How Fishing Minigames Became a Gaming Mainstay

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Amid an ever-growing inventory of interactions in the verbal medium of video games, one has proven to be remarkably enduring: fishing. More often than not, the casting of a line promises a moment of respite from a world filled with greater adventures, a chance to enjoy your digital surroundings, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, to give yourself a delicious treat.

Virtual fishing has been around for almost as long as there have been video games. This, of course, speaks to the popularity of the activity in the real world as well as the enthusiasm of game developers to create a game out of the most mundane everyday pastimes. William Engle’s “gone fishing”, released in 1977, is generally considered to be the first, a raw text adventure about sports in which you maneuver yourself on an abstract body of water by pressing N, S, E, W, F and B on a keyboard ( compass and forward/backward directions). Three years later, Activision”fishing derbygave the fledgling genre its first graphics.

Since then, virtual fishing has only grown in variety, from the thrills of 1997 cartoons”Sega bass fishing” (which could be played with a weird rod controller on the Dreamcast console) to more serious experiences such as “Call of the Wild: Angler”. In the 2020s”Spiritfarer“, a “comfortable management game” aboard a ship containing the souls of the dying, you cast your line and sit until a bite grabs you. With the horizon in the background, the sun or the moon moving slowly across, the game skillfully conveys the gentle passage of time that is key to the allure of real fishing.

Likewise, the fishing minigame has steadily grown in popularity, seen everywhere from “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” to “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Pet a dog aside, it’s as close to a meme mechanic as you’re likely to find.

In video games, fishing is what ‘Spiritfarer’ creative director Nicolas Guérin calls a “nice chore,” activities that he says lighten the “burden” of thinking and solving challenges. . Farming and living simulators, two closely related genres that include “Stardew Valley” and Animal Crossing games, as well as “Spiritfarer”, are filled with such tasks. In a video call, Guérin traces the history of fishing minigames from those titles (distinct, it should be noted, from games entirely focused on fishing) to Japan, an island nation with a rich fishing heritage. .

“It’s a staple of many Japanese video games,” he said, before referring to what is generally considered the father of angling minigames, the Legend of Zelda franchise.

The very first Zelda game that allowed players to catch fish was “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening”, released for the original Game Boy in 1993. The minigame was designed by Kazuaki Morita, an avid fisherman, who will work also on “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” a game that ushered in a new level of quality for fishing minigames. In a secluded lagoon, Link is able to paddle his canoe and hunt it using the Z-Targeting System, a mechanism for locking on enemies that Morita has transposed to the fish.As Links casts his float, the camera pans overhead before diving underwater as the fish takes the bait Link’s rod bends under the pressure of the fish, with the camera zooming out to the usual third-person perspective until the fish is finally caught Ending with a festive musical motif, a sequence remains remarkably dynamic action mic – more than many modern fishing minigames.

According Iwata asksa Nintendo-approved interview series about its most popular games, the fishing mechanic in “Ocarina of Time” was devised by Morita as a way to give himself a “respite” after working on a boss fight to the game. When Eiji Aonuma, the game director, came to see how work on the boss was progressing, Morita hid his work on the fishing mechanism.

“Aonuma-san came over and I thought, ‘Uh-oh!’ and immediately shut down the screen,” Morita told Iwata and Aonuma, who were also in the interview.

The group laughed. “Well, you were supposed to make a boss!” Aonuma replied

After realizing the mechanic’s potential, Aonuma asked Morita and a small team to work his prototype (an animation of Link swinging his sword was a stand-in for the cast) into a full mini-game. From then on, virtual fishing became synonymous with Zelda.

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While the activity was dropped from the follow-up to “Ocarina of Time”, “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” of the 2000s, it was later included in the remake 2015. According to Gabe Durham, author of a book on the original “Majora’s Mask”, the addition resonated thematically with a game whose world is doomed to a 72-hour loop of apocalyptic destruction.

“’Majora’s Mask’ finds heroism in the mundane. Yes, you save the world, but you also solve people’s little problems,” Durham said. “I think it’s telling that when Aonouma was given the opportunity to add whatever he wanted, he added a game of fishing. Fishing is calm, meditative and mundane, but it’s one of the many small human moments that ‘Majora’ exists to honor.

Often, however, the inclusion of fishing minigames stems from a less poetic well of inspiration. According to Guérin, as the trope has grown in popularity over the years, it has taken pride of place among developers.

“I think all developers like to do a simple mechanic – our own take on something that everyone else has tried,” Guérin said. “It’s like when you see cooking shows and you have this chef who always wants to make a very simple cake that everyone knows and loves. It looks like a measuring tool with which you compare yourself to others. It has become a must. »

For gamers, Guérin thinks virtual fishing is compelling because it tends to rely on the Pavlovian reward system of pushing a button for a prize. Often the code of these games randomly determines what you will catch.

“It’s a very simple psychological tool, the same idea behind blind boosters when you buy collectibles, or slots and gacha,” Guérin said. “You know you’re going to get something every time but you don’t know what. This could be terrible junk. Could be something cool. It could be the tenth version of something you already have. Or it could be this thing that is extremely incredibly rare. It is the most powerful reward system.

However, not all virtual taps are the product of random numbers. In “Call of the Wild: The Angler,” an open-world fishing game, the luck that defines so many fishing minigames gives way to a more robust simulation. Some fish are more likely to be found in specific types of water – deep ponds or the shores of lakes, for example – with each species programmed to have its own bait preferences. You are more likely to catch a northern pike if red worms, leeches or minnows are on the end of your line.

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At one stage in development, the game’s technical designer Nathan van der Berg explained, the team saw a content creator searching for a specific fish in their extensive homage to Yellowstone National Park.

“He could tell by the amount of tension on the line, where he was and what kind of gear he was using, what fish he was going to catch and how heavy he was, before he even surfaced,” Van der Berg said. . “He said, ‘It’s going to be a silver trout.’ A few minutes later, he pulled it out of the water.

What’s more, the developers of ‘Call of the Wild: The Angler’ even mimicked fish behavior in an effort to make the game “understandable and masterful” – just like the real thing.

“Fish are living and sentient beings. They have a complex range of behaviors and personalities,” said game director Paul Rustchynsky. they perform in strokes.” As a result, there are fish that struggle and others that dive deep; some are more active at night and others are easily frightened by human presence. Each stroke changes the dynamics of a take.

Taking aside (it’s often stressful tug of war with your enemy at scale), “Call of the Wild: The Angler” otherwise leans into a sense of stillness that’s often lacking in minigames. nervous fishing. For van der Berg, it’s faithful to real life.

“What really stands out is the peace and quiet,” he says, thinking back to his own fishing trips to Sweden. “Just being there with your thoughts and the water, the wind, the sun and the rain. That’s what defines the experience for me.

Lewis Gordon is a video game and culture writer. His work has appeared in outlets such as VICE, The Verge, The Nation and The AV Club. Follow him on Twitter @lewis_gordon.

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