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 We ran outdated software, had inconsistent content quality, and sported a design like a web portal from the 90’s. We had more side projects than we knew what to do with.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.

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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.

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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
Owner of Zelda Universe and Zelda Maps; founder of Zelda Wiki. Sometimes goes by GoldenChaos. Likes steampunk.