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Zelda: A tale of two video game legends

Zelda designer Shigeru Miyamoto   

December 4, 1998
Web posted at: 3:25 PM EST

By CNN Interactive Editor Steve Baxter

(CNN) - Like so many of Nintendo's video games, the success of the "Legend of Zelda" titles has taken on legendary proportions. Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto is also a legend among video game fans and industry insiders. He is Nintendo's ace-up-the-sleeve; a software creator with a royal flush of hit Nintendo games.

As an event, the release last week of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" was one of the most anticipated in video game history. As a game, the 64-bit continuation of the Zelda adventures has game critics raving.

"It's the best video game ever made," says Steven L. Kent, video game historian and author of the forthcoming book "The First Quarter: The 25-Year History of Video Games." "It's the best blending of a full and intriguing story line with the huge, detailed worlds that you have in role playing games. You get a story that's not interrupted with turn-based computer tabulated fights. It's an adventure game for RPG players and an RPG for anybody."

Click to see a Zelda 64 screen shot

"Ocarina of Time" is the fifth incarnation of what is one of the most popular adventure game anthologies ever constructed. Nintendo hopes it will be the top selling N64 game this holiday season.

Kent says Miyamoto is a very important part of the giant video game company's publishing efforts. "Nintendo has sold more copies of Shigeru Miyamoto games than most companies have sold games. As the creator of the original 'Donkey Kong,' 'Mario,' 'Yoshi,' 'Zelda,' 'Starfox' and 'Wario' games Miyamoto gave Nintendo its identity."

Speaking with Miyamoto through an interpreter at this year's E3 trade show, he said he based his creation on something very traditional and uniquely Japanese. "Throughout the Zelda series I've always tried to make players feel like they are in a kind of miniature garden. So, this time also, my challenge was how to make people feel comfortable and sometimes very scared at the same time. That is the big challenge."

Zelda 64's electronic garden is anything but miniature. Using a 256-megabit cartridge, it's the largest virtual world found in any Nintendo game. Miyamoto's team of artists and programmers originally used the "Super Mario 64" software engine when they started the game. So many changes and additions were made that he supervised the writing of a whole new software engine to stretch the N64 to new limits.

"I think Zelda 64 is utilizing about 90 percent of the N64 potential," says Miyamoto. "When we made Mario 64 we were simply utilizing 60 to 70 percent. So we have come a long way I believe."

Miyamoto has been creating digital worlds since the infancy of the video game industry. It has been his creative instincts and design genius that have helped the game industry mature to its current state.

When he began working for the company in Kyoto, Japan in the late 1970's, he had ambitions to be a toy designer or a cartoonist but saw a unique opportunity in the company's newly formed arcade video game division. At that time the state of the video game art consisted mostly of crude blips and bleeps on a TV screen. Miyamoto applied his unusual flair for character development and storytelling and combined it with what was then a new generation of 8-bit home game technology. His titles reached new levels of popularity, taking a struggling, post-Atari video game industry into a new era of commercial viability and artistic respectability.

Any Nintendo 64 owner who plays "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" will not be disappointed. The surroundings are familiar but this time in three dimensions.

The game is the prequel to the series. While introducing the main characters of the interactive opera, it tells the story of how good and evil came into conflict in the mythical land of Hyrule. Some of the characters are familiar from previous games and a new cast of 3D personalities.

Zelda 64's graphics are not as good as some CD-ROM based titles but it represents a considerable improvement in Nintendo 64 imaging. Excellent design, more complex texture maps, character movements and special lighting effects make the game a visual treat.

Like all of Miyamoto's creations, the gameplay is superior. The new 3D fighting system is very impressive. A targeting mechanism lets you select and lock on to an enemy and attack with tremendous accuracy while moving around in a full 360-degrees.
"The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" uses a unique targeting method for battling enemies.   

Miyamoto has also done a clever thing with the Nintendo "rumble pack." Causing it to become an active instead of a reactive device, you feel your controller vibrate when you near hidden objects.

In this title, the "Ocarina of Time" is central to the plot. The musical device enables you to travel through time and lets you play the main character as a young boy and later as an older, stronger adult. The game environment changes dramatically as you travel progressively through time. Day turns to night right before your eyes. There are dozens of puzzles, mini-games and hidden treasures to solve and discover.

"Ocarina of Time" also introduces a new gameplay element. Navi, the main character's guardian fairy and travelling companion, will assist by giving you information, warning of danger and giving combat hints when battling enemies.

There are also new camera angles and over an hour of real-time 3D animation that enhance the game's experience.

But what will this game do for Nintendo in its marketing battle against Sony's Playstation?

Kent says it could make all the difference. "Based on sales of Zelda 64, I think it gives Nintendo the potential to outsell Sony in hardware for the first Christmas ever."

But Kent worries that Nintendo is making a big mistake. He says they are only producing 2.5 million copies of the game. "Going into the Christmas holidays Nintendo has an installed base of 8.5 to 9 million N64 users. It's the biggest game Nintendo has released for the N64 ever…if all the units are going to snatched up by existing users how is Nintendo going to sell new hardware?"

Nintendo says it is confident that there will be enough Zelda units to satisfy holiday shoppers demands.

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