Hey, Look, Listen: Reanalyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword

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If you ever wanted to know exactly how much The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword holds your hand, you’ve come to the right place. You will find no exaggerated opinions based on hazy recollections here. This is an objective analysis of handholding in Skyward Sword, and I now have full faith in the data collected from this game after auditing the game once more with a second playthrough.

For those new to Hey, Look, Listen, this is a series of articles that seeks to objectively analyze how much a collection of Zelda games—namely Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword—hold the player’s hand during gameplay. Think of this is a look at backseat driving in video games, focusing on titles in the Zelda franchise.

You can read more about the intentions behind this audit, my methodology, how I define each of the criteria used to measure handholding, and more in the first article of the Hey, Look, Listen series, here. You can also read my completed audits of Twilight Princess here, Ocarina of Time here, and The Wind Waker here.

This article is meant to rectify the mistakes I made in my initial audit of Skyward Sword, and you can find that article and a video explaining why this reanalysis had to be conducted here. I also completed an audit of Majora’s Mask, which can be found here, but since I made many of the same mistakes in my audit of that game as I did with my first audit of Skyward Sword, I expect to reanalyze that game later on.

Today, I will analyze the data on handholding gathered from my second playthrough of Skyward Sword—with infographics, raw numbers, and commentary.

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Making the decision to audit Skyward Sword a second time was not easy, but I knew that issuing a verdict with the faulty numbers I had from my first playthrough would defeat the purpose of this audit. The data collected from my second playthrough undoubtedly carries its share of flaws, as will any audit in this series. However, I am now confident that Skyward Sword has at last been held to the same standard of scrutiny that other games were held to in this audit, and that is what is most important.

New Data, New Analysis

I’ll go over each of my handholding Counters in a moment, but here’s a quick look at how everything I’ve kept track of has changed since my first playthrough back in December:

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How did I end up with such radically different numbers on my second playthrough? How did I miss 438 Camera Movements during my first playthrough? How did the instances of Redundant Information jump by 85%? I will answer all of these questions and more with an analysis of each Counter, starting with one of the most obvious indicators of handholding in video games: a thing I call Gameplay Interruptions, or GPIs.

Gameplay Interruptions (GPIs)

A Gameplay Interruption (GPI) is a moment when player control is suspended unexpectedly. In Zelda games, GPIs are instances when players are moving Link around the game world when they suddenly loose control so another character can tell them something or the camera can show them a point of interest.

Of course, movements of the game’s camera are prevalent in Zelda games, as are conversations with other characters, so GPIs only measure those times when the player doesn’t initiate these actions themselves, or would not otherwise expect them to happen. Consider GPIs to be a measure of an extreme form of handholding: moments when the game abruptly takes away player control without their consent in order to instruct them in some way.

Over the course of my second playthrough of Skyward Sword, I counted 162 GPIs, which is a fair amount more than the 126 GPIs I counted on my first playthrough. I attribute the 29% increase here to a heightened level of awareness. My methodology for counting GPIs has not changed since the beginning of this audit, but the experience of auditing multiple Zelda games has honed my ability to spot examples of handholding.

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Many of the 36 tallies for this Counter that I failed to count in my first playthrough were found at three key points during my second playthrough. I discovered an extra 14 GPIs between the moment Zelda is lost in the tornado and the moment I entered Skyview Temple (a segment that stretched on for more than two hours), 7 extra GPIs were found in the Earth Temple, and my first playthrough failed to tally 6 GPIs during the final chase and battle with Ghirahim.

Skyward Sword remains the longest game in this audit, and my second playthrough lasted only a few minutes shorter than my first, at 39 hours and 9 minutes. This gave my second playthrough of Skyward Sword an average of 4.14 GPIs per hour, and distribution was moderately consistent over the course of the game. However, 26% of all GPIs occurred before entering Skyview Temple, which was less than three and a half hours into the game. I also did not encounter any GPIs for more than two hours between the middle of the Ancient Cistern dungeon and my first entry of the Lanayru Caves.

Companion GPIs

Companion GPIs are the same as ordinary GPIs except for one extra qualifier: Link’s Companion must be the source of the GPI. Link’s Companion in Skyward Sword is Fi, so this is a measure of the number of times my gameplay was unexpectedly interrupted and I was immediately presented with a message from Fi. This does not include moments when Fi spoke to me after something else interrupted my gameplay, nor does it include her usual messages that appear when entering a new region.

