How Old Games Can Help us as Game Makers: The Legend of Zelda

Why are older games worth playing? We take a look...

How Older Games Can Help us as Game Makers: The Legend of Zelda

If there’s one thing we can say, it’s that games are fun. A fact which has, mostly, always been true! Another fact is that a lot of modern games are complicated, with systems upon systems upon systems upon systems upon… You get the point. While not a blanket statement, older games are generally less complicated, doing a couple of things and doing them well!

That’s why I’m here to tell you why these older games are:

  1. A) Fun
  2. B) Really good to learn about making games!

We start with the NES classic, The Legend of Zelda!

It’s no secret that the original Legend of Zelda for the NES is a good game. Regardless of your opinion on it personally, it was a critical success, and the series is still going strong to this day. People just love the open ended design, the tight dungeons, and puzzles that incorporate the things you learn oh so well. So let’s talk about why this 37 year old game is worth playing and how it can help you make better games!

At its core, The Legend of Zelda is a screen based RPG, you move from screen to screen defeating enemies, solving puzzles, and improving both as a player and as a character. This screen by screen nature makes it a great starting point for inexperienced game makers, you don’t have to worry about big open spaces, or scrolling moving environments, we can just focus on one screen and move on to the next!

One thing that’s very true for scratch, it’s that this screen by screen nature is the easiest way to move between “levels”. With each screen also being small, it’s easier to create little closed off zones without worrying about how it has to interact with the rest of the world.

HOWEVER, this isn’t to say it’s super easy, you have to think how each screen attaches to the others, you don’t want to have a screen that puts you in to a wall on the other side, or moving a few screens and being unable to get back to the point you started.

Gameplay is also super simple, you can move, and have 2 buttons to press for your different actions. That’s 6 buttons you need to think about at any one time! And with the game being the age it is, none of these items are difficult to understand, the sword pokes enemies and hurts them? Nice! The bomb explodes shortly after being placed? Easy to understand. So far these are things we could implement with a little bit of knowledge of the engine we’re using. It took Nintendo roughly 2 years to develop The Legend of Zelda, with a little determination you could make a working prototype version in a couple of days, maybe even quicker!

Again, this isn’t without struggles, weapon/item switching could be something that’s not super easy to implement. I think that’s a good challenge to add in though! Adding that with a pause screen is probably one of the hardest challenges but solving it? That’s super rewarding! 

The puzzles in the dungeons of Hyrule (and on the overworld!) are simple yet masterfully designed, most being solved in a single button press with correct item! Some even include using multiple items together! Like maybe needing one item to push a block, then another to shoot a target from the new location.

And finally, we move to the art, albeit limited by the nature of the hardware it was on, the world of Hyrule is vibrant and easily recognisable, even with its 8-bit pixel graphics. It uses colour coding to help you know what is and isn’t able to be interacted with, most enemies, items, and other interactables are either a bright orange or blue, standing out from some of the less saturated backgrounds of the overworld, or greens, yellows, and greys of the dungeons. Even the blue-er dungeons of the bunch are different enough and with opposing colours to see things easily! 

The 8-bit style is a relatively easy one to replicate as it isn’t too complicated, it will still require some time and patience but it’s a very charming art style loved by many!

Overall I think that playing The Legend of Zelda (NES) can provide both entertainment (Like really, it’s fun!) and give us a good set of ideas to try and implement in our own games!  The current easiest way to play the game is through the Nintendo Switch Online service, which also includes a special version of the game allowing you to have an easier time! 


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