GDC Trailer Analysis

By Lord-of-Shadow

It's been a good week and a half or so since Satoru Iwata showed the newest trailer to the public at the GDC developer's conference. Now THAT was an interesting day, especially for those of us who work for Zelda sites. Scrambling to take screenshots, gather details, and get stuff of the highest quality... I hardly even had time to put much thought into the trailer itself, or the upcoming game.

What thoughts I did have were jumbled and ill-conceived, hardly thought out at all. Distressed, even, as evidenced by my hastily constructed analysis. I was disappointed. The trailer seemed to emphasis a lack of qualities that I have always loved in Zelda. Qualities like light-hearted characters and areas even in the depths of terrible conflict and tragedy. Qualities like color and a unique style, things the Wind Waker possessed in abundance but I found lacking in this new trailer. In fact, to put it bluntly, the impression that trailer first gave me was that the game would be grey and lifeless, devoid of the warmth and color that's always been present in the Zelda series, and replaced with some wannabe Lord of the Rings atmosphere. Needless to say, I wasn't happy.

But now, a week later - though it seems like at least a month, it's amazing how big of an impact a Zelda trailer can have on me - I've decided to analyze the trailer and the new screens once again. My thoughts have settled, my opinions have changed, and I have new information and insights. In short, it's the perfect time to reexamine everything.

I'll start with some of the higher-quality still screens that have been released separately from the trailer, at places like IGN.

Screenshot #1

This is one of my favorite screens, mostly due to the angle and the colors involved. In case you haven't realized, I'm a big fan of color, something that this picture has plenty of. Notice the detail on the horse equipment - you can see the halter, reins, saddle, and even fully separate stirrups. My favorite part is that little piece of metal, it resembles a shield, on the front of the horse. Notice the symbol - it looks like the symbol for the Hylian race, but it's a bit different, and almost looks like it has a bow and arrow where the head of the bird usually is. And it's shaped like a shield, or maybe a face.

I also like how you can see the individual arrows in the Bokoblin's quiver. Nice touch, that. I wonder if we'll actually see them reaching back and plucking these arrows from their quivers? Probably not, but one can dream.

Finally, notice the shadow - no shadowy circles under our hero this time.

Screenshot #2

While I liked the last screenshot, this one is my favorite. It showcases the beautiful water effects of the game, though it's hard for a still screen to do them justice. It's high enough quality to hopefully give a good idea of what this game will look like. We can see the vibrant green of some moss and plants in the background. It is certainly not without it's faults, of course. The edge of the water, where it meets the land, looks to sharp, to me. It needs some softening, needs to look more natural .Some of those textures look pretty bad, though that is true of the game as a whole.

Screenshot #3

Before I mention anything else, look at the walls in the background of this picture - aren't those the coolest thing you've ever seen? Ok, maybe not, but they're very nice-looking nonetheless, and I like the way different tiles seem to be randomly placed throughout the wall, and the way they look aged. Not only aged, but almost as if they've been damp. Notice the detail on Link's shield, too - you can clearly see individual pieces of it, and they even seem to be casting their own shadows.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there's an enemy in this picture, too. Looks like a cross between an OoT-style Armos and Gohdan from the Wind Waker, especially when you take into account those glowing lines all over it. And be sure to look at that face symbol on it's forehead.

Screenshot #4

That poor, unsuspecting Bokoblin. Sucks to be him. There isn't too much to point out in this picture, really. Looks like the usual fire-themed dungeon. Kinda disappointing, really - it's pretty bland. No unique stylistic twists to this dungeon, at least nothing conveyed in this picture. I like the fire, at least. Not realistic, but then, I couldn't care less about realism of that sort.


Whoa! Doshin, is that you? I'm sure I'm not the only one to think this, heh. Notice Link's sheath in this picture - it looks different from the one in the other pictures so far, at least it does to me. Almost looks like the Master Sword sheath from OoT. Hmm... I've seen someone say that that figure's feet are rooted to the ground, but I think that's just the lighting.

Speaking of lighting... That's quite the overkill there. Light bloom is bad. I'm very sorry to see that Nintendo has discovered it, and the fact that they decided to use it in Zelda of all things is even worse. I hope they tune that down a bit for the release.

And notice the little clumps of grass on the side. How much do you want to bet that we'll be able to slice those up? Actually, they look pretty scrawny to me. I don't think that slicing those insignificant little pieces of plant will pack the same sort of satisfaction that the ones in the 2D games, or the Wind Waker, did. Sad, really. Or maybe I'm just being way to nitpicky, take your pick.

And is that weird figure holding something, or is that some plant life further into the picture? I can't tell.

Screenshot #6

It looks like it would be hard to control Link from this angle. Thankfully, these cameras are usually adjustable. I love how we have two Bokoblins on each boar, one controlling, and one shooting. Of course, one only has one rider. I don't know whether he started out that way or whether Link knocked his partner off.

