Sunday, March 29, 2009

Building a Better Pixel Wheel


Game Profile: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Capcom (Flagship Studios)
System: Game Boy Color
Release Date: 5.13.01
Genre: Action/Adventure

Returning to true pixelated roots, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is an excellent addition to the timeless series. Created as a double installment alongside The Oracle of Seasons, together the two titles represent some of the last of the great retro handheld gaming mechanics, the same kind which have made the Zelda series shine since the beginning.

Instead of creating a completely new style to work with, the two titles use a lot of the same game design, menu layouts and sprite templates from Link's Awakening. This feature greatly helps maintain a sense of nostalgia and familiarity for the player to jump right into. I'm sure it was also a big time saver for development, allowing for more resources to be focused on more in-depth gameplay mechanics, which are apparent all throughout the game. These two titles were the last handheld Zelda titles to feature pre-sixth generation style emphasis (i.e. cell shaded influences) aside from the pseudo title for Gamecube/GBA, The Four Swords Adventure.

The improved features are abound, from a library of new collectable items to a stockpile of challenging mini-games. Some of the cooler features include the addition of Gasha Seeds. Gasha Seeds are usually hidden or earned and once acquired can be planted in specific spots of earth, respectfully called soft soil. Once a Gasha Seed has been planted and a bit of in-game time has passed the player can then return to find that the seed has grown into a tree, bearing a large red Gasha Nut. With a swipe of Link's sword the Gasha Nut will open, revealing an item. Depending on the location of the planted seed different items will appear, sometimes fairies or a potion but most of the time one of the games many different types of rings will be found. Each of the 60+ rings has it's own stat changing properties when equipped, some are very helpful (upping sword damage or immunity to electricity) while others are not so helpful (transforming Link into a defenseless like-like or increasing the damage taken by enemies) either way, all of them add a ton of variety to the gameplay, as well as plenty of hours of replay value as you search for new rings. Upon my first completion of Ages I found maybe 30 of these little gems, and I thought I explored pretty thoroughly too. So far, my personal favorite is the Charge Ring which allows Link's spin-attack to charge in about a second, very cool!

A Gasha Nut! ...But how do I get to it?!
Curse you Zelda and your trickery!

Aside from the unique and varied items the game also includes tons of new and varied puzzle components both in and outside the dungeons. Each dungeon houses new and interesting puzzle scenarios such as mine carts, movable color matching blocks and some interesting boss confrontations as well. Also new to the fray is a more in-depth underwater exploration system, controllable animal friends, two different time periods to explore and also interchangeable, outside game components. Meaning that once the player has completed Oracle of Ages, special passwords are given which can then be entered into Oracle of Seasons allowing for the player to start with all the rings they've acquired as well as opening up password specific NPC interaction. Simply put... There's a lot to do!

The dungeons now come equipped with mine carts.
Put your hands up, it's more fun!

The time exploration between the past and the present is a crucial aspect to the game and plays sort of like the Magic Mirror did in A Link to the Past for Super Nintendo. Effecting a specific part of the past might result in changes made to the present (using a bomb to blast open a cracked wall in the past, then jumping to the present to access the exposed wall).

Overall the challenge rating for Oracle of Ages is decent and fair - Both in-door and out-door puzzles can be tricky and may take some time to figure out. The next objective isn't always clearly laid out, making for some necessary trial and error exploration. Searching may become tedious and frustrating but the payoff for solving the riddle is rewarding enough to hold the players interest and keep them going. Surprising enough, most of the bosses were not that tough at all, definitely some of the dungeons themselves were more of a challenge than the bosses themselves.

Dimitri is one of the animal allies Link can control.
He can swim up waterfalls and eat just about anything.

In the end this is a really fun title if you enjoy the Zelda series. There's always something new to do and it will take even the most veteran player awhile to collect everything. It plays as a sort of side-quest to Link's usual enterprises so it includes some new characters and feels like a brand new adventure. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who loved playing A Link to the Past or Links Awakening, as these earlier installments clearly laid the blueprints for Ages and Seasons.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages receives:

Friday, March 27, 2009

'Currently Untititled' World Map

One of the projects I've been juggling lately is the creation of a fictional world complete with mythical monsters, crafty creatures, magical beasts and of course the ever continuing battle between good and evil. It's been an interesting experience because the world map was the first established factor, while the detailed storyline, characters and the locations have been added later, determined by the maps own geographical layout. This development decision has added a neat random element to the creative process.

The world map was sketched out by a simple prototype at first and then expanded upon by creating the finished version with all the fancy details. For the finalized version I used a few very helpful (and easy!) tricks involving Photoshop and a couple filters. Using difference clouds, embossing and the ordinary level/hue adjustment a realistic map template was produced. The final step has consisted of detailing different areas of the map with various tools and touch-ups.

Click on either map to see the larger version.

Prototype Version

Finalized Version

...Maybe sometime I'll let you in on some of the details concerning this magical world... Ohhh magic!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Caedes: Arcade Pinball - The Crypt, Layout


The first of several 'Pinball Dungeons' in Caedes is known as The Crypt, it encompasses the monsters, objectives, bonus rooms and secrets standard to each of the dungeons. Designed as an introductory table the challenges are of an easier difficulty than the later dungeons.

Each dungeon is designed in Illustrator and then sprited and detailed in Photoshop. Each Illustrator blueprint contains five separate layers consisting of boundaries, flat textures, switches/portals/objects, enemies/paths and the currency markers. As you can see the right side is left blank for the HUD, which is completed separately from the table design. The scale value is 640 x 960, a standard television aspect ratio.

It's been a blast designing these tables!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Super Metroid Statue - Outline


After FINALLY finishing my (epic) Top Ten Boss Fights list I'm back to posting current projects and the such... Phew!

Above is the outline I've drawn for my next illustrated piece, it's my own interpretation of the golden boss' statue from Super Metroid... Except the boss characters are organic. The project began as a possible tattoo design I'm considering. I've recently began the coloring and will have the finished product up soonly-ish.

A larger version can be viewed here.