Games That Changed Gaming #6: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Games That Changed Gaming #6: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Last week’s Games That Changed Gaming took a look at the modern classic and mother of MOBAs, Dota. We also got the opportunity to see things through Dan and Julien’s eyes with our Co-Founders Q&A. Dan reminded us about one of the most influential games ever published: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time!

For many of us who were born in between mid-eighties and early-90s; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was one of the first games that truly blew our minds. From the combat, to the story, to the graphics, almost everyone who picked up the game got completely sucked in.

It also didn’t take long to see a lot of features from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time appear in tons of other games. The massive impact that Ocarina of Time left on games can still be felt today!

Ocarina of Time invented Z-Targeting

 When games transitioned from 2D to 3D in the mid-90s, it created a new challenge for game developers. What would combat look like in three dimensions?

First-person shooters like Doom were easier to deal with. They didn’t need the player character model to interact with enemy character models. Action-Puzzler games like The Legend of Zelda franchise, however, didn’t run on “point and shoot” gameplay.

Ocarina of Time was the game that finally cracked the code. In fact, even modern games like Spiderman, the Batman: Arkham series, and the Shadow of Mordor series all still borrow very heavily from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The game developers differentiated between regular movement and combat movement via locking-on to enemies when pressing the ‘Z’ button on the Nintendo 64 controller.

Once the camera locked on to an enemy, sideways movement turned into strafing, and jumps turned into sidesteps and backflips. This meant that players could be tactical with their positioning and dodging. And added a lot of depth to melee combat that was a first for video-games.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time also set the example for how to handle combat with multiple enemies. Borrowing from the stage and theatre, the game introduced what we now call “choreographed combat” to the world.

All the games mentioned above also borrowed this from Ocarina of Time, in that when facing multiple enemies, the AI would instruct the ones who weren’t engaged in direct combat with the player to hold back. This would mean that players could still face multiple enemies in cinematic combat, but wouldn’t get instantly killed by being stabbed repeatedly by each enemy all at once.

Ocarina of Time does recycling right

Due to the limitations of the Nintendo 64 and its game cartridges, only a limited number of fully 3D areas could be included in the game. This technical limitation ended up becoming the inspiration for the narrative, as well as one of Ocarina of Time’s most engaging game mechanics: Time.

Each area in the game can be visited in the past, before Ganondorf’s rule; and in the present, after 7 years of his tyranny; with what happens in the past affecting the present. The game also has a night and day cycle, which changes the types of interactions you can with NPCs, enemy types, loot, and more.

The idea of having multiple worlds, dimensions, or timelines in 3D games might be a solid staple now, but back in 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was doing things no one had seen before.

The arrangement of all these areas was, at the time, breathtaking. It was the closest thing we had to a modern open-world game over 20 years ago. Hyrule Field, the area that served as a hub to all the other areas, only took 5 minute run to traverse, but back in 1998, no one had ever experienced that in a 3D game before.

Today, games like The Witcher 3, Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption 2, and many more all include features like these, and they’re all borrowing from Ocarina of Time.

Princess Zelda becomes more than a damsel

While her name is on all the games, before Ocarina of Time Princess Zelda didn’t really have the best time. She had always been a damsel in distress, a tired trope of a woman needing a man to rescue her. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time changed that, and Princess Zelda is the reason that Link can do anything to affect the story at all

Zelda, upon being captured by Ganondorf at the beginning of the game, is the one who manages to slip the titular Ocarina of Time to Link. Link initially has no idea how to use the Ocarina of Time or the power he wields.

A mysterious character called Sheik is the one who guides Link and teaches Link to wield the power of the Ocarina, to teleport to different places, control the weather, and travel through time. Eventually, it’s revealed that Sheik is actually Princess Zelda in disguise, trying to guide Link so he can save her kingdom from the evil Ganondorf.

Legend of Zelda pioneers contextual controls

Z-targeting wasn’t The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s only major breakthrough with 3D controls. In 2D games, the jump button always makes you jump, the attack button always makes you attack. In 3D environments, which are much more diverse than 2D environments, there just aren’t enough buttons on a gamepad for every possible action.

It might be extremely standard today for your controller’s ‘X’ or ‘A’ button to be used to interact with doors, pick up objects, initiate conversations, launch an attack and much more, but that wasn’t the case before The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

Ocarina of Time was the first AAA game to include controls that changed depending on the context; which opened up the number of ways players could interact with the game world. Almost every single game since then has done this, and it never would have been a part of what we consider the gaming ‘norm’ if it weren’t for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Ocarina of Time’s extra dimensional puzzle power

Have you ever moved a statue to reflect a beam of light in a game like Portal 2? Or you used a gadget, or spell to find an item or location like detective vision in Arkham City? Have you needed to arrange items in three-dimensional space to unlock the path ahead like in Final Fantasy X?

Yep, you guessed it, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time did all that stuff first. Zelda games have always been puzzle games. When it came to Ocarina of Time, developers needed to come up with how to make puzzles work in 3D.

Verticality was a huge factor here. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time played with 3D space in all the right ways. The Forest Temple, for example, had players turn the entire temple on its side; opening up areas that were previously inaccessible. The entire Water Temple alone is a beautiful display of 3D puzzles done right.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gave us the games we have today

Whether you’re a fan of Fortnite or League of Legends or old-school RPGs; we have a lot to thank The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for. From controller schemes to level design, to just how characters move around 3D environments, Ocarina of Time had a hand in it.

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