Thursday, November 7, 2013

Game Translation: Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of those early generation videogames (for me) that really made a lasting impression. In fact part of the inspiration for the Fianyarr campaign articles was to generate a set of rules that would work well for a Zelda-style game of fun and frivolity. Most fantasy games these days are so cluttered with myth and detail that the rather simple focus of moving through a strange world without, at the same time, deconstructing it, seems strange in comparison. In Ocarina of Time the castle and the earth beneath it was gouged from the earth and floated above a lava-filled gash. There was no spoken reason for it. No apologies for a gas-less lava that was only a couple dozen feet below the ground.

I think that's the main thing that really stuck with me. Most of the old-school myths from ancient history don't have the same categorical narrative drive that fill most games these days. Not to say that categorical fantasy narratives are bad. It can be fun to see what a fantasy world would really look like. It can be great to divide monsters into the same kind of discrete categories we use for both real world flora and fauna.

But it's not the only way it has to be and Zelda understands that.

Of course most fantasy games, by their very nature, create discrete categories as well. This is, in part, as a Game Master aid by allowing them to clump together otherwise odd-looking creatures and call them related. It can also help the game writers conserve space as they can label a creature 'undead' or 'aberration' without having to describe those species characteristics over and over. In systems where a person's class and race have categorical differences that are certain and guaranteed, it makes little sense not to do the same to the creatures you face.

Yet sometimes those categories get in the way of the Rule of Cool and if you are looking to recreate the Zelda experience you must make the Rule of Cool paramount but without drawing in any of that adult-only content that fills up most fantasy genres these days. It doesn't make sense for the Zelda world to have women in chainmail bikinis anymore than it makes sense for Link to torture information out of the enemy. When creatures die in Zelda, they die in a cartoony way which reduces any sense of them having been really alive. There's no guilt from smacking things around in Zelda.

Yeah, I don't like being eyeballed either.

The map, too, is filled with segments that are all very themed and stylised. There's those rocky folks up on the mountain that live in an extinct volcano, grow bombs like vegetables and have puzzles in their village. Sure it doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it but does it really have to? Why not block a catwalk with a hungry fellow who won't move unless you fetch them a bomb? Sure the players should always have the chance to out-think the situations you create, but there's nothing to say a fellow couldn't be placed there just to make the player characters backtrack a bit so long as you're open to alternatives if the players care enough about circumventing it.

Of course for a game like this to work you really need player buy-in. There's no use coming up with a whimsical campaign world if the players are wont to torture information out of folk or get drunk in taverns before trying to pick up the barmaid. They really need to want to play something a bit silly and fun where the point is to be a bit playful with the situations.

The hard part is finding playful situations that are fun, interesting and evocative without going into hyper-real situations. You can't just throw a couple orcs in a room and call it a day. Oh no, you need to find a way to make those orcs interesting. Perhaps they're munching on strangleweed and laughing as it almost chokes them? Perhaps once they're dealt with, the players can harvest some strangleweed seeds and use it themselves in the next situation to pull down a key clasped in a bony hand in a later section of the dungeon?

Because, yes, you can have dungeons in this game but the dungeons need to be themed puzzles in and of themselves. The players need to pay attention to their surroundings and use it to their best advantage just as you need to set things up to their disadvantage. Why not throw some lava in the room? Underwater sections? Reverse the gravity? Do something different. Dare to be different. The players' creativity and imagination should always be engaged by the situations they encounter.

And yes, a lot of this advice works quite well for any fantasy-based campaign. It's fantasy, for goodness sake! Try to make it fantastical! The players should expect the unexpected. Have their assumptions proven wrong and proven right with equal abandon. Engaging with fantasy tropes is all well and good, but there's no need to make things derivative just because that's what the majority have done. The secret of fantasy, especially in roleplay more than anywhere else, is that there doesn't need to be any sacred rules while worldbuilding. Take full advantage of this fact in this sort of campaign. While there must be internal consistency, it doesn't have to be consistent with every other fantasy story you've experienced.

Anyway, a campaign based around Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or including elements of it, should appeal to Explorers as the situations themselves should be interesting and there should be rewards around every corner for those who care to look.

Investigators may find the mysteries themselves rather easy to solve but should find enough surprises in front of them to keep them interested.

Tacticians will enjoy figuring out how this new piece of magical equipment might be used to unlock the next section.

Action Heroes will love the excuse to hack and slash their way through the various dungeons to find their way to the big boss at the end.

Communicators will like the slightly off-kiltre personalities they encounter though may find the lack of opportunities to use social prowess and political insight to their advantage rather stifling.

If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Beyond: Two Souls,  Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, The Cat Lady, Outlast or Dishonoured. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll beThe Cat Lady.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

1 comment:

  1. It's fantasy, for goodness sake! Try to make it fantastical!

    Well said. It's so disheartening to see discussions about whether there would really be black characters in such and such setting because there weren't in 14th Century Europe (except there were) or that platemail didn't co-exist with Generic Polearm 12 or whatever. It's fantasy! Make it fun and exciting and to heck with the "accuracy"!