Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Game B1 : The Legend of Zelda - Game Design 101

Link journal entry 2 : The strange land of Hyrule is slowly starting to unravel its mysteries to me. The treasures I find in the dungeons give me access to other parts of the country, and its inhabitants, however rare and cryptic they are, gave me a lot of helpful clues. I'm working my way to the sixth dungeon right now, in the middle of the cemetery, and my quest is becoming harder and harder. Ghosts, Wizards, Centaurs... all of Ganon's minions are on my track now. I'm becoming more powerful by the minute, and the Triforce will soon be mine. The demon will fall. It's only a matter of time.

I've had a hard time making progress in Zelda these last days, mainly because I didn't have a lot of free time to play. This game is hard! I'm starting to wonder if I'm not growing old. I beat this game when I was seven, dammit! Here, I'm only half the game and I already died 15 times! This game has a "shame meter" on the save screen, telling you (and your friends) how many times you've died in the course of your adventure, which is great for replay value, by the way...

3 hearts, 9 deaths : shaaaaaaaame!
I spent the whole beginning of the game wondering how I could pass the dreaded forest maze. To gain access to the cemetery and the sixth dungeon, you're supposed to cross a maze in the southwestern forest of Hyrule. In my memory, I was never able to pass it without resorting to some walkthrough, or in my old days, a friend advice. I was prepared to trash the game design of this part, and going through my synonym dictionary for "cheap way of upping the game's length". From my memory, this maze was the equivalent of Miyamoto coming to your home, politely introducing himself, and then kicking you in the nuts.

It's not like the NES games were totally innocents of these kind of mazes. I can't remember how many games had at least one of them in their course. It was something contemporary game design thankfully made disappear during the nineties (with a few exceptions). But there is no way a 1986 game could have worked around, right?

Wrong! There is an old lady, near the maze, ready to give you the directions for a fee of 30 rupees (if you give her more, she just tells you "Boy, you are rich!", which is quite infuriating and makes you regret you can't slay NPCs in this game). But, wait, there is more : if you wander a bit, you'll get the power bracelet in Doom Mountain, which allows you to find the "teleport stones" dispatched through the realm, which then gives you another way around the maze.

Two solutions for one problem in a 1986 console adventure game? Ok, guys, The Legend of Zelda is definitely a Game Design lesson every game designer should have followed. In my memory, the game was really sparse on hints, but if you wander a bit, there is often an old bearded guy or an old woman (Hyrule in this game is the equivalent of a nursing home) ready to tell you a lot. I mean, you can get stuck, but there is a lot of times where you can get around your problem, or find some hint about it.

So sorry to have doubted you, Sir, it won't happen again (well, maybe in Zelda II...)
Overall, it's a game that really rewards exploration. There is a lot of things to find for yourself. A few places in Hyrule even hide full hearts to up your health meter, or really important items. There is a few hiding places for rupees-giving Moblins, and every mandatory item's location is hinted somewhere. We are reaaaaaally far from more infuriating adventure games, like Castlevania 2 (white crystal, anyone?) or Shadowgate (yeah, Trickster, you know it's coming)...

Another thing that's kind of crazy for a 1986 game is the "stability" of graphics. The NES has an infamous history of slowing down or turning into a stroke-inducing flickering fest as soon as it has to show more than five sprites in the same screen, and Zelda is really stable in this area. It starts to slow down when Link is in the same room than twelve sword-throwing centaurs, but flickering is kept to a minimal. As usual, Nintendo is more at ease to make magic on their consoles than the majority of third-party developers. It's a pattern we even see today, notably in the 3D effect in a lot of 3DS games.

Back to the game, I'm now in the sixth dungeon. I've got a lot of hearts, a healing potion, the power bracelet, the second sword, but I'm having a hard time with enemies here. I think I'm gonna have to grind for money in order to buy the blue ring, which halves the damage dealt by enemies. It's really expensive, but considering any foe encountered can kill me in a few hits, I think it's mandatory.

Sometimes I wonder if this "princess" is really worth the trouble...


  1. I'm seeing a lot of the flicker effect in Ultima:Exodus. Not really visible in screen shots except where Trick disappears. If there are more than four sprites horizontally you'll see this; vertical sprites are fine though.

    You seem to be doing well with Zelda. I honestly didn't recall a hint to the maze. Maybe I always paid too much and wrote her off.
    I hope you're not against "spoilers" since you've already played through the game, but if you are just ignore the next few lines hidden in ROT13.

    N ybg bs crbcyr hfhnyyl cynl gur 7gu qhatrba orsber orngvat gur 6gu qhr gb ubj qvssvphyg nyy gur jvmmeborf ner. Nyfb, zbfg unir gur zntvpny fjbeq.

  2. Hey. Thanks for the hint. I was actually wondering if I shouldn't do that, because of the fierce difficulty of the 6th dungeon. But for now, I'm still trying...

  3. Link kill an old lady? That should really make use of that shame score! ;)

  4. You forgot how you can use your ladder to cross the river. To get to the point of crossing, I'll give directions from Level 1. Cross the bridge, go up, go left, cross the water. Follow that path in the only direction you can go until you reach a ladder. Go up the ladder, go left, get the power bracelet from beneath the top-right statue. Go left, go down, go left, climb the ladder. That's level 6.