Tevis Thompson’s “Saving Zelda” Article is Garbage: The Dangers of Nostalgia and Entitlement

I feel like I’m in a good position to criticize Thompson. We’re both of the same generation. We grew up enjoying the original Zelda. Of the 3d Zeldas, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker are the ‘exceptions’ and we both deeply enjoyed Demon’s Souls and difficulty in general. I’m also ‘barely’ a Zelda fan at this point. I have no fandom defensiveness going on. I can barely tolerate to play any of the new games. Regardless, his conclusions, to me, seem utterly bogus. When I first saw his article, I ignored it because it seemed poorly reasoned within the first few paragraphs. He wrote well — better than I ever do — but I’ll take a good argument over good prose any day. I only come to it now because I keep seeing it pop up here and there and I’ve finally come to read it.

Occasionally someone will say to me “You only like old games because of Nostalgia” and I’ve used the same answer for awhile. “Not quite. I like Castlevania or Contra because they’re good. I like Dinowarz because of Nostalgia”. If you look at kids going back and playing NES games now, none of them are playing Dinowarz, or Festers Quest or Karate Kid, or a huge amount awful games we learned to like. There are two games that are rarely enjoyed by the younger generation though that are, to many of us who grew up with NESs are thought of as sacred. They’re Metroid and A Legend of Zelda. Both innovative games in their time that have been ravaged by time and are almost unplayable to most people now.

Tevis Thompson is both a victim of Nostalgia and seems to have an over inflated sense of entitlement. No game is going to live up to the child like wonder you had when you first played it and youth makes for the rosiest of tinted glasses. Now, appreciating something due to nostalgia is no crime in it’s self. The problem comes when you assume your fond memories mean that something is inherently better and even worse to assume that is the solution for everyone’s ills. The fanbase for Zelda is not built on old men anymore. The series is no longer about what it was about once, in it’s first incarnation. We should be asking our self what Zelda should be for the people who love it, not for a few old men. Even among old men, the original Zelda is rarely considered the “best’ (LTTP and Links Awakening get that honor from the old guard in my experience).

So first thing that hit me was his comments on difficultly. Zelda should not be harder. Zelda should be EASIER. Zelda was not Demon’s Souls even during it’s time. Every game on the NES was hard, but Zelda was one of the few you could beat, with time, due to it’s save system. Even if it was a Contra, or a Castlevania, its original incarnation is not important at this point. Also it shouldn’t be easier because just because I say it should be easier. I like hard games! I wouldn’t even enjoy Zelda more if they were easier. This decision is contrary to my own personal desires of tastes. It should be easier because Zelda has teetered on the edge of accessibility for so long, but has never committed. The stealth segment at the beginning of Wind Waker means I can’t have any of my younger relatives get through the game. They also tend to have a ‘difficulty’ ramp up at certain points (such as the water temple) that are mostly invisible to experienced gamers, but significant to new players. The games have been, since LTTP, adventure games more than Action games and I think it benefits from dancing in that direction. I think making the game easier is the best way to grow the player base while not bothering the majority of pre-existing fans (who no longer have the idea in their head that Zelda is supposed to be ‘hard’). Now I could be wrong in my assessment, but i am -not- making it off of my personal preferences. If more games were like Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I would personally be happier, but I don’t think gaming would be better off for it. Tevis should be less selfish. If Demon’s Souls is what he thinks Zelda should be, he’s fortunate because Form Software will probably have more games to give him! Now, I’ve said that I think Castlevania should emulate Dark Souls and that the soul games are the true Castlevania successors, but modern non-metroidvania Castlevanias never found their voice like Zelda has. Zelda has a voice — a flawed, unpolished voice that is often abused (in many ways that Tevis was right about, but also mostly stuff most people already knew). The answer isn’t to scrap everything and go back to Zelda 1 (if you want that, there is also 3d Dot Game Heroes which I ALSO enjoyed, but also suffered from being painfully obtuse), it’s to make it good at what it’s trying to be. I don’t have the answers to how (and really, I don’t like Zelda enough to care), but I know that Evis is coming from the wrong place. His blindness to his own nostalgia makes him as guilty as the people who say that Zelda needs to go back to being more like Ocarina of Time. For all Tevis has to say about his feeling of loneliness and isolation and a mysterious world, kids who grew up with OoT could match his praise. They would talk about how mystified and amazed they were when Link first traveled through time, or talk about the bleakness of the town in his adult form or how Epic fighting Ganondorf felt. The praise will be very different, but will still be bathed in childlike wonder.

This isn’t to say that this means the two are equal games. What it means is Tevis and the young fans who mindlessly defend OoT are equally wrong in their approach. When Tevis insults Aonuma for taking the ‘teeth’ out of a hardcore series, he fails to realize that, at the time Ocarina game out, that Zelda had already been a not-hard-core series for longer than it’d been hardcore. But no, since Demon’s Souls panged some Zelda Nostalgia in his head, THAT must be the answer! It’s embarrassingly “id” based thinking.

It’s unfortunate because he is right about many of the symptoms. Zelda IS too caught up in its own conventions. It’s content to stew on its big name and mediocre design. Most of this was already somewhat well-known and having a well written repository for that information would have been good… But the solution stinks. Even if some of it could work (reducing story, for one!), it comes from such a wrong place that for any of his suggestions to be taken seriously they have to be decoupled from Zelda 1. If the plot should be reduced it’s not because that’s how Zelda 1 did it, or to get back to its roots. It should be done because most games could deal with having their plots reduced! Zelda needs to change to truly thrive again, but the last thing it needs to do is be slave to the old ways. Mr Thompson’s fond memories are not the same fond memories shared by most of the current fanbase or even my self.

