Research and development staff working on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had created a portal mechanic a decade in advance of Valve’s lauded system as used in Portal.
Talking to MinnMax, Chuhai Labs’ Giles Goddard – who worked at Nintendo in the 1990s – explained that a prototype demo, built to experiment with the capabilities of the Nintendo 64 hardware, had portals that would allow Link to travel to different areas of the map.
“You can have a portal where you could look through, go in, and then you get teleported to a different part of the map,” said Goddard. “You’d see through a door to a different part of the map, walk through it, then walk back through it.”
Rather than a ‘gun’ device, the portals in this Zelda demo were accessed via crystals. “We had these spinning crystals that you’d pick up and move around, and if you spun it you could see through a different part of the map, depending on how you spun the crystal,” Goddard described.
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As the demo was pre-Ocarina, it featured a different Link exploring the portals. “I think it would have been the [Space World] demo Link,” Goddard recalled.
Goddard explained that the technology never made it into Ocarina of Time because Nintendo never actually saw the mechanic. Due to the scale of production, the experimental system just wasn’t ready at the right time. “It’s very hard to introduce later on in the game,” said Goddard. “It’s very easy at the start, but not later on.”
As for if we’ll ever get to see these portals in action, Goddard said “Some people at work have been saying I should do something with that source [code], but I don’t want to get […] kneecapped by Nintendo or sued by them.”
When asked if that code could still be used, Goddard said “It was up and running, on a PC, which is quite amazing, actually”
This style of real-time portal technology would later form the backbone of Narbacular Drop, a 2005 indie game developed by Nuclear Monkey Software. Valve would eventually employ the entire staff of the studio and set them to work on Portal, released in 2007, almost a whole decade after Ocarina of Time’s release. 2006’s Prey also featured very similar seamless portal technology.
For more Zelda from recent years, check out how a glitch makes Breath of the Wild a first-person game, and the fan made mods that make BotW 4K/60.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.