Exploring the Depths
If you've traveled the mysterious passages of any of the Zelda series' dungeons, you know the heightened sense of tension you feel as you seek to overcome its dangers and unlock its secrets. One of the people responsible for eliciting those feelings is Shinko Takeshita, who is designing the graphics in Twilight Princess's dungeons. Her industrial-design background combines with her keen attention to detail to breathe realistic life into Hyrule's dankest, darkest locales. In this edition of Inside Zelda, Takeshita speaks about her journey from Zelda fan to Zelda graphics designer, and her approach to ensuring that Twilight Princess lives up to fans' expectations.

Getting into the Game

I was in Junior High back when the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the NES) came out. At the time, most people thought of it as a product primarily for boys. My younger brother played the Famicom almost constantly, but he wouldnít even let me touch it! I was just the audience, looking on while he played. But it was still fun to just watch, especially when he played games like Super Mario Bros. and The Goonies. Back then, I never imagined Iíd have a career in video game development or that Iíd work for Nintendo!

It wasnít until several years later that I really got into video games. Iíd always liked drawing, ever since I was little, so I majored in industrial design in college. I learned about things like the use of color, lettering, and theories and techniques for creating advertisements, but then everything changed when one of my friends let me borrow an original Game Boy. Dr. Mario on the Game Boy was one of the first games I really enjoyed, and after that I played the Legend of Zelda: Linkís Awakening. It was such an eye-opening experience! Back then I didnít even realize that the Game Boy could be powered by an AC adapter, so I bought batteries in bulk so I could keep playing! Sometimes I would play for hours on end, and Iíd forget to even open the curtains in my room. That was my first memorable encounter with a Zelda title, and it was the catalyst that brought me into the world of video games. I went back to my parentsí house and bug out all the old games and systems and spent my free time playing all the classics that Iíd missed.

New Dimensions
At many Japanese colleges, when you get close to graduating, the school holds sessions to get you in touch with potential employers, and that's how I found out about a design-job opening at Nintendo. Actually, the submission deadline for the job had already passed, but I made a phone call to Nintendo and asked if they'd still take my application. Fortunately, they agreed to accept it, and they called me in for an interview where I got to show them my work (like advertisements I'd created). Lucky for me, Nintendo gave me the job!

Around the time I started working at Nintendo, 3-D graphics were really getting popular and becoming the industry standard. I took a 3-D graphics training class shortly after I started the job, and the course really helped me understand 3-D graphic techniques. Ironically, the first project I was assigned was creating 2-D graphics for Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. It was a fun job, but since my peers were all working on 3-D games, I felt a bit left behind. I shouldn't have worried, though; I had the chance to work on many 3-D titles in subsequent assignments. I put my polygonal knowledge to use in Animal Crossing, plus I worked on Super Mario Sunshine and other games.

Team Hyrule
Twilight Princess is my first full Zelda project. I help out a little bit on The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but other than that, I only watched Zelda development from the outside. Working on the Zelda series always looked challenging, but when I became a member of the Zelda team, I found out it's actually harder than I imagined! Everyone on the staff pays such close attention to detail. I've discovered how important and difficult it is to make players feel like they're actually in the environment. The feeling of interacting with the world, along with good play control, is so important to making a good Zelda game. The development team performed a lot of experiments and spent a lot of time making sure everything lived up to our expectations.

I think Twilight Princess maintains the essence of what makes the Zelda games popular while still having new layers-letting us flex our creative muscle, so to speak. Early in the development process, our team was having a difficult time. Back then, we had to invent aspects of the game that were totally new. Our director/producer, Eiji Aonuma, guided us by saying that we'd never be able to move forward if all we were doing was trying to create new elements. He told us to first determine what a traditional Zelda game should be, then take that foundation and add in new facets. That advice got development back on track and helped us relax a bit, so we were ready to face new challenges. The result is that even returning items-items that Zelda fans are already familiar with-will be used differently in Twilight Princess. We hope that by adding new twists to classic elements, we can surprise players and fill them with a sense of wonder.

My job is to take the ideas of the game planner and visually bring the game's dungeons to life. The general information is provided by the planner-things like the type of environment, item locations and the overall dungeon shape-and then it's up to me to make it look good. I was in charge of the graphics in the dungeon that was shown at E3 2005-the one containing the monkeys and the Gale Boomerang. My industrial design major in college might not sound useful for my current job, but knowing the basics of design has helped me on many occasions, such as when I needed to properly balance the color palette, or when I needed to decide what shapes to use. I think the dungeons of Twilight Princess will be very interesting and provide players with unique challenges. Even though the monkey dungeon was specifically mine, it's no the only one I worked on. I helped out with the graphics in other areas, and other graphic designers helped me with the dungeon I was working on. It's nice when I get the chance to play the outdoor areas. It gets claustrophobic just working in dark, narrow passages all the time! Maintaining the proper balance between gameplay in the field and in the dungeons is an important part of Zelda games.

Family Matters
My husband also works for Nintendo; he's a programmer. We met while working on the original Animal Crossing and we got married shortly after! He was also in charge of programming on The Wind Waker and he's currently working on The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for DS. Although it doesn't happen when we're working on different projects, if we're working on the same game, we end up discussing it over dinner. A typical topic of conversation might be, "These images are taking up too much memory! Do you have any ideas?" Or I might say, "I'd like a character to perform a certain action. Can you create a program to do that?" It would probably seem like a pretty strange dinner conversation to an outside observer. When our projects are in critical phases and we have to work long hours, however, we might not even see each other! When my work is relatively light but my husband's project is at its peak of development, I feel like the wife of a sailor: "So long, darling! See you whenever!" I think it's a big plus to our relationship that we know each other's job so well.

When we both have the same day off, we'll often play games together. When we got married, we each had game systems that we brought to our home, so it's like an amusement park! We're especially enjoying the DS these days. Our favorites are Animal Crossing: Wild World and Mario Kart DS. Of course I'm so busy with Twilight Princess right now that I can barely think about anything else. If I have a chance, when Zelda is finished, I'd like to develop a game that consists of a lot of minigames. Zelda is a pretty serious, hard-core game, and I think I'm reacting to that by wanting to work on something a little more casual. Right now, though, I'm keeping bus by working extremely hard on Twilight Princess. This game won't betray what fans have come to expect from a Zelda game, and it will exceed their expectations in many ways, too. Please be patient; it'll be worth the wait!