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Zelda: An Inspiration from my Youth

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

Every game designer has myriad sources of inspiration. But some are far more potent than others. For me, one of those inspirations is The Legend of Zelda for NES. In a way, it is soulbound to me. (I know I'm not the only one afflicted.)

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.

In car rides I'd sit and read the manual, over and over and over. Lest you forget, this was no ordinary manual. It had a story, and it held the keys to unlocking mysteries.

Even the manual itself was a game:

No matter how much I explored, no matter how many secrets I discovered, the land of Hyrule continued to surprise meWhat?! 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 explorationin 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.

The first secret I put in a game was when I was a gameplay engineer on Sims 2. When a cop arrests a burglar from your home, the cop leads the thug to his cruiser, shoves him in back, then finds your Sim to say good bye.

During this brief moment when the cop isn't in sight of the cop car, if you happen to click on it, an option pops up to release the burglar.

Your Sim will sprint to the car, and pull out the burglar, who will then get a huge relationship bonus with you and sprint away. Of course, the cop gets pissed.

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:

Oh, and I made Hyrule in Sims 2 once. 

Hyrule Overworld in Sims 2 Engine
Hyrule Overworld in Sims 2 Engine

Close-Up of a Zelda Map Piece from The Sims 2
Close-Up of a Map Piece

If I can craft a game that gives players the same sense of wonder, adventure, and sheer joy that I experienced playing Zelda growing up, then I have done the gaming world justice.


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