My second playthrough of Skyward Sword netted 28 Companion GPIs total, which is actually less than the 38 Companion GPIs I encountered during my first playthrough. In fact, Companion GPIs are one of only two of my Counters in my second playthrough where final tallies showed a net decrease over my first playthrough.

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Some deviation in my Counters should be expected with every playthrough, but I am confident the 10 extra GPIs from my first playthrough were counted because I didn’t follow through with my methodology as well as I should have the first time around. Basically, I was counting moments when Fi spoke to me, but she was not really the source of a Gameplay Interruption during my first playthrough. But in my second playthrough, I excluded these inaccurate tallies.

Chimes

One of the reasons I started this audit was because I wanted to measure how many times Navi would call for the player’s attention to press C-up in Ocarina of Time, and this gave birth to the concept of Chimes. Chimes are moments in Zelda games where a part of the Heads Up Display (HUD) changes or illuminates along with an audio cue in order to draw the player’s attention to the fact that they must press a button to receive optional or additional information, usually from their Companion.

Over the course of my second playthrough of Skyward Sword, I found that Fi called for my attention to press Down on the D-pad just 15 times. Four of those 15 instances were clustered around my first entry into Faron Province. Aside from that, Skyward Sword’s optional messages from Fi were thinly sprinkled throughout my playthrough, so measuring the hourly rate doesn’t really apply here.

Usually, this would place Skyward Sword well behind the other games in this audit as far as Chimes are concerned, but we haven’t yet considered one of the more comprehensive aspects of this reanalysis of handholding in Skyward Sword: Variable Data Counters.

Variable Data Counters: Sailcloth, User Interface, Batteries, Hearts, Shield

Think of Variable Data Counters (VDCs) as a series of sub-counters meant to keep track of what gameplay elements contribute to the main eight Counters. What this means for Chimes is, in addition to the ordinary Chimes where Fi shouts for attention during gameplay, I kept track of other things that could qualify as Chimes, including alerts to start Dowsing, and reminders about low battery life.

Here is a list of VDCs for Chimes, including their name, the number of them encountered over the course of my playthrough, and a description of what each constitutes:

  • Sailcloth (118): Tracks every alert to press B to deploy the Sailcloth during a fall, both when descending to the surface, and when falling from great heights.
  • User Interface (40): Tracks every time part of the on-screen controls lit up and sounded an alert to press a button that was not Down on the D-pad to hear Fi. This includes Chimes for Dowsing, early tutorials asking players to open their inventory and map for the first time, shouts from Groose during later fights with The Imprisoned, and some early-game alerts to press Down on the D-pad to call for Link’s Loftwing.
  • Batteries (7): Tracks the number of times Fi Chimed to warn me about low battery life in my Wii Remote.
  • Hearts (8): Tracks the number of times Fi Chimed to warn me I was low on hearts. Only happens when Link has only 3 hearts remaining or less.
  • Shield (1): Tracks the number of times Fi Chimed to warn me about low shield integrity.

5-ss-vdc-chimes-3Together, these five VDCs add another 174 Counters to the 15 Chimes from Fi calling for attention during my playthrough. However, the great thing about VDCs is not all of them need to be included in this audit.

The purpose of VDCs is to gather information about extra parameters I’m not sure if I should include in my data or not. The first time I audited Skyward Sword, I made a decision early on that Fi’s warnings about low hearts shouldn’t be measured in my Counters, and didn’t keep track of those Chimes at all. This ended up tying my hands later in the audit; even if I later decided I wanted to go back and include such a parameter in my Counters, I was unable to because I had no data to work with.

VDCs untie my hands and allow me to make more informed decisions about what data to include or exclude, and provides readers with more stats to chew on.

Of my second playthrough’s 174 VDCs for Chimes, we see a whopping 118 attributed just to the rings and on-screen prompts to pull out the Sailcloth. After quite a bit of thought, I decided to exclude Chimes related to the Sailcloth altogether from this audit. This mostly has to do with my belief that Sailcloth Chimes are just Quick Time Events rather than indicators of handholding, but you can read more about my reasoning on this matter in the Other Handholding Factors section near the bottom of this article.

