Some hard truths (and better speculations) about Ura Zelda

Posted: March 22, 2016 by ryanlecocq in Features

 

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This is a subject I’ve written about a great deal in the past, but long before this blog was created.  You see, from the late 90s to the present, Zelda Ocarina of Time has had a huge modding community who sought to discover lost elements hidden within various versions of the game’s rom.  According to legend, there were several unreleased versions of the game that differ quite a bit from the final version.  These are referred to as Zelda 64, beta Zelda, Zelda Gaiden and Ura Zelda respectively.  The most relevant is Ura Zelda, which was to be an expansion for OOT, built from the remains of the original 64DD version.  Now, many years down the line, we still have a huge community dedicated to trying to unearth remnants of this lost version.

Since Nintendo has never released any code, screenshots or solid information about this version after OOT’s release, there is much confusion about it.  The biggest being that Ura Zelda was nothing more than the Master Quest released with the Wind Waker bonus disk.  While that may be true of what Nintedo dubbed “Ura Zelda” and the missing elements we want were from another build or version of the project, the fact is that there are other missing features fans still want to see.

A new issue facing us is that many of the original generation of OOT modders have moved on (myself included), being replaced by a new generation who are fresh and ready to dig through some code.  The danger is that many of these people weren’t around when all of this was new and have started to confuse internet rumor and rampant speculation with documented facts, just because they have been floating around so long.  It’s kind of like the whole “Sherlock never said ‘elementary’ in the books” thing.  When something becomes so popular that fans everywhere adopt it, it becomes hard to separate it from the original body of work.  Fortunately, I was there at day one, imported Action Replay in hand (Datel is a UK company and the AR was not released in the US for years, leaving us the inferior Gameshark).  So if you are reading this obscure blog, hopefully you can evangelize this info and help clear this up.

 

 

Elements fans incorrectly assume to mean something else:

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Gold, Silver and Black tunics:  This one is going to hurt some of you, as many fans have used these tunics as the key piece of evidence for the ‘lost’ ice and light temples.  There actually are no extra tunics hidden in OOT’s code.  There are no text references to the items, no events or text relating to Link getting them, nada.  The only reason you see them now is because one of the first codes we figured out back in 1999 was changing the color value of objects.  Black, silver and gold were just the ones first arbitrarily chosen BECAUSE of fan theories about missing temples.  You can actually change the digits for color to anything on the RGB scale and you can easily find screenshots of many colored tunics.  If you are having a hard time accepting this, do some searching.  You will find no beta screenshot, interview or early footage showing these tunics and there is no unmodified code referencing them in any version of the game.

Unicorn fountain and fairy statue:  For some reason that I still do not understand, everyone on the internet seems to believe the unicorn fountain would have given Link the blade beam ability.  Maybe it’s because there are 3 unicorn heads and the early footage of this attack showed 3 beams coming out of Link’s sword.  As far as I can tell, that is the only reason, as this was never mentioned by any developer.  If you judge the unicorn fountain, fairy statue and unused fairy fountain wall textures just based on what the code says, there is no suggestion of any of the fan theories related to them.  It appears that these were just designs for the fairy fountains that were never used.  My guess (and this is definitely speculation, do not emit this if you quote) is that the fairy fountains were originally going to be different and each would have featured a statue or fountain.  Then at some point the model for the great fairy was created instead and they made the fountains empty to make room for her character model, also making them all the same textures and design inside.

The Ice Temple in Zora’s Domain:  I think this theory is accurate, but incorrect in the details.  Most people assume that the Ice Cavern is just a small part of what would have been an Ice Temple that is no longer in the game.  When we look at some leftover flags and events still in the main game, it seems as if the world was significantly modified later in development.  One of my theories based on this (once again this is speculation), is that Zora’s Domain was not originally connected to Lake Hylia by underwater passage, but instead by a longer Zora’s river that didn’t dead end in Hyrule Field.  So by this logic, I think the “Ice Temple” was just a longer sequence where the cavern was intertwined with Zora’s Domain (possibly including the mysterious hole under the ice) where you unfroze the Zoras.  In the final version, the cavern was shrunk and disconnected from the other links to Zora’s Domain, which were re-purposed as links to other areas.  The reason I believe this, is that unlike the Sky and “Deep Woods” temples, there is no reference to it being an actual temple.  There are versions of the Water Medallion that were called the “Ice Medallion” in early screenshots, but this was also looooong before the Water Temple was ever shown.  So my guess is that there was never an Ice Temple that was designed and the Water Temple was intended to be totally separate from all of the ice objects found in the final game rom.  The connection between the two only exists in the minds of fans because the devs named the medallions before actually designing the dungeons.

