Nintendo explains the philosophy behind Zelda’s physics at GDC


Forward-looking: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild impressed players with its flexible physics system in 2017. Nintendo’s 2023 follow-up, Tears of the Kingdom, added a fusion system that drew praise from users and developers. The company used its GDC 2024 presentation to explain how it implemented the ambitious mechanics without breaking the game.

One of the most lauded aspects of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is its central gameplay system, which enables players to fuse any two objects in the world. Social media is filled with elaborate user creations, and developers expressed shock at how complex the system could become.

A popular post on X featured a clip of a player who had built a foldable bridge out of motorized wheels and several interlocked planks. Another showed a player-made door-opening mechanism. In both examples, developers explained that such systems are typically incredibly difficult to execute.

For Nintendo, doing so meant building upon the philosophy of “multiplicative design” that shaped Breath of the Wild. At GDC 2017, around the time that game launched, the company defined multiplicative design as a process whereby players could impact objects which would then impact other objects. A simple 2D prototype resembling the original Legend of Zelda demonstrated the design approach.

Seven years later, Nintendo said it had to remain uncompromising when bringing its physics system to the next level in Tears of the Kingdom. During development, the new fusion system caused problems whenever physics-based objects interacted with non-physics-based objects. The solution was to make every object in the game physics-based.

That unwavering design approach allows players to build and operate a seemingly infinite variety of vehicles and other contraptions even though Nintendo didn’t code a system for driving specific vehicles.

Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are easily the two most successful entries in the Zelda franchise’s 38-year history. The latter sold 10 million copies within three days and has reached over 20 million in the months since its launch last May. It stands a good chance of catching up to Breath of the Wild, which sits at 31 million.

Breath of the Wild was a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo is expected to release the handheld console’s successor early next year. It remains unclear which titles Nintendo plans to debut for the device.


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