More interesting than the immediate fight, at least in my mind, is the glimpse of the areas beyond. I like the way the pine trees are spread out more naturally - they're actually separate trees, trees that it looks like you could walk under. It looks like it might actually be a forest that opens into the overworld, much like what I have always wanted. But then again, probably not. If you look closer, it looks like the usual impassable wall is there, deeper into the trees.

Screenshot #7

Stalfos. This is about where my problems start propping up. For instance, these are just cookie-cutter skeleton warriors. The 3D Zeldas have spoiled me into expecting interesting enemy designs, apparently. The Stalfos in OoT looked fairly unique, as far as skeletons go, especially considering the graphical limitations of the N64. This was even more apparent in the Wind Waker. Later on in the actual trailer, we see Link stabbing at, and destroying, the shield of a Stalfos. That seems to be what happened here. You can see the pieces flying off in all directions.

Screenshot #8

I am willing to bet that this screen takes place in a dungeon that is located in the forest we keep seeing. Notice the moss on the stones in the hole in the ceiling. Not to mention the monkey. And tree trunks. Usually monkeys in the Zelda games are helpful, or at least they don't try to kill you. Looks like this game'll break the trend, which is fine with me. Oh, and I am also willing to bet that this is a mini-boss battle, and that when it's finished, you get a boomerang, like the one that monkey is holding. I hope I'm wrong, because predictability is always a bad thing, but... we'll see whether I'm right, come Christmas season.

In the trailer, in the scene that this screen is from, Link does a back flip to dodge the boomerang that the monkey throws. At the same time, some uprooted Deku Babas are slithering across the floor towards him. The boomerang hits them instead, killing one, which I found very interesting. This means that enemies will be able to hit each other. This was the case in the Wind Waker as well, but hopefully it'll be better realized in this game. Maybe even some cases where it will be necessary to trick some enemies into killing each other.

Screenshot #9

My, what a dreary looking place. In the trailer, during this scene, we see Link doing his jump-attack at one of those undead creatures. We also get a look at the writing on one of the tombstones, which is done in the Hylian script from the Wind Waker. I've actually seen someone translate the writing on that tombstone - it says "here lies a knight of Hyrule" or some such thing. I never noticed before, but you can see some trees along the edges - this ancient graveyard must be either within a forest, or along the fringes of one.

As for those creatures... lots of people think that they look like undead wolves. Personally, I think they look like undead boars, but it makes very little difference to me. Someone with more knowledge of animal bone structure or the time to look it up can figure that out.

And notice the rain. This implies, to me, that there WILL be a weather system... but it won't be dynamic. I think that it will be fixed - always rainy in some places, always sunny in other, etc., etc. With the possible exception of the overworld. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Screenshot #10 

Now this is an enemy design I can like. I wonder if this is a new take on the Keese, or a new enemy entirely? And look at it's wings, like a bat's but torn up and ragged. Most be hard to fly on those things. You can also see what looks like the moon silhouetted behind a tree branch. Possibly more support for a forest that open right up into the overworld. Very cool.

Screenshot #11

Ah, how cute. About time the cats got some screen time in the Zelda series. I've always been a cat person, and I despise dogs. Hah! Take that, dog lovers! Even more interesting to note is the way Link holds the cat. He doesn't raise it above his head, like Link has held everything in every other Zelda game for the past twenty years, oh no. Perhaps this is the end of that old series trademark. I can't say that I'll miss it much. Only worth a few tears, really.

Oh, and I really, really love that little space under the tree behind them. Giant trees growing in strange ways and leaving shelter underneath is always cool. I especially like how there is at least one smaller tree growing around the bigger one. I hope that we see other trees like this - though not exactly like. We want variety and lots of cool scenery, not repetition.

Now, onto the trailer itself. Man, I'm such a long-winded fanboy. Don't worry, I've already covered most of the stuff worth mentioning, so the rest will be faster.

The trailer starts with the same scene that the last one ended with. We all recognize it by now, I'm sure. I bring it up because I want to mention that city in the background. Graceful spires, towers... A fairy-tale castle, almost like Disney's logo. And I'm fine with that.

The trailer moves on, to show Link swimming in the pond shown in the second screenshot. When he dives underwater, be sure to notice the fish and seaweed swimming and floating around.

After a scene looking at Link and the creature from screenshot 5, it switches to scene of Link and some cats underneath a tree - presumably the one from the last screenshot.

Next up we see Link running down some stairs and past the Armos monster from the third screenshot, and then him doing a jump attack on the Bokoblin from the fourth screenshot, and then shooting some arrows at those Keese creatures, like the ones from screen #10. In the trailer you can see that the Keese, if that's what they are, have little hooks on the end of their tails.

