Sunday, 19 February 2012

Not the key

This opinion piece on the Zelda series elegantly summarises why I don't think a 'procedural Zelda' will ever be interesting.

18 comments:

Nick said...

I found that to be about the worst article about anything I'd ever read.

Abe Heron said...

I sorta have to agree...opinions are a dime a dozen, more so in the internets. I don't play Zelda anymore (gets old after the nth one) but to say the first Zelda was the top and everything downhill trend from there seem a bit presumptuous, considering the diversity of some of the iterations/platforms. Then again who am I to speak? I think every RPG since Wizardry has gone downhill, and will defend it on pain of death :P

Burzmali said...

But isn't that exactly what Binding of Isaac is?

Sir Yobgod Ababua the Handless said...

Nick:Abe, if that's really the case I desperately need your RSS feeds.

While I might not agree with the author, he stated his opinions and arguments clearly, evocatively, and in detail. That is a rare, wonderful, and enjoyable thing in this evil, evil, 140 byte world.


More on topic, his complaints seem to call for a MORE procedural and less hand-crafted here-then-there game. Good procedural can do that, and can make good stories.

Dan said...

Andrew, I don't follow. Everything he says sounds like an argument towards a procedural Zelda, or at least games in that vein.

Joseph said...

Even if the core mechanics of modern Zeldas are broken. One can still take some of the mechanics common to all Zeldas and apply them to roguelikes.

1. Top Down Real Time Gameplay.

2. Key Items: Where collecting an item unlocks or grants access to new areas as well as gives new abilities. Also these items can be used to defeat a boss. This is the hallmark of a good Zelda/Metroid/Castlevania game.

The writer's complaint that these have been used to create a linear play style is a valid complaint. I'd say they are just not using the concept correctly.

3. Puzzles to solve. Pender has started doing some of this. Hell even Nethack had some block pushing.

4. Item/Ability based power curve instead of XP + Leveling. I really like this about Zelda. I hate grinding XP. Hate it hate it. It just becomes an arms race and designers just make cookie cutter monsters with higher stats.

5. Tile based but with big scary bosses. I love it how in the 2D zeldas most everything is 1 tile but then you get to the boss and he's big. Oh MAN is he big.

6. Bosses and their function. Each boss has an Achilles heal. You can find this out through trial and error or by asking an Old Man. Also each dungeon ends with a boss. This is doable in a roguelike.

7. Overworld + Dungeons game flow. This game flow is used in many roguelikes. Though most just have one dungeon. There is no reason you cannot make randomized dungeons accessible from an overworld. Each ending with a big boss.

8. Secrets. Everywhere! Actual secrets as well. The writer is correct that in the latest Metroids and Zeldas the secrets are labeled as such. So they aren't secrets at all. No mystery. But in the original Zelda many things were not discoverable without a lot of tedius trial an error. Bombing and burning and blowing the whistle. The cryptic 'hints' by the Old Men often only made sense AFTER the discovery of the secret.

It might be a challenge to create a system to assure you are able to access the KEY ITEMS before you encounter the need to use them. Like the ladder is 'findable' before you need to cross the chasm or the bombs are findable before you reach the Rhino. I think one can do this without a ton of expertise.

I know I ramble on. But any one or all of the qualities that make Zelda a good game can be used in a Roguelike.

I spent some time trying to create a Zelda/Rogue hybrid in Gamemaker. Even checked out Zelda Classic a bit. Some fun games there and a powerful tool. I may have thrown in the towel after too many dead ends but that does not mean a hybrid cannot be created.

Note that Binding of Isaac only superficially shares the traits of Zelda. It has the item based power curve and big scary bosses but it does not have the exploration component. No key items creating an expanding game world. No real secrets to discover.

Binding is a good game but not a good Zelda example. It's so original. Really it's own game. Owes as much to Gauntlet as it does to Rogue and Zelda.

Joseph said...

His bitch about easy and overly determined game play is very valid. But this is happening in a ton of games. It just becomes a button pressing exercise in order to see the next cut scene. Lame.

Joseph said...

Whether one agrees or disagrees with that article I'm not seeing the reason Zelda cannot benefit from a good procedural treatment.

Draco Metallium said...

Dear Andrew, would you tell us why do you think such a thing?
I think he is asking for a rocedural LoZ, he explicitly ask for a living world which doesn't care about the player, rich to explore, full of unpredictable mysteries.

John Harris said...

Finished reading it. This man is exactly right on all counts. I could barely have said it better myself. (I've played through the original Zelda at least ten times, BTW.)

Joseph said...

Yeah the guy is dead on. But how does that make a procedural Zelda a bad idea. I mean, you can just use the ideals of the first game. Not the inferior sequels.