As for the 40 VDCs from User Interface, I will definitely be including every one of these data points in my Chimes Counter. Shouts from Groose to use the Groosenator, alerts to press C to begin dowsing, and prompts to press the + button to view the map for the first time are indicators of handholding the same as Fi asking for our attention to give us hints about a boss battle or letting us know our batteries are low. Speaking of which…

I attributed 7 VDCs to warnings about low batteries from Fi, 8 VDCs to warnings about low hearts from Fi, and 1 VDC to a warning from Fi about low shield integrity. As small as each of these numbers may be, I have concluded that I cannot count any of them in my Chimes Counter because all of them belong to one notorious category of data: Session-Dependent Tutorial Messages, or SDTMs for short.

I’ve dedicated a large portion of the Other Handholding Factors section at the bottom of this article to the subject of SDTMs, but for now, suffice to say that I will not be counting any of Fi’s warnings about low health, low shield strength, or low batteries in my Chimes Counter.

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As you can see by this chart, my tallies for the Chime Counter during both playthroughs were relatively consistent until the sudden acceleration in Chimes near the end of my second playthrough. This sudden acceleration was caused by the fact that I fought The Imprisoned four times in just 72 minutes near the end of my game.

The first two of these four fights against The Imprisoned were a part of an optional side quest to obtain the Hylian Shield. Once I completed that, I preceded right to the next part of the game, which just so happened to be the final fight with The Imprisoned, and this one was mandatory. I almost defeated The Imprisoned this third time, but fell a little short, lost, and had to start all over again, beating the final fight with The Imprisoned on my second try.

Across all four of these battles, I accumulated a total of 10 Chimes from Groose to use the Groosenator, and one Chime from Fi to give me extra advice on how to defeat The Imprisoned after losing to it.

With all that said and done, the final verdict on Chimes in my second playthrough of Skyward Sword is this: I encountered 55 of them during my playthrough, with a very uneven distribution throughout the game. Yes, I had an unusual series of events with The Imprisoned near the end of my second playthrough, but this only contributed 4 extra tallies to my Chimes Counter versus someone who beat every one of these fights on their first try… and how many people struggled against this boss when they first faced it? Let’s move on.

Camera Movements

Any time the camera moved while I did not have control over the events on the screen, I added a tally to a Counter for Camera Movements. One of the most frequent examples of Camera Movements in Zelda games involve Link activating a switch, pulling a lever, or stepping on a button, which causes a loss of player control while the camera moves to show a door opening or some other part of the environment change. There’s a lot more to Camera Movements than that, so here’s an infographic explaining some examples of Camera Movements:

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Before taking VDCs for Camera Movements into consideration, I discovered 642 Camera Movements in my second playthrough of Skyward Sword. This total, as I predicted in my update a few weeks ago, was significantly more than the 247 Camera Movements I discovered in my first playthrough. This also comes out to 16.4 Camera Movements per hour over the course of my playthrough, with a remarkably consistent distribution, to boot.

Regardless of whether we look at absolute numbers or hourly rate, the Camera Movements Counter represents the single greatest disparity in data between my playthroughs of Skyward Sword. However, that disparity widens once we take Variable Data Counters into consideration…

Variable Data Counters: Map, Timeshift Stones, Loftwing, Goddess Cubes

  • 19-vdc-cameraMap (49): Tracks every time the map was brought up without player input.
  • Timeshift Stones (43): Tracks the number of times Camera Movements were caused directly because a Timeshift Stone was struck.
  • Loftwing (109): Tracks the number of times Link whistled for and started riding his Loftwing.
  • Goddess Cubes (27): Tracks the number of times the camera moved specifically to show Goddess Cubes rising into the sky.

Together, these four VDCs could add another 229 tallies to the 642 Camera Movements already present in the game. However, at the conclusion of my second playthrough, I decided to exclude some of these VDCs from the Camera Movements Counter, namely the Loftwing and Map VDCs. You can read more about my reasoning for excluding the Loftwing and Map VDCs in the Other Handholding Factors section at the end of this article.

The Camera Movements that activate when toggling Timeshift Stones were something I included in my first playthrough’s Camera Movements Counter, but this time around, I decided to included them as a VDC to give us a more comprehensive look at their contributions to this Counter. Although the number of Timeshift Stone Camera Movements will vary somewhat between players based on how much they explore, I’m still including all 43 instances of this VDC in my audit.

The Camera Movements that activate when Link hits a Goddess Cube with a Skyward Strike were not counted as Camera Movements in my first playthrough, but I decided to count them here originally as part of the Loftwing VDC. The initial idea was to keep track of all the Camera Movements associated with transitions between the surface and the sky.

However, as time went on, I decided to exclude the Loftwing data from this audit, and keep only the data for Goddess Cubes. This resulted in 27 Camera Movements for Goddess Cubes, which just happens to be the exact number of Goddess Cubes in the game, so this number can’t get any higher in any playthrough.

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As a result of all this, the total number of Camera Movements in my second playthrough of Skyward Sword will be tallied at 712, with an average of 18.2 Camera Movements per hour. As you can see by the graphic above, distribution of Camera Movements over time was relatively consistent in my second playthrough, with a noticeable increase almost every step of the way versus the data from my first playthrough. On a personal note, this chart alone validates my reasoning for conducting this second playthrough.

Redundant Information

The Redundant Information Counter keeps track of how often information is said by one source and then quickly stated again by another source using different wording, as well as the number of times information that is painfully obvious is stated.

21-fi-screen-large-copyI must admit that the primary reason why I keep track of Redundant Information for any of the games in this audit is because of my own personal reaction to the character Fi in Skyward Sword.

When I first played Skyward Sword years ago, I felt Fi was annoying; I did not like the way Fi spoke, and I had many unpleasant memories of her spouting out information that I already knew. This fact alone brings the unsettling shadow of confirmation bias into this audit. Nonetheless, I did my best to evaluate Skyward Sword by the same tough standard for measuring Redundant Information as I did for all other games in this audit.

I uncovered a total of 42 instances of Redundant Information in my second playthrough of Skyward Sword, and 9 of those occurred in an 88-minute segment between the moment I obtained the Goddess Sword, and the moment I entered the Deep Woods for the first time. The remaining 33 instances of Redundant Information were spread somewhat unevenly throughout the rest of the playthrough, but averaged out at roughly 1.1 instances per hour.

Things get much more interesting once we take VDCs for Redundant Information into consideration.

Variable Data Counters: Collectables, Batteries, Hearts, Shield, Fi Speech

  • 20-vdc-redundantCollectables (177): Tracks every time gameplay pauses to give me a description of a bug, Gratitude Crystal laying on the ground, or piece of treasure that I had already picked up in a previous play session. This does not include the messages encountered the first time I picked up one of these 29 unique Collectables. It also does not include the messages encountered when picking up a Collectable from a treasure chest, because such an action always triggers the message, as was also the case with Collectables in The Wind Waker.
  • Batteries (7): Tracks the number of times Fi warned me to replace my batteries even while an omnipresent low battery icon was displayed on the screen.
  • Hearts (8): Tracks the number of times Fi let me know I was low on health.
  • Shield (1): Tracks every time Fi warned me about low shield integrity.
  • Fi Speech (43): Tracks the number of times Fi specifically was the source of Redundant Information, which does not overlap with the Redundant Information Counter or VDCs for Batteries, Hearts, and Shield.

Before we get into the details of these numbers, let me discuss the Fi Speech VDC.

Fi Speech

Around the time I helped the robots escape from the Sandship, I began to question Fi’s contributions to my Redundant Information Counter. After all, one thing the Counter for Redundant Information is not supposed to keep track of is character commentary. I believe a fine line exists between information for the player that truly is redundant, and characters commenting on the events in the game world.

loz-oot_mido_0002Early in Ocarina of Time, we witness the Great Deku Tree turn from healthy brown to decaying gray, after which Mido tells us the Great Deku Tree is dead. However, I don’t consider Mido’s words to be Redundant Information, because even though he is providing me with information I already knew, it’s not really the game holding my hand—this is just part of the storytelling experience.

If I included Mido’s words as examples of Redundant Information, I could quickly fall down a slippery slope where every little tidbit of information that was not completely new information could be counted as Redundant Information. This could give every one of these games hundreds, if not thousands of tallies for Redundant Information, and the Counter would become pointless.

As a result, I excluded from the Redundant Information Counter instances where I figured a character was saying something not primarily to inform me of something, but primarily to express their commentary on the matter.

