Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 21, 2017

Email: Two Zelda articles you might be interested in

‘Breath of the Wild is the Zelda for the Minecraft Generation’
Breath of the Wild is a Zelda game for the Minecraft generation

Seems like you’re not the only who noticed the Minecraft inspired elements in Zelda!

‘What open-world games on PC need to learn from Breath of the Wild’

No joke, PC Gamer is writing about a Nintendo game! One thing I’ve noticed is that after BOTW Zelda is now a respected game series again. I don’t remember anyone caring about Skyward Sword beyond the usual Nintendo fans. But BOTW has impressed even people who aren’t normally fans of Nintendo.


What I find interesting is that the Minecraft comparison matches my first impressions of Minecraft half a decade ago. Minecraft is also a game of construction. Yet, during Alpha I played as survival. I was never a Minecraft builder. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not about building things. Some of the commentators wonder why is he talking about Minecraft, that game where you construct things? Hahaha. In that post, I said Minecraft Alpha gave me the same sense of gaming joy that the original Metroid, Zelda, and NES games did. Remember, those games were made out of blocks too! They had their own physics and rules. Remember bomb blasting Samus’s ball up into the air to get into tight spots?

About the PC Gamer article, the reason for the astonishment is not that Breath of the Wild is a good Open World game, it is that the other games out there have been bad Open World games. I’m writing some articles now on the subject. One thing is clear, the very first open world RPG without a doubt is Ultima 1. Every Ultima game is an open world game, and each one twists and spins it. You’d think PC Gamer would make the connection, but I have to read that impression from Time magazine.

No game company or series lasts forever. Ultima was going downhill after Origin was bought by EA. RPG on the PC became defined by games like Baldur’s Gate or Fallout. I don’t talk about those games much because I don’t find them that interesting. Baldur’s Gate is fantastic if you love Dungeon and Dragon rulesets (I actually can’t stand Dungeon and Dragons. I know… I know…). Fallout has a karma system, but it isn’t anything like an Ultima 4. I’ve tried playing games like Witcher, GTA, and so on, but they never seemed like RPG games. They seem like story games where you do the quest for the cinematic but ‘wander around’ in between those quest points. I don’t consider Ultima 7 Part 2: Serpent Isle a true open world game, but they all play like Serpent Isle. There are too many scripted events, so much developer created drama. I want player created drama. The reason why Tetris created drama was because the player has to deal with ramifications of not putting in the block correctly having the gap push up the stack. Naughty gamer! The developer doesn’t put it there to add drama.

There are two types of open world games: open world games for the players, and open world games for the developers. With the former, you are bound only by the game engine rules. With the latter, you are bound by the developers’ vision of how the plot and story should go.

Do you want to know a trick to fiction writing? (Of course you do since no one in the Game Industry knows zilch about writing decently anyway.) Good stories are like a sports game. A sports game is interesting because while you know the rules, you do not know what the next action is. But the physics, the rules of the world, guide what is defined as winning or losing.

Image result for sisko emissary baseball

Above: Malstrom says to the Game Industry aliens, “It’s linear!”

Look at your favorite fiction story. In this story, it will be established rules for how that universe works. A good author will not violate those rules or the reader will cry foul and declare you a bad story teller. There is also the rule of drama that if a gun is seen on the wall in act 1, it better be used sometime during the play.

Good stories create a world of rules within itself, and the story is just an adventure through those rules. Much of the time, those rules are character emotions and personalities. If I were reading a fantasy book, you’d better explain to me the rules for how magic works. If you do not, nothing makes sense because the author is just throwing shit out there. It becomes a bad story.

Most open world games are bad because, like bad writers, developers do not want to establish rules for their world and exist within them. They keep trying to break the rules of that universe which causes the gamer to lose immersion and lose faith in the game. The gamer becomes bored and stops playing. A game like Super Mario Brothers heavily obeys the physics of Mario’s jump. If Nintendo broke or changed those rules, the player would scream and turn off the game.

What Breath of the Wild is doing with its physics system driven game world is not the extraordinary but the ordinary of how a proper open world should be done. What we have been getting instead are very bad open world games whose errors are perfumed by ‘better graphics’ and ‘cinematic experiences’. But the perfume is fading, and we can smell the stink.

A video game player is not a member of the audience. The video game player is the actor on stage. What the developer does is design the stage and puts up props. The developer is not the director. The actor doesn’t get to be directed and told what to do. If he did, it wouldn’t be a game.

The stuff that made Breath of the Wild great, such as the physics and all, are not fun for developers to do. What is fun for gamers is not fun for developers, and what is fun for developers tends to not be fun for the gamers.

I got spoiled over what is a proper open world long ago. I keep replaying games like Ultima VII instead of the ‘open world’ games of today. Either I am some sort of fossilized relic who cannot learn new ways… or the games coming out today are not as good as before.

