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Is a Zelda Dungeon Maker a plausible concept for a standalone game - A Discussion

Oct 13, 2013
1. The Genesis of the Concept

The Zelda Dungeon Maker in Link's Awakening exists as a proof of concept. In the exact same way that the Captain Toad levels in SM3DW were a proof of concept as well. They worked so well in SM3DW that they were eventually spun off into their own game - Captain Toad. Shigeru Miyamoto wanted builder content similar to Mario Maker, in Link's Awakening as it's new content. Nintendo do have a policy of trying to add at least a little new content to every 1st or 2nd party remake or remaster of Switch. Miyamoto told this to Eiji Aonuma so it could happen, and it did.

I am also very sure Miyamoto and Aonuma know about the fan demand for such a product as well as the Legend of Zelda Maker fan project that Nintendo forced to take out all Zelda related content via a cease and desist letter.

2. What we have in Link's Awakening

The base idea of making content and playing that created content is present. As a concept it works very well. You select from a number of pre-set room layouts to make a playable dungeon. The only main restrictions are that each dungeon must have a start room and a final boss room. The only collectables are keys and rupees. You get one key from each chest (up to the number of locked doors in the dungeon). After that all chests have rupees inside them except the last chest has the boss door key. Last in this case means the last chest you open up, so you have to open up every chest.

There is a very basic single player mode here too with the challenge mode. This mode is to make a dungeon with certain restrictions then play the dungeon. Only some of the restrictions are used, not all of them for a single dungeon. The restrictions include:
  • Every section on the map must have a room placed
  • Certain sections must have certain things placed on that section, like a room with stairs or a roon with a chest
  • Certain sections with rooms already placed that you can not remove
  • Clear conditions, like 3 or 5 heart runs, no sword runs or time limited runs
The challenge here is all in the dungeon creation process. Using the available room layouts to best meet the challenge set takes a good deal of thought. A decent puzzle game. Actually beating the dungeons is not that hard at all. The Boomerang does make the no sword dungeons quite easy.
You do get more room layouts to use when you beat some of the challenges and when you progress through the game, but the last number of room layouts, about 20 I think (I have not got them all) are from buying a blank tile from the shop at approx 1200 rupees each and then getting Dampe to turn that into a room layout. Stealing from the shopkeeper is muck harder in the Link's Awakening remake to the point that it's not worth trying it. Personally I would have preferred the gold sword level challenges from Dampe to give out roon layouts instead of 300 rupees each. So they are all obtainable without having to farm an obscene number of rupees to get them all.

3. Comparisons to Mario Maker

What would a Zelda Dungeon Maker require to be a good stand alone game? I think the best way to discuss this is to compare it to the fundamentals of Mario Maker and see in Zelda Dungeon Maker can also do them.

The ability to create and play
Some people like making Mario levels, some people like playing Mario levels and some people like doing both. The Zelda Dungeon Maker would easily accomodate both. The free design mode in Link's Awakening already caters to this. All you need is to add an online dungeon sharing system and it's good to go. The proof of concept demonstrates this very well.

Taking the base elements and turning them into unique ideas
Mario Maker is all about using a limited set of tools and items and letting your imagination run wild. Level types like speed run, music, troll, themed etc etc are all possible due to all the different ways the tools and items interact with each other. A Zelda Dungeon Maker would have a harder time achieving this. Want to make a troll dungeon for your friends to play, as an example? Not possible in the proof of concept. This is one of big challenges Nintendo would have to overcome if they made a stand alone Zelda Dungeon Maker game.

My possible solution would be to copy the Mario Maker grid style of creation. You would have pre set rooms to choose from, of all different sizes and shapes. They would all be empty and you place them all in your dungeon, across multiple floors. Jigsawing them all together to make the dungeon layout you want. Then you can enter a room and place all the enemies or chests or pickups or contraptions you like based on a grid system. So they all fit in the room and don't overlap each other. Enemy stacking and putting regular enemies in the same room as bosses would be a thing to see how crazy it got or to make new stacked enemy bosses.
The issue here is to see if this would allow enough creative freedom to make enough crazy dungeon types to generate long term interest in the game. I don't know if it can but maybe Nintendo can do it.

Starting each dungeon from the same point
In Mario Maker you start each level as small Mario and that's it. It's up to the level creator how many powers you are to get in a level and how they should be used. In Zelda dungeons you do not start at the same point for each one. You have a different number of hearts and loot each time. I do think this is a core feature of builder games so make it much simpler to create and play levels. How would a Zelda Dungeon maker overcome this? The best idea I had was to copy something like Enter the Gungeon or Binding of Isaac. I'll explain below.

Each Zelda Dungeon would have the player start with three hearts to beat the level. Hearts would not be randomly dropped by enemies anymore. The dungeon creator would decide which enemies drop the hearts. In the exact same way the Mario level designers decide which ? blocks contain mushrooms. The same would be true for rupees. Of cause free standing hearts and rupees could be on the ground also as a one time pickup anywhere on the map. This would remove a lot of the (pseudo-RNG). This would make the game harder in a way but in a more manageable way. It'd not be rogue-lite at all.

I do think the loot collected that is used to progress in the dungeon would be collected anew for each dungeon. So you could go all Metroid and make the player backtrack to use the new loot they collected in earlier rooms to progress. This already happens in most Zelda games but it would be condensed into each as a single dungeon experience.

Endless mode
Mario Maker 2 has this. Beat as many levels made by the community before you run out of lives. The biggest issue here in my opinion is lives or extra hearts. I think the level creators should be able to add heart containers to their dungeons if they want to. But they can't carry over to the next dungeon because you need a unified always the same start point to every dungeon.

There is another issue here. That's dying. In Mario Maker, because most levels are 5 minutes ot beat or less and with good checkpoint placement, dying is just a minor inconvenience and very quickly you are back into the action. The challenge is to not run out of lives. With Zelda dungeons, if you die at the end of a dungeon, then what? Do you have to replay the whole dungeon again? Or do you just keep going with one less life? Zelda 2 just kicked you back to the begin of that room, but because that game is so very different, I don't think it's a good example to use here.
If you ignore lives entirely, then you are effectively playing the game in hardcore mode. Like most rogue-lites but without all the rogue lite RNG. I honestly don't know what the solution is. I do think, if lives are used, it would be 100 rupees per life gained, just like in Mario.

This will make or break a Zelda Dungeon Maker game. This has to be done right.

Story Mode
Just expand the proof of concept we have in Link's Awakening, with more and tougher challenges and add a back story to it and some nice area for Link to walk in between dungeons. Done. Not the main reason people buy maker games but easy to add in for extra content.

Multiplayer Co-Op
Just have two or more people on screen working together to beat the dungeon. Just like in Four Swords Adventures. It works and would be lots of fun. Friendly fire on? I think on or off would work, probably off so the focus is on beating the dungeon.

Multiplayer Competitive
This works in Mario Maker 2 because you can antagonise the other players and race to the flag pole first. A little hard to race through Zelda dungeons like that. Maybe you could have it, whoever takes the most damage loses at the end of the dungeon? Or would you have the most enemies killed or rupees collected? I think this would be all in the QA. Test the heck out of each idea to see which is the most fun and which has the longest lasting appeal.

Clear Conditions
These could be easily added to a Zelda dungeon maker. In dungeons with a clear condition, would getting that clear condition be enough or would the player have to get the boss key as well? I am not sure but overall this is a very easy feature to add to a Zelda dungeon maker.

Different game styles
  • Zelda 1 - NES
  • A Link To The Past
  • Four Swords Adventures
  • Link's Awakening Switch
I think that would be enough as a start. I don't think any of the Gameboy styles wouldwork that well but if Nintendo wanted to add some of them in, I'd be fine with that.

Different game themes for the 4 styles
  • Castle
  • Forest
  • Cave
  • Water
  • Town
There's lots of options here, Nintendo has a lot of scope here for creativity with themes.

Dungeon World
Just like Mario Maker's course world. Could be done almost the exact same with different dungeons being advertised there and you could favourite your favourite creators too. Just port this feature from Mario Maker, tweak it for Zelda Dungeon Maker and all done.

4. There has to be a whole dungeon focus as a possibility
If the dungeon designer wants each room to be single non connected puzzles, that's fine. But if the dungeon creator wants a multiroom puzzle that should be doable also. To really get the players thinking.
Examples of multiroom puzzles? Think Ocarina of Time's water temple or the red/blue switches in Link's Awakening. You can activate something in one room to affect something else an another room or floor of the dungeon. Also things like throwing throwing a bomb over a fence to break a hole in the floor so an item can fall through that you need to get or light can filter down to the lower floor (think ALTTP town dungeon).
The best way to do this in my opinion would be to add into the Zelda dungeon maker, a lot of ways to have interactions between rooms all on an individual basis. Then let the community connect the dots to turn all those multiroom puzzle opportunities into great multroom puzzles.

5. The ability to manually connect stairs
In the proof of concept, one stairs just linked to the closest other set of stairs. This limited the dungeon design opportunities. The fix to this is to press a buttom to show up a stairs map. On this map you can select each set of stairs and manually select which other stairs they link to. This would be a core feature of a Zelda dungeon maker and would have to be implimented properly.

6. The ability to manually set what the exit of each room is
You'd just select the exit and pick from a menu what that exit is from some of the following options.
  • No exit
  • Door - open
  • Door - locked
  • Door - requires switch pressed in that room to open
  • Door - requires all enemies in the room to be killed
  • Door - one way travel. Can't walk back through the door from the other side
  • Cracked wall - bomb to open
  • Invisible path - Looks like there's no exit but you can walk through the wall. This was used a lot in Zelda 1's 2nd quest.
The boss door would automatically appear whereever the designer put the final boss room requiring the boss key to open

7. Conclusions - Will this actually sell?
I think it would sell pretty well, if Nintendo advertised it well, had demos at places like Gamescom and got a lot of fan feedback about what they want in a Zelda dungeon maker. There is not as much nostalgia for this as there is for Mario levels so it'd be a tougher sell. Releasing this a few months after a 2D Zelda port would work really well. That's how Mario Maker 2 did it, releasing after the SM3DW port.
A Zelda Maker would sell.

It was Shigeru Miyamoto who wanted Aonuma to include the dungeon maker in Link's Awakening, and just like anything Shigsy asks Aonuma to do, Aonuma half arses it.

I found the dungeon making in LA to be boring as hell. Even buffing it up with extra features and modes and fine tuning etc I still don't think it'd be interesting...

But, I don't enjoy dungeons in Zelda to begin with so maybe my opinion on should be disregarded.

I don't enjoy the Mario Maker series either because once a game like that gets online there is no end to the troll content that is uploaded.

So, taking the dungeon creation from LA that I didn't like and then setting it free online for the masses to upload an insane amount of troll content, despite it being a Zelda product, probably wouldn't excite me to buy it personally.


Disaster Master
Dec 26, 2017
Instead of this I rather have a mainline zelda game that takes the maker mechanic and makes it part of the story. Like sky keep but way bigger and better

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