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Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker ;
Get the inside scoop on the people behind the games. Who makes the games, how and why?
Developer Interview Part I
Nintendo of America recently hosted an interview with two of the masterminds behind The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Producer Shigeru Miyamoto (who directed the original Zelda titles, including Ocarina of Time) and Director Eiji Aonuma spoke with members of the gaming media via video teleconferencing from Japan. Portions of the interview are presented here, providing a brief glimpse at the making of a masterpiece.
The interview began with a few opening comments from Mr. Miyamoto.
Note: Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Mr. Miyamoto: Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining us today. It's been about two and a half years since Majora's Mask was released. Of course it featured a more realistic visual style, but now we have a completely new Zelda ready. Considering that we started from scratch -- The Wind Waker has completely new graphics and gameplay -- the fact that we were able to complete this in two and a half years is really good for a Zelda game. I'm relieved that, as I promised, we were able to complete the game and launch it in Japan by the end of the year. 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. has for the end of the year. This time around 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 the right amount of time to localize this properly for the U.S. and have it out early next year. I apologize.
This time around, I'm not actually the director of the game. I'm the producer. Mr. Eiji Aonuma sitting here to my right is the director. It's actually been nice to be able to work as the 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 a producer, I play a few different roles. One of them is getting involved early in meetings designed to determine direction. Then I get involved later in the development, working on the fine-tuning and helping to make improvements. This time around it was actually quite easy -- a lot of meetings were held throughout the development and we didn't have to make many changes to the game spec. In the end, it wasn't so much me coming in and having to change things around ... it was just me being there to give input and to make sure that 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 feel for the development, rather than having to create 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 now.
Of course, Zelda games have a long history. The world of Zelda has a very strong tone that lets you know you're playing a Zelda game. This time, I really think we did an excellent job of bringing out that flavor, as well as enhancing the whole experience of the player going into the world and interacting with it. I think we've really done a great job.
When did development on Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker begin?
Mr. Miyamoto: Right when Majora's Mask ended we already knew that the Nintendo GameCube was going to be our next platform, 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 Nintendo GameCube hardware itself, it would be more than two and a half years ago. The reason we were able to show you the more realistic-looking Zelda battle at Space World 2000 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 afterward that we began working with the director and the programmers to go ahead and create The Wind Waker.
In the beginning of the game, we see Link receive his trademark green tunic. It is explained that Link is the Hero of Time. Just how many Links are there?
Mr. Aonuma: In our opinions, every Zelda game features a different Link. A new hero named Link always rises to fight evil.
The wind plays a large role in this game. Where did the idea come from, and how is it used?
Mr. Aonuma: This time we decided to set the stage out on an ocean. We began 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 is blowing constantly through the land to let the player sail around.
Mr. Miyamoto:Actually, for a long time we've wanted to be able to use wind in games. We've had windy stages in the Super Mario games before, but really it wasn't until we were able to use the technology of the Nintendo GameCube and some of the visual styles possible with it that we were able to 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 Wind Waker.
Where does The Wind Waker fit into the overall timeline of the Legend of Zelda?
Mr. Aonuma: 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. You'll also find hints of things from The Ocarina of Time that exist in The Wind Waker.
There's also a more complicated explanation. If you think back to the end of The Ocarina of Time, there were two endings to that game in different time periods. First Link defeated Ganon as an adult, and then he actually went back to being a child. You could say that The Wind Waker takes place 100 years after the ending in which Link was an adult.
What did Nintendo GameCube technology allow you to achieve which would have been impossible before?
Mr. Miyamoto: 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 through animations. All of the characters you'll see in the game do a lot of different things. There are many 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 a variety of things -- each with their own AI [artificial intelligence] performing independently of one another. We think that that has really enlivened the gameplay experience.
Developer Interview Part II
Do you think the new graphic style used in The Wind Waker will attract a new audience to the game? Conversely, do you think older gamers may be turned off?
