Interviews

(NP:)An Honest Perspective on Hyrule
Yakumi Kawagoe has a firm answer to one of the most hotly debated topics in video games: Did that stunningly beautiful game preview trailer you just saw reflect the actual game? When Kawagoe has anything to say about it Ė and, as Nintendoís main man behind preview trailers, he usually does Ė what you see is what youíll be playing. Which is fantastic news for Zelda fans whoíve replayed his E3 game trailer 500 times, searching for clues about the Nintendo Gamecube title. While many Twilight Princess details remain shrouded in secrecy, the trailer offers a perspective on the brutal action and dark side of Linkís upcoming quest. And Kawagoe knows a thing or two about perspective Ė which youíll find out as he reveals the way heís changed the way you look at gaming. And how heís gone over to the dark side himself on occasion.

The Truth in Trailers

Take a look at that E3 Twilight Princess trailer one more time. Notice the extreme differences between the trailer images that show lively village life and the dead hopelessness of the Twilight Realm? I focused my full attention on making that difference as sharp as I could. Because thatís the nature of the game youíll be playing. And notice that we dwelled Ė at just the perfect moment Ė on the gloomy image of Princess Zelda? Her dark melancholy is just as essential to the game experience. Personally, I hope that Zelda will liven up and regain her cheer by the end of the game, but I suspect that that may not be in Hyruleís destiny this time around. Though I canít expose any more truths beyond what I brought to light (and dark) in the trailer, I can say that weíve been adding more rich expressiveness to Linkís face than what you saw during E3. Because thereís a lot to react to in Twilight Princess Ė and Iíll have to stop myself right there.

Instead, let me talk about the way I create trailers and cut-scenes for Nintendo. Iíve got a strong philosophy thatís rooted in not discarding the gameplay footage, as so many trailers and cut-scenes do. Above all, I refuse to eliminate the feeling that the player is controlling the action. This way, the viewer will be drawn in like a gamer, not just a passive moviegoer. This philosophy has been my number-one priority ever since Ocarina of Time. If we design movies only in terms of cinematic experience, they enter the realm occupied by the Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings series, and that isnít comparing apples to apples, so to speak. Interactivity is the game industryís biggest advantage, and I believe in playing that up with potent images based on gameplay. Thereís a trend that some games are bringing film directors into the creative mix Ė a mistake, in my opinion. From a film directorís point of view, game movies may not live up to their silver-screen standards, but I like to probe deeper then the cinematic surface. Exactly what role does a movie have in a game? Thatís what I ask myself every time I design my creative plan for a project. And in Twilight Princess, weíre probing even deeper, considering many new ideas about how to involve the player even more actively in the movies.

LightsÖ CameraÖ Action!
Let me probe even deeper yet into my own past with Nintendo. When I started my Nintendo career in 1989, it was just before the Super NES opened a new universe of thinking about game design in Japan. I did a little programming on Pilot Wings at first, then worked on our internal course-editing program for Kirbyís Dream Course. But soon after that, I was put on a highly ambitious project: Star Fox 2. I was working on player and camera control, which carried the concept much further then the earlier Super NES game. It was a 360-degree 3-D shooter with battle-sim-like-elements. You could also morph your flying fighter into a mech that could touch down to jump, climb and navigate the landscape extensively. In order to give the player comfortable play control over such a free-roaming environment, we knew that we had to develop a breakthrough camera system.

In those days, there hadnít been any 3-D games that had a camera that would allow the player to get a great sense of action and movement. Most developers had simply stuck the camera onto the characterís head. To better feel character action, I detached the camera and has it chase the character instead. In a way, this technique would convey the more-exciting action of a 2-D Super Mario Bros game to a 3-D environment. As a second project on Star Fox 2, I also worked on many of itís cut-scenes. I hadnít yet had my Ocarina of Time Awakening, and I created the animations with programming rather than gameplay. The development team liked my work, which started me down a path that led to my current work of supervising demo movies and cut-scenes. Unfortunately, Star Fox 2 was a little ahead of itís time and never released, but the project was a major turning point for my career and game philosophy, and I still have very warm thoughts about the title.

Mr. Miyamoto then asked me to think about how the camera control should work in Super Mario 64. Now that was a daunting task Ė applying what Iíd learned from a game like Star Fox 2 to Marioís motions and the complex levels in the huge N64 project. But Miyamoto trusted to my experience and feelings about camera perspectives, and he turned me loose to explore my ideas. And it turned out that gamers really liked the camera controlÖ to the point that it became a sort of industry standard. I was pretty happy that it was that well-received. During Ocarina of Time, I continued to supervise camera control, another incredible project, since Link moves so differently from how Mario does.

As the Ocarina camera system became finalized, I began to devote my energy to making some of the cut-scenes and demo movies for the title Ė about half of those finally used Ė starting with storyboards and then creating the final versions. It was the first time that Iíd guided the process all the way through from inception to completion, which gave me key experience for the work that I do today at Nintendo.

The Sith Sense
When I was in the sixth grade, the first Star Wars movie was released in Japan, and it had a profound influence on me. In retrospect, it wasnít that I was seeing things that Iíd never seen before. It was because Star Wars revealed to me what could be seen through filmmaking. Yes, it was a major visual experience, but it also opened the door to my fascination with technical aspects of creating engaging images, and I consumed everything that I could about special effects, from creation of creatures to optical composition and beyond.

