All posts by Ike

Weapon Durability in Breath of the Wild

I wrote this essay as part of my graduate school application, posting this here now as a blog post. I’ve added a few extra asides and links to it, enjoy.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of the best games to come out from 2017. A refreshing change to the Zelda formula, Breath of the Wild has received no end of critical and fan acclaim, and was a massive win financially for Nintendo as well. I myself consider it a near perfect game, it blew me away.

One of the only complaints that I have heard consistently, however, is the weapons durability system. All weapons (with the exception of the Master Sword, but we’ll talk about that one later) have durability, and when they run out, they break. Throughout my own journey through Hyrule I found myself hoarding the most powerful weapons for the more dangerous fights, while I spent the rest of the time fighting weaker enemies with clubs, rusty swords, and even mops. From private conversations with friends who have played the game, to reviews and discussions online opinions are mixed as to how much of an actual problem in the course of the game. For some it was a minor inconvenience, and for others it did seriously disrupt their enjoyment of the experience. (such as in this article where he calls it a “tiny bump sticking out of an otherwise mirror-smooth surface”, but considers it enough of a problem to complain throughout the entire piece about it)

Durability systems can serve several different purposes. They can be used to add to a sense of verisimilitude in the game world. In Breath of the Wild the world is untamed, vast, and dangerous. The once great civilization of Hyrule is long fallen, and the hero must make due with what he is able to find lying around. In this regard the use of weapon durability adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.

Weapon durability can also be used to encourage players to use a variety of different weapons. The player is unable to simply rely on a couple of favourite weapons and instead needs to cycle through different weapons. This also justifies the fact that every single enemy in the game drops their weapon when they die. Throughout the game experience the player is constantly picking up weapons that they might otherwise never use (such as the aforementioned mop), and using them.

Lastly, these systems add challenge and difficulty to the experience. The player is forced to be more resourceful and choosy in how and when they use certain weapons. Fights are less straightforward, one has to consider what weapons they have, what weapons they are going to use, and when the better weapons break, improvisation becomes necessary. If all their weapons break, the player may then be forced to find a stick and a weak enemy just to get a slightly better weapon again. Overall, this makes the game more difficult, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what the player wants out of the experience. (The unbreakable nature of the Master Sword, which I’ll discuss in more detail a bit later, almost completely removes the macro level weapon management, somewhat undermining this part of the experience)

Breakable weapons present a lot of problems in the actual gameplay. This is not something that is unique to Breath of the Wild. Many other games use these kinds of systems, and they all suffer from some of the same issues.

One issue is that weapon breakage can lead to a player to play in a sub-optimal way. An example of this is “too-good-to-use syndrome”. Because weapons break,, when the player is given a particularly strong or advantageous weapon, they may think the weapon is too good to use. Their fear of losing that weapon results in them never using it. I experienced this frequently when playing Breath of the Wild, where I would carry around a handful of strong weapons that never went to use until they were the only ones I had less. This is also something I experiences regularly playing Fire Emblem games. In the Fire Emblem series all weapons have a limited number of attacks that they can be used before breaking. The game also has a rock-paper-scissors style circular weakness system, different weapon types are strong against other weapon types. When attacking the optimal strategy is to use a weapon type that is stronger. However, the fear of losing your best weapons frequently led me to using less effective weapons so that I would not lose them.

Another issue is that when weapons break it can leave the player in a really bad position. This is related to the difficulty point I made earlier, and with proper planning and resource management this can be avoided by the player, but it still carries the risk of presenting a problem for them as well. In Breath of the Wild there is a particularly rewarding and difficult overworld enemy called a Lynel. On more than one occasion during my playthrough I attempted to fight one when I thought I was well stocked and well prepared, only to completely run out of weapons. In such cases I would either die or be forced to flee, weaponless and without any reward for my efforts. This can create interesting and fun scenarios for gameplay, but more often than not it’s simply frustrating for the player.

Breath of the Wild curiously does have one weapon that does not break. The Master Sword, Link’s legendary sword throughout the entire series, makes an appearance in Breath of the Wild. Getting it is an ordeal in and of itself, and the weapon itself never breaks. It does have a really strange cool down system of sorts, where instead of breaking the weapon becomes unusable for a time after it has run out of durability. It’s not the strongest weapon in the game, but it’s reliability make it an obvious choice for a majority of mundane tasks in the game. The entire thing, however, results in the Master Sword mostly being used to chop down trees during the Terrytown questline, making the epic weapon of Hyrule feel just a little less epic.

