedious teleology" it might be time to stop playing fucking video games, or at least play something more challenging. Jesus. Grow up the fuck up already.
posted by clockzero at 7:50 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that people who miss the original Legend of Zelda should be looking elsewhere -- specifically, to games like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. In many respects, roguelikes are of the same lineage: a player against the world, with no real guide beyond "this is you. Survive and progress."

It's dangerous to go alone.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:55 PM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


The best Zelda game ever made was Okami, and that is all I have to say about that.
posted by Mizu at 8:04 PM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because the Z-word actually belongs to Nintendo, who have been using it quite successfully for something different for a very long time now?

"Belongs" is a tricky word. I don't care what Miyamoto, Nintendo or the law says: the word belongs to the world, as do all words.

clockzero: He does get a little overblown with his terminology, but if you looked at the meaning behind the words rather than decrying him for how he expresses it, you might discover that he has a very good point even when he doesn't use a ten-dollar vocabulary to communicate it.

Remember: many all forms of art were at one point looked down upon as being valueless and trivial.

Mizu: It is more like the more modern Zelda style than the classic, but I certainly won't speak against it.
posted by JHarris at 8:19 PM on February 22, 2012


That was that Zelda has become
"has become"? He just described the entire series!
That rhythm of creating some frustration and then relieving it by giving you an item you didn't quite know you wanted is genius and never gets old for me.
That is what Zelda became in the very first game, halfway through the first dungeon! Those annoying little bats suddenly got a lot less annoying with boomerang in hand. Zelda 1 wasn't as repetitive about it as later versions (#1 mixed in the alternate patterns of "Dungeon X gives you an item to find Dungeon X+1" and "Dungeon Y gives you a broadly useful item") but the ladder made one dungeon's water mazes suddenly easier, the whistle made the difference with one boss, those wizards get much easier to fight once you have a wand yourself, etc. Even in the last dungeon, the silver arrow is the item you need to beat Ganon.

It's formulaic but it works. "Bomb every identical rock face until you find the hidden secrets" didn't work nearly so well. Yes, I know you could bomb in between pairs of tiles so as to only use half as many bombs; my point remains valid.
posted by roystgnr at 8:20 PM on February 22, 2012


Okami was an amazing game with one gigantic, critical flaw: character dialog couldn't be sped up or skipped. You had to wait, endlessly and tediously, for the characters to say 'mwa mwa mwa mwa' at length, when you'd already read the text twenty times over.

What's really, REALLY stupid about this is that you can skip the mwa mwa mwa on a replay. So the designers knew it was an issue, and actually thought leaving in unskippable gibberish-speak was a good idea.

For all the things that game did right, that one sin is so grievous that it knocks the game out of the Best Ever lists for me. I loved it, but I don't recommend playing it unless you have access to a completed save game, so you can do New Game+.

As good as it was, though, it's still pretty linear. I'd call it about midpoint between the old Zeldas and the new ones.
posted by Malor at 8:45 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, also: I had a hell of a time painting on the Wii version. Drawing straight lines was easy on the PS2, because you were just pushing a thumbstick, but I think the Wii version re-used the same code to analyze your painting, and I found drawing a straight line with my whole arm to be EXTREMELY difficult. So it was very unforgiving. I could maybe get one straight line in five recognized as being a straight line, and eventually I gave up entirely on the Wii version. It was endlessly tedious and annoying trying to paint, where it had been pure fun on the PS2.

So I'd avoid the Wii version. If you can find a PS2 version with a completed savegame, it's way better than most Zeldas. On a virginal PS2, make sure to pad anything fragile within your controller-throwing range.
posted by Malor at 8:50 PM on February 22, 2012


Look, we who grew up playing Zelda (as children, let's not forget) have a distinct soft spot for it, but when you're complaining about a video game with gratuitously overwrought undergrad locutions like "tedious teleology" it might be time to stop playing fucking video games, or at least play something more challenging. Jesus. Grow up the fuck up already.

It's ok to hold the view that computer games are nothing to be taken seriously and are nothing more than a toy for children, but I think that a lot of us do not hold that view and that it's a pretty odd view to hold. I'm 40 years old. I've been playing these games for at least 30 of those 40 years, and I am still playing them. I have no plans to stop any time soon. I don't think that this is in any way strange or unusual. Seems to me that thinking games are just for children is as odd as the idea that music is just for teenagers - holding such a view says more about you than it does about the medium you wish to characterise.

Sure, only a few games are *really* good: most are bad to middling, some are for children, some are for adults, while others are for both. As the medium develops, more and more of the *really* good ones will emerge. By really good I mean the ones you'll still fire up and play now and again in ten or twenty years' time. Or fifty, should you live so long.

I'm thinking of things like Nethack, Mr Do, Ocarina of Time, Quake, Galatea, Minecraft, the Mario Karts and so on. Your list is probably totally different, but I can't imagine anyone who really likes games not having found at least a few they'll always want to come back to. One of the few things that I am looking forward to as I get older is that more and more of these *really* good games will be made and I hope to get to play as many of those as possible.

It's quite clear that one of the ways this will happen is through people analysing what has been done in great and perhaps tedious detail, finding out what made things work and what didn't, outlining what boundaries are yet to be broken, which game spaces are as yet insufficiently explored, and then using that analysis to go ahead and make those new great games. Big budget games seem to have lost it a bit lately, but I think it's fairly clear to most observers now that the amount of money thrown at a game has very little bearing on how good the game will be. As with other forms, such as music or film, how lucrative something is and how good it is has zero correlation. Post Minecraft I think it's fairly clear that it will always be the case that one developer with a good idea and the will to implement it will always have a crack at getting into someone's list of Best Games Evar. That's really exciting.

If phrases like 'tedious teleology' aren't your cup of tea, that's also ok, but by complaining about it all you're really saying is that you aren't interested in taking part in the conversation which is part of what will lead to those better games being made. By all means, don't take part in that conversation yourself - no-one says you have to - but it's an ongoing conversation, it's a deep conversation, and it's a fascinating conversation to those taking part in it. If your reaction to that conversation is 'grow up', you might want to keep that to yourself.
posted by motty at 8:54 PM on February 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


Well, I think his writing is not so hot and his perspective is absurd to me. I meant no disrespect to anyn
posted by clockzero at 9:04 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


one else. Damn phone.
posted by clockzero at 9:05 PM on February 22, 2012


I feel like I'm policing the thread, but there is a lot to respond to here and I did post it for discussion, so....

roystgnr: "has become"? He just described the entire series!

Not quite. Did you read the article?

One huge thing that Zelda I did that later games did not is, many of the items were optional, or their uses were much much before their necessary points were reached.

The game has 11 dungeon items. Assuming the player is completing the dungeons in order, of them all, only four are immediately required to advance: The Raft (found in level 3 needed to reach level 4), the Stepladder (in level 4, needed to reach boss), the Recorder (in level 5, needed to beat boss) and the Silver Arrow (in level 9, needed to beat boss). Technically, you also need the 8 Triforce pieces to enter level 9 as well.

Like the original Metroid, the requirements of the item acquisition are very loosely coupled from the exploration chokepoints that require them, and that makes the game world feel much less mechanical, less like a series of nested fields to explore, access to each larger one granted by something found in the previous.

It's formulaic but it works. "Bomb every identical rock face until you find the hidden secrets" didn't work nearly so well.

Actually it works great. Because, in the first quest at least, none of those secrets are needed to finish the game. They are more like easter eggs than necessary elements of the game. Every other overworld secret is clued. (The second quest is a different story, but that's way off the map. LEAVE YOUR MONEY OR LIFE.) Whereas any formula slavishly followed will become tiresome just by its repetition.

And it needs to be mentioned, the original Zelda needs its manual. If you're good you can play it without it, and win, but if you have trouble you really should look there as many secrets are explained in its pages. And if not there, then maybe in the sealed map that came with the game....

motty: I'm thinking of things like Nethack, Mr Do...

