Friday, February 18, 2011

The Awakening - Part II

Morning Comes
Link wakes to find Marin and Tarin's house empty.  Moving about he gets access to the game mechanics, movement via D-pad, inventory (start) and map (select) which is blacked out. Link also has the A and B buttons unassigned.  A glance at the inventory screen shows a blank page, three hearts, and no money. Wandering outside, he gets his first look at Mabe Village.
   Here's a good point to break narrative for a bit to talk about hardware.  Link's Awakening was one of the first game's to push the then-new handheld system.  It was released in 1993, four short years after the system's premier.  Considering this is a reboot more than a decade after the fact, I’m ignoring much of the technological progress that's been made, the most relevant being colour, resolution, memory limitations and layer limitations.  Interestingly enough, some of these hardware issues aren't necessarily a bad thing.  The monochrome nature of the game was re-hauled in the colourful DX remake (Game Boy Colour, 1998), and while it livens up a Zelda game into a bright and diverse experience, the monochrome forces the player to distinguish between the shades of grey. This, in its own small way, pushes the player to use their imagination, which can create far better atmosphere then the handheld could alone.  The modern drive for a sharpened reality look is often to the detriment of horror, which realize heavily on the unknown.  That being said, I’m working under the assumption of an altered state, be it a recoded ROM or a remake from the ground up using modern tech to deliver the same style and end result.
   With this in mind, the resolution wouldn’t change.  Each screen would still have 10 by 8 tile set map, below which is the 10 by 2 heads-up display (HUD).  I have some reservation about keeping the HUD, but it does serve its purpose rather well.  I find that for games that try to keep an atmosphere, the less HUD, the better. 
   The example I have of this isn’t a survival horror, but implements it’s HUD with an ear to the player.  Assassin’s Creed 2 ( I’m going by Xbox360 play) starts with a full HUD featuring life, weapons, button functions, mini-map, hints, info, a veritable cornucopia of user information.  The novel thing is that every single one can be turned off.  Within the pause menu options, the player can toggle every independent piece of HUD on or off, depending on their desired way of play.  While this might show uncertainty on part of the dev team who weren’t sure what to keep as a HUD, the option lets players tailor their experience.  Veterans who don’t need the button configuration, or who know how to take their HP cues from audio signals can clear those features out of the way, giving even more of the screen over to scenery.  What’s more, if the PC is damaged, the life bar may (toggle switch) flash up on the HUD to alert the player, before fading away, leaving the screen uncluttered.
   Back to Awakening.  Would removing the HUD be a bad thing?  Yes and no.  The map system was built around the HUD, rather than the HUD being layered on top of the map system.  That being the case, giving the 10x2 tiles of movement and action would add more hassle than atmosphere, as the HUD never gets in the way of the action.  It may be a bit of a strain on immersion, but on a handheld game, unless you’re playing in the dark (a very, VERY painful process on the original Game boy, which did not feature a backlit screen) the HUD won’t be touched. 
   While I’m still harping on about the HUD, it bears mention that the right side, devoted to heart containers, won’t be filling up the same way.  Heart container’s provide additional life, and provided rewards for both boss completion as well as exploration.  The problem is, more life diminishes the weight and damage posed by enemies, as well as the threat that they pose.  The player starts with three heart containers, gains eight from boss drops, collects 3 from scattered ¼ heart containers, giving them a max life of 14 heart containers.  An easy way to get around this is to ramp up the damage done by late game creatures. 
   Something else is to eliminate the collection of heart pieces.  The logic of finding random containers of life about the island doesn’t make much sense, despite it being a Zelda trope.  However, within the game’s narrative, it might be justified.  Exploration of the dreamscape that Link explores rewards him with further understanding of the area he’s found himself in, characterized by heart containers.  Still, I’d rather explore the land for a reason more thematic then arbitrary boosts. 
   Instead of having the heart containers be boss drops, have them tied to narrative a bit more.  Before going to the sixth dungeon, Face Shrine, Link learns that not only is he within a dream, but waking the Wind Fish (overarching objective) to escape means waking up, causing a dream apocalypse. 
   This one plot point can be given so much more weight than it already had.  From this point on, Link understands why bosses drop lie, their death results in Link achieving a more lucid state.  Any heart containers picked up before this reveal won’t be active, but will be held as a story item, next to the trading game item.  Once Link learns that he’s in a dream, the heart container’s he’s found become active, life, power to survive within the dream, flows through him.  Link get’s a mid game power up with narrative worth, making the early game more challenging while also providing a bit more context to the powers that are being earned.
   Euch, okay, I haven’t gotten to the layers of objectives or even out of the house.  Part III picks those up as well as some thoughts on monster design, some items and plot.

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