Miyamoto and Aonuma on Zelda
The two masterminds divulge all about the latest Zelda.
Transcript from cube.ign.com.
December 04, 2002 - Today Nintendo held its Zelda Gamers Junket in Seattle, Washington. With a little inspiration from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the event was held seaside thanks the Edgewater Inn's wall of glass windows in the meeting room. We were allowed to spend some time with the game, but won't be able to bring you details until a later date. Stay tuned for that.
Complimenting the hands-on experience, we were allowed to participate in a roundtable discussion with the two main forces behind The Wind Waker. Director Eiji Aonuma and producer Shigeru Miyamoto, who directed the originals including Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, joined us from Japan via video teleconferencing. The two talked about the projects beginnings, its place in the Zelda timeline, the possibility of a sequel, and much more.
Following is our full transcription of the translation offered by Bill Trinen of Nintendo of America.
Shigeru Miyamoto opened, "Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining us today. I know you've all played the game a little bit. I would have liked to have an English version ready for you all today, but unfortunately I've been very busy. It's been about two and a half years since Majora's Mask was released, and of course it was more realistic in visual style, but now we have a completely new Zelda ready. I think considering that we started from scratch -- it has completely new graphics and gameplay -- the fact that we completed this in two and a half years is a really good pace for a Zelda game. I'm kind of relieved that, as I promised, we were able to complete the game and launch it in Japan by the end of the year. Although, I do have some regret that we weren't able to do that for the U.S. version.
"But in Japan this year, while we do have Zelda, we do not have Metroid, which is obviously a large title that the U.S. had for the year-end. Also, this time around for Zelda I think the story is more in-depth and the characters that appear in the game have a lot more to them. So, we are going to take some time to localize these properly to the U.S. and have it out early next year. I apologize.
"This time around I'm not actually director of the game, I'm the producer. Mr. Eiji Aonuma sitting here to my right is the director. It's actually nice to be able to sit as producer on this game. I've been working with Mr. Aonuma since the Ocarina of Time. On Majora's Mask he was pretty much independent in moving that project along. So it's been very easy for me as producer on this game as well as Majora. As a producer, there are a few different types of roles I play. One of them is getting involved early on and being involved in meetings to decide direction. Then the type of work that I do is to really get involved later on in development, involving myself in the fine tuning and helping to make changes for improvement. This time around it was actually quite easy -- a lot of meetings were held throughout development and we didn't have a whole lot of changes to the game spec. In the end, it wasn't so much me coming in and having to change things around, so much as it was just me being there to give input and make sure the quality was there. It was easy for me in that sense. For me personally it's been great because it's given me a different flavor of development rather than creating everything myself. It's also given me some insight into other aspects of development that I didn't have a chance to see up until then.
"Of course, with the Zelda games they have a long history. There's a very strong sense to the world that is the Legend of Zelda. I think that really this time the GameCube game we did an excellent job of bringing out that flavor. As well as enhancing the whole aspect of you going into this world, interacting with it, and experiencing it. I think we've really done a great job."
Q: When did development on Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker begin? How long would you estimate development time was?
Miyamoto-san: Right when Majora's Mask ended we already knew that the GameCube platform was going to be our next, so we had to begin planning for that. If you were to actually go back and look at when we were doing experiments on the GameCube hardware itself, it would be more than two and a half years. The reason we were able to show you the more realistic looking Zelda battle at Space World 2000 in the summer was because we had been doing some preliminary experiments with the console prior to completing Majora's Mask. That's why that video existed. It wasn't until afterwards that we had really done work with the director and the programmers to go ahead and create The Wind Waker.
Q: The beginning of the game talks about Link getting the green clothes and the passing down of the history, the hero dressed in green, etc. How many different Links are there? This doesn't seem like that was in Ocarina of Time, for example.
Aonuma-san: In our opinions, with the Legend of Zelda, every game has a new Link. A new hero named Link always rises to fight evil.
Q: Can you discuss the concept of wind in the game? Both how it is used and where the idea came from.
