E-Learning, ELearning, Game Design, Gamification, Gaming, Instructional Design, Training Design
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What We Can Learn From The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Happy New Year all of you! I hope that 2015 is a great year for you. I’ve had a wonderful Christmas and New Years break, being able to take a step back from work and just spend some time relaxing and with family. Refreshed, recharged and ready for action again!

In this post I wanted to speak about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (hereby known as WW). WW is a game that doesn’t feature a tutorial level which is what makes it so clever. Nintendo seem to have made a habit of doing this with their games and many many people have commented that they remember picking up and playing Super Mario easily because of the way the level design works. Zelda is exactly the same, the opening level/adventure has been designed purely to introduce players to the array of controls and interactions in the game. Could information for E-Learning be done in the same way? We’ll look at the opening level for Zelda to pull from it some of the key pieces of Instructional Design or relevant E-Learning information.

What is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker?

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, released in Japan as ゼルダの伝説 風のタクト (Zeruda no Densetsu: Kaze no Takuto lit. “The Legend of Zelda: Baton of Wind”), is an action-adventure game and the tenth installment in The Legend of Zelda series. It was released for the GameCube in Japan on December 13, 2002; in North America on March 24, 2003; in Europe on May 2, 2003; and in Australia on May 7, 2003. A high-definitionremake, titled The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, was released for the Wii U starting in September 2013 in North America.

The game is set on a group of islands in a vast sea—a first for the series. The player controls Link, the protagonist of the Zelda series. He struggles against the evil king, Ganondorf, for control of a sacred relic known as the Triforce. Link spends a large portion of the game sailing, traveling between islands, and traversing dungeons and temples to gain the power necessary to defeat Ganondorf. He also spends time trying to find his little sister, Aryll.

The Wind Waker follows in the footsteps of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, retaining the basic gameplay and control system found in the two Nintendo 64titles. A heavy emphasis is placed on using and controlling wind with a baton called the Wind Waker, which aids sailing and floating in air. Though controversial during development for its use of cel shading graphics and a younger incarnation of Link, The Wind Waker was met with critical acclaim. A direct sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, was released in 2007.

Nintendo and Introduction Levels

As I’ve mentioned previously Nintendo does a really good job on the whole in the way they portray tutorial levels. Although there has been some criticism that they ‘baby’ their players too much and still allow information to come through in a tutorial form later on in the game. This is something that as Instructional Designers is important for us to remember, once people have been given the ability to complete their E-Learning independently then we can no longer continue to provide on screen information. All this will do is cause further clicks and anger for the user who will just want it off the screen or find the information irrelevant.

If you think about displaying the old favourite “Click Next to Continue” do we really need this on every slide? OR have we just become lazy in our approach and this becomes an easy option. Don’t take the worst aspects of Nintendo, let’s look at how we can design so we take the best from Nintendo.

This post will summarise the way that instructional information is provided by Nintendo in WW.

How is it done?


To begin the adventure you watch a small introduction video explaining some of the history behind the game. After the neat little introduction sequence has finished your sister Aryll will come and wake you. She notifies you that today is your birthday, and that your grandma is waiting for you back at the house. Aryll indicates you should go and visit her – this is where Nintendo begin using clever methods for their in game training.


This is essentially the moment that you are about to click your first button in an E-Learning course, the game is just about to open up to player control rather than being an observer. As soon as you receive control of the main character the first instructional prompt is already on the screen due to your position next to your sister. A very simple “Press A to Speak” appears on screen which immediately let’s you know one of the basic commands you’ll need. From here the commands seamlessly transition from one to another.

Linking Instructional Text

On the way to find your Grandma you will encounter various characters who you can now speak to using the power of the A button! By using the one piece of instruction you have been given you slowly begin to educate yourself on the various other aspects of play. Your character is told how how to conduct various other actions, however there is always a practical use for them from another character. For example: You are told how to lift items and put down items by a lady in the village. A little further down the road you speak to someone who wants some new pets for her children, at which point you have to go and pick up pig and put them down in her pen. This is all a very clever instructional loop that we can take advantage of in E-Learning.


You are given a small piece of instruction, you are then given room to go and practice this with a small quest someone else gives to you. Once you practice and successfully complete the quest you are rewarded. Neuroscience has found that once we complete a task we actually get a dopamine rush. This dopamine rush is used perfectly in WW to make the user feel as though they are accomplishing tasks and completing quests right from the start of the game when actually we’re just successfully pressing the right buttons so the game knows we’re learning.

