I was having a conversation with some friends of mine the other day about Zelda’s role in Breath of the Wild and whether or not her character was handled well. Without fail, whenever the topic of Zelda being a damsel in distress is brought up, one of these friends jumps in to point out that Zelda isn’t just a helpless Peach-style abductee, and that she plays an active role in the story by making strong, smart choices to help save the day in the most effective way that she can given the situations she finds herself in.
Someone responded to this with the following:
A lot of the comments about her and her accomplishments fall flat because she’s not real. It’s not “her choice” that she locks herself away in Skyward Sword. Or that when she realizes she’s Zelda in Wind Waker, that she hangs out for a while while Link cleans things up. She’s written that way, she has no agency.
I feel the same way about saying that “it’s brave” of Zelda to tuck herself away in Skyward Sword that I do when people say Bayonetta dresses sexy because “it’s empowering.” That misses the point completely. They’re written that way. That’s not to say it’s impossible to have an empowered female character make a meaningful sacrifice or be able to dress hot, of course. But Nintendo doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt in this regard. There’s a three decade history we’re dealing with here, and Zelda has been a macguffin at best most of the time.
Shit, in incarnations like Wind Waker or Breath of the Wild, it’s MORE disappointing than usual. The things Zelda earned or worked for in those games? Being a rad pirate, or a researcher? Nope, sorry, you’re a princess with Triforce powers. Stop doing that other shit, this is your fate. Clearly Nintendo recognizes that Zelda is a beloved character, that people like seeing her, and they want to develop her. But the greatest utility she often has is staying put.
On the one hand, I’d defend Zelda being locked away until the end of the game because having to wait that long to meet the series’ namesake is fun pacing; you really feel the suspense build up as you work towards that moment where you finally see her. At the same time, using up the most important character in the game just for one cool moment is exactly what Anita Sarkeesian is talking about when she criticizes developers for using women as rewards.
These conversations always inevitably end up going back to the same old joke: why isn’t this series called The Legend of Link?
A few years ago, after participating in a couple of game jams and releasing an extremely early, unpolished version of Shapes of Gray on itch.io, I felt that I had attained enough authority to write a book on game development aptly titled “How to Make Games” containing sage advice like “do GameMaker’s tutorials” and “remember to eat food.”
As self-deprecating as I am about it now, the guide actually got spread around quite a bit, and people still download it to this day. A friend of mine once recommended I make it available as a series of blog posts; three years later, now that I actually have a blog, I’ll follow his suggestion. I’ve changed a few details here and there, but 99% of what you’ll read is identical to what I wrote down in 2014 (meaning some of it is out of date, a few resources may have disappeared, and I might disagree with certain points).
While I don’t expect anyone who follows me closely enough to know about this blog to get much out of this guide—the majority of the people I know personally in gamedev are far more talented than I am—if you truly are a complete beginner when it comes to game design, this can serve you as a pretty great compilation of all the advice that got me through my first year of it.
May it serve you well.
This essay was originally written for the Game Developers Conference 2017 Narrative Review Competition, where it won a gold award and got me a free pass to GDC. Major spoilers for 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Minor spoilers for Zero Time Dilemma.
Explaining the plot of Zero Time Dilemma, the third game in the Zero Escape series, to someone who hasn’t played the first two entries, is a bit… complicated.
A synopsis of a game written for sane people might start by giving you a bit of background on who you’ll be playing as, when the story takes place, what the context of the conflict is, and what force drives the action forward.
Zero Time Dilemma lacks simple answers to all of these questions; part of the game’s brilliance comes from the way it builds on concepts introduced in its predecessors, 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. So, to adequately describe just what the hell is going on in this labyrinthine Sort-of-Visual-Novel-But-Not-Really released for Nintendo 3DS earlier this year, we have to go back and analyze what made the first two games so special.
This essay was originally written for the Game Developers Conference 2016 Narrative Review Competition. Unlike my 2015 and 2017 entries, it did not win an award.
Andrew Stanton, the writer and director behind WALL-E, Finding Nemo, all three Toy Story’s, and several other beloved Pixar movies, began his 2012 TED Talk with a story:
“A tourist is backpacking through the highlands of Scotland, and he stops at a pub to get a drink. And the only people in there are a bartender and an old man nursing a beer. And he orders a pint, and they sit in silence for a while. And suddenly the old man turns to him and goes, ‘You see this bar? I built this bar with my bare hands from the finest wood in the country. Gave it more love and care than my own child. But do they call me MacGregor the bar builder? No.’ Points out the window. ‘You see that stone wall out there? I built that stone wall with my bare hands. Found every stone, placed them just so through the rain and the cold. But do they call me MacGregor the stone wall builder? No.’ Points out the window. ‘You see that pier on the lake out there? I built that pier with my bare hands. Drove the pilings against the tide of the sand, plank by plank. But do they call me MacGregor the pier builder? No.