Mr. Miyamoto: I think that when people first see the game, the graphics are the first thing they talk about. 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. You forget 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 an audience. The Wind Waker is a very high quality game. We think that its graphic style 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 it's 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 graphic style. By using the term "realistic," I mean the qualities of the world itself. I don't mean to deny the value of more photorealistic graphics, but the more realistic graphics get, the more unrealistic things such as bumping into a wall or getting hurt might seem. If not expressed properly, it seems out of place.
This time we've tried to have very realistic facial expressions. 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 react realistically. From that 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.
This game does not feature extensive voice acting. Why?
Mr. Aonuma: We've obviously carried this on from the previous Zelda games. We can express what we want within the game without having to use a lot of voice acting. While I can't say for certain it will always be like that with Zelda games, the way we've done it for The Wind Waker is suitable for the world. Also, as people have played Zelda over the years, they have formed their own ideas of how Link might sound. If we were to put a voice in there that might not match up with someone's image, then there would be a backlash to that. So we've tried to avoid that.
Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask for Nintendo 64 shared similar visual styles. Do you think the next Zelda will use the same visual style as The Wind Waker? Also, since you're so pleased with the art style do you think you will extend it to other titles?
Mr. Miyamoto: With Zelda, it's not so much that we want to go with the toon shading as it is that we are really happy with the proportions of Link in the game. We like the fact that we can have the package art match the artwork in the game. In the past you'd have a Game Boy Zelda game and a home console Zelda game where the art styles didn't match. On top of that, the art style on the boxes didn't match the art style in the games. 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 with which to do that.
On the other hand, if 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 this game's graphic style to other titles, we place great value on the creativity of our different development teams. So, we wouldn't want to try to apply what one team has done to others. Another thing that's important to us is that Nintendo always try to do something that the competition isn't doing. If we were to see a trend where toon shading become the trend in game development then maybe we would change our direction toward realism.
Actually, when I first saw the toon 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?" 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 we want to find the best way to make the gameplay experience entertaining for everyone.
Regarding the anime style, did other artists' work inspire you while working on this game?
Mr. Aonuma: 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 it probably inspired us to want to create a videogame in a similar style. I don't think I could say that there was one particular inspiration.
Mr. Miyamoto: 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" impressed me 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 a 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.
How do you successfully create a game that's new and different, while at the same time maintaining a distinct Zelda feel?
Mr. Aonuma: I've been working on Zelda play control since The Ocarina of Time. We really liked that system and thought we could make use of a similar system, while improving it for this game. We did that to provide a new feel to the game. It also makes it easier for the player to control Link 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.
Mr. Miyamoto: Also, we've had discussions about how to make a game that's accessible to people who have never played the Zelda franchise before, while at the same time making 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. We decided that trying to introduce newer and more complex items just 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, trying to find a way to solve the problems that are proposed before them and figuring out puzzles to move into the next room. We've tried to focus on ways to improve that. However, since we have the sailboat in this game we've been able to take some of the existing items and apply them in ways which allow them to be used on the boat. We think that it's really going to be thrilling for players who've experienced past Zelda games.
Developer Interview Part III
The music in The Wind Waker is great. Has the same person worked on all of the Zelda games? Also, how much emphasis was placed on sound design?
Mr. Aonuma: Throughout the Zelda series Koji Kondo has been responsible for the music composition, and in this project he was responsible again. Because the story takes place 100-plus years in the future after The Ocarina of Time, they 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 far in the future from when they were first heard. So, you'll hear familiar themes from The Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask perhaps.
Also, we've reworked -- I think -- some of the background music from A Link to the Past as well. 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 different sound 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 we also wanted to have very high sound quality in The Wind Waker.
Tell us about the Game Boy Advance connectivity. Why did you decide to implement it as you did?
Mr. Aonuma: When we started development, Mr. Miyamoto said he knew that Zelda games had always been one-player. But this time he wanted us to allow, say, a father to interact with his son or any second player to interact with the main player. We thought that this was a good way to introduce that.
