Tag Archives: time

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Let’s talk about limits, phobias, and easy mode.

Limits are important. The old yarn about videogames is that, thanks to the virtual unreality of the digital world, you can do anything in a videogame. And anyone that has actually played a videogame knows that that is bull hockey. Super Mario Bros. is an amazing game, but can you do anything in the Mushroom Kingdom? Heck no. Mario might be able to jump higher than any basketball star, but he still has a limit, and cannot, say, jump straight to the goal flag right from his first bound. Mario is very limited in his movements, but, if you notice the world around him, you will see that his entire universe was designed exclusively for these limits. There is no jump that Mario needs to make that he cannot clear. There is no villain that he must destroy that does not have a weakness. And, since Mario is limited to only running and jumping (and not, say, negotiating with wandering turtle hordes), there is no problem that cannot be solved with that moveset. Mario is limited. Videogames are limited; but that is why they are “games”. A game with no limits and no rules is just a playset, and, given the dismal sales of Endless Ocean, games are exactly what gamers want.

But the best videogame limits are the ones that are completely invisible. Mario isn’t limited by his jumps, he’s super! You can do anything in Grand Theft Auto… except maybe go inside a building. The latest WRPG has incredible freedom and insane realism, though maybe your hero can’t hop over a waist-high fence. But all of these limits are there for a reason, because without them, there would be no game at all (or, in some of the “open world” cases, because otherwise the title require three decades to actually be released). Limits are what make videogames fun, and if they weren’t there, it would be bedlam every time C.J. jumped all the way to a moon nobody ever got around to modeling.

Unfortunately, not all limits can be invisible.

CreepyLink is one of your more limited heroes in your typical Legend of Zelda title (though maybe not in at least one recent entry). He can’t jump (except when absolutely necessary). His traditional offensive options are generally sparse (the sword is a mainstay, but have you ever really tried to take out a Helmasaur with bombs or hammers? They both suck). And, even when Hyrule has been expanded to Switchian levels of size, it’s still a fairly narrow chunk of geography. Mario often vacations in the far off corners of the galaxy, but the best Link can hope for is a quick jaunt to a flying whale’s dreamscape. Or, like in this entry, a visit to Hyrule’s next kingdom over, Termina, where a crash landing moon is going to abolish all life in the immediate area. And all Link can do, as ever, is run around like a cucco and hope that talking to everybody saves the day. Oh, and there’s a time limit now, too. It’s there, and you’re reminded of it every few moments. Actually, that time limit is integral to the entire experience, so you’re more likely to be reminded of it every second.

And, like so many limits in videogames, this is technically a good thing. For possibly the first time in a Zelda title, there is some genuine suspense. The end of the world is coming, and if you don’t do anything, you’re going to be toast in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. That moon is always there, looming, stalking your every move. You have to complete this dungeon in a timely manner, or everyone is going to die. If you don’t rescue that monkey, if you don’t find the right route through the canyon, if you don’t listen to goddamn Tingle, that moon is going to come crashing down, and it’s over, “Hero of Time”. Or maybe you choose to believe that there is no danger. Maybe you aren’t saving the world from a horror-moon, and you’re working hard because you want to see how much you can complete in a “cycle”. After all, the real world isn’t in jeopardy, and a dead Link doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all about getting what you can get done in your time limit, and, if you have to reset the three day cycle all over again, that’s just the price of “wasting” time. You lose some progress, and that sucks, but it happens.

And that’s the scariest idea of all.

Going for a dipI genuinely believe videogames are art. I also genuinely believe videogames are wastes of time. But in the most literal sense! Videogames are amazing and fun, but the chief way a videogame will punish a player is through wasting time. What is the number one result of “losing a life” in practically any game? It’s a loss of time through having to repeat a section. In other cases, you may instantly respawn, but you also work up to a “continue”, and the threat is that you are one step closer to losing progress. Dying, but with extra steps. Some RPGs have adopted the method of letting you keep your story progress, but you lose gold, equipment, or experience… so you’ve just lost a different kind of progress. And what’s worse? Losing a life and having to respawn somewhere “further back”, or a game where your “life” is captured, and you have to search all over the place to rediscover your lost comrade? That might be up to personal preference, as the end result is the same in both cases: lost time. You could have beaten the final boss by now if you didn’t waste so much time on all those deaths, right? Heard it all before…

