Interview With Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma
(The Wind Waker interview) 06-DEC-02
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is coming out December 12 in Japan and March 24, 2003 in the U.S. In other words, the game's almost donean occasion that producer Shigeru Miyamoto and director Eiji Aonuma can't wait for. GamePro.com was able to attend a conference earlier this week with the two men behind the team that created Link's latest adventure; the Q&A session that followed is printed in its entirety below. Enjoy the interviewand, as Mr. Miyamoto likes to say whenever he's asked about Zelda's graphics, try the game out before you form your opinions!
Shigeru Miyamoto, Producer: Good evening; I'd like to thank all of you for gathering here. You've all gotten a look at Zelda today...I was hoping we could show it to you in English, but Bill [Trinen, the interpreter] is pretty busy, so... (laughs)
It's been about two and a half years since the last time you saw a new Zelda; the last one used more realistic graphics, but I guess about two and a half years have passed since then. So, considering the fact that we completely redid the graphics, I think two and a half years was a pretty good pace for a Zelda game. I had promised everyone before that we'd have Zelda complete before the end of 2002, and I'm relieved we managed to keep this promise over in Japan, but I'm sorry we couldn't do this for the U.S. version. While Japan has Zelda, at least we don't have Metroid, which came out in America first. Also, this new Zelda has a much more in-depth story and more realistic characters, so I hope you can appreciate that this takes more time to localize.
I was the producer of Zelda this time around instead of director; those duties were handled by Mr. Eiji Aonuma over here. The production work's gone along very smoothly; I've worked with him on both Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask was his independent work, so I felt very secure with him as director. As the producer, I've had to a play a couple of different roles. First off, we've had around four large conferences since the project began where we went over the project's progress and decided how the story should proceed. Secondly, starting a few months before the end, I joined in and participated in the build creation and fine tuning process. There weren't any major changes in the game spec during the big meetings, and during that final period I was more just looking over the work instead of diving in myself, so it was a pretty easy project for me. (laughs) For me it's been a taste of what it's like when I'm not doing everything by myself, so it's given me some good insights on the whole development process.
This game does a great job at keeping the old history and world of Zelda alive, and I think the team's done a great job at giving you this virtual world to explore and grow in. It's a very Zelda-like game.
Q: When did development begin on The Wind Waker, and how far after Majora's Mask was that?
Miyamoto: It was before that, even.
Eiji Aonuma, Director: We already knew that the GameCube was coming when we completed Majora, so we already begun planning by that time.
Miyamoto: If you count all the graphic development, then it took over two and a half years. The actual direction and scriptwriting didn't begin until right after Majora, but we were already drawing graphics and experimenting with them before that. That's why we were able to show that movie with the more realistic Link fighting Ganon at the Nintendo Spaceworld show that summer.
Q: Since Link gets his green clothes in the Wind Waker intro as part of the game's history, I'm wondering: how many Links are there? This doesn't seem to be the Link from the last two games.
Aonuma: Well, we think that the hero of the game changes with each title in the series. A new Link arises with each story, in other words. As for how many, well, that depends on how long we keep on making Zelda games. (laughs)
Q: Could you talk a bit about the concept of wind in the game, how it's used and where the idea came from? It seems like it's the main concept of the game.
Aonuma: This game takes place on top of a large ocean, and if you've got a story based around an ocean then you'll need some kind of sailboat to get around the world. Of course, you need wind to pilot a sailboat, so one of our objectives was to have wind blowing constantly throughout the game to allow the player to sail all over the world.
Miyamoto: Even before the GameCube we've wanted to implement wind in more games. Some of the stages in past Super Mario games used wind, for example, but I don't think many games have ever really done it right. So with the move to the GameCube, part of the challenge we laid out for ourselves was to implement this effect well.
Q: Where does The Wind Walker fit into the overall Zelda series timeline?
Aonuma: You can think of this game as taking place over a hundred years after Ocarina of Time. You can tell this from the opening story, and there are references to things from Ocarina located throughout the game as well.
Miyamoto: Well, wait, which point does the hundred years start from?
Aonuma: From the end.
Miyamoto: No, I mean, as a child or as a...
Aonuma: Oh, right, let me elaborate on that. Ocarina of Time basically has two endings of sorts; one has Link as a child and the other has him as an adult. This game, The Wind Waker, takes place a hundred years after the adult Link defeats Ganon at the end of Ocarina.
Miyamoto: This is pretty confusing for us, too. (laughs) So be careful.
Q: What do you think is the coolest thing you were able to put into Zelda that wasn't possible before the GameCube came along?