The Temple of Time is the Light Temple:  First of all, I can totally see why this is a popular theory.  I mean, it’s called a temple and you meet Rauru there, who gives you a medallion without requiring you to beat a dungeon.  It seems like a slam dunk theory that simply must be true.  Except for one major flaw; there are references throughout the game to the entrance to the sacred realm being hidden near Hyrule Castle.  Look at it this way, if Ganon had already accessed the sacred realm at this point, he would have found Rauru and taken his medallion 7 years before Link ever woke up.  So having one of the dungeons be in the sacred realm doesn’t make a lot of sense.  It’s definitely possible that there was some other hidden entrance elsewhere and the Temple of Time just got re-purposed as that without removing its sage, Rauru.  To be clear though, there is nothing hidden in the game’s code or early screens that suggests this.  Even the earliest shots of the Temple of Time show it as basically the same size and layout we see in the final game.  If there ever was a “Light Temple” that was actually developed and tested, it has been so thoroughly removed from the game that we now have no idea where it was located.

The Sky Temple theories:  There are a few references in the final game and several more in unused dialogue, that mention a race of winged beings and a temple in the sky.  Theories about this have been combined into the “Sky Temple” theory; that there was an additional temple in the sky that was removed from the final game.  This makes a lot of sense, because the light medallion was once called the “Air Medallion” in early screen shots.  This is yet another bit of evidence that leads me to believe that the “Light Temple” and “Sky Temple” were one and the same and never actually developed.  Once again we have to speculate, but I think this is another example of the temple medallions being created after initial dungeon brainstorming, but before actual dungeon development.  It’s important to note that there are generally 7-8 dungeons in Zelda games.  So my guess is that people had all kinds of ideas for dungeons, but when the idea of Child Link was added to the game (this was pretty early), they realized they were going to have to cut some to keep the game length reasonable.  So this would lead to these “extra” dungeons being cut from the game long before they were actually developed in any meaningful way.  To be clear, there is no lost room or dialogue in the game that specifically references an explorable temple.  This leads me to believe that the Sky Temple was never more than concept art and finally became the version we later saw in Twilight Princess.

The Running Man:  What is it with you people and winning?  You can’t beat him, you just can’t.  That’s the whole point.  People like to cite an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto where he once joked about the possibility of beating him, but he was clearly not serious.  It seems pretty obvious to anyone not obsessed with beating an imaginary character that not winning is the whole point.  There are numerous examples of things Miyamoto puts in his games just to mess with you.  While there may have been some version of the minigame that was winnable (there is a text line that many attribute to the runner that says “How did you do that?” unused in the game rom), but there is no reference anywhere for that being an actual goal in Ura’s development.  Whenever they made the call that you should not be able to win, it appears that remained the plan until release.  Sorry, you just can’t win ’em all.  Deal with it.

The Arwing:  I know this one is near and dear to many of you and you may have many a mad theory about it.  I’ve even heard one that claimed the Arwing hidden in OOT would have linked the universes of both games.  If we look at the model and its data in the game, there is absolutely nothing to suggest this.  What I do know is that the rumble pack was released with Star Fox 64 and OOT followed that game.  There have been rumblings ( that the Arwing was just an early rumble pack tutorial that also thanked you for buying Star Fox 64.  Although there is no text or anything in the game rom that supports this, I believe it.  That’s a very Miyamoto thing to put in a game and I can easily see it being cut as too silly before the game’s release.  So while we can’t say that the Arwing wasn’t a feature that would have appeared in Ura, there is no reason for us to think that it would.

 

 

The “Ura Zelda” fan-made Romhacks

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There is a lot of confusion about these, partially due to a complete postmortem internet blackout of information on one of them.  There are two major projects to be aware of; the Triforce Resoration Project, which is still ongoing (slowly) and Zeth’s Ura Zelda Restoration Project.  It’s the latter that leads to most of the confusion.  When Zeth decided to discontinue development, s/he did so with a vengeance and attempted to remove all traces of it from the internet.  This was caused by some drama at the time and people being dicks about something that shouldn’t have mattered to them.  I’m not going to summarize that part, as I feel bringing up old net drama is a waste of time.  The result is many people not knowing the history of this project and that is is in fact completely separate from the unreleased Ura Zelda developed by Nintendo.  You see, what originally started as a project to restore lost content to the game, later turned into a complete fan-conversion with original content.  This was all clearly explained at the time, but is now lost to easily searchable documentation.  This leads many to find old screenshots and videos of the project and believing them to be original Ura content.  This is completely not the case and be careful to avoid these two projects if you are researching the original Ura Zelda, Zelda 64 or Zelda Gaiden history.  Don’t get me wrong, there is some terrific work in both of them and you should hunt down the released/leaked demos if you have the ability to emulate them.  Just remember that everything in them is original content created by fans, based at best on speculation about what Ura Zelda could have been.

