Motion Control in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

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March 1, 2013 by a great ape

Neil Sethi

Film 373—Video Games

Dr. Tanine Allison

Video games are appealing for a multitude of reasons that often vary among different people. Some people are more concerned with realism in terms of graphics and gameplay. Others play video games for the stories they tell and the manner with which they do so. Though The Legend of Zelda series were originally the template for the visionary Shigeru Miyamoto to spotlight story through video games, the evolution of the art style for the series has advanced significantly over the past two decades. His most recent addition, Skyward Sword features a stronger emphasis on more interactive gameplay and immersive graphics. The use of motion-driven control in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword allows for greater identification with the protagonist, Link, along his journey.

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The motion-driven control in Skyward Sword has been widely hailed as the most innovative aspect of this addition to the series. The ability for real-world motion – through the use of the Wiimote – to affect motion in the game through either weapons or arm movement by the player is the most obvious difference from its predecessors. Though the immediate precursor Twilight Princess contained some elements of motion control, they were by no means necessary. On the other hand, in Skyward Sword, one must take control of Link’s sword with the Wiimote and imitate the motion of its swings in order to get through the plethora of enemies that often obscure progression through the game’s spaces. The premise is simple: the Wii was created with the novelty of allowing a sensor to capture three-dimensional motion with the Wiimote, and the creators of Zelda felt it was time to take advantage of that capability. Suddenly, there is another dimension of immersion of the player into the game. Though players experience the visual content and hear the sound of the game, they also produce physical action that has meaning in the game. In some sense, it is ergotic action since one is not simply pressing buttons on a controller. Instead, the physical swings of the controller are nontrivially creating in-game action. This level of control makes it easier to suspend the notion of detachment from the game, or the view that the character in the game is something separate from the self. It makes it easier to suspend the notions of reality and identify with the avatar in the game, which in this case, is Link. Though the motion tracking controls are not always perfectly precise, they go a long way in enhancing the mechanics of the game. Each task seems more like a direct result of progression through the game, giving the game a more epic feeling. Skyward Sword is in many ways a spatial narrative because elements of the plot are only revealed as one progresses through the game and is exposed to more areas after clearing series of obstacles. Unlike the button-mashing sword swings of the past, Link is now modeling the behavior of the player. If Link dies while fighting an important enemy, there is a direct understanding from the standpoint of the player about why he or she died. For example, one may realize that he or she swung his or her Wiimote a certain way and can alter the approach. As a result, the simulation of real-world motion in the game fundamentally enhances this narrative because there is an extra dimension of involvement with the exploratory process. The added ability to influence the diegetic world in the context of the game, ranging from smaller tasks like shooting enemies across a bridge using the motion of the Wiimote to more important tasks like learning the melody for a song that opens gates through time. Overall, these novel controls enhance the narrative with respect to how the player experiences the game because of the identification of Link’s actions with his or her own.

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Whether one likes the latest addition to the Zelda franchise or not, it is difficult to say the game is not innovative. The use of sophisticated motion controls enhances the association of a player with Link. The ability to affect in-game change using physical action incentivizes playing the game longer to experience and participate in the diegetic world. Since the game is in many ways a spatial narrative, the storytelling is consequently enhanced. It seems unlikely that other industry giants won’t strive to achieve greater and greater degrees of immersion in games to enhance the experience and impact of their underlying narratives. If Skyward Sword is any indicator, the future of video games could be one in which games are more immersive than ever.

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2 thoughts on “Motion Control in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

  1. nrbontha says:

    I used to think that motion control in games was just a gimmick. I would always shy away from games that didn’t use a standard controller. However, recently my preferences have changed somewhat. With the releases of the Xbox Kinect and the Playstation Move, motion control in video games has dramatically improved. Twilight Princess for the Wii was one of the first games to use the Wiimote and the game was honestly a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Motion control can bring the player closer the game in ways that a controller cannot. For example, if you’re playing a game and something doesn’t go your way, many times you will blame the controller or the game (like in FIFA when a player needlessly kicks the ball away). With motion control it’s harder to blame the game because the game was only doing what you told it to do through your own movements and actions. If an enemy hits Link before Link hits the enemy in Twilight Princess, it is only because you didn’t swing your Wiimote fast enough to initiate a counter-attack. Motion control still has a ways to go and is not perfect, but it’s certainly becoming better year after year.

  2. namaram says:

    I remember playing this game and thinking that at first the controls were odd, but if you can eventually get used to them I think what you say is true. The motion controls in Skyward Sword seem to blend the types of player characters most games use. We get the first person sense when we control the sword with our own swing, yet Link has his own (albeit limited) personality. I might actually say that his almost blank personality is what helps make the motion controls work so well. When we feel frustration at failing a puzzle or challenge we can in a way reflect that onto Link since we are more closely connected to the action. Likewise both of these come back to help us relate Link to us. It’s almost like a magnified effect as in Super Mario Galaxy which helps us relate to the odd plumber because of, not despite, his lack of personality and the way we control him. Granted that there are times where the divide makes itself more apparent, motion control is as you describe a useful mechanic in Skyward Sword that helps us become Link on his search to take back Zelda.

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