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The one weird trick Nintendo used to pretty up The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

In Living Color

In the comments of Derrick Sanskrit’s Hyrule Warriors review, a discussion broke out on the merit of Ocarina Of Time, the Nintendo 64 Zelda game that serves one of Hyrule Warriors’ prime points of reference. Girard, one of the dissenting voices, mentioned that even for the time, Ocarina was an ugly-looking game, and jakeoti pointed out that its follow-up, Majora’s Mask, used a simple refinement—one weird trick, you might say—to pretty up Link’s surroundings:

Outside of the characters, the games look completely different, and even the people look different because of the environments surrounding them. The reason? Color.

Ocarina Of Time’s Lost Woods:

Majora’s Mask’s Woodfall Swamp:

Death Mountain, home of the Gorons in Ocarina Of Time:

Snowhead, also home of the Gorons but in Majora’s Mask:

Ocarina Of Time had an art style that was used, arguably well, to distinguish the different areas by giving one color per place. Death Mountain is brown, the forest is green, the lava areas are red, the desert is tan, etc. Majora’s Mask instead based its look on two colors per zone: purple and green for the swamp, white and blue for the mountain, green and blue for the ocean, and brown and orange for the canyon. There’s even clear spots where they changed the color of visuals reused from Ocarina Of Time to give the game more visual distinctiveness.

For example, this section of the swamp features what is clearly the model for Death Mountain, complete with the ring around it. What’s notable is that this volcano-looking spot is never actually visited in the game. It’s just there to give a bit of a different look to the area. It actually is at the Forest Of Mystery, where you lose sight of the purple water for a bit.

And so, boom, big splash of purple in the middle. All the colors that Majora’s Mask used were also jarring and often a little unsettling. Splashes of red and blue (the Clock face, the two jugglers, the Bombers) all around the distinctly brown Clock Town gave life through the citizens and passing of time. The green and purple of the swamp is just unnatural and weird, which told you right off the bat that this was not going to be like Ocarina. The drab brown of Stone Tower suggested emptiness and death, but the orange of the fire and the dungeon entrance reminded you that life is still lingering here, however unnaturally.

Ocarina based itself on just establishing areas. Mountains are brown, forests are green, lakes are blue, deserts are yellow, etc. This isn’t something that I would hold against Ocarina, as it was more about figuring out how to even create a Zelda game in a 3D space. But it shows how simple it is to change the entire tone and setting with just a little color tweaking.

New Edition

Samantha Nelson’s Gameological Unplugged column returned this week with a detailed look at the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons. She described it as a leaner game that combines elements of past editions while trying to streamline some of the more complicated number crunching and right the faults many players had with the 4th Edition. stepped_pyramids mounted a defense of 4th Edition, echoing some of the points Samantha hit on when she talked about that version’s demise last year (almost to the day!):

I’m going to say that 4e was great and Wizards Of The Coast/Hasbro fucked it up and made me sad. Long story short, there were internal factions that really hated the outcome of the Open Game License for the 3.5 Edition. There was a lot of great third-party content from companies like Paizo but also a lot of crap. In addition, certain people apparently were angry that companies not owned by Hasbro were making cash money from D&D-related products, apparently in the belief that the absence of third-party products would cause all of that money to instead go to official products.

So 4th Edition was released with no licensing scheme at all. Eventually it got one, but it was unusable for various technical reasons. By that time Paizo had already gone off and made Pathfinder, a rival tabletop RPG that was similar to 3.5. But the main driver behind Pathfinder’s creation and the other third parties fleeing D&D was not rage about 4e‘s rules—it was licensing. Of course, that provided a good place for 3.5-loving discontents to migrate to.

Wizards Of The Coast had a burst of good books at first but then started dribbling them out. Then they decided to reboot with the Essentials books, which included a lot of technically compatible but generally redundant content, including new versions of all the original classes. There were balance improvements, but Essentials was too different from the base version of 4e to get widely adopted and too similar to be interesting or worth releasing so soon.

And then they did it again a couple of years later!

