#200: Build notes
Reflections on a blissful — if clumsy — first weekend in Tears Of The Kingdom.
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Gosh, it’s Hit Points #200! This is kind of annoying, actually. Normally when we hit a nice round number like this I write a big update on how the newsletter is going, where it’s headed and how I’m feeling about it all. But I’ve just had a lovely weekend full of Zelda and I’d much rather talk about that. Let us hurry, like a Korok glued to a jury-rigged wagon hurtling down a mountainside, through the numbers and self-reflection, and move on.
When I published #150 on September 30, 2022, Hit Points had 3,699 total readers, of whom 228 were paid subscribers.
As I write this, bleary-eyed and happy after a blissful Hyrule weekend, Hit Points has 6,306 total readers (up 70%) and 336 paid subscribers (up 47%).
Blimey! You know, I primarily write these milestone updates to give readers some insight into how things look behind the scenes. Many of you are, effectively, investors in Hit Points; you deserve a bit of clarity on this stuff. But they also help give me a sense of perspective. That’s pretty good, isn’t it, for 50 editions. I should stop worrying so much, maybe.
Those figures don’t quite tell the whole story, however, because it’s been a rough start to the year in terms of paid subs. On January 1, there were 316 of you; two weeks ago, there were 317. I reckon this flatlining is mostly my fault. I’ve not been great at sticking to the schedule, I’ve been struggling with some personal stuff and have had a (pleasingly!) heavy load of consulting work. It’s also been a slow start to the year in terms of news, with a quiet release schedule and Acquisition Blizzard still dominating the headlines, leaving me struggling for inspiration a bit.
But I took a couple of weeks off in April, and after a long-overdue hit of the reset button I feel Hit Points is once again approaching its best. I am newly energised, motivated, and inspired. I reckon that, by the time #250 rolls around, we should be in a very good place indeed. Thanks so much for reading, and for your support. Let us step boldly together into the etc and so on.
Right, that’s quite enough navel-gazing for one day. Let’s have some fun.
There will be no major spoilers in today’s edition, so you may relax. Firstly, I expect not all of you have been as fortunate as me, and been able to put quite so much time into Tears Of The Kingdom over its debut weekend. Secondly, I am hoping this sort of karmic pre-load will protect me from spoilers when a looming avalanche of consulting commitments forces me to put the game to one side for a week or two. And thirdly, there is so much worth discussing about this thing that to simply talk about its narrative beats, set-pieces, characters or locations — brilliant as all those things are — would do it quite a terrible disservice.
(However, our subject today requires discussion of the very first power you receive. If you’re yet to start the game, and have managed to avoid every sliver of information about it, then today’s top story is not for you: you should scroll down until you see the bold text that introduces the next section. Got it? Okay. Thanks and sorry.)
Ultrahand, dear reader, is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous in the way it allows Nintendo to rip up the design rulebook that underpinned Breath Of The Wild, and so thoroughly transform a place I thought I knew inside out. It’s ridiculous because it’s the first thing you’re given in the game, subverting the hero’s-journey nature of classic Zelda by making you a god in the first ten minutes. And of course it’s ridiculous in terms of the things you can do with it. People are already making mind-boggling things with Ultrahand: elaborate vehicles, functioning mechs, Korok rotisseries and giants with exploding genitals. But I, appropriately enough, am built a little different; you won’t see any of my constructions going viral on TikTok, put it that way. My version of Ultrahand has thusfar yielded an array of needlessly overengineered contraptions and deranged traversal tools that are as likely to end in a slapstick death as they are to fulfil their intended purpose. I haven’t laughed so much at a game in years, nor have I been made to feel quite so smart in my slapdashery, as if I have cheated the game’s intent by doing something so unutterably stupid in its conception and execution.
