Friday, June 1, 2012

The Legend of Zelda - Graphics and Exploration

Click on an image for a larger version
I think Zelda 1 is my favorite game of all time.  The reason for this is that I can very easily daydream myself into the world of Zelda 1.  All I have to do is take a breath, and Zelda 1 appears in my mind.  And it's always in a nice, dream-state, imprecise version of it.  It's like I can *smell* Zelda 1.  The visual representation appears the strongest, the colors and the general shape of the game, which are both very distinctive.  I'm going to try to describe and analyze what it is about Zelda 1 that makes it so distinct.  *I would also like to note that this post was not inspired by Jack's Memory Post - it was serendipity that we were both thinking at the same time, about the same phenomenon; of being transported into a game memory. 

There are some clear contributing factors to how easily I can imagine the Zelda world.  I played it when I was very young, and highly impressionable.  I played it a LOT.  But, in addition to these things, it is also a great game.  And it is on that fact that I wish to focus.  Yes, Zelda has been done before, but that's what makes it a great trial run for game analysis, that is, for game analysis on a good game.  The Legend of Zelda has a very distinct and consistent aesthetic, and it is an open-world exploration game.  I think these are the components which make the game particularly engaging.

Today I want to focus on the overworld map.  Particularly about the sense of exploration and how the visual style helps to facilitate that sense of exploration.  The game is viewed from top-down, and is divided by screens.  So when I enter a screen, I can see everything in the screen that I can affect or can affect me.  The game map in Zelda is essentially a series of rectangular pictures of screen size, positioned side by side and top to bottom to form a larger rectangle. I can only view one picture at a time, and I can move freely within the picture I presently inhabit.  Passing between screens is an important part of the game, allowing me to run for safety if danger lurks in my present screen.  The transition between screens is, for everyone who plays the game, a signature part of the visual aesthetic.

Each screen is made up by mostly tile-based images.  Bushes, Rocks, and Enemies all fit within small 16 x 16 pixel squares, as do all hearts, rupees and items (I discovered these dimensions when playing Mario Paint for the Super NES).  This consistent size and use of simple, primary colors creates a simplistic design that might be called minimalist.  There were never any real surprises, in a given screen, but there were always different arrangements of the small number of tiles.  The simplicity and limitations allow for everything to be placed purposefully, the consistency makes it so that the player is never pulled out of the game by bad design.

A great deal of my time playing Zelda has been spent wandering the map.  Just kind of looking around.  Early on in the game, it's pretty tough, because the enemy is tough, and Link is weak.  But after gaining a few more heart containers and a few more weapons, the world begins to open up.  Enemies and combat represent obstacles to be overcome, you have to earn each new screen you explore.  Because the games graphical consistencies, I can size up a screen in an instant. I really want to look around in that forest area, but is crawling with Moblins.  I'll stick to the Octorocks on the beach.Or I'd love to check out death mountain, but all those Centaur guys make that really tough to do.  It's fun to look around just for the sake of looking around, but if that's not enough, there's also a large number of hidden goodies to find.

It is possible to know this game completely; to literally leave no stone unturned.  No wall un-bombed, no bush unburned.  Jack points out that there was no visual cue as to when a bush was burnable or a wall was bomb-able.  You just had to give it a try an hope for the best.This method is was out of vogue by the time Zelda III came out, but I don't think it was necessarily a bad mechanic (Though it would have been nice to have gotten the red candle just a little earlier in the game -ed).  With no visual cue, I would burn every bush, but I would start with the ones that I thought made aesthetic sense, as though I could figure out and understand the programmer's visual style and thus, save myself time in the never-ending search for a new cave.  I felt more of a sense of exploration, knowing that I just might find something, and sometimes did find hidden caves that were secrets to everybody.

No comments:

Post a Comment