Are you trying specifically to curry favor with me? Because I have to tell you, it totally works.
posted by JHarris at 9:41 PM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dear Legend of Zelda:

I've played all your games, and even written about it, so I'm a big authority when it comes to Zelda.

You, who care enough about this series of games to dedicate your careers to it, and who have poured untold thousands of man-hours into it, have obviously failed to consider some ideas that I've thought of, because if you'd thought of them, you'd have included them in the game.

You've also lost the spirit of the game, because it fails to captivate me as an adult in the same way that it did when I was a child.

I've also come up with a really, really long list of things wrong with the series, which is something you can't do about any subject in the entire world if you try hard enough. You also can't do it unless you're really smart, and my being really smart is further confirmed by the fact that my opinion is so drastically different from the people who write about this topic professionally.

Sincerely,

Tevis Thompson
posted by alphanerd at 11:00 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know... this kind of smacks of 'it's not as good as it used to be' (see also Star Wars and That Band You Used To Like Before They Sold Out).

Sometimes the people who say this are correct. Just because you can easily categorize these arguments say nothing about their rightness.


You don't go far enough JHarris--this is actually objectively true about Star Wars and often true about bands 99% of the time.

You, who care enough about this series of games to dedicate your careers to it, and who have poured untold thousands of man-hours into it, have obviously failed to consider some ideas that I've thought of

You could say this about any criticism of anything ever. He has some good points. I don't even agree with this guy completely (my favorites are Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, then Ocarina of Time in that order, haven't tried the newest one yet), but you're kind of writing off anything he might have to say simply because he's not a kid and he's not dedicating hsi career to making games. That's kind of problematic.
posted by Hoopo at 12:17 AM on February 23, 2012


I can't disagree that most of the points about modern Zelda games are true, but I'd hesitate to assume that they're all necessarily bad things.

Maybe the item use is lock and key to experienced gamers, but then to some extent so is pretty much any mechanic that isn't physics based (shoot the Cyberdemon until it dies). To me, the tools just provide a low level background hum of feeling clever as you move around, while the actual puzzles are bigger things built in to the world.

The travelling is tedious if you only get half an hour of gaming time a day because you have a job, but personally I still found the flying in Skyward Sword great fun just because it felt cool.

I would have loved it if Skyward Sword opened out to be a lot less linear too, but then I imagine one of the considerations there is that it requires a lot more work to make sure that that kind of game plays well.
posted by lucidium at 12:37 AM on February 23, 2012


I would have loved it if Skyward Sword opened out to be a lot less linear too, but then I imagine one of the considerations there is that it requires a lot more work to make sure that that kind of game plays well.

It's telling that at the one point Skyward Sword permits non-linear gameplay there is a game-breaking bug. But it's not telling us what you think it's telling us.
posted by mek at 12:44 AM on February 23, 2012


I am suffering from a severe case of SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET here so I'm going to stop responding to everything. Heh.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 AM on February 23, 2012


At the risk of indulging in redundant pedantry, my 2¢.

Thompson's description of Zelda as an overt key-and-lock exercise overlaid on a world that fosters a somewhat non-linear feeling while simultaneously being an exercise in "level reading" is accurate. Incidentally, it also aptly describes every Metroid game since Super Metroid, every Symphony-Of-The-Night-style Castlevania game, and countless others. The main mechanic that distinguishes "metroidvania" games from Zelda is (a) the distinction between an overworld and dungeons and (b) world-walking instead of platforming. But otherwise, many, many games have followed this general design specification with great success, and to enormous acclaim.

The ubiquity of this design, especially among games that have devoted followings, can't casually be explained away as lazy game design. They are also business decisions that are responsible for the enduring success of franchises. Although I agree with Thompson in general that Zelda has, in broad strokes, overstayed its welcome, most of his complaints identify successful and compelling design without recognizing why they have been so successful. Two points spring to mind:

1. Experts Can't Rekindle The Joy Of Ineptitude

Thompson will never be a "game-naive" again, seeing modern Zelda games through the eyes of someone who isn't intimately familiar with its tropes. However, legions of Zelda's fans are starry-eyed innocents. I'm willing to bet that a very substantial percentage of owners of Skyward Sword have only played two or at most three other Zelda games, while others will see this game as their introduction to the franchise. Whatever the merits of each of the games (and they are clearly not equally good), the games we cut our teeth on always hold a special place in our hearts because they taught us the basics of the game's language. As such, Thompson has essentially grown out of the Zelda franchise, because he can't recapture the innocence of not knowing (and thus discovering for the first time) how all the canonical keys come together.

2. Nintendo Won't Derail Their Gateway Franchise

Nintendo knows better, financially, than to re-aim one of its most powerful brands at a niche audience of hardcore players if it means losing new blood. Modern Zelda games are admittedly easy and simplistic - after all, they are, by cynical commercial design, games that most people can buy and do reasonably well at. And while a hardcore audience exists and deserves the kinds of games it demands, it's as absurd to expect Nintendo to devote one of its star franchises to that sort of fringe market. If you really want your socks challenged off within this setting, go play Parallel Worlds. But understand that Zelda games haven't been hardcore for decades and will likely never be again.
posted by belarius at 2:05 AM on February 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm afraid you've lost me mek, I hadn't actually thought of that bug. What do you mean?
posted by lucidium at 2:18 AM on February 23, 2012


It's quite late in the game, but can actually ruin your progress completely. Basically you have to return to red, yellow and green areas to meet certain people and complete quests for them, and if you do yellow first, the entire game grinds to a halt. That bug is present in all copies... it's quite astounding that something like that made it through Nintendo QA. Imagine if they had to test a game with a significant amount of non-linearity, like FF6?
posted by mek at 2:38 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


You could say this about any criticism of anything ever.

I agree with you.

I've actually thought this way for awhile, but this guy's article on my beloved Zelda pushed me too far.

I think the world would be a much more enlightened place if people demanded a very high level of thinking-about-other-people's-thinking from people who criticize, especially when they chime in virtually out of nowhere with the goal of shit-tornadoing their subject and the conventional wisdom about it, and especially when they write really long articles.

I'd be more receptive to him if there were more of what I call "humility" in his article, thoughts along the lines of "This is what I think they were trying to accomplish with the choices they made and this is why their goal here was a bad one, or maybe it was a good goal but they chose a bad way to go after it."

(And my opinion is based on having to analyze and correct other people's objectively incorrect thinking for a living.)

It's incredibly easy to come up with an arbitrary idea of what makes a good game, and a long list of reasons why the game fails to measure up. It's a lot more difficult to come up with a objective goal, like making a video game that sells a ton of units and is critically acclaimed, guess in advance what needs to be done in order to achieve that goal, and then succeed at it over and over again.

And it's (objectively) more difficult to write about that successful guesswork; (objectively) more interesting to readers because it gives them something they couldn't have come up with themselves; and (objectively) more useful to the average reader because it reveals part of that elusive thing called expertise.

(If I had to guess, the Zelda people chose not to create a world without a plot, where people are terse and surly and don't ask you to do favors for them, where you can freely choose to enter areas you aren't prepared for and face dire consequences, where there aren't cut-and-dry, amusing puzzles you have to solve everywhere, where there are vast areas devoid of any purpose other than the joy of exploration you imbue them with, and where merely surviving is an act of constant struggle, because you can get all that by going outside.)

What I'm talking about has real-world implications. A 19 year-old in the town I teach in ran for school board. At a board meeting, he actually got up with a copy of the budget in hand, and screamed that it didn't make any sense at the board's business manager, who had spent God knows how many years making budgets, and gone through tremendous effort to get to his position. This kid's polemic posturing was deemed by many to enhance his credibility. (Thankfully, he didn't get elected.)
posted by alphanerd at 3:19 AM on February 23, 2012


Ah right, I think that was pretty much what I meant to say. I don't believe Nintendo QA is incompetent, just I think they're aware that the more you need to test the more likely something like that is to slip through.
posted by lucidium at 3:19 AM on February 23, 2012


If a bug has you groaning aloud "how could QA have missed this?!" the answer is almost always going to be that some asshole engineer and/or product manager created a situation in which QA did not have the time and resources to do their job properly. I say this as an asshole engineer.
posted by fleacircus at 3:24 AM on February 23, 2012


belarius makes interesting points, so:

To think that we've reached a year in which a Final Fantasy game has "a significant amount" of non-linearity.

