Silence, Patience, and Faith
by Max Nichols (lord-of-shadow)
“Good things come to those who wait.” It’s an old saying, a tired saying, a dry, used-up cliché, a boring piece of conventional wisdom. But it is true, and I will now tell you why.
By now, all of you will have heard the news. Twilight Princess is delayed until the fall, and this time the news is from a trustworthy source: Reggie Fils-Aime himself, marketing VP at Nintendo of America and one of the best known figures in the gaming industry. He was interviewed by SpikeTV, where he confirmed the planned fall release.
So. Another five or six month delay. Not our first, either, since we were previously expecting to get Twilight Princess in the fall of 2005.
I’ve been browsing some forums, some websites, my own comment system, getting a feel for the reaction of the community. Predictably, people are angry, infuriated. Like impatient children, expecting to get greatness when and where they want it, refusing or unable to acknowledge that almost anything really worth having is also worth waiting for. Most of the complaints have little thought put into them; they’re just knee-jerk reactions from disappointed and angry fans, trying to find ways to overcome the fact that they suddenly have to wait longer. As if their angry or sullen reactions matter or hold any depth. I’ve even seen some people claiming that they’re thinking about not getting the game at all, out of… what? A futile desire to hurt Nintendo? A childish and sullen urge to make a scene of themselves? I laughed when I read these claims; if they’re big enough fans to get angry over a delay and come to Zelda sites at all, then they’re the ones who are most likely to get the game, come hell or high water.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: If Aonuma and the Zelda team need or want an extra six months to complete the game, than I am more then happy to give it to them. I don’t trust Aonuma’s judgment as much as Miyamoto’s, but I trust him well enough, and Miyamoto still stands in the background of the development team, offering his expertise. If they judge that the game would benefit from more development time, then who am I, or any of us, to argue?
Nintendo has a long history of delays. Majora’s Mask was delayed. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember being an impatient young fan, angry at delays. I remember being angry about delays a lot, because Nintendo was always delaying its games. I wasn’t following gaming news at the time, but Ocarina of Time was delayed… numerous times. Ocarina of Time was in development for five years. Granted, a year and a half or so of that can be chalked up to poorly planned development and Nintendo changing it’s mind so often, but even so, the result can hardly be denied. Is there a single one of you who claims that OoT was not worth every agonized moment we had to wait? I didn’t think so.
I honestly have no idea whether LttP or LA were ever delayed, but I wouldn’t be surprised, and I’m sure the delays were worth it.
And now let’s look at the Wind Waker, which was delayed, but not very much. Not enough. The Wind Waker always felt unfinished and even rushed to me. Sure, it had a glut of sidequests and treasure hunting – far too much of it, really – but the main quest was short and reeked of a rush job to me. There was no dungeon or town for the third Pearl… I would have dearly loved for Greatfish Isle to be an actual big island, a la Dragon Roost, which you could go to, and with an actual dungeon to go with it. I’m willing to bet that they had originally planned it that way, too. And there were originally going to be four elemental dungeons – wind, earth, fire, and water/ice temples – which they had to cut down to two due to time constraints. The Fire and Ice temples were turned into little mini-isles, where you got the iron boots and power bracelet.
As a result of all that stuff they couldn’t do, they turned to cheap sidequests, half-assed Triforce-piece hunting, and other feature bloat to try and fill the void. That, my friends, it what happens when a major Zelda game is not given enough development time. Sidequests are meant to be a more subtle addition to a worthwhile main quest, not a replacement for absent pieces of it.
I loved The Wind Waker, and the cel-shading impressed me more then any other graphical style before or since… but it had its flaws, and several of them can be laid directly at the feet of whoever decided to listen to deadlines instead of delaying again.
I believe that delays, especially for the Zelda series, give the development team some extra room. Time to sit back and look at the game as a whole, finish what needs to be finished, judge what needs to be toned down or up, add things where they need to be added, remove them where they don’t contribute to the game. Give them more breathing room to make calmer and better judgments, and just tweak things so that we get a brilliant masterpiece rather then just a great game.
I mentioned that most of the complaints about the delay were shallow, knee-jerk reactions that were not thought out at all. But there are some concerns that are valid, and I will answer them as best as I can.
I know a lot of people that were angry because they thought that the purpose of the delay was to add extra functionality for those who were playing with a Revolution controller. Perhaps a bunch of minigames, or even an extra dungeon. I won’t go too deeply into why this annoyed people, since it would take pages, but to sum it up… people didn’t like the thought that they wouldn’t be able to get everything out of a Gamecube game without a Revolution. Nor did they like the idea that a game that should be designed for its own console was being delayed in order to add functionality that many GC owners would never access. I understood and shared in these concerns.
Luckily, Reggie has confirmed that these last two delays had nothing to do with any desire for Revolution compatibility, so these concerns can be laid to rest… although I would still expect a Revolution minigame or two, if I were you.
The most interesting concerns I’ve read were voiced by one of Zelda Legends’ members, called Anime James, in the comment system. He had this to say, and hopefully he won’t mind me quoting him directly:
“Now I'm pissed. This isn't about waiting. Being human, I can only suppress my impatience to a certain extent, but it's more than that. If Twilight Princess is such a good game, it really shouldn't need more. If the essence is there, and one delay has already contributed greatly to the gameplay factor, there is no reason to push the date back even further. I want Nintendo to cut the crap and release the thing. They can add all the new enemies and side-quests they want - I'll just yawn at them. In OoT I mostly did the optional quests out of boredom, and now that they're screwing this project with obscure details - pushing the game back till the end of '06 - I think I'm gonna scream. …
… By the time it's finished it'll be a year since it was finished, and that's just idiotic. I refuse to delude myself with thoughts of a 'better game', because Zelda was never to me a game that contained so much abstract side-questing. And by the sound of it, they're adding a lot of dungeons, too. I always loved the spaces between the dungeons, and now it seems as if they're choking them out!
