We must wait. And wait. And wait. But then the day will come-the next Zelda game will bring us to a new world, a new Hyrule. The ending of The Wind Waker certainly lends itself to the idea of a sequel. And as we have been told, the sequel will retain the cel-shading technology of its predecessor. This time, however, there won’t be any major fuss over it on the Internet, because The Wind Waker proved that it was a good game. But despite appearances, the tired old issue of cel-shaded shouldn’t really be over yet, because there’s a wider world out there beyond the Internet. And it’s that wider world that needs to be reached if the next Zelda is going to reach people beyond the gaming world of the GameCube . . .
The Gaming Elites
Let me begin with an illustration. I’m actually going to refer back to this illustration in later articles, so you might want to pay attention. As you might have guessed, I enjoy history, among other things. History is by nature based on texts produced by people of the past. Duh. But the people who produced those texts generally only talk about things that are important to them. As a result, we don’t get to know about so many aspects of those periods of history; history is like a dark room, with small lights fading in and out at different parts of the room. Naturally, we focus on those areas of light.
Take the example of Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America). Typically, we begin a study of the archaeology and history of Mesoamerica by looking at such native cultures as the Olmecs, the Zapotecs, the Maya, and the Aztecs. But not long after the Spanish take over, we say hardly a word about the lives of, say, the Tlaxcalans, even though these and other native cultures far outnumbered the Spanish. “Uh, Trahald, I wasn’t coming here for a history lesson,” you say. Never fear, I do have a point to this. You see, the world of gaming is certainly huge-it recently even eclipsed Hollywood. But when we go on to the Internet or pick up magazines to read reviews of games, we should remember that the views of the reviewers are in reality only one perspective on games, within that wider world I just mentioned. They are the perspectives of the elites, the critics. Certainly, the perspective varies among the critics, just as it does concerning other media like books and movies. But more often than not, there is a general agreement across the field in what makes a particular game good or bad. In the case of Zelda, the reviews came out in favor of the cel-shading look. Anyone browsing the gaming sites on the internet after the release of The Wind Waker might get the impression that the celda-haters had been silenced once and for all, and that if any still existed, they were fools. It’s like the Spanish-you might get the impression in a survey of Mesoamerican history that when the Spanish arrived, everyone else faded into the background and didn’t matter anymore. So let’s see what gamers are saying out there in that wider world beyond the land of the elites . . .
The Voice of the Minority
True, Celda did sell a lot of copies. It could hardly be said to be unpopular. But that’s actually rather misleading, as we will see at the end. But first, I’d like to give voice to those who still don’t like the artistic style. For those of you who think that the new cel-shaded look is critically acclaimed as being better than the old look by all, take a look at this GameSpy grudge, and maybe even the accompanying thread in the grudge forum. It’s very typical. The gaming “elites,” or in this case the GameSpy staff of Fargo and shaithis, come out in favor of it. They recognize the artistic vision of Miyamoto (apparently Aonuma’s vision in reality, as we found out from this interview). And yet despite what the gaming “elites” believe, many gamers don’t agree with them, as the poll and the thread in the grudge forum reveal. Now, bear in mind that the poll is not scientific. If it was, it would be called a “survey.” Of the 28,904 people who voted, who knows how many have even played it, for instance. And please keep in mind that I am not attacking the look of the game, but rather defending people who are still of the opinion that they don’t like the look. I’m simply trying to reiterate what I said before the game came out-that some people would not like the new look, and that they are on equal footing with those who like the new look. One of the posters said:
“Personally… I really dislike the new link [ . .] That isn’t to say that everyone should adhere to my opinion and that anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, it’s because i personally don’t like it. Anyone trying to say that absolutely everyone should like the new link because it’s new and artistic should probably look ‘opinion’ up in the dictionary.”
So there we have it. Everyone is entitled to their artistic opinions.
The dislike of the graphics is probably much more extensive outside the Internet community. I’ve had the chance to witness many people’s reactions to the game. If you’re reading this, chances are very likely that you’re a geek. But as I’ve been trying to emphasize, there’s a wider world out there, for the world of gaming is far bigger than geekdom. I’m talking about casual gamers. I’m talking about people who play games, perhaps even a lot, but people who don’t read about them in print or on the Internet. Back when The Wind Waker had come out, I had several people over at my house to play a series of strategy games on the tabletop and the PC. While a few of them were playing one of the games, I decided to amuse myself with The Wind Waker. One of my friends glanced at the screen as I was playing the Wind’s Requiem, and he was shocked to seethe graphics-he apparently didn’t know the new Zelda game was cel-shaded. He thought the graphics were horrible. “Oh yeah, they put a lot of effort into that,” he said sarcastically. I tried to come to Nintendo’s defense: “Well wait now,. actually they did that on purpose; it really involves a more complex technology than is possible for earlier versions.” His response was no less sarcastic than his first remarks: “Oh, yeah. I can tell. I mean, look at the face. It’s so round and 3-D. And that water-it’s so detailed. It really looks like water.” Another friend, though not so harsh, commented that he agreed that it was rather strange how the face and the sea were so basic. (Zelda fan, what do you say to that? That they should look past the graphics, and see the beauty of the gameplay? As I’ve said time and time again, it isn’t that simple. But I digress.) Obviously, based on their surprise, they hadn’t kept up with the news. They were mainstream gamers. Neither of them own a GameCube. And their views on Wind Waker are not uncommon. True, some mainstream gamers on their first encounter have loved it, marveling at the graphics. But many others have reacted in a negative fashion. And then there are the Nintendophiles I’ve talked to, who have said that they really didn’t prefer the graphics, but simply enjoyed the game in spite of the graphics.
Of course, it’s certainly worth pointing out that the main problem really isn’t the use of the cel-shading, but the artistic style. My friends at the gaming party thought that Link’s head looked weird and simple-that’s a stylistic issue. And ultimately, it’s the anime style that’s the offender. But I’ll save that for later.
Wind Waker was a good game. Personally, I (usually) really enjoyed the graphics, even if I wouldn’t have designed them the same way in every instance. But just because I generally liked them doesn’t mean that everyone else should like them. More importantly, however, Nintendo really shouldn’t continue the trend into the next game. Yes, The Wind Waker did attract a lot of sales. But the problem was that it sold mostly only to people with a GameCube, people in the know. If it caught the eyes of the public with realistic graphics, or with an artistic style that wasn’t so odd and simplistic in so many places, it may well have sold to that wider world out there. And not only that, the many people who played the game in spite of the graphics can now enjoy the game much more fully. So if I was in charge of Nintendo, I’d change Wind Waker 2, both for profit and for the sake of the quality of the experience for the gamer.
Questions? Comments? Bitter invectives? Drop me a line at [email protected]