I’ve been under the weather this week and haven’t been up to my usual running and work routine. The upside is that I’ve had some long sessions playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, wrapped up in a blanket, almost feeling guilty (the key word being almost). The game is just so well done I can’t possibly feel guilty for enjoying it. I’m in awe of how these kinds of things come into existence.
Just as an aside, I came across this passage in The Wok which proves nothing but is a nice reminder that I’m just one of millions raised on Zelda:
“There were many reasons for the middle school version of me to pretend to be sick so I could stay home from school. I once faked a cold for an entire week so I could finish beating the Legend of Zelda, then faked it again the week after so I could finish reading The Neverending Story.”
I’m not faking this time (and The Neverending Story is a classic), but back to the point…
Why is The Legend of Zelda series so consistently good? After playing the first in the (latest) series all summer, why am I now hopelessly obsessed with the second?
I read this interview with The Legend of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma and Tears of the Kingdom director Hidemaro Fujibayashi that articulates what I think the magic stems from.
I touched on part of it in The Goldilocks Rule, and they talk about the game difficulty specifically as a critical ingredient:
I test to make sure that someone like myself can get through something at all, and if I can clear it, then we know it’s not too hard for the lower end of the spectrum of players. But we also know there are many players who really like to go deep, experiment, and really kind of test the limits on what’s possible. When we discovered through monitor testing that this game could support that full breadth of players and that people across that entire spectrum can play and safely get through the game, that was the moment we knew Tears of the Kingdom was really coming together.
But before a game can even get to that point, people have to work together to achieve their best, and I think this is really the key:
So, the Zelda team, how can I put it… is a group of unconventional people in that they try to do a lot of things that are unconventional, that are unique. It’s a group of people that always really wants to pursue the fun and the surprise, and once we’d gotten the positive feedback for Breath of the Wild, the next step was “How can we go beyond? What can we do more?” That idea of looking for the next wild thing, the next joyful thing, the next surprise is something that the team really gets a lot of joy and happiness out of. With Breath of the Wild, they were able to get the confidence that it’s okay to take these kinds of risks. So, it really wasn’t about worrying about whether this risk is okay or not, but instead, “What’s the next surprise we can provide?” which made development a really joyful experience.
That’s it. The team making these games is really empowered to look for the next wild thing, the next joyful thing, the next surprise.
My guess is that behind every great game, book, movie, TV series, etc is this same license to be wild.