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Design in Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

The layout of Breath of the Wild offers an open-world that is building on the shoulders of game giants. In Bethesda's Fallout or Morrowind and sequels, I often found my missions laid by the wayside after wandering aimlessly and deciding to pick flowers. One of Nintendo's solutions to this problem inherent in open worlds is designing action items on the map in invisible triangle shaped layouts. Not a boring straight line, or a random quite distant location as Morrowind often offered, but leading you through a path that feels open and exploratory yet still keeps you more or less on mission. This orienting effect is bolstered by the map and locator beacons, the indicators for which persist on the bottom right of the screen at all times.

The user can add custom beacons to the open-world map

Another thing that works well is their interaction design. The incorporation of the many different functions in the many different buttons on the Nintendo switch could easily have felt clunky or overwhelming if done wrong, but it feels seamless. One unique feature is the dual right and left mini joysticks with multiple inputs. The two joysticks even have push-in functions in addition to the usual directional swivel. Part of the reason this is not overwhelming is their brilliant strategy to teach the user to use these complex inputs with a short game-within-a-game introduction that ramps up the most basic skills once by one. Instead of he standard boring tutorial found at the beginning of many games, they continue to incorporate the training naturally and intermittently into the narrative of the game itself. Each skill is learned in a successive "shrine" that is entered willingly by the player, on their own time frame, and set up as a mini-puzzle exercise. This is spaced out in between sequences of open world play and as such does not become tedious. I think that is a lesson that can definitely be incorporated into UX Designing for on-boarding: Building the training into small bites over time and finding a way to make it an entertaining part of the inherent narrative flow of the user's journey. The ideal is for them to feel like by entering data or learning a new skill they are on the path to achieving their goals.

The Visual Layout of the Gear menu

In terms of interface design, some cool stuff happens in the settings and map menus. The screens are broken down by category into multiple pages which are viewed via a plus (for settings, saves, outfits, accoutrements) or minus button (for maps, beacons, and missions) and then scrolled right and left with the trigger buttons. Although I have a slight beef with minor things, for example matched clothing sets don't stay together until you learn how to sort (it took me much longer than it should have), and inedible monster parts are mixed in with the foods category. It's still a pretty fantastic way to simply organize a copious amount of items. I wonder if, as AR/VR/MR and integrated hand gestures in space become more mainstream ways of interacting with products, this kind of interface is the way we will interact with our devices in the future. It brings to mind Egyptian Hieroglyphics, in that chunks of visual data in a field represent bigger concepts. I think gaming is under-appreciated in the invention of new design systems and for its ability to train users to use new technology.

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