Tevis’s hubris would sooner betray the fanbase than save the series. Don’t let your own tastes or nostalgia get the best of you.

36 thoughts on “Tevis Thompson’s “Saving Zelda” Article is Garbage: The Dangers of Nostalgia and Entitlement

  1. Oh yeah? Well, you’re both wrong :P

    But, seriously, this quote:
    “The stealth segment at the beginning of Wind Waker means I can’t have any of my younger relatives get through the game.”
    is more arrogant than anything the “difficulty lovers” (including myself) have ever said on this topic; and I’ve said some really damn arrogant stuff!

    Think about the games that you and I were playing when we were six or seven years old. I don’t know about you, but at that age, I was playing TLoZ, Contra and Super C, Castlevania 1 and 3, Mega Man 1, 2, and 3, Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, Abadox, etc. at home, and when I was at my dad’s house for a weekend, he had an SNES shortly after the release (I wouldn’t get one at home until ’94), and I’d play LttP, SMW, Contra 3, and Castlevania 4 (even at that age, my friends and I complained about that game being too easy!). I haven’t played Wind Waker, but somehow I suspect that its stealth section is easier than most of the games I listed above. What makes you think that your younger siblings can’t handle what you were able to at that age? Do you think you, I, and every other gamer of our generation, have some incredible innate video game ability? Because, I assure you, we don’t. Today’s kids are just as capable of handling challenging games as we were.

    I also disagree about the original TLoZ being “easy” for the era. I beat all three NES SMBs, Castlevania 1 and 3, Megaman 2 and 3, both NES Contras, and Abadox loooong before I ever succeeded at beating TLoZ’s first quest; and I’ve never beaten TLoZ’s second quest! Hell, I beat LttP before I beat TLoZ, despite having about a 2 year head-start on TLoZ, and having access to it every day vs. only having access to LttP every other weekend!

    A more effective attack on his article would be to point out that the stuff that TLoZ made you do to progress was just as much “mechanically jumping through hoops” as the later Zelda games in many cases. The manual tells you what bombs do; not having the fissure marks just adds a “bomb everything” chore to every room. Once you learn that trees can be burned down, well, there’s another chore- one that’s especially tedious before you get the red candle, since it means repeatedly entering and leaving rooms. Once you learn that you can walk through walls, there’s yet another freakin’ chore. Etc, etc.

  2. Good points (though I know many people who weren’t willing to get past that obnoxious section, and TLoZ was one of the only NES games I could beat as a kid), but seriously Obscura, stop fucking talking to me.

  3. The original Zelda, AND the original Metroid are not even close to unplayable to people now. How can you say that those games are unplayable, but Contra is “good”?

    Honestly ALL of these thematic non-random NES games are basically just memorization/execution puzzles, so I’m not really about to try and defend ANY of them.

    However, Tevis’ point was not even that “the original Zelda was SOOOO fantastic”. It was that it had a certain feeling of adventure and magic to it that the new games, being all linear-as-fuck and canned experiences, don’t have. I think that that point stands.

    >>It should be easier because Zelda has teetered on the edge of accessibility for so long, but has never committed.

    This is total nonsense and you should edit your post and remove this whole section at once.

    >>”The stealth segment at the beginning of Wind Waker means I can’t have any of my younger relatives get through the game.”

    Since when are games about “Getting THROUGH” them? What a ridiculous idea. I think that it’s much better to have an interesting game than a “game that’s easy to GET THROUGH”.

    The combat in every Zelda since LTTP has been no-brainer city. Un-exciting and pointless. The original Zelda’s combat is actually difficult and tense. I’m not going to go as far as to say that it’s quite interesting, but it’s certainly closer to interesting than the later Zelda’s combat.

    The one thing I agree with you on is that Tevis’ solution does stink. My solution? STOP MAKING ZELDA GAMES. Come up with something new, for the love of God. We can do better than copying Zelda over and over, in any incarnation.

  4. Keith, some games are almost hobbies, and others are just experiences. Shiren, that’s a hobby. Sin and Punishment 2, that’s an intense experience that based on the procedural generation I’ve seen in a few shooters I would not trust to be as tight and intense. I love Shiren, and I love Sin and Punishment 2, and these are about as opposite on the spectrum of randomness and memorization as possible without stepping into Rhythm Action. And my reasons for loving these games are totally different. Sin and Punishment 2 is one of the best execution puzzles I’ve ever played, and my average playthrough is more often a lot more fun. Yes I know this is subjective bullshit but the idea these memorization/execution puzzles are bad is as stupid to me as the fact Guitar Hero is called a game to you (I imagine).

    Although I’m going to agree with you Keith a little here, I find most NES games unplayable… Master System is as early as I go (Ninja Gaiden on the master system, amazing execution puzzle, worth an experience)

    … Wa… Zelda always has been one of the most accessible action/adventure franchises. OoT’s iconic NAVI should be enough proof. Nothing at that point had a Navi like level of help of new players. What other game series dedicated so much to helping new players until perhaps the guiding way points everywhere in this generation? I think lttp even had some sort of thing to easily give advice on where to go next but I can’t quite recall. However the difficulty of many puzzles is alienating for many people aswell. Skyward sword is actually a really good example of this with some of the most difficult puzzles in the series… while reminding you every time you turn on the game again that blue rupees are worth 5 or 10 or whatever…

    About getting through games and that stealth sequence:
    It’s a bad stealth sequence that can totally stop you seeing the actual game. Imagine if you had to do all the puzzles in Shiren before even being able to play the roguelike there. Same engine, basically different game, and one many who might enjoy Shiren would give up on.

