Thursday, May 31, 2007

General Musings and Speculations

Since I'll be out this evening (celebrating the 30th birthday of a friend), I thought I'd take some time at lunch to bring up some random thoughts and comments I have after just a play session or two with the original Zelda.

One of the biggest things I've come to realize is how much game design has changed over the years. In Zelda (for the rest of this post, I'll refer to the NES Legend of Zelda simply as Zelda), once you've completed the game once, you have a huge leg up in successive attempts at the game. I touched on this point in my previous post, but I think it bears mentioning again. The reason I mention game design is that, for many of the Zelda secrets, you really have to know where they are to find them, or just happen to stumble upon them by accident. For example, the heart container you find by using a bomb, which resides 4 screens to the right from your starting point, there is no pointer in the game that sends you to that point. Unless you spend obscene amounts of time searching for secret entrances like this (which I have, once upon a time), or consult a friend or other reference material for its location (both of which are abundant in this day and age), you'd probably never stumble upon that particular heart container. This is true for several things in the game, which while none of them are crucial to completing the game do make the game a bit easier.

Another interesting fact, which I myself wrestled with when beginning this particular Zelda game, was how to use this knowledge of secret items, locations, techniques, etc. while still trying to preserve an 'organic' gaming experience. I'm trying very hard to play these games as they were intended to be played (i.e. the first time you put the game in the console and know nothing about the game itself), but, in some ways, that's nearly impossible. In modern games, often there are hints or directions given to you within the context of the game that direct you toward things such as the heart containers or the blue ring (which is another item you may never stumble upon in Zelda unless you know where to look), but in Zelda, there are no such hints. Another game design decision that is often made (and partially employed in Zelda) is artifically limiting access to some items, allowing access only after acquistion of a certain item or power (in Zelda's case, using the ladder and raft to access heart containers and/or new locations).

I'm sure all of this is evident to many of you, who have extensive experience playing video games throughout the different incarnations of video game systems and changing ideas in game design, but I find them fascinating. There's also the possiblity, if one were to look hard enough (and I'm sure someone out there has), that the changing landscape of video game design mirrors the change in the world culture since the first release of games until now. I'm not just talking about fancier graphics or faster machines, I'm looking more at the underlying game mechanics. Anyway, that's a topic for another time, and another blog! :P

Back to Zelda...Another striking change between then and now (sometimes for the better, and sometimes not) is the fact that Zelda has the overarching storyline (young boy out to save the princess from Ganon) and that's about it. There are no real side quests or twists and turns to the story. Is this because of the lack of memory and processing power, or is it because we, as video game consumers, have demanded this evolution of story to be more engrossing, sophisticated, and 'fleshed out'? Even later titles in this very series, such as Twilight Princess, contain plot twists, surprises and side quests that have little to no impact on the main story. I'd like to think it's because consumers have become more sophisticated and demand a better story to go with their gameplay, but I'm not sure. If anyone has a comment on this, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

With all of this being said, I don't want to give the impression that I don't enjoy Zelda, or think it's a bad game. To the contrary, I still love it for everything it does provide, and given the context of the gaming landscape at the time of its release, it was groundbreaking. The reason for this post is more to explore the contrasts between what I see now in video games, and what I'm experiencing from a game that was released twenty years ago.

Once again, I appreciate you reading this blog, and I hope this slight detour from the Zelda journey doesn't cause to you leave entirely. I promise to have more entries up this weekend, as I find some time to complete the first quest and jump into the second quest. That should be an interesting adventure, because while I completed the second quest, I didn't play it half as much as the first quest, and my memory will be challenged to find the relocated heart containers, items and such. At that time, I'm sure there will be some fumbling around for long-lost memories.

Until then, however, take care and I'll see you soon!

1 comment:

  1. To your point about the side quests and plot twists: I think as systems gained more memory and processing power the game designers feared filling the entire experience with the one main quest or goal of the game. Perhaps they thought it would be boring or too taxing on attention spans to be focused one one task the whole time.

    Personally, I would have loved to see a Zelda game on the Super Nintendo that had the same look and feel, but with a bigger overworld, more items, bigger dungeons, and more dungeons. No sidequests, no improved graphics, just one big Zelda game the size and length of four NES carts.