Rauru's Return interviews Max Nichols (lord-of-shadow)

Rauruís Return: What's your educational background?
Max Nichols (lord-of-shadow): I am currently a senior in high school. Iíve got all the usual High School classes. Iím going to stretch the meaning of educational background here a bit though, just to make this more interesting. When I was younger, I used to go to these computer camps every year. Iíd spend a week at some college campus during the summer with a bunch of other kids, where weíd learn some programming and other computer skills. HTML, Visual Basic, and C++ were the things we covered, as far as I remember. We also spent a lot of time playing games.

Last year I spent two weeks at Digipen. Anyone whoís been reading Nintendo Power will have heard of it. Itís a college that focuses entirely on programming and graphic designÖ for video games. I thought about going there myself, so I took a summer programming camp/course type thing. Learned more C++ there, and basically just had a great time. Almost won a Mario Kart tournament too. Digipen is sponsored by Nintendo of America, and itís just a few blocks away from the corporate headquarters of NOA, so I got to visit them as well.

In terms of my future educationÖ I was thinking about Digipen, but itís focus is too much on programming and the technical aspects of game development. The grunt work, in other words. Obviously Iíll start small, when I enter the gaming industry, but I have more chance of rising to a position of creative influence if I focus on something else. So I applied to Champlain College in Vermont, which has a great video game design course that focuses on things like writingÖ which is what I want to do myself. Sounds like a waste of time at first, but if youíre interested, you should look into it.

RR: What made you first join the Zelda Community?
Max Nichols: Love for Zelda. What else? Hahah.

I think I was eleven or twelveÖ I loved the Zelda games, and then I got an issue of Nintendo Power which had the first screenshots of ďZelda GaidenĒ Ė better known as Majoraís Mask, these days. I went online to look it up, and eventually found my way to Zelda Headquarters, the first of the great Zelda fansites. I loved it. I loved itís midi collection, itís fanfiction, itís fanart, itís info on future Zelda games, itís cute little pieces of art, everything about it. I devoured everything there. I especially enjoyed the Singleton sistersí fanfiction, I think. Enough to search out the next chapters at other sites.

I started spreading, bookmarking every Zelda site I could find, and following the links and affiliate buttons from site to site until I was acquainted with pretty much every single Zelda site. I even had my own little term for itÖ ďlink surfing,Ē I called it. I was a regular visitor at numerous Zelda sites, large and small. The ones that I remember the most vividly were ZHQ, Iceís Zelda Central, Belgarathís Zelda Chateau, Zeldagames.com, Hyrule: The Land of Zelda, and The Golden Land/Zlda.comÖ but there were a bunch more that I no longer remember as well. Ever since, Iíve been keeping up with all the major Zelda sites as they rise and fall. I was especially attached to that first generation or two of Zelda sites, though. When ZHQ died, I checked the url every single day for almost six months, hoping for an update, or a revival, or something. I had no concept of forums or chat rooms or the interactive side of the community though.

A year or two after I found ZHQ, I joined my first forum, at Nintendojo.com. I hung around there for awhile, and eventually someone there linked me to GamerCrossFire Ė where people from HtLoZ and Hyrule.com.ar hung out after their old communities had died. From there, I was linked to Ganonís Tower, the first Zelda forum I ever joined. I stuck around there for awhile, becoming a moderator, getting to know a bunch of people, including several webmasters and future webmasters. I met TSA Ė Mike Ė of ZHQ2 fame, Dan of Ganonís Tower, Fred of Zelda Planet, Attrox of The Great Deku Tree. I joined pretty much every Zelda forum that was advertised there, so I began spreading through the Zelda communities just like I had begun to spread through the Zelda sites a couple years before.

Today, Iím acquainted with almost every single webmaster out there, and am or have been established at numerous sites and forums. Iíve moderated forums at Ganonís Tower, Great Deku Tree, ZHQ2, Realms of Hyrule, and, of course, Zelda Legends and Zelda Universe. My stuff has appeared at numerous websites, including most of the ones above plus a bunch more, even Rauruís Return. And even at sites where I never moderated and never helped out, Iíve made great friendsÖ a good example would be History of Hyrule and Independent ZeldaÖ though both are sadly gone now.

