Welcome back and/or welcome. In Part 1 of this series, I took a look at how The Legend of Zelda (LoZ): A Link to the Past (LttP) world was divided into discrete regions, with the intent of breaking down the game’s world into something that could be procedurally generated (or a close enough facsimile to make a deep and enjoyable game).
Moving on, I want to look at how the world itself channels the player through it. While the world of LttP is very open and encourages exploration, there are also many roadblocks to keep players out of places they shouldn’t venture. Likewise, there are many walls throughout the world that prevent the player from simply traveling from point to point. This gives the player more of a sense of travel as they meander from region to region. It also gives more of a sense of progress later on when players are able to clear a more direct path or simply teleport to a desired destination.
To begin, we'll start with the basic world map again.
This time, we just want to focus on the “walls” of the world, the impenetrable mountain ridges, stands of trees, or riverbanks that prevent the player from simply moving across the screen. Keeping our 8x8 chunks from last time, I looked at each chunk and placed a wall where there was *no* way to get from one chunk to the next. Here are the results:
It’s not particularly complex, but it is somewhat maze-like. This is inevitable in a tile-based game like LttP, but at this level, there’s an awful lot of open space, actually. Of note is the completely open bottom row from the Desert of Mystery clear across to Lake Hylia. Also interesting is that all of Death Mountain is inaccessible (it must be reached through a tunnel). Almost every core region is completely open, which makes sense at this scale, but feels kind of boring.
There is clearly a problem with this kind of scale. While it worked for regional separation, it doesn’t show the shape of the world from a level design standpoint. The map can be greatly improved by doubling our “resolution” and looking at the world as if it we divided into 256 chunks (16x16). We do the same exercise, checking for passage from chunk to chunk. If no passage can be found, place a wall. Here is the result:
This is much more interesting: there are a great deal more obstacles and even most of the core regions have some level of maze-like quality to them (of note, the most open spaces are the Village and the area northeast of it, both of which are very early-game regions, along with the swamp and lake in the south, which have their own challenges to contend with). What’s also interesting is how much of the world is used. Of 256 “mini-chunks” only 6 cannot be reached. This is pivotal to making the world rich vs. just expansive, at the very least, there is some level of navigation around every part of the world.
But the LoZ games are about more than just navigating a maze, there are also obstacles that can be overcome. The series is, in fact, rather famously known for its series of “item gates”: puzzles and obstacles requiring one or more special items, typically found in earlier dungeons. In LttP, many of these take the form of objects literally in Link’s path, like boulders that can only be lifted by a magic glove or a wooden post that must be pounded down by a mallet.
In some cases, these newfound paths are simply shortcuts to locations that were already accessible by a longer route. Many times, however, the acquisition of a new item makes a new region or regions available to the player. In later LoZ games, this system was used to railroad the character from location to location, but LttP still had a certain level of open-endedness akin to its original predecessor, such that getting an item like Zora’s Flippers or the Hookshot could make new areas accessible, even if you couldn’t do a whole lot there.
I added these kinds of “item gates” to the map as dotted lines (effectively walls until you get the necessary item. I also marked red regions, which cannot be reached unless the player teleports back from the Dark World while standing in the right spot (typically popping you up onto an inaccessible ledge in the Light World). Lastly, I added two “tunnels” which mark connections to chunks that would otherwise be completely inaccessible.
This is one of my favorite maps in this analysis because it shows the theming of several regions.
Most obvious is the large swath of red at the top of the map, because the peaks of Death Mountain are inaccessible except by passing through the Dark World.
In the southwest, the Desert of Mystery boasts many ledges that can only be reached from the Dark World as well, giving the region new life in the second act of the game.
Zora’s River features a series of items gates to get past the Witch’s Hut to the pseudo-dungeon of Zora’s Waterfall
Lake Hylia is a largely open area, but crossing it openly requires the Zora’s Flippers, making it much more of an obstacle early on.
In addition to the terrain and aesthetic theming of regions, these recurring gates give each region their own specific feel. However, they also post one of the greatest challenges in procedurally generating a world like that in LoZ. While creating a maze of passages is easily managed in a world-generating function, the challenge comes in making sure that the various gates work in a proper order without dead-ending the player. In addition, it would be nice (although not required) to have some level of control over exploration so that players do not fling themselves into impossible or certain-death situations until they are ready to do so.
Next time, we’ll look at restricted areas of the map, how they impact the flow of the game, and how that flow fits into the world (or vice versa).
The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past and Hyrule Overworld Map are all property of Nintendo.