Link - http://www.lemonde.fr/pixels/article/2017/03/10/jeux-video-l-architecture-des-zelda-nous- ramene-au-stade-de-l-enfance_5092669_4408996.html
Talbot Hook: Absolutely. My name is Talbot Hook, and I’ve been writing about architecture within The Legend of Zelda series for about four years now. I fell in love with Zelda long before I fell in love with architecture; video games were so much more enticing and understandable to me as a child than buildings were. The first Zelda title I played was Ocarina of Time in 1998, after my family bought our first game system, which was the N-64. By the time I had found the Kokiri Sword, I was enthralled with the game, and I remember staying up well past my bedtime on weekends trying to puzzle out Dodongo’s Cavern or figure out the way to get the Iron Boots. Architecture found me in college, due to my travels and because of an art history professor who encouraged my studies. I haven’t ever formally studied architecture in any way, but I remain an adoring amateur.
When I came back from abroad in 2013, I was rather listless, not knowing exactly what direction my life would take. On a particularly hot summer’s day, I sat down on the bed, where sudden thoughts about Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple came unbidden into my mind; so, I slowly teased out its major themes and inspirations, and then began to write. There was really no reason to do so, but that’s what I did. And now here I am.
WA: You've written pages and pages of analysis about the architectural structures and inspirations in Zelda games. Why this one? Is there something specific about this series in terms of architecture that other video game series don't have?
TH: I’m not sure, but my intuition says no. In terms of architecture, you can find masterfully-designed locations in games as diverse as Skyrim, Journey, or Fable - and these are games that have incredible structures and landscapes. And it’s not simply that Zelda makes you interact with your location in such a special way, or within a certain emotional landscape, because I feel the same isolation, depth, and beauty when I play Metroid Prime. What I think sets Zelda apart is this: it hints at far more than it reveals. What I mean by this is that the game makers rarely give a full context for any location in The Legend of Zelda, and there are many locations that have no history, no surrounding cultural clues, and no inhabitants; they are big, empty spaces just waiting to be explored. I think that, fundamentally, the reason why I love this series comes down to its focus on mystery, exploration, and the unknown. Many games attempt to cultivate these things, but most miss the mark. Zelda doesn’t.
WA: Are there some specific, real life castles or places that Nintendo more or less obviously drew their inspiration from, for instance for the iconic Temple of Time in Ocarina of Time/Breath of the Wild, or the Hyrule Castle in the different games?
TH: Oh, yes. I would hesitate to say that most places within Zelda (largely those in the console games) have at least a little basis in reality. The earliest titles in the series were heavily influenced by Western Medievalism, replicating everything from castles to knights. So, it is no small wonder that Hyrule Castle draws from fortresses across Western Europe (Spain’s Alcazar or Germany’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, for instance), or that the Temple of Time shows similarities to many basilicas and cathedrals in various European cities (for example: Hungary’s Abbey Church of St. James or France’s Basilica of Paray-le-Monial). What is exciting to me is that, in recent titles, the Zelda franchise has been exploring more world cultures through its architectural choices, drawing from Buddhist imagery, Incan masonry, and Middle-eastern motifs, for example. You can always see a little bit of reality’s footprint in each Zelda structure - even in the most fantastic locations.
WA: It's easy to understand how useful an outstanding architecture can be in a game, as to make an impression on the player, but at the same time, the game also needs its different buildings to stick to some level design stresses. It's not only how the building is to be seen, but also how each building is going to be played. Is it something that reflects in some Zelda architectural choices?