Iíve stayed in the Zelda community all this time because it allows me to socialize with those who share my passion for the Zelda series. I have also made many wonderful friends over the years, whom I would never think of leaving.

Rauruís Return:
Why did you never create your own Zelda Website? Afterall, you've worked on loads of them now for a long time.
Max Nichols: Oh, but I did! Havenít you ever heard of Woodfall? Hah! Of course not. Thatís because it sucked.

Making a website is very hard work. You have to come up with good content. You have to create a layout. You need to establish your own unique identity, or else disappear into the miasma of the crappy cookie-cutter Zelda sites. You need to figure out hosting, and you need to figure out what sort of system youíre going to use to organize everything. You need to learn all the technical stuff.

Most importantly, you need to build a community from the ground up, and advertise, all that jazz. I canít speak for other webmasters, but every update I do I do for my readers and my community. I love seeing peopleís reactions to what I put up. Every word of praise, every bit of appreciation and recognition of my contributions to the Zelda fandom is enough to keep me working. I would not be nearly as happy with this whole webmastering thing if I didnít have the comment system, or my forums, or my enormous pile of emails to let me know my stuff is being read and seen.

But when youíre just starting out, you donít have any of that stuff. In short, I donít have any of the reinforcement Iíd need to get me to keep going.

Iíve tried several Ė four, five maybe Ė times to start my own website, but itís always ended in failure or me neglecting it. The lack of an appreciative community played a large part, though all the other things I mentioned were also factors. I havenít tried in a couple years, though. Iíd imagine that I could be more successful now, butÖ

No. Itís easier to join an already existing community and add to it. Making one from scratch is not my cup of tea. And now I webmaster Zelda Legends; starting a new website would be pretty pointless, heh.

Rauruís Return: What do you think of all of the 'politics' that is going on in the Zelda world at the moment, with the likes of Ice's site coming back alive and Hyrule.com.ar? There are many people who are getting into rows over this.
Max Nichols: Iíve never understood it. People fight, they slight each other, they lie and cheatÖ or so the stories go. Myself, I am almost always acquainted with people on both sides. In fact, I usually consider myself friends with people on both sides. The vast majority of it is a foolish waste of time, and people making mountains out of mole hills. I try to stay out of it all, as should most of us. It does not help the community to go up in arms over every little slight or grudge, especially ones that are seven years old. Any webmaster worth their salt will keep their own sites out of these travesties. If they must speak up, do it privately. Thereís nothing worse then members of the community who use their sites to wage their wars. Guess what? Most of your readers donít give a damn. And when they do, all youíre doing is fomenting distrust among member of our Zelda community.

Iíve seen it happen numerous times by now, and I have never seen it end well, except for in the rare circumstances where those involved rein themselves in and admit their mistakes.

As for me personally, itís always people I know who are squabbling with each other, and me caught in the middle trying to juggle things without losing a friendÖ or two. I despise it.

Rauruís Return: In your opinion, what's the most important part of a Zelda game?
Max Nichols: Thatís like asking someone to name their favorite child. Only I had nothing to do with making the Zelda games. And, uh, thatís an easy one. So no, I suppose itís nothing like asking someone to name their favorite kid.

There are many things that make Zelda what it is, and if you miss one, you miss them all. The items, the characters, the land, the gameplayÖ miss in even one of them, and the game will suffer greatly for it. Look at the Oracles and the Minish Cap: by all appearances, they are Zelda, but they donít feel like Zelda games to me. But if I were to pick the single most important aspect of the Zelda series Ė and the most fragile and easily lost Ė it would be the atmosphere of adventure and exploration. Zelda games have this special quality, something that no other game series has ever displayed to me. Some nameless feeling, of exploration and wonder. No game has ever felt more like an adventure to me. I could go on for pages Ė and have Ė but Iíll leave my more detailed explanations to the articles Iíve written on the subject.

Rauruís Return: What first made you interested in Zelda?
I was seven years old, being diagnosed with diabetes. I had to stay in the hospital for three days, three long, boring days in which I pretty much just spent a lot of time doing nothing while they conducted tests and whatnot. They had a childrenís area, filled with toys and stuff for kids staying in the hospital to doÖ including some video games. I had nothing else to do, so I grabbed a Gameboy Ė one of those old grey brick ones Ė from their collection of stuff and started playing games. I think I played all the ones they had, but the one I stuck to the most was Linkís Awakening.