Dopamine Cycle

From the words of Gabe Zichermann you can see how WW is using this loop to positively reinforce the message to their players:

At the core is a concept called intrinsic reinforcement. Every time you challenge yourself to something – no matter how big or small – and you achieve your goals, your brain secretes a bit of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. This chemical produces a pleasurable sensation, and your next desire is to take that action again. Over time, this dopaminergic cycle creates a highly driven, intrinsically positive feeling. In a game context, this loop happens hundreds of times per hour, producing a heightened desire to persevere. In other words, you want to keep doing that activity to push your limits as far as you can.

So how can we put this into our E-Learning or Instructional Design? Well simply it comes down to a small, well managed information, task, reward cycle. If we promote information to the learner, whether this is about navigation or core content it can be broken up into rewardable chunks. If you can use these techniques within the larger picture of your content/objectives then you are already well on your way to a great learning experience. As engagement and interest peaks so will retention, this process is designed to help information sit more comfortably with your learners.

What if they miss something?

If you are ever unsure of what to do in WW and you’ve been running around for longer than usual you receive a prompt from a talking stone – this stone gives you a clue for how you can get past the situation. The word ‘clue’ is very important as the stone does not reveal the answer to you but provides a very small hint in the best place to look or the best strategy employ. It still gives the player a sense of satisfaction because it is not spelt out for them.


  • Be more like The Legend of Zelda – Split your content up into small meaningful chunks. Stagger the release of these to the learner through the commands you give at the start of the course. Do you need someone to check the resources section before they proceed? No problem, after you ask them to do it ensure that the next screen praises them on finding the correct button – they will have no problem navigating there in the future.
  • Use timed hints – Have you created a scene where the learner needs to interact with a certain object but you’re unsure if they will be able to do so? Use a timed hint as well as your instructional text, if the learner hasn’t been able to click on the required area in a reasonable time a pop up appears containing some helpful information for how to do so. Remember still leave a sense of achievement for the learner don’t just tell them ‘Click this button.’
  • Use Clues – Make sure you give information as clues, don’t spell everything out for the learner allow your E-Learning to feel more intuitive.
  • Don’t overuse the easy information – If you are attempting a small exploration game for your E-Learning or are pushing the boundaries past a ‘Next button clicking presentation’ make sure you don’t baby the learner too much. Once you have given the information to the learner don’t be tempted to keep telling them.
  • Introduce New Content Slowly – Just as WW develops they expect you to draw more and more on the knowledge they’ve previously given you. So if you receive a new item in your first dungeon, there’s almost a certainty that item will become vital to the second dungeon. Give learners information for a reason and when you do so make sure that they can use it later on. This applies more to the content and the structure of the learning in the course. Introduce easier topics from the start then allow the learner to add to that knowledge with more complex content later on.
  • Reward and Expand – This goes hand in hand with the previous comment, reward to learner for performing well in the module. By chunking the content into smaller sections you will be able to identify where the natural supporters for further information lie. If you have a rather complex theory or legislation to put across break it down and allow the user to rebuild it through the course helping to process the learning.
  • Strong Opening – As Instructional Designers we know the importance of a strong opening and using a method such as this for your E-Learning design will be no different. When you begin a course set out the navigational controls quickly from the start and congratulate the user when they successfully perform each one for the first time (points, stars, even just a positive message) this will drive engagement from the beginning as well as kicking off the dopamine cycle.


So remember, be a little more like The Legend of Zelda the next time you are designing a course. With a piece of gamification and a closer look at the instructional commands we are giving people there is a fantastic opportunity to drive engagement up in a big way. Rewards are enjoyed by all and the same principle I’ve always been told about diet applies here: “Little and often.” Small rewards occurring often in your training will help the success of your projects. So go on Instructional Designers get into detail about your commands and developers look at ways you can reward those for successfully completing something. It’s going to be a good year!

Welcome to 2015 all!



  1. Pingback: Straight from a game into your E-Learning Course – Bitesize Tip #2 | Gaming In Training

  2. Christian Lee says

    Congrats on another great posting. I particularly enjoy your clarity in writing and insights in I’D. Nice one, Chris


  3. Pingback: Do We Need Instructional Text in Games? | GAMING IN TRAINING

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