Also, the D&D Insider subscription model, which offered supplemental digital content, was decent but never had enough content, and Wizards wasted a lot of time and money replacing their good character builder with a shitty Microsoft Silverlight-based one with a fraction of the features.

4e had problems, and I’d happily list them at length, but Wizards Of The Coast never understood what they were or how to fix them, and they’re also nothing like the standard rigmarole you hear from 3.5 partisans. (“it’s basically World Of Warcraft/a video game! dumbed down! for casuals! doesn’t let you role-play!”). It’s a shame it was so badly managed.

Meanwhile, M as in Mancy agreed and thought this latest edition, the Fifth Edition, was less ambitious:

We were playtesters for 5e/Next, so it was definitely interesting on an intellectual level to see what the designers thought was important, but I never really got a good answer to “Why does this need to exist?” For all its flaws, 4e had some clear goals (good tactical miniatures combat, simple to learn, understandable roles for people coming into tabletop gaming from an online game like World Of Warcraft) that I think it largely achieved.

But I never did get a similar sense from the new D&D. There are things I like and things I don’t like, but if the idea was to “win back” players (and gaming dollars) that had departed for Pathfinder or other systems, there’s nothing in there that would draw me in beyond that initial purchase. It felt like Hasbro didn’t really grasp that the number of people buying their new editions of D&D was artificially inflated by folks who weren’t demanding something new but were rather just moving on because there was no other choice if you wanted to keep having new adventures come out. Since they can’t make Pathfinder go away, there’s no one being “forced” to follow D&D from edition to edition.

Right now I play in a new D&D game, a Rolemaster game (temporarily on hiatus), and a 13th Age game, and I run a Pathfinder game and a Spacemaster game. Of those other systems, there’s not a one of them I’d drop in preference to running under the new D&D rules. Both Pathfinder and 13th Age scratch the d20 fantasy gaming itch better.

And dukerenaldo stepped up to back the new edition:

The new edition basically united my table. Most of us have at least a full Level 1-to-Endgame campaign under our belt for 3.5 and 4e, and we have a diverse range of play-style preferences (tactical combat, role-playing, goofy shit).

4e wasn’t quite unpredictable enough for the goofy crowd, and Pathfinder is gratuitously complex for our less nerdy compatriots. 13th Age is a little too freeform for our tactical crowd. (And for the same reason, Dungeon World is right out).

The new D&D hits every sweet spot just enough for everyone at our table. I’ve heard complaints that it is just basically a Greatest Hits show leading to the “why does this need to exist” question, but it’s great for my table. Also, we host big parties where we introduce new people to an afternoon of D&D every few months, and the new edition is without exception the fastest I’ve ever seen new players pick up a system. That’s a success in and of itself.

Neighborhood Threat

We kicked off a new Special Topics In Gameology series this week. This time it’s all about neighborhoods. Drew Toal started things off with an essay about Megaton, the first town players usually come across in Fallout 3. You know, the one that was built around an atomic bomb that you could choose to either disarm or detonate. If you choose to detonate and wipe the place off the map, you get a free apartment in the swanky Tenpenny Tower, which was run by an old, sort of racist jerk. Aurora Boreanaz described how one way to deal with the owner:

After tossing Tenpenny off the roof, I dragged his body over to the firing range and repeatedly attempted to prop him up against the targets the guard was shooting at. Rather than getting upset with me for manhandling his boss’ corpse, the guard just kept asking me to get out of the way so he could continue his target practice.

Tenpenny was such a douchebag even his hired guns didn’t give a crap about him.

And Mookalakai recalled the unexpected results of a violent spree in another Fallout community:

I just wanted to say that my favorite Fallout memory was going on a killing spree in a neighborhood and killing a man and a woman for pretty much no reason. Then an old man and a kid came out of the nearby house and graciously thanked me because the people I had just killed were apparently horrible cannibals. I went in to their house and the evidence was all there. Needless to say, I felt my decision to kill indiscriminately had been justified.

That’s it and that’s all, Gameologerinos. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!