The ubiquity of this design, especially among games that have devoted followings, can't casually be explained away as lazy game design. They are also business decisions that are responsible for the enduring success of franchises.

No, I'm going to disagree with you. Correlation does not prove causation. The design aspect may have helped or harmed those games; plenty of games with overt lock-and-key construction have flopped.

1. Experts Can't Rekindle The Joy Of Ineptitude
Thompson will never be a "game-naive" again, seeing modern Zelda games through the eyes of someone who isn't intimately familiar with its tropes.


If anything I am even more familiar with Zelda games than Thompson, and yet the most Zelda I've played, the one I've most recently played, and the one I've enjoyed the most remains the first one. I am far from game-naive, especially as far as Zelda is concerned since I've played it so much, so why do I still enjoy it? (This may not convince you, but being me, I'm certainly convinced by it.)

It is possible, I think, that the stars and planets of the audience are realigning in favor of the less-followed aspects of Zelda 1's design. What was once de rigueur is starting to seem stifling.

2. Nintendo Won't Derail Their Gateway Franchise
Nintendo knows better, financially, than to re-aim one of its most powerful brands at a niche audience of hardcore players if it means losing new blood.


On the contrary -- nearly alone among the biggest current-day game developers, one of the only ones still willing to shake up a core franchise to that extent is Nintendo. (Others? Maybe Sega.) They did it with Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, choices that harmed them now but has perhaps saved those games' long-term reputations. It could happen again.

And you don't have to be hardcore to enjoy a Zelda 1-style game. The original game sold millions and a lot of people finished the first quest back then, many presumably without outside aid. Tastes may have changed, but the original's design is still rock solid. Maybe include a mode with tougher enemies to satisfy us addicts, but that kind of secret hiding I believe could still be provided today, and enjoyed by more casual players, especially if Nintendo is wise enough to keep all those things as optional as they were in the first game.

It is worth noting how (or how not) non-linear some of the Zelda series has been:
NES Zelda: Substantially non-linear. The game suggests an order to take dungeons (the level numbers) and the manual warns of a dire fate if players try to tackle the game too far out of order, but other than that it lets players go where they want. There is only a minimal amount of sequence discipline.
NES Zelda 2: Fairly linear overall. It is technically possible to finish Level 3 before Level 2, and some items are technically optional (the Candle in level 1 and the Cross in level 6 aren't needed to win, but it's an unreasonable challenge to do without them). The game's ordering is a lot stricter however.
Link to the Past: The first five dungeons (Hyrule Castle 1, the Medallion dungeons, and Hyrule Caste 2) are strictly ordered, and there are plot developments that depend on that sequence. The Dark World dungeons are actually a bit less strict, but still it's a bad idea to do it like that.
Ocarina of Time: A little known fact -- after you get the Bow in the Forest Temple, the game will let you complete the next two dungeons before finishing its boss. And it's been a while since I tried it, but I seem to remember the Fire and Water dungeons not be sequenced; you can do either after getting the Bow. I seem to remember something similar regarding the Spirit and Shadow temples, but I could be wrong on that.
Majora's Mask: Quite linear (without sequence breaking tricks, of course), but the game's innovative time travelling structure means that doesn't mean what it does in other Zeldas.
Wind Waker: Depressingly linear in the first third -- the game won't let you freely explore that huge, marvelous sea until you complete the Forest Temple, dammit. Once you complete that however you can easily spend many hours just poking around and finding islands to explore, which is my favorite thing about that game. And other people can bite me, I loved the Triforce search part of the game (although the huge money sink of paying Tingle to decode maps was makework).
posted by JHarris at 3:42 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't really cared about Zelda since Ocarina of Time, and if I'm being completely honest I didn't really care that much about it before then, it's just that everyone loved Zelda and I didn't hate it so I didn't say anything about it. I'll buy a new Zelda game if it seems cool or unusual, but I don't need one. Conversely, I will buy every Metroid game regardless of quality, which is why Metroid Fusion and Other M are on my shelf.

I have a friend who has disdain for almost everything. You name a thing, he can tell you what the flaws are that mean any reasonable person should scoff at it, and we fight constantly over letting the little shit go and just enjoying the experience. I make fun of him all the time for his curmudgeonly ways. But you hand him a new Zelda game, and he turns into an overexcited five-year-old who just can't wait to pop it in and start exploring.

I'm no Zelda expert and I don't have a deep criticism of the series. But every iteration of the game turns my most jaded, un-nostalgic, nitpicky friend into a kid at Christmas. So I have a hard time believing they're doing a lot wrong.

That bug is present in all copies... it's quite astounding that something like that made it through Nintendo QA.


It really, really isn't. All you need for something like that to go unnoticed is for no one to write a test case for the possibility and for no one to stumble on it by accident. Even with the number of eyes and man-hours Nintendo puts into QA, these things happen far more frequently that you might expect. I soft-locked Baten Kaitos reproducibly within ten seconds of play start, and I had had friends testing the shit out of that game leading up to release. You never catch everything, and you just hope the stuff you don't catch doesn't make you look incompetent.
posted by Errant at 3:47 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah right, I think that was pretty much what I meant to say. I don't believe Nintendo QA is incompetent, just I think they're aware that the more you need to test the more likely something like that is to slip through.

It's happened at least twice before --

The original release of Link's Awakening for the Gameboy has a locked door in Level 4 that, if you're good with jumping over water with the Roc's Feather, it's just possible to reach it and unlock it before you're supposed to. There is no spare key after that door, so you're now stuck with one key less than you need to finish the level. Restart your game.

There is a better-known game ending bug in Twilight Princess if you die in the wrong place (on the bridge, I think it was, over the valley). The game restarts you in the valley with no way back up. I probably have the details wrong, but there is a game ender there.

alphanerd: I think the world would be a much more enlightened place if people demanded a very high level of thinking-about-other-people's-thinking from people who criticize, especially when they chime in virtually out of nowhere with the goal of shit-tornadoing their subject and the conventional wisdom about it, and especially when they write really long articles.

Look, I can understand where you're coming from. That is generally an admirable attitude to have, but you shouldn't let it blind you to the possibility that sometimes the conventional wisdom is wrong, and the method by which someone tells you that it's wrong may not imply anything about the rightness of the message.

His humility was pretty much right on I thought -- you have to question sacred cows sometimes, and that will never happen unless someone grants himself enough authority to do it. If we can't allow people to do that over what is ultimately a rather silly video game series, how can we expect people to do it over something that matters greatly, such as politics?

I'm a bit adamant about this because I agree so much with what the guy says, which neatly matches with my own observations. I'd like to think that, were a strong argument made against other opinions I have, showing they might be wrong, that I might be able to recognize it. I don't know if this is actually true, but I make an effort in that direction.

It's incredibly easy to come up with an arbitrary idea of what makes a good game, and a long list of reasons why the game fails to measure up.

But he didn't come up with a list, he came up with a fairly reasoned argument. Can you defeat that argument? How could you convince me that I'm wrong? How do you know if you could be convinced yourself?

I suspect the impasse here is that we each enjoy our respective Zelda games, and that is an elemental joy that justifies and empowers our arguments. That is even less vulnerable to self-examination than political thinking -- we don't really know entirely why we enjoy the things we do.

