Malstrom Pictured Above: So interesting!
Here is a post I am very proud to make: my reactions to Minecraft Alpha in 2010. I was comparing Minecraft to games like NES Super Mario Brothers, Zelda 1, and Metroid in terms of quality. Today, in 2017, Minecraft is everywhere, one of the top selling games ever made, and has its own row of toys in toy stores. Minecraft phenomenon is on par with the Super Mario Brothers phenomenon of the 1980s.
A few days ago, I told a high school grad that I tested out Minecraft in the alpha. He looked upon me as a god. “You gave feedback to Notch? Whoa….” haha
I remember making the write-up on Minecraft then. I wanted that post to tell Nintendo why their games are ‘off’ and how to correct it. I said… Well, I can just quote myself!
This game is obviously designed to be as simple as possible. However, let us pretend I made Minecraft, and I worked for Nintendo. I would present this alpha to Iwata. What would he say? I guarantee he would disagree that the game is ‘accessible’. He would say, “The world is too big,” or “There are too many items to craft,” or “You can get lost too easily in the world.”
The game runs in a Java applet. How much simpler can you get? Minecraft tapped a Blue Ocean by not focusing on features every other game does (like graphics and “production values”) to focus on creating a MASSIVE world with MASSIVE interactivity. Note how the massive world and massive interactivity does not SCARE away players, it ATTRACTS them.
What if Iwata was presented with the above comments? Nintendo examines the market. We know Skyrim was examined because it sold so well. But Minecraft sold better than anything! And, if I am correct, Minecraft sells best on Wii U. Minecraft is a huge toy phenomenon. How could Nintendo not have looked at Minecraft???
Iwata had a policy to listen to non-customers. I was a non-customer of Skyward Sword. I was railing to the heavens against Skyward Sword as that seemed to be going the OPPOSITE way of what Zelda should be going. The above paragraphs are flipping the script on Nintendo’s belief of what accessibility is and what attracts gamers. Interactivity in a huge world is a BIG attraction, not a discouragement! Minecraft’s success with CHILDREN shows the way. Zelda 1 was also successful with CHILDREN too.
NES kids didn’t grow up with Minecraft. Instead, they had Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, and Metroid which performed similar emergent gameplay concepts. After all, in all three games you are breaking blocks to find secrets and upgrades. But in their sequels, you stop breaking blocks to find secrets and upgrades. And they wonder why sales go down!
Iwata says video games, like any entertainment, depend on ‘surprise’. So Nintendo keeps trying to come up with ways to ‘surprise’ people. While with mediums like novels and movies, things like plot and character surprise people. Video games do not have plot or character and the ones that do are often very poorly made. Much of the element of surprise from video games comes from emergent gameplay. If I kill the monster, what loot will drop? No matter what happens, it is a surprise. If I explore through this wall, what will happen? If something happens, the player will be surprised. If nothing happens, the player becomes disappointed that the world is so scripted, so boring. The player will conclude the world feels small. But with emergent gameplay, the world feels large. This is how games like the early RPGs such as Final Fantasy and early Zeldas could FAKE being a huge epic world due to the unscripted experiences occurring to the player.
Minecraft is quite a master of emergent gameplay. First of all, the entire world is randomized and extends into infinity (not really but might as well). You have no idea what is over the next hill or what is in the next cave. Surprises are all over the place! When mining you don’t know what is going to come up. Sometimes you might run into some coal. Or some iron. Or some dirt (eww). Or some water or lava! It is a constant surprise.
And then I go through Japanese gaming classics:
Show me a major Japanese game franchise, and I will show you how the towers of Japanese gaming were built on Emergent Gameplay. Since the Japanese only make games of Scripted Gameplay today, it is no wonder their towers are crumbling.
Final Fantasy was founded on emergent gameplay. You could define your party, define your party’s skills, and monsters were random. While the game obviously corralled you to certain areas, you were always free to go back and stay in an earlier level if you wanted (such as going through the Ogre Hall again and again and again and again).
Super Mario Brothers was founded on emergent gameplay. Mario was the first video game character that I can recall who could reshape the game’s levels. Mario could remove blocks. Also, Mario could skip parts of levels by going through pipes. Mario could go through a level in many different ways (perhaps running on the top, perhaps by engaging each enemy). Hell, in Super Mario Brothers you could skip entire levels via the Warp Zone. That was huge back then. Today, 3d Mario is very scripted. When playing through the level, you MUST get the item in order to beat it. Each level can only be finished a CERTAIN way. And do not think about hopping in a Warp Zone and going to the end of the game. There is a script that you are forced to go through.
