Friday, March 27, 2015

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 77)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, Smooth McGroove takes over, because who could argue with that!

  • First Smooth ... Sorry Mr. McGroove covers the Stone Temple theme from Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.
  • Next, Mr. McGroove takes us sailing across the seas with the Ocean Overworld theme from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  • Finally, we learn the secrets of Charl, Mr. McGroove's faithful and ever present companion. Don't go out in the dark if you want to be safe...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Blog: Thoughts on Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

I recently finished playing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. It's a fun game and the HD update really brings it to life (although my nostalgia tells me that this is how good the game has always looked). I did find however that it has some very frustrating game design choices and at the end of the day feels like the first attempt of the developers to keep the franchise from stagnating, without necessarily understanding what parts they're tinkering with.

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Title Screen

As a quick note it's worth pointing out that I have played all of the console Zelda games, except for The Adventure of Link and the last half of Majora's Mask (thanks N64 memory expansion and awkward Wii controls). I've missed most of the hand held Zeldas, but have played Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks and A Link Between Worlds. As such some of my feelings on the series may be biased.

Please beware of spoilers for The Wind Waker.

Things I Liked

The Wind Waker does an amazing job of instilling a feeling of the joy of exploration and adventure. Especially when upgraded with the HD graphics, sailing into the world with the music and the waves swelling under you, you feel like you're going on the adventure of a life time. When you spot a tiny island on the horizon and then sail for minutes to get up to it and watch the details resolve into a new adventure is definitely exciting. Even just the act of walking out onto the dock on Windfall or Outset islands provides you with a feeling that great adventure is about to commence.

Link Stands on a cliff looking at his home and neighbours on Outset Island
Watching over home.

The environments of the game are also really good (especially in the HD remake). From the ocean itself and all the different ways it can be in different weather and different times of day to each of the islands which have a wide variety of styles supported by some really great music.

In the HD edition of the game using the game pad to manage the inventory took a little time to get used to, but I came to really like it. Having all of your potential tools laid out in front of you is helpful and having the game pad represent the map was also a plus. I do wish that the game would allow for a little more flexibility on the tools front also possibly some tool tips (I took a break while playing and was apparently in the middle of a delivery quest and never again figure out what the thing in my inventory was nor who wanted it). It would also be nice to annotate the map in the same way that Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks do.

The final thing that I really liked about this game is the end of the final boss fight. Ending the fight by stabbing Ganondorf through the head is an incredible feeling, although not one the game necessarily earns itself. I think that killing Ganondorf is more to do with Ocarina than it is with anything he does in this game Still being able to end the games on a definitive, we have truly defeated evil, note is really cathartic.

From a cutscene, Link prepares to fight Ganondorf.
The final fight.

Oh an on a side note, the Wii U lets you take screen shots. It's a touch convoluted, but being able to take my own screens has made me very happy.

Things I Didn't Like

The number one thing I didn't like about the game was Z-targeting. In most of the other games in the series I've felt like Z-targeting has largely been intuitive. I'm targeting the things I want to attack and now it's easy to jump to the next thing or to switch out for other attacks. In The Wind Waker (and this may just be in the HD version, I don't remember the original controls that well) I seem to never be targeting the thing I'd like to target. In fact in several boss fights they seem to launch minions at you just to screw up your targeting, which suggests that the developers were aware of this problem as well. It makes the game incredibly frustrating at points and left me not wanting to play more on several occasions.

I also didn't like the dungeon / temple design in Wind Waker. I think the source of this is that the developers wanted to create a grander sense of scale, but this came at the cost of having fewer dungeons and a lot of unnecessary padding in the ones they did create.  They also tried to make the problems in the dungeons more dynamic, requiring you to use several tools together to get past obstacles. While the idea of putting on your iron shoes so you can push down a spring and then spring up to take flight with your leaf is cool, having to get all the items for that out of your inventory every single time you needed to go through a part of the dungeon is frustrating.

Link looks grumpily at his heavy iron boots, holding the deku leaf in his hand.
I've had it with these boots!

The game also has a weird hand holding pattern. Sometimes it's very aggressive, "hey look at these lights, now read a note about those lights, oh never mind we're just going to point out that you should hit these switches in order." Other times it's so subtle that you're note actually sure it's working. Having to use Phantom Ganondorf's sword as a compass is brilliant, but I didn't get it at all until I looked up a FAQ on the frustrating dungeon right after the lights.