In my case I used to be on your side but have changed my mind; I don't enjoy the newer Zeldas, generally, as much anymore as the earlier game. When I look at why this is, the explanation I came up with eerily matched up with the ones Thompson writes about. Since you still enjoy the games, of course you would discount my opinions on the matter. I guess all I can do is ask that you keep this in mind in the future, and see if, later, that I might turn out to be right.
posted by JHarris at 4:06 AM on February 23, 2012


My issue with Wind Waker was never the graphics. I liked the graphics a lot actually, I liked the cel shading, I like the character designs, I liked the environment. I didn't have a problem with the setting per se, just the way that setting was used. I found the dungeons to be merely okay, but that the real standout of the game was the enemy AI and the swordfighting, which led to some truly exciting and even challenging battles. But there was so little of that. I found myself hunting down caves, redoing dungeons, just rooting around for enemies to fight.

The overworld map was a mess. Anytime it takes me five solid minutes to get across the world and not have to do anything is bad design. Sure, I didn't have to play the song that moved the wind in the correct direction, but then it would have taken longer. I know that I could have stopped and engaged pirates, but that got tedious very quickly. Instead, I'd move the wind, set my direction, and go. I'd flip the TV to cartoons, and every couple of minutes check to see if I had reached my destination. And that's just terrible.
posted by X-Himy at 5:29 AM on February 23, 2012


I have a lot of emotional dogs in this fight. The zelda series means a lot to me. A lot. When I was in grade school, I moved from a very rural area where I did a lot of exploring woods and ponds and cliffs and beaches, to a more suburban area where I spent more time inside. The first zelda game I picked up was ocarina of time, in fifth grade or so. Even then, it clicked with me in a deeply nostalgic way. Playing zelda games, especially the early ones, is almost painfully evocative of my early childhood.

When I read about how Miyamoto's childhood inspired him to make the first game, it didn't come as a surprise. The zelda games are like an arc of current between his childhood and mine.

The zelda games have impacted me in some odd ways, maybe - rinku, my username here, is the transliteration of "link" from the japanese, for example. I also wear far more green than the average person. When I do laundry, my lint is green. Not because I'm thinking about zelda games when I'm shopping, it's just that the games are that deep in my subconscious.

Nowadays I play and think about games and game mechanics a good deal, and I do agree that on a fundamental level the zelda mechanics are painfully flat. The think about keys and locks is true. It's not a good mechanic, and it's deeply imbedded in all the games.

But the zelda games redeem themselves to me. It's like the concept of wabi-sabi, that broken things can be more beautiful than whole things. Though there are flaws in each of the games, sometimes deep ones, the zelda games give you the told to imagine better zelda games. That might sound stupid, but I think it's a sublime thing to pull off. Playing zelda games, with all their flatness, project into me images and ideas for bigger, brighter games, explorations, adventures, and those imaginary games that zelda helps me make in my own head reflect and magnify the happiest of my childhood memories. That's a wonderful thing.
posted by Rinku at 5:46 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel like I'm policing the thread, but there is a lot to respond to here and I did post it for discussion, so....

Did you post it here "for discussion," or so that *you* could discuss it?

A full one in five (20%) of the comments here are you simply bulldogging. If you want there to be discussion, let there be discussion. If you want to lecture, do a TEDx
posted by absalom at 6:52 AM on February 23, 2012


Zelda has changed in part because the landscape of gaming has changed. The far greater choice in games, the increase in the age of gamers and the ubiquity of the internet all mean that hard games built around non-directed exploration and easter-egg hunting have a much harder time of it. Why play a game where you keep dying at the same point when there's another gaming experience readily to hand? Why would the time-pressured older gamer spend 10 minutes trekking to the other side of the map only to find that there really is nothing there? How much time will people spend scouring the landscape for secrets when a couple of clicks will bring up the FAQ that lays it all out for them?

Obviously these elements can still bring a lot of enjoyment to people but there is a much smaller sweet spot for them than there was when the first Zelda appeared on the scene.
posted by MUD at 7:22 AM on February 23, 2012


This site really doesn't do video game criticism well (most sites don't actually). There's a difference between actually discussing how game mechanics work and don't (like discussing what works and doesn't work in a film) and saying, "Hey, that's just your opinion man, and I had fun with it, so obviously you're wrong and a bully for trying to say otherwise." Gamers love their little pet franchises, so the first type of conversation is impossible in favor of the second.
posted by codacorolla at 8:07 AM on February 23, 2012


There's a difference between actually discussing how game mechanics work and don't (like discussing what works and doesn't work in a film)

Direct quote from the third paragraph of the OP link:
Zelda sucks, and it has sucked for a long time
What is there to discuss about this paragraph? Is this really video game criticism that is worth discussing in any context?
posted by muddgirl at 8:23 AM on February 23, 2012


What is there to discuss about this paragraph? Is this really video game criticism that is worth discussing in any context?

Perhaps you missed the following 15 or so paragraphs that defend this statement. I think that with a little imagination you could probably find something to discuss in there.
posted by codacorolla at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2012


But why? He thinks the franchise sucks. I disagree. No amount of reasoning on my end will convince him to like the franchise, and no amount of reasoning on his end will convince me to dislike the franchise.

The essay isn't "Here are the problems with Zelda games" - it is "here is why he dislikes Zelda games." He wants more open-world games, fine, I understand that. But there was only one truly open-world game in the entire franchise - the very first one (The Adventures of Link closes off each part of the world by requiring - surprise surprise, an item or a spell to advance!) It's unconvincing for him to argue that modern franchise games have degraded from the second game in the whole series.
posted by muddgirl at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2012


Look, here's the key to the whole piece:
Zelda needs new unstated rules, ones that must be relearned, even by Zelda veterans like myself.
He is saying, "The Zelda franchise needs to become something other than the Zelda franchise." Does that really make sense? There are games out there that fulfill his desires for rule-less, open-worlds - he mentions one of the most popular ones: Shadow of the Colossus. Dark Souls is another recent one.
posted by muddgirl at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2012


Yeah, you're right. A Michael Bay movie is just as good as Kurosawa, and all of Kurosawa's work is equally good because he made it. Nothing matters, there's nothing gained in critique, and as long as you're Having Fun then nobody can ever say anything different. Let's go ahead and board up the literary and film departments of universities, and stop the presses on the corresponding journals, since everything's relative and obviously expressing an opinion is just a high minded form of iconoclasm and elitism that flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom of the market.
posted by codacorolla at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't even know what to say when my comments are dismissed for absolutely no reason. Nothing I said indicated that I am dismissive of game criticism. I just don't think Thompson's article truly is 'game criticism.'
posted by muddgirl at 8:54 AM on February 23, 2012


By your analogy, Thompson wrote an article listing all the things that Michael Bay needs to do to make a Kurosawa movie. Is that film criticism?
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on February 23, 2012


It seems I've got opinions about this.

I'm not convinced by some of his points. First off saying Zelda sucks is not even wrong. It might not be geared to his taste anymore, but the games have kept a consistently high quality for 25 years. Tevis considers his first Zelda the best Zelda, which is unsurprising.

He seems to overrate the difficulty of the first Zelda, which is connected to his age when he first played it and the era when it was first released. His lack of Zelda-naivity allowed him to finish A Link To The Past in three days. A friend whose first Zelda was ALTTP spent 8 months on it. Zelda wasn't my first game in the series but I breezed through it too. Later Zeldas like Ocarina of Time were easier, but he doesn't recognise some things N was trying to do with later Zeldas.

His opinion of Twilight Princess seems to be quite low, but the game set out to do certain things he should approve of: There were more and harder than previous games. There were huge expanses that Link could explore (but they were relatively empty, which is the real issue). The dungeons were long and satisfying with an internal structure --perhaps the most well-thought-out Zelda dungeons--. There was a cohesive world in the first third of the game before Nintendo run out of budget where Link was the one who ran after the Moblins because his horse gave him a real advantage; the King of Hyrule was king because he maintained the bridges that connected his kingdom (see Roman empire); the wolf sections afforded satisfying interaction with the environments before the game forgot about them. You even had the help of Hyruleans at the end of them game. Finally, the game took items that had become jokes (the iron boots, the bow) and gave them a renewed purpose. The bow was strong, the boots were exploited for all they were worth and the second hookshot allowed you to explore more. Even the ball and chain had its moments.

