Wednesday, December 29, 2021

flowers of the machine, part 3: gamelon of the floating world (I)

Every text builds on pretext.
     —Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (1982)

About a year ago, YouTube's mysterious, incontrovertible algorithms served me a video titled "The Zelda CDi Reanimated Collab!" I don't suppose the recommendation changed my life, but good god—I watched it enough times to inadvertently memorize most of the dialogue, and I'm fairly sure this is something I ought to be ashamed of.

Probably most people who'd peer at this crusty old blog are old enough to remember the 1993 CD-i Legend of Zelda games—even though they've almost certainly never played them. During the early-to-mid 2000s, when the internet acquired its voracious appetite for the grotesque, Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon were a phenomenon on the message boards and pop culture excavation blogs. But for anyone who isn't familiar: in 1990, the Dutch electronics company Phillips released a home console that ran software and games formatted on proprietary compact discs. Due to some legal agreements made during the CD-i's development (it's complicated), Phillips found itself with a license to make games featuring copyrighted Nintendo characters. In its most well-known attempt to capitalize on this arrangement, Phillips outsourced the production of two legitimized bastard Legend of Zelda games to the Russian-American studio Animation Magic, providing scant resources and demanding an exacting turnaround time. And the rest is infamy.

To put it exceedingly gently, Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon weren't very good. But what stoked the internet's delirious fascination with them wasn't the third-party jankiness of their action-adventure molds, but their full-motion video cutscenes. The animations, produced by a Russian team flown over to the United States, beggar description. The words "flat," "uncanny," "maladroit," and "charmless" all come to mind, but none really approach how astonishingly ugly these FMVs are. Combined with their hammy voice acting, obtuse dialogue, and very fact of their inclusion in games that brazenly sold themselves as authentic Legend of Zelda sequels, CD-i Zelda's cutscenes transcend mere ineptitude. They are sublimely embarrassing—a thoroughgoing and wholly avoidable blunder on the order of the Borja Ecce Mono.