#199: Wild times

Let's talk about Zelda, because I can't think about anything else today. Also: discount time!

Hello! It’s my birthday today, which means that a) you all have to be nice to me; b) I have changed the newsletter aspect colour to the best of all hues, dark olive green; and c) it’s time for a discount on paid subscriptions. For the next seven days, you can save 10% on a 12-month sub, paying either month-to-month or annually, by hitting the button below. As a reminder, a paid sub nets you an extra edition every week, access to the full archive including the occasional longform interview series Max HP, and my eternal love and respect. Thanks in advance!

Happy TOTK Eve, you lot. To get us into the spirit of things, today’s Hit Points will be a little different. I’d like to reminisce about my personal history with one of gaming’s greatest series, then invite you to do the same. If it sparks as big a love-in as I’m hoping, maybe I’ll collate the best submissions into a bonus edition and send it out early next week. Leave a comment, reply to this email, or jump into the wonderful Hit Points Discord to tell your stories. If nothing else, it should help pass the time until the postman shows up tomorrow. Man, I really goofed going physical for this. I expect I’ll have bought the digital edition before tomorrow’s morning coffee is even brewed.

A quick confession: I don’t have as deep a personal connection to Zelda as I do to, say, the Mario games or Street Fighter. I would describe myself as a Zelda dabbler, rather than a devotee. I play them all but have finished relatively few of them, either getting stuck or distracted by something else and drifting away. But I am always there for them on day one, because there are few moments so unifying in games as the launch of a new Zelda. We put aside our petty little differences and unite in communal hype. It is an event I will always be part of, whether I end up finishing the game or not.

I have two stories to tell you today. Have a read, then send me yours.

Ocarina Of Time (1998)

I wasn’t actually that into games when Ocarina came out. I was 20 years old, a recent uni dropout working for a bank in the City Of London, and was far more interested in music and raving and [redacted in case my Mum’s reading] than I was in sitting around at home. I was effectively nocturnal at the weekends, out of the house unless I was sleeping. Despite all that, I knew Ocarina was coming. I knew it was apparently very special indeed, and that for once there wasn’t that much of a wait between the Japanese and European releases.

On release day I got up a little early — no mean feat for a 20-year-old working in a company, and a city, with a heavy drinking culture — and bought a copy on the way in to work. I put it in my bag, did my day’s data-entry drudgery then went straight to the office Christmas party, where my boss turned out to be such a terrible drunk that she only stopped crying to be sick on my shoes, and I got into such a state of disrepair that Saturday was a complete write-off. It would’ve been the perfect time to sit down with one of the greatest games ever made, but I forgot I’d even bought it. I finally realised my error on Sunday morning, stuck it on and played it until bedtime. I was absolutely agog. Just the scale of it. It felt enormous, infinite.

It wasn’t, of course. As I recall I got stuck in the Water Temple and didn’t touch it again for a year or two, and I’m not sure I ever finished it. It’s all a bit fuzzy to be honest. As you can probably tell, I spent most of the late ‘90s off my face.

Breath Of The Wild (2017)

I also have a rather hazy memory of most of Breath Of The Wild, primarily because I hoovered it up for review in an Edge deadline haze. Now look, I’m as against crunch as the rest of you. But honestly that was one of the best weeks of my life.

Like Red Dead, I have grown rather weary of BOTW’s opening stretch. I wrote an Edge cover story based on the Wii U build that was playable at E3 in 2016 — the year Nintendo designed its whole booth in Breath Of The Wild’s image, with a grass-effect carpet that did weird things to my hangover (the little Bokoblins stationed about the place hardly helped). The demo began at the very start of the game and had a 20-minute time limit, resetting itself once the timer was up. I played it five times on the bounce, mashing buttons through the opening dialogue, running in a different direction each time to see as much of the Great Plateau as I could. I interviewed Eiji Aonuma for the first time, then went home and wrote it all up.

Me with my best buddy Eiji Aonuma at E3 2016. Man, I’ve put on some weight since then; the pandemic, and the second kid, really did a number on me. (The beard’s much better these days, at least.)

I played that 20-minute demo again at the Switch unveiling, in London in January 2017, for another cover story, this time on Nintendo’s curious new console. We took a photographer along and did a hardware photoshoot in a cramped dressing room in the bowels of the Hammersmith Apollo. That was a weird event, looking back on it. BOTW was tucked away at the back of the room, an afterthought almost, and was largely overlooked by press who’d played it six months earlier and figured it was a known quantity. It barely factored into our collective assessment of Switch, which we all thought was overpriced and underpowered, doomed out of the gate by the same lacklustre thirdparty support that had done for Wii U. That aged well, didn’t it. What a bunch of doughnuts.

Then there was the review. You might think, given my patchy history with the Zelda series, that this would have been better in someone else’s hands. But after writing a couple of cover stories and playing the first 20 minutes of the game half a dozen times — and, as deputy editor, having sole authority over the commissioning of Edge’s review section at the time — you better believe I was doing it.

We wanted to put it on the cover again, but our lengthy print lead times meant we couldn’t afford to wait for official review code. Normally that would be the end of the conversation but Nintendo, to their eternal credit, went well beyond the typical platform-holder call of duty. Their UK PR rep drove from their Windsor HQ to some satellite office in the Midlands, to download a build of the game from NOE in Frankfurt onto a debug Wii U, which she then delivered by hand to the Edge office in Bath.

