How Breath of the Wild's cogs shaped The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Ultrahand and Fuse had some kinks to work out, so the Tears of the Kingdom team looked to Link's previous adventure for ideas.


Following up on a series-defining title like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a tall order for Nintendo, but the game's developers proved to be up to the task. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of the most memorable games to release in years, thanks largely to its Ultrahand and Fuse mechanics that allowed players to experience Hyrule like never before. However, the idea of sticking objects to one another didn't always work eloquently. In fact, it was quite buggy, as was explained during a Wednesday panel at this year's Game Developers Conference. That's when Takahiro Takayama recalled looking back at an element of Breath of the Wild for guidance.

Ultrahand vehicles roaming the field in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Source: Nintendo

"The clash between these non-physics driven objects in Ultrahand with its high degree of freedom caused daily problems all over the land of Hyrule," Physics Programmer Takahiro Takayama said during the Tunes of the Kingdom: Evolving Physics and Sounds for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom at GDC 2024. "We were in search of a solution. The key to that solution was in our experience developing Breath of the Wild. This is a cog wheel... that is not functioning properly due to non-physics-driven controls. We connected the two fixed cog wheels with a constraint to transfer velocity and moved one of them with a motor. Because all calculations are now physics-based, all the issues we were facing were now resolved. From this experience, we realized removing non-physics-driven objects and making everything physics-driven would lead us to the solution we were looking for."

Takayama went on to explain how this solution would apply to previously non-physics-driven objects like gates, allowing players to use Ultrahand-guided objects like boxes to interact with them. This eliminated a lot of the rubber-banding issues that plagued the team and prevented further issues, like falling objects sending poor wagon merchants flying into space. It also helped lead to the multiplicative gameplay that the development team was shooting for, offering multiple solutions to various puzzles. Takayama showed off one example, where an intended solution was to guide a block to a pressure switch to open a gate. The new cog-inspired solution now also allowed players to have Link step on the switch and keep the gate propped up with the block.

The Wednesday panel was both informative and amusing, showing off a multitude of Ultrahand and Fuse-driven glitches from the game's early prototypes. Senior Director Takuhiro Dohta and Sound Programmer Junya Osada joined Takayama in discussing the expansion of Hyrule, using Skyward Sword as a guide for TOTK's sky islands and A Link to the Past's Dark World as a guiding principle for the Depths. The hour concluded with Osada outlining the game's sound design, especially in relation to open spaces like the fields of Hyrule and more closed spaces, like some of its hidden caves. He also talked about how moment-to-moment gameplay influenced the music played at any given point in time. For example, he explained how the music in the Shrines would slow down if players started to get stuck on a solution.

While some will argue which is better between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, there's no denying that the former helped shape the latter, now more than ever. For more stories from this year's Game Developers Conference, be sure to take a look at our GDC 2024 topic page.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola