In 1998, “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” made its debut on the Nintendo 64, bringing the popular series into 3D for the first time. It set standards for 3D action-adventure games that a lot of games still follow.
Perhaps its biggest innovaton was “Z-targeting,” a system that allowed players to easily lock on to enemies in combat with the press of a button. Link, the game’s hero, would automatically face the enemy he was locked onto and strafe around them, allowing the players to engage in much deeper one-on-one sword combat than they could in previous games.
That kind of lock-on targeting eventually became the standard in games like “Kingdom Hearts” and “Dark Souls,” but the story behind its creation is rather unusual: It came from a trip to an amusement park.
In a 2011 interview on Nintendo’s web site, several of the original developers recalled that they wanted the game to incorporate elements of Japanese samurai cinema. For inspiration, they took a trip to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, where they watched a period drama performance play out.
They saw a ninja lash out at a samurai with a chain. When the samurai grabbed the chain and strafed around the ninja, that became the basis for Z-targeting.
Later, the system’s designer Yoshiaki Koizumi noticed a dramatized sword fight where one combatant defeated 20 bad guys. Koizumi noticed that the hero was actually only fighting one villain at a time, while the others stood and watched.
This was also incorporated into “Ocarina of Time,” as targeting one enemy in a group would quietly flag the others to stand down in some situations. That way, the player could feel the tension of being outnumbered without necessarily being outnumbered.
This isn’t new information, nor is it a huge deal, but it’s a fun bit of trivia about one of the greatest video games ever made. That particular interview is chock full of amazing tidbits like that, as many of the game’s greatest qualities came from the circumstances of its development rather than any master plan.
At the very least, it’s a fascinating look into how an all-time classic can be inspired by something as innocuous as a theme park attraction.