According to his preferences, he wouldn't like pushing back the twilight as a wolf or the set pieces in some areas and it's a shame that items like that cog or the statue-controlling wand were a one-trick pony, but it seems disingenuous not to mention the things the game did well. The game felt like retreading ground later in the game, but I think that's tied to N's decision to rush the game.

I mentioned that Tevis doesn't consider the context of the first Zelda. Frankly, Zelda wasn't a difficult game compared to the other games of the era and Zelda II's difficulty is to a large extent the result of the sword's short reach. I'm not sure if the relative lack of people and quests in the first Zelda was strictly a design or a technical decision. His criticism that Ocarina of Time (it isn't my favorite Zelda either) wasn't reimagined in 3D is easy to make in retrospect, but if you think back to Christmas 1998, OoT blew every other 3D action adventure out of the water and it got many things right in the first try.

Tevis mentions that Zeldas are going downhill with the exception of Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, which represent a quite long time period. I'd point out that for me controling Link in WW was an absolute joy (which runs counter to his criticism that Link doesn't do basic verbs well) and that MM was in the end all about the silly little quests for the people of Termina. You weren't a hero for your own sake, you did that by helping others. I'm curious what aspects of MM he liked.

On a personal matter, I disagree that Zelda started going downhill with ALTTP (which for my money is probably the best Zelda, but that's beyond the point). I notice Tevis doesn't mention Link's Awakening at all even though it can be argued that it was a turning point for the series. The element of action is still in the forefront, but due to the Game Boy's limitations the map depended a lot on puzzles in order to progress to different areas. The Minish Cap also follows this approach in a game that resembles graphically a lot ALTTP, so when Skyward Sword intensifies this approach for the game's overworld in contrast to the big but empty overworld in TP. I have played the first three areas of SkSw, but it seemed that I was thinking about my remaining health more often than in previous games. And the use of A button for running gives to Link increased mobility; he does one of the basics in a more involving manner.

The pleasures it (Zelda) first offered – those that come with being an explorer, a pathfinder and labyrinth conqueror, a fighter and survivor, a finder of secrets

I think that finder of secrets won't ever resemble 1986 as we know the tell-tale signs. A lone unmarked tree or a bush in the clearing is the same as a rock having a mark. I want greater difficulty as well and I think that Nintendo has been making the past couple of Zeldas harder (Spirit Tracks was quite tricky too!). I don't know if Tevis really wants to be a labyrinth conqueror because TP's dungeons were the best example of that in years and he doesn't even mention them.

As for the overworld... My favourite Zelda is ALTTP because you have access to a big part of the overworld (Light/Dark World), exploration yields not just hearts and rupees or butterflies but items, which are a real motivation. Some of them like the cape are salad dressing, but using near the end the Ice Wand that you found looking around near the very beginning ie items that aren't fired and discarded, are a quality of Zelda that I hold dear. Even though I wrote a wall of text about my points of disagreement with Tevis, I also want a world to explore with meaningful results. However, if the results of exploration are trivial (nothing to do when you arrive at some point), I'd rather have fun trying to reach that point.
posted by ersatz at 8:57 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh and I'm all for sequence breaking and shaking things up: I like it when LA isn't like ALTTP or when MM is a different game with the same engine or when WW submerges Hyrule. As long as it's interesting, bring it on!

Conversely, I will buy every Metroid game regardless of quality, which is why Metroid Fusion and Other M are on my shelf.

Please don't mention Other M and Fusion in the same breath. Fusion might be the most-scripted proper Metroid, but it's good, and trying to get all the missiles by going through airducts to sealed-off stages and shinesparking around is part of the fun.
posted by ersatz at 9:08 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think my ultimate conclusion is that most fans don't look to the Zelda series for the same things that Thompson does. Let's look at Majora's Mask as the perfect example of that - personally I think it's one of the best video games ever, (and even then it doesn't satisfy most of Thompson's criticisms). Majora's Mask did come at the end of the N64 cycle, but that doesn't entirely explain why it receives lower scores than OOT. Sample criticisms:

* It's not as accessible (the player has to cater to the world, which is something Thompson actually asks for)
* It's not as innovative as OOT (!!!)
* The time-based concept (essentially a new rule that long-time Zelda fans must learn) was a hindrance rather than added value
* Not enough dungeons (which are after all just locks and keys).

Fans love Majora's Mask in retrospect, but Nintendo is always going to prefer getting their money on best-selling games now, rather than waiting for games to become big on the Virtual Console (or whatever re-release platform they'll develop in the future). I really do think Thompson is buying major studio blockbusters and expecting them to be indie.
posted by muddgirl at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2012


That's a good point. MM was criticised by fans for changing the formula when it came out and was mostly forgotten afterwards (cf. Ocarina of Time, which was included in many top-5 lists). MM mostly received critical and popular acclaim on the Virtual Console, in a radically-different gaming landscape. Each game sets out to do different things: the installments after Zelda II are not interchangeable.
posted by ersatz at 10:22 AM on February 23, 2012


Right, that's what I was saying upthread. If Nintendo did what Thompson wanted, fans would hate it, and sales would be poor. Then, over time, people would gradually realize that, hey... that 2013 Link game was great! We should have more of those! But it would be too late, because videogame sales are so dependent on the first month or two.

Even if the new game was compellingly better, screwing with the formula and violating expectations will get tons of outrage and squalling. Only much later, after people have gotten past their hurt feelings, will they realize that what they were offered was, in fact, awesome. But Nintendo, having lost so much money on the first attempt, won't be likely to try again. We haven't seen anything as kickass and cool as Wind Waker because Nintendo was conditioned by fans that Wind Waker was a bad game.

There is, however, an easy solution: make a game that's not called Zelda. Voila, they can do anything they want.
posted by Malor at 10:31 AM on February 23, 2012


(sorry, I was responding to muddgirl...ersatz's comment snuck in there while I was writing it. )
posted by Malor at 10:33 AM on February 23, 2012


Okami sux.

Sorry I just had to get that out there.

Methinks if you don't like the OoT Zelda model then Zelda is not for you and hasn't been for 14 years. Zelda is in an awkward place right now; Metroid is Nintendo's 'hardcore' fan service series that sells 1-2 million(Other M was a poor attempt to expand this audience), Mario is Nintendo's mass market yet respectable blockbuster that sells 8 million (in 3D) to 30 million (2D). Zelda sells sort of well and is sort of legit but fully occupies neither position. It's also vastly time consuming and expensive to produce. Nintendo can keep making a new Zelda every few years and getting 4-5 million guaranteed sales indefinitely, but the bolder move would be a radical reinvention. I'm am not confident that such as reinvention would make any of us happy by going 'hardcore'.

Also, Dark Souls is Zelda I/II in 3D. That's not totally fair to either game, but it continues the highest aspiration of never underestimating your audience.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2012


MM was criticised by fans for changing the formula when it came out and was mostly forgotten afterwards

If Nintendo did what Thompson wanted, fans would hate it, and sales would be poor.

Majora's Mask: 3.36 million sold (9th best selling N64 game)
Wind Waker: 4.6 million sold (4th best selling Gamecube game)
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii version): 4.52 million
Skyward Sword: 3.42 million

(Obviously Skyward Sword has come out recently, but these games tend to sell the bulk of their units during the holiday season closest to their release.)

It's not about lack of popularity, the series sells well no matter how "controversial" the game mechanics or graphics are. The "Zelda" name always is enough to sell more than enough. Yeah, none of these games have done as well as Ocarina, but it's not for lack of trying to be like Ocarina.

Zelda's never been a monster seller like Mario (Ocarina N64 sales: 7.6 million, Mario 64 sales: 11.62 million), but it's up there. Their attempts to innovate have not killed fan interest. That the last innovative Zelda game (Majora) came out 12 years ago is fairly embarrassing, they have room to try more things that replicate the structure of Link to the Past for the umpteenth time.
posted by bittermensch at 11:08 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Err....than replicate the structure of Link to the Past for the umpteenth time.
posted by bittermensch at 11:10 AM on February 23, 2012


Like Majora's Mask, Skyward Sword comes at the end of its console development cycle. Game sales are almost certainly partially determined by console sales cycle, but hopefully reviews aren't.
posted by muddgirl at 12:02 PM on February 23, 2012


The overworld map was a mess. Anytime it takes me five solid minutes to get across the world and not have to do anything is bad design.