Years ago, I thought that Iíd want a job in films, especially working on CGI animation. But the Japanese movie industry was getting smaller then and there werenít many careers in filmmaking. But game development - that was seeing explosive growth, technically and artistically. I knew that gamemaking was the place for me, so when I landed a job interview with Nintendo, I took a lot of my creative work with me. Luckily, I got hired. Though I wanted a designer position, that wasnít in the cards, at least to start with. But several projects later, Iíd found a much more creative role within the company. I feel very fortunate to have found a great place in the game industry.

But you never know what life will show you, so letís go back to Star Wars. To the fourth flick, Episode 1, where I had an unusual episode of my own! Starting with that movie, Iíve always flown to Los Angeles for the opening of every Star Wars movie. Iím still a fan, obviously, and I wanted to take part in the enthusiasm and celebration in the US. Truth be told, by the time I hit opening day of a Star Wars movie, Iíd soaked up so much information and anticipated it so much that I was almost like a zombie during the movie. But thatís a Star Wars fan for you!

Actually, Iím more of a superfan. Try this story on for size: When Episode I was released in Japan, there was a popular TV Quiz show that would give a contestant one million yen if you answered a 100 Star Wars questions consecutively. Since Iím a member of one of the Star Wars fan clubs in Japan, and the chairman of that club was connected to the TV show somehow, and Nintendo was a sponsor of the show since it was about to release an N64 game tied to the movie, I got a shot at winning the prize. Did I win? No, I failed in the 50th question, but not for the reason youíd think. I wore my Darth Vader suit and mask; thatís why. I had to sit in that outfit Ė with itís well-sealed Vader Mask Ė for five hours during the showís production, and the eyeport glass fogged up terrible if I breathed to much. But, of course, oxygen is key. And I almost felt like I was in a little danger. Ironic, given that Darth Vaderís suit is supposed to be life support. So my eyeports fogged up and I couldnít see questions. I learned a lot about perspective that day! But seriously, Star Wars has taught me much about story and imagery, plus itís influence on the movie industry, from itís music and film techniques, even merchandising. Now that the movie episodes are completed, I canít wait to see the upcoming Star Wars-related TV series that George Lucas has promised fans.

A Mind in Motion
As much as I insist that game demos and cut-scenes must be based on gameplay, you can still learn a lot of creative techniques from films. Fortunately, watching movies is my big hobby. As far as movies go, I think that quality is much better than quantity. Iíll go see the same movie many times. And when I watch them at home, Iíll rewind me favorite scenes many times, taking in everything that I can about how the scene works. Sometimes Iíll even put those elements in my ďcreativity drawer,Ē and use them for inspiration on game projects. Hereís a good example: When I had to create a demo of Majoraís Mask, a game that had a very strange atmosphere, my mind found some unusual inspiration, Woody Allenís movie Husbands and Wives. In it, thereís an eccentrically edited scene in which in which actor Liam Neeson is getting psychotherapy, and Allen has the camera hop around Neeson without a break in conversation, which creates the strangest impression! So when I created the Majoraís Mask demo showing the Mask Seller, I used a similar idea to capture the spirit of that very bizarre character. Currently, the movie Mind Game, directed by Masaaki Yuasa, is my fave movie. Unlike most animated movies in Japan, which are crafted with a delicate sensibility, Mind Game portrays itís world in a strange, deconstructed way. It S beautiful and throws the viewer off-balance with potent impact. Maybe if thereís another Majora-like project in my future, based on a bizarre world, perhaps I can reopen my creative drawer and revisit Mind Game for fresh insights.

Around the time that we were developing Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo decided to create a team specifically devoted to movie creation, and thatís where I work today. The team oversees the quality of all movies in Nintendo games. Another responsibility for this team is the production of motion-capture data for game development Ė which has strongly come into play for Twilight Princess like never before in a Zelda game. Though our team is also focused on the creative work for other titles, Iíd have to say that 50%, maybe 60%, of our time is going into Twilight Princess right now. With the kind of talent that weíve got on our team, Iím continually impressed by the work I see being done every day. And because our creations directly use game data, itís critical to maintain great communication with all of the various development teams. Since the Twilight Princess development team is so enormous, even though it sometimes seems like the long-time Zelda developers on the team have a telepathic connection! But with so many people involved, communications and scheduling are proving essential for keeping everyone on the same page.

I still have a little time to dream about other things: Drawing has been one of my major interests since I was young, and now I love to draw with my own kids. I sometimes wonder if it might be possible to develop an animated-movie version of the Super NES classic Mario Paint, but one that would let people create animated art in a very simple, casual way. Iíll keep dreaming. But for now I need to devote myself entirely to Twilight Princess. You wouldnít believe how serious some people can get when they think about working on a project that aspires to be greater than even a hallmark like Ocarina of Time! But even though E3 is now a half year behind us, the impact that the game and trailer had on crowds stays high in our minds. And personally, though some might thing that making Twilight Princess stay true to the Zelda series and pushing the game to live up to fan expectations are two different things, I believe that theyíre one and the same. I canít say more, but believe me when I say that Twilight Princess sees itís new ideas through a very Legend of Zelda perspective.