I remain deeply envious of those who get to experience Breath of the Wild for the first time. A game that offers such a unique sense of discovery, something I rarely experience in others. It’s not often a game can unearth every essence of childlike curiosity within the player. Nintendo manages to break the conventions and reinvent the series, while still retaining the universal traits of the Zelda Franchise.
“Up until now both 2D and 3D Zelda games featured worlds that were created by connecting lots of smaller areas together. But, really, those games were created that way simply out of necessity due to technological limitations of the time.”
Takuhiro Dohta, Technical Director
Like an oil painting come to life, the initial outlook onto the horizon is awe-inspiring. Having Hyrule at my feet, with an unrestricted sense of freedom and total lack of attentive support or instruction, was intimidating yet exciting.
The game essentially begins where it will inevitably end. This central focus of Hyrule Castle engulfed by Calamity Ganon always present as you trek throughout the remnants of Hyrule. One of the most striking features after departing from the Shrine of Resurrection was the initial ambience. The orchestral score creates a magnificent sense of atmosphere, gently layering up when an encounter occurs, yet remaining peacefully sparse when unengaged. Subtle, yet completely absent at times, with only the patter of footsteps and susurration of trees in the breeze. It’s clear that this sense of serenity and melancholy is to set the pace of the player, greatly slowing them and encouraging discovery through exploration.
“For this game, the background music revolves around piano compositions that really accentuate the ambient sound. From the very beginning, we wanted to focus on those ambient sounds rather than excitement-building music because we knew they’d add authenticity to the environments and scenery. We felt that approach would be a better fit for this game ”
Hajime Wakai, Sound Director
Exploration is free from a map littered with iconography; which would generally dictate the importance and priority of the environment. To avoid stifling discovery and essentially creating a tunnel vision perspective, Nintendo has granted the player freedom to define their own points of interest. This design choice rewards a curious adventurer and shows confidence in the player to consider the nuances of their surroundings. The meticulous coordination of each in-game asset is used to piece together a narrative, not leading the player directly, but psychologically, giving the player a more fulfilled sense of accomplishment. Intuition is rewarded through independent discovery, as opposed to directly from Nintendo.
Creating an environment that encourages exploration and rewards unintentional discoveries creates an unprecedented sense of wonder and awe; similar to that of a child stumbling upon uncharted territory. With the original inception of The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto always wanted to create a game that reflected his own childhood exploration and discovery, essentially forming the catalyst that influenced him to create the Zelda franchise.
“When I was a child,” he said, “I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I travelled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.” The memory of being lost amid the maze of sliding doors in his family’s home in Sonobe was recreated in Zelda’s labyrinth dungeons.
An Excerpt from ‘Game Over, Press Start to Continue: How Nintendo Conquered the World’ by David Sheff.
With the avoidance of structured set pieces, Breath of the Wild’s environment allows for more personal interpretation. The combination of surrounding assets and cleverly considered sound design is just enough to construct a narrative but not enough to form a definitive conclusion.
The interconnectivity of objects works together to enhance each other, interacting meaningfully with the player. As you discover new resources, enemies and biomes, the consideration for their relationship with one another become apparent. Initially, a 2D Zelda prototype was created to test the interaction of objects.
“What we realized through the prototype was that if objects could all interact with each other, that interconnectivity would create entirely new emergent experiences. We decided to take that concept and make it our core technological focus.”
Takuhiro Dohta, Technical Director
The way in which the different component elements still interweave with the game’s structure, hours after the game’s opening, is an unparalleled accomplishment. The moments that I’ll cherish most, long after completing Breath of the Wild, won’t come from its main plot points but instead from the discoveries and stories, experienced independently—reflective of my own childhood experiences exploring nearby fields, woods, and caves.
“When we first presented this [a prototype of Breath of the Wild] to Mr Miyamoto, he spent about an hour just climbing trees,” Fujibayashi said. “We left little treats like rupees on the trees, but we also left other things in other places we thought he might go. But he just kept climbing trees. Up and down. And so we got to the point where we go, ‘Do you want to look at other stuff?’ But he just kept on going. Once [he] got out of the Shrine of Resurrection, he spent an hour just within a 25-50 meter radius outside of that cave just climbing trees.” via Kotaku.com
Miyamoto’s experience of the initial Breath of the Wild prototype seems to reflect his expeditions into the Kyoto countryside as a child. In an interview, a fan once asked Miyamoto if video games were something we should grow out of? To which his response was “I think that inside every adult is the heart of a child. We just gradually convince ourselves that we have to act more like adults. Nintendo wants to make it easier for people to never grow out of video games”. Breath of the Wild has not only managed to invoke the ‘heart of a child’ in us, but Miyamoto’s dream finally seems realised.