Here we come to one of the things that bugs me. With all due respect, and setting aside the question of whether Wind Waker's world is like that, that is bullshit.

Gamers do this ALL THE TIME. "Any time X happens that I personally dislike it's bad design." I am wary of statements that specific things are ALWAYS bad design. Shadow of the Colossus had a similarly huge world without a great deal happening, not even enemies, yet no one complains about it. There might be good reasons for that, but it doesn't matter, you say it's always bad design. Oh well!

A problem with this is that the intersection of everyone's personal grievances with games is part of the reason many games looks similar to each other these days. Here is what I've figured out: there are far fewer hard and fast rules of game design than players, and executives, think there are. Every time something is absolutely forbidden a vast swath of ideas is locked off.

Wind Waker is its own kind of thing, it was rather an experiment for Nintendo, both in overworld construction and in graphics. I loved sailing around and finding things. Arguably there needs to be more to do just WHILE getting around (more enemies, some kind of resource management at least), but taking out the travel completely would turn it into such a different game that it wouldn't be Wind Waker anymore. The game is supposed to take place in a huge sea after all. In short, a developer reacting too strongly against your strong words would make impossible a game that I love.

One can see that Phantom Hourglass's overworld structure was a response to that; the ocean is smaller, but also you don't have the ability to freely navigate but have to set a course, and I didn't like that about PH. No matter, not for me.

Zelda's never been a monster seller like Mario

Yeah, but really, not a whole lot is. Three-plus million sales is still enough for a very nice profit.

Also, Dark Souls is Zelda I/II in 3D.

No, it's not. Dark Souls uses its challenge in different ways, and Zelda I has exploration and all that secret finding.

Let's look at Majora's Mask as the perfect example of that - personally I think it's one of the best video games ever, (and even then it doesn't satisfy most of Thompson's criticisms).

He does admit to liking that and Wind Waker, probably because they're different from the basic Zelda template. And they are the Zelda games with the fewest dungeons.

Oh, those dungeons. When did I come to dread them? I still remember thinking how awesome the ones in Ocarina were. It was Wind Waker's dungeons where I ceased to look forward to the next trap-and-puzzle-filled complex, possibly because they stopped being dangerous, possibly because they're so long.

I really do think Thompson is buying major studio blockbusters and expecting them to be indie.

I think Thompson is expecting them to be good. If that's incompatible with blockbusters then so be it, I won't weep to see the end of huge boring games that's contain no idea that hasn't been seen dozens of times before because it has to sell a million just to be profitable.
posted by JHarris at 12:57 PM on February 23, 2012


Tevis Thompson is great and I'm glad to learn he's continuing to do game writing. Some years ago, when I was trying (and failing) to think about how to change the course of academic game criticism, I thought Thompson's fantastic piece on Mario ("jumping is not what the player does – it’s what he is") might really portend a fruitful new direction — a start toward bringing the kind of reflection to, and theory about, the experience of play that a really good literary critic brings to the experience of reading (or film critic to watching, etc). We're all having to learn to do this as the medium grows up — to think of playing as a variety of aesthetic experience, albeit one with its own rules.

But I think (partly based on some responses in this thread) that some of the less reflective first-person writing done under the "New Games Journalism" rubric may actually be poisoning the well for potential readers of Thompson's kind of work, which isn't meant to be just personal. This kind of piece may be written in the first person but it means its "I" as a representative one; it's a reflection on the things that the game makes happen to the playing subject, on the dynamic between the work and its audience, at least as much as it's a personal take.

Back on the topic: it seems like exploration and discovery are a very important part of many great game-playing experiences but remain very under-thought compared to many other kinds of reward, like powering up and winning. Surely if there's a gaming equivalent to the sci-fi shibboleth "sense of wonder" (or to the pleasure of reading a long novel) it consists in the feeling of being in a world that one hasn't yet mapped, a place whose boundaries and spaces and treasures are yet unknown. Yet it's really hard to design this into games (look at all the examples in the essay and upthread of games that try and fail) — a game can look superficially like a world to be explored while it actually provides only predictability and boredom, or it can appear "open" while actually rewarding only a few, obvious, forms of exploration.
posted by RogerB at 1:11 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Thompson is expecting them to be good.

No, he's very clear about what he expects: He expects them to be like he's 11 years old again and playing Legend of Zelda for the first time. If that's his definition of 'good' then I am very sad for him (I suspect it's not).
posted by muddgirl at 1:14 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, I think what he's saying is that he wants enough new stuff in each Zelda to be reminded of what it was like to be 11 years old and playing Legend of Zelda for the first time.
posted by Malor at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2012


Not that it's sad to seek a sense of childlike wonder, but I think it's unreasonable to expect a 'good' experience to strongly provoke that wonder. Skyward Sword is only a good game because it has many flaws.
posted by muddgirl at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2012


Actually, I think what he's saying is that he wants enough new stuff in each Zelda to be reminded of what it was like to be 11 years old and playing Legend of Zelda for the first time.

And maybe that's my problem with 'New Games Journalism... which isn't meant to be just personal'. For me, Skyward Sword DID, at many points, remind me of what it was like to play a game for the first time as a child. There's actually a lot of intruiging 'new stuff' in that game (although a lot of the execution was sloppy). It just doesn't seem to be the right 'new stuff' that Thompson was looking for.
posted by muddgirl at 1:24 PM on February 23, 2012


"jumping is not what the player does – it’s what he is"

Wow, that is quite the.... essay.

But if videogames do not require ‘total involvement’, just what do they require? What kind of perceptual mode is being activated that would render sensible the statement: ‘you are the jump’ – particularly since this jump seems to lie at the heart of the fun? If close-playings are to prove fruitful, the player-critic must learn to use his ‘hand-eye’, that organic link in the man-machine feedback loop, in a more critical, self-aware way. With a nod to Vertov’s camera-eye, this hand-eye (and ear, for that matter) gestures toward embodying the camera gaze, moving from visual analysis to some fusion with the kinesthetic, as advocated by Newman. I see the hand-eye that knows itself, its own particular mediated status, as one of the central tools of a close-playing.

Okaaay....
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 1:24 PM on February 23, 2012


Gamers do this ALL THE TIME. "Any time X happens that I personally dislike it's bad design." I am wary of statements that specific things are ALWAYS bad design. Shadow of the Colossus had a similarly huge world without a great deal happening, not even enemies, yet no one complains about it. There might be good reasons for that, but it doesn't matter, you say it's always bad design. Oh well!

With respect to Wind Waker: it was bad design. The general conceit of sailing over an ocean was interesting and ambitious, but they completely fumbled on the execution. A well designed overworld has you in an active role. Otherwise the overworld is just a barrier and players will demand a warp function.

There was nothing to see in the Wind Waker ocean. It was flat blue surface. There was never any surprise in finding islands or treasure because every "square" on the map had exactly one talking fish and one island. Whether due to money/time constraints or lack of trust in the player, the designers chose not to play around with the things you could find in the overworld. Instead we got a ton of tiny islands that didn't serve any purpose beyond filler.

Likewise, there was nothing to do in the ocean. Why was the sail a C-button item (essentially an on/off switch)? While you were sailing you could not do anything but wait to arrive at your destination. It would have been as simple as opening the sail and letting you putter around with bombs or the telescope or trawling for fish with the rope or whatever. What was the point? How is this not bad design?

Twilight Princess had not much to see but a series of greenish-brown valleys. At least you could control the horse, but there was nothing to do in the overworld but travel to the next place on your checklist.