Hang on, is ‘intent’ the right word? I’m not sure it is. This is a game built around improvisation, about blagging your way to an unlikely victory. Sure, there was flexibility in Breath Of The Wild’s design, but for most of the game I felt like I was rummaging through my pockets for a particular combination of keys, in order to bypass the series of locks the designers had just put in my way. Sure, you could fudge your way through sometimes, but I rarely felt like I was doing something the developers didn’t intend, or expect, me to do. In that context Tears Of The Kingdom is, for all its familiarity, a completely different game.
It is not a game of puzzles at all, this time: rather, I think of it as one of problems. How are you going to cross this gap, reach this high ledge, access this treasure chest or deliver this feckless little Korok to its friend? You consider the problem, the surrounding landscape, the tools at your disposal and the materials nearby, and set to work.
As someone who struggles terribly with puzzle games, and found a lot of Breath Of The Wild’s shrines completely baffling, this freedom of approach is manna from heaven. In a remarkable, quite unforeseeable coincidence of timing, I wrote about this particular personal failing of mine just last month:
“In a puzzle game, you can either follow the designer’s thought process or you can’t. You’ve either got the minerals or you haven’t, and there is no way — at least not that I’ve found — to bridge that gap.”
Tears Of The Kingdom has an excellent answer for that: it invites you to decide what constitutes a ‘bridge’, and then empowers you to build it. My first few hours of the game were punctuated with a quiet thrum of anxiety, my inner puzzle-game ignoramus raising its familiar concerns that I was doing it all wrong. Eventually I realised that there is no ‘wrong’ here, not really. There are no failures when you’re building things in Tears Of The Kingdom, just successes that haven’t happened yet.
The standard bearer for all this, I reckon, is an NPC called Addison. This hapless fellow has been tasked with putting up advertising signs for Hyrule’s premier construction company, and is as bad at erecting signage as I am at building a wagon. His very existence feels to me like a knowing wink from Nintendo at just what a frightful mess I am making of everything my Ultrahand touches. We are pals, I think, Addison and I. Kindred spirits just blagging our way through life, one hammered thumb at a time.
Whenever you meet Addison he’s holding up a sign he can’t let go of, because if he does it will topple over, and he asks you to secure it for him using materials from a nearby building station (I love these things, by the way). There are subtle variations each time you meet him — a slight tweak in sign design, topography or weather meaning there is no one-size-fits-all solution, at least that I’ve found.
Now, your mileage may vary on this, but in my DIY-averse hands this is the cue for ten minutes of increasingly elaborate, and increasingly hilarious, building work. I’ll start out simple — a flat base, a central upright, a doodad or two to stop it tipping to either side — and will fail, the sign sadly toppling over the nanosecond I tell Addison to let go. I’ll iterate, adding another plank or panel, maybe using a nearby rock to balance the weight, and the sign will fall over again.
And so the cycle begins: I build and the sign falls, over and over again, my Frankenstein support structure growing more freakishly outlandish with each new dab of Ultrahand glue, the sign somehow still finding away of escaping the clutches of my bonkers construction. While I realise I should simply start over, the sunk-cost fallacy kicks in and I just carry on bolting on any old shit I can find to try and make it work. The eldest and I collaborated on one over the weekend; it took 15 minutes, we laughed like drains and when the job was finally done we got 20 Rupees, a rice dish and a mushroom. Fucking worth it, mate.
Last night, after enthusing at length to my wife about how brilliant this part of the game is, I found Addison in need near a rainswept stable, and called her over. She told me to put a railway sleeper on the ground, glue a panel to it on a diagonal, and wedge it under the sign. It worked first time; she shrugged and walked away. This proves a few things. One, I am still, ultimately, a bit of a simpleton. Two, it is entirely right and proper that, whenever some household task requires the use of a hammer or a drill, she takes the lead. Three… this fucking game, man. God damn.
HEROES OF TIME
An intermission! How exciting. Last week, after recapping some of my personal Zelda memories, I invited you all to send me your own, and the response has been overwhelming. Loads of you have got in touch to share your stories, often at considerable length. (In hindsight, perhaps I should have set a target wordcount.) Thank you all so much for taking the time, and getting so thoroughly into the new-Zelda spirit.