So, suffice it to say, by Majora’s Mask’s release in 2000, after a solid decade of gaming like a maniac, the idea of “death = lost time” was already drilled straight into my noggin. Losing time was the enemy, and a game where the hook was that time was constantly against you, and not knowing what you were doing at all times could lead to more lost time… The concept scared me. Hell, I was downright frightened by the idea that I could fill my wallet with rupees, gain every last magical item, and then lose it all because I dawdled too long in a swamp shooting gallery. It didn’t help that this was also the second 3-D Zelda, and the concept of proper camera control was still in its infancy. I’m supposed to find five random kids around town? In only three days? How am I supposed to pull that off when I can barely see around corners? I was never good at finding random skulltulas, so I was already pretty screwed if this game expected me to find hidden children and masks within a time limit. I knew my skills, I knew my limits, and I knew that there was no way I could have ever saved Termina back in 2000. I had so little time as it was, I wasn’t going to waste it on a game that was built around wasting even more time.

So thank Miyamoto for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D.

Poor LinkIn a lot of ways, Majora’s Mask 3D is an entirely different game. The all-important bosses have been dramatically altered, swimming is an entirely different ball of beavers, and, most importantly, a “save anywhere” feature has been added. This is a game changer, literally, as it means that the game’s saves are no longer tied to losing all progress within a cycle. One of those “frightening” features from the original release has just flown straight out the window. Even better, the presence of constant saving means that some of the more… fiendish minigames can now be savescummed. Not saying I’m a cheater (okay, I absolutely am), but knowing that I won’t lose all my progress to a damn deku scrub minigame goes a long way to putting my mind at ease. And those dungeons lose their bite when a puzzle can be solved over the course of a half hour, and then “reset” so the game only thinks Link only spent thirty seconds on that block pushing. Avoiding lost progress is easy!

And that’s just it: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is Majora’s Mask Easy Mode.

And… I think that’s the only way I want to play the game.

Beat itI never completed Majora’s Mask on the N64. In fact, I only really got into playing it at all on the Gamecube Zelda compilation, and, even then, I barely cleared the first palace. It was just too stressful, and that looming threat of losing progress, that unflinching limit, scared me off. I could contentedly sail the seas with Pirate Link, or I could suffer under the gaze of an ever-judging moon. That was no choice at all! But the 3DS version was different, because I could go at my own pace, and I didn’t have to live in fear of an oppressive limit on my play time. I suppose the limit was always there, as that moon certainly hadn’t gone away, but it was so much less oppressive. And “less oppressive” always translates to “more fun”. It may have been easy mode, but without that easy mode, I never would have experienced this entertaining, quirky Zelda title.

So what’s the moral of this experience? It’s not that limits are inherently bad, and it’s certainly not that you should live in fear of arbitrary challenges. No, I suppose our moral today is that sometimes the best way to enjoy a game is suck it up, admit you’re a weenie, and go ahead and play it on easy mode. Don’t limit your experiences by arbitrary skill echelons, and just have fun the way you want to have fun.

You’re allowed to be afraid, but don’t be afraid of easy mode.