After that, we see Link trying to ride away from some mounted Bokoblins. They're shooting some flaming arrows at him as he rides away, along with some unlit ones, and it looks like one of them bounces off the back of his shield, which is strapped to his back. It looks cool, but I hope this doesn't indicate the difficulty level that we'll be seeing in the game.

Next comes a scene in the graveyard, which I mentioned earlier, where he kills one of those undead boars. Then comes the most... intriguing scene in the entire trailer. Link is holding his shield up, defending against a very angry-looking Goron. Link's sword is in it's sheath, suggesting that it may be a training exercise of some sort. The Goron attacks with some pretty vicious-looking punches, knocking Link over. Like the screenshot with the Doshin the Giant-look-alike, the light is overpowering during this scene. At one point, the camera swivels and puts the sun into view in the corner of the scene - when that happens, light floods the screen. Too much light. It may be more realistic to be blinded when you look into the sun, but if exact realism was the most important thing, nobody would be playing video games.

Next scene shows our hero standing in front of a pile of bones, which quickly pull together to create three Stalfos. It looks like it takes place in the same graveyard. Then the trailer goes into what looks like a room in a dungeon of some sort, complete with barred windows. Link is fighting two of the Dinalfos creatures we keep seeing, nothing new or interesting there. Notice the classic Zelda pots in the corners. And the tiny little shields that the Dinalfos are holding. Don't look like they'd be very effective.

Next scene is the one I described in screenshot eight, and then comes what is either someone looking around a sewer in first-person, or a cutscene. Then a weird effect is applied to the screen, and suddenly we can see ghosts and some yellow vapor. The whole thing is very reminiscent of the Lens of Truth. The yellow line looks like gas of some sort. A smell, or a poison, or something along those lines. Looking through the background, that sewer area looks like it could be extremely annoying, repetitive, and confusing. I hope that's not the case.

Next scene is another interesting one, starting with Link standing in a corner, wrapped in spider webbing, with the spider standing a bit away from him. It jumps over, wraps it's legs around the poor webbed hero, and then is knocked onto it's back when Link does a spin attack, freeing himself from the spider silk. After knocking the spider onto it's back, Link jumps and does his downward stab, the one from AoL. Most of you will recognize it from Super Smash Bros, I would imagine. The design of this spider is extremely disappointing to me - it's just a spider. In previous Zelda games, when they had spiders at all, they had some unique spin to them, like the Skulltulas from Ocarina of Time. This is just a spider, with uninspired and tepid design. I hope they don't end up calling this a "Skillful", or even worse, a "Tektite".

From a gameplay point of view, that downward stab is interesting. I bet that we'll get a special move that changes depending on the situation. For instance, you might usually do a jump move, but if you're in a situation where it's applicable, the same buttons would make you do that falling stab. Or maybe something similar to the counter-attacks from the Wind Waker, where if you press the right button at the right time, you do special moves. I don't think it's likely that we'll be able to use that downwards stab at will. I also liked how a spin attack freed Link from the spider webbing. That'll probably be an isolated case, though. I wonder how Link got into that webbing in the first place though? The spider started out pretty far away from him. It must have been a trap of some sort, or maybe a long-range attack of the spider's.

Next we see Link riding through Hyrule Field. He rides over a stream, splashing some water along the way, and runs past some dead-looking trees. In the background you see a castle or temple of some sort, which a bunch of standing stones or pillars out in front. Oh, and this isn't a joyride - Link is being chased by some pterodactyl creatures. He pulls out his bow and fires what seems to be a bomb arrow at these flying menaces, killing one with a little explosion. At first I thought it was just a fire arrow, and the explosion was due to the arrow's magic, but if you look closer, you can see that the tip of the arrow has a fuse of some sort, and that it pulses red every second or so, just like bombs. So it seems that the bomb arrows first seen in Link's Awakening will be making a return. I hope they are actually useful, and not some gimmick item that you only need to use once or twice.

Next up was another interesting scene, which had tons of people(*cough*me*cough*) screaming Lord of the Rings. It shows Link running down what is either a tunnel, or a narrow ravine, chased by the newest incarnation of Gohma. The Gohma's design is very similar to the design of the Gohmas in Link's Awakening and the Oracles, minus the crab claws. Totally different from Gohma in The Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time, of course, but vastly different Gohmas are nothing unusual.

The trailer then moves on to a brief glimpse of Link fighting two Stalfos. This is the scene I mentioned at screenshot seven, where Link destroys a Stalfos' shield by whacking it with his sword. You get a better look at the Stalfos here than you do earlier in the trailer. Look at those short little swords. Poor things.

