GDC game development talks about Zelda BOTW and Zelda TOTK

The last two Zelda videogames for the Nintendo Switch have climbed to my "Top 5 games ever" list. Combining both, I've poured in hundreds of hours, almost maxed the first title, and I recently decided to do a new run of both games in sequence. I think they are two of the greatest videogames ever made. My curiosity about how things work also means I love reading about game development, so when a friend sent me a Game Developers Conference 2024 video about Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I both watched it and recalled that I had seen a similar one years ago about Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Desiring to keep both for the record, and, at the same time, share two excellent "examples" of why I think these games are so good, here they are, alongside a brief summary:

Both are great examples of game development, but in different ways.

The first talk is presented by the game director, art director and technical director, and shows about how Zelda: BOTW ended up being a radical departure from previous titles: By becoming an open-world adventure, by including advanced physics, by changing once more the art style, and much more. This talk also became a bit famous because it shows an early prototype built to replicate the original Zelda (2D, 8-bit-like graphics, and simple controls) while adding many of the new mechanics. People loved the idea of an "enhanced 2D NES Zelda" and even built a fan-made prototype, but Nintendo issued a takedown request 😢.

The second talk explores something less common for Nintendo: Evolving the same game engine for a second game [1], a title which initially looked similar, but once you play it, you realize it is a vastly improved experience (with enough changes to feel new). This time, presented by the technical director [2], lead physics programmer and lead sound engineer, we'll see how endless experimentation and iteration aids to exponentially increase the amount of gameplay actions (and reactions) a videogame can present to players. By being able to a) work on an already built game engine and b) be free from the limitations of the Wii-U version [3], the world now has amazing physics, puzzles and "wow-like" gameplay elements almost everywhere. And the sound effects also feel quite advanced and interesting, that part of the talk being a totally completely topic for me.

A screenshot of the Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Talk, showing some audio system details

[1]: While Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask are another example of reusing an engine, one characteristic of the Zelda series is that almost always, new title equals new engine.

[2]: The same technical director as in the first talk, Takuhiro Dohta. I wanted to remark this because it is an example of how different are the corporate (tech at least) cultures of Japan vs Europe/USA: Giving a talk in 2017 after working 14 years in the same company, and seven years later presenting the next game in the series, still at the same company, and holding the same title.

[3]: This is not mentioned in the talk, but it is obvious that Breath of the Wild was a Switch port of the Wii-U version (I've played both versions), meanwhile Tears of the Kingdom focused only on the new console, so it squeezes all the power that the Switch can provide.

Tags: Game Dev Videogames

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