Ken Levine has been responsible for some truly incredible video games over the years; BioShock remains a modern classic and his earlier work at Looking Glass Technologies - where he contributed to Thief and System Shock 2 - is equally beloved.
Levine is currently working on an unannounced project at Ghost Story Games, but has taken the time to ruminate over the impact of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a title he describes as a "masterpiece" which is "a link to our past, but not a repeat of it."
In a "2017 in review" editorial for Polygon, Levine expresses his surprise that Nintendo was brave enough to ignore the history of the series and do something totally different:
While the world setting and art style had shifted in the past (most notably in Ocarina of Time’s successful move to 3D), the fundamental nature of game flow in Zelda remained unaltered for more than 30 years. The narrative setup (often lengthy), overworld, underworld, a growing suite of tools earned by completing dungeons in a fixed order: You’ll see the same elements in A Link to the Past, Minish Cap or Wind Waker, although they look and feel nothing alike.
And then you boot up Breath of the Wild. Compared to other games in the series, this one tosses you into the current console generation’s version of Hyrule without a lengthy narrative sequence. It opens up the world to you generously, instead of doling it out in bite-size chunks. You can’t have your lava dungeon until you’ve eaten all your ice dungeon!
The weapons are no longer rare artifacts, unchanging for all time. They wheeze and crack and break like the ancient gearbox of a ’94 Honda Civic.
He then voices the opinion that Zelda might not be able to return to its classic roots after this incredible shift - and warns against relying on old formulas too much:
I’ve never been lucky enough to meet Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, Koji Kondo or any of their other Zelda design colleagues. But I imagine that, when making this game, they (and Eiji Aonuma) not only gave a group of amazingly talented developers the keys to the toy box they created 30 years ago, but they also encouraged them to break some of those toys.
I’ve never read the history of the making of The Legend of Zelda, but if it’s game development in 1985, it’s probably a few young people in some office park, hungry to make something cool and having no idea how insanely hard the whole thing would be to make work.
A year ago, a bunch of you were in a room, kicking ideas around about a little elf and his bow and, boom, 365 days later, you’ve made f*****g Zelda.
Now imagine watching Zelda grow and evolve into arguably the most beloved game franchise of all time. And then imagine when somebody says, “Hey, let’s light huge chunks of that 30-year-old venerated design on fire!”
The urge to return to old successes is powerful. But the things we make can become the tombs we bury ourselves in.
Levine ends his piece by saying how happy he is that Nintendo took the risk, and compliments the game for its sheer quality:
I feel compelled to applaud the people on the Breath of the Wild team not just for their vision, but the courage they had to mess with a time-honored formula. It’s easy to change for the sake of change. It’s really hard to do it right.
The victory of Breath of the Wild is multifaceted. You can see it in its nuanced art direction. You can hear it in the meticulous sound design. You can feel it in its tightly tuned systems. But what makes it a masterpiece is that it’s a link to our past, but not a repeat of it.
We're pretty sure everyone will agree with Levine's sentiments, but do you think Zelda can ever return to its classic roots now? Levine's argument is pretty compelling, but let us know what you think with a comment.
They didn't set Zelda on fire, they set Chibi Robo on fire.
What is going to happen?
Can't wait to see the next Direct! :3
They said there was going to be a Direct.
I find this so weird, because to me Breath of the Wild just went back to the first game and decided to go a different route from there. It's the game's director looking back to what Miyamoto originally intended and designed and updating that with our current capabilities. And it's a route I feel the series flirted a lot with along the years and only avoided with its commitment to OoT's structuring.
I'd really like to see one more Zelda game made in the classic way. Don't get me wrong, I think Breath of the Wild is probably my favourite Zelda game now, but I still do love the classic design of Zelda games… there's a reason I fell in love with the series after all!
Well, it's nice to see a game model fire every now and then. Even though it's a limited amount of things fire can interact with, it's cool to see fire being able to interact with the environment insttead of being just a prop that only hurts the player.