What I’m getting at here is… what if all the obvious things that Fi says are actually nothing more than her character commentary? I think few of us would disagree that Fi is very analytical when she talks. Her manner of speech is precise and academic, which makes her messages padded and cumbersome. I began to wonder if Fi speaks this way because that is the way her character is written, or perhaps Fi speaks that way primarily because the game’s designers wanted her to guide players through their gameplay experience?

dsc_0157Furthermore, I worried that some of my own biases were seeping into this audit. To put it bluntly, Fi pisses me off. Within the first twenty minutes of being introduced to Fi, I developed a strong knee-jerk negative reaction to her, and every sound and sight of her made me groan with distain.

As a result, I worry that this personal opinion of Fi caused me to attribute more tallies of Redundant Information to her than she deserved. But as I said before, I feel the very nature of Fi’s manner of speech is prone to a high degree of redundancy, so maybe my anti-Fi bias was not contributing to the Redundant Information Counter at all.

Either way, I realized late in my audit that Fi was likely a major contributor to my Redundant Information Counter, and decided I should start counting her contributions to it as VDCs. In the final 15 hours and 30 minutes of my playthrough, I recorded 22 instances where Fi was the primary source of Redundant Information, and I added another 21 tallies from specific points earlier in my playthrough that I clearly remembered or had made a note of in my tallies. This gave me a total of at least 43 instances in my second playthrough of Skyward Sword where Fi was the source of Redundant Information, though I suspect the actual number may be higher than that.

Collectables

Almost anybody who’s played Skyward Sword has had to sit through more than one explanation of an Amber Relic, and then watch as it was added to the several dozen they had already collected. The same goes for Blessed Butterflies, Jelly Blobs, Deku Hornets and a laundry list of other bugs and treasures, 28 in total. We also get a similar message if we’re picking up a Gratitude Crystal from the ground for the first time in a play session.

Unfortunately for this audit, Collectables are Session-Dependent Tutorial Messages (SDTMs) just like Fi’s warnings about low hearts, low shield strength, and low battery life. As a result, I cannot include the messages about Collectables in my Counter for Redundant Information without compromising the rest of the audit’s integrity. You can read more about why I excluded Collectables and other SDTMs the Redundant Information Counter in the Session-Dependent Tutorial Messages part of the Other Handholding Factors section near the end of this article.

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On the above chart, I’ve highlighted the section of both playthroughs that took me through the Sandship dungeon, because this is where we see a significant acceleration in instances of Redundant Information in the second playthrough. After the Sandship, the rate of growth stabilizes to levels before the Sandship.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason for this acceleration is the fact that the Sandship is home to many more instances of Redundant Information than any other point in the game. The Sandship is where Fi spends too long explaining what a Bow is and how it functions, Fi lets us know that striking a Timeshift Stone caused a change in our environment, and we also listen to the robot prisoners spout a few redundancies in addition to many other things.

It’s also worth noting that the Fi Speech VDC was created around this point as well, and the Fi Speech VDC contributes much more to the total instances of Redunant Information after it was created (22 of 35) than before it was created (21 of 50). However, the distribution of Fi Speech VDC tallies is otherwise relatively consistent throughout this playthrough, so I don’t believe it is the major contributor to this particular acceleration.

Ultimately the total instances of Redundant Information in my second playthrough of Skyward Sword will be tallied at 85, which average out to 2.2 instances of Redundant Information per hour.

Frustration and Joy

25-dsc_0733These Counters don’t really matter anymore… or at least Joy doesn’t. A 420% (insert childish joke here) growth in instances of Joy from my first playthrough to my second is not indicative of a thoughtful adjustment to my methodology; it is merely a reflection of my lack of faith in keeping track of this data.

If anything at all, the only reason why I continue to keep track of instances of Joy is because it keeps my mind in the right place during this audit. Keeping track of moments where I feel happy or believe someone would be amazed by something on the screen are just one of the many reasons for me to pick up my pencil and mark another tally in my notebook.

In some ways, I suppose it’s interesting to note that I tallied 21 instances of Frustration in my second playthrough and 22 in my first. This represents the smallest disparity in data between my first and second playthroughs out of all my Counters. But even then, Frustration itself is such a subjective Counter that I feel little need to elaborate on it any further.

