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Tuesay, Jan 4, 2000:

Why Zelda is Great -- Part II

The progression from "Not Handle" to "Handle" is such an important aspect to any game. This teaches the player first that it is possible to make the transition from "Not Handle" to "Handle". And second it demonstrates the difference in how one can be in a space once one has learned how to "handle" a particular thing.

In Zelda the key element which demonstrates this is the monsters. The very first monsters that most folks encounter in Zelda are the "rock throwers". The first time I encountered these pudgy little rock spittersI was in almost total overwhelm. It was my first video game on a Nintendo system. I had no idea yet how to move let alone fight. I couldn't even defend myself from a stationary bush let along these malicious rock throwing demons from hell. Too much was happening and it was all happening too fast. Later with experience I could see the blatant patterns of the monsters. They weren't really shooting a zillion rocks. And they weren't shooting them all the time. They had a pattern of movement and a pattern of shooting that allowed me, once I was familiar, to totally avoid these guys. I could handle them completely. I went through a very definite transition from being incapable of handling these little pests to being throughly able to handle them -- even to the point that it became unnecessary to kill. I could sidestep anything they had to throw at me.

Now it is hard to imagine how they were ever a problem and how could they have killed me over and over again? This is not just a case of getting better at the controller. And it is not just a case of developing better reflexes. That is emphatically not what I'm referring to. Because of a shift in vision brought about through a combination of experience, intuition and training these little guys have become charactures. Their movements are wide sweeping strokes that are totally simple to predict and follow. This is the way it should be in a game. A video game is not the final meeting ground. This is not where the final challenge will be met. It should be possible to use a video game as a training space in which to learn how to learn. It takes a lot to get a message across. Repetition helps. But not just any kind of repetition. If a player was confronted with the same monster doing the same thing every time there would only be a chance to transition from "not handle" to "handle" one time. However, by being presented with an array of monsters one has the capability of seeing this for each monster type.

In a game such as Metroid much of the game involves learning trick moves and enhancing one's playing skills. This is fine and even dandy. But it doesn't carry the same universal appeal of a game such as Zelda. Don't get me wrong, skill plays a large part in Zelda as it should. But skill is not the only determinate. Remember the Darknuts in Zelda. Recall the clink, clink sound you get when stabbing at these red and blue menances from the front or side? Darknuts in case you don't know are totally invulnerable when hit from the front -- totally. You could hit them a thousand times and they would keep on trucking. But from the back they are killable. Admittedly it takes 16 hits with the wooden sword. But alas, with the discovery of a Darknuts vulnerability to rear attack the impossible becomes possible. What was hopeless becomes almost doable. Now one just has to learn to stay out of their way long enough to sneak up behind them 16 times (each).

In case you're looking for one word to describe this type of insight you could try "strategy." Every monster in a game should become much easier to handle after one discovers a strategy. Or in some cases the monster will go from impossible to possible. Consider the crab which appears later in Zelda. Just try to kill this brute if you don't wait for the eye to be open.

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