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. Rather than leading the player directly to something, discovery is rewarded by a players intuition, giving a much greater sense of fulfilment over gunning for a point-of-interest marker.
Creating an environment that encourages exploration is what makes the discovery in Breath of the Wild so unique; stumbling onto something that you had no idea was there or discovering a location with no aid from point markers or dotted lines creates such an unprecedented sense of wonder and awe. With the original inception of The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto always wanted to create a game that reflected his own childhood experience of exploration and discovery in the outdoors, this experience would essentially form 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.”
An Excerpt from ‘Game Over, Press Start to Continue: How Nintendo Conquered the World’ by David Sheff.
This quote really hit home as to what Miyamoto’s original intention for the series always was; A world free to be explored without restriction, the avoidance of structured set pieces in favour for scenes that leave just enough to construct a narrative, but not enough to form a definitive conclusion; all combined with cleverly considered sound design that leaves the player open to a more personal interpretation of their environment, giving each player their own unique experience of discovery throughout Hyrule.
Not only has the structure of the environment been greatly considered to aid discovery but also the way in which certain objects interact with it. As you discover new resources, enemies and biomes, the consideration for their relationship with one another become apparent. Accidentally missing the pan on Death Mountian and having my steak and eggs immediately start cooking on the volcanic rock or using a shock arrow on a lake of unsuspecting fish, were just two great examples of discovery without direction. 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 different objects still interweave with the game’s structure, hours after the game’s opening, is an unparalleled accomplishment. The moments 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 that I experienced independently.
“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 many us, but Miyamoto’s dream of creating a game reflective of his childhood finally seems realised.