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With the release date of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fast approaching, everyone has been picking at the brain of executive producer Eiji Aonuma to squeeze as much info out of him as possible. One of the things he recently discussed is why this upcoming entry will be a game changer for the franchise.
Nintendo Everything managed to get a few translations in from trusty members of the gaming community from an interview that French enthusiast site Le Monde conducted with the legendary Aonuma, who explained exactly what makes this particular entry a bit of game-changer compared to past Legend of Zelda games, saying...
Before, the obvious choice in terms of game design was to have areas linked together by small paths, which you would only pass through. Many people reproached us for lacking freedom. Even here, a lot of designers thought fun lay in following an existing path. But this time, the player is dropped into the world of Breath of the Wild and they can go anywhere, whenever they want, kind of like the first Zelda. I think Breath of the Wild will be a key moment in the history of the series
It's a good thing they didn't use the old method of having small paths linking together different areas. It's an old technique that was put into use for the old consoles in order to limit the load times. You could use a small "corridor" area linking two bigger areas together to reduce loading one big area after coming from the next. This is how they designed the Legend of Zelda games on the N64, where you would usually travel through smaller areas to get to a larger space.
This technique basically allows for "breathing room" in load times since it takes less time to unload a large area and load in a small area than it does to unload a large area and then load in another large area. You can remove small pieces of a large area for a smaller corridor while still unloading the larger area while a smaller segment is in memory. Mass Effect essentially tried using this method at times with mixed results, along with Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. Interestingly, games like Max Payne 1 avoided using the corridor loading areas and the load times were atrociously long, especially on PS2.
It's great that Nintendo decided to come up to par by focusing on utilizing streamlined loading where bits and pieces of the world are streamed into memory as players explore the play area. It's a difficult way to design a game, but it seems to have been the favored design choice for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
So far the open-world structure of the upcoming title has received nothing but praise from most critics based on early impressions, but there have been some complaints that the Wii U version is suffering from frame-rate drops. We'll see if they can manage to iron out the technical performance issues by launch date.
It makes me wonder if future entries in the Legend of Zelda franchise will also adopt the new open-world structure that they're using for Breath of the Wild or if they'll try using a different technique next time around?