I didnít know what it was. I didnít know how to play. I think I loaded someone elseís file near the end of the game, because I have vague memories of being able to shoot laser beams out of my sword or something. I also thought Linkís name was ďZelda,Ē heh.

I got out of the hospital and forgot about the game, for the most part. Then, that Christmas, my grandparents got me a Gameboy and two games: Mario Land 2, and Linkís Awakening. I gravitated towards Mario Land 2 first, simply because it was simple and easy for a little kid to pick up.

In Linkís Awakening, you start a new game in Marin and Tarinís house. You have to talk to Tarin and get your shield before you can leave the houseÖ but I was too young and stupid to even figure out that much. I eventually needed my dadís help to figure out how to get out of the house. And then I couldnít figure out how to get my sword, so I got bored with the game. Didnít play it again until a few months later, when a friendís big brother helped me find my sword. After that I jumped right into the game, and the Zelda series, and the rest is history.

Rauruís Return: You're known for being a great article writer for the Back to the Rupees team for Zelda Universe. What makes you write articles over, say, speedrunning?
Max Nichols: As any economist would tell you, stick to your strengths. Youíll be more successful that way.

Iím a big gamer. I own hundreds of games, Iíve played games from every genre imaginable, Iíve forgotten more useless industry trivia then most people will know in a lifetime, and I hope to make a career in that industryÖ but when it comes to actually playing the games, Iím nothing special. Iíve played enough to be good at gaming (and I managed to bear Ninja Gaiden, heh), to be sure, but notÖ amazing. I look at people like Mike (TSA), or those people who win worldwide FPS tournaments and whatnotÖ I could never do that. The sheer amount of time they spend just playing the same stuff over and over again, analyzing it, dissecting it, memorizing the best routes and moves and everythingÖ I could never do that. Even if I had the time, I wouldnít want to do that. When you look at one aspect of a game Ė in this place, itís gameplay Ė so long and hard, you begin to lose your view of the rest of it. It seems to me that all these ďprofessionalĒ gamers are missing out on most of what gaming is about, when they dissect games so much with no regard to things like atmosphere or simply enjoying the game.

Plus, Iím just not good enough to do it, heh.

But writing articlesÖ now there is something I can do. I spend an inordinate amount of time musing about random crap and relating it to the Zelda games, and Iím good at articulating myself, so I turn all this thought into articles for one site or another.

Plus, there is nothing more satisfying then seeing peopleís minds start moving in new directions simply because theyíre reading things Iíve said. A lot of what I write about is stuff that never occurs to people who donít waste their time thinking about it constantly, but as soon as they read my stuff, theyíll start thinking about things that they normally wouldnít. I broaden peoplesí views of what makes Zelda Zelda, or what goes into the games, or possibilities for growth in the series, and I love doing it.

Rauruís Return: ZeldaBlog is a great site for people to 'get together.' What made you support the site?
This relates back to your question about the politics of the community, and most of the same thoughts apply here.

One reason is that I like The Missing Link, the guy whoís running it, a lot. Iíve spent a lot of time talking with him, and I even joined his site staff onceÖ but only for a couple days, and then I realized that I didnít have the time to dedicate to it. In fact, Iím good friends with most of the people involved with it.

But equally important is the fact that I like itís goals and purpose. Granted, who knows how well itís working or whether itís working Ė especially since TSAís portion of the community seems to be staying away from it - but the mere fact that there is a group of people who share my views on inter-site relations is enough to make me want to be involved. I havenít had time to put anything worthwhile on the site myself, which greatly annoys me. I donít have time for half the things I want to do, these days. Nevertheless, despite my lack of active involvement, I whole-heartedly support ZeldaBlog.

Rauruís Return: If you could make Nintendo do one thing for Zelda, what would it be and why?
Oh man. Thatís a tough one. I honestly have no idea. Ask me what I want them to do with the series and I could rant for days, but ask me to narrow it down to one thingÖ

The most important thing is that the Zelda feeling needs to be preserved, and at the same time the series needs to continue to evolve in unexpected ways, to prevent boredom. How would they do that? WellÖ in order to figure that out, you need to take a good hard look at what makes Zelda Zelda. From there, you need to figure out what needs to be preserved, and either preserve it or make it better. Next, you need to figure out where the games can be changed without altering any of the underlying Zelda qualities.