Since this weekend’s excitement has given me a taste for improvisation, I have abandoned my original plan to collate them all into a single bonus edition. Doing so would run to many thousands of words, which would not vibe with Hit Points’ desire to fit elegantly around your working day. Instead, we’re going to turn them into a little mini-series, with one reader’s story given room to breathe in each edition. Lovely. To kick us off, here’s longtime Hit Points reader Edd Hewett. He’s often the first person to click the Like button on a newly published edition, so it feels only right to let him fire the starting pistol. Over to you, good sir!
“Each Zelda really does come with a memorable real-life story, such as buying the last discounted GameCube with Wind Waker in a closing-down MVC by beating my best friend at rock-paper-scissors (with an amused till assistant looking on), or the agonising weeks of studying the OOT box art and manual whilst I waited for my brother to bring back our N64 home from uni.
“But my fondest Zelda connections come back to my daughter. Before becoming a parent I would daydream what I thought might be the 'optimal' way to introduce my offspring to videogames: start out with the classics and go from there, the first game has to be Super Mario Bros, etc.
“I never expected the first game to really capture and engage her attention at the age of four would be Majora's Mask! I had noticed that she was interested in exploring towns (we had played Gravity Rush together) but shied away from combat, so Clock Town turned out to be the perfect playground for her to get to grips with a 3DS — detailed enough to look like a real town with people going about their lives, but not too large as to be overwhelmed by or get lost in. The apocalyptic moon wasn't a problem as she loved Halloween and spooky things. This was a game she would eventually want to explore completely with me, and I loved showing it all to her, rediscovering characters I'd forgotten and finding new corners I'd never noticed with a new pair of eyes beside me to point the way.
“Over the four years since we've played pretty much all of the Zelda series together, and it's given me a new appreciation for many of them. We disagree on many things: she isn’t drawn to my beloved LTTP at all (‘It looks too blocky!’), and I have less regard for her favourite, Twilight Princess (though I do begrudgingly concede it has the most fantastic dungeons in the series). Our long and meandering journey through BOTW was a highlight, feeling like a victory lap for me but a wide-open world of exploration for her.
“And so we come to the new one, the first new release we get to experience together. She's excited at the prospect of a Zelda game where, for once, I don't know any more about what will happen next than she does. I fear that her current obsession with Roblox will prevent her from keeping up with my insatiable desire to delve into this new world; maybe I’ll just have to work a bit harder on my 'surprised' face when playing with her as I carry on with my secret, separate profile for after-hours play.”
Lovely stuff, Edd, thank you. I hope the rest of you enjoyed that — there is much, much more like it to come.
Asus’ Steam Deck rival ROG Ally is in the hands of reviewers and the results are… well, pretty much what we all expected. It’s more powerful than Valve’s offering, sure, but the ergonomics aren’t quite there and the battery life sounds miserable, particularly when running more demanding games. Moreover, Windows 11 really isn’t meant to be a handheld OS, and it shows. Ho hum. Not like I can spare £699 at the moment anyway, eh.
The CMA has issued an order preventing Microsoft and Activision Blizzard from “acquiring an interest” in each other. The regulator insists the two firms obtain written approval before any kind of tie-up between their various divisions and subsidiaries. Expect more exciting news on this eternally fascinating saga later this week, when the EU regulator is expected to rule on the acquisition. Be still my beating heart.
Scratch that: the EU has just approved it, thanks to a ten-year commitment to let European consumers access any Activision Blizzard game on “any cloud game streaming service of their choice and play them on any device using any operating system.” Some much-needed good news for Microsoft.
Seven million people have played PowerWash Simulator. I imagine only one of them has had a mild existential breakdown while doing so.
Hurrah, another quiet day of news! Might be able to sneak in a quick hour of Zelda before the school run. Paid subs, I’ll see you later this week — Thursday or Friday, most likely, when the consulting fog should have cleared a little — for some more fun. If the rest of you would like to join us, remember, you can get 10% off a paid subscription for the next few days using this button right here. Cheerio!