“But you fuck one goat…’”
This article was originally written in 2014 for Nintendo Enthusiast.
In the latest Zelda-themed episode of internet cartoonist Arin Hanson’s Sequelitis series, Arin says that there’s no mystery in modern Zelda games. For the most part, I agree with this.
Mystery is something that’s very important to me in games, movies, books… pretty much everything! With the recent announcement of Zelda for Wii U and how it will be open-world—as in, even more open world than all the other Zelda games that are open world—I’ve been thinking a lot about how it could finally be the game to bring mystery back to Zelda. But what made old Zelda games so mysterious in the first place? And why is the mystery gone now?
If you’re the type of person who can be immediately sold on a $20 indie game you’ve never heard of based on a mild recommendation from a random internet blogger, then dammit, I have to try. For your sake.
In mid-December a game called Glittermitten Grove came out on Steam, and, like most games, was ignored by all 125 million Steam users. You can’t really blame them. I mean, watch the trailer for yourself:
2016. The year of the devil. In one trip around the sun, we lost eight thousand celebrities, World War III finally started, and 80% of the world’s population died from Zika.
On the other hand, we got a Pokémon game for phones, so I’d say it all balances out.
If you go look up a trailer for Paper Mario: Color Splash on Youtube, chances are you’ll see something like this:
The internet’s initial reaction to the game’s announcement was super negative. Even I was pretty down on it.
What we all really wanted was a follow-up to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Since its release in 2004, no Mario RPG has come close to topping it. It had hilarious villains, an intriguing mystery, and an edgy world unlike anything we’d seen before in the Mario series. The game’s hub area, Rogueport, was home to bandits and organized crime lords, and even the more lighthearted NPCs had really unique designs that put a cool spin on the old Mario enemies we’d come to know and love. And that’s to say nothing of the awesome battle system that could be broken in some pretty fun ways if you were inventive enough.
So when Nintendo showed off Paper Mario: Color Splash for the first time, with its lack of NPC variety, simplified battles, and plain-looking world, people were right to be skeptical after Sticker Star left a sour taste in their mouths. It’s a shame that we were, though, because that skepticism lead to a lot of people missing out on one of the best games I played all year.
Being home alone at night is the worst. I mean, not for me. I’m all about that Elon Musk “the absence of photons is nothing to be afraid of” anti-supernatural mindset.
But, you know, for other people who are definitely not me, it can be scary. Demons, burglars, whatever. Sometimes it seems like there are monsters hiding in every shadowy corner; ancient forgotten evils lying in wait for centuries, yearning to enact their revenge upon he who stumbles upon them.
…this is kinda how I feel about all the copies of Ocarina of Time I have in my house.
This essay was originally written for a class on Game Feel, which heavily referenced Steve Swink’s book of the same name.
One of the greatest things about games as a medium is their power to allow the audience to relate to the situations going on in the game by having the situation happen directly to the audience through gameplay. In a book, you can read about how characters feel and empathize with them; in a movie, you can see it. In a well-made game, though, that feeling of empathy comes from within you. In the heat of the moment, it’s almost like you’re actually there.
Most games will attempt to make their player feel a certain way to engross them in their world and cause them to feel certain emotions towards the characters in it. In Assassin’s Creed, you can climb anything—just like a real assassin! And when one of the members of your brotherhood dies, it’s devastating, because that death has real gameplay implications. Games can instill emotions in you through well-thought out rules.
Gods Will Be Watching subverts this by using its ability to instill feelings in its player not as a way of engagement, but as a way of disengagement—and it’s one of the best video game stories I’ve ever experienced.
Gods Will Be Watching, described by its publisher Devolver Digital as “a point’n’click series of dramatic puzzles about survival and moral dilemmas,” is an adventure game in which the player takes on the role of Sergeant Burden, a high-ranking member of Everdusk, a benevolent organization that operates “without any political or religious background to justify their actions; just common sense.” Burden’s mission is to calm the conflict between the galaxy’s all-controlling Constellar Federation and the violent rebel force Xenolifer. Continue reading