Breath of the Wild's Biggest Design Secret: Lots Of Triangles

Illustration for article titled Breath of the Wild's Biggest Design Secret: Lots Of Triangles

Running through the Hyrule of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you come across breathtaking sights one after the other: Massive fortresses, dizzyingly high towers, vast open plains. But according to the open-world game’s designers, the two most salient features of Hyrule were triangles and rectangles.

Advertisement

The annual Computer Entertainment Developers Conference is Japan’s version of our Game Developers Conference, an event where game devs gather to share techniques, advice, and camaraderie. While Nintendo has historically been opaque about its development processes, it’s been opening up in recent years. Last month’s CEDEC 2017 featured no less than eight panels devoted to Breath of the Wild, discussing graphics, sound, level design, debugging, and more specific topics.

While Japanese-language sources wrote about the content of these panels at the time, they’ve bubbled up in the English-speaking Twitterverse today thanks to Capcom production manager Matt Walker diving into the Japanese media and pulling out some of the most interesting bits about EPD’s first open-world game.

Appropriately, for a game world that revolves around a mystical three-sided whatsit called the Triforce, Hyrule is constructed out of a whole lot of triangles. I don’t mean that in the way that most games that use polygonal graphics are made from millions of triangles, but triangular landmarks and obstacles: Steeply peaked mountains, conical hills, and everything in between.

Zelda’s developers decided that triangular geologic formations were perfect for two reasons: First, they gave players a natural gameplay choice: Go up the hill, or around it? Second, they helped to naturally obscure the player’s view, gradually revealing objects behind them as the player moved around.

This all works at any possible scale, the developers pointed out—from the towering heights of Mount Lanayru serving as a constant wayfinder, to hills barely the height of Link himself that changed the texture and tempo of ground movement.

Advertisement

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It’s triangles all the way down.

Advertisement

The other major design element was rectangles. These could be used to more fully obscure a player’s view.

Advertisement


The developers then used a more complex example, of a path leading to a tower that eventually reveals a large castle obscured by a rectangular rock formation, to show how using triangles and rectangles in combination can lead to a natural player pathway that gradually reveals more and more intriguing sights.

Advertisement

Much like the game in its current post-DLC form, the in-development version of Breath of the Wild tracked all the steps that early players took. From this, the developers found that players were sticking to certain areas of the map and never venturing into others. From this, they carefully placed areas of interest around the map to lure players everywhere.

Advertisement

From what was presumably a separate talk at CEDEC, we also learned how Nintendo handled bug fixing in this sprawling world. It implemented a system in which bugs could actually be marked with a physical sign that showed up in the game’s world. Clicking on this would take the tester to the database entry for that bug, allowing them to see the details and exchange comments and ideas with other testers and programmers.

Features Editor, Kotaku. Japanese curry aficionado. Author of the books Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life and Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books.

DISCUSSION

agathia-
Agathia

This is great, the world of BotW is full on wonders. Though, after some time, I found myself pretty bored with the game. Finding korok seeds is fun, especially when it’s a little puzzle or reward your curiosity (under a rock, things like that), but otherwise, the rest feels unrewarding in some way. I got like 55 temples and 100 korok seed, but I can not bother to even finish the third beast.

I think their world is suffering from the lack of any danger at all. Combat is very boring for me. Sure you can do silly things, but it is so inneficient, I don’t see the point in it after some tries. I think I read somewhere (maybe on Kotaku!) a lot of player simply run away from most fights as the monsters will stop chasing you very quickly.  The only dangerous places are around the castle, but otherwise, you have huge great plains with no one at all or two random guy on horses you will one shot easily. You have the centaurs who are super hard to kill, but for what reward? A blade you will try to keep as much as possible because it’s the best and you don’t want to lose it... Plus, if like me you don’t like the fighting mechanics, it’s just a chore. The elements are easy to counter, the food is plenty... And there’s no progression at all aside having the possibility to carry more weapons, which is not very exciting.


On the other hand, Horizon Zero Dawn which was released one week earlier had a more focused open world. Less things to do, smaller, but so much more compelling! It got way too easy at the end due to the ice element, but for most of the game, you would not get anywhere near a Deviljaw or a Thunderbird, because it would mean death or a great challenge. But you could get some rare mats for an upgrade! And the fights are epics. The quests would bring you mostly everywhere, sometimes near intriguing dungeons linked to the story, asking you to fight your way through some difficult encounters with corrupted dinobots...

With a more fun and less clunky combat system (and without lizard jumping out of the way all the time just to bother you ffs), a more dangerous world in general and a story, the game could have been stellar. It doesn’t feel engaging at all most of the time, which is a shame :(