There are a few different solutions that could be used to help combat the complaints about durability while attempting to maintain its benefits. One possible solution is to introduce ways to repair or reinforce weapons. Dark Souls takes this approach, and in the first game of that series it was pretty effective. Weapons would eventually break if used too much, however there was a smith you could go to to repair your weapons. This approach keeps the difficulty and verisimilitude aspects of the durability systems, however, because you can repair your favourite weapons the player is no longer encouraged by the game to try out all the weapon types in the game. This system also allowed for interesting balance opportunities. In Dark Souls, katana-type weapons are very strong, but have low durability, choosing to use them has an interesting trade off. Later games in the series made the system less impactful by making all durability reset when you rest, which lost most of the weight behind the weapon durability. When implementing this kind of solution you would likely want to limit the availability of repairing weapons, but not so much that it might as well not be there at all.

Another possible solution would be to apply a cool down system similar to the Master Sword to more weapons throughout the game. This could likely be limited only to late game weapons, there isn’t much point in making mops and basic clubs not breakable. It would make the Master Sword less “special”, however it could potentially alleviate a lot of the grief and frustration, especially when dealing with late game enemies and bosses. Because the lower level weapons still break you would still get the advantage of encouraging players to try out different weapon types during the early game.

In spite of the annoyances caused by the durability systems Breath of the Wild is an excellent game, and very deserving of the near ceaseless praise that has been heaped upon it. While exploring possible solutions to the potential problems of weapon durability in the game is a useful exercise, at the end of the day weapon durability is part of what made Breath of the Wild the game that it was. I thoroughly enjoyed my own journey through Hyrule, and I look forward to playing it again soon now that the DLC has come out.

Summer Update – PAX

The last few months have mostly been about adding more content. There have been a few mechanical additions and polish, but for the most part this summer I’ve been adding levels and content to the game to try and get the game ready for PAX.

On Monday my friend Thomas and I drive to Seattle to attend PAX Dev, a game developer conference that is held right before PAX West every year. This will be my third consecutive year attending Dev and West, and I’m looking forward to it. This event has been one of my soft deadlines for a while now, as it will be a good opportunity to get other devs to playtest Vacío’s current state and hopefully give me some good feedback on where I can improve.

Vacío is going to be a pretty short game. It’s not really meant to be a commercial product, but more of a portfolio piece. The goal is to have just enough content to explore the mechanics of each of the powerups as well as the last section’s mechanic. For PAX, I set a soft deadline of wanting to have the levels that show off the three powerups put together so I could at least get playtests on those levels. I have a few more days left to spend polishing it, but I have succeeded there, and will be able to get feedback on those levels at the event.

In addition to the level design I’ve also been working on getting additional animations and polish into the game. One of the earliest was I got the animation for grabbing powerups into the game.

From the very beginning of the project I had a clear vision of what the game was supposed to represent. It is a game about depression, and part of that is represented by the main character having a hole in their torso. The powerups are used to temporarily fill that hole, and give the player short-term abilities that they are able to use to get around obstacles. This animation of grabbing the powerup and shoving it into the torso was an important step in expressing that intention, and I got it working in the game in early June.

Through July and August I also added some additional polish to the other powerups, unfortunately for the air-walk powerup I didn’t record any GIFs, so I have nothing to show.

The most flashy of the powerups is definitely the flight powerup, and I was very excited to get it added into the game. The code for flight has been working for a long time, but only in the past few weeks did I finally get the animations added and working, so the flight is a lot more cool looking.

After I get back from PAX and my vacation afterwards I will be moving on to working on the last section of the game, which moves away from powerups and instead sees you working with another individual to get out of the cave together. That’s going to involve AI code and some new design, which is one reason why it wasn’t included in my soft deadline of PAX Dev. Here is a brief teaser.

So, that about covers all the new stuff that’s been added in. With that there is only one major section of the game to plan and code, and I’ll be into full polish mode. After the game is put together I intend to move on to music and sound design, and I’ll post about that as well when I get around to it.

I’m not going to make any promises about writing more devlog posts on any kind of regular schedule, since I’ve already proven to myself time and time again that I can’t keep that promise. So, until next time.

April Update – Art

This month has mostly been about art. Not entirely, I have been also doing work refactoring already existing code, making the player controller more manageable, re-working the collapsing platforms, but mostly I’ve been working to get the art Fernando delivered plugged into the game.

While the new stuff certainly looks pretty flashy, there’s not a whole lot to talk about on the technical or interesting side of things. A lot of individual frame additions in the editor, and a lot of level design using Tiled, and we are making some good progress on making this game look and feel the way it should. This has done a lot to make the game feel more real to me, not only am I less ashamed to show off the state of the prototype, but it also is beginning to feel like a game. The character moves, and jumps and it is starting to look pretty good.

