Screenshot of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gameplay and picture of Professor Chris Totten

What Chris Totten is Playing this Summer

Regardless of age, getting a new toy is one of the greatest joys in life. When  you’re a video game designer and professor, play and work sometimes intersect.

On a very related note, American University Game Lab artist in residence Chris Totten recently purchased a Nintendo Switch and has started off his summer playing a lot of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Switch—new to the market this year—is designed to easily switch back and forth between TV console and handheld device. Totten is excited about one feature in particular: Once you transition it into a mobile platform, it still provides the flexibility to have one or two players on the screen.

“I’ve had some ‘Mario Kart’ sessions with students and friends on the go, and it’s fantastic. It really changes how I interact with my games,” he said.

Totten says “Zelda,” an update to a big-time classic from the original Nintendo Entertainment System, stays true to its roots and original charm while leveraging popular characteristics of modern-day video games.

“‘Zelda’ is a reinvention of a classic and seminal game series with a massive open world that still retains the sometimes-high-fantasy, sometimes-silly nature of the classic games,” he said.

Totten has written extensively about game worlds, level and environment design, and how those fields parallel real-world architectural design—and he’ll be citing the world from “Breath of the Wild” for years to come, he said. Easy-to-see landmarks allows players to orient themselves in space very well. Also, the game’s story is told not through cutscenes (noninteractive movies), but through the state of the environment.

Fast Fact: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was play tested as an 8-bit game. “Players are left to fill in a lot of story gaps in their heads, which leads to some really cool things,” Totten said.

With relatively simple, cleverly taught rules alongside complex systems such as weather and day/night cycles, this game takes place in a rich, understandable world.

“Moreso than many games, the world of ‘Breath of Wild’ feels more like a home than a stage where the players can run around.”

This summer, Totten has also been busy playing the video game entries into this year’s Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) Arcade event and contest, for which he is an executive organizer. These games are developed by independent developers.

“Many of those games are laborers of love, so we really want to celebrate that in the event,” Totten said.

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