Miyamoto: Well, first off, with the shift to disc-based media, this game now has a lot of very personalized characters that all have their own behavior; the designers were able to use all the disc space to add a lot more life to the game. You can see a lot of characters moving around on the screen at the same time, each with their own animations and AI routines; these scenes are much more active now.
Q: You're probably tired of talking about the game's graphics, but do you think the new look will attract a new audience to the game, andon the flipsideare you worried about older gamers being turned off by it?
Miyamoto: I think that people understand this after they play the game, but everyone stops caring about what the graphics are like once they start playing. People may worry about the graphics when they're just watching them, but they stop worrying about them after they sit down with it for a while.
When we make a game we don't worry about graphics as much as whether the game is of a high enough quality to appeal to lots of people. I think this game is a high-qualty title, but it's targeted equally towards both children and adults. The graphics aren't something necessarily dumbed down for kids; you'll find that the game is governed by a very strong sense of realism. You'll realize this once you try the game.
Now, when I talk about this realism, I'm talking about the world itself. I'm not denying that a more realistic graphic tone is necessary for some games. The problem is that, the more realistic a game gets, the more jarring it is when something unrealistic happensfor example, when a character bumps into a wall or gets hurt and his facial expression doesn't change. We've tried to include very natural-looking forms of expression in this game, and we've tried to create a world where everything seems in its natural place. From that point of view, the game is very realistic.
Of course you don't have to think about all this while playing. (laughs) We just built it to be fun.
Q: More and more games are using voice acting to fill out characters; why have you decided not to use voices in the Zelda games?
Aonuma: This has always been a tradition for Zelda games, but we've found that we can show everything we want to express in Zelda without having to use a lot of voice acting. I can't say that it'll always be this way in the future, but for now we've decided it's the most suitable way to express this world.
Another thing I should say is that, as you play through Zelda, you build your own image of Link and all the characters you encounter. If we had everyone speaking in voices that don't match how you think they should sound, this image you built would be destroyed, so one of our goals was also to preserve this type of story immersion.
Q: The two N64 Zeldas looked very similar to each other. Will we see this art style continue for later Zelda titles, or maybe to other, completely different games?
Miyamoto: I think that, with this Zelda, Link's proportions are just as important as the toon-shading in building the game's art style. We're releasing a GBA game along with this, and when customers look at the games they look at the box art on the games first. The two boxes are completely different from each other, though, and box art tends to look nothing like the game itself anyway (laughs), so we try to avoid making games where the two art styles, box and game, never match.
Of course, if we did a more action-oriented game like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, then the main character's proportions wouldn't work at all. I don't necessarily think that this current art style is the best one for all games. A lot depends on what the team wants to do; it's not like all of Nintendo's games are going to look like this from now on. Besides, Nintendo is always trying to do something different from the rest of the game industry, so if everyone starts using toon shading, then we'll probably quit and start using incredibly realistic graphics. (laughs)
One of the things that really surprised me when we first showed the Zelda movies was how the press and other people thought we had some policy to make Zelda more kid-oriented. That really startled me because all we were thinking on the team was that this art style would be really cool to see. It was surprising to see people think that there was some other agenda behind it. Nintendo's strategy isn't to make kids' games, it's to make unique and entertaining games that appeal to a broad audience.
Q: Did you look toward other artists' work in anime or manga when designing the game's look?
Aonuma: We don't really draw inspiration from any particular person or title. We've certainly been influenced by the things we read and saw as children and want to make video games like that, but it's not like we're basing our work off of anything. We do have some anime fans on the teamI wouldn't go so far as to call them otakuand we have some people who are fans of certain movie directors and such. But if one of them suggested making a game based right off something they saw in what they liked, the idea probably wouldn't get past the drawing-board stage.
Miyamoto: Things like My Neighbor Totoro, for example, really shocked me. I was amazed that stories like that were possible in the anime genre. The fact that they managed it without it seeming forced or out of place was very impressive. Something like that, that is innovative within the media it's in, is what we like to do with the games we make ourselves. Laputa was the same way.
Q: You enjoy innovating in the games you make. Outside of the visual design, what did you do to innovate in this game while keeping it a Zelda game at its roots?
Aonuma: Well, it's a little hard to explain myself since I'm the one making it, but for example, I've been working on Zelda's controls for several games now, so they've been worked and reworked time and time again. As a result, there isn't any need anymore for large-scale changes to the controls, but at the same time, we saw there was room for making the game control smoother and easier for more people. We have the new controller this time, so we've tried to adjust the control scheme to make it easier to use.
