In celebration of Zelda’s 35th anniversary, journalist Imran Khan spoke to 18 different game developers across the industry for Inverse, including members of Riot Games, Capy, and Phil Spencer himself, the head of Microsoft’s Gaming division and the face of Xbox.
Although Spencer’s quote was a little dry, calling The Legend of Zelda an “iconic franchise” but not really offering his own opinion on the game, many of the devs pegged the series as one of their key influences in their careers.
Many of them recall owning one of the first few games as a child, with League of Legends eSports content producer Leah Jackson reminiscing about “taking turns” to play with her brother and dad, Riot Games’ Daniel Haas praising Ocarina of Time for the way it “captures the exploration and idealism of childhood,” and Chandana Ekanayake, the studio director at Outerloop, remembering the excitement he had upon discovering that the currency in the game was Rupees – the same currency of his homeland, Sri Lanka, which he had just left in order to emigrate to the US.
Some of the developers specifically reference Zelda’s stamp on their own games. Sword and Sworcery dev Craig D. Adams says that the sylvan sprites in his game are “a straight-up respectful homage” to Majora’s Mask, although he has considerably cooled on the series in recent years – he “gave up” on Skyward Sword, and found Breath of the Wild’s shrines “uninspired”.
Chris Musto with his daughter dressed as Link and Navi for Halloween (Image: Chris Musto/Inverse)
Chris Musto, also from Riot, tells an interesting (and relatable) story about ignoring a friend in favour of beating the Gerudo Fortress archery challenge, and how his appreciation for the series over the decades has evolved “beyond gameplay to technical achievements”.
Tom Pedalino of Double Eleven – a studio whose work includes many well-known ports, such as Lego Harry Potter and Rust, as well as being the publisher of Zelda-inspired RPG, Songbringer – goes one further, with the mantra “how would Zelda/Nintendo do this” when making games. The main developer of Songbringer, Nathaniel Weiss, also chimed in, saying that Zelda captured his “insatiable wanderlust” in Link’s quest to “explore, discover, and become a hero”.
Stephen Mortimer’s record of his achievement in Nintendo Power (Image: Stephen Mortimer/Inverse)
Game designer Stephen Mortimer, whose CV includes 11 years at Nintendo Software Technology and 5 years at Riot Games, has a rich history with Zelda. As a kid, he won a challenge issued by Nintendo Power to beat Ocarina of Time with just three hearts, and later became a game designer because of his fascination with the series. Over the course of his career, he has shipped eight games, including League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics, each one with a little bit of Zelda DNA in them.
It’s certainly interesting to see which games were the climbing-on point for many of these people, regardless of their job titles and ages. For some, it was the very first game, The Legend of Zelda, on its iconic gold NES cartridge; for others, it was Ocarina of Time’s foray into 3D. Regardless of where they began, everyone has a soft spot in their heart for the series, even if they didn’t love every iteration.
What was your first Zelda, and which one was your favourite? Have they shaped you in your life or your career? Tell us about it in the comments!