There are fans and there are Fans.
Little ‘f’ fans enjoy the ride, dig the scenery and buy a few souveniers. They like what they like for what it is.
Big ‘F’ fans draw maps. They present slideshows. They buy real estate. They like what they like for how it articulates and informs their dreams.
Jacob Stutsman is a 22-year-old college student who someday wants to be a writer. He’s got Zelda in his heart and Michigan football in his veins; likes movies and music and beachside walks.
He is also a Fan.
Evidence for this now rests in our TP section – Jacob is the author of the impressive Twilight Princess Transcript. More than a month in the making, it was first posted on Gamefaqs in January, where it underwent several revisions, before catching the attention of TSA. Shortly thereafter it hit the Hylia and thus, apparently, the world.
A transcript itself is impressive – reading takes up at least 12 of TP’s forty-ish hours. But it’s also a comprehensive character guide, a passionate dissertation on the Zelda storyline, an incidental walkthrough and a TP story FAQ. It is over two hundred pages long. A comprehensive resource for timeline theorists, fanfic-ers and specifically themed websites looking for relevant content.
It is also strangely artful. Where many walkthroughs or guides go for the straight info dump, it is measured and composed; worth your time to read through where in other places you would skip ahead. Jacob has accomplished something special with this work – among it’s other accomplishments the transcript has caught the attention of big boys like Joystiq and 1Up. It is a guide to be reckoned with.
In this email interview, Jacob goes into detail about his process, his love of the series and the sudden shock of minor fame.
Pip: Tell us a little bit about the logistics of putting together the transcript – what was your process?
Jacob Stutsman: I am a horrible planner. People tend to deviate toward certain things in life, ya know, certain things encapsulated in their DNA, and that’s not something I was ever born to do. I started writing the script in late December, around the turn of the year. I suppose I thought it would be some sort of milk run. Go in, lay the foundation, spend a couple days reaffirming the skeleton and then the inner decorum and furniture. Not a day had passed when I realized that it would be an impossible task in a week, much less two or three days. I used my first file as a barometer, and I became increasingly aware that it was taking me longer than even that. That evened out over time, of course, and I had built up a 50-hour file by the end of it. I had initially submitted it to Gamefaqs before the Forest Temple. They were on vacation at that time, so when they came back I was already to the Gerudo Desert, but they had actually rejected the first version. They had this rule that in-depth FAQs could not be left unpaved. They had to be completed in their entirety insomuch that the guide stretches from the beginning to end without any gaps or ravines. After that I turned to TSA’s visual guide to quickly complete the rest of the required dialogue in only a few scant hours.
It was around this time that I realized that it would become an epic undertaking. It was just a very bad time of the year. New Year’s. School revved back up. Michigan got absolutely devastated in the Rose Bowl. But if you want to do something, you find the time. At that stage I had pieces of dialogue laying everywhere on the kitchen floor, and I had to arrange it all in various orders that made sense. Some of it I was keeping in another document but hadn’t laced it into the actual script yet. There’s just so much dialogue, and where do I put it, ya know? Some of it fell in different places, for instance where it logistically makes sense and how you can find it and all of that, and I think I’m happy with the outcome. It got so massive that I had to lend an index for assistance at a later date. But I originally wanted it to not just be a Princess game script but a celebration of what is so great and riveting and spellbinding about the Zelda series as a whole. Yes the gameplay, and if Zelda was only gameplay, then it would still be one of the best series of all times. But even the original Zelda had that innate quality to capture you in its world and characters, and that didn’t feature a single cutscene. So I wanted to establish just what made the past twenty years so magical. I think I’ve done a decent job of that.
As a brief aside here, the storyline FAQ section has actually galvanized the most talk amongst the Zelda enthusiasts. I wrote it because Twilight Princess has so many questions expertly strewn about it, and I thought that as long as I was writing a script, I might as well address them all. I am actually slightly unhappy with it for two reasons. One, a lot of it I did not mean to present as fact, and I hope that people don’t get the wrong idea about it. I tried to make it slightly more agnostic in subsequent versions, but that doesn’t always shine through. And two, I think I went for truncation at the expense of clarity. In other words, I didn’t want to delineate too long because I could write books on the Zelda storyline without realizing it, but I felt I did a disservice by shaving so much off. And I tried to edit it so heavily that I think it lacks focus in parts. I wouldn’t mind one day going back through it and throwing everything into question and rebuilding it from scratch, but I’m afraid that when that day comes, that section of the guide will already have outlived its usefulness.
P: What motivated you to do it?