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

  • System: N64 (but only with an expansion pack), and then again on every Nintendo console since. Well, not Switch, but give it a hot minute, I’m sure it will get there. The latest version (with vast improvements) is available on the 3DS.
  • Number of players: This ain’t Mask of Four Swords, buddy.
  • Other Majora Issues: I also may have avoided playing Majora’s Mask initially because it is creepy as all get out. It’s not even that Resident Evil kind of deliberate creepy. It’s more like everything is just… wrong, and Link is trying to save a world that shouldn’t even be in the first place. And I’m still fairly convinced that this all happened because that’s a natural reaction to looking at Ocarina of Time character models.
  • These guysFavorite Character: Everybody wants to talk about Anju and That Kid, but the greatest, saddest love story in Majora’s Mask is the tale of Mikau and Lulu, the Zora lovers. No matter how much Link can control time, Mikau is always going to wind up seagull bait, and Lulu is always going to be stuck talking to a young boy that is wearing her lover’s death mask as a magical prop. Man, this is a weird game.
  • Favorite Mask: There are so many options! Fierce Deity and Lovers are great choices because they’re so insanely difficult to obtain, but that would ignore all the great dumb ones, like blow-yourself-up-all-the-time mask. And the bunny hood was so good, it infiltrated other games! But my pick goes to the Stone Mask, because the idea that it makes Link so plain, he is virtually invisible is fun and biting social satire. It’s perfect!
  • Did you know? This was the first place we had a Tingle breakout. It was mostly contained to balloons and map making, and the little bastard wasn’t too much of a drain on resources, but it seems the infection was destined to grow in later years. As of this writing, he has been mostly relegated to spin-offs, but vigilance is always necessary.
  • Would I play again: The 3DS version? Yes, absolutely. The original N64 title? No, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to air the Duck Dynasty for Xbox 360 stream from last Friday night! If you missed it live, it’s new to you! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening!?

FGC #267 Home Alone (NES)

Really don't feel like watching this againIt’s time to talk about time.

On both the micro and macro level, time is the enemy of all gamers. Videogames, unlike many other entertainment mediums with strict “running time” limits, can have wildly variable playtimes. Super Mario Bros. and Persona 5 are both great games, but one can be finished in about fifteen minutes, and the other takes roughly that long to make it through the first menu. This can be simultaneously a feature (“Wow, movies end in two hours, I’m going to be playing this game forever!”) and a bug (“I just want to go to bed, why is this stupid dungeon still going?”). Time keeps on slipping, and nobody wants to “waste” their time getting up to this boss that keeps murdering your digital avatar and turn it all off (without saving!) because you have no idea how long it will be before you can beat this damn Wolfgang character. Sunk time fallacy: the game.

This approach to time also bizarrely encapsulates how gaming works in the real world: you only have so much time to play so many games. Your more dedicated (re: insane) gamers have backlogs, aka a list of games that are right there and ready to go, but maybe I’ll get to it later. I have to beat this 80 hour JRPG before I get to that 90 hour JRPG, and then, maybe, I’ll get to the portable rerelease of the 120 hour JRPG. … Are we there yet? Look, I own a lot of videogames, and, while, in my heart of hearts I know this isn’t true, there’s some part of my brain that truly believes I’m going to play through every damn videogame I’ve ever purchased, from Deadly Towers to Persona Q. And the only thing holding me back is that I have, ya know, a life, and maybe there are rare occasions when I’d rather be stomping around the neighborhood with some (real life, fleshy) friends, and not just exploring my 17,000th dungeon. In short, my only problem is time, Ughand, if I had more of it, I’d have beaten that trilogy of Mass Effects. And, yes, if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that one only has less time for hobbies as they grow older, not more, so, ya know, I’m hoping I can get to replaying Mega Man Legends before my thumbs fall off in the upcoming, inevitable Cyber Wars.

Given all this, it’s kind of surprising more games don’t have set time limits. Yes, you’ll see this in games based on sports with quarter limits (like the footsball) and other competition-based games (hi, Smash Bros!), but even something like Street Fighter and its round timers is basically a lie. This match will be over in a maximum of ninety seconds (times three or so rounds)… except in one player mode (assuming the game has a one player mode) you know damn well that beating M. Bison could take the rest of the afternoon if you’re not that familiar with your chosen fighter. And suddenly ninety seconds has become nine hours and don’t you have to wake up in the morning for your wedding or something? Ugh, stupid M. Bison.

Today’s game actually does have a set time limit. Home Alone for the NES is a game that will always take twenty real world minutes, because the point of the game is to “survive” for twenty minutes (presumably the amount of time it takes for the local constabulary to arrive). Save for the miracle of pausing, a game of Home Alone will always only take a maximum of twenty minutes.

And it will be the longest twenty minutes of your life.

