Zelda Starring Zelda: Kenna Warsinske’s Video Game Mod Creates International Stir

Princess Zelda battles in Warsinske’s mod

Local hobbyist animator and feminist Kenna Warsinske has made some distinct changes to The Legend of Zelda, a classic favorite among video game fans—she wanted Princess Zelda to play with power, and she made it so.

“There’s no one to stop me from eating candy before bed and there’s nothing standing in the way of me creating the games I want to play,” Warsinske noted on her blog, days before word of her “Zelda Starring Zelda” mod exploded around the Internet.

A Portland resident originally from Philomath, Warsinske created “Zelda Starring Zelda” after hearing about a father and game developer who swapped Mario and Pauline’s character rolls in the original “Donkey Kong” arcade game for his daughter.

“It only took him eight hours,” said Warsinske. “That really startled me because I always figured game development was more of a black box experience.”

Her own adjustments to the Zelda sprites, along with programming changes, took just under five days. After releasing information on her blog, she decided to notify the popular gaming websites BoingBoing and Kotaku about the work she’d done.

Kotaku responded first.

“I was really happy,” she said. “Everybody goes to Kotaku, love it or hate it.”

In short order, Warsinke’s Zelda mod gained a huge amount of popularity—the original link to her blog was shared on other big-name sites such as Polygon, Huff Post Canada, and CNET Australia.

In no uncertain terms, the changes she made took the gaming world by storm.

News of Warsinske’s game mods ran at the same time as posts surfaced about programmers who cracked the new SimCity for offline play. Naturally, as a feature splash banner with her story was posted around the same time, she was excited.

Upon playing the “Zelda Starring Zelda” mod, routine fans will notice something immediately: Aside from the sprite swap and some minor text changes in the game, everything’s exactly the same. Same dungeons, same power-ups, and same general premise. Basically, Warsinske wanted to prove how easy it could be for Zelda to fulfill the same roles as Link.

Simon Travis, a Portland-based programmer who helped Warsinske with a few programming aspects, also noted the significance of reliving the original game as Princess Zelda.

“By playing as Zelda, you experience something new,” Travis wrote on his blog. “It’s right there when Zelda first picks up her sword. It’s special. Let’s have more of that.”

Though some folks on the Internet made derogatory remarks, most commentary defends what Warsinske did. One commenter on Kotaku even mentioned how they felt the animator received far too much destructive criticism and insults about her mod.

“There wasn’t even that much hate and bile to begin with,” Warsinske said.

Some of the games highlighted in Warsinke’s personal collection include “Beyond Good and Evil,” “Touch Detective,” and “American McGee’s Alice.” She noted how the protagonist in “Beyond Good and Evil” was taken much more seriously than many other female gaming characters. In terms of video games that contain more positively portrayed female protagonists, Warsinke feels that some either didn’t receive as much attention as they should have, or seemed more rushed in development. She said that this is another reason why the industry needs more female game developers.

Meanwhile, she’s not sure what the future holds with regard to modding. Warsinske did say she’s received requests for modding other “Legend of Zelda” games such as “Ocarina of Time” and “Link to the Past.” However, it may involve more time and resources than she currently has. Crowd funding is also out of the question since it would involve Nintendo’s official property.

“It would take me months,” Warsinske said. “If it were legal for me to do, I’d consider a Kickstarter [www.Kickstarter.com], but there’s no way. I can’t make money off this.”

But there’s a greater takeaway from this experience—Warsinke’s work, and the efforts of others like her, encourages women to not only support powerful leadership roles for female characters in video games, but also empowers women in regards to pursuing careers in game development and programming. Warsinske wants other women to feel inspired to take on similar endeavors, and to feel empowered to make a difference in the gaming community.

Check out Warsinske’s blog, http://kennastuff.blogspot.com, for updates and FAQs about her Zelda mod.

by Sean Bassinger