Tag Archives: Breath of the Wild

The Importance of Sounds in Video Games

I was watching an episode of How About This Game? on YouTube recently, a show about game design by Barry Kramer.  I value Barry’s opinions a lot, and I think his view on games is very interesting, so by all means, take a look below.  In particular, I love hearing him talk about satisfying things in games.  Sometimes I even joke that he’s a “game design hedonist” because he’s always drawing attention to things that feel good in games.  A nice color palette, good controls, and satisfying sounds.

Sound is one of the most important parts of a game.  What you do in a game must be satisfying in itself, and sound plays a bigger role than you might think.  It can be a way of setting a mood, making an environment come alive, or empowering a player.

One of my personal favorite examples is the Unrelenting Force shout in Skyrim.  It’s always my preferred shout, not only because it’s useful, but because it feels incredible to use.  Whenever you trigger it, there’s a buildup as your avatar utters the words of the shout.  It culminates in a sharp, echoed lightning crack, and the shaking of dust and grass in your surroundings.  These aren’t particularly complicated sound effects, but combining them in context makes the player feel like a god.

Wandering around a large world with nothing but the sounds of your environment as company has a striking effect as well.  Look at the echo of a cave of chamber, the sounds of animals in the forest, the rippling of water.  They can make you feel happy, lonely, or afraid.  This is where some indie platformers and RPGs succeed thematically.  A lack of music directs focus specifically to the character of the environment.  This is why the soundtrack to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is so interesting.  The soundtrack has drawn a lot of criticism for its very minimalist, non-iconic soundtrack, but the emphasis on environmental ambiance drives home the hopeless, dire story themes much more effectively.

Realistic sound can be great for this kind of thing, but as with visuals, realism isn’t always appropriate.  In fact, some of my favorite examples of cool video game sounds come from cartoony 3D character platformers.  Your Crash, your Sly Cooper, your RatchetJak, and Banjo.  These games have a lot of silly action and collectibles, and usually the tasks you do aren’t epic or compelling in themselves.  So the solution is to fill the game with fun stuff to do at every second.

One of the core mechanics in Crash is “collecting” boxes by breaking them.   When you break the boxes, it makes a short, sweet sound.  You hear the surface of the wood breaking and all the pieces knocking into each other.  It’s simple, but packs a punch.  Other can take ten bounces before breaking, and each successive bounce gets higher in pitch before the box breaks.  Again, a great buildup and payoff.  This kind of thing is small, but so visceral that it sticks in your head for years afterward.  In fact, this is one of my gripes with the Crash trilogy remake: the sounds have more fidelity, but feel less satisfying.

As with every aspect of game design, sound is a key tool in making the player feel what you want them to feel.   It can reinforce the feelings behind an action, and its absence can make the player fill in the gaps.  Sound can take us into another world completely.  The tension of lightsabers clashing, the breathing of a predatory alien…these things affect us to the core.  Think about sound as you make your game: it can make the difference between a good one and a great one.

Breath of the Wild Extended Thoughts

Last week I aired out my initial thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Wii U.  I was eager to get those thoughts out in part to ease my own excitement.  But I also wanted to see how my thoughts after a few hours of playing would compare to my thoughts after dozens of hours.  Lots of reviewers have said Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda game of all time.  In a lot of ways I agree, but what makes a Zelda game a Zelda game?

This is the first truly open world Zelda since 1986.  Breath of the Wild is also different because there’s more space and something to find just about every few seconds.  You can basically skip the story entirely with enough determination.  Ocarina of TimeTwilight PrincessWind Waker…none of them have the same soul as Breath of the Wild.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Link looking out on Hyrule Field
Link looking out on Hyrule Field.

Breath of the Wild takes every ounce of 3D Zelda linearity and throws it out the window.  Instead of giving you a series of tasks, it gives you a few guidelines on what you’re doing.  Then it tells you to travel to every corner of the map.  And pick up eveything.  And take pictures of everything.

This is a massive change.  So massive that there’s really no point in comparing Breath of the Wild to any other Zelda games except for a few of the same basic tropes.  That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun with a game since Twilight Princess.

