Monday 27 May 2019

Why is the Ocarina of Time Randomiser an Engaging Experience?

Over the last week I’ve been playing the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. It’s a game I’ve played several times before, but this time was a little different. This time I was playing a custom mod of the game: the Ocarina of Time Randomiser.

Developed by the Zelda speedrunning community, the Randomiser is an online tool which takes a ROM of Ocarina of Time, and patches it to create a new adventure. In particular it takes every key item - every item found in a shop, or a chest, sold by a scrub, taught as a song, or in some way permanently collectable - and swaps them around. So important items like the titular Ocarina of Time might be sold for 10 rupees in a shop, while the big golden chest that would usually contain an essential item might now contain a single Deku stick.

Additionally the background music in each area, as well as assorted colours, are randomised to make an even more surprising experience.

Link checks out his dapper new orange tunic

A checking algorithm is run to make sure that the game can definitely be beaten, and the player begins the game from Link’s house and figures out the rest from there. In case you get stuck, the randomiser also generates a “spoiler log”: a list of all items and where they’re hidden.

Speedrunning, ROM hacking and custom controllers have really captured my imagination in recent years. I love the idea that a game is not a finished object, but a starting point for totally new experiences. Watching speedrunners break Ocarina of Time, solving puzzles in the wrong order, abusing the mechanics to get where they shouldn’t be able to, has always fascinated me.

Having watched several runners playing the randomiser I decided to give it a go myself. Not to speedrun it, but to simply explore what I got out of the experience.

In particular I wanted to ask myself: if I connect to this as a play experience, what is it that drives that connection? Why do I value it? What makes it a meaningful experience