Aonuma-san: This time we decided to set the stage out on an ocean. We got to talking about how you would travel on an ocean; obviously, the best option was a sailboat. So that's how we ended up with a game where the wind was blowing constantly through the land to let the player to sail around.
Miyamoto-san: Actually, for a long time we've wanted to be able to express wind in games. Sometimes we've had windy stages in the Super Mario games before, but really it wasn't until we were able to take the technology of the GameCube and some of the visual styles we can represent with it that we were able to finally really show wind blowing in a videogame. So, that was one of the things we decided to challenge ourselves with, which made it a driving force behind The Wink Waker.
Q: Where does The Wind Waker fit into the overall timeline of the Legend of Zelda?
Aonuma-san: In terms of the storyline, we've decided that this takes place 100 years after the events in the Ocarina of Time. We think that as you play through the game, you'll notice that in the beginning the storyline explains some of the events in the Ocarina of Time. And, you'll find hints of things from Ocarina of Time exist in The Wink Waker, too.
There's also a more complicated explanation. If you think back to the end of the Ocarina of Time, there were two time period endings to that game. First Link defeated Ganon as an adult and he actually went back to being a child. You could actually say that the ending where he was an adult, The Wind Waker would take place 100 years after that.
Q: What is the best new thing you were able to do with the new GameCube technology?
Miyamoto-san: One of the things we were able to do with all the space on the new disc media was to give a lot of life to the characters with lots of animations. Each of the characters you'll see in the game, they do a lot of different things. There are a lot of different animations. We were really able to bring things more to life than back when we were limited to the silicon ROM cartridges. So, as you play the game you'll see a lot of different characters doing different things -- each with their own AI perform independently of one another. We think that has really enlivened the gameplay experience.
Q: We're sure you're tired of talking about the game's visuals, but do you think the new cartoon-like look will attract a new audience to the game? And, conversely, do you think older gamers may be turned off?
Miyamoto-san: I think that when people first see the game, the graphics are the first thing you talk about. But once you play the game, you'll really come to understand why we went with this graphic style. Also, the more you play the game, the more you get sucked into the graphic style, kind of forgetting about it. When we make a game we think it is the quality of the game that determines whether or not it will have a wide appeal for a userbase. The Wind Waker is a very high quality game. We do think that it's a graphic style that will appeal to certain groups, but at the same time as soon as you start playing you're going to get sucked into the story and the gameplay. You're really going to enjoy yourself, and we don't think that is going to turn anyone off.
We actually think that as you play this game and look at the world around you, it's going to seem very realistic despite the graphics style. By using the term "realistic," I mean the qualities of the world itself. I don't mean to deny the value of the more photorealistic graphics, but the more realistic graphics get the more unrealistic things such as bumping into a wall or getting hurt might be. If not expressed properly, it will seem out of place. This time we've tried to have very realistic expression. We want to have a game where everything in the world feels like it is in its place. We think that when you play, you will see Link do something and not react in a way that's not realistic. From the point of view, The Wind Waker is very realistic in terms of expression and the whole oneness of the world.
Just play the game without thinking too much about the visuals -- it will be a lot more fun.
Q: More games are using voice acting to support dialogue, but you don't use that in Zelda games. Why?
Aonuma-san: We've obviously carried this on from the previous Zelda games, but for what we're trying to express within the game we can do that without having to use a lot of voice acting. While I can't say for certain it will always be like that with the Zelda games, the way we've done it for The Wind Waker is suitable for the world. One other thing that we've tried to do is that since people have played Zelda over the years, they have their ideas of how Link might sound. If we were to put a voice in there that might not match up with someone else's image, then there would be a backlash to that. So we've tried to avoid that.
Q: The two N64 Zeldas looked similar in visual style. Do you think the next Zelda will use this cel-shading for visual style? Also, since you're so pleased with the art style do you think you will extend it to other titles?