    Games have been about getting through them since the NES, although some games previous to that did have clear end points, but the idea video games were beaten didn’t really come about until then… Yeah language sucks lets get a distinction for your games and my games etc etc etc.

    Going to agree with you that combat in zelda has always been no brainer and relatively unexciting for most gamers (mind you, so has combat in mario) however, it’s hardly pointless. It serves as punctuation and has usually managed to remain interesting enough that I don’t fear it unlike say an NES JRPG battle.

    and @Kayin
    Really liked your response to it.


  5. what

    what the fuck did I just read what the fuck is this shit. You are a hiiiilaaaarious human being for thinking any of this isn’t dumb as hell.

    Okay first off, unlike you, who lives in a box jerking off to roguelikes and and full of other games, I actually make it a point to, you know, like…. talk? Talk to people? Talk to people who like games? And not just like, crazy people, or super competitive people, or borderline autistic people,but you know like, people. People who play video games. Old people, young people, whatever. I care about what people like. I try and find out what classics hold up and which ones don’t (the younger generation has little nostaglia). So heres the thing. Almost no one lines Metroid (heck, even people who grew up with metroid now are often willing to admit that the game, while interesting, is kinda really shitty to play now) and the few young folk who play aLoZ generally did so because of OoT. Contra? yeah, I like that because I like it. I didn’t like it as a kid. It’s not the most popular old NES game (I think Mega Man probably has that honor with the younger generation), but yes. COntra is a game with solid controls and some fun level design that people still like. The biggest barrier to it’s accessibility is it’s difficulty more than anything. People still respond positively to Contra.

    Aw but man it’s not like, random or anything and is a memory/execution puzzle and are dumb and stupid and not games!

    NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR STUPID DEFINITIONS. NO ONE CARES ABOUT RANDOMNESS OR IF SOMETHING IS OR IS NOT A MEMORIZATION PUZZLE. THIS DOES NOT REPRESENT HOW PEOPLE RESPOND TO GAMES. If people cared, roguelikes and 4X games would be a lot more popular and old retro classics would be only played by old men, but surprisingly to you, that is not the world we live in. I also know what Tevis said and the point DOES NOT stand. As I spend like, the whole post saying, he feels that was because of Nostalgia. DO YOU THINK THE KIDS WHO GREW UP WITH OoT DON’T FEEL THAT WAY? No, they couldn’t possibly! We played OoT and found it not nearly as magical! Oh, forget the fact that we’re no longer kids and we played Zelda 1 at the prime time of impressionable youth. Nah, these kids don’t know squat about MAGICAL FEELINGS, right?

    Wrong. Look at how beloved OoT is. Regardless of whether the game is ‘good’ by what ever standard, it clearly resonated with the generation after us. People like you or Tevis don’t realize that those feelings are not inherent in the games, but are a product of the time we loved them. Now we might remember Zelda 1 as mysterious and lonely and they might remember OoT as magical, and grand and imposing, but in the end, it’s worth about the same. It’s nostalgia that overinflates the value of each game.

    Also Zelda HASN’T been teetering on the edge of accessibility? Do you live in a cave? Do you actually talk to people who play these games? I’m pretty disconnected my self, but you seem to be on another planet!

    And again, since when have games been about getting through them? Whether or not you agree with the trend or not, FOR A LONG FUCKING TIME. Did you not get the memo? Did you not see player behavior and developer behavior change? Most people buy games to get through them. Have you talked to anyone outside your shell in the last 10 years? No one cares “what you’d rather”. You’re a strange space person. Now there are some non-strange space people who agree with that too — heck, I do, but not every game has to, or should be for “us”.

    I am embarrassed by how much your head is up your ass. You exist in a little space world caught all up in your own tastes with no ability to see what people actually want or care about. You seem to have no ability to tell why people play games. You have no grasp on how people interact with language. You conflate your own tastes with universal ideals…. and you’re writing a book about this? A mouse might as well write a scientific journal about how the moon is made of cheese. You do not have the breath of knowledge required to do what you want to do.

    So for the love of fuck, make and write about roguelikes instead of acting like you have anything to contribute outside of that. You’re good at those things. You’re not good at any of this and I’m frankly feeling sorta bad about using your material in ad-hoc comedy routines. I can only hope my jabs make you consider stopping, because forget the crap that’s going to happen if you actually release a book.

    Keith, Pro Tip: It’s not all about you.

  6. I actually hate roguelikes. I think there’s approximately 1 of them that was ever made that’s at all well designed (Shiren the Wanderer). Note that I don’t include my own in there, even, so yeah. I think the roguelike genre is basically totally dead and probably has been for some time, with the exception of a small number of hobbyists who are basically perpetually re-skinning the same game over and over.

    Roguelikes only do two really fundamental things right: randomization (which is required for a single player game to continue having ambiguous decision-making), and the fact that you can actually lose. Other than that they are horrible messes of all kinds of bullshit mechanisms all over the place.

    Your first large paragraph basically amounts to “a lot of people like X”. I don’t see how that’s at all relevant to my post, or Tevis’ post.

    >”NO ONE CARES ABOUT RANDOMNESS OR IF SOMETHING IS OR IS NOT A MEMORIZATION PUZZLE. THIS DOES NOT REPRESENT HOW PEOPLE RESPOND TO GAMES.”

