A few nights ago, I saw a friend of mine from Utah, USA, whom I know from a previous video game charity event (Darkwing_Duck_SDA on Twitter), playing a randomized version of The Legend of Zelda.
For those of you who haven’t played the original Zelda for NES (I hope I’m not aging myself too badly as the resident LAW 423 geezer): the basic idea of the game is that you search a large (for the era) world for eight dungeons. In each dungeon, there is an item that helps you progress in that dungeon and future dungeons, as well as a boss monster guarding a magical artefact. Collect all eight artefacts, and you can enter the final (ninth) dungeon, beat the final bad guy, and save the princess.
The randomization project has a lot of customization options. But, the craziest preset option is one called “Pandemonium Mode”. All the dungeon locations are randomized (so what may previously have been an entrance to a medicine shop is now the entrance to a dungeon — which one, who knows?). Which items are located where in which dungeon? Randomized. The layout of the rooms in each dungeon? Randomized. Which enemies are in which locations? Randomized. The location of the artefact and items in each dungeon? Randomized.
While randomization per se isn’t difficult, randomizing the game in such a way that it can still be completed is very difficult. For example, in the original version of the game, you need the raft from one dungeon to sail across a narrow strait to reach the next dungeon. It would really stink if, in a randomized version, the entrance to dungeon N were put across that narrow strait, and the raft were located in dungeon N — oops, the game now can no longer be completed.
Take a look at all the constraints that the team who made the randomizer had to come up with to make the game as random as possible, while still guaranteeing that any given randomization (while potentially as frustrating as possibly imaginable) is still completable.
To me, that speaks to the designers imbuing this randomizer with an incredible amount of their own creativity. And, what can this randomizer do for Nintendo except attract a fresh set of eyes to an old game? To me, this is an amazing expression of fan-creativity in the video game / online world.
But, what do you think?