Sneaky Bastards

An Ocarina of Time, And A Very Naughty Boy

Link hides in the hedges to creep into Hyrule Castle, and later infiltrates a pantalooned pirate fortress in The Ocarina of Time…

[one_third]Link hides in the hedges to creep into Hyrule Castle, and later infiltrates a pantalooned pirate fortress in The Ocarina of Time…[/one_third]


For all of its accolades, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time fumbles significantly in its execution of a three-dimensional world. It is as if Nintendo, in its uncertainty towards converting gameplay into a 3D space, felt compelled to include a fixed camera perspective at certain moments to familiarise players jumping from A Link to the Past. For all that Ocarina of Time did right, this division of fixed and controllable camera feels like a significant trip up. For every lovely open field and moveable camera, there is a small, enclosed house with a static camera angle, pre-rendered background, and a faux perspective.

But, it was the addition of a controllable camera that significantly changed Ocarina of Time’s moment to moment gameplay from that of its predecessor and made the adventuring spirit of the Zelda franchise much more palpable. Being confined to Link’s perspective was limiting and liberating as thoughts like “Oh, I wonder what’s just over that hill?” were suddenly valid questions of the environment around you. It was a perspective more conducive to exploration, adding considerable depth to the experience, and, more importantly in this case, gave Nintendo an opportunity to redefine the stealth mechanics introduced in A Link to the Past.

A 3D perspective gave Nintendo an opportunity to redefine the stealth mechanics introduced in A Link to the Past.

 
Upon first glance, it looked like Nintendo failed to rise to the occasion. The first few hours of The Ocarina of Time are promising, though they lack stealth gameplay, hinting that what might come would be more developed thanks to the players’ familiarisation of the controls. Not only that, but the new perspective offered a compelling way to explore an environment that could lend itself well to sneaking. A shrunken view instead of one that was all-encompassing meant players had to be more careful of their surroundings and assess the situation as they slowly explored the environment.

It's 3D! Which way is up?!

Unfortunately, when players reach Hyrule Castle for the first time and realise what is required of them, a heavy weight falls onto their shoulders. Where the stealth section included in A Link to the Past was a natural and understandable extension of the central gameplay – if you are seen, you are caught – walking through Hyrule Castle’s courtyard in The Ocarina of Time feels like it was lifted wholesale from the previous game and stuffed in with little to no understanding of 3D perspective.

Instead of the moving enemies of A Link to the Past, static, unmoving guards are posted at various sections of the grounds and their line of sight is impossible to reliably ascertain. What made A Link to the Past’s stealth section understandable came from the simple idea that you had to remain out of sight at all times, and the state of being seen or unseen revolved entirely around whether or not the enemy had its back to you.

I guess he just doesn't have the "inclination" to arrest me. Hah. Right? I'll show myself out...

Here, the enemies are standing guard and seem remarkably short-sighted, unable to spot Link from afar but can catch him when he’s a little bit closer. It’s bizarre and artificial and leads to a painfully awkward moment where you navigate Link up a small incline in clear sight of the guards, but the game doesn’t register it as such. Following that, you run across a small open field in clear sight of many more and nobody bats an eyelid. Even accounting for stealth games and their often less-than-sharp enemy AI, this moment stretches credibility to the breaking point and reminds you that, yes, you are playing a videogame.

Should Link be caught while sneaking into Hyrule Castle, he’ll be thrown out of the central gate and have to start all over again. An endearing touch: if you’re caught multiple times, the guard at the main gate will accept a small bribe of rupees and open the gate for you, which is nice, but you still have to sneak through the castle grounds by yourself.

After this short expedition, you find yourself in the Castle Courtyard and the camera shifts to Ocarina of Time’s more traditional isometric position. This shift in perspective is also accompanied with a checkpoint; should you mess up here and get spotted, you’ll be thrown out of the Castle Courtyard but not the entire castle itself.

The beginnings of a multiple-path approach to stealth navigation: flitter around the hedges, climb up over the wooden beam, or brave the danger of creeping into the center for a monetary reward.

Each screen (and they really are screens of stealth-based challenges, as the camera shifts every time you reach the edge of the frame) places a decorative statue or object in the area and several patrolling guards around them. All of the guards follow specific patrol routes that can be memorised and abused to sneak around them. Skip to 6:52 in the video below to see the stealth section in action.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″ video_id=”ES4N-Fc4di8″]

As you go deeper into the courtyard, the screens get more complex and the guards move much more quickly. There’s even a momentary risk/reward factor in place in one screen where a circle of rupees can be obtained, provided the player is willing to evade the circling guards. While it’s not much, this marks the first moment where Nintendo explore a fundamental aspect of stealth design – predictable and exploitable patrol routes.

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