Miyamoto-san: With regards to Zelda, it's not so much that we want to go with the toon-shading, as it is we're really happy with the proportions of Link in the game. And the fact that we can have the artwork on the package match the artwork in the game. In the past you've seen where you'd have a Game Boy Zelda game and one for the home console where the art styles didn't match one another. And they didn't match the art style on the boxes didn't match that in the game. So we've really tried to cut back on that, so you can see the same Link across the different platforms. We think that this is a good style to do that with.
On the other hand, if say we were able to do something more along the lines of Zelda II, which was more of an action-based game, then probably the proportions of Link as we see him in The Wind Waker would not necessarily be as appropriate at that point -- we might have to reevaluate the style.
As for bringing it to other titles, we great value the creativity of our different development teams. So, we wouldn't want to try to apply what one team has done across others. Another thing that's important to us is that Nintendo always tries to do something; we try to do things the competition isn't. If we were to see a trend where cel-shading become the trend in game development then may we would change our direction towards realism.
Actually, when I first saw the cel-shaded Zelda I was very surprised and excited by it. However, I was startled by the response we got from the press when we showed it off the first time. They all said, "Oh, so is Nintendo now taking Zelda and trying to aim it only at kids?" Because, really the whole concept we had behind it was that we thought it was a very creative and new way to show off Link. All the sudden it had been interpreted as Nintendo's new strategy, and that was a shock for us.
When it comes to Nintendo strategy, it's not that we want to make games for kids. It's that we want to make them creative while appealing to a wider audience. Obviously we see games as entertainment, and what we want to do is find the best way to make the gameplay experience entertaining for everyone.
Q: Regarding the anime style, did other artists' work inspire you for Zelda?
Aonuma-san:While we haven't been inspired by anyone in particular, you could say that because we've all grown up reading manga and watching anime that probably inspired us to want to create a videogame similar in style to that. To say that there was one particular one, I don't think I could say that.
Miyamoto-san: Actually, we do have some anime fans on the team, but we also have fans of particular movie directors too. We have a mixture of people that helped create this title. Even if they wanted to make a game based on someone's style, we probably wouldn't let them.
My Neighbor Totoro was impressive with what they did with the style. That's something I like to look at, to see something within an existing media that is creative and different. That's what we try to do with our products, to take something people have seen and try to do something new with it. It's when you're really able to do something revolutionary within media that's existed for some time that I think you're able to shock and startle people. That's usually how it is for me. Laputa was another one that impressed me.
Q: Talking about how you're always trying to revolutionize the game, how do you try to keep the game completely new and different, while keeping it as "Zelda"?
Aonuma-san: When it comes to play controls, I've been working on Zelda play controls since the Ocarina of Time. We really like that system and thought we could make use of a similar system to that, and really improve upon that in this game. We done that to not only give a new feel to the game, but to make it easier for the player to control Link on screen and get involved in the gameplay. We have the new controller this time, so we've tried to add features that will make it easier to control Link, and also ways to assist them with gameplay.
Miyamoto-san: Also, when it comes to games there is a big discussion about how we can still make them accessible to people who have never played the Zelda franchise before, while make it feel fresh to fans of the series. This time around we essentially kept many of the items from the past games, and early on in development I was a little worried that doing so might make the game feel old and too similar. But, really, what we decided is if you try to introduce newer and more complex items it really raises a barrier for people who have never played the franchise before. It can hinder them from being able to jump in and enjoy it. Also, Zelda has always been based on the player thinking things through in his or her head, and trying to find a way to solve the problems that are proposed before them, figuring out puzzles and moving into the next room. We've tried to focus on ways to improve that. However, we have the sailboat in this game and we've been able to take some of the existing items and apply them in ways they can be used on the boat. We think that's really going to be thrilling for players who've experienced past Zelda games.
Q: The music score is especially impressive, and borrows from other styles such as classical. Did Koji Kondo primarily work on this? And, how much emphasis was placed on sound design?