It’s clear Breath of the Wild is better than prior Zelda games. It is also dawning on everyone that Breath of the Wild is better than laugh of ‘open world games’ they had already been playing.

Playing Breath of the Wild doesn’t remind me of playing Zelda 1, Link to the Past, etc. for the first time (I’m old enough to remember playing those not as a child). Zelda BoW “Wow!” reminds me of playing an Ultima open world. I would continue my game, have a little goal such as ‘let’s check out that mountain’ or ‘let us try to find that NPC’. I would make my own goals, the game wouldn’t do it for me. I guided my own direction. I was so immersed.

Maybe I’m imagining it, but Breath of the Wild is also doing some odd things. Ultima loved using bards singing bad poetry to tell stories and sometimes give hints. BoW “Wow!” is doing this too. Ultima games also have no soundtrack or a very weak one. Ultima is all about ambient sounds (true!) to immerse yourself.

Here is another small connection. Prior Zelda games (as far as I can remember, I know Twilight Princess did this) had you go and choose from a list of saved game files continuing the same save screen from Zelda 1. Save File A, B, or C. You would choose the file and then the game would start.

That screen is gone. At the Zelda BoW “Wow!” title screen, the first option is CONTINUE with NEW GAME right after it, then the other options.


Image result for breath of the wild title screen

“But Malstrom, Skyrim did this.”

Image result for skyrim title screen

And the games that came out after Skyrim copied this style. Witcher 3 would do it like this. But Witcher 2 didn’t. Witcher 2 did ‘Load Game’.

Elder Scrolls is a spiritual successor to Ultima, so it is clear why they are doing it. This is what I am saying:

Image result for ultima 5 title screen

As far back as 1988, Ultima made its title screen have ‘Journey Onward’ (a fancy way of saying continue) be on the main menu instead of LOAD GAME.  Many RPGs do not do this. I recall this because every time I would go into an Ultima game to resume my game, I would just keep hitting one button! It is a PC RPG, not an arcade game.

Image result for ultima 8 title screen

Image result for ultima 7 menu

OK, I just looked it up. Skyward Sword uses the NES style ‘load file’ from three slots. Breath of the Wild doesn’t do that. While you could say the menu especially the ‘resume’ or ‘journey onward’ is being mimicked from the influential Elder Scrolls games, but that is an artifact of the Ultima series.

Maybe it is something, maybe it is nothing. Zelda certainly altered its menu. But I cannot shake the feeling that playing Breath of the Wild feels like I am playing an Ultima game. Considering that Ultima games are my favorite to play and replay, this is not a bad thing (except it spoiled me on other games). It may explain why ‘experienced gamers’ who grew up on the NES (Ultima 7, the peak of the series, came out when the SNES launched when most gamers out there now were young teenagers, not adults!) are stunned by BoW “Wow!”. I’m not ‘stunned’ by it, it just makes me feel like I am playing Ultima (which is REALLY strange coming from a Zelda game which I associate more with arcade gameplay).

I am sure Breath of the Wild was inspired by Skyrim, Minecraft, and other top ‘open world’ games. And yet… Nintendo developers are very smart people. Smarter than I. Smarter than The Reader. If some dumb bloke like myself can make connections like this, certainly the best game developers on the planet can do it too.

I am curious how Miyamoto, Aonuma and Nintendo are receiving the Breath of the Wild phenomenon. “They would be happy, Malstrom!” I’m not entirely sure. They were not happy when 2d Mario began selling gangbusters.

Doesn’t Breath of the Wild’s success show, both in critical reception and in sales, how off track the Zelda series has been? How can there be any other type of interpretation? Breath of the Wild is the stake-in-the-heart of Aonuma Zelda. If Nintendo tries to go back, the world will scream.

What gave me the confidence to keep going on, and on, like a broken record about Zelda for nearly half a decade (!) is that Nintendo is a business first. We all have egos. Everyone’s game is like their precious baby. But when the business go bad, Nintendo has a habit of professionalism trumping ego. They will see feedback and right the ship. I saw this with Wii (coming from Gamecube). Zelda would just die out if they kept making games like Skyward Sword.

After the flops of Metroid: Other M, and Metroid: Federation Force, Nintendo should be saying, “Those games didn’t work. Let us do something DIFFERENT so it does work.” Then they look at feedback, and hopefully Metroid will be fixed.

Metroid done right wouldn’t be the phenomenon that Zelda is now. Rather, it would be a different phenomenon, a more ‘hardcore gaming’ phenomenon. Metroid was about the advanced player, the experienced gamer. All other Nintendo games seem geared for kids or for everyone. Not Metroid. A modern Metroid would make Dark Souls type games look silly and juvenile.



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