And this next part of the trailer was fun. We get to see Link riding a giant boar, charging through a little group of Bokoblins. The Bokoblins literally go flying, which I imagine will be very satisfying. Notice the area he's in - in the background you can see what looks like some sort of swamp or wasteland. Looks very similar to the Tabahl Wasteland from Link's Awakening, actually. Though it might just be the overworld, and the driving rain and lightening makes it looks darker and more unwelcoming.

The boar is interesting. I don't know what to think, myself. Normally I would guess that Link knocked an enemy off it's mount and is temporarily using it, like the enemy weapons in the Wind Waker. This is supported by the little skulls you can see on the boar's equipment. But it's so much bigger than the Bokoblins' boars. Maybe the horse can transform into different animals? I honestly don't have any idea, but either way, I look forward to trampling Bokoblins to death.

Almost done. Next scene shows Link back in a forest, at night, fighting a weird shadow creature. It reminds me of the hands in the Wind Waker, which would come out of those little black holes in the ground and grab you.

Notice how Link does that little animation with his sword, before sheathing it. This isn't the first time we've seen this animation, either. We saw it at the end of the first trailer, and one like it at the beginning of this trailer. It seems a bit unnecessary, so it must have some purpose. Maybe it's a way of showing that Link is entering or leaving some sort of battle mode? A change in the basic 3D Zelda battle system would be very interesting, and a long time coming.

The trailer ends with this, and I don't know what to make of it. For it to be the very ending of the trailer implies that it is something of significance. There was a false Aonuma interview awhile back, and in it, Aonuma said that Link would be able to transform into different animals, or some such thing. The interview turned out to be fake, and originated on an Italian forum, of all things. But people still make the connection. I've seen many, many people who believe that that wolf at the end is Link, transformed. Personally, I don't want to see a werewolf Link any time soon, and I don't think that that is the case here. But... I'm really clueless here. Who knows what the significance is?

The trailer shows that this game has promise, and that it will probably end up being one of the greatest games of all time, like most major Zelda games are. But it does not send a message of perfection, at least not to me. It shows almost as many flaws as it does strengths. I could go into the strengths, but why bother? Everyone knows them already.

My original and most important complaint was that the game was stylistically dead. Grey. Devoid of life and color. The whole trailer looked faded and drab to me, like clothes that have been in the washing machine too long. Go and watch the trailer again yourself if you don't believe me - compared to the Wind Waker's vibrant style, it's hard to argue that. And a lack of color wasn't all - this game's style wasn't as attractive either. And by style, I don't mean the "realistic" graphics, no. I mean things like enemy and area design. The enemies especially. We go from Wolfos, Tektites, Skulltulas, Stalfos, Goriyas, and everything else the series has thrown at us, to generic wolves, boars, monkeys, spiders, and skeleton warriors. Some of them may bear the old names - the skeletal warriors will undoubtedly be called Stalfos - but they lack some of the unique or interesting design of their older incarnations.

The areas looked fairly generic to me as well. What little we saw of dungeons lacked style or cool design, things which the temples in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and even Link's Awakening possessed in piles. Look at Ocarina of Time. We have giant trees, dungeons inside the bellies of a fish, and fantastically eerie and atmospheric places like the Forest Temple and Water temple. Majora's Mask, especially it's final dungeon, was even better. But in this trailer, all I've seen of the dungeons - very little, admittedly - is uninspired, lacking any sense or semblance of a cool atmosphere or well-designed scenery. And what's with that overworld? It looks as lifeless and barren as OoT's was. No, more than OoT's, and but also encompasses a lot more area, so it has less of an excuse.

Finally, there was the music. Orchestrated, yes. Higher quality than the series usually has, yes. But did it sound good? Did the music inspire any excitement? Not for me, and I hope that the trailer's music is not representative of the game's.

As I said, those were my original complaints. Some of them have lessened. For instance, the grey, lifeless look that I keep mentioning... part of that was simply due to the compression used in the trailer, and if I look at the still screenshots like the ones I examined first, the color is far more vibrant.

Reason also tells me that they would show the darker and more "mature" aspects of the game and exclude any whimsical or less serious things for a trailer. The trailer is meant to excite and attract the attention of the public, and, like it or not, the public seems to like that sort of lifeless grey look.

Another problem of mine was that I somehow blocked out some of the better aspects. The trailer isn't all serious, stormy night type stuff - the cats should be proof enough of that. The enemy designs I mentioned may suck ass, but then, there were some good enemy designs, like the Keese and Dinalfos. The dungeons design may have seemed uninspired, but then, certain sections of the early dungeons in other games would look the same. Not to mention that we've already seen cooler areas, like the tree in the background in the shots of Link and the cats. The overworld may have seemed vast and barren, but that's because we'll be running along on a horse most of the time, and smaller detail is less important.

I'm still not convinced that this will be the perfect game, like so many Zelda fans are, but some of my doubts have been eased. That's a start, I suppose.

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