Aonuma-san: Throughout the Zelda series Koji Kondo has been responsible for the composition, and he is again responsible. And, because the story takes place 100+ years in the future, head of Ocarina of Time, they really decided to feature some of the familiar songs from that. They've implemented it in a way that they think will be appropriate, since it's set in the future from there. So, you'll hear familiar themes from the Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, perhaps. But, also, we've reworked -- I think -- some of the background music from Link to the Past as well. You'll also hear that, and I actually have very little input when it comes to the sound. I let them work on their own. So, for me it's a lot of fun to see how the sound takes shape, and how they're using the different effects in battles and such. Something else that's important to mention is that usually on a game we'll have two to three composers, but this time we actually bumped it up to five to six people. Essentially, we've more than doubled the number of people. Part of the reasoning behind that was the rushed development schedule, but also that we wanted to have very high quality sound with The Wind Waker.
Q: Can you discuss the Game Boy Advance connectivity, and talk about why you implemented it the way you did?
Aonuma-san: When we started development, Mr. Miyamoto said he knew that Zelda games had always been one-player. But this time we wanted us to allow, say, a father to interact with his son or any second player to interact. We thought this was a good way to introduce that.
Q: Regarding Ura Zelda, is there any different between the 64DD version that was in development and the GameCube version? Did it use any functionality with the 64DD? And, is it coming to the U.S.?
Miyamoto-san: Although we did develop Ura for the 64DD, it didn't use many of the special features. So it was very easy to port over to the GameCube without cutting any features. Why we did it, well that was because the 64DD was only released in Japan and it was only sold to subscribers of the RandNet system. For a long time we wanted to make it available for play and find a way to do that. It was expensive to make cartridges, so we had through about different ways. One thing we thought about was tie-ups with magazines. Once GameCube moved to disc media, though, it became much more feasible to make it available. In terms of how we've done it, we didn't want to make it limited edition. So we've tried to make it available to as many people as possible.
Also, I'm not sure if you're aware but Ura Zelda isn't very different from the Ocarina of Time; it's more of a second quest. People who played through Ocarina of Time would be able to play through Ura Zelda and get a few laughs at some things, find some things more difficult, and take a few varied paths. However, even if you do play all the way through the end it will not unlock anything special.
We hope to be making an announcement sometime soon, so please wait until then.
Q: Was it very difficult to do those ports from the N64, and might you be considering doing it again with other N64 titles?
Miyamoto-san: When we switched from the cartridge to disc media, we did it in a way that would make it very similar. In terms of the actual port, it was quite simple. Technically, it's easy to port N64 games, but what types of games would people really want to play and would there be a value there?
Q: It was great to see the Nintendo 64 host two Zelda titles. Are there any plans to bring a second Zelda to Gamecube?
Aonuma-san: Having just finished the JPN version, with the English version still to go -- and all the time I've spent at the office -- it's difficult for me to even think about the possibility of that. But at the same time, whenever we do make a game there are always things we wanted to incorporate that we couldn't, or things that we wanted to do differently but didn't have time to do. And I think that's the case this time, and there are many things the staff would have liked to include that they couldn't. Given that fact, we think it's possible if not likely to see another GCN Zelda game. [Miyamoto began to clap at this point.]
Whether or not I'd be the director on that, though, I don't know. [Laughs]
Q: Can you tell us a little more about Link's eyes in The Wind Waker? How does their constant movement affect gameplay, and do you think that it's a device that made gameplay more interesting and complex? Also, a side question to that: we remember seeing that you made Link's eyes blue at one point. What changed?
Aonuma-san: With the cel-shading, once we decided to go in that direction we thought it would be important to use the technology to the most extent we could, where we could draw out the natural features of the world. We wanted to show the expressions of Link, and the eyes became very important. Gradually, as we managed to program the movement of the eyes, we began to look at different ways we could make use of that. Really, it became more of a natural process in how we could make Link feel alive, and make the player feel that Link is aware of his surroundings. It was through this natural process that we began to put in items that would attract Link's attention.
