I’ve played enough Wind Waker now to say categorically that virtual sailing has never been more enjoyable. While the fact that I can cause my little boat to jump out of the sea on command may take away from the purity of the simulation, numerous other aspects of the game more than make up for that quibbling bit of fancy.
As with many games, however, some of Wind Waker’s greatest joys are passive: a glimpse of some far-off vista, a coming storm churning a foamy sea, a craggy island jutting into a swirling cauldron of clouds. In such examples it is the setting, and not the game mechanic itself, that provides an emotional payoff, and I’m hopeful that setting is going to become a more important aspect of game design for just that reason.
As I mentioned regarding Morrowind in my last post, the right combination of detail, distance, and discovery can make a place seem alive and vital, and I think our audience really craves that kind of virtual experience. Given that movement in virtual spaces is almost synonymous with the core interactive mechanics of most 3D games, spending time and money to elevate setting returns benefits to core gameplay — and that makes it distinctly different from time and money spent on cutscenes or canned narrative elements.
— Mark Barrett