It's a map!It’s one thing to say a game will only last twenty minutes, but it’s another thing entirely to be told that the “win condition” is surviving for twenty minutes. What could be “this should be a fun way to kill twenty minutes” quickly becomes an event wherein you are watching the clock like a hawk, because every second “wasted” is a second closer to your goal. What’s more, the basic gameplay of Home Alone encourages the player to not play the game. Kevin McCallister must thwart the (two) Wet Bandits with a variety of interesting traps (okay, they’re all just boring squares that Kevin drops on the floor, but they’re supposed to represent interesting traps), and… there’s no other goal. You’re just dealing with a pair of immortal, but stunnable, enemies, and you don’t have to do anything other than endure their onslaught. As a result, it seems like the best option is to find some corner somewhere, block the only entrances with a trap or two, and then, when the thieves finally come calling, trip ‘em and run over to the other corner. While you’re waiting for the burglars to arrive… may as well grab a soda or something, I don’t know. The entire point is that you’re trying to kill time, and any time the Wet Bandits are over at the other side of the building falling over a picture of a bucket, you’re in the clear. Another thirty seconds off the clock while Kevin just sits there! Yay!

Except… well, I have some bad news here, but watching your 8-bit hero doing nothing while you’re playing a game that encourages doing nothing… it’s just a little bit boring. In fact, when you’re a kid sitting in your basement playing a videogame wherein you watch a kid sitting in his basement organizing an inventory of boxes… Okay, that’s a lot boring.

And this is why, while a time limited game may be fun, a game that is dedicated to running out the clock is maybe the worst idea in gaming. When time is the overt enemy in a videogame, the only design options are resetting the clock as a punishment (which, obviously, guess what happens when Kevin is caught by a crook) and rewarding the player through… wasting time. This can't be safeConsidering videogames are built to be pretty much the opposite of work (… fun?), the concept of watching the second hand click by like you’re waiting for Mr. Slate’s assistant to pull the cord on that bird is the antithesis of the way any videogame should work. Videogames are supposed to be an enjoyable way to spend time, not a way to squander your life doing nothing. Every minute watching Kevin loaf around his tree house is a minute I could be loafing around my tree house!

Maybe there is a place for “limited time” games. Maybe people would enjoy such experiences, as we live in a very regimented society (“I have exactly a half hour before Post-Apocalyptic Sexy CW Teens comes on, I wonder if I’ll see a save point before then…”). Maybe such a thing would be a hit. But, in the meanwhile, we have Home Alone, a game that reminds us all that when time is the enemy in a videogame, boredom is the only abstract concept that wins.

FGC #267 Home Alone (NES)

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for the purpose of this review. For the record, there are many other versions across many other systems (probably to be expected of the most popular movie for kids of… No, I’m not going to look up what year, it will make me feel too old), but they all have vaguely different gameplay. In some of the versions, you actually have to do stuff.
  • Oh who cares?Number of players: I’m kind of surprised they never made a Home Alone movie that, like, featured two kids? Maybe they’re left home alone, and they don’t like each other, so they have to learn to work together when the bad guys show up. A lesson is learned, and someone has to walk on broken glass. Just like Die Hard. Errrr… anyway… one player.
  • Favorite Trap: I guess the spider? All the traps seem to be exactly the same, and the only difference is how long a bandit is knocked down. As a result, the more active traps (like our friend the spider) don’t move at all, and, even more unfortunately, you can swing paint cans from the ceiling. Lame.
  • Get ‘em early: Considering the Wet Bandits start all of five feet from Kevin and move with a hedgehog-like swiftness, I wonder how many people never got longer than five seconds into this game.
  • Did you know? There are apparently two different versions of this game: one where Kevin appears on the game over screen, and one where it simply says “Oh no!” without Kevin’s screaming face. Apparently I own the “only oh no” version. Considering how easy it is to get captured, I’m kind of amazed that no one noticed this “glitch” on the kill screen. Then again, this game was probably only made by like six dudes anyway…
  • Would I play again: I just don’t have twenty minutes to waste.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mario Bros! For the Atari 2600! It’s the classic Nintendo game in classic Atari form! Please look forward to it!

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