JS: That initial thrust came rather instinctively actually. You know you want to do something. You act on it. I didn’t have time to think because if I thought, then perhaps someone would erect a guide before me, and that would leave me out to dry. It’s almost predatory in nature. Everything is, but you don’t expect to find that with videogame guides. Having the first draft rejected only heightened that sense, so that was in part why I turned to the visual guide to do what I needed to do.
But if I had to pinpoint one reason, I’d say that I had been so caught up in the Zelda phenomenon that even before Princess was out I played with the idea of doing a guide. This was malleable in the sense that I had become riveted with the game’s story, expediting debates that actually made me think beyond the surface level, and I just found so much that I enjoyed about the story, and I really wanted to be a part of that with this game being the supposed second coming and all. So I molded this idea of doing a guide around the script, and if I so choose to put my effort into something, then that will radiate through, and the result is there I think.
P: This is one of two ‘guides’ you’ve created. How does working on the TP transcript compare with your first experience with Star Fox Assault?
The Star Fox Assault gold medal guide I took a week maybe. I got 3,000 hits, maybe three or four e-mails. It doesn’t even compare in terms of effort and response. It’s like east from west.
P: How has the response been to the TP transcript?
JS: It was kind of quiet at first, and rightfully so. I mean I could tell that a lot of people were viewing it, and I got a few e-mails, but the dominoes really didn’t start falling until TSA posted an article about it on thehylia.com back on the 12th or 13th I think. That was like a second wind. After that it was like explosions going off. I got more e-mails in one day than I ever had, although that’s not saying much since I rarely use my e-mail (coincidentally, on Valentine’s Day, people were telling me how much they loved the guide). I received multiple requests to use it on various sites. I even found links to my guide cropping up on slashdot and joystiq and even 1Up. It was very surreal, and I began to wonder if other Zelda guides or game scripts had ever gotten this kind of limelight. It wasn’t by any sort of great response though. Millions of sites on the internet get more hits in one day than I have in fifty days, after all my script has a narrow target audience. It’s simply that people were recognizing the effort I put into it. Most of the responses were great. Some of them weren’t all that civil. Naturally, if you put time into something that’s non profit, especially one involving a videogame, people are going to question just how much free time you have. Recently there has been a backlash against Matt at IGN because he 6.9’d Sonic. I mean how does he deal with that? It’s a much larger and more grandiose scope than I have to deal with. There are people calling him a moron because he was harsh on a game they haven’t even played yet. TSA told me that he has to deal with that stuff all of the time. It’s a constant and unstoppable wave. Of course, I’ve become a little more sensitive about how I talk about people now. I like brandishing my whip and being contentious a little, but you have to be careful. A human being is not something to toss around lightly.
The good things people say are actually a bit embarrassing, and it’s paradoxical since I like to hear that people like what I’m doing. There are typically three reasons for that kind of reaction. Either the person is disingenuous and thus bad and they know they’re a meatball and not deserving of the praise, or they know they didn’t do a good job, or like Barry Sanders compliments are not needed since they know they are doing a good job. Or perhaps in your mind you think they’re all code words and subliminal messages and you try to focus in on what they mean and they end up accentuating the bad. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I should be apologizing for what I do. Life isn’t always about what others think. It’s about what thoughts you project on the opinions of others. I really, really want to be a writer, so the bad comments tell me that I’m not there yet and the good comments remind me in my own mind of how I far I have to go. The former makes me look down and see that I’m not very far up the mountain while the latter makes me look up to see that there is still a lot of the mountain before me.
But I do want to spend my life in a state where people read what I write. Since this is my first real exposure, it’s a very eye opening experience. People will read into everything and between the lines and between periods and they’ll make assumptions about you and they’ll either say very flattering or very demeaning things. It makes me rethink whether I want to stay in my little bubble or not because it’s just a completely different world. I can think I’m colossal in my own mind and in the minds of friends and family reaffirming my place in society, but then you realize that there’s an entire world out there because some guy from Saskatchewan that you would never, ever, otherwise meet is talking about you as if you’re not even in the room. It’s almost ungodly. And millions of people have their names bandied about, handled by complete strangers, on a daily basis. And then you realize that it is the thoughts of friends and family that’s important. But that’s not something that is always easy to see. People generally want to be liked, and everybody has a certain predisposition of how much chatter in positive and negative electrical bursts they can take. Somebody probably thinks I’m a schmuck just because of the way I write. And then you put yourself out there for anybody to access at any time. But it’s something that I really want to do.
P: How long have you been a Zelda fan, and how long have you been a member of the online Zelda community?