So the most important thing is the atmosphere of adventure. That should not only be preserved, but expanded on and upgraded. The world needs to breath, feel alive. It needs inhabitants, it needs vastness, it needs a variety of monsters and areas, it needs secret caves and little quirks, it needs fantastic views and interesting little things scattered here and there. It needs to foster a sense of exploration.

As for areas where changes can be madeÖ they are too numerous to count, as long as you have enough imagination to think of them. Which I donít always do, I will admit. Thatís the sort of thing you need to sleep on.

I will say, I would like more characters in Zelda games though. Characters that are important throughout the game, rather then just in one area or part. Linkís Awakening had Marin Ė the best character the games have ever seen. Ocarina of Time had Shiek, whom we all loved, Iím sure. OoA had Ralph. Do you see the pattern here? These are all charcters that play a part throughout the game, rather then just during a piece of it here and there, and they are invariably loved. We need more characters like that.

Oh, and there is one thing I would dearly like Nintendo to do: nip this milking of the Zelda franchise in the bud. Stop allowing Link to appear in games like Soul Calibur 2. Donít farm the franchise out to Capcom. Stop making useless filler like Four Swords Adventures and this upcoming Tingle RPG. Most of these things are fun, but ultimately demeaning to the Zelda franchise.

Rauruís Return: What would your best advice be to a new person within the Zelda Community today?
Max Nichols: That would depend on what they want to get out of the community. Do they want to be a successful staff of a large site? Do they want to write articles or fanfiction? Do they just want to have fun? Run a forum? Write walkthroughs? Make wallpapers?

My suggestion is to just use common sense. Follow the rules at your communities. Itís not as hard as you might believe Ė Iíve never once been banned, or even given a strike, at any forum Iíve gone to, not even when I was twelve. Social skills are just as important as any of your other skills if you want to be successful, so donít make an ass out of yourself. Do you think Iíve gotten where I am because Iím good at writing or churning out content? That played a part, sure, but equally important is the fact that people know me, like me, and trust meÖ and that can only be achieved through getting to know each other. If you want to work for a site, establish yourself at their forums, earn peopleís respect, participate in discussions, get to know some people. Itíll work every time.

Itíll take a lot of work, most likely. I started young and spent years doing this stuff, and itís only during the past couple years that Iíve really started to do anything.

Of course, if all you want to do is have fun, itíll be easier. Just explore the sites and the forums, let yourself go along with whatever you find enjoyable, in whatever company you find enjoyable. Though Iíd still suggest following rules and not making an ass of yourself, heh. Iíve done that a few times, and I always feel like such aÖ well, an a**h*** afterwards. Itís not a good feeling.

Rauruís Return: Zelda Legends is a huge site, what's your proudest moment in working on the site?
Max Nichols: Oh, I donít know. I was first proud to be on the site at all, and now Iím proud to run it. Iím proud every time I post some news or article or new content and see peopleís positive reactions. There is no one occurrence I can point to and say ďThere. That is my proudest moment.Ē Rather, the experience as a whole, of working on this site and serving the Zelda community, is what makes me proud.

Rauruís Return: Where do you hope to be in two years time with Zelda and life in general?
Max Nichols: Two years is not very long. They should spend at least that much time between every Zelda game. In two years, I hope to be eagerly anticipating the launch of the next Zelda game, not having had a new one since Twilight Princess. I sincerely hope that I wonít have had a million farmed out mini-games, multiplayer games, and Capcom developed games to keep fans happy, because this is one fan that is not kept happy by them.

Oh, and I hope to be writing articles about how amazing Twilight Princess isÖ Who knows, though?

As for my life in general, I very much hope that Iím a sophomore in college, during my second year of Champlainís video game design major, with a profitable job on the side. I like to think Iíll still be running Zelda Legends, too. Finally, I very much hope to still be with my girlfriend Jenny. It may not sound too ambitious, but itís realistic. Besides, if I achieve all my dreams at the age of twenty, what will I do with the next sixty years of my life? Hahah.

Itís been a pleasure doing this interview, and I hope youíve all enjoyed it.