It was highly confidential, obviously, and since we shared an office with half-a-dozen game magazines and websites who wouldn’t be getting the game for another week or two, we were under strict instructions not to play it on the premises. Oh, if you insist! I drove home slightly too fast and that was me for the next week: get up, take the kid (singular, at the time) to nursery, then sit down and spend the day with it. I had the game finished and the review written in five days. As I say, I barely remember a thing, but it is a truly treasured memory despite its fuzziness.

That issue of the mag was a real beauty: exclusive cover art for both the newsstand and subscriber editions, a sprawling Chris Schilling interview with BOTW director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, and what, thanks to a production snafu that saw subscriber copies somehow arrive early for once, ended up being the world’s first review of Breath Of The Wild. I thought were were going to get in terrible trouble for that but Nintendo, understandably I suppose, wasn’t too mad at the idea of its new console launching alongside an Edge 10.

It was a good review, I think. You always flex your muscles a bit harder when writing an Edge 10. Here’s that all-important final paragraph to close us out:

“The result, for all the longevity of its series and the familiarity of the open-world genre, is a game that evokes feelings we haven’t known for 20 years. Not since Ocarina Of Time have we set foot in a world that seems so mind-bogglingly vast, that feels so unerringly magical, that proves so relentlessly intriguing. Plenty of games promise to let us go anywhere and do anything; few, if any, deliver on it so irresistibly. Nineteen years on, Ocarina is still held up as the high-water mark of one of gaming’s best-loved — and greatest — series. Now it may have to settle for second place.”

Man, as if I wasn’t excited enough already. Roll on tomorrow.


Lots of chatter in the Discord about Phil Spencer’s downcast Kinda Funny interview, and the Hit Points edition it inspired. Herewith some highlights.

  • Jiggles has some thoughts on “the strategic significance of Spencer’s interview. Here I was thinking, ‘Damn, tough time to choose to do an interview’, but I was blind to the fact that because The Audience lap him up, and hail him as a straight-shooter in a world of vacuous suits, it was all just damage control after a rough couple of weeks. ‘Give them Phil, they like him!’ Not so much him choosing to talk to the KF guys as being deployed to do so.” I’m not sure about this, on reflection; it feels more like a prearranged thing he felt it would be a bad look to back out of. Mind you, given some of the stuff he said, it does feel like it was arranged at short notice — before Spencer had a chance to run some lines past the PR bods, who I imagine watched it back through their fingers.
  • “I enjoyed the look behind the curtain,” says Rob64 of my shining a light on the shadowy business of game consulting. “If your clients would be okay with it, any anecdotes from this shadow reviewing would be interesting material for HP.” Been thinking about that as well, but not sure I’d be able to offer much insight when I’m slathered in NDAs. I’ll give it some more thought.
  • “On the one hand I appreciate Spencer going out and saying ‘It's our fault’, but there's a between-the-lines reading of that where he could really be saying ‘We didn't expect Arkane to be so bad at their jobs’,” says Paul C. “With the talk of their more hands-on approach to Starfield, I wonder if that means that future projects (at Arkane and elsewhere) are going to have more oversight and less leeway to experiment.” I think Spencer and co have had more involvement in games like Redfall than he would have us believe, but yes, I expect their main takeaway from all this is that they need to be more hands-on. I realise, and appreciate, that they’re a bit wary of being overbearing, but there’s a decent balance to be struck between quality-focused oversight and creative autonomy, I reckon.

Lovely stuff. Here’s that Discord link again. We have a dedicated channel for Tears Of The Kingdom discussion too, you know. Join usssss.


  • Sharp says it is making LCD displays “for a new gaming console”. This, combined with Nintendo president Shintaro Furukawa’s careful choice of words when discussing new hardware earlier this week, is intensifying speculation around a Switch successor. Gird your loins, folks. Let’s get through Zelda first. 

  • Following up on yesterday’s edition about CEOs who proclaim their organisations a success while everything falls apart around them, last night it was Roblox Corp’s turn to show the world its backside. Revenue was up 22% year over year as active users hit an all-time high — but losses widened significantly, from $160m this time last year to $268m. “The momentum in our business demonstrates the success of our creator community as they bring their visions to life on Roblox,” parped CEO David Baszucki, “attracting an ever-growing global user base that spans all ages.” Righto. The stock price went up almost 8%, obviously.

  • I shouted this out to paid subscribers yesterday, but it deserves another outing I think. I was one of several hundred game-industry hangers-on to contribute to GQ’s 100 Greatest Games feature. It’s pretty good, as lists go, and after all those years arguing about Edge rankings it was nice to simply stuff a top ten with heart picks. Here’s mine, if you’re curious:

  • I have also been meaning to shout out recently minted Substack chum Tony Coles, and particularly this detailed, and heartfelt, love letter to Arkane. While it was written before Redfall arrived, it’s a useful reminder of what a talented bunch they are over there. Go!

Ah, a nice quiet day of news. Let’s leave it there so I can tie up some loose ends before tomorrow’s Zelda marathon. A final reminder about that birthday discount: paid subscriptions are the lifeblood of an independent publication like this, and if you’re not already part of the growing Hit Points family your support would mean the world to me. The button is just below. See you next week!