    That looks like a counter-argument, but then you just try to support it with another argument from popularity. You are aware that that’s a logical fallacy, right? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum

    Unless you thought I was trying to say that “Contra isn’t popular!”, bringing up how popular it is has no function in this discussion.

    >Also Zelda HASN’T been teetering on the edge of accessibility?

    I’m curious: how do you define “accessible”? I think Zelda has been totally accessible since the beginning. But maybe you think “accessible” means “you will definitely win if you just put in the hours of play”.

    >Whether or not you agree with the trend or not, FOR A LONG FUCKING TIME.

    Sorry, I should have phrased what I said differently. My question really meant, “how does it make sense for a game to be about ‘getting through it’?” Why is a game like a visit to the dentist these days?

    I’m sorry that I have caused such violent emotions in you.

  7. Well, I can’t deny your actual opinion on roguelikes so I’ll just go “Okay” and file that away. So lets get to the other stuff so I can get back to being mad. Kay? Kay.

    Okay so lets get down to the Argumentum ad Populum thing. This is a hard thing to address because it’s not automatically a fallacy. It’s tip toeing though, so lets try and pull it over.

    Okay so we can agree that these things being popular or unpopular is not enough to determine “quality” (we’ll get back to that word). So what what can we say? Well, we can Contra is popular — or more so, Megaman, or Mario, and the original Zelda or Metroid are not popular. We can also look at what makes Metroid and Zelda unpopular (lack of direction, frustration, random bombing/burning of stuff, etc etc) and see the trend that these sort of things are disliked by people. This is a bit of a simplification obviously, but for the sake of example it will do. Same for what people like. Fast pace, tight controls, good level flow (which would be a huge topic in it’s self). We can cross compare and see what people who like Zelda and Metroid like in other genres and compare and contrast and see what improvements were made in other similar games and what back steps were made and see lots of ambiguous data that can’t really be said to lean one way or another and this is a whoooooole huge ton of data to explore. We can look at games that were less popular (sometimes just due to bad marketing) and see what their fans say about those games and how new people respond to them and come to some other neat conclusions without relying on popularity.

    But none of it is inherently “quality” right?

    Well… What is quality? Is it some objective, abstract concept, given to us by the great robot gods? Obviously I think something like that is dumb as hell. Any decent judgement on quality has to be based on how people react to games. SO we can’t say “X is Popular” so it’s great, but we can look at things people like and make the best conclusions to make. Arguably that’s the only way to make any conclusions without being a crazy robot space alien. So if we look at Contra we can say… “Why is this game popular that might have nothing to do with it’s quality?”. First answer would be “Nostalgia”. But thats why I take a lot of interest in what younger players like. You still have a level of bias (Contra just having strong branding gives it extra points in peoples mind), but we can deduct some conclusions. Do to the fuzzy nature of this information, it’s hard to make definite ones, but by golly it is a tool.

    So…

    Contra is Popular
    Contra’s popularity seems mostly based on it’s gameplay at this point.
    The Gameplay in Contra people like line up with what most people can deduce people like about gameplay elements in other games.

    And then if you go “This still doesn’t objectively imply quality”, you’d be right, but who fucking cares, because this is the best we got and anything else is just making bullshit up.

    As for Zelda being accessible. It’s accessible in that people hit buttons, but not so much in that people can “definitely win”. The problem here, I’d say, is this usually the result of a few weird choices (like the Wind Waker Stealth Section) and generally doesn’t seem to be stuff that people like. So it’s rarely a compromise between hardcore and “softcore” gamers and at this point Zelda has lost all it’s hardcore credibility. Which is fine. But all the reason for it to embrace it’s ease of play and serve the role as an entry level series. Most people treat it that way anyways, but they all have weird bits and wonky difficulty curves. Maybe LTTP works. You can find reports of this all over the place.

    Now you can go “But that’s not objective” and then try and divinate the correct area out of a pile of burnt bones but….. yeah, I’m not buyin’ that.

    As for “To get through it”, well, what about a movie or a book? You want to get to the end but it’s not necessarily a chore. It’s just an experience with a beginning, middle and end. Now at the same time I argue this with you, I was literally arguing earlier on some forum that “Completing games is not inherently the point of them” because I get this point too (General rule of thumb: If you lay down strict rules I’m probably going to fly into a murderous rage). But right now people like temporary experiences over long ones which I think has it’s pros and cons and whatever. That doesn’t make that chores — in a lot of ways, it’s makes the experience convenient. I personally like short games because they aren’t hobbies that sap my time. They’re quick, fun and optimally have really nice pacing. Like sex, if you will!

    Anyways as for the whole decision contest game definition stuff, you did a good job reducing your position from “High offensive” to merely disagreeable. Which is fine, it’s not rage inducing, I just don’t quite think it works. Unfortunately, the best illustration of why I think it’s problematic comes from the post you’re trying to disown. So if you find the example no longer valid, simply say so. Okay~

    Videogames are all fucked up, because we’ve basically had no philosophy along the way, no guidelines for our craft, and so most video games are an inadvertent mix of game, puzzle, contest, bare interactive system, choose your own adventure novel, or interactive art installation.

    To you, this is a problem. To me and I think most people, this is why games are FUUUUCKIN’ AWEEEEESOME~! I remember you saying “The problem with Castlevania is it doesn’t know if it’s a puzzle or a contest” and that right there to me was a big red X screaming “System failure”. You make the assumption that things fitting into a box make them better than things not fitting into a box. But like cooking, it’s the wonderful blend of ingredients that produce what people find to be unique experiences. It’s why not only the term “game” is loose, but the genres themselves. It’s cool to see things blended together and often very fun to play! Again, going by negative things I’ve heard people say about Castlevania, none of them from the common folk has ever been something that would line up with your conclusion. In fact, it’s stuff that’d more like up with we know about contra — when people complain, it’s often about controls, or difficulty or pacing.