TH: This is something that can be difficult to determine. I’m not sure as to the ratio Nintendo has created in terms of impression and playability. Certainly, both are important: a level has to both look good and play enjoyably. One of the biggest successes of the Zelda franchise is that its dungeon-designs are so memorable; the puzzles, sequencing, and layout of each dungeon help to create our perception of those locations. There are many times where I’ve caught myself wondering: is this an architectural choice that has some sort of meaning, or is this simply a necessary mechanic that helps us advance through the temple? Oftentimes, I have no idea. Take, for instance, the Spinner found in the Arbiter’s Grounds of Twilight Princess. There are huge rooms in this temple that have no observable purpose (from the point of in-game cultural analysis), but that are covered with Spinner tracks, which help you get from one point to another. Do these tracks have some religious/cultural significance, or are they just a mode of transportation for us as gamers? Ultimately, we don’t know, but I think this is an excellent question to consider.
WA: From your point of view, is it possible to describe something like a "Zelda-esque" philosophy of architecture?
TH: I think so, and I’ll try to say what I think it is. Good “Zelda-esque” architecture does a few things, at least for me: it intrigues me, confuses me, and makes me feel like a child (and I mean that in the best possible sense). Every location that I can think of within The Legend of Zelda - those locations that I adore: The Ancient Cistern, Forest Temple, and Snowpeak Ruins, for example - satisfies all three of these criteria. These beautiful spaces intrigue me, and make me want to explore them more; they draw you in, and fully immerse you in their themes and atmospheres. They confuse me, in that I often don’t know why they were built, by whom, or for what purpose; and this confusion feeds into the intrigue of a place. The third point might be the most important: they return me to a state of childhood. I remember fully throwing myself into exploration when I was a child - forests, old barns, mounds of dirt - without thought of time, responsibility, or ulterior motive. I just wanted to explore. And this is what some Zelda architecture does for me - it reconnects me with my youth. I think this philosophy is highly personal, sure, and it’s probably not exactly what you were asking, but the most meaningful philosophy is always deeply felt and highly internalized. So, this is what good “Zelda-esque” architecture looks like to me.
WA: With the notable exception of The Witcher 3 and the Assassin's Creed series, open world games tend to use the same buildings multiple times, giving an impression of lack of architectural variety. Is this something you're concerned about, considering the incoming Breath of the Wild?
TH: Yes and no. With such an enormous map, and so many structures, there is doubtlessly going to be some feeling of repetition in terms of architectural variety, but I think this can actually add to a video game if done correctly. If every structure is a regurgitated mess of the exact same architectural pieces, of course the game world will seem bland and repetitive; but, if you keep the same basic elements, yet change small aspects in various regions, or through various cultural lenses, then you have a phenomenon that closely resembles cultural diffusion and change in the real world: then there is a story - something to think about.
Most incarnations of Hyrule Castle have the same basic elements - crenellated walls, tall spires and towers, and blue roofs - and so it would seem that they are all the same. But, anyone who has played Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time knows that this is far from the case. Those same elements can take many forms, creating wholly new locations and atmospheres. Many video games do a poor job of this, thinking that the gamers won’t notice; they change a texture here, add a hallway there, but this is lazy. I feel as though, on the whole, Zelda does a fantastic job of making each region unique unto itself, with every building containing something that makes it stand apart. So, am I worried? A little, but not really. Nintendo does an admirable job in this regard, and I think that’s a trend that could continue - even in an open-world game like Breath of the Wild. Let’s hope I didn’t speak too soon.
WA: If, after reading this interview, someone begins to look for architectural aspects in their favorite video games, is there any advice you'd like to provide to them, as to appreciate the importance of this underrated part of video game design?
TH: First of all, I’d like to say, “welcome.” This is about as “niche” as one can get - architecture in video games. But, on a serious note, find out what makes you love whatever places you find yourself in, and express those feelings in words. It’s really as simple as that. Of course, you will also likely be doing some research on this-or-that architectural term, piece of history, or cultural aspect, but that’s really a small part of what we do. One of the purposes of art is to make manifest what lives within you, so that you can understand it better, and so that others can also feel that understanding and appreciation. Write passionately, and with your own voice, and show others why these locations matter in a way that is true to yourself. In short: start slowly, appreciate deeply, and share freely.