Inspired by Zelda – 35th Anniversary Anecdote

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I initially wrote this for a journalist who was gathering stories from game developers who were inspired by The Legend of Zelda series, for the franchises’ 35th anniversary. He didn’t end up using it, so I’m sharing it here!

My adventure began when I was six. I was staying in the hospital, newly diagnosed with diabetes, and I found a Gameboy with Link’s Awakening. I thought it starred a pirate named Zelda. I eventually got a copy as a gift, and spent years lost in that world. My clearest memories from that time are of the Dreaming Isle.

An image of the two sides of a elaborate laminated child's drawing, with numerous tools, weapons, items, drawn out, and lists of places and names.
My first Game Design document: ten-year-old Max dreamed big

People love the Zelda games for many different reasons. I love them best when they focus on the landscape: exploring, traversing, discovering. The tantalizing glimpse of a place I can’t yet reach; the thrill of finding a unique treasure hidden in an unexpected cranny. Strange objects of mysterious purpose, and then the lightbulb moment when I acquire a tool that interacts with them.

Those early experiences lit a lifetime fascination. I joined fan communities, argued about the series’ timeline, wrote fiction, drew art. I’ve staffed many fansites, moderated forums, spoken about Zelda at PAX, gotten the obligatory tattoo. All of my earliest game designs were, of course, Zelda knock-offs.

A screen grab of an old-school fan website, with the classic 3-column design that was common in the early aughts, and The Wind Waker art in the header.
My old fansite – zeldalegends.net

I say that I became a game designer so that I could make magical experiences for others, like my time on Koholint Isle. And that’s true! But there’s another reason: I wanted to explore how and why the series had so much impact on me. I used to speak often about “the Zelda magic”, but struggled to understand or articulate it. I wanted to be able to do that.

Today I grasp the pieces of that puzzle far better. My long-standing dream is to take a deep understanding of these games I love so much and make something all of my own: games that do not resemble Zelda on the surface, but evoke some of the same feelings from my players. 

I’m not there yet! This dream is still a work-in-progress. In the meantime, I’m just like any other Zelda fan: waiting with bated breath to see where they take the series next.