Cutscenes

The main difference between a Camera Movement and a Cutscene is a Cutscene involves much more lengthy exchanges of dialogue, unique character animations, and/or usually more cinematic camera angles and movements with prolonged pans, sways and zooms. There’s a major difference between the Camera Movement that happens when Link sends a Goddess Cube into the sky and the Cutscene where The Imprisoned is squished at the end of the game.

Furthermore, while some camera movements can be repeated, each Cutscene happens only once over the course of Skyward Sword’s linear narrative. Which raises the question… how did I count 55 Cutscenes in my first playthrough, and 69 in my second? The answer is simple: I counted wrong the first time.

Basically, I failed to count those scenes where Link puts on his tough guy face as he enters a dungeon for the first time as Cutscenes, which adds one Cutscene per dungeon to this Counter. I also broke some Cutscenes into more than one because of the way some include a lengthy fade-to-black that indicates the transition from one Cutscene directly to another. A good example of this is when Zelda is stolen away in the tornado during a Cutscene, and then we watch Link waking up the next day at the start of a new Cutscene.

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All told, 69 Cutscenes isn’t a major change in data from last time. We’re still looking at fewer than two Cutscenes per hour in this game. We also still see a significant number of Cutscenes clustered within the first and final 2.5 hours of the game, but these 5 hours now comprise 36% of all Cutscenes instead of 45%.

If you’re interested in a better understanding of why I’m keeping track of Cutscenes in this audit on handholding, I discussed this issue in much greater detail in my article analyzing handholding in The Wind Waker.

Other Handholding Factors

This audit can’t keep track of everything. I’ve kept track of the number of unique play sessions I broke my playthrough into, the amount of time each section of gameplay took me to complete, and much more than I care to list here. However, some things can’t be included in this audit or its Counters, or need a more thorough explanation on why they’ve been excluded.

Session-Dependent Tutorial Messages

ss_sd1_dsc_0318Session-Dependent Tutorial Messages are a variation of Tutorial Messages, and every Zelda game in this audit has Tutorial Messages. Tutorial Messages are moments in Zelda games when players are provided with messages explaining new mechanics or new items, usually the first time those items are encountered. For example, gameplay will pause to give players a description of Deku Nuts the first time they pick one up in Ocarina of Time, and the same thing happens for Magic Jars in The Wind Waker, Stamina Fruit in Skyward Sword, and much more. Tutorial Messages are only encountered once per playthrough, and few of them are included in this audit.

What sets Skyward Sword apart from other Zelda games is the way that some Tutorial Messages are dependent on play session. These Session-Dependent Tutorial Messages (SDTMs) are like regular Tutorial Messages in that they provide contextualized information about an item or mechanic once a player encounters them and they are only seen or heard once. However SDTMs are reset every time the player loads up their game at the start of each play session, and their unique Tutorial Message will pop up every time the player first encounters the item or mechanic in question in each play session.

More specifically, here’s a list of all SDTMs in Skyward Sword:

  • ss_sd2_dsc_0523When Link has only three hearts remaining, Fi will Chime and advise Link about the state of his hearts.
  • When Link’s shield’s integrity is very low, Fi will Chime and advise Link about the state of his shield.
  • When the batteries in the player’s Wii Remote are low, Fi will Chime and advise players to change their batteries.
  • All 12 bugs and 16 treasures as well as Gratitude Crystals laying on the ground have SDTMs attached to them, that will set off Tutorial Messages when each one is picked up.

Remember, all 32 of these unique SDTMs (3 for Chimes from Fi and 29 for Collectables) each has the potential to activate only once per play session; players will never hear more than one warning about their low hearts from Fi in a single session.

ss_sd3_dsc_0335I have little doubt that, subjectively speaking, the high number of SDTMs in Skyward Sword can lead to a prolonged sense over the course of a playthrough that the game is holding the player’s hand, and going out of its way to explain to them things that they already know.

This makes SDTMs ripe for inclusion in the Hey, Look, Listen series, especially since I encountered a total of 193 of them over the course of my playthrough. However, I cannot include any of these SDTMs in my Counters for Chimes or Redundant Information because they conflict with the foundation upon which all of my Counters are built: measuring indicators of handholding that occur over the course of an average playthrough.

