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Monday, Jan 3, 2000:

Why Zelda is Great -- Part I

Almost without exception everyone who has actually played Zelda agrees that it is a great game. And here we are of course talking about Zelda I. The others may be good, but Zelda I is great.

Let's see if we can figure out part of what makes Zelda great.

Later let's consider the elements of a game. For now let's just take one element and look at it: Story Line.

Zelda has a clear, simple easy to grasp story line which explains all elements of the game. Princess Zelda has been kidnapped by the bad guy -- Gannon. Your job is to rescue Princess Zelda. She is being held somewhere that you have to find in order to rescue her. The door to that place requires a special key -- The Tri-Force. This Tri-Force has been broken into eight pieces. Each of the eight pieces have been hidden in one of eight levels. Each level has a maze to solve and monsters to handle.

That's it. That's the whole of the story line. A simple, easy to understand story which explains all of the key elements in the game. It tells you who the bad guy is. It explains the nature of the heros quest which you are on. It gives meaning to each of the eight separate elements to the quest. And gives you an easy to understand measure of relative success. "I've got two pieces of the Tri-Force", "Now, I've got five pieces of the Tri-Force", etc.

The breaking of the Tri-Force into eight pieces is a stroke of genius. It is so easy to understand that the Tri-Force is the key to get into Level 9. It's like a key. We can all understand that. We can also easily understand something being divided into pieces and needing to be reassembled to work. Legos and Erector Sets teach us that. But what if they had tried to invent eight separate items which needed to be gathered for some purpose? In this case there would be eight mini elements which would have to make sense separately and together. This becomes burdensome to the writers and to the players. "Well, yay I need the blah-blah. I forget why but I need it." This doesn't work. Keep it simple, stupid. The K.I.S.S. principle.

A quest must have multiple segments, but the segments must be linked by an over-riding aim. Even the Odyssey would be two confusing if not handled right. What's the point with the Golden Fleece? And, why does he need the stupid eye-ball, etc. etc. Way confusing. In fact as you will notice most story tellers and movie directors handle only one or two aspects of the full quest in any given piece.

As an experiment go into any kid's closet and pull out all of their game cartridges. Ask them what the story is behind each of the games. The good (or great) games will have a story the kids remember. "Well, you have to ____". Ask further "What do you have to do to accomplish _____?" If they can tell you then that game has a head start on being good.

By the way, "Kill all the bad guys" might work in the short run. It does not satisfy in the long run. There needs to be a reason for killing all the bad guys.

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