Emotion Analysis: Wind Waker and Live Enjambment

The Wind Waker incarnation of Ganondorf is one of the coolest in the series. Check out the simple method Nintendo used to give his speeches tons of emotional weight.

[This analysis concerns the first minute of the video below - part of the scene preceding the final battle.]

I'd like to introduce a concept that I coined this morning, upon realizing that it doesn't really exist: "Live Enjambment"!
It's a literary device that's obviously a derivative from regular ol' enjambment. This specifically concerns the affordance that only 'timed' media like lyric videos and videogames can take advantage of.

If you haven't already, I request that you watch the first 60 seconds of the the above video. When you watch, is there a specific line that makes you get particularly emotional? I know it's obviously subjective, but for me, I get a wave of emotion right here:


Me pasting the quote doesn't really have the same impact as when Ganondorf says it in the game, does it? There's a few answers as to why that's the case - for one, it's context. Ingame, the water and the sounds in the background and the way he blinks when speaking obviously pull you into the moment of the scene, whereas my image is nestled in an ocean of words. But I think there's a little something extra that makes it pop, and it's the fact that Nintendo puts effort into modifying how certain lines are delivered.

Wind Waker does this all the time, in fact. Notice the long pause between "I..." and "...coveted that wind". When the words have a temporally spaced delivery like that, it does a few things at once:

1) It links the dialogue to the act of speech.
2) It allows for implied sighs, forlorn pauses, grasping for words, etc.
3) It lets the player slow down and absorb the words at an appropriate pace.

Forcibly gating word delivery to modify the reader's pace isn't radically new as a whole. In poetry it's called "enjambment", when you use purposeful line breaks to break up a sentence in a cool way. Here's an example of some regular enjambment for you busters out there, from 1969:

“He, who navigated with success 
the dangerous river of his own birth 
once more set forth 

on a voyage of discovery 
into the land I floated on 
but could not touch to claim.”
— "Death of a Young Son by Drowning" by Margaret Atwood

 The most strategic move would be for Nintendo to just hire Atwood already. "into the land I floated on // but could not touch to claim" makes me a little emotional to read even now. [This is likely exacerbated by the fact that, out of context, these stanzas may as well have been written by the King of Red Lions himself.] But you can see how you need to pause your reading for 0.25 seconds to ferry your eyes to the next line, right?

To be honest, while enjambment in poetry is fine, I actually think that the it has a stronger effect in Ganondorf's line than Atwood's. Or at least, it's a more obvious pause, since you can force players to wait longer than [however long it takes for the eye to anchor onto a new line].

And so comes the term "live enjambment"!

I believe that Nintendo / the Zelda team was really onto something by playing with the delivery of dialogue - it seems like an awesome yet under-explored territory with regards to how games can make us feel things.

By letting the player hang onto words more dearly, by having the reader feel the same pauses, sighs and emotional pace of the characters, the player may subsequently feel more attached and immersed into the moment itself.

Compared to regular enjambment, live enjambment has a lot more flexibility with regards to how long one wants to make their mid-dialogue pauses (IE 0.5 seconds, 1 second, 2 second pauses, etc). Furthermore, one can tie visuals with the dialogue to further link together a pause with its implied action. For example, if somebody is heaving a boulder, one could synchronize the line delivery with each heavy lift.

Indeed, throttling dialogue can be way more than just UX to keep players from being overwhelmed with words - when the writers and designers work together, they have the potential to craft some seriously memorable quotes that only work thanks to the dimension of time. 

A few games take it further by making the player press 'A' between words, to really make it feel like the words are being drawn out or difficult to say. I feel like there's a limit before that gets annoying, but it is indeed a unique affordance of videogames that could definitely be used to strong effect.

Anyway, I know a few other RPGs do live enjambment, but my memory is murky - if there's any you'd like to mention in the comments below, feel free to do so!

In conclusion: I hope more games can take advantage of their unique medium to enhance the delivery of their writing.


[ You can read the entire poem by Margaret Atwood here. ]

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