Every issue I’ve had with the game had ended up resolved, because a huge community has formed around this game already.  The fastest ways to get rupees, strategies for bosses, recipes, and interesting locations are turning up every day.  This game contains all the silliest, coolest, and most creative gameplay moments in all of Zelda.  It’s all thanks to this approach of giving the player several ways of approaching every situation.  The use of physics alone has hugely broadened the player’s input on how they experience the game. Breath of the Wild is a playground with a Zelda face on it.  In fact, if this game had completely different characters and equipment, it would be unrecognizable as Zelda.

I can see how this would rub lots of people the wrong way.  This game isn’t nearly as clean as other Zelda games.  It’s really difficult to work out early on, and breakable equipment means everything is fleeting.  You have to rely on your own wit more than in other Zelda games.  It’s a big change, as I said before, and change doesn’t always come easily.  Personally, though, I think this game is an escalation of an already great series.

Link pulling the Master Sword
Link pulling the Master Sword from its resting place.

The story is more engaging not only because it has good characters, but because you have to work for it.  The Master Sword is a better prize now that you’re not required to find it.  The game didn’t build me up, I built myself up.  I fail a lot.  Sometimes I get frustrated, but that’s part of the joy.  This game makes a triumphant return to the spirit of exploration and wonder that’s at the root of Zelda.  You obtain rupees, hearts, stamina, and items through exploration.  Then you use them to explore even more.

I don’t know whether or not this is the “best Zelda game of all time.”  It’s a different beast entirely.  But I don’t hesitate to call it one of the best games of all time, and one of my personal favorites.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild Thoughts

I’m way late to the party for “early impressions” on Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  This bugs me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been excited to talk about this game for a long time.  Of course, it had to come out when my college midterms were in full force.  And then I came down with a fever.

Nevertheless, life…uh…finds a way.  I’ve played this game for quite a few hours now.  Breath of the Wild is like a game from the 1980s but still chock-full of modern design aspects.  So far the story has very little bearing on the experience, but that’s not to say it’s a bad story.  The voice acting is top-notch, and I like the fact that it’s an extension of another story.  You start knowing that you were once a great hero.   Starting from the literal bottom of the food chain feels more interesting that way.

That’s something I love and hate about this game — when I say you start at the bottom of the food chain, I really mean it.  You start with no clothes and a tree branch as your only weapon.  Granted, this changes pretty fast as you start completing shrines to gain Sheikah slate abilities and gathering materials to use and sell.  It doesn’t change the fact that you’re constantly working with very limited resources.  BotW is as much a survival game as an adventure game.  Every fight is more than a challenge, it’s an investment of resources.  You almost always come away breaking some weapons and losing some health, which means you have to eat some food to recover.  Everything from the Hylian Shield to the Master Sword can break in a fight (although they either regenerate or can be re-bought)

Enemy encounters are extremely stressful, until you obtain mostly indestructible items (which I personally haven’t yet).  Exploration, on the other hand, is an absolute joy.  You can climb anything given you find the right ledges and use jumps properly.  Then using the paraglider, you can convert huge vertical distance into huge horizontal distance.  Granted, you don’t want to go venturing into the furthest territories of Hyrule too early in the game.  Otherwise you’ll get destroyed, same as in the very first Legend of Zelda.

The cooking system is fantastically detailed and useful, although I should mention that the only way to combine ingredients to cook meals and elixirs is using a cooking pot, which can only be found in towns and certain encampments.  As I said, these are the only way to restore health.  You have to take advantage of the time when you’re able to use a pot.

This is just another of many extreme changes to the Zelda formula that Breath of the Wild creates.  Overall, do I like these changes?  I’m not sure.  Some are incredible — the amount of mobility you have in this gorgeous world is masterful.  But the fact that there’s so little you can rely on is a blessing and a curse.  A lot of times you’ll curse the game for being unfair.  The next minute, you’ll value the fact that you worked hard for your success.  Zelda has now shown that it doesn’t have to be the kind of game that delivers you an experience, and that’s important after Skyward Sword.  Then I go back and play a focused game like Twilight Princess.  And I kind of find myself missing that style.

My feelings on this game will probably change as I get further into it.  I will acknowledge that Breath of the Wild is masterful, just as the  reviewers are saying.  But it’s going to have to do even better to be my favorite Zelda.