    So to me, a system like yours leads people to make incorrect conclusions about why games are good/bad and can be made better/worse. It also doesn’t mesh well with the naturalistic way perceive games. So it doesn’t make me furuously mad, but I just don’t think it works in any useful or realistic way. I think the only two parts that make sense are the bottom rung (interactive system) and the top rung (games*) which have very understandable concepts attached to them.

    Don’t you dare apologize for making me feel things — if I didn’t have bullshit to be pissed about, I’d be fucking bored as hell.

  8. I think I should start by saying that I am interested in the science of game design. I want to understand how games work better than I did yesterday. In science, I’m sure you know, we do not use popularity to determine what’s true. All that popularity can really tell us is “what’s popular”, and nothing else with any consistency.

    >Any decent judgement on quality has to be based on how people react to games.

    This information isn’t useful. Anything can become popular for a whole host of reasons, some of which aren’t even related to the game itself. There is a reason why we don’t use popularity as a reliable source of information.

    As for “quality” or “what people like” – anyone can like anything, for any reason. This is subjective and unscientific, and I’m not really interested in hearing about what anyone “likes” – it’s not useful.

    What is useful is judging quality by “how effective it is at establishing a specific design goal”. If we know what the design goal is, we can say objectively how well PRODUCT X fulfills it, regardless of its popularity.

    I do indeed think that focusing on achieving a design goal is the best clear, scientific path we have towards making better things.

    Sure, you love Castlevania, that’s wonderful. I’m concerned with the next step. How do we make something that’s better than Castlevania? How can we advance the medium? My proposal is that through understanding and focusing on the fundamentals, we can make better things.

  9. A good way to understand what I’m trying to do is to compare it with music theory. Music theory cannot tell you whether a song is “good” or “bad”, but it can explain how music, songs, forms, chords, and such work.

  10. I am highly skeptical of the scientific approach to game design. At least as a mantra (some components are very useful). Ultimately we have the same goals (understanding ames better each day), but I take the humanistic approach. This is probably apt, since my game design specially is probably player psychology. But anyways, regardless of the validity of each method…

    I refute the idea that the information isn’t useful. I can and do make meaningful predictions about how people will respond to games and game mechanics constantly and this knowledge has come from parsing how people respond to and talk about games. Is there a lot of reasons something can be popular? Yes! But that just means more detective work! Now, I think judging a game about how it accomplishes it’s goals is a great way to analyze something (i’ve said the same thing before), but it doesn’t necessarily hekp inform you of what goals are “worth” pursuer or even how to optimally execute your goals. I mean, I made a game that is quite easily argued to have poor mechanics, but the idea is entirely carried by player psychology that it has crazy popularity. Conversely, soemone can make a mechanically sound game that no one cares about. I don’t think that necessarily makes it a bad game (assuming it executes it’s goals), but I don’t see overly focusing on that sort of thing as any sort of progress. You can claim this psychological approach isn’t interesting, but I’ll be damned if it hasn’t worked out quite well for me.

    I love science. I love trying to get things ‘objective’ when I can, but ultimately, even with music theory, a human touch is often what gets the biggest rise out of people. Despite all the music theory in the world, robots don’t write songs like humans do.

    As for Castlevania, the next step? Well that was to make Demon/Dark Souls. And how do those improve? Well, I wrote a ton about that and I don’t think it requires a strictly scientific method.

  11. Okay, so… I take it you think we’d be in a better place if we hadn’t discovered principles of music theory, or color theory for painters, etc? Again, none of these things tell us how to make good things… but I think you’d probably agree that music created AFTER the establishment of functional theory (~1600-1700) is generally a lot better than the music created before?

    Right now, we are in the game design stone ages, because there has not been a serious demand for “new games” until the last 30 or 40 years.

  12. I think that is true, but both music theory and color theory are in large based on human reactions to things and finding consistent rules. We know these rules hold true in aggregate (despite people having different tastes in color combinations, musical keys, whatever) and they have been made very general guidelines, but it’s again, still up to people to figure out the details. But to get more to the point, I don’t necessarily see anything you’re doing (or more so, how you’re doing it) as being any more apt to address these issues than what I’m doing and how I do things. In fact, I almost think you’re jumping the gun. I’d argue we still need to figure out the psychology of games to even know what we need to focus on and pin down as functional game theory.

    edit: this is also like, a “chicken or the egg” scenario. Did art and music get better because people buckled down and figured out art and music theory or did they arrive as part of the things people learned by pursuing their craft.

    edit 2: Also let me say, I don’t think people SHOULDN’T be trying to figure this stuff out, I just don’t think it’s necessarily of key importance. It’s not something that is going to create a major jump in how games are made. Knowledge and improvement come in an arch, not in sudden spikes of insight (maybe with technology, but that’s different). We’ll get there and I don’t think we’re painfully aching for words and rules we desperately need. So we need people like you doing wat you do, but I can’t like, get…. excited about it?

  13. “In science, I’m sure you know, we do not use popularity to determine what’s true.”

    Science makes statements about reality, then uses experiments to see if they match up with reality. What are your parallels to “reality” and “experiments”? Playtesting would be an obvious way to (sort-of) experiment, but you’ve rejected people’s subjective experience as valid metric, so that’s gone out the window. Then what?

