Saturday, December 10, 2011

Part 1: The Girl

I think we’re all familiar with a game called Ocarina of Time. It was one of the most celebrated, beloved, and just plain good games of its time. Everyone was playing it. Every video game news outlet was talking about it. One of my first experiences online was joining a message board for an Ocarina of Time fansite. It’s a game tons of gamers know inside and out. And, if there’s one downside to knowing a game inside and out, it’s that there can be no more surprises.

As a matter of fact, there can always be surprises.

In a situation I imagine is familiar to most of you, I was 13 years old, alone in my living room playing Ocarina of Time. I’d beaten it. I’d caught the Skulltulas. I think I was missing a heart piece but eh, who has time to call up GameFAQs when there’s zombies to mow down on your horse? Just a peaceful night of skeleton smashing. And that’s when I saw…it.

“It” was something that wasn’t there before. No, something that was never there before. In the middle of the field, plain as day, an NPC I’d never seen in the game. Just standing there. Not moving. I was certainly surprised. Could it be? No, there’s no way. That doesn’t make sense. There’s never anyone out here.

Of course, Ocarina of Time was still new enough that there was still the off chance this was an in-game event. I did have the game nearly one-hundred-percented. Maybe I’d unlocked something no one else knew about. Or…no, maybe it’s just the postman. It can’t be, though. It’s not moving. It’s kinda…floating.

This was the point at which I should have shut off the game.

But, of course, I had to investigate. If this was some never-before-seen game event, I had to go check it out. My excitement was tempered as I drew closer to this…person. With every stride of my horse, it became increasingly clear something was wrong. The NPC was a girl, with red hair and a white dress, suspended slightly off the ground. She was completely motionless, not even her hair or clothes idly animating in the breeze. Her feet were together, standing on nothing, and her arms were stretched far out to her sides. Of course, this image immediately called crucifixion to my young mind, which was somewhat unsettling. This was not helped by the fact that, on closer inspection, the girl had no face.

She had a little polygon for a nose, but no face texture. In fact, her white dress looked more untextured than intentionally white. The more I looked at her, the more she looked just…unfinished. Polygons on the back of her legs were missing, allowing me to see right through them. Attempts to talk to or interact with her were fruitless. Link and all other objects just clipped through. At this point I had come to the conclusion that she was just some bit of beta information the game had loaded up. I was big into digging up cool beta stuff from games, so this all started making sense for me. The game had spawned an unfinished NPC, probably in place of the postman. No big deal.

This would have been another good point to shut off the game.

I kept playing. Exiting and re-entering Hyrule Field, the girl was no longer there. I was already writing in my head the post I was going to make about this on the Ocarina of Time fansite board. This was the age when it was kinda thrilling to see a game goof like that, rather than just an annoyance. As the sun rose and the zombies fell away, I rode off to find more adventure. Dinnertime was still hours away.

But, as I continued to play, the game started to…change on me. The first thing I noticed was the loading. N64 games traditionally had almost no loading, but suddenly the game was getting hung up on transitions between areas way more than normal. Not long by today’s standards, but a five second wait on the N64 felt like an eternity. Secondly, when an area would load, the music wouldn’t load with it. There would be a period of silence and then the music would kick in. It wasn’t always the right music, either. The Hyrule Overworld was the most frequent to start playing, no matter where I was. The Gerudo Fortress theme also came up a lot. Notably, whenever I went inside a house or shop, there would be no music.

At this point, it still just seemed like I was experiencing some kind of ROM glitch. That changed when I decided to check out what music would play at Kokiri Village.

The answer was none. No music played when I entered and no music started no matter how long I waited. No ambient sounds, either. That wasn’t it, though. Something else was wrong. There was no sound, but there was also no movement. All the Kokiri, on closer inspection, were stuck in the same arms-out pose as that mystery NPC. They didn’t move or turn to look at me or anything. They just stared straight ahead, arms out. I couldn’t even talk to them. (The “Speak” prompt appeared, but pressing it didn’t do anything.) Rather strangely, though they were all positioned roughly where they would be normally, the direction they faced was sometimes off. Some Kokiri were intently staring at a wall, or turned such that one of their arms clipped through the side of a cliff.