John Harris said...

Oh, and this: "I sorta have to agree...opinions are a dime a dozen, more so in the internets."

This is a valueless statement. Engage with the argument, don't dismiss it as just being an opinion.

Andrew Doull said...

I should have known writing 'procedural Zelda' and leaving it at that wasn't good enough.

By 'procedural Zelda', I'm talking about what people like me who came late to the series think Zelda is about (I started with Wind Waker, and own Ocarina and Majora's Mask but never played them). That is an extended lock and key type series of puzzles, similar to what Brogue does with it's puzzle rooms.

Of course, games like Binding of Isaac which take inspiration from the early Zeldas are nothing like this, and a much better example of what an actual 'procedural Zelda' should be like.

Joseph said...

Ah...I see. It should be known that my extended ramblings above pertain to the original Zelda. A contender for greatest game ever made.

John Harris said...

The original Zelda is something special, yes. I do think it would be difficult to do something like that procedurally, but the reason is somewhat obscure.

The best part about the original Zelda is finding the game's huge number of optional secrets. Although most of those are completely unheralded by the game, with no explicit clues given to indicate their presence, some are still easier to find than others. It's not ENTIRELY a matter of trial and error to find them.

If there's a single tree in the middle of a field then, in searching for secret passages, does it not make sense to try that one first? If there's a big lumpy rock in the middle of the screen, wouldn't one first try to bomb it open? These places are "obvious" places to hide secrets, and a good percentage of the time players investigating them are rewarded. There are plenty of more obscure things to find too, but in conjunction with some other subtle patterns in the game that the player can discover, some hinted at in the article (one secret per screen, no adjacent dungeons), finding them can still be made much easier.

Discovering these patterns, I submit, is its own play mechanic. A procedurally generated game would either have to have hard-coded patterns (where it would become just another set pattern for players to learn, great the first game but less on later or after reading a FAQ), or the game would have to devise its own kinds of patterns, which is a substantially harder thing for a world generator to create.

In essence, finding secrets in Zelda is you playing a game of wits against the world designer himself. Part of the reason this is fun is because there is an intelligent mind, rather than an algorithm, doing the hiding.

Joseph said...

The hallmark of Zelda is not the little optional secrets all over. At least not for me. The game was fun because of the game flow. Find the dungeons. Find the items. Finally be powerful enough to take on Ganon.

Also the key item concept was great. Each new item gave new abilities but often also unlocked different areas of the game or allowed you to defeat a boss.

Trystan said...

Good find. I agree with most of what he says but disagree about not being able to create a procedural Zeldalike. I'm a huge fan of the original Zelda and have given it a lot of thought about how to capture the same feel in a roguelike. I posted some of my thoughts on my blog and plan to have a Hyrulian overworld in my 7DRL. I've even posted some thoughts about how to make procedural puzzles but I doubt I'll be able to squeeze that into this year's 7DRL. If the world has an interesting history and compelling characters, then I don't see why a procedurally created world is any less interesting than hand-made world.

RogerN said...

You might say that Zelda was the first MetroidVania style game, though it's not generally recognized as such because of the top-down perspective. The style of gameplay is very similar despite the perspective shift. There's the item-based power curve, an open world to explore and unlock via "keys", lots of secrets, large bosses, etc...

On my first playthrough of these style of games I enjoy exploring the world, finding new areas, finding secrets, etc... But the entertainment value of exploration is highly dependent on the content you're exploring, and that's hard to replicate procedurally. Half the fun of discovering new areas is getting to experience the sudden change in graphics, music, monsters, whatever. The skill of the artist plays a big role here. The player *must* have the feeling that something new and exotic could be just around the corner.

Another big entertainment factor is combat mechanics. The player will spend a LOT of his time moving between areas. Areas need to be constantly populated with monsters so that the world doesn't feel static - but at the same time, monsters cannot be so challenging that exploration becomes a chore. "Oh great," says the player, "I want to explore over there but it's going to take 45 minutes just to slog through all the monsters." Combat needs to be fun or exploration sucks.

Finally, for me some of the best fun I have with these games is on subsequent playthroughs. Many players including myself enjoy attempting speed-runs, and MetroidVania-style games are ideally suited to this challenge. The fun part is planning the best order to obtain powerups, unlock areas, defeat bosses, etc... Optional powerups/items/secrets are fairly important to this style of challenge because they force the player to decide which powerups are necessary and when. Also, it's critical that the player have *choice* in deciding which areas to unlock first... if there's always a fixed order that areas must be unlocked in, well, that just sucks when replaying the game.

Unfortunately, planning an optimized playthrough is kindof impossible if your entire game is procedurally generated. You need to know where stuff is before you can plan anything :)