For most of us, we can look back at one video game that we played when we were younger that sparked our love of gaming. One world, one hero, or one adventure that made us lifelong players. They’re the games that blew our young minds and they are the games that will stick with us forever. These are those stories.
The late 90’s were a time of transition for the video game industry. Games were breaking free of the technological restrictions of the 8 and 16-bit eras, and players were exploring true 3D worlds for the very first time. With the release of the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, games like Final Fantasy and Super Mario Bros were coming to life in ways never before seen. Another iconic series making the leap to 3D was The Legend of Zelda, and with the release of Ocarina of Time in 1998 Nintendo would reimagine the Kingdom of Hyrule in a stunning new adventure that would redefine the popular series.
Legendary Nintendo Producer Shigeru Miyamoto was wanting to create a cinematic new approach to Zelda games, while also maintaining the player’s sense of control throughout the experience. Unlike many other 3D games of the time, Miyamoto would do this by using in game cinematics instead of prerendered FMV cutscenes. This style of storytelling kept players immersed in the world, and when combined with the epic musical score by Koji Kondo created an experience unlike anything Zelda fans had played before. In addition to being a refreshing new approach to the series for longtime fans, it also served as an introduction to the series for a whole new generation of players who would meet Link, Zelda, and the evil Gannon for the very first time.
One of those new gamers was Elaine Gomez, a young woman who was going through a transitional period of her own. She was starting a new life in a new city and feeling lonely and isolated, so she turned to video games for comfort.
“Those were years of my life that had a lot of transitions because I had moved from my home country of Puerto Rico to New Jersey. Adjusting culturally, not having my family around (cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents around), and making new friends was all hard for me. Playing games that immersed me in different worlds helped me cope with a lot of loneliness and discomfort.”
To Elaine, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a revelation. It not only offered her an amazing world to escape into that helped her to deal with the isolation and challenges that can come with moving to a new home, but it also planted a seed in her that would grow over the years, an appreciation for game design that would change her life.
“I had never played anything like it before. I love that each level was unique and had special weapons or skills that you had to master to succeed in big boss fights. I remember feeling so rewarded every time I completed a temple. It’s the only game that I’ve ever played more than once from beginning to end just because I love it so much.”
The game placed players in the vast Kingdom of Hyrule, a sprawling land full of dungeons, temples, and loaded with secrets to discover. As you explore the world, you’ll meet interesting characters, complete compelling side quests, and find a variety of items such as the Hookshot and Boomerang which allow you to explore the world even further. You’ll also find the Ocarina of Time which has various effects on the world depending on the song that you play, from summoning your horse Epona to changing it from day to night, and vice versa.
This style of gameplay, where players explore an open world and collect certain key items to progress further into previously inaccessible areas, has become synonymous with The Legend of Zelda series, and has kept Elaine returning to the game over and over again. Whether it was to try and complete the game faster, or to find hidden Easter eggs scattered throughout the world, the game has continued to provide countless hours of entertainment throughout the years.
“I remember for several years in a row playing the game through with the goal of beating my game clear time from the previous year. I actually bought a second N64 in better condition than my old one just so that I could play the game again as an adult. I remember enjoying figuring out puzzles and optimal strategies to succeed in enemy encounters or figure out the best ways to get from one location to another.
There is a memory that sticks out in a little farm area by the lake where you can enter the Water Temple. There was a scarecrow that you could play songs to with your ocarina and I remember making little tunes to make the scarecrow dance. I thought it was so neat that the game had a little something to engage me with that was outside the main story or side missions of the game.”
One of the hallmarks of an all time classic game, is the ability to return to it years after it’s initial release and still be able to find the joy in it that you did the first time. Those qualities are rare in a hobby in which technology is moving at the speed of light and games can sometimes feel outdated in a matter of a few years. So for Ocarina of Time to still remain both entertaining and relevant a quarter of a century after it’s release is a testament to it’s brilliant design.
“I love it as much in my adulthood as I did when I was a kid. There’s just so much to say about the design, world building, and experience of playing. Now as a game designer, I often reference aspects of the Ocarina of Time’s design in a lot of the work I do.”
Elaine turned that love and appreciation for game design into a career, studying Game and Interactive Media Design at the University of Southern California and working as a game developer both independently and at E-Line Media. In her fairly young career, she’s has already managed to put together an impressive resume of work and accomplishments, working on titles such as Beyond Blue, The Endless Mission, and When Rivers Were Trails. She is also the co-founder of Latinx in Gaming, a non-profit dedicated to connecting Latinos in the industry and promoting representation in gaming, and at The Game Awards in 2020 she was named as part of it’s ‘Future Class’, recognizing individuals “who represent the bright, bold and inclusive future of video games.” Earlier this year she joined Brass Lion Entertainment to work on games focused on Black, Brown, and other traditionally marginalized characters and stories.
Elaine Gomez has made a tremendous impact on the games industry in a relatively short amount of time, and much of that can be traced back to that young girl, newly arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico, embarking on an amazing adventure in a world of endless possibilities.
“I think that the game opened my eyes to the design and experience of games that can offer so much more than a few hours of entertainment. I can have deep connections with games and be inspired by their systems and worlds because the first game I truly analyzed was Ocarina of Time. The Zelda franchise has truly defined and set a standard on many aspects of design for so many genres across the years. I look forward to how it will continue to impact the way that we experience and design games that truly captivate our imagination and attention.”