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How The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Changed Single-Player Games

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Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

Today is pleasantly poetic, as on this day twenty years ago, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. For a game that is ostensibly about the flow of time, twenty years on from release seems like a fitting time to still be talking about it. The Nintendo 64 had an amazing catalogue of close to 400 games but, if people remember only three titles, they would probably be Super Mario 64, Goldeneye 007, and Ocarina of Time. These games not only pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible for their generation, they also went on to define and influence their respective genres for the next two decades.

Ocarina of Time marked the Zelda series’s first foray into 3D graphics and set the standard for action-adventure games throughout the late 90’s and 00’s. The game not only boasted graphical fidelity but was also an exceptionally well made title, benefitting from Nintendo’s decision to restrict the number of titles made for N64 to allow developers to focus on quality over quantity. The result is a title that many consider to be one of the finest single-player, narrative-driven games ever made.

Ocarina of Time gameplay

Technical achievements are of course important, but that is not what most gamers will remember about playing the game. They will remember the feeling they had the first time they stood at the edge of Hyrule Field, seeing the landscape reaching off into the distance. They will remember wondering if they could just waltz on over to the little farm in the middle and then their amazement when they realised they could. They will recall the sense of awe they felt at the sheer scale of the adventure laid out before them. Ocarina of Time offered players the freedom to go anywhere, talk to anyone, and smash any room full of pots… not that I did that… The game offered a story that was ready to be discovered organically and areas that could be approached in any order you liked; it did not hold your hand while you did it. I am sure I am not the only person who started to wonder if the Kokiri Forest was the only area of the game, having been stuck in there for hours!

These gameplay features may sound familiar, because every modern open-world game follows this design ethos, though few do it as well as Ocarina of Time. What sets Nintendo’s magnum opus apart from most everything else is its ability to affect the player’s emotions, and if the game is about anything else besides “time”, it is about feelings. Perhaps the most profound way in which Ocarina of Time conveys feelings is through the game’s music—Koji Kondo’s soundtrack is simply magnificent. Every area has its own, perfectly matched soundtrack that frames the mood as players progress through the game. From Lon Lon Ranch’s happy, old-timey jangle, to the melodic, tropical beats of Zora’s Domain, and the eerily choral score in the Temple of Time, Ocarina of Time guides the player not just through the game’s various areas but through the various emotions that each area conveys.

However, the genius “Nintendo touch” is in the mechanic whereby the player must learn a number of melodies, which can then be played back on the titular ocarina for various effects. Twenty years on and I can still remember the tune for “Prelude of Light”, “Saria’s Song”, and “Serenade of Water”. I loved playing those tunes so much, that I would often play them just for the sake of hearing them. Essentially, Ocarina of Time helped changed the way developers thought about how players interact with games, by building player agency into the very fabric of the game.

Ocarina of Time music gameplay

Today, as game worlds become bigger and the experiences more filmic, developers could do worse than remembering Link’s Ocarina. Of course, games takes more than a good score and things for the player to do to be great and once again, Ocarina of Time delivers with a near-flawless narrative. Link’s is a coming of age story, of a boy who grows into a man and of responsibilities and consequences. The first time I played Ocarina of Time, I was fifteen years old. Those teenage years are the awkward phase where you are trying desperately to be ‘grown up’, while still clinging to the securities of childhood. I remember my excitement at finally playing as adult Link and then the sudden, heart-wrenching horror of discovering what had happened to Hyrule in my absence. I wanted only to return to Link’s childhood, when the world was less scary and the future not yet set. Analogous to real life perhaps?

Ocarina of Time taught us that sometimes, despite our best efforts, bad things happen. However, the game also taught us the value of perseverance in the face of adversary. Ocarina of Time set the bar for what gamers expected from the genre and influenced practically every open-world game since. The focus on player mood and emotion, player agency and organic, free-form discovery — the single-player, narrative-driven game today is what it is, in no small part thanks to Ocarina of Time. I may have grown up since I first played it, but Link’s story is truly timeless. Perhaps Sheik says best:

“Time passes, people move. Like a river’s flow, it never ends. A childish mind will turn to noble ambition. Young love will become deep affection. The clear water’s surface reflects growth. Now listen to the Serenade of water to reflect upon yourself”.

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Editorial

The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary

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PlayStation 5

Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.

For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.

Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.

For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.

From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.

Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.

Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.

The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).

Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.

Bloodborne gameplay 1

In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.

Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.

My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.

Spider-Man PS4

Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.

I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.

While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.

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