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A 2 part series in which I present and analyze data on a dungeon from both Zelda Twilight Princess (The Forest Temple) and Darksiders II (Drenchfort). In Part 1 I explained how and why I recorded the data.
In part two, I will compare three points; the use of cinematics, room length and how it effects flow, and general progression.
Although by itself this chart can grant a glimpse into the games feeling of progression, it best works after playing and knowing the game. The chart can help dive into any suspicions one may have and bring the problem to light.
Moments of visual and auditory narrative usually taking control away from the player. Both these games use traditional cutscenes, but vary in how often and how they use them.
Zelda – Twilight Princess
Zelda relies heavily on cutscenes. That entire chart is filled with green. The player actually sits and just watches for 43% of the dungeon. At first this seems like bad design. No game should spend half it’s time making the player just watch. However, many of the cutscenes do present vital information on how to defeat a monster or a puzzle. It’s just sad that for every meat filled cutscene there is a hollow one of entering a new room or an unnecessarily long display of a puzzle being solved. An interesting chart for the future would be to compare needed cutscenes vs fluff ones.
Darksiders shares some similar situations to Zelda such as opening a chest or door that requires custom animations. Zelda used cutscenes that take complete control away from the player. Darksiders takes a slightly different method I call an Active Event. When a player opens a chest, they lose control of Death for a brief moment, but not the camera. As well, enemies or anything else occurring in the environment continues to take place. This simple difference maintains the flow without completely interrupting it. The game did not stop, it simply executed a custom animation. The most important piece is that these Active Events are incredibly short, usually only lasting a second or two. Because of this, they rarely appear on the chart due to an action requiring at least 3 seconds of game time to be placed.
The goal for most games is to create an ideal environment encouraging players to enter a state of flow; a mindset of effortless concentration and enjoyment. That moment when your fingers go to the right buttons without thinking about it. When the game could throw anything at you and you just brush it away with a smile on your face.
Zelda Twilight Princess
The player spends less than a minute in most rooms before being interrupted to watch a 4.5 second sequence of Link opening the door to enter the next room. Twilight Princes fails to give challenges long enough for the player to become completely comfortable with the situation. Right when the player is getting into the combat, flipping backwards to dodge an attack to follow it up with their own, it ends. The player then has to leave the room by watching a lengthy cut scene, unable to zone in and just go H.A.M.
Each room is too small to house lengthy challenges and the Door Opening cinematic between each one completely cuts the flow from one room to the next, leaving out any possibility of chaining rooms together.
Rooms are larger and the player spends more time in them. Most rooms last nearly two minutes, quite a few reaching three. The player has ample time to get into the room before leaving it. Darksiders really holds an edge over Zelda because of how it handles opening doors. Zelda stops the player and plays a 4.5 second cut scene while Darksiders plays a 2.5 second Active Event. The active event makes the room feel joined instead of separate. The player also has a short window where the door remains open to walk backwards into the previous room. Zelda requires the player to play the cutscene again. This means if the player made a mistake coming into the wrong room, it’s a 9 second round trip back to where they want to be.
Darksiders minimizes any interruption to the player, giving them large environments to climb and fight through and easing the transition between the two.
Each game houses both exploration, puzzles and combat scenarios. Having a healthy mix of all three with smooth transitions between them is important to creating an interesting experience.
Zelda – Twilight Princess
A look at the ratio chart says it all. This is a poor mixture of mechanics. Almost half of the dungeon is cutscenes. The other mechanics sort of equal out, but are so divided by cutscenes that each time the player gets to do something, it feels short lived.
Most of the rooms are fairly simple, requiring only one action from the player, making them rather uninteresting. You walk into one room and know almost exactly what you are about to do whether its fight, solve a puzzle, or just walk across the room.
It’s here that I have to point out Room 12. It has the best pacing and mix of mechanics in the dungeon. Once inside the player experiences a series of both combat and puzzle-solving in rapid secession.
The ratio chart here could not be better. If Cinematics and Action Events are combined then each action has almost equivalent screen time. Actions are not interrupted by cutscenes and the player is able to flow from one action to the next never missing a beat. Actions take more time though than Zelda thus requiring a longer attention span to complete.
All and all, I found Darksider II’s progression to be fairly superb. I am never locked into the same action for too long. I am treated to all the mechanics on a fairly equal basis and have enough time to really become engaged in each one.
It would really appear that I am talking down on Twilight Princess this entire post. To some extent I am, but that is the 10 year old version of myself feeling let down that the newer Zeldas are not as good as Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. There lies the key though. The Zelda series has always been targeted towards children. I sit here upset not because the game is bad, but because it was designed for 10 year old Jakobsen, not the 23 year old version of myself that still has trouble growing facial hair. 10 year old version of me had a shorter attention span and loved cut scenes that gave him breaks to rethink the game plan. I now thrive on intensity and being challenged. I want it. Twilight Princess wasn’t a horrible game, sadly, it just wasn’t designed for me. Darksiders II now starts to fill the gaping hole that Zelda left open.
Although both in the same genre, its amazing what a difference the target audience can make. For the record, if Atrophy had kept puzzles and combat, it would have taken a Darksiders approach to progression as it was originally aiming for a 20-25 year old audience.