How 'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild' Was Almost Instantly Emulated for PC

We interviewed a hero.

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Mar 7 2017, 1:00pm

When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released to universal acclaim, some fans just couldn't wait to play it. So, they downloaded an emulated version that they could play on their PC. This hacked version of the brand new Nintendo title was available on the internet just days after the game's release on Friday. 

The emulated version of Breath of the Wild is playable with Cemu, which emulates the Wii U, and it's far from perfect. Initial bugs made parts of the game unplayable, and they're still being worked out (which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to emulation). Still, it's an impressive turnaround. 

Many of us might take for granted that the internet makes most new albums and movies available for free as soon as they're released, and often before. But it's pretty astounding that a brand new game was available so quickly. To find out just how the hell they did it, we reached out to one of Cemu's co-developers, who posts on Reddit as "Exzap." 

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"I think a lot of [the speed] can be attributed to Xenoblade Chronicles X, which is a similar open-world game that already presented us the same technical challenges early on," Exzap wrote me in a Reddit message. 

With the technical glitches worked out from emulating that previous title, Breath of the Wild could quickly be ported into Cemu. But because of Breath of the Wild's complexity, and Cemu's own janky nature—the team describes it as "highly experimental software"—bugs are still being ironed out. 

"The goal is to get every game running 100% eventually," Exzap wrote. "How we get there and how long it will take is difficult to answer. But in regards to [ Breath of the Wild] I think we will see small incremental improvements in almost every future Cemu release. It's been this way for most other games so far."

"Technically [it's] a great achievement but not good enough to be enjoyable for players," he continued.

But the Cemu team is hard at work and eventually Breath of the Wild may play and look better on PC using emulation than on the Wii U or even the Switch. Right now, the game runs at both 720p and 900p depending on what console it's being played on, which is at the low end of what games can do today. Some players have also expressed frustration with dips in the game's frame rate. 

"Emulators allow for extra customization that the original console did not offer," Exzap wrote. "For example, using Cemu it will be possible to play [ Breath of the Wild] in 4K resolution rather than the 720p enforced by the Wii U."

As for the framerate drops, Exzap said that eventually Breath of the Wild will run smoothly at 30 frames per second, because of "the way [ Breath of the Wild]'s engine works."

The biggest challenge for the Cemu team going forward might be Nintendo itself. The Japanese video game giant is notoriously litigious when it comes to unofficial community-backed projects. Last year Nintendo unceremoniously shut down a fan-made Pokémon project that was in the making for eight years. 

So, I asked Exzap: Has he heard from Nintendo's lawyers, and is he ready?

"Sorry but I can't answer this question for various reasons," Exzap wrote. "But I can tell you that I am prepared for any possible scenarios."

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