The future of the fan site: This is the new Zelda Universe
by on March 8, 2014

Two years ago, Cody Davies and I hit the reset button.As far as fan sites go, we had always been sure that Zelda Universe was as good as it gets. But, in 2012, it had become painfully apparent that we had fallen victim to diseases that plague many other fan communities. We ran outdated software, had inconsistent content quality, and sported a design like a web portal from the 90’s. We had more side projects than we knew what to do with. It seemed like everyone wanted to work on something different, new, and exciting, without ever getting much done.

We spent hours talking about what to do. The answer, of course, was right in front of us. All we had to do was ask ourselves one tough question: “Why does anyone go to Zelda Universe?”

There was one thing that we knew for sure: Zelda Universe’s mission was, and is, to be the best place for Zelda fans. But our slogan, “all the Zelda info you need”, didn’t communicate that. We wanted to find out what Zelda fans really wanted in a home. To accomplish this, we polled some of the biggest Zelda fans in the world: ourselves. The results were more than clear. So, with nothing but a group of volunteers at our disposal, we got to work.

Two years later, we’ve finally arrived. This is the next generation of Zelda Universe.
 

“Why does anyone go to Zelda Universe?”

To make Zelda Universe great, we needed focus. Specifically, on the three areas we felt were important to building the best place for Zelda fans: our guides, news, community.

We began by immediately canceling most side projects and focusing on the content that mattered. We beefed up our news team, media production staff, and appointed Joshua Lindquist – a Zelda Wiki and community veteran – to spearhead our new walkthrough and strategy guide movement. We took the team that built our Temple Quest event in 2012 and made them our official development team.

We set rigorous news standards that made Zelda Universe’s news and media team so reliable that even Nintendo took notice. Cody Davies, under a new Chief of Operations and Marketing role, expanded our community outreach to Facebook and Twitter. Zelda Universe has since grown to over 270,000 likes on Facebook and over 60,000 followers on Twitter.

The next step starts today. We’re making dramatic changes to how we deliver content. Although we’ve been making vast internal changes for the last two years, today’s launch represents what is truly the first chapter in the second book of Zelda Universe’s history.

Every part of the design contributes in some way to our news, guides, or community

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Zelda Universe is its radically different design. Every part of the design is meant to contribute in some way to our news, guides, or community.

On the front page, news dominates with large story boxes and featured content, as well as quick access to Zelda Universe’s YouTube channel and social media accounts. News posts have gorgeous typography, sources, tags, and even discovery tools to help you find more news like what you’re currently reading. We’re also introducing a new type of written content on Zelda Universe: long-form features like the one you’re reading right now.

guidesmenu1

At the top of every page is a completely retooled walkthrough and guides menu. It provides quick access to all of our strategy guides, which have all-new designs as well. As fans, we wanted each game in the series to be represented as beautifully and respectfully as possible; we wanted a design that made us proud to be fans of the series. We couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to highlight all of the remarkable artwork and style variation that’s gone into the Zelda series since its inception. You’ll find that our new guide and navigation designs are as beautiful as they are informative: tributes to the transformative game design and industry-leading art direction that have made Zelda an iconic franchise.

Behind the scenes, we’ve built our own custom set of tools that will help us create more beautiful and more powerful strategy guides and walkthroughs in the future. We think of this like a CMS designed specifically for making guides. We’re hard at work on the next generation of guides using this platform we’ve developed; in the meantime, we’ve given all of our existing guides a substantial formatting upgrade and much-needed proofread.

To complement this, we’ve done massive pruning to our guides by stripping out anything made obsolete by our sister site, Zelda Wiki. We think Zelda Wiki is the best place to find information on things like characters and items from the Zelda series, and it’s always up-to-date. By letting Zelda Wiki handle information about the Zelda franchise, we’re able to focus our attention on the things that Zelda Wiki can’t do. In turn, we’ve tightened our partnership with Zelda Wiki and, without saying anything, have some really cool plans to work with them in the future.

This is just a small taste of what we’re launching with today, and you can expect a lot more to come down the road.

zulink

A fan site for the future

An unprecedented amount of work and care and love has gone into building the new Zelda Universe. We believe that it represents the very best we could do to build the best place for all Zelda fans. It’s an unprecedented level of focus and quality not just for us, but for fan sites as a whole, and we hope that we’re setting a new bar for sites like ours.

The whole project was a massive team effort from start to finish. I have the pleasure of working with some of the most talented people on the planet; people who work for Zelda Universe out of a genuine love and passion for the Zelda franchise and the community that surrounds it. These people are rare, and they deserve more thanks than I can give in one post.

We hope that we’re setting a new bar for fan sites

Cody Davies. My second-in-command, and the other half of the genesis of this project. Without his day-to-day direction, ZU would have likely fallen apart.

