Photography in a Zelda Game
Breath of the Wild might be the best looking video game I've ever played. And I've played at least three video games.
It upends the whole notion in video games of visual quality being synonymous with graphics. This game really is not cutting edge on a technological level. But it is pretty damn captivating, and astonishing to look at.
One of my absolute favorite moments of the game is at the very beginning. Your character, Link, has just woken up after sleeping in a cave for 100 years. You have no idea what is going on. You step outside, run to the edge of a cliff and look out at this world for the first time. The view is breathtaking. So much so that the developers relegate the opening title of the game to the bottom right corner of the screen (a stroke of genius).
The game's visuals never let up. It's a massive world to explore, consisting of mountains, deserts, beaches, volcanoes, forests, mazes, shrines & castles. The plot becomes secondary. Simply embarking on the journey and taking in the world one discovery at a time was the main attraction for me.
One feature that I immediately latched onto was the in-game camera. I think every game should have one, because I would always use it. And although I would love nothing more than a fully manual camera where you could control the aperture, shutter speed & white balance I will take what I can get. Most of what I got were landscapes, which in this game are surreal and borderline supernatural but grounded in nature.
That's not to say the game is all landscape & no portrait. Using the camera to highlight characters and showcase them in their environment was a ton of fun as well. These images are what make the world feel lived in.
This is where I really came to appreciate the variety, both of characters and the environments they inhabit.
It's frustrating with some of these portrait-length shots that you aren't able to control your depth of field or area of focus. You are basically relegated to all your DSLR settings being set to "auto". However, I do like that the game opens the camera's aperture as you zoom in closer to your subject. This gives you the opportunity to have them stand out from the background, and really put the emphasis on them.
An aspect of BOTW's art style that makes it streets ahead of the competition is the dedication to the Jomon period (which I confess I know almost nothing about). That's what accounts for the look of so much of the architecture within this world. It makes these inanimate, static objects look alive, or that they are resting but could spring to life at any moment. Appropriate. Because that does happen in this game.
Maybe the most elusive visual detail to me is the intermittent fog that will creep into the landscape. In lesser games, fog was a graphical necessity. It was there to limit your field of view, based on the limits of your console's ability to generate that world.
But that doesn't seem to be the reason it exists here. It's too random and inconsistent. It doesn't seem to be weather related either. It doesn't always follow rainfall, and in some areas it lingers constantly despite the time or the conditions of the surrounding environment.
I wonder if it's there to shroud the environment in mystery, to lure you in further so that you are compelled to explore every inch of the world. And, if you have a photography blog, to capture it.
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