This is unfair, but compare these overworlds with Red Dead Redemption's (or if you want to go back to game that should have influenced post-N64 Zelda's, GTA3's). These are overworlds that are actually populated and give you a sense that you're not just arbitrarily traveling from one set piece to another. Even Shadow of a Colossus had a variety of different settings to look at.

Skyward Sword is only a good game because it has many flaws.

What does that mean?
posted by bittermensch at 1:31 PM on February 23, 2012


Yes, I don't understand what he's saying so it must be crap!

Well okay it does seem a bit pretentious.

No, he's very clear about what he expects: He expects them to be like he's 11 years old again and playing Legend of Zelda for the first time.

And why not? Do you think that's actually impossible? I went into Skyward Sword hoping for something like that, and instead? Instead of making the overworld a more vibrant, interesting place they nearly got rid of it completely! People complain about Wind Waker's ocean, well Skyward Sword's sky is just that a bit smaller, more artificial, less exploreable and more annoying to get around!

People here seem to have somehow internalized the current state of Zelda games so that they think they're the only way they can be. It's certainly not. We know it's not, because the original Zelda still exists, and it's still fun. It might be a bit too hardcore for today's gamers, but that doesn't mean its lessons need be discarded entirely in favor of the current form.

There was nothing to see in the Wind Waker ocean. It was flat blue surface. There was never any surprise in finding islands or treasure because every "square" on the map had exactly one talking fish and one island.

Well I think the surprise would be what's on the island, and that the maps just added a bit of structure to that. But there were also sea platforms, and submarines, and sometimes weird subdungeons, and strange things like giant squid fights, and sunken treasures. There are maps that point these things out but they're harder to find than the fish maps. So I think you're understating things a bit.
posted by JHarris at 1:39 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well I think the surprise would be what's on the island, and that the maps just added a bit of structure to that. But there were also sea platforms, and submarines, and sometimes weird subdungeons, and strange things like giant squid fights, and sunken treasures. There are maps that point these things out but they're harder to find than the fish maps. So I think you're understating things a bit.

I'm sure I didn't spend as much time in the game as you did, but I encountered a total of one squid fight over my entire play through. The only subdungeon I can remember was that fire/ice island. All of the other islands were minigames or filler (I'll admit, I have very little memory of the non-essential islands, but that doesn't speak well to the game...)

You're kind of side stepping my larger point, though. Including a handful of random enemy encounters and treasure chests with rupees or heart pieces (the values of both the game heavily inflates) isn't what Zelda overworlds need. They seem to exist just to occupy the temporal space between dungeons and set pieces. Ocarina got some mileage out of this just because first entering Hyrule Field was exciting (both because it was in stark contrast to the 3-5 hours limited to Kokiri Village and because it was the first time a game had such a realistic, expansive overworld), but the rest need to go beyond that. Hell, the pacing in Ocarina is probably better than the other games (Wind Waker arbitrarily prevents you from exploring the ocean for the entire opening act, Twilight Princess had a horrible fetch quest opening, I can't speak for Skyward Sword).

These overworlds need to have a purpose for the player that serves the larger game world. The second half of Twilight Princess did the worst job of this: all of the main characters are telling you the world's going to end and the castle is covered in a giant orange pyramid....but the actual overworld is perfectly normal and none of the non-main characters even acknowledge the giant pyramid thing.
posted by bittermensch at 1:52 PM on February 23, 2012


What does that mean?

That if it had no flaws, it would be a great game. It's an obvious statement, but I think it needs to be said. A game doesn't have to hit every one of my buttons to be entertaining. A flawed game doesn't necessarily 'suck', as Thompson so eloquently puts it.

And why not? Do you think that's actually impossible?

Obviously it's not impossible, but again, I am talking about the difference between a good game and a great game. Why do we expect every Zelda franchise games to be great? Because the first one (allegedly) was?

nstead of making the overworld a more vibrant, interesting place they nearly got rid of it completely!

This seems to contradict (I believe it was) your previous assertion that every Zelda game has been a LTTP knock-off. With Skyward Sword, they tried something different. Perhaps they were unsuccessful, but I'm glad they at least tried something beyond 'squares on a map with a secret in each square (Zelda I, LTTP, WW)' or 'expansive map with towns, caves, and dungeons (Zelda II, OOT, TP).'

Yes, an expansive overworld map is a critical game requirement for someone, then they're not going to like Skyward Sword. Does that mean it's a crappy game? I don't think so. Does that mean all games with expansive, open maps are good games? Surely not.
posted by muddgirl at 1:53 PM on February 23, 2012


Let's look at Majora's Mask as the perfect example of that - personally I think it's one of the best video games ever, (and even then it doesn't satisfy most of Thompson's criticisms).

>He does admit to liking that and Wind Waker, probably because they're different from the basic Zelda template. And they are the Zelda games with the fewest dungeons.

I think it would be interesting if he elaborated on what he liked about these two games compared to, say, Ocarina of Time. If you add up the dungeons of both quests there are 18 dungeons, so I doubt the number of dungeons is the problem.
posted by ersatz at 1:55 PM on February 23, 2012


I'm guessing he likes Majora because it's the only game in the series that does some cohesive world building. There's a sense that the characters exists beyond the bounds of Link's adventure (which is fairly true, each of the people in Clock Town does different things at different times, though a lot of it is front-loaded in the beginning of "Day One" - a clever psychology trick, since that's the time period players will be in Clock Town the most). Ocarina, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess have NPCs standing around all day and the towns deserted at night. Majora has people actually moving around and doing different things each day (of course, most of the things they are doing are arbitrary).

There's also a real urgency in the game's adventure that hasn't been seen since the NES Zelda's. While in those the urgency was due to the greater challenge and not having a fairy tell you where to go, in Majora it's an urgency that your not just "saving the girl" but saving all of these people that aren't just human-shaped billboards. If you haven't, do watch the "failure" sequence that occurs if you just sit through the night of the third day without going up the clock tower, it gives real weight to the adventure in ways "we need your help, hero of time!" doesn't.
posted by bittermensch at 2:13 PM on February 23, 2012


I've watched the sequence and I don't disagree that the people of Termina are one of the main differentiating factors of Majora's Mask. If he dislikes the 'needy denizens of Hyrule', I doubt he's more inclined to help their Termina counterparts though. Which is a shame because, for instance, Anju & Kafei was a great quest: you could see it's beginning when you first played the game, it took you to different places and finishing it was a pretty good signifier that you were ready to wrap up the main quest too. I suppose he might have liked the more action-based quests like the undead-mask one.

By the way, someone mentioned Parallel Words (a total conversion of ALTTP) which might have been hard but it wasn't really well-designed. In contrast, Kaizo Mario World was both.
posted by ersatz at 2:45 PM on February 23, 2012


JHarris, I wonder if the excellent Treasure Adventure Game (indie, freeware, very substantial, somewhat Zelda-like) might scratch your itch?

And I hesitate to jump into the fray here w/r/t Zelda, since not one of them has failed to evoke in me a sense of childlike wonder. I can recognize their flaws, but apart from the text scrolling too slowly in the latest (and a lot of the dialog being clunky, and there being far too much moment-to-moment hand-holding, even for someone who often finds the tutorial sections the best part) I was pretty powerless against its charms. (The forests have flooded? A mechanical flying beetle? The desert that time-travels back into an ocean, but only in your vicinity?)

I most rile, however, at the idea of new-ability-as-key-to-previously-recognized-lock being characterized as somehow shameful or merely rote, because of all the game mechanics in existence it's probably my favorite (close second favorite is likely maps that fill in as you explore), and I'm a sucker for any game that does it well.
posted by nobody at 3:45 PM on February 23, 2012


I think most of the complaints about "lock and key" design stems from how arbitrary the locks are. It's a little too "just so" too much of the time to feel plausible, and it takes me out of the game when the only way to get through the mountain pass is to shoot an arrow at the icicle hanging above the ice blocks. But I find that to be a minor issue.