 

 

So what do we KNOW would have been in Ura Zelda?

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The redesigned dungeons:  At this point, although we may disagree about how much of Ura Zelda these made up, we can all agree that the redesigned dungeons were part of it.  Miyamoto had expressed interest very early on at having a set of harder dungeons for a second playthrough, just like the original LoZ.  There appears to have been some disagreement between Miyamoto and Aonuma about whether the development team would be better spent on designing these or making a sequel.  Nobody knows what happened exactly (the two contradict each other somewhat when interviewed later), but it appears that some sort of compromise was made that involved most of the developers moving on to Majora’s Mask with most of the unused ideas for OOT and a few remaining to finish the alternate dungeons that became Master Quest.  So at this point Ura itself appears to have ceased to exist as we imagined it and became those two projects.

Young Epona:  This one is easy to prove.  Not only was ride-able young Epona shown in early screen shots, but with GS/AR codes we can now add this function back into the game.  Animations and collision exist for a rideable young Epona, so it makes one wonder why it was removed.  Just a thought, but my guess is that it has to do with animal cruelty, which created many other late changes (like the rings being removed from the cow’s mouths).  I’m no equestrian, but I do know you should not ride a young horse at that age (the horse’s age not Link).  It seems odd that a game where you can attack chickens would remove such things, but we know they did, so it’s pretty easy to see young Epona getting the cut as well.  If that was not the case though and the issue was memory, we can assume that this is a feature that would have appeared in Ura.  Be aware that if you use the code to add young Epona, the game starts to chug.  It’s highly recommended to also use the code allowing OOT to use the added Expansion Pack ram like Majora’s Mask.

More detailed NPC interactions and behavior:  Now this is a really weird one, as we can actually see that something would have been different with the pieces we already have.  If you connect a 64DD to an N64 running OOT and trick it into bypassing the warning screen, several NPCs will become glitched and sort of lie horizontally on the ground.  Development wise, this likely means that the animations for these characters would be completely different with the 64DD expansion.  The code would have been on the disk, which has never surfaced to this day, so we can only speculate.  Just based on my knowledge of the game’s rom though, I can move from speculation into educated guessing.  Several designers had referenced a desire to make NPCs more lifelike and complex as well as following set patterns based on an improved time system (basically what we see in Majora’s Mask).  My educated guess is that NPCs in Castle Town would have followed a schedule, rather than a repeated pattern of movement and this is the missing code the game is trying to access.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just taken wholesale and dumped into Majora’s Mask.  It would be interesting if someone could find extra movement data for the similar NPCs in Majora’s Mask and attempt to apply it to those models in OOT, but that is a bit beyond my own abilities.

A Persistent World:  There’s one speculation I can make without much doubt.  That is that some time in 1996-7, Shigeru Miyamoto got his first gaming PC and saw games like TES: Daggerfall that were experimenting with a persistent world that kept player-made changes.  Immediately after this, he must have stormed into a Nintendo meeting and declared that console gaming needed to try this.  I would not be surprised if that was the whole genesis of the 64DD expansion that bombed so dramatically a few years later.  Having a re-writable storage drive is what makes the sandbox titles of today possible.  In 1996, console gaming was in no way ready to make this leap.  Miyamoto clearly dreamed of a Hyrule where each footstep would remain for an entire playthrough and slashed signs would  remain unreadable.  While it’s a cool idea, it breaks down in practice for a number of reasons.  First is that bushes and trees are a necessary source of items in the game.  I suppose you could just acquire them from other sources, but making Hyrule progressively more barren as the game continued might just be frustrating and pointless.  Furthermore, there is the issue of loading times.  One of the things that killed many dreams for the 64DD was the fact that it loads MUCH slower than the N64 cartridges.  In practice, this would have meant either adding loading screens between each scene transition for the DD to catch up, or a much worse affect where you enter an area and 2 seconds later a sign falls apart and a bunch of footsteps appear.  For these reasons and more that I won’t bore you with, I think this is just another Miyamoto pipe dream that wasn’t feasible and ended up being another nail in Ura’s coffin.  I mean, imagine you’re a designer and you could really use more memory for your dungeon.  Then the producer shows up and announces that the DD will provide more memory, but he wants to use it up with 10 billion footstep decals.  I personally would fight that tooth and nail.  So as cool as it sounds in practice, do you really want your file at the end of the game to look like a barren wasteland with nothing but your own footsteps on the ground?