  14. I actually never said anything about “how you do things”. You attacked my point of view. I wasn’t aware that you even had a design philosophy, so I certainly didn’t attack it.

    >I’d argue we still need to figure out the psychology of games

    This will never happen if we’re describing “games” as broadly as we are. This is what I mean. We are paralyzed; we cannot progress from this point without getting more specific.

    >Did art and music get better because people buckled down and figured out art and music theory or did they arrive as part of the things people learned by pursuing their craft.

    Tchaikovsky or Debussy is not possible without the creation of functional music theory.

    pkt-zer0: We can use logic to build a method / lens / paradigm for game design, if we have a good clear definition for game. For instance, if we can agree that a game is a contest of ambiguous decision-making, then we can make the statement:

    GAME A which presents the user with a decision every 3 hours is an inferior design to GAME B which presents the user with a decision every 3 minutes.

    Honestly, my lens is mostly built around fixing some of the horrible low-hanging fruit problems of digital games. Most videogames are a “Game A”, and also if we realize that games should be contests, then logically something like saving and loading makes no sense.

  15. Two things:
    – using theories for comparison is nice, but that does not imply any predictive power (which would be the important part). Do you just take a near-infinite amount of random game designs, then compare them against one another until you find the best one? Because I think we can do better than that as it is.
    – you still didn’t explain what you’d use for “experiments”: a way to falsify your theories. In other words, how can you objectively determine that the “lens” you’re using is wrong?

  16. Man, this is why I treat you like a crazy person. If you didn’t make 100 Rogues, at this point I would probably outright ignore you. You seem like you come from a magical space dimension, because all the claims you make don’t seem to actually be real.

    I -do not- need your, or any other definitions to make progress on the psychology of games I do not need it for any break-throughs, or to hit any high order ideas. There will surely be concepts that people solidify in time that will merit new words so we can talk about them in easier ways, but one of this involves narrowing the definition of games. I’ve never once went “oh man! I could make some conclusions if only I had better words to categorize this thing with”! Maybe some people would benefit from something, but don’t tell me that we need it because I know I don’t. Also what you propose not only is not effective, I would say it’s worse than the tools I already have. It is not nearly as nimble or flexible as working off of context. It seems more a filter to translate things in to binary robo-speak. Like, ignoring the my distaste for the values I find to be behind your definition that I totally hate (and you argue aren’t there), it just does not even seem remotely useful to me. Like, even if I accepted it, I wouldn’t go “Hm, this is a contest or a puzzle? is it both? Hm, it should be designed to fit that better”. I’d read the nuances. “This a game about careful progress that rewards patience and knowledge. It is meant to be hard, but not executionally. The game is meant to be hard but not outright unfair. While death has setbacks, the game should never worry about coddling the player.” and I can thusly make better claims about what the game should or should not to compared to what I precieve to be your “big clunky definitional tools”. They actually seem more harmful than anything to me.

    So I dunno man, I feel a little bit bad for being a jerk for you, but from my perspective, you’re wasting my time with useless garbage. As much as I want to respect you for the game you made, the theories you present ot me seem like total trash. You might as well be trying to convince me the sky is purple. You’re not even “on the cusp” of convincing me or anything. I’m humoring you. In a way, I think I’m affording you a great deal of respect despite my attitude. I’m at least willing to hear you our. I’m at least willing to read your next GS article. I’m willing to waste my time trying to understand what seems to me to be garbage so I can at least give you the benefit of the doubt. But man, you’re reaaaaaaally straining my patience here.

  17. … You’ve often said that these games that aren’t keithgames are still ok…

    But then you say something like
    “GAME A which presents the user with a decision every 3 hours is an inferior design to GAME B which presents the user with a decision every 3 minutes.

    Honestly, my lens is mostly built around fixing some of the horrible low-hanging fruit problems of digital games. Most videogames are a “Game A”, and also if we realize that games should be contests, then logically something like saving and loading makes no sense.”

    Outside of say MGS, I can’t even think of a game that doesn’t let you make a decision at least once every hour… A few paths in some Japanese visual novels perhaps… Also, am I right in saying now that since you make dozens (maybe hundreds) of choices in a fighter every 99 seconds or so it’s innately a better game than something slower. So by this logic theoretically Street Fighter at double speed is a much deeper game than normal speed… I understand this is entirely not your point but seems like a logical conclusion based on what you said.

    And the second point:
    I don’t think you’ve ever addressed why this is low hanging fruit, and how making an interesting decision on the first playthrough is less interesting because on a second playthrough you’d know the answer (assuming you’d remember it).

  18. Actually, I’m going to add something more here…

    While I agree that interesting decisions are important, the implication that they things that aren’t decisions are therefore worthless is horribly wrong. Many Rhythm Action games are amazingly well thought out, and designing a good input pattern for them that is actually engaging is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

    Please excuse me while I play some Ouendan on my DS

  19. This entire discussion is fucking stupid as hell, but I felt like I needed to comment on the whole ‘GAME A which presents the user with a decision every 3 hours is an inferior design to GAME B which presents the user with a decision every 3 minutes.’ thing.

    You say that as if it was a scientific truth, and yet I can think of several examples of games that had a decision once per days or even weeks. Diplomacy generally has several days in real time between issuing orders. The rest of the time is spent thinking of ways to optimize your strategy, parse the likely moves your opponents make, talk to them, etc. Such games are some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in ALL games. So, even something as simple as increases the games ‘pulse’ doesn’t necessarily improve it.

