The famous Z-Targeting technique debuted in Zelda: Ocarina of Time was inspired by a chanbara performance in a Kyoto park.
There was a before and after Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The action-adventure video game for nintendo 64 brought to the video game industry a number of elements never seen before. However, there was one that stood out among the rest: the one known as Z-Segmentation. Triggered while you pressed the Z button of the new controller N64 (hence the name), and allowed you to block the enemies as you fought them, so the camera followed the action the entire time.
The playable mechanic held up in the zelda series in the next installments until today and inspired a series of video games impossible to enumerate: okami, darksiders, kingdom hearts, Assassin’s Creed and even other games that came out of Nintendo itself like Metroid Prime. It was a smart solution to make combative encounters satisfying in the age of 3D, but what a lot of people don’t know is where this video game design genius came from. And it’s surprising.
Chanbara Fight, Theme Parks and Z-Targeting
Nintendo and many developers had to face many challenges when 3D graphics arrived in the world of video games. Accustomed to making 2D games, the creatives had to change the chip and adapt to a great rival: the camera. Ocarina of Time It was designed to make use of the third-person perspective, and while the exploration part could be taken care of easily, the same was not the case with the fighting pieceswhich became a real headache.
And it might be hard to believe, but on a hot day in Kyoto, one of the developers said let’s go to Toei Park! It could have just been an excuse to go to the theme park, but Toru Osawa (producer) made it clear that if they were going to incorporate combative action into the chanbara style -samurai cinema- it would be a good idea to visit the one known as Toei Kyoto Studio Park. It is still an active venue and has the particularity of its film sets – set in the Edo period – having been used to record a multitude of historical films.
Taking refuge from the sweltering heat, several Nintendo developers, including Yoshiaki Koizumi (director), they entered a theater where a show of combat between a group of villains and a hero wielding a sword was taking place. Koizumi then thought it was strange that a single person could face so many opponentsand that’s when the light bulb came on:
“I thought there had to be some kind of trick, so I looked closely and saw that it was simple. In these sword fights there was a script, everything was set up, so the enemies didn’t attack at the same time. While one attacked, the others waited. If one of them fell, the next one standing would step forward, and so on.”
Yoshiaki Koizumi (Director)
With that in mind, Koizumi thought that if all the enemies attacked at the same time, the match would become utter chaos. So they came up with the idea of programming the game so that when you press the Z button and lock onto an enemy, the rest wait their turn to attack. This created a combative scene that had order, like the chanbara show they witnessed. Surely in some games you’ve wondered why the hell the enemies in the background don’t attack without waiting their turn. Well this is the reason.
On the other hand, Osawa noted in the same show an inspiration for a mechanic that is also fundamental in Z-Targeting: character movement. In one of the attractions, a samurai grabbed the chain scythe (kusarigama) carried by a ninja and the ninja began to spin around him. The creative thought of this chain as the imaginary line that linked Link with his enemies during the fight, so that he could move closer or further away, as well as Turn around them without losing sight of them. It was the most visual part of the mechanics, and not least.
So yes, the greatest success of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time it is due to a visit to a theme park. Of course, there was much more interesting stuff in what is considered one of the greatest games of all time. Its open nature, the design of its dungeons, time travel, the ingenious use of the ocarina… but without that we probably wouldn’t be talking about Nintendo’s invention today. one of the most popular and influential playable techniques of video game history.
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