Nostalgia, and Zelda day

Nostalgia is a double-edge sword. It can reawaken memories, make you happy, give focus to your life, or remind you to find about about or contact that long-lost friend. Or it can make you yearn, or grieve for something past or gone, or take up your time and prevent you from living in the here and now. Perhaps nostalgia needs a warning label: “Best used sparingly and selectively”.

Digital games are little different, and nostalgia pervades the sector. Retro was, and is, a major part of the gaming landscape. More than a few of us in middle age, and older, were gamers in previous (multiple) decades. Long-forgotten sequences, screenshots, tunes and songs have an often strong pull. More so than most other media, arguably; rather than just passively absorbing the images and sounds, being an active player has probably embedded the coda of what we experienced more firmly within our neorology. [I really should be a good academic researcher and find several weighty scientific works to give credibility to this, but it’s early morning and this is still coffee number one]

Today is November 21st. That doesn’t mean much in history. The Plymouth Colony settlers signed the Mayflower Compact in 1620. Thomas Edison announced his invention of the phonograph in 1877. The Flag of Estonia was formally adopted as the national flag of the Republic of Estonia in 1918. The first permanent ARPANET link was established between UCLA and SRI in 1969. Some other things happened.

But this day, and tomorrow, are the days when Nintendo often release a major Zelda game. In 1991 it was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

And on this day in 1998, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I’d recently acquired a Nintendo 64 as I eased myself back into gaming after several nyears of little playing, and I bought Zelda: OoT on a whim, being only partially aware of the back history of the franchise. However, it then took up most of the conscious part of two months of my life. I regret nothing.

Unlike many others who rushed through it with the primary or sole aim of completion, I wandered around the landscape, poking at various things and trying other things out. Hence, the two fulfilling months of experimentation, and my mind thinking “Oh! You can do X. So, maybe, you do Y. And not necessarily just in this game, but in other places.”

Is or was it my favorite game? It’s up there, but probably not (Shenmue on the Dreamcast for various long-form reasons is a more likely contender). Or the one that had the most influence on me? Again, it’s up there, but Phantasy Star Online (also on the Dreamcast) was pretty much a life and career changer.

However, for soundtrack it wins (Halo being a close second). Therefore, there is little surprise that the net contains thousands of reinterpretations of the many tunes. This post contains several of Gerudo Valley, the point in the game where I realized I was slowly approaching the end and Zelda: Ocarina of Time was, and still is, one heck of a cultural achievement. Enjoy.

> Examine Infocom archive

Infocom, founded in the late 1970s, was a software company in Cambridge (the USA one) which specialised in interactive fiction (IR) – more commonly known, then and now, as text adventure games. You may have heard of Zork, or the video game version of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Both were produced by Infocom.

Skip to but a few days ago. And lo, this appears online, the first of several batches of digitised content.

Yes, an archive of Infocom materials, the originals meticulously stored by Steve Meretzky of Infocom fame and scanned in, page by page, by Jason Scott of textfiles.com fame (and that in itself is a huge internet rabbit hole to fall down). He describes the process, with lots of lovely screenshots, in fascinating detail.

There’s a lot scanned in; enough, I hope, for several future research projects by games scholars. Related to this is GET LAMP, an Interactive fiction documentary by Jason from 2010. If you’re into adventure or text adventure game design and philosophy, and are okay with watching 90 minutes of interview clips then it’s an interesting video:

The Legend of Zelda

February 21st 1986 – 29 years ago today – the first Zelda game was released; first on the Famicom, then the NES, then other Nintendo platforms. The opening titles:

Basic for nowadays. But of the time, it was good – seriously good. Some gameplay:

It’s interesting to listen to that video, and identify the various tunes and sounds (e.g. 3:17) which Nintendo have carried through into many future Zelda games.

Influential? Very. No Legend of Zelda, no … rather a lot of gaming things, not just Zelda or Nintendo-associated. The Wikipedia page has a good run down of the impact and legacy of this particular game.

Here’s how Legend of Zelda ends:

Happy birthday, Link and Zelda.