So it only seems fitting that for my maiden post on game design, I reach back 23 years to my youth, when I first set foot upon the land of Hyrule.
I spent countless days wandering the lands. I held a candle to every bush. I assaulted every rock face with bombs. I pushed every tombstone. Sometimes twice, just to make sure.
No matter how much I explored, no matter how many secrets I discovered, the land of Hyrule continued to surprise me. What?! I blew my whistle and an entire LAKE disappeared, and now there are stairs descending to a dungeon? Wow...
Because of this (and in no small part due to the early Metroid games) I highly value secrets and exploration in game design. I'm the kind of guy that rock-climbs up the edges of the map of WoW or Skyrim, crevice-jumping above the tree line, hoping to stumble on some secret alcove the designers tucked away for the boldest adventurers to find.
If there's any way I can include a secret in a game, I do. And I mean a real secret -- not a faux secret, like a wall as cracked as the Liberty Bell and (surprise) you can bomb it open. I mean the real stuff. You know it's a real secret when the player is surprised and delighted that whatever they just did... actually worked.
And sometimes my inspiration is more obviously linked to Zelda. Like in Sims 3: World Adventures, where one of my tomb designs under an ancient burial mound in France is reminiscent of old Zelda dungeon layouts, complete with rectangular rooms and regular patterns of statues and blocks.
Here's a slideshow: