Breathing in the Wild : Landscape Design

The first design element within the world of Zelda I analysed was the landscape of the open-world map. Nintendo has explained that some design strategies used in the landscape of the game were to integrate “triangles and rectangles” into the landscape design (Frank, 2017). Utilising these shapes together means placing strategically mountains, hills, structures, towers and bridges in foreground/background instances that provide an ‘infinite’ allusion (Frank, 2017). This galvanises the players and the games adventurous atmospheric cry.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be compared to other open-world sandbox games such as Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V.

“after an hour or two, your humble writer began to suspect that Breath of the Wild didn’t just work, but that it might be one of the best sandbox games ever made”

(Lambie, 2017)

The game has successfully created an atmosphere of realism within the clearly cartoon almost pop-art like style of design. How was this achieved? By integrating the tiniest details of realistic intricacies overlaying the block of landscape. For example, the forests seem realistic in zelda not because of the design and art of the surrounding trees or sporadic flowers but the way the design breathes. The landscapes in Zelda are sprinkled with moments of living, through the wind rustling the grass to the realistic behaviours of nearby wild animals. Takizawa as the art director of the game confirmed that to create a “lively world” they needed to succeed in developing a sense of time, a realism in weather and life surrounding the player in animals (Lloyd, 2019).

Other designers in the game such as Takehara (Lloyd, 2019) who oversaw buildings and structures in the design of the game noted that to succeed he needed to ensure that buildings felt “lived in”. To create an ‘experience’ in the design of the game was the success to its realism and attractiveness. Additional to this, Takehara and the other designers spoke of ‘formative experiences’, to form experiences within the design of the game by breathing life into the art with movement. Takehara recalled a story of the landscape designers request for flowing grass “He said he thought of “grass swaying in the breeze,” and  “the sense of adventure from parting the grass to move forward,” as things which would give a feeling of presence to this world;” (Lloyd, 2019). On a technical level, Zelda’s vast world map was approached not with “walls” but with “Paths”; this meant that mountains and other natural elements in addition to infrastructure were climbeable and interactive surfaces (Lloyd, 2019). This approach clearly differentiates Botw from any other sandbox game.

“Artistically, it’s as stunning to look at as any game that has emerged from Japan since the start of the new millennium. But it’s as a thoughtful reinvention of the open-world formula that Breath of the Wild really excels.”

(Lambie, 2017)

Another aspect within the game was shrines and towers, creating an ancient god-like attractiveness to them that made them clearly distinctive to any other structure in the game. Izumi oversaw this design area of the game (Lloyd, 2019). Majmauder explains how the visual language decorating the shrines are important to analyse as players make connections between designs and colours (Majmauder, 2020). Orange being ‘undiscovered’, orange and blue as found but not finished and fully blue meaning completed (Majmauder, 2020). Contrastingly to the ‘organic’ natural design of the rest of the game, inside the Shrines are decorated by heavy ancient atmospheric architecture (Majmauder, 2020). The inside of shrines are packed with constellations designs, intricate rune designs, crystallizations and eerily glowing sources of light beyond the roof and walls (Majmauder 2020). 

Overall this differentiation between organic and architectural throughout the game balances the game’s artistic lengths. The key to the success of this sandbox open-world game design was to breathe movement, formative experience and life into the intricacies of the game.

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