It took a little time for me to register that the reason for this was that they were all facing a single location. That mystery NPC was back. She was hovering a little off the ground in front of Link’s house. Every Kokiri was staring at her.

This time she was different. She looked the same, but now the moment I got near her Navi started hovering around her, indicating she was a “real” NPC. Trying to just walk up and talk to her didn’t work. The moment Link would get near her, he took damage and flew backwards. However, this being Ocarina of Time, I decided to try Z-targeting her and talking to her from a few feet away.

Immediately, my framerate dropped to single digits and the sound effects went choppy. In addition to the “opening a dialogue box” sound, a bunch of other weird sound effects seemed to be playing. High-pitched buzzing and what I think were some voice sounds from Princess Zelda. I was very certain the game was just going to freeze…but it didn’t. Instead, a dialogue box opened, and the girl said the following…

“He's not moving anymore....”

“Eh, what? Are you sad? Happy? I really can't tell...”

“Looks like you're coming around...”

“That's an unpleasant mask...Good-bye.”

And the dialogue box closed. I heard a strange, high-pitched sound effect as the girl’s model began to shake in place. I ran. I left Kokiri forest. This would have been a very, very good time to turn off the game.

From this point on, the game became less and less stable. Doors and transitions between areas no longer went to the proper place. I believe, upon leaving Kokiri forest, I immediately appeared in the Graveyard. That kid was there, in the same arms-out position. Talking to him made him say the same thing he always says, but only once. After that, he ceased to be targetable.

I won’t summarize the entire next half hour, partly because I don’t remember it all, and partly because it was a lot of the same stuff. Nearly every NPC I encountered was in that arms-out position. Those that weren’t were still usually frozen in place, facing the wrong way or doing something else out of the ordinary. Enemies were either non-existent (failing to spawn, I guess) or similarly frozen. I encountered some tektites frozen in midair on Death Mountain which damaged me if I touched them, but couldn’t be hurt themselves. As time went on the game just started falling apart. Whole textures or polygons would just be missing. Sound effects would play a few seconds after they were supposed to. Pre-rendered backgrounds failed to appear entirely. And, finally, I was left in a black void.

Well, not really. I was in a black void, but the location text said “Marketplace.” Apparently all the textures and pre-rendered backgrounds had failed to load. No music. No sounds other than my footsteps. The Marketplace NPCs were there, strangely not with their arms out as I’d come to expect. They were animated normally, and could be spoken to. However, they all said the same thing, after which they would stop moving.

“Please look out for the Princess!“

After talking to this last NPC, the redead scream sound started playing. The model of the girl with red hair appeared…somewhere out in the void. Without animating, all the townspeople in unison turned to look at her. I think I lost control of Link at this point. The last thing I remember was him turning towards her with the other townsfolk. He may have started to walk towards her, too. He let out a scream like he was being hurt.

This was a very, very good time to turn off the game. And I did.

And that was that. I didn’t play Ocarina of Time for a month. When I switched it back on, there was no hint of oddness.

Were this a simple ghost story, this is where it would end. My one brush with the paranormal. Sadly, that was far from the end. This was only my first experience with an entity we know as “The Princess.” As for who “we” are, I’ll get to that next time.

Oh, and needless to say, there’s no scrapped model of a girl with red hair and a white dress anywhere in the code of Ocarina of Time.

4 comments:

  1. "Oh, and needless to say, there’s no scrapped model of a girl with red hair and a white dress anywhere in the code of Ocarina of Time."

    Actually...

    http://wiki.spinout182.com/images/c/ce/Aria_Restored.png

    Fun fact: While she's in the game's code, she uses an older format that the game can't normally render properly. So, in an unmodified copy of the rom...well, pleasant dreams, eh?

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  2. If you simply said "Running Man" instead of "Postman" the immersion would have never been broken.
    Oh well.

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  3. This is pretty decent. It's like BEN Drowned in a way. ^_^ and this is creepy. O.O I wonder who the ghost is... Anyway good job! Is there more?

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  4. ... There aren't any skeletons in Hyrule Field as an adult, only as a child, when you can't ride a horse. Immersion broken in the first paragraph.

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