Miyamoto-san: When we decided to use the eyes in this way, we considered changing Link's eye color throughout the game. There were points in the game where we programmed it so that were he was fighting his eyes were bright red, and there were some different opinions on that. One of them obviously was that you only see the color of his eyes if you have the camera on him from the front. But, even for those who could notice it we think it felt a little strange. So, ultimately we decided not to do that. When we originally released some of those pictures where Link has a different eye color, I received a lot of mail commenting on the eye color, and what we should or shouldn't make it. It was interesting, but in the end after much experimentation we decided to go with the eye color we have now, which is kind of a predominantly black that graduates into a greenish haze. So, if you're very attentive and look at screenshots we've released over the past year, you may notice some different eye colors, but we didn't really think anyone was paying that much attention. [Laughs.]
Q: Like in the movies, it seems you emphasize things like fighting with music. What kind of challenges did you face and how successful do you think you were?
Aonuma-san: Actually, I don't think we tried to adopt any methods used in movies. More for the battle music we carried it over from how it was used in Ocarina of Time, and it was more of a matter that if you went into battle that it would be strange if the music didn't change. We were just trying to enhance the mood, not so much make it feel like the movies.
Miyamoto-san: With the sound this time around, we actually tried to do something less cinematic. We wanted to make the music much more interactive with the gameplay. You'll find a very natural flow of music in the battles; when you hit enemies new instruments are added. Apart from that, we found that we can use particular instruments to draw out particular emotions. I really wanted them to try to create music that the player might get up and dance to -- something to that great of an extent. When you first get in the sailboat, you should really feel more emotion. If you really pay attention and listen, you'll hear many different instruments. I think we even sampled an Irish Harp at one point. It was really to make it interactive and draw the player into the experience.
Q: There's a concert being held after E3 2003. Will you be playing there Mr. Miyamoto?
Miyamoto-san: [Laughs and shakes his head.] No, unfortunately my fingers haven't been used to play the banjo lately.
Q: In terms of the size of the quest, can we expect something similar in size to the N64 versions?
Aonuma-san: Actually, in testing we obviously have someone who is the fastest. This time around the fastest tester was able to clear the game in 10 hours. That's after a lot of gameplay, and knowing everything backwards and forwars, start to finish. 10 hours is not a time that anyone playing the game for the first time could expect to finish the game in. Really, I think a good example would be to explain that with Ocarina of Time the fastest clear time was about six hours. We think from that point, this game is very large. Probably around 40 hours of play time.
Miyamoto-san: I would actually kind of like it if we could get off this subject of game size. There are a lot of people out there who don't have a whole lot of time to play games. Of course, there are certainly others who will refuse to buy a game if it is not a certain number of hours. If you're worried about it being short like some of the other games we've had in the past, you don't have to worry. I think as you play the game, you'll get the feeling this is done in three acts, almost like a play. That is a realization I saw playing the game, not as a producer. I thought, "Oh, I cleared part one. Now part two. Oh, here's the finally." That is also a neat feature to the game.
In terms of events you need to clear to finish that, there are a lot of events you can do at any point during the game; a lot of stuff you don't need to do to complete the game. I think it's unique and interesting in that sense.
Q: Was there any discussion of ever retiring Zelda, are you perhaps getting tired of doing it year after year?
Miyamoto-san: One thing that I still believe is that within Nintendo I don't think we've achieved a point where we have all the development resources we would like to have. A lot of times that's why you see us using second-parties and third-parties on our franchises. We haven't ever talked about retiring franchises, but really what we like to do is to bring in more ideas, more creative things. Kind of like we did with Pikmin and bring in new characters.
Q: On the subject that there are several acts in The Wind Waker, does Link age over the course of them?
Miyamoto-san: We actually hadn't decided how we would talk about the story today. In our eyes, we think he matures in the game, but as to whether or not he grows old, we want you to play the game and find out for yourselves.
Q: Final question: now that Zelda -- what will no doubt be one of GameCube's biggest releases ever -- is completed, do you think you'll have anything this big again for GameCube? Do you have other products with this high production going on in the background?
Miyamoto-san: When it comes to big titles, I realize we haven't talked a lot about this in the U.S. or overseas, but of course we have a lot of big titles coming for the GameCube. I think you can expect some big announcements coming from us in the future.
Special thanks to Mr. Aonuma and Miyamoto for taking time out of their busy schedule to answer our questions.