I didn't like how static the world feels. As is usual with  Zelda games the story and world don't advance unless you come along and actually do something, but there seem to be lots of places where nothing ever changes. Maybe I missed it but there's a guy who arrives at Fire Roost Island and then just stands outside baffled by how to get in (despite the path you make). It would have given the game more life and more interest if you'd been able to see him work to become a mailman despite his hinderance of not having wings. Your grandmother changes a bit, but basically sits in her hut doing nothing for the whole game. Again a little bit of character arc for the NPCs would do wonders to make the world feel like you should care about it.

Even the ocean feels somewhat static, there aren't many other ships about on it and those that are tend to stay put attached to which ever island they're a part of the story. The static feeling of the game is also reinforced by the grid system in the map. There is one island in every square, every island has one thing you need to go find on it. It would have been nicer to be able go to some places where there were a lot of island and then others where there are very few. That way you get a little more excitement in exploration, especially if there are places that are dark and dangerous and places that are safer. At the moment "danger" seems to be spread very uniformly across the sea.

Link stands on the tower at Tingle Island facing Tingle with his sword drawn.
I also don't like that the game won't let me challenge Tingle to a duel. Take that your money grubber!

I happened to play some of Sunless Sea around the time I was finishing up The Wind Waker and definitely felt that the way that game handles the risk and reward of sailing is more rewarding than Wind Waker. There are aspects I don't think would fit, such after the islands that move after each rogue-like life, but definitely being able to arrive on "strange shores" would again increase the interest level of Wind Waker.

Things I Noticed

Finding treasure using treasure maps is fun and I like the game of going through the islands and trying to match the different coast lines to the map. It's also nice that you can be more or less challenged by the when you go looking for treasure depending on if you want to see the bright glowing spots or not. However actually picking the treasure up is rather frustrating since you have to get on exactly the right coordinate. Additionally the treasure feels a little lacklustre, other than pieces of heart you only get money and I ended up with thousands of Rupees that I didn't need to spend.

I think the game would have been improved with a fewer treasures to find but with a mini-game to be played when you're looking for them. Ideally this would give you more satisfaction and reward and you could ease the relatively frustrating part of trying to hit exactly the right point on a rolling sea.

Link sails towards Outset island on the Red Lion.
Sailing home is always a pretty sight.

Things I'd Include in a Game

The biggest thing Wind Waker makes me want to include in a game is a dynamic world. The NPCs should have arcs and goals and generally be doing something. Everyone in Wind Waker (and honestly in lots of games, but especially Zelda games) is standing around. I'm not even sure they're supposed to want to to save the world even, since I don't know if anyone even knows he exists. Anyone on outset island is just wondering why you haven't rescued your sister yet.

I also want to make sure that  there's a feeling of adventure and exploration. This is a thing that Zelda games are usually very good at invoking, but the grid of islands system somewhat stifles. Being able to set off into the unknown and be rewarded, even if it's just with a view or a secret or a tiny piece of story, gives players a reason to keep playing the game and to keep exploring the world.

Link sets sail from Windfall Island on the Red Lion.
Setting out for adventure.

Final Thoughts

The End screen for the Wind Waker

The Wind Waker feels like a fractured game. I feel as though they tried to stretch the world of Ocarina of Time into a bigger and more majestic environment, but stymied themselves by imposing rules that overly simplified exploration. I feel like they wanted to get away from the rescue the princess story line, but couldn't figure out how to have an epic quest without that motivator. I feel like the developers wanted to strike out into new story territory, but didn't feel like the could leave all the trappings of Ocarina of time behind them.  I feel like they wanted to introduce more dynamic combat, but didn't have the expertise yet to interactively allow the player to have control and all the cinematic drama at the same time. So while the game has some of the strongest style and some very good game play it never does it self the service of letting these things stand out.

I like The Wind Waker. It's a fun game to play and it has moments of absolute brilliance in game play and story telling. There are frustrating parts and the game is either longer than it should be or is missing a bunch of content, but it's still worth playing for those brilliant moments.

From the second quest, Aryll wonders why Link never gets dressed up
Yeah I always seem to wear ... hey! Wait!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 76)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, we have some happy times, some sad times, some calm times and some hope.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Blog: Favourite YouTube Vidoes (Volume 75)

This volume of my favourite YouTube videos, is brought to you by boxes. And beards. And also Ze.

  • First, with the all the power  his beard and cat can bring, Smooth McGroove blasts us with the theme from the Gerudo Fortress and then soothes us with the music from Dire Dire Docks.
  • Now that we are empowered by beard and cat. Ze Frank sits us down for a talk about the creative life and reminds us of the fundamental truth, "If you want to be a writer, write."