How Zelda speedrunning inspired cursed Zelda mods

Adding new playthrough rules or modding a game can make even a widely known classic feel exciting, fresh, and, in the best cases, totally new. This is the approach that streamer Eric “PointCrow” Morino has taken. He has made a name for himself playing mega-popular games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Pokémon with special rules or mods. Polygon spoke to him about his career and his approach to playing some of today’s most popular games in new, creative ways.

Morino started streaming on Twitch in winter of 2019 and began sharing compilation clips of his streams on YouTube the following summer. Since then, he’s grown his audience to include over 2 million subscribers on YouTube and roughly 600,000 followers on Twitch. But before he started streaming, he avidly watched the work of other speedrunners.

“One of the earliest videos that I remember really falling in love with was a long commentary of a speedrun of Majora’s Mask — this is back before they found arbitrary code execution. And I just was like, What if I did this? Like, what if I put my everyday challenges that I just give myself, and just put that towards video games?” Morino said via video chat. “And so I just started with Breath of the Wild. I love Zelda games. It’s one of the games that I fell in love with when I was a child, so I could kind of take the open world as it were and create new puzzles for myself.”

Since then, Morino has carved out a career by pulling unique experiences out of the well-trodden paths in Hyrule and other popular virtual worlds. Some, but not all, of his accomplishments include beating Breath of the Wild without walking and popularizing a new speedrunning category where streamers try to feed all the dogs as quickly as possible. To come up with these whimsical speedrun ideas, Morino would reverse engineer the central concepts of a given game and try to imagine how the game would feel without a specific mechanic.

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“Whenever you come across the game, you always have to think, like, what are the core components of the game? And then, can you do it without that core component? Like, stamina is everywhere, climbing was the big reveal of [Breath of the Wild]. You can go anywhere, do anything you want. So then, what if you restrict yourself to What if I can’t do that? Like, it makes all the puzzles be solved differently. It’s a really cool problem to have. And it’s a really cool sort of thing to do.”

These days, Morino is largely known for playing mods of popular games that amp up the whimsy, and for interactive streams that often rely on the participation of Twitch chat forcing him to talk or act in a certain way. In one run, he played Breath of the Wild, except every time he said a certain word, it would spawn enemies. So if he said the word “bear,” it would spawn 20 bears, or if he said “worm,” it would spawn a Molduga boss. In another, just a chuckle would result in Link immediately exploding. Most notably, he also hosted a stream that allowed his Twitch viewers to collectively play Breath of the Wild by inputting commands via chat.

Morino told Polygon he uses a combination of preexisting mods and mods he custom orders from developers. When him and a developer make a mod for a stream, the two will research what’s been done before to get a proof of concept. In the best situations, they’re able to edit and build upon previously published mods to create something tailored to Morino’s needs. For example, he and a modder named Melon used an app called Health Data Server to add heart rate data to a stream. From there, Melon was able to alter the exploration game Terraria so that the character would explode if the streamer’s heart rate exceeded a certain threshold.

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Making content about modded games hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Morino has historically streamed modded playthroughs of popular Nintendo games, and Nintendo protects its property through enforcing copyright and shutting down fan projects. In November 2021, Morino issued an open challenge to his viewers to create a mod for Breath of the Wild with four-player multiplayer. In April this year, Morino found a developer who successfully created multiplayer in the game, and the creator shared it with the community. However, the same month, Nintendo’s lawyers issued a DMCA strike on several Breath of the Wild videos on his channel.

The content strikes on Morino’s Zelda content have changed his work considerably. “Ever since the Nintendo stuff I’m not gonna be playing any more Zelda mods,” he told Polygon. Now, instead of instead of playing games with modded content or editing the games themselves, he’s focused on mods that change how he plays the game.

“The games themselves, from now on, will mostly be normal, but the way that they are played or the way that things are done around them will probably be different,” Morino said. For example, in one video, he used his goldfish to play Elden Ring. “The Elden Ring game, totally vanilla right? But then the thing that’s crazy is the external factors around that.”

Morino declined to comment further on the state of the multiplayer Breath of the Wild mod, but he spoke to Polygon about the role of creators in game development and community more broadly.

“I mean, the goal of my job and pretty much most content creators that just exist is to create entertainment for others, right? Like, at the very baseline, we want people to click on a video, and then watch it all,” Morino said. “When it comes to things like fun ideas and challenges, it’s not a replacement for the game, right? It’s just an addition. It’s a different way to do it. Another way to get interested in the game, another way to play it, to get your brain thinking.”

Overall, Morino sees his, modders’, and other content creators’ work as playing a large role in building out the worlds of the games themselves.

“I think content creators, at least in this day and age, are an important aspect of the life cycle of a game. At the launch of a product, you’ll see a boost and everything because everyone’s trying it out. But in the next couple of years, the only way for your game to really stay alive is to have an active community behind it that really cares about the game,” he said. “Content creators are a really big aspect of that. The modding community is another really big aspect of taking your game that you’ve made and then twisting it around to be something a little bit new. I think that’s also really important, especially for games that don’t update constantly or not online.”