JS: Zelda has been with me through so much of my lineage and mental records that I have lost track of the first time I played Zelda. I owned the first but could never beat it, at least at that time, and I rented the Adventure of Link but never owned it. The original came out when I was two, so I began playing when I was very young. Link to the Past though established my stance as a firm Zelda fan. It was the world, really. And the story. And the lust and conquest for greed. It is something innately human, and it captured it so effervescently that I think it escaped me until I was older. Back then it was a mere fairy tale. Now it has coalesced into something beautifully told and real. That game was good to me. I got the SNES Christmas of 1992 I believe, and I think I got LTTP around that time (Mario Kart was the game I know I received that day, although it could have been LTTP too). It took me months to find every last thing, and I remember buying a guide up in Ann Arbor on the way to my grandparent’s so I could find the last heart piece (it was the one in Turtle Rock where you come out from the cave and warp to the Light World, you know which one I’m talking about). I still have that guide. The first time my parents caught me swearing, it was to that game. Those moments are vivacious in my eyes, and they make up a good deal of my childhood.
But in terms of the online aspect, Zelda was actually one of those things that got me heavily involved in the internet as I began posting on the Zelda board at IGN years and years ago. It has only been in the last few months where I have branched out to other Zelda communities.
P: What Zelda sites do you go to?
JS: I make the rounds. I mostly go to the timeline board on zeldalegends.net. I visit thehylia.com periodically. Sometimes I even go to ZU. It has only been recently that I have ventured beyond IGN and Gmail though. Actually, there was a very long time ago when I visited zeldapower.com with regularity, but then I started going to IGN a lot, and I dropped everything else. That lasted for years. It has only been recently where I have started to come out of the shell a little. I started posting on several different boards, and the semester was over, and it was very cold outside, like liquid nitrogen, freon plant cold, so there was the Nsider boards and Zelda Legends and I even began to post on Gamefaqs and look around ZU. But I’ve cut back on the calories a little in the recent weeks.
P: What’s your personal favorite Zelda game?
JS: Majora’s Mask has always had that special seduction. The three day system and the coherency of the townspeople will never be replicated until virtual reality is discovered. The only two games that can challenge its title as king of the hill are perhaps Link to the Past and Twilight Princess. LTTP is perfect in nearly all phases of the game. Dungeons, music, atmosphere, ambiance, story, world, it all forms a cohesive mesh. TP almost tantalizes you with some things you wish it did, but it does so many things right. It feels a little too disjointed though as if they’re going in one direction but then they juke and you break your ankles thinking that it’s going the other way. And it’s just so big, you wish it was a little bigger, that there was a cave beneath every rock. But what is there is absolutely magnificent. Those three really though are interchangeable. Link’s Awakening also has a special place in my heart. (Yes, I did manage to get through all of that without mentioning Ocarina while remaining pitifully, painfully serious)
P: Your least favorite?
JS: Adventure of Link seems to be the common answer. It’s a great game, but every moment I was afraid of my life, and at a certain level it just ceases to be fun and starts to become frustrating, which is a shame since the game really is fun. I didn’t get past the second level until last November, and I beat it in three days, but it just requires a certain precision, like a surgeon wielding a knife, and it requires you to take stock of your life in all accounts, and I am good at neither. My thumbs are about as nimble as a forklift, I was never very good at those twitch games, and if I can’t mindlessly rush headlong in, then forget it, so it’s just not my kind of game.
P: You mentioned in an email that Zelda transcends the art form. Elaborate on that thought.
JS: I think there are two levels to this. First, you have to be popular enough to transcend your medium and enter into the realm of pop culture. This, of course, has nothing to do with quality as Britney Spears would be transcendental according to this definition, and she’s better off in the military with her shaved mango. The second is, of course, quality. Zelda has raised the stakes time and again, and it’s the only series to put out so many iterations under the same genre and still keep the same momentum throughout.
And this is why I think worlds and characters are so important. Mario can perhaps be called the most transcendental franchise of all time, but Mario himself is transitory. It’s the ease of gameplay and the addictiveness people care about, and the plumber and the theme music and all of that are simply gateways into those memories. But Zelda…it’s no surprise that it’s called a legend. You get caught up in the tales and in the worlds, and it all means something more than a catchy pop culture reference. All of these pieces themselves have a claim over your heart. That is to say that you’d actually care what happens to Midna or Zelda as opposed to what happens with Mario. You love Mario, but you’re not in love with Mario. He’s simply a vehicle while Link and Zelda and Ganon are their own separate entities. That’s why I think Zelda always gets the leg up on Mario.
P: Have you got your sights set on any other games to transcribe?
JS: I think I am taking a very long vacation from guides after this. Actually, this is the first time I have thought about doing anything else, mostly because I have been so singularly focused on this one script. There’s always Phantom Hourglass. We’ll see though. I’m not sure if this is something people take turns doing or what. But Zelda is the only videogame that affects me in such a way, so if the question presupposes that there’s anything outside of Zelda that I’m thinking of doing, then no. Zelda is the only one.