*Sigh* It’s been twenty minutes. What the—what the hell am I supposed to do?

You know the feeling.

Getting stuck has taken on a new dimension lately for me with my BtR column. I just couldn’t think of what to write. I had an idea, started to develop it, got maybe a page and a half with no direction and purpose.

But, what to do? Is it a key, or a passage? Did I miss something in that room? Or… what could it be?

It’s easy to back yourself into a corner. Perhaps literally—you’re stuck at a dead end— and perhaps figuratively—you’re out of new ideas, stuck in a rut using your unsuccessful ones. That’s the thing about it. You’ve gone past all the solutions that seem obvious to you.

I had my article ready. What else could I write about? Well, nuthin’ else. Why not just keep trying to do the same thing? Again. And again. And again.

Turn around. Look back in that room. Hrm. Maybe another room back? Or… could it be… But how do I get there again? Did I check that corner over there? Yeah. And what about that chest? Oh, got that one already. Maybe just one more check around to see if I missed anything…

And the thing that always confounds me is that I stupidly do the same thing again and again and again. And I expect different results!

It’s much like when you stare at that computer screen (or notebook), just waiting for inspiration to pour out. It’s not on the screen or page. I don’t know why you’re looking there so hard. It’s not going to come if you stare harder. But maybe, just maybe, we think, if we bore holes into the screen out a well spring of inspiration will come.

Different people think differently. Some solve problems by pure trial and error. Others try to construct a perfect solution. Some people think in words, others in images. Sometimes you just have to think differently—you know, like other people do. And that’s the marvel of it. The game can force you to think differently than you normally would.

When all else has failed, break outside of the box. Don’t think within the old, tired parameters you formerly used. Think new. But how to “think new?” Oftentimes you need to wipe the slate clean.

Sometimes when I’m stuck I decide to go do something else. I painfully retreat. To leave the dungeon is to admit defeat. I’ve flown the white flag my own fair share of times.

The outer world and its side quests provide the perfect counterpoint to the intense focus of the dungeon. Besides being a fascinating theme with which two Zelda games have been intertwined, the Sea is also a broad, open world where just that type of exploration and adventure can occur.

The sea—I love the sea. The sea is at once mysterious and wonderful. It holds a special place in wide tomes of lore and sends a sly call to unsuspecting. At once the sea is many things, seemingly contradictory. It is the calm sheet of glass in the pristine sunset, the angry waves of terrible devastation. It is a barrier and a burden, it is life and new hope.

Link’s Awakening holds a special place in my heart. It was my first Zelda game, and it brought me into the greater series. The whole game was permeated with water—and that’s probably a reason why I loved it. In the rage of the sea, while returning home from his adventures, Link is struck down.. As the calm waves rhythmically beat the shore, Marin approaches and finds Link.

The inhabitants of the island are clueless of the outside world. No, they’ve never been beyond the sea. No, they don’t really know what goes on out there. Marin dreamily sits by the shore and wonders about what’s beyond the sea. At all times the sea serves several purposes: unexpected detour, barrier to Link and to the island people, and seat of the adventure on Koholint.

When The Wind Waker was announced, I was happy to have a larger sea setting. Not just a sea setting, but an interactive sea setting which would serve as more than a passive plot device.

Once you do leave the ocean, the world looks bright and the air smells fresh. It’s as useful to leave the dungeon to go do other things, for its own merit, as it is to cleanse your mind of the tired and fruitless thoughts that you’ve had before.

For all of tWW’s stylish and artsy pretensions, it still managed to deliver a powerful and moving sea. The purple and orange hues of the sea at sunset, sunrise, or in the throes of a storm, along with the rhythmic or frantic swells of the ocean, conspired to make tWW a living painting.

TWW, it its own way, showed the power and majesty of the sea, greater than any video game ever had. At times the great sea would open before you, unfolding gently, as the horizon sinks imperceptibly behind you. At these times, you perceive a sensation of awe, brought on by the sheer grandeur of the setting.

The sea has diversions galore (Pipking’s favored pears are among the more interesing and fun avenues to explore). While the critics of the sea claim it is boring, it never was going to be action packed. The great central hub of Ocarina of Time itself was never highly fun– I remember drudging through it, usually annoyed, trying to get to where else I had to go– but we only notice these things due to the great size of the sea.

Where the sea actually fails is when it forces you to indulge in a fetch-it quest– a fetch it quest cannot be excitingly drawn out over such large tracts of land. The pointless quest of this sort was a failure in Metroid Prime (where you collected “artifacts”) as well in the Wind Waker. Otherwise, the sea survives on its merits.

The sea (and the over world in general) is at its best when it helps to provide a foil to the dungeons– the collecting of items as such is best left in the dungeons, not in broad, expansive areas. If the dungeons are intense, then the over world must be sparse. Both the dungeon and the over world must meet the same end, but they must do them from opposing means. While the dungeon endlessly turns and twists upon itself, the over world must be relatively free and open. While the dungeon contains a collection of the most difficult enemies, the over world contains NPCs and broader plot elements. Both aspects need to mesh together to create a cohesive and fun game.

The sea was relaxing. So relaxing. Open, aimless and (seemingly) endless. It’s almost immediately that my mind switches focus– switches focus from the frenzied battle-environment to the mundane tasks and chores (even the monotony) of the outer world.

Now, whether raiding a secluded pirates’ outpost, finding a man who fortuitously keeps a canon and a course of barrels in the middle of the ocean, associating with some punk kids back in town, or finding the occasionally lonely Goron, always ready for a trade, I feel an enormous decompression. Although I’ll occasionally fumble on the A button and elicit a worried response hurrying me back to my quest from that annoying stack of timber, it serves as a helpful reminder of my direction lest I become too lost in it all.

The sea naturally complements the rest of the outer world in providing the foil to the dungeons. By the time I’ve been out of the dungeon for a while, I’ve hopefully broken from the circle of stagnant thoughts I had before.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sailing around. Sailing, sailing, sailing. It’s been a while and I’d like to go defeat the foul guardian in that dungeon. My mind is clear, my patience is full, my resolve is firm. I jump off the boat and make my way to the entrance, and take that fateful step in.