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Zelda: Breath of the Wild's first prototype looked like a NES game

Director wanted multiple solutions so people wouldn't look up walkthroughs online.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was originally prototyped as a 2D-style game.

Game director Hidemaro Fujibayashi revealed this prototype at a GDC talk this afternoon attended by Eurogamer.

Fujibayashi said that he wanted to make an "active" game with multiple solutions rather than prescribed puzzles that are far more effort to assemble. Worse, the solutions to such puzzles could just be looked up online.

As a result, he wanted to create situations with infinite solutions so no two player's experiences would be exactly alike.

But in order to test such a theory out, he decided to create a NES-like prototype to see if these systems were enjoyable to play.

This is actually in 3D, despite how it may look.

On the surface, this prototype looks a lot like the original NES The Legend of Zelda, but it actually contains a lot of the physics systems that made their way into The Breathe of the Wild. To wit: you can cut trees down to get lumber, set a torch on fire, then use it to burn down trees. Or you can transport a log by pushing it into a river.

“We used 2D graphics to quickly create a prototype as a proof of concept,” said Takuhro Dohta. “2D prototyping is handy in that it allows you to reduce the game to a set of symbols and clearly display the logic behind an idea.”

This convinced the team that they were on the right track with the Havok-based physics system, but the developer decided it needed a chemistry system too. Both would eschew reality for effects that don't emulate reality, but symbolically make sense.

Cover image for YouTube video[GDC 17] The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 8 bit

For example, fire can be used to set grass on fire, which seems sensible, or igniting an enemy after holding a torch beside their shoulder for a few seconds, which is obviously an exaggeration. The same goes for using an oversized leaf to blow objects an unrealistic distance away. Or slicing a tree with an axe resulting in a smoky poof and some neatly tied up bundles of lumber appearing.

Given the exaggerated physics and chemistry, the developer couldn't make the art style too realistic, nor could it opt for too stylised a look. "The lies it told were too big" said art director Satoru Takizawa when considering a Wind Waker-esque aesthetic.

Earlier designs were even more wild, and showed pre-production sketches of Link as a biker or musician: