The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of the best selling games of the year and Nintnedo has been busy filing patents in Japan to protect the various systems that make the game such a joy. Abilities such as Fuse, Ultrahand—which lets the player build things using items from the world—Riju’s lightning attack, and even the game’s loading screens are cited in various Japanese patents.
As first spotted by Automaton, Nintendo has filed 31 Tears of the Kingdom related patents this year, most of them related to various game mechanics. Nintendo is a legally aggressive company and some fans have called out news of the patents as another black mark in its long history of corporate overreach. But the documents also provide adorable and surreal illustrations of how the mechanics work. We’ve all seen dozens of videos of Link creating a flying machine using a Zonai wing and a fan. But have you ever seen someone attempt to explain it to a patent officer who may have no working knowledge of video games?
Tears of the Kingdom is a game where the player’s imagination meets an impressive physics engine. As a player builds contraptions to explore Hyrule and terrorize bokoblins, they’re often interacting with a dozen or more objects all following their own trajectory and reacting off each other. Lots of people have wanted to know how Nintnedo pulled off these physics simulations on a Nintendo Switch.
The patents give some answers. According to a translation from Automaton, a picture of Link riding a player-made vehicle describes the interaction between the player character and the player-made object. “The movement of movable dynamic objects placed in the virtual space is controlled by physics calculations, and the movement of the player’s character is controlled by user input,” Automaton said. “When the player’s character and a dynamic object come in contact in the downward direction relative to the character (in other words, when the character is on top of an object), the movement of the dynamic object is added to the movement of the player’s character.”
Rather than keep the vehicle and character physics separate, they merge when the player makes contact. Link’s physics becomes the vehicle's physics.
As interesting as the patents are, they do feel odd. We typically think of patents as a system designed for protecting physical inventions, not bits of code and gameplay systems. But video game companies have long used the system to protect what they consider their most unique selling points. The Shadow of War franchise is a middling Ubisoft-style open world game elevated by an incredible dynamic “nemesis” system that generates personalized villains for the player to interact with. Warner Bros. Interactive patented the Nemesis system and no one has been able to riff on it for almost a decade.For twenty years, Namco held a patent on “auxiliary games” that play during a loading screen. The early editions of Tekken and Ridge Racer on the first Playstation took a long time to load. So long, in fact, that the loading screen let players run through a round or two of the Space Invaders clone Galaxian while they waited. Namco held the patent on the ability to play other games while you waited for the game to load for so long that new technologies have made the patent obsolete.SSDs in modern computers and consoles have made loading instantaneous. But that doesn’t mean that the fast loading screens of today aren’t ripe for a patent. Among Nintendo’s Tears of the Kingdom paperwork is one for loading screens. It’s billed as a solution for “a game processing method capable of enriching game presentation during a waiting period in which at least part of the game processing is interrupted.”