For some people this delay is a necessary burden, but I like my Zelda with a touch of simplicity, and now I find myself waiting much longer than I should by a game that seems it will have very little.”
Before I go into the meat of his complaint, I’ll address one common misconception: He says that it will be released a year after it was finished. He and others seem to be operating under the assumption that TP was actually ready to be finished in time for its fall ’05 release… I don’t have any inside info, but I am willing to bet that the game was NOT ready to be finished... whence the delay. Nobody, not even Nintendo and its Zelda team, would delay a game a year just to tweak it. Actually, Blizzard might do it, but that’s another subject entirely, heh. But aside from that, Anime James’ worries really got me thinking, because his opinion of feature bloat seems to be similar to mine, and I had to sit down and think for a moment about whether he might be right.
Look at music. Without the slight silence in between notes and tones, and the variations in pitch and volume throughout, music would just be a wall of incomprehensible noise, rather then anything worth listening to. The silence in music is just as important as the sound, as a means of contrast and a way to highlight certain sounds.
The same can be said of video games. When developers try to cram as much extraneous, heavy-handed sidequests and extras into a game as they possibly can, we get the gaming equivalent of that wall of noise.
To a lesser degree, The Wind Waker suffered from this sort of feature bloat. There is nothing wrong with sidequests, but when they are so forcefully thrust upon you, integrated so heavy-handedly into the game, they detract from immersion and the overall experience. Look at the way that there was one island in every square, how every single island had at least one treasure or sidequest on it. It was formulaic, totally destroying any feeling of a natural world. The figurine quest? It felt out of place, and the way you had to go about doing it detracted from the experience by forcing you to only take three pictures at a time, and wait a day and a night before they were ready, etc. I could go on, but you get the picture. A disturbingly large number of the sidequests in tWW were heavy-handed and obvious, totally lacking in any subtlety or quality.
Now, look at Ocarina of Time. That game… if you stand back and think about it for a moment, it had a ridiculous amount of detail and extras thrown in. Even today, I am still experiencing new stuff when I play that game. Just a few months ago, I finished the Gerudo Training Ground and got the Ice Arrows for the first time (pathetic, I know, but bear with me). A year ago, I got the Loach at the Fishing Pond for the first time. I discovered the cave in the Lost Woods, where the Deku will react differently depending on the mask you’re wearing, years after first finishing the game.
Ocarina of Time was absolutely stuffed with sidequests and details and quirky little things to do… but the difference is that they were skillfully woven into the game world. They were seamless. They were subtle and effective, the epitome of what sidequests should be. They were there, they were fun, but the game did not try to thrust them upon you, nor did it try to use them to make up for the lack of something else. The fact that even I, almost seven years later, am still experiencing new stuff, still finding joy in that sense of exploration… it speaks volumes. And all these details, all these wonderfully seamless pieces of the game world of OoT… they were not just thrown in quickly. It took developmental genius, and lots of time, to get those into the game. On the other hand, it takes very little time to put in heavy-handed and formulaic sidequesting like we saw in tWW.
Do you know what I believe they will be doing with these delays? I do NOT believe they will just be adding ridiculous amounts of features, like Anime James here worries about. I believe they will be, among other things, spending a lot of time carefully integrating the features they already have, plus a few more, into the game. Adding the sound of silence between the notes, so to speak. Adding the sort of detail and immersion that drew us into the world of OoT without ever really distracting us from the main quest.
Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, and the Zelda team really has fallen to a new low… but I don’t believe it. If you’ve been reading the interviews from Nintendo Power, you will be getting a glimpse into just how much effort and care Nintendo is putting into this game’s development. It is a phenomenal effort, and I don’t believe that Miyamoto and Aonuma will fall into the trap of feature bloat.
David, founder of Zelda Legends, offered us this quote as his only response to this delay.
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea." --Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Look at the long-time fans of the Zelda series, such as myself, David, even Mike (TSA) of The Hylia… Most of the long-time fans, those who have been in the community for years and followed the Zelda series for a long time… we are not up in arms. We have learned, like Lindbergh’s beach, to wait calmly and patiently. We have learned to trust the Zelda team on some things, and this is one of them.
There is one final issue to confront… with Twilight Princess being released at the very end of the Gamecube’s lifetime, a few months before the Revolution is expected to release, there are worries that it will not get the attention it deserves, and that it will not sell as well as it might. And you know what? The people saying this are absolutely right. It very likely will sell worse then it should, and make a smaller splash then it should, due to the timeframe it’s being released. And you know what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me if the rest of the world doesn’t appreciate it as much as it may deserve, I will still get Twilight Princess. And I have faith that it will be a good game, because Nintendo seems to be delaying it to make it a better game, even though they would be better off financially if they release it earlier. And this is just the way I like it. I’d rather Nintendo take a risk and maybe sacrifice some sales, if the end result is a better game. Maybe even one that I will treasure as I have treasured OoT, LttP, and LA. There is no loftier goal, in my eyes, and this is the first time in years that I’ve dared to hope that a game might reach those heights.
A few extra months of waiting? Hah! A small price to pay.