Short essays and musings from my independent study of Game Design

Category: Mechanics

F-Zero: communicating intensity through gameplay.

Watch the video version of this essay here!

Speed is an aspect of a game that requires a lot of careful planning. Too fast and you overwhelm the player, not fast enough, and the game is either boring, or its physics feels too weighty. “Fast games” (like Star Wars Episode 1 Racer, Halo 2, and SSX 3) have everything from good presentation to tight controls communicating an extreme sense of speed.

Despite being from about a decade before the oldest game mentioned above, F-Zero is what I would call a fast game. Everything from the visual and auditory feedback to the controls exudes a sense of speed only present in the best racing games. Since it is an arcade racer dedicated to an air of future-cool, it’s vital that the game’s design and mechanics pull off the speed correctly. Despite being made at the very start of the 16-bit era of console gaming, F-Zero seems to take this challenge on in strides.

The Blue Falcon in Mute City

Things like jumps, barriers, and other drivers on the track add to the sense of speed and risk. You’re constantly reminded that you could crash and ruin your run at literally every moment. In addition, randomized traffic on the track keeps each run from being a memorized set of button presses for the best time, requiring the player to think on their feet in this intense blur of color and sound.

The game keeps the pressure high by having two distinct loss states to worry about, both are oft in direct contradiction. In my opinion, the easiest way to lose is to “Crash Out”. You have an energy bar to worry about, essentially the vehicle’s health, and once it gets to 0, that’s it; your race is over. You deplete this bar in various ways: bumping into the side barriers, running over marked ground, and running into other vehicles. This system is in place to punish the player for not being careful. Going too fast into a turn or hitting other racers can cause you to get very quickly stuck into a bouncing loop, and it will invariably be your fault. Using the brake on sharp turns and precise movements are not just advantageous in this game; they are required to be able to even finish the race.

The other, and often painfully complimentary loss state is “Rank Out”. The player is given a “safe rank” each lap to stay in until the next lap. Failure to do so or even reaching too far outside this safe ranking will result in an immediate loss and an early end to your run. This punishes the player for being too careful and not taking enough calculated risks. Like precision in control to avoid a fatal crash, taking advantage of risky shortcuts, making turns as tight as possible, and keeping your speed up are all imperative to your success in the F-Zero Grand Prix.

Ranking Out: As explained by the game’s manual.

Breath of The Wild’s weapon durability system is good, actually.

Watch the video version of this essay here

No release ever was more exciting to me than one launch title for the Nintendo Switch, Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild.

It was bringing everything I wanted from a modern Zelda Game together, exploration, open ended design, robust combat, beautifully stylized graphics and uh bird people.

Sadly it wasn’t until 2019 that I was finally even able to play this masterpiece As my little mission to Korea had started right before the Switch’s launch and the release of everyone and their Mom’s favorite Zelda title. by the time the internet had given themselves plenty of opportunity to gush over this game, people started to obviously tear it to shreds at the same time.

While Breath of the Wild is by no means a perfect game, I think there is one thing about the game people are excessively critical of, that being the weapon and shield durability system.

If you haven’t played Breath of the Wild, the system goes like this: each weapon and shield has a fixed durability rating, this determines how many combat situations this weapon can be used for before it suddenly breaks. when the weapon does run its course the weapon shatters on the next impact to anything, never to be used again. The only exception to this being the master sword which just makes it unusable until it recharges.

The criticism for this seems fairly obvious, and to be fair, makes a lot of sense. whats even the point in getting all these cool weapons if I hardly feel like using them out of fear of losing them? It’s so frustrating to have to lose my best sword in a battle, and of course, why? Other games hardly ever just delete you weapon from the game, even Fire Emblem makes weapons repairable and that game has permadeath!

Well, I am here today to defend this mechanic with my very last dying breath. (not really)

Think about it, what’s Breath of The Wild’s greatest design strength? The open ended nature of the game from the very start to the very end.
When you first get past the very open tutorial section of the game you are met with the end objective right off the bat. “Destroy Ganon”
and you can even go and do it right away, like yeah it will be real hard, but you can if you so please. No hallways, no excessive cut scenes, just you, the world and your skills.

So in this incredibly open game about exploring and experimenting with alternate solutions to problems what better mechanic to have than one that really makes you think on your feet? What better than to force the player to rely on more than just the strongest weapon some forum poster told them the location of? That’s what makes this mechanic so integral to the game itself.

Say you’re in a lengthy combat situation and your last sword breaks, you now have to figure out how you’re gonna get out with one of these enemy’s weapons. Instead of one you were using the whole time, it keeps the game difficult, engaging and open to experimentation.

Plus this mechanic isn’t without its perks, if you know a weapon is about to burst you can plan the shattering impact since it does more damage and stuns the mobs, or alternatively, you could throw it for the effect of an stunning projectile.
Just these two things introduce SO MUCH to the combat that it makes the possibilities of handling each encounter nearly endless.

I will concur that a good solution to the problem some have with this aspect of the game would be a balanced repair system for some of the particularly rare weapons. My collection in my in game house here is a testament to that…

But I digress, in a game made to keep you thinking, a game demanding problem solving skills and experimentation with the tools afforded you, a weapons durability system such as the one in Breath of the Wild doesn’t just seem not that bad, but rather extremely welcome.

So yeah, I’m fine if my sword shatters I like beating these guys with their own arms more anyways…