And now listen to what was said about Zelda. My bold is what I am highlighting today:
Legend of Zelda was founded on emergent gameplay. You were not told to go into the cave to get the sword. The player’s own curiosity brought him there. You did not have to upgrade your sword or get better armor. But players did so anyway. While the world was not random, the world felt so vast that it was easy to get lost in. And it was because of that, encounters would occur that the player never expected and took the player by surprise. Zelda used to be about exploring because you never knew what was around the next corner. You felt like you were in a vast world. When a Zelda player is asked what he wants in the next Zelda, you will find this answer common: “I want to get my sword and just go out into the world, any direction I choose, and go exploring. Just drop me off in the middle of the world with my sword. I don’t need any other of the baggage.” What the player is really saying is that he wants the emergent gameplay that once defined Zelda. In older Zelda games, nothing was scripted or felt scripted. You could choose different tactics to defeat enemies. Today, Zelda is entirely scripted with tons of baggage (i.e. story). From Zelda I to Spirit Tracks, you can see a clear but slow moving away from the emergent gameplay to more and more scripted gameplay. Now, Zelda games even have some character, which you can never get away from, telling you which way to go and what to do. And Nintendo wonders why their market data of disinterested gamers say they ‘feel video games are like work’. This is why I consider Aonuma’s comments on Skyward Sword to be a ‘red flag’ because he talked about ‘taking away Link’s sword’ for a scripted experience (a dungeon encounter). This tells me Aonuma has no interest in making emergent gameplay but only desires to make ‘scripted experiences’. Consider this: many players have said they are tired of the Zelda ‘formula’. They even suggest that the dungeon and overworld blur where it is unsure where one begins and one ends. What the player is really desiring is that emergent gameplay where nothing is scripted, where events ‘just happen’ because Link accidentally ran into some monsters who happened to spawn on top of a mountain instead of the valley, where Link accidentally did Dungeon 3 first and then discovered Dungeon 1, etc. Instead, Aonuma will think the game needs more unique ‘scripted experiences’ such as a dungeon that doesn’t look like a dungeon but resembles a bakery. Aonuma will think this is ‘surprising’ and ‘creative’ to make the bakery into a dungeon. The player will not be amused and will be fed up. The issue isn’t WHAT TYPE of scripted experience, the issue is the premise of scripted experiences in the first place.
Zelda: Skyward Sword was released in November 2011, one year after this was written. Skyward Sword was probably done by now and going through its long polishing phase so the designers may be thinking of the next Zelda game.
That paragraph so eerily describes Breath of the Wild’s design. Breath of the Wild very well could be about ’emergent gameplay’. Something like the dungeons sitting in the same place…. BORING. But if the dungeons move around, it creates more emergent gameplay scenarios.
Another quote: (bold is what I am adding today to highlight)
What fuels playing behind RPGs and, especially today, MMORPGs is the feeling of growth. You keep playing to get a better weapon, better armor. The more you play, the more you grow within the game. (Zelda used to have this. Ever since Zelda went to the scripted nonsense, you only get nice things when the linear story allows it.)
One of the best examples of ‘Feeling of Growth’ is Ultima VII. In Ultima VII, due to its unique engine, everything in the game is interactive. What many players do is that they make a secret house, they hoard armor and weapons, they stock up on food, they buy a boat, they get tons of stuff not needed to beat the game. People commonly do this in most RPGs as well such as MMORPGs.
Are RPGs or MMORPGs considered a ‘sandbox’ game? No. They are ‘feeling of growth’ games.
Miyamoto and Aonuma define Zelda as a ‘feeling of growth game’ so maybe the above lines resonated.
In Breath of the Wild, we already see Link go through all sorts of items and weapons. The point is that there doesn’t seem to be a script. With that first goblin camp, you can destroy it in many ways. Breath of the Wild seems to be centered on feeling of growth not by going through linear story but by exploring, getting new materials, crafting them, and experimenting.
So much feedback has been about the emergent gameplay components of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. An example is running around with a torch but you accidently catch the dry grass on fire. Or the wind spreads the fire throughout the prairie. Or you swing the torch at the goblin whose club catches fire. He then throws his burning club at you in response! hahaha
I refuse to get hyped for Zelda. We have been disappointed by Aonuma for far too long. It is easy to see that instead of ‘normal puzzles’, he is putting out ‘problem solving’ instead. But we are too jaded, and we may have been too harsh.
What if Nintendo is focusing on emergent gameplay for Breath of the Wild? What if emergent gameplay, and the feelings of growth, are the secret sauce? What if that post over six years ago foreshadows Skyward Sword’s sequel?
We’ll know soon enough.
S Minus 10 Days.