Daniel Åkerman. Our favorite Hombre de Mundo, Dan stepped up at E3 2012 and took over the project while I was building my new company. Dan’s skill in management led him to eventually become our chief media editor.

Simon Klimek. A developer whiz kid who almost single-handedly coded all the complex custom bits of the new ZU. This project was far more than just a new layout; Simon has built what is essentially an entire custom CMS for us that we can continue to develop and grow for years to come.

Shona Heath. Shona was instrumental in our early days and prototyping stages, and frequently developed while traveling around the world. She’s somehow able to pull time out of a hat. Do not mess with her.

Justin Folvarcik. At the beginning of this project, Justin was the server administrator for Zelda Wiki. Now he works along Simon handling both sites. He also built the algorithm that selects our top stories for the pretty boxes on the front page, and the automated sources and vias system.

Joshua Lindquist and his brand-spanking-new guides team: Jessica Cheverie, Kevin Krijgsman, Aaron Kaiser, and Alex Rosenberg. These folks spearheaded the Herculean effort to not only port all of our existing guides, but the current effort to write brand new ones. They are talented coders, authors, and artists – all rolled up into one. In short, they’re insane. And amazing.

Reece Heather and his amazing news team: Melena Jankanish, Amanda Vanhiel, Alex Perepechko, Morgan Lewis, Mark Folkert, Antonia Apollonia, Aaron Kaiser, and Austin Eller. They crank out better, faster, and stronger news than we’ve ever had before. They’re the reason why Nintendo cares about what we do.

Rikki Velez, who was somehow able to take Anton Wiklund’s work from 2008 (a 3D model, mind you) and transform it into the widescreen version you’re looking at. Rikki has some serious graphic design chops.

Janice Scott. More commonly know as Eternal Legend, or just EL; she makes incredible artwork, including the gorgeous piece in this post. That’s about all I can say without giving away too much.

Liah Ballenger, for doing a bang-up job running the complex community that is the Zelda Universe Forums, and prepping them for some crazy changes to come later.

And, of course, you! At the end of the day, we did all of this for you. Because you’re awesome (and quite handsome, might we add). Because you’re just as big of a Zelda fan as we are. Because you have a shelf full of obscure Zelda swag. Because of that time you cosplayed as Link and everyone asked you to stab them and shout loudly, so you did. Because without you, Zelda Universe wouldn’t be the home for fans that it is today.

For us, this is just the beginning. We’ve got a lot more work to do, and we hope that you’re just as excited about what’s to come as you are about what you’re seeing today.

So, what are you waiting for? Go check out the rest of the new site. Join our community. Keep being awesome.

Peace and Triforce pieces!

Jason Rappaport
Jason founded Zelda Wiki in 2005, and became the owner of Zelda Universe in 2007. Since then, he's worked tirelessly to build a great home for Zelda fans. He's also the founder of Squareknot, beautiful tutorials that you can make with your friends.
  • Reece Heather

    Immensely proud to be a part of this. 🙂 I truly believe that in all the years of its existence, Zelda Universe has never been a better, stronger force than it is right now.

  • Simon Saad

    yayy!! It made my day

  • Melena

    This comes at a very pivotal moment in my life. ZU has been one of the biggest blessings in my life, and a community run by some of the most amazing and talented people to ever exist. I’m excited to see ZU evolve and grow. Cheers to new beginnings, and enjoy!

  • Morgan

    Truly humbled to even be mentioned here. I feel like I work with some of the best and most talented people out there; and I’m not understating this. I’m so proud to be apart of this pivitol moment in ZU’s history, This is only the beginning too.

  • Jeromy Teeples

    The front page is a bit of a confusing cluster. There’s too much to read.

    That said. I do like the modern look.

  • Philip Akkerman

    Wow, the site looks awesome! Great job everyone.

  • Dan

    Well, I mean you say it’s a big change but then you neglect to actually update the look of the site at all. It’s the same banner and background with a confusing clutter of different things on the main page.

    The new logo and colors in that little image at the top of this page would have been a good idea for a direction to go in with regard to updating the look. I was expecting something like that and then I go to the main page and was wondering, is this the new look or are they still in-between updating new and old or ???

    I mean, it seems kind of odd not to change that stuff. It doesn’t really make this place feel like it’s a completely new thing. :/

    • Yeah I noted that in my other comment. It’s like, two layout styles completely contrasting itself. It doesn’t look good.

  • I can appreciate the hard work that went into this. I really can. I can see a lot of effort and hard work.

    That said, just a few constructive comments coming from a fellow fansite EiC:

    – The index is a mess. I know many websites have adopted a similar style at times, but it’s just all over the place and it makes it confusing to find the content you are looking for.

    – Why is this change being force fed into a layout with massive margins that was never designed for this? I know you want to get some miles out of the unnecessarily huge investment that went into the original design, but nothing about this change actually fits the old style. You should seriously consider reworking the layout properly so there are not massively clashing styles. It’s off putting.

