Inside the Deku Tree
An ode to Deku NutsThe Deku Nut is arguably the most versatile C-button item in the game. It can stun a majority of the monsters in the game, including many mini-bosses. There are even a few main bosses which are vulnerable to it! Deku Nuts allow the player to easily get through sections (such as Inside Jabu-Jabu's Belly) which are meant to be frustratingly difficult, and other battles can be avoided entirely with its help. It also has some other quirky little uses, like disintegrating nearby projectiles, making Deku Scrubs pop out of their holes, and making the Forest Temple ghosts reappear when they turn invisible. And unlike other weapons, it requires neither manual aiming nor Z-targeting: you simply press the button while in proximity of an enemy, and the enemy is frozen in place for a while. This is an item which makes the entire game easier, and which takes minimal skill to use. And yet most players don't ever use Deku Nuts at all.
I see two sensible ways to design a Zelda game with Deku Nuts:
- Deku Nuts as the first item. The player would get Deku Nuts before even the sword. To get the sword, the player would need to navigate a narrow path filled with Deku Babas, jumping out and snapping at him. If he was careful with timing and positioning he could make it through, but it would be difficult. So he'd try to use the Deku Nuts, which would stun the monsters for a generous amount of time. In order for the Deku Nuts to not seem like a one-trick pony, they'd also need to have an effect around Kokiri Forest - irritating the Kokiri, for instance.
This approach would have several benefits:
- The player would get used to the awkward button-mapping system right away with a straightforward item, before moving up to more complicated tools requiring aiming.
- By letting the Deku Nuts make an impression right at the start, the player would remember for the entire game that he can pull them out any time he's having trouble. With no extra programming needed, the game's difficulty would adapt slightly to the needs of the player: a skilled player would have no reason to not take each challenge at face value, but a less skilled player could "cheat" with Deku Nuts.
- If the player's first item acts in interesting ways whenever the player tries using it on different monsters/people, it encourages an attitude of playful experimentation that will be very useful in the rest of the game.
- Deku Nuts as an unlockable power-up. Deku Nuts would be hidden somewhere where only those players who wander around for a while would find it.
The benefits here are a little bit more obvious, because this would be very conventional design.
- The more rewards there are for exploring, the more the player will want to explore further.
- If you get a gift, you put in the effort to figure out what it does. So if you wander around and find Deku Nuts, you'll go from place to place throwing the Deku Nuts to see what happens. Deku Nuts are a neat little toy, programmed with lots of different uses. Why not present them in a way that'll encourage someone to have fun with them?
- The rest of the game would not need to be designed around this overpowered tool, because the more its use broke the game, the more its owner would feel proud to have found it.
Ocarina of Time is designed with neither of these ideas in mind. Deku Nuts are the second item, coming after the Deku Sticks. There are no puzzles for the Deku Nuts, no situations where throwing them is the most obvious choice. And by the time the player figures out how to use the Deku Sticks (which are required for puzzles), he's already picking up the Slingshot (which is required for both puzzles and combat), and the Deku Nuts are completely forgotten. To make matters worse, the Slingshot's ammo is called "Deku Seeds", which are introduced with just as much fanfare as the Nuts, so that the player is likely to confuse the two "Deku" items with each other and forget that the Nuts even exist. For the rest of the game they gather dust in the inventory.
I could suggest several possible reasons for this strange aspect of the game's design, but I won't because I don't believe any of them. I can't believe that such awkward design came from a clear sense of purpose. None of this was planned; it was all improvised. Deku Nuts are in the game because when the programmers were prototyping every kind of gameplay they could think of, they had fun playing with this one. Deku Nuts are as powerful as they are because the programmers, in their fun, got a bit carried away. Any time they had a random idea for what the Deku Nuts might do, they put it in and no one told them "no". This game does not need Deku Nuts. What's more, the ease of Deku Nuts often undermines the experience the designers were aiming for. But someone on the team was passionate enough about Deku Nuts to get it in anyway.
All throughout the game, there are secrets and little details that most players will never notice. Why are they there? Because the people who were making this game weren't really thinking of the players. They were just having fun making the game, and what sits on the cartridge is the result of that barely-restrained creativity. Ocarina of Time's impressive level of polish belies the playful anarchy that created it. There was no reason for the Deku Nuts, or the Hover Boots, or the Fire and Ice Arrows, or the Bombchus, or the fishing minigame, or the Scarecrow's Song, or the Lens of Truth, or the sidequests, or most of this game! Or to put it more accurately, there was only one reason: someone felt like making these things, and so here they are.
Inside the Deku Tree