  20. I disagree that a “scientific approach” to games is a good one. Because, on the contrary, I think our enjoyment of games is highly irrational. Why does it feel so damn good to see an in-game character level up, boost his stats, and/or obtain a more powerful weapon? Regardless of whether it makes the game more interesting or brings you closer to the end? After all, it’s just NUMBERS GOING UP. Why is that so pleasing across such a wide spectrum of games, even the Metroidvanias? It doesn’t make any logical sense to me.

    And yet, I’m as guilty of enjoying this as anyone else! Some mediums, like books or movies, tend to have a stronger rationality/objective factor in our enjoyment of them. Others, like video games and music, have almost nothing objective/rational about them. Who can really say why one song is pleasing and another is not?

    Yeah, I know there is music theory (which you even point to as an example), but it’s hardly “scientific”. It’s just a few fairly non-rigorous guidelines that might help in creating music, but can also often be ignored. Same with games. Certain approaches and ideas might help, but they’re not set in stone, nor are they anything approaching the rigor of a “science”.

  21. Also to take that whole ‘time/decisions’ thing to the opposite direction, is a game where you make a decision every second better than one where you make one every 3 minutes? Is speed chess necessarily better than chess? What about super lightning chess where you only have enough time to basically grab a piece and find a legal move? You could argue that taking it to an extreme minimizes the ability for a decision to as interesting, but in the same way a second decision can be more shallow than a 3 minute decision, a decision that you labored over for a week and researched can be a far more rewarding decision then one that takes 3 minutes.

    What’s funny here is the complexity of decisions in Diplomacy aren’t actually that high. The game is probably actually super solvable if you assume say, Russia and Turkey make a perfect, maximum trust alliance….. But the game never pans out like that. A huge aspect of the game is psychological. Since the game feeds on trust issues and anxiety, playing Diplomacy by email/forum is often not only more enjoyable then a game with ‘more’ ‘interesting’ decisions, it’s actually often more enjoyable than faster games played in person, where it’s very nature has it integrate it’s self into your day.

    A game like EVE is very slow for example and most of the time you aren’t making interesting decisions. But when battle comes, the risk is so high and the scenario rare enough that it puts people in states of panic and fear in a way where games with rapid decision making can’t.

    This really gets into the whole idea of pacing. A movie like Das Boot can have very little happen through parts of it by decision and be awesome while a generic action movie can have shit happening all the time, but not have the contrast for any of that to matter. This applies in some way to almost all games (though some way more than others) and your one solid, definitive statement totally ignore that. This really forces me to strain really hard to take anything you say seriously. =/

  22. I got no new Brave Earth stuff to announce, especially not until after IWBTGG is out (so in a week or so). I might od a Q&A.

    Though if you have any questions I’d love to answer them.

  23. Thank you so much for tearing into that article, Kayin. <3 It's awful and it deserves it.

  24. The author in question isn’t indicting Zelda merely because it doesn’t live up to his childhood nostalgia, as you claim. There are very clearly core aspects of the series that have been gradually culled and replaced, (exploration and discovery driven by player agency being one of them.) These are facts.

    Your article would have been imminently more useful if you simply argued why linear gated piece-meal worlds are better. Why exploration and discovery aren’t valuable to the experience anymore. Why Nintendo is better off trading in respect for the player with constant nagging directions on everything you do.

    For all the space you devoted to accusing him of selfishness for his critique on it’s difficulty, you never bothered to address the actual reasons behind it. And in doing so made your own criticisms ring hollow.
    If you wanna try again here’s his quote:

    “The point of a hero’s adventure (and Zelda is the hero’s adventure in gaming) is not to make you feel better about yourself. The point is to grow, to overcome, to in some way actually become better. If a legendary quest has no substantial challenge, if it asks nothing of you except that you jump through the hoops it so carefully lays out for you, then the very legend is unworthy of being told, and retold.”

  25. I am not a Zelda apologist. I said multiple times that there is plenty wrong with Zelda. I also frankly don’t care what Nintendo decides to do with Zelda. Tevis is using those flaws to get a foothold to say it should go in the direction that his childhood demands because that is the “true” Zelda. That quote is meaningless. It’s rhetoric to just say “It should be this way not that way”. There is no actual argument in it, just attempts at persuasion. I don’t care about that sentence. It means nothing to me. It’s flare. A bow. It’s not even bad, given his premise, but on it’s own it means nothing.

    Who should be growing and getting better? Us? Old men who are awesome at games? how about kids who are getting into this stuff? What’s an easy game for me is a hard game for someone else. Also who says Zelda has to be this at all? Is it TRULY trying to be, in play, a legendary quest? Or is it a game telling a legendary quest? Is the former always preferable to the latter? Jumping through hoops can make folks feel good. Is that a problem? Should our old timey sentiments be offended that some people might enjoy something without “earning it” up to our standard? No of course not. And I’ll go play hard games and enjoy my self and we’ll all have a good time. Why must the game return to it’s ‘roots’ to save it? Plenty of games succeed wonderfully without being strict meritocracies. Zelda’s problem isn’t it’s ethic, it’s all in the execution and the details. If Zelda decided to be Demon’s Souls, well — you haven’t saved the series! You’ve changed it! You’re back to square one, with a new set of problems and a new set of advantages.

    If you were expecting what I wrote to be about how he’s wrong and what we should do instead, well… that’s too bad. I have no interest in that. Zelda isn’t really my thing. I’m arguing that Tevis shouldn’t be listened to, because he’s spouting nostalgia as insight and treating it like solutions. I’m arguing that we should not let nostalgia blind us or fill us with entitlement. Zelda? Zelda is just along for the ride.