It was great to see the Nintendo 64 host two Zelda titles. Are there any plans to bring a second Zelda to Nintendo GameCube?
Mr. Aonuma: Having just finished the Japanese version, and with the English version still on the way -- and with 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 the time. I think that 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 Nintendo GameCube Zelda game.
Whether or not I'll be the director on that, though, I don't know. [Laughs]
Can you tell us a little more about Link's eyes in The Wind Waker? How does their constant movement affect gameplay? Also, a side question to that, we remember seeing that you made Link's eyes blue at one point. What changed?
Mr. Aonuma: Once we decided to go in the toon shading direction, we thought it would be important to use the technology as much as possible so we could draw out the natural features of the world. We wanted to show Link's expressions, 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. It became part of the natural process of figuring out how to make Link feel more alive and aware of his surroundings. It was through this natural process that we began to put in items that would attract Link's attention.
Mr. Miyamoto: 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 his eyes were bright red while he was fighting, and there were some different opinions on that. Obviously, one of the concerns was that you could only see the color of his eyes if the camera was looking at him from the front. But, even if you could see his eyes we thought it felt a little strange. So, ultimately we decided not to do that. When we originally released some of those pictures showing Link with a different eye color, I received a lot of mail commenting on it and suggesting what color we should or shouldn't use.
It was interesting, but in the end after much experimentation we decided to go with the eye color we have now, which is a predominantly black color 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]
Like in the movies, it seems you emphasize things in the game -- like fighting -- with music. What kind of challenges did you face in producing these effects and how successful do you think you were?
Mr. Aonuma: Actually, I don't think we tried to adopt any methods used in movies. We carried the battle music over from how it was used in The Ocarina of Time. It would be more strange if you went into a battle and the music didn't change. We were just trying to enhance the mood, not so much to make it feel like the movies.
Mr. Miyamoto: 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 to the music in the battles. When you hit enemies, new instruments are added. Apart from that, we found that we could use particular instruments to draw out certain emotions. I really wanted them to try to create music that the player might get up and dance to -- something which could produce that great of a reaction. When you first get in the sailboat, the music should make you 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. Our goal was to make it interactive and to draw the player into the experience.
In terms of the size of the quest, can we expect something similar in size to the N64 versions?
Mr. Aonuma: In our testing department, we obviously have someone who can complete the game faster than anyone else. 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 forwards, start to finish. Ten 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 The Ocarina of Time the fastest completion time was about six hours. From that perspective, this game is very large. Probably around 40 hours of play time.
Developer Interview Part IV
Mr. Miyamoto: I would actually 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 long. 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 that this is done in three acts, almost like a play. That is a realization I came to not as a producer, but while I was playing the game. I thought, "Oh, I cleared part one. Now part two. Oh, here's the finale." That is also a neat aspect of the game.
There are actually a lot of events you can do at any point during the game --- a lot of stuff which isn't necessary to complete the game. I think it's unique and interesting in that sense.
Has there ever been any discussion about retiring The Legend of Zelda series?
Mr. Miyamoto: One thing that I still believe is that within Nintendo we haven't achieved a point where we have all the development resources we would like to have. Frequently that's why you see us using second-parties and third-parties to work on our franchises. We haven't ever talked about retiring franchises, but really what we like to do is to bring in more ideas and more creative things. Kind of like we did with Pikmin, which brought in new characters.
You mentioned that there are several acts in The Wind Waker. Does Link age over the course of them?
Mr. Miyamoto: In our eyes, we think he matures in the game. As to whether or not he grows old, we want you to play the game and find out for yourselves.
Now that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker -- which will no doubt be one of Nintendo GameCube's biggest releases ever -- is complete, do you think you'll have anything this big again for Nintendo GameCube? Do you have other products with this high production value going on in the background?
Mr. Miyamoto: 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 Nintendo GameCube. I think you can expect some big announcements coming from us in the future.