What is it with Nintendo and fire lately? XD
Lost interest in reading any more of his comments the moment he gave credit for this game to Miyamoto and Tezuka over Aonuma or Fujibayashi. Hilarious.
Watch him here with other game developers talking about Zelda:
Opinions will be devided whatever direction the series takes. Personally, I don't mind either, since I loved almost every game. But I think the best route is a mix of the open world freedom BotW introduced, with a more linear, tight structure and classic dungeons for the main story.
There is a theory going on that we will get solid info on the mainline Fire Emblem for the Switch.
@LinkSword "But I imagine that, when making this game, they (and Eiji Aonuma) not only gave a group of amazingly talented developers the keys to the toy box they created 30 years ago, but they also encouraged them to break some of those toys."
The credit for BotW wasn't given to them. Keep reading.
@geox30 that's the least I expect if the game was aiming for 2018 release. Last year, even January presentation had a tangible trailer for SMO which wouldn't come out until autumn. XBC2 was another story, but still.
Did you say fire?
Chibi Robo fire?
Nintendo direct conformed!
Half life 3 confirmed!!!!
First, I sort of like his outreach to Nintendo, saying what a good job they did. It does still feel a little bit awkward to me however. I also do not fully share his sentiments. The art for this game was phenomenal but the audio I felt was incredibly lacking. I do enjoy the atmosphere audio but I never felt the heart-clenching fear brought about by a boss battle theme. I never wandered into a new area and just had to stop because I was listening to music for 5 minutes.
But now let me get to the focus of my comment. I hate the idea of Nintendo abandoning the atmospheric aspects of Breath of the Wild, but I absolutely hated how the open world concept damaged my enjoyment of said game. Open World is awesome, go anywhere is awesome. But I like my Zelda weapons: No hook shot, no zany weapon like the Spinner or Beetle. And the dungeons were God awful. They felt like chores. Go in touch the spot, over here touch the spot, over here touch the spot... It felt insulting. After months of thinking about this, I would have rather have had an underground under all of Hyrule where the dungeons are specific entrances are like Zelda 1. And then routes to connect each of the dungeons together like a metroidvania. I also would highly encourage Nintendo not to give me unlimited bombs like this game. Made far too many things simple to just pull out my endless bomb stock to blow stuff away.
Subtle pun at the end
I don't like Bioshock, I think it is a boring game with bad balance and boring and stereotyped ideas and I don't like Breath of the wild because I think it discarded all the contents that made Zelda games unique without putting anything new to replace the things it lost (so basically it is a shallow and empty container with no real content in it). The creator of Bioshock can praise Breath of the wild as much as he wants, I don't care.
But I have to admit, if I at least liked Breath of the wild art style, I probably would have fun playing it even to just roam around pointlessly. That would have not made BOTW any better as an adventure game but I would have enjoyed it more. I'm not a big fan of Zelda, I would be ok with a BOTW like game with the same art style that Twilight princess have (it's my favourite). I'd still think it's a loss for genuine Zelda games fan and Zelda games formula but it would be enough for me to enjoy it.
@LuckyLand It's funny that some folk have such differing opinions on this game. For me it's without doubt one of the all the time greats and possibly the first game to come even close to knocking Ocarina of Time off its perch. There's been better Zelda's since OoT but that game took gaming to a whole new level . BotW doesn't really achieve that but exploring its vast world was nearly as magical. I think its art style is absolutely beautiful too.
Enjoyable piece. In my industry (I won’t bore you), there is much talk abt “disruption” but very few are brave enough to actually do it for fear of failure and tend to stick to the “tried and true.l. Not me though, I like being a worky ticket
When I first saw the title of the article, I thought that Bioshock was headed to the Switch. 😭
@SamOrMax I read the whole paragraph. He is literally applauding Miyamoto and others for a decision they didn't make whatsoever, i.e. pushing the envelope on the franchise and letting their developers do so. That's on Aonuma and the rest of the folks actually responsible for the game.
That's Link, not Zelda.
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