Other dungeons?:  This one is tough, because almost every area we see that was not included in the final game was so early that it could easily have been redesigned into the areas we now know.  The “Deep Woods Shrine/Temple” is one of these.  Many people say it could not possibly be the Deku Tree because of its design and could not be the Forest Temple because young Link is shown there in screen shots.  While that makes sense on the surface if you are only comparing a screen shot to the final game, it breaks down when we apply what we already know of game development.  It’s quite possible that when these sections were designed in early versions, the idea to put a dungeon inside the Deku Tree hadn’t come up yet.  Although the Deku Tree is shown in some very early screenshots, his mouth appears to be closed.  Furthermore, the textures on the Deku Tree’s mouth when open do look like the model was modified after its initial design.  So justifying an entire missing temple based on those qualifications is pretty weak when you examine it objectively.  It’s very likely that whole areas were changed drastically over the 3 year development process.  Parts of the Water Temple could have started in the Forest Temple and parts of Kakariko Village could have started in Castle Town.  There is no law of game development that says a gameplay element must remain where originally placed until the game ships.  So with all of that said, my official verdict (which I believe all the evidence supports) is that there were different dungeons, but at most there was only one additional one that represented the 6th Medallion (which became the light medallion).  This makes sense because all “light” related things have been redistributed in other sections of the game.  Rauru gives you the medallion and Zelda gives you the light arrows at the end of the game.  Besides that though, all evidence supports the total number of Dungeons being the same.  Early screenshots and videos show 6 medallions and 3 spiritual stones, just like we see in the final version.  Unless the additional dungeons would have been “side dungeons” like the Bottom of the Well, that gave you no stone or medallion, it seems unlikely that there would have been more.  I think it is very credible that things were just re-arranged and some dungeons were split or combined, but that the “extra dungeons” idea was just a mis-translation of Miyamoto’s desire to put harder versions of the original dungeons in the game.

Larger game world:  This is one of my favorites because there are a few clear bits of evidence for it.  Several of the developers have used the words “bigger” and “more complex” when describing how Ura’s world would have differed from the released OOT.  Those are just low-hanging fruit though.  Every developer wishes they could have made their game bigger and more complex.  We cannot even begin to speculate, based on those statements, what they actually intended or had already developed.  Fortunately, we have a few pieces of physical evidence that remain and a few others that we have seen of heard of.  The first is the center point (in X/Y) for Hyrule Field.  It is located just inside the gates of Castle Town, which is odd, as almost all other areas place it near the center of a map or directly outside the main entrance.  It’s possible this is just a random unrelated data point, but it combines with a few others that give it credibility.  In almost all other Zelda games, Hyrul Castle is in the middle of the game’s map.  Twilight Princess is an excellent example as it features a similar layout overall to OOT and is actually supposed to be the same Hyrule as there was no great flood in this timeline branch.  There is also a rumored version of the world map that people claim to have seen in the menu of an early playble demo, but I have never seen it or a credible screenshot.  That should be taken with a grain of salt though, as it was shown behind closed doors and photographs were not allowed.  This version of the map supposedly had the field wrapping more around the castle and Hyrule Field was larger.  Zora’s River also connected to Lake Hylia, which supports my Ice Temple vs. Water Temple theory.  Unfortunately this demo did not actually include Hyrule Field as explorable, so the only info we get is from people viewing it in the menu, before they had actually visited the areas of the game.  I wouldn’t put too much weight on that tidbit though, besides that it matches up with other mysteries.  The crown jewel of this theory is actually the pre-rendered parts of the game.  It seems fairly obvious that the CG interiors of buildings were used to save space and avoid difficult camera collision problems.  What doesn’t make sense is things like the Temple of Time and Death Mountain (no matter where you see it from) being 2D pictures.  With all the large 3D objects in this game, I have a hard time believing that they pre-rendered only the exterior of one of the most important locations in the game just to save space.  If you consider that every other area external to Hyrule Field has at least some 3D modelled terrain visible from Hyrule Field, it seems odd also that Death Mountain is just a big flat painting.  If Hyrule Field was orignally larger and shaped differently, it would be the only object tall enough to be viewed from Castle Town.  This means that when the world was re-configured, it would have to be moved or made larger/smaller in appearance to appear correct in relation to Hyrule Castle.  We’re back in the realm of speculation, but it does seem oddly coincidental that all the areas from which you would be able to see Death Mountain (and Death Mountain itself) are pre-generated backgrounds that could have been easily modified late in development.  Take that as you will, but I think the “Bigger Hyrule” theory is strongly supported by the evidence we have now.

 

 

That’s all for now folks.  Although few may read it, my hope is that this post will serve as a resource for those looking at what Ura really was and could have been.  Although this article is definitely peppered with my own guesswork, I’ve tried to stay within reason based on what the developers have said and shown in the past.  More than that I am both a game modder and halfway decent writer, so hopefully I have been able to explain more clearly what has actually been found in OOT’s rom and what is pure speculation based on wishful thinking.  Feel free to comment, correct or contribute!

 

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