The major indicator of how engaging I'm going to find a particular Zelda is how elegantly the design mitigates the inherent clutter of the Zelda formula. Link has a dozen or more tools to collect, half a dozen plot coupons to gather, a handful of different ammunition types and currencies to manage, and assorted heart pieces, skulltulas, masks, trading grist, and other miscellanea to track. The formula (as Miyamoto has defined it) requires as much, and it further requires that the game educate the player about all of these different bobs and bits, what they are, how they are used, and what they are worth, ad infinitum.

Majora's Mask's transformations limited which items you could use in which forms, focusing the player's attention and preventing quite as much time spent switching equipment in the inventory. (Ocarina of Time did something similar by limiting which items could be used as an adult vs. a child.) Better still, Four Swords Adventure did away with the inventory screen entirely by only allowing Link a single sub-weapon at a time--and then charged just as hard in the opposite direction by making unskippable educational text every time you started a story segment or picked up a particular color Force gem for the first time in that session.

My ideal Zelda, then, is a game with a generalized control scheme so intuitive and universal that all of Link's tools are available all the time (without requiring entering a menu, much less configuring an Adventurer's Pouch for semi-convenient access), and their use is sufficiently obvious that you learn how the tool works by using it, rather than reading about it. A game where you don't need someone to explain how much a particular rupee is worth or how to attack the monster's weak point. I long for a game with such clarity of design that you learn how to play it by actually playing it, rather than sitting through lectures and tutorials. Yes, the tutorials in Zelda and Okami are very cleverly integrated into their respective worlds--and yet I cannot help but find them stultifying.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 4:15 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


So he wants to play a game with complex and extremely difficult combat, little to no narrative, and a huge, world that you can explore as you wish, with few to no puzzles... it sounds a lot like he just wants Zelda to be Dark/Demon's Souls.
posted by Green Winnebago at 4:23 PM on February 23, 2012


here's a difference between actually discussing how game mechanics work and don't (like discussing what works and doesn't work in a film) and saying, "Hey, that's just your opinion man, and I had fun with it,

codacorolla, the problem here is you're confusing two kinds of game criticism.

1. Does the game do what it's trying to do well?
2. Is the thing the game is trying to do enjoyable?

The first question yields pretty good discussions. The second is mostly people arguing about whether chocolate tastes better than strawberry.

Starcraft is a fantastic implementation of something that I don't enjoy at all. It would be extremely silly of me to ask Blizzard to make Starcraft more like Doom or Freespace or some other game I enjoy.

I'm on board when this guy points out ways that current Zeldas fail to do well the things they're trying to do. But when he says they should try to do different things, I don't think there's any real discussion to be had. Some people like LoZ-style gameplay and a lot more people like OOT-style gameplay. Nintendo is trying to make Zelda games using OOT-style gameplay. Sometimes they do it well, sometimes they do it poorly. But asking Nintentdo to make Zelda more like Dark Souls is silly because most Zelda fans don't want to play Dark Souls Zelda.
posted by straight at 4:31 PM on February 23, 2012


bittermensch: I'm sure I didn't spend as much time in the game as you did, but I encountered a total of one squid fight over my entire play through. The only subdungeon I can remember was that fire/ice island. All of the other islands were minigames or filler (I'll admit, I have very little memory of the non-essential islands, but that doesn't speak well to the game...)

There are, I believe, four squid fights in the ocean. The first time I played through I also just found one of them. I thought finding them was a bit of genius -- the only clue to their presence other than the maps is that seagulls circle the spots in the ocean where they hide. One of the squid actually hides one of the Great Fairies of that game.

You're kind of side stepping my larger point, though. Including a handful of random enemy encounters and treasure chests with rupees or heart pieces (the values of both the game heavily inflates) isn't what Zelda overworlds need. They seem to exist just to occupy the temporal space between dungeons and set pieces.

These are exactly the kinds of things that the optional secrets of the original Zelda hid in its many secret rooms, however it cannot be denied that these things matter a lot less in Wind Waker, since the player isn't held as closely to the fire difficulty-wise. So they included the Tingle map decoding subquest to soak up some of those rupees, meaning you had to follow up some of the secrets, which make them less like fun helps and more like something essential to the play. I have to agree with you on that point. I hope you aren't too disappointed.

I also agree with you about TP's terrible opening and how Wind Waker prevents you from exploring the ocean until after the Forest Temple, which is like a third of the way into the game. But the thing is, I think Thompson would agree with you too.

muddgirl: if it had no flaws, it would be a great game

This supposedly-obvious statement is not true. A work of art if any kind cannot merely be without flaws to be good. It must bring something more, something positive. And that positive aspect, if it be good enough, can rise above flaws and make the work great despite them. (One might call the lack of a positive thing as a flaw. I guess you could make that claim, but then it becomes harder to precisely say what is lacking. When people speak of a flaw in something, they usually can put a name to the thing that's missing.)

This might sound needlessly pedantic, but I don't think it is. A feeling of that nature is what turns Katamari Damacy from a strange game with difficult controls into a sublime experience. I think Thompson is trying to put just one of those positive things into words, a feeling he gets from playing the original Zelda that is generally absent from later games. Without that feeling, or some replacement feeling of a similar ineffible nature, you can have a good game, but you cannot have a great one.

ersatz: Zelda 1's dungeons are different beasts entirely from those of later games -- they don't have puzzles really, they're mostly tests of combat and navigation.

nobody: I had not heard of that, I'll have a look, thanks.

Green Winnebago: Those games are closer (and he mentions one of them), but they don't have the same thrill of discovery, and they're also more linear from what I understand.
posted by JHarris at 4:46 PM on February 23, 2012


most Zelda fans don't want to play Dark Souls Zelda.

As somebody who plays through Zelda I and II every couple years but had to force myself to finish OoT I am probably no longer the target audience for Zelda games, but I just have to say oh god that sounds like the BEST ZELDA EVER
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:47 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Judging from his username, I believe him.
posted by JHarris at 6:33 PM on February 23, 2012


Is there ever a scene in any Zelda game where Zeldra knocks over like a priceless vase or something and the shopkeeper is all "ZEL-DAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" and Zelda looks at the camera and goes "RUH ROH!"? Then a chase like the level with the old lady with the shotgun in the Ratatoullie game that NOBODY HAS EVER GOTTEN PAST?
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2012


Yeah, reading back through this thread it seems like I sound rather too wrapped up in this. Ah well.
posted by JHarris at 3:56 AM on February 24, 2012


Is there ever a scene in any Zelda game where Zeldra knocks over like a priceless vase

Most people don't name their main character Zeldra because the Princess you have to save is named Zelda and "Zelda & Zeldra" sounds like a bad '80s sitcom.
posted by straight at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2012


Are you sure you don't mean Xandra, the lizard person that Valkyrie pals around with? Because I can totally see him proclaiming "LUUUU-CCCYYY" in a Cuban accent.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on February 24, 2012


Some sort of weird hybrid of Zelda and Demons' Souls would be really, really wonderful, especially if (a) it managed to not be so goddam doomy as the Demons' Souls franchise and (b) was not so goddam hard at a fundamental combat discipline level.

Neither of those are problems with that actual franchise, but they are things that make me have trouble spending a lot of time with or getting very far in those actual games. Something with the aesthetic spirit of Hyrule and a combat experience that was a little more forgiving while still demanding some thought and attention would be a wonderful sort of compromise.

Before I got acquainted with Demons' Souls I would have made this argument with Shadow of the Colossus instead but saying "but have any non-boss combat and interactions at all". SotC is a brilliant piece of work but it's totally an Ardbeg of a game and chasing the rare lizard or bird around in an otherwise empty landscape is more zen than it is meat-and-potatoes gameplay; throwing a little more moment-to-moment interaction into its sprawling meditative world, some small adversities and a greater variety and volume of little discoveries, would get us into pretty good shape.
posted by cortex at 5:34 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


In essentially unrelated news, TextEdit's autocorrect sees "octorok" and really, really thinks I wanted to type "octoroon" instead. That's gonna make for some weird fanfic if I'm not careful.
posted by cortex at 5:35 PM on February 24, 2012


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