    – It is now 2014, and you’re layout changeover doesn’t include mobile support. I have no access to your traffic, but I am willing to bet you have a large percentage of phone and tablet users. This layout is a mess on those platforms. Might want to get on that next.

    – As for real change beyond layout design, it’s a see it to believe it approach. I have noticed a MASSIVE uptick in your news content, which I am glad to see, but it simply wasn’t there back when you interviewed Eiji Aonuma, so it’s a misnomer that you got the interview “because of your outstanding news coverage standards”. In fact, Zelda Universe arguably had the worst Zelda news coverage in the months leading up to that interview out there. It’s mostly really picked up this year. I don’t know how you got the interview, but we simply requested one this year and we’re likely going to be granted it based on the discussions we’ve had. I can’t point to any part of our site for “why we got the interview” – it’s the collective effort of our staff and community. 🙂 Likely the same as it was for you guys.

    Beyond that, I like the forward thinking. Keep it up.

  • Rob

    This was quite a surprise! Only the other day I was thinking “ZU has had the same design for quite some time now. I wonder if they’ll change it? I wonder *how* they’ll change it? The 2008 design is sooooooo beautiful and functional, how can it be improved?” I’m glad to see you’re thinking pretty hard about this same issue!

    Some comments:
    – as others have mentioned, the combo of old and new designs doesn’t work very well. The narrow width of the content is also old-hat. But, honestly I don’t know what the solution is. Without the old parts of the design, the site wouldn’t look very Zelda-themed.
    – the position of the “Walkthroughs and Guides” bar is misleading. My first thought was that this was the title of the page I was on.
    – please don’t put your Youtube videos so close to the top. Please don’t duplicate the main headlines below these videos. And please include some preview text with these main headlines.
    – I can’t seem to locate your ‘about’ page. This is vital for new visitors to be introduced to the purpose of the site and the people behind it.

    Further to someone else’s comment, I’ve also noticed the recent increased rate of posting. Great work, keep it up!

    • Thanks for the constructive comments. I’ll definitely take all this in as the team and I iterate this. I really think of this design like a product that we’ll iterate fast – we’ve got a laundry list of features and things we want to add, and improvements we can make, so we weigh every option carefully before proceeding to make sure that we have focus. Your comment about the Walkthrough and guides button is particularly interesting, and I plan on really looking into that.

      On the topic of the about page, it’s one of those things that I wanted to be really nice and just didn’t get done in time. But I hated the old “history of ZU” page, so I decided I’d rather have nothing than something crappy. Like other obvious missing bits, it’ll likely be up in short order!

      But that just goes to show how much we had to focus to complete this project. We had to say no to a lot of great ideas – like mobile layouts – to pare the workload down to something we could actually ship in a timely manner. But because of that, we now know how to have the focus to continually ship one great update after another, each with its own focus.

      • Rob

        That’s great to hear, Jason! Rolling out changes incrementally and receiving user feedback throughout is a great idea – I can tell you’ve been working on your own business idea and studying ‘lean’ entrepreneur techniques / agile development 🙂

  • Talmor

    Oh, wow. What a shock! But a good one! Awesome job, guys!

  • OMG, I feel so happy to be a part of something so big. It’s an amazing experience finally getting to see everyone’s efforts put together in a working model. It’s just mind boggling…. Kudos to everyone who was involved and thank you for the opportunity guys.

    • Shona

      We couldn’t have done it without you Rikki! Thanks again for your hard work on this.

  • CEObrainz

    The site has really gone into a serious transformation that can only end beautifully. I have to say that the new interface is very eye-catching and seems to look like something I’d see on my tablet (will test out later). Here’s hoping that an Android/iOS app eventually makes it out there for this site, would love to use that for updates on the go.

  • Erica Hasselbach

    This is exciting! The design looks great so far

  • Kyleigh Parker

    this is awesome! good work guys!

  • Ann

    I remember you told this site was going to change for better…now I can confirm it!! and do you Know what? I’m very happy with this!! I’m still thinking that ZU is a Paradise!!

  • I am so proud the be a part of this fantastic team!

  • Ryu

    I like the aesthetics, but it will take me some time to get used to it. Good job, though! I hope this change will be taken positively!

  • MaiamaiHunt

    Next time, add a goat on a brick.

  • Parker

    Ha ha! Yes, well, it’ll take some getting used to.

  • Jonathan Sulzbach

    Wow! This is a such a refreshing update. I’ve been on vacation for a week and didn’t check the site until now. You guys have given us so much for free! I wonder if you’ve thought about adding a tip jar?

  • Brian Lee

    It already looks beautiful.

  • Rob (aka. DarkOwl)

    Just wanted to say that I like the update you’ve just made to the main headlines section, with now 7 headlines rather than 3. Also, could you change the hover-over effect to make the pictures go darker, instead of lighter? (Lighter makes the writing hard to read.)