Very early in the process of conducting this audit, I defined an average playthrough as playing each game’s main story, as well as completing a moderate amount of side quests. Along the way, I would keep a tally of how many times certain indicators of handholding occurred and when they occurred, all based on the premise that a certain number of them should occur in each playthrough with relatively minimal variation.

In other words, I was trying to figure out how many times Zelda games hold our hand regardless of our skill level, play style, or experience. This would not only make my findings more objective, it would make the audit itself testable.

ss_sd4_dsc_0657SDTMs, however, throw the premise of testability off, because they are directly tied to play style, namely the number of times players turn off and on their game console. If I included SDTMs in the Chimes and Redundant Information Counters, here are some examples of how this audit’s testability could be ruined:

  • Someone who replaces their batteries at the end of every play session and only plays the game in half-hour sessions will likely never encounter any Chimes from Fi about battery life. However, this player will probably encounter many more messages about Collectables than I did in my playthrough because of so many resets of the SDTMs for Collectables.
  • Someone who plays through the whole game in a single 40-hour sitting, or simply never turns their game off between breaks, will encounter no SDTMs.
  • I don’t like using shields in Skyward Sword and ran through most of the game without one until obtaining the Sacred Shield and Hylian Shield very late in the game. As a result, I heard Fi Chime about low shield integrity many fewer times than someone who decided to use shields a lot. If I never used a shield at all, I would have never heard Fi Chimes about low shield integrity at all.

ss_sd5_dsc_0277Players should not have to adopt specific play styles or adopt certain play habits in order to reproduce the same results I did in these audits.

The integrity of the whole audit could be ruined if someone could credibly say, “The only reason you weren’t annoyed by the messages about Blessed Butterflies is because you never bought the Bug Net to catch them!” Or, “The only reason you’re upset with Fi’s reminders about low hearts is because you’re a noob who sucks at combat and never figured out how to get the Heart Medal!”

After all, this audit is supposed to avoid unique player experiences and look as objectively as possible at the things that will usually happen in every player’s experience of each of these games.

ss_sd6_dsc_0180On top of all of that, I didn’t keep track of the number of times SDTMs were triggered for rupees during my audit of Twilight Princess, so using the data collected from SDTMs in Skyward Sword without that data is a very unfair comparison.

The bottom line on the 193 SDTMs collected in this audit (177 for Collectables, 7 for Batteries, 8 for Hearts, and 1 for Shield) is they will not be applied to the Counters for Redundant Information or Chimes.

Instead, I will say that Skyward Sword has 32 SDTMs. That is to say, it features 32 unique things that can trigger Tutorial Messages in any play session, regardless of previous player experience. SDTMs will be counted in my final verdict and, if possible, will be measured for each game. However, since SDTMs are very different from my other Counters, they may not require a full playthrough of each game in order to measure them.

Sailcloth Chimes

ss_sd7_ss_screen1-16Sailcloth Chimes are not indicators of handholding; they are just Quick Time Events!

Yes, yes. Cue the “press X to pay respects/not die” jokes. But in all seriousness, that is what I see the alerts to deploy Link’s Sailcloth as: segments of gameplay where success or failure of a specific sequence all depend on whether the player provides a context-sensitive input according to an on-screen prompt. And given that several of these Sailcloth deployments occur regardless of player input, some of them qualify as Slow Time Events.

On-screen prompts to press certain buttons are nothing new to the Zelda series. During gameplay in Ocarina of Time, the A button on the player’s HUD frequently changes to indicate what context-sensitive action a player may perform by pressing the button. While playing Skyward Sword, a prompt frequently appears in the bottom center of the screen, which instructs the player on how they should move the Wii Remote in a wide variety of situations.

Unlike the other Counters in this audit that measure instances where player agency is limited or suspended, the alerts to deploy the Sailcloth in Skyward Sword is just a warning of imminent danger. In many ways, I see Sailcloth Chimes as very similar to another gameplay element I did not count during my audits of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess: alerts during combat to press the A button to perform a counter-attack.

Essentially, Sailcloth Chimes are just like the alert about low health that happens in every Zelda game, or the warning that happens in Skyward Sword when the player is low on stamina after sprinting or low on air when under water. I have not included such warnings in any part of this audit, and I will not place such a handicap on my audit of Skyward Sword.