  26. I know this discussion is old, but I wanna add to it. I have a friend who played Skyward Sword and declared it the best game in the series. Then he read Tevis’ article AND REVERSED HIS OPINION. Completely. Because he read an article that makes some obvious observations about the game’s shortcomings that does a good job looking like critical analysis, Skyward Sword is now crap. This shouldn’t happen.

    I don’t think it matters whether we agree with my friend’s original assessment, the later one, or neither. Whatever other design goals a developer might have, goal #1 is (usually) to create a fun experience that players will enjoy. This makes the player’s subjective, unscientific personal experience paramount above all other (still possibly very valid) concerns. We can analyze and pick apart why the experience succeeds or fails, but no analysis can ever invalidate the player’s actual experience.

    But we so desperately want to “advance” (read “validate”) games as a serious art form, that people are starting to take pseudo-intellectual critique too seriously, some of the players included. Too often it’s just sanctimonious justification for the writer’s opinion, dressed up to look smart. Even when it’s legitimate, we have to remember what it’s for. Analysis in the service of art is a good thing, but not if you take it so far as to forget what art is. In these regards,”Saving Zelda” and its like have been more destructive than all of the combined flaws of the games they critique.

  27. Oh my god yes. So much I see in actual real game design conversations is exactly that — an attempt to validate opinions. It’s frustrating as all hell to see this on every level.

    Out of curiousity, which part stuck with your friend? Was it the somewhat accurate discussion of the problems in Zelda games or was it’s Thompson’s thing about what Zelda should be? Sounds like the first and I can understand being offput when one sorta sees how the sausage is made, but yeah,that’s generally no good, especially since other games he like could probably be torn down like that.

    So I can’t add anything else than ‘Yeah, I think I really really agree”

  28. I think it was primarily the “lock and key” disclosure, and being persuaded that the game was insulting his intelligence (hint, if you don’t need the hand-holding, just realize that it’s there for someone who does and move on).

    But yeah, apart from veteran gamers finding constant guidance annoying, I think my friend and others read the lock-and-key bit and feel like they’ve been duped. I find this frustrating for a number of reasons. At the broadest level is something you just said. I’m not a critic or a game designer, but I do have a background as an art student, and I think not just many games, but probably all games can be torn down to their mechanics so far as to miss the point. In philosophy this is called “greedy reductionism.”

    On a genre-specific level, I think that the “lock and key” mechanic is actually enjoyable to most fans of the metroidvanias and zeldalikes. The thrill of finding a new tool isn’t just the usefulness of the tool. Getting a spreadgun in Contra or a sub-weapon in Castlevania is satisfying, but not momentous. In these “keyring” adventures you get that, but also the world gets bigger. There’s an excitement there that’s larger than just a new ability, and taking that away would destroy the very heart of the game for most people. And that magic can only work if large swaths of the map are blocked off initially. Duh. And in the process, the game also gains a tool to focus exploration in the right areas instead of expecting the player to wander aimlessly until he stumbles into the correct dungeon.

    Most infuriating, at the level of the Zelda series itself, Thompson isn’t even right about what the 8-bit Zelda games were like. The games he’s talking about don’t exist. The torch? Bomb? Bracelet? Those are all keys. But the reward for earning the keys is less grand, and the lock is invisible. Even a difficulty ramp in areas you’re not equipped for is a crude lock, if an easily jimmied one. Essentially, the locks are just shoddier and less rewarding. And then there’s the awful, boring tedium of even finding the locks. Labeling the keyholes might reduce the mystery some, but it solves a much worse problem than it creates. Rather than propose a better medicine, Thompson advocates the disease.

    I really suspect that my friend is not alone. I’ve seen kids who grew up with Ocarina as their first Zelda game, who find Zeldas I & II unplayable, but who will voice wholehearted agreement with “Saving Zelda.” This despite professing that Ocarina or Majora, or Wind Waker is the best/their favorite. How do people reconcile this? They don’t even understand what he’s talking about, but it just sounds so smart and so appealing to everyone’s own sense of entitlement that he MUST be absolutely right. This is how propaganda and political talk radio works, and I’d be thankful for it to stay the hell away from gaming.

  29. Late to the party, but,

    No game is going to live up to the child like wonder you had when you first played it and youth makes for the rosiest of tinted glasses

    He mentioned Demon’s Souls as a game that did.

    Zelda should not be harder. Zelda should be EASIER.

    When he said Zelda should be harder, I think he meant the modern Zeldas, not the first one.

    I think Tevis has some good points. Zelda has become increasingly streamlined and less about handing you a set of tools and a dangerous world to poke at and see what happens. Like him, I would like to see Zelda introduce some new elements and mechanics that are not understood without experimentation, and secrets that don’t give themselves away. A Link Between Worlds – which I love – do a little of this, perhaps ironically since it’s a direct sequel, borderline remake, but overall it’s still a very familiar, streamlined experience.

  30. Kind of funny how post-“Breath of the Wild”, Tevis is entirely vindicated. Anyone can point out things the game could do better, but its lauded strengths are all what he called for. Makes this post look even more goofy than it already is.-

  31. Only his post was a nostalgia driven hot mess. His desires occurred and were successful, but his argument for those desires was terrible.

  32. Its obvious u didnt closely read the essay, and failed to quote it once in your response to it. No wonder youre boxing a strawman.

  33. Every time someone says it to me I re-read it and it’s still terrible. I’m not going to stand by something I wrote 5 years ago but yeesh.

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