I have also started trying my hand at doing game development streams on the Creative channel at Twitch. Not sure if I will continue that habit, there are pros and cons. On the one hand my schedule is not as normal as I would like to believe, so trying to commit to a weekly development stream is daunting. On the other hand the few times I’ve tried it so far it has resulted in very productive evenings. One thing I did get done during one such stream is adding a nifty particle effect to the collapsing platforms.

So that about sums up what I’ve been working on this last month. Vacío is coming along, and I hope to have a playable “beta” finished and ready to get a few playtesters by the end of May or midway through June.

To wrap things up here is the obligatory dog picture:


March Update – Vacío

Hey, everyone! It’s been a while. About 9 months. So, some news.

The point and click adventure game is… not happening at the moment. As happens with almost every prototype I’ve worked on there reaches a point where I lost interest, or lost sight of what made the game interesting, and it just doesn’t seem worth my time. The same thing happened with another project in the meantime, but I’m not going to go into detail here because I never blogged about it.

However, since December I’ve been working on yet another game project. My roommate (Kobold’s Keep) helped me out with the code for the initial prototype for a short platformer game. A lot is still in progress and I’m not going to talk too much about what I hope the game will be by the time I finish, but there are still plenty of things to talk about.

So, Tom helped me out with the initial prototype character controller, and we got several of the core mechanics working in the prototype stage with temporary open game art.

The game has three powerups planned, and we got the three of them working in the prototype. Recently Tom has moved on to continue to work on other projects, and I highly recommend you follow his twitter to keep up with that.

With his help and the prototype stage finished the game was coming along nicely, and I felt like I had reached the limit of what I could accomplish with the temporary art. While mechanically the core things were in there, it just didn’t feel right. A lot of the feel of the game comes down to how the game looks in addition to how it plays, so I decided to hire an artist and make this project into a full game.

The process of hiring an artist was something that I was definitely nervous about, not really sure why, but it was something that I experienced some anxiety over. I managed to get over my fear and sent an email to an excellent artist I found on twitter, Fernando Angelo, who you should also definitely follow on twitter.

So, going forward. The next few weeks I’m going to be working on refactoring some of the prototype code, making it a bit more in line with my coding style and make sure I understand what it’s doing, as well as fixing some outstanding bugs that I need to get taken care of. The plan is to get the code to a good place so that I’m ready to figure out animation in Unity so I can start getting the stuff Fernando is working on plugged into the game as well. For now the working title of the game is “Vacío”, but that may be subject to change before the game is finally finished.

I’m very excited to get this game off the ground, and I’m excited to share more about this game as I go forward. I will try to post longer updates here when there is progress worth talking about, but for smaller updates (as well as incessant pictures of my dog) you can follow me on twitter, if you feel so inclined.


June Update: Core Mechanics

Alright, let’s talk about my current game project. But first, here is a video from right around the time of my last blog post of my dog playing with a toy duck.

So, it’s been about 6 months since I’ve touched this website, mostly because there was a lot of floundering for the past year at least, but I think I’ve finally reached some headway where I want to talk about my current game project.

In the development on “Debris” there was a point where both Thomas and I realized that our hearts weren’t really in the project anymore. Maybe we’ll go back to it someday, who knows? In the meantime we’ve both moved on to other projects and work and such.

For the past while I’ve been working on a new game project, which I will talk about more now. (In my last blog post I posted a thing from the first prototype of it, but I’ll talk more here.

In the broadest terms I would describe the game thusly:

A point-and-click murder mystery adventure game where the player finds clues and draws connections between them to solve the case of a missing woman. Inspired by classic film noire and pretty much every detective movie and show out there ever.

I’ve been working on the core mechanics, walking around, picking up clues, etc., but a large amount of time lately has been spent on what I would consider the CORE mechanic of the game. The “Board”. Well, that and replacing my thrown together dialog system with something based off of Yarn, using Yarn Spinner.

(Also, a note: all the gifs and images I post of the game here and on twitter look not great. Everything is placeholder graphics, eventually down the road the goal is to hire artists and make the game actually look like a game.)

So, the board. You know how pretty much every detective movie and show out there has a board? Like, a cork board where they hang up pictures of clues and people and try to piece it all together? Usually using some form of yarn or twine? So, I had the idea that I wanted to turn that into a game mechanic. The idea was that you would have all the clues the player pick up appear on the board and allow them to literally draw connections between clues, people, etc.

The stated goal of this is to allow the player to feel like they are the ones solving the case, rather than just watching the character do it for them. That’s where I’ve been spending most of my development time on this game in recent weeks and I’ve been making progress, though slowly. I did have to re-write most of what I had recently, decided it was cleaner to use uGui rather than what I was using before, so there is that.

Next I’ll be finishing up the ability to draw connections between items on the board.