I haven’t had free time to do much else but play Zelda: Breath of the Wild so I guess I can talk about something else in it this week, like why I enjoy its cooking system so much compared crafting systems in other games.
When I start up a new blockbuster game, particularly a role-playing game, one of the things I dread being introduced to is the crafting system. Seemingly every game has to have one these days but the majority either feel like a needless stop on game progress or something I can just completely ignore. Mainly, Breath of the Wild does two things to make its cooking system, which is basically a crafting system, more enjoyable and rewarding.
Firstly, it pretty much forces players to actually engage in crafting. Breath of the Wild’s cooking system is actually pretty similar to the one in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim — you find a pot somewhere and put ingredients together. A major difference however is that in Skyrim you have healing spells and healing potions. Eating food is pretty much never the main way you heal in that game because you always have other options. In Breath of the Wild food is just about the only way to recover health, making crafting a central component of the game.
I think the games that handle crafting the best are the ones that make it either required or too beneficial to ignore. All three Witcher games do this to varying degrees — you have to craft your own potions because they aren’t something normal people in that world make and use. Personally I’m still partial to the system in the first Witcher game in which each component had different elemental properties, you had to use alcohol as a base for everything, and unlike in The Witcher 3 you had to re-craft potions when you ran out. There was something about it that added to the procedural nature of the player character’s missions. Fallout 4’s weapon crafting system is one of its strong points, probably because it gives players a lot of freedom in what they want to do with the weapons without putting too many roadblocks in their way.
That freedom is the second reason cooking in Breath of the Wild works so well. Actually, when you think about it the game approaches crafting in the opposite direction as most video games. In most games crafting involves getting a formula and then making sure you have the right components for that formula. In my experience that’s often the most frustrating part — running around for a while until you find that one last piece, sometimes with the other components clogging up your inventory until you can finally use them. Breath of the Wild only has a few specific rules you have to follow to avoid ruining meals or potions, but from there you pretty much just throw ingredients together and see what comes out. The descriptions of the ingredients themselves tell you the effects so it’s very easy to predict what result you’re going to get. This encourages experimentation and gives players the freedom to craft whatever they want very early on as long as they have the ingredients.
Resource distribution and scarcity is one thing that’s always bothered me in games with crafting systems. Usually ingredients are all over the place (except that one last piece you need) and you end up with an inventory full of more crafting components than you’ll probably ever use. There’s also usually no way to really predict where you’re going to find what. Breath of the Wild alleviates this issue, if only a little bit. After playing for a while you start to realize certain plants and animals are most common in certain types of areas like forests or rivers, or only appear when it’s raining. There’s even a pretty neat way of tracking any individual type of weapon, animal, plant, enemy, or other type of item in the game. You’ll still probably end up with an inventory overflowing with crafting stuff though.
Another small reason I find cooking in Breath of the Wild fun has probably already been described by many people playing the game — the way the game makes the process look and sound. Crafting in so many games these days feels like such a dry experience. There’s usually just a plain-looking menu where you put the components together, and a standard menu click is usually all you get to confirm the crafting. I don’t see why developers couldn’t think of what Breath of the Wild did — showing the ingredients jumping around in the pot with a little musical tune. In that way the cooking system in Breath of the Wild actually reminds me of buying meals in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. In that game you didn’t just select an item on a menu and get some health back. It went out of its way to show players lovingly-drawn pictures of sushi or rice balls, and let them hear the sound of the waiter delivering the plate. It tried its hardest to give players and audiovisual sensation of what was going on, other games should try to do this for cooking meals or crafting swords.
Of all the things Breath of the Wild does with its cooking system, making it essential for survival in the game is probably the most important thing. Greatly increasing the margin for error while making it more ingredient-based rather than recipe-based is probably the main thing it does to set it apart from other games with crafting. The animation and jingle are just an extra bit of visual flavor I wish other games attempted.
- A new Sega Genesis/Mega Drive brawler from the makers of Pier Solar: http://tinycartridge.com/post/159038432087/paprium-is-a-new-brawler-for-genesis-in-2017
- Good article on what itch.io is for: https://t.co/1FFipkSDHV
- So the generation after Millennials has a name now: http://www.wzzm13.com/mb/news/local/michigan-life/the-educator-gets-educated/426133852?
- How Mars lost its atmosphere: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/03/30/how-mars-lost-its-atmosphere-and-why-earth-didnt/
- New game from the developer of Fairune: http://www.siliconera.com/2017/03/30/fairune-developers-new-switch-game-kamiko-gets-first-screenshots/
- An article on why PC games are getting so big (I did one a couple years ago): http://www.pcworld.com/article/3128214/software-games/why-pc-game-downloads-are-so-damned-big.html
- Yasuke might get a movie: http://deadline.com/2017/03/lionsgate-taps-highlander-creator-gregory-widen-to-script-film-on-first-black-samurai-1202049635/
- A game that acts as a virtual guide to building a PC: https://www.pcgamesn.com/pc-building-simulator/pc-building-simulator-pre-alpha
- The Signal from Tolva launches April 10: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2017/03/27/the-signal-from-tolva-starts-broadcasting-april-10th/?
- The cartridge cost quandary of Nintendo Switch: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-03-27-how-can-we-solve-nintendo-switchs-cartridge-cost-quandary
- Akira manga 35th anniversary box set coming in October. Original right-to-left page orientation and Japanese onomatopoeia: https://www.amazon.com/Akira-35th-Anniversary-Box-Set/dp/1632364611
- Arma 3 Jets DLC: https://store.bistudio.com/products/arma3-jets