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    jp's GameLog for Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap (GBA)

    Wednesday 12 October, 2005

    After a lot of mini-quests I've finally obtained the 3rd element. Actually, it's the 4th, but the real 3rd was not I suppose it will show up sometime soon. So much has happened since my last post!

    Playing this game has now illuminated me to another interesting characteristic of Zelda games: the use of space. I think I can safely state that Zelda games take place in small places that are recombined, repurposed and revisited in multiple ways and multiple times. This is actually an idea that I think deserves a lot more words than I'll currently spend...but since I don't know if I'll have the time to explore these issues further I'd rather write them down before I forget!

    There is also a caveat to what I'm going to say. When I say "Zelda games" I obviously mean the ones I've played. While I've covered a fair share, there are two important "generations" of Zelda games I have not played and that might be very different from the ones I know. Namely, the very early Zelda games and the 3D Zelda games (Ocarina of Time, Majora, Wind Waker). I'm not even considering the CDi games since those are generally regarded as...not really worthy of being called Zelda games.

    Ok. So, what do I mean by interesting use of space? Here are a few examples:

    1. Unlockable space

    In the entire gameworld there are multiple places and locations that can't be visited initially. As you play the game these become "available", usually by gaining new abilities (rather than "keys" that unlock doors). In Zelda games you usually gain abilities such as: swimming, breaking rocks, climb as well as items such as bombs, swords, etc. that let you open up new areas.

    2. Morphable space

    There are spaces that, under certain reversible actions, can be morphed into new configurations that allow access to new areas. For example, by making it snow, lakes can freeze, snow piles up allowing acess to high places, etc. Oracle of seasons does this by..changing the seasons. I'm pretty sure that Oracle of Ages does something similar.

    3. Subspaces

    There are full, rich, navigable spaces within spaces. Minish Cap is a great example of this. As you become little, entire new areas open up for exploration though they are...really small (as far as the context of the world goes). Zelda dungeons are another typical example of this.

    4. Shortcuts

    In Zelda games you usually have to backtrack a lot. However, there are usually many different ways of making this not tedious. The cheapest is the teleport that is usually found in dungeons. Once you reach a certain point, a teleport appears and you can then get to that location from the beginning of the dungeon. However, there are other more notable things...for example, after getting to some hard-to-reach location, there is usually a way to either get back to the beggining really fast or a way of "unlocking" the location so that it is now easy to get there without going the long route. For example by moving a rock that was previously impeding direct access.

    There are a few more things that I haven't mentioned, but these three are pretty characteristic. Are they unique to Zelda? Of course not!

    Another great series of games that also does a lot of this is the Metroid series...and the subspace idea is present in many other games as well (usually as a large overmap with icons that represent subspaces..towns, dungeons, etc.) However, I do think that Zelda games are particularly good at managing all these multiple spatial representations...


    I don't really agree with the use of the term "morphable space". In cases such as Zelda et al, what you're seeing is not a "morphable space" per se but a "multi-state space".

    Consider Half-Life. In certain areas you have to move crates around to form staircases, bridges and so on. However, functionally, these areas are not "morphable", because they can only be in one of two possible states: (1) the crates form the bridge/staircase/whatever and Freeman can access the next area, or (2) the crates do not allow access. I think the same holds for the spaces you describe here. The player-initiated change from one state to another isn't really "morphing", more a state transition.

    I would contrast this against Bomberman, whose spaces are a lot closer to "morphable". Depending on where the bombs are detonated, the configuration of the space, relative distances, etc. changes in a fluid manner and has a tangible impact on gameplay.

    Not a knock against either, just a comment on ontology.

    Saturday 15 October, 2005 by Sparrow

    I think your comment is dead-on! Morphable places is perhaps not quite what I mean... On the other hand, I do think there is a difference between the Zelda multi-state places and your "run of the mill" levels where, for example, the door is hidden behind some crates you move out of the way. Or even levels where you press a button and a drawbridge comes down.

    I guess what happens in the Zelda games is that the actual environment suffers significant changes...sort of like playing a level and then playing it again underwater. Anyways, thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it!

    Tuesday 18 October, 2005 by jp

    I think that the distinction between the spaces you're describing and the "button opens door"-type spaces is largely representational.

    There is a very fine ludological distinction here, in the sense that the representation is inextricable from the gameplay in one point: the player has to make the leap of logic to connect the trigger (snow or switch) with the opening (door or frozen lake). However, IMO that is not the significant part.

    The significant distinction that sets the spaces in Zelda apart is representational because it plays on the pleasures of recognition amidst change (IMO). We find time-tripping in Chrono Trigger to be fascinating because (IIRC) we can go back to the past, make a change, and then come back to the present and see a thing which we saw in the previous present (!), which is simultaneously the same thing and a different thing. Compare with the broken windows and destroyed room in the Nightmare stage of Metroid Fusion (I believe it occurs in the ARC habitat?), even though those are not of the player's doing.

    The fact that the spaces in Zelda are now functionally different from before (they allow access to new areas) sets them apart from elements which are only changed at the representational layer, but IMO that does not detract from the fact that the primary point of interest in those spaces, and the thing which sets them apart, is representational.

    Friday 4 November, 2005 by Sparrow

    As usual, I think you're right!

    The reason players relish what you mention is exactly because they enjoy effecting changes and seeing them "happen". I think that the less direct the changes, the more "fun" it is...with the caveat that the player has to be able to make the connections between his actions and the changes being effected.

    On the other hand, I think that players also enjoy using a space and effecting changes to it as a gameplay mechanic. Perhaps Zelda games are particularly rich in the representational sense but there are other games that have this happen in other senses. For example (and it's because I've been playing it...), in Boulder Dash the player is explicitly making changes to the space he is navigating in order to achieve certain objectives. I've found myself "carving" out spaces in a level in order to have boulders roll away from me. Another example is Dungeonkeeper where instead of building a castle in an existing space you are really creating the space you want to play in. (you carve your dungeon if you want wide corridors or's up to you).

    Thursday 10 November, 2005 by jp

    I suspect that your first point, of seeing changes happen, is only tangentially related to the idea of "space". The same could apply to the egg in Metal Gear 2, or the PAL Card in Metal Gear Solid, neither of which is a "space".

    The latter (Boulder Dash and Dungeon Keeper) are good examples of morphable spaces (better than Bomberman, in fact), to which I might add the various Worms. (The fact that Worms: Armageddon gave your worms a "Dark Side" rating depending on how much time they spent holed up in underground tunnels must mean something!)

    Wednesday 16 November, 2005 by Sparrow

    Good point.

    I had no idea about the Worms:Armageddon stuff.

    Another interesting (related, though not direct) use of space as a gameplay element is Katamari Damacy! :-)

    Tuesday 22 November, 2005 by jp
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