Loftwing Camera Movements

ss_sd8_24uxru0During my audit of The Wind Waker, I included those moments when the camera showed the wind changing direction as Camera Movements. On my second playthrough of Skyward Sword, I decided to apply the same thinking and keep track of every time Link whistled for his Loftwing, making every tally of the Loftwing Variable Data Counters (VDCs) a Camera Movement.

Then I realized… that’s a pretty stupid thing to consider a Camera Movement.

First of all, the camera doesn’t actually move all that much. In fact, Link remains the center of the camera’s focus throughout the process of whistling to his bird and falling onto its back. Most Camera Movements in my audit involve dramatic shifts of the camera’s focus, usually away from Link to show us something we’re not directly controlling. But more importantly, I don’t consider these scenes to be moments where the game is holding the player’s hand.

ss_sd9_skyward-sword-screenshot-00013Are the short scenes we see in Majora’s Mask, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess where Link mounts Epona Camera Movements? I didn’t think so, and I didn’t include them as such in my Counters for those games. When Link whistles for his Loftwing, it’s the same as mounting Epona in the other games; Link is just getting onto his mode of transportation.

This raises the question: what about all the Camera Movements in my audit of The Wind Waker attributed to changes in the wind’s direction? Well, in the interest of applying the same methodology to every game in this audit, I’ve decided to retroactively remove those tallies from the Camera Movements Counter in my audit of that game. I don’t need to play through The Wind Waker a second time, I will just subtract the 83 tallies caused by changes in the wind’s direction from the 539 Camera Movements gathered in that audit and say that The Wind Waker had a total of 456 Camera Movements.

Map Camera Movements

ss_sd10_dsc_0141Early in my playthrough of Skyward Sword, I realized the game quite frequently pulls out Link’s map to show the player something on it. I decided that this action was a sort of Camera Movement on its own, so I started keeping track of every time Fi, a robot, the acquisition of a dungeon map, or some other action or character caused my map to pop up without my input.

By the end of my playthrough, I counted 49 times that this Map VDC was added to, and had strong intentions to include them in my final tallies for Camera Movements. Then I realized I hadn’t kept track of similar instances when the map is pulled up for the player in my audits of Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker.

I know for a fact that the map is pulled out for the player several times in Twilight Princess, and I know The Wind Waker frequently shows the player The Great Sea for new charts and other things. It wouldn’t be fair to hold Skyward Sword accountable for the number of times it shows me my map but not these other games. So, I’m excluding these 49 tallies from my audit of this game.

What’s Next?

Believe it or not but, I have to do a second playthrough of Majora’s Mask now, mainly for the same reasons I conducted this second audit of Skyward Sword. I need go back and uncover all the uncounted repeat Camera Movements I failed to count in my initial playthrough of Majora’s Mask. I’ll also keep track of some other VDCs to give us a more accurate picture of the data.

No, I won’t be playing the 3DS remake, since I do not own that version of the game or a 3DS. Instead, I will play the same version of the game I played when I audited the game back in December: the Virtual Console version for the Wii. You can expect to read the next article in the Hey, Look, Listen series, Reanalyzing Handholding in Majora’s Mask, when it comes out some time in April.

Until then, thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any comments below on what you think of these findings or the audit itself!

Condensed Spreadsheet of Skyward Sword Second Playthrough Data

Because my second audit of Skyward Sword was much more comprehensive than my first, the full unfiltered thing is too big for this webpage. However, I’ve provided a condensed version here, which represents the tallies for my eight main Counters with all VDCs included.

27-spreadsheet-vdcs-condensed

Other Articles in the Hey, Look, Listen Series


This entry was originally posted on Zelda Informer, and you can find it here.

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7 thoughts on “Hey, Look, Listen: Reanalyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword

  1. Pingback: UPDATE Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword | Paul Grzelak

  2. Pingback: Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in The Wind Waker | Paul Grzelak

  3. Pingback: Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in Ocarina of Time | Paul Grzelak

  4. Pingback: Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in Twilight Princess | Paul Grzelak

  5. Pingback: Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in Majora’s Mask | Paul Grzelak

  6. Pingback: Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword | Paul Grzelak

  7. Pingback: Hey, Look, Listen: Analyzing Handholding in Zelda | Paul Grzelak

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