Miyamoto: When it comes to Zelda games, there have always been discussions on how to make it accessible to new players while keeping it fresh for longtime fans. As a result, most of the items in this game are the same as those seen in older games. I was worried this would make the game seem old to some people, but at the same time, if you add too many new items, handling them gets complicated and it becomes a barrier for more inexperienced users. Besides, most of the puzzles in Zelda are solved by thinking them through with your mind instead of using items. We've got the boat now, too, and a lot of the items work differently out on the ocean, so I think that adds a lot of new abilities for experienced players to experiment with.
Q: The music is very impressive in this game; it seems to borrow a lot from classical themes. Is it the same person who did the music for Ocarina and Majora?
Aonuma: Koji Kondo has done the music for the entire Zelda series, including Ocarina and Majora, and he also composed the music in this game. You can hear snippets from the Ocarina soundtrack in the game, and there are also bits from A Link to the Past here and there. You could say this is part of our effort to remind users that The Wind Waker was made with an eye towards the complete history of the Zelda series. That was all on Mr. Kondo's end, though, actually; I just left all that to him, so it's neat for me, even, to see how it's all turned out.
Also, we normally have around two or three musicians working on each game, but for The Wind Waker we've actually got five or six people making sound for the game. I guess it doubled, then... (laughs) But that shows the scope of what we're making this time around.
Q: What was the impetus for the GBA connectivity?
Aonuma: When we were building the design for this game, Mr. Miyamoto said that Zelda's always been a game for one person only, so why don't we make a game that multiple people can enjoy? The GBA option was our response to that idea.
Q: Regarding the recent release of Ura Zelda in Japan: are there any differences between the original Ura/Ocarina of Time games and the GameCube ports? What made you decide to port the games over? Do you unlock anything after beating them? Is it coming to the U.S.?
Miyamoto: We made Ura Zelda on the 64DD, but the game design didn't call for any of the system's special features, so nothing needed to be cut out when porting it to the GameCube. It was a pretty easy port.
As for why we ported it, the 64DD was only released in Japan and even then it was only available to network subscribers, so we had been trying to find a way to make Ura Zelda available to more people for a while now. The problem was how. Cartridges cost a lot to make, after all, so on the N64 we would've had to sell it in some way or another. We were considering plans to sell it through some magazine or another at one point. However, now that the media is much cheaper, it became easier to do something like the preorder bonus to get it to as many people as possible.
The bonus disc is only available in Japan right now, and we haven't decided yet how we'll distribute the game overseas. However, I hope that people won't have to spend a fortune on auction sites to get their hands on the game over there; I want to find a way to get the game to everyone that wants to play it. We haven't announced anything yet, though, so I'll have to ask you to wait until we do.
Ura Zelda's not really a completely different game [from Ocarina of Time]; it's more of something you'd try after completing Ocarina first. Some parts of Ura will make you laugh, and some will give you a lot more trouble than before. So don't expect it to be a hugely different title; it's just something for people who've finished Ocarina to enjoy. As a result, nothing's unlocked in the GameCube Zelda if you finish the game.
Q: How hard was it to port Ocarina over? I'm assuming the N64 and GameCube are pretty different from each other. Will we see any other N64 ports like this?
Miyamoto: Well, even though the GameCube's a disc-based machine, a lot of its architecture is the same as if it were a cartridge-based machine, so the port process was really pretty simple. The GameCube's capable of much higher resolutions, too, so the game runs at four times the resolution of the N64 original. As for whether we'll port any other games, that process is pretty simple for us, but the issue is figuring out which games users want to play the most. So there's nothing preventing us on the technical side, but we'd need to think over any other games first.
Q: It was a pleasant surprise to see the N64 host two Zelda games. Are there any plans at this point to make a second GameCube Zelda?
Miyamoto: We're pretty tired. (laughs)
Aonuma: I can't think about that at all. (laughs) I'm all burnt out right now. Of course, at the end of each project, there are always things here and there we wanted to do but didn't have the time or resources for, and I'm sure every member of our staff has those sorts of things in their mind right now. So I think it's very possible, if not likely, that we'll see another Zelda project very soon. I'm just not sure whether I'll be the director again. (laughs)
Q: How did the idea for Link's eyes come about? I remember Link's eyes being blue in earlier screenshots of the game; what made you change them to the current black color?
Aonuma: When we started building the toon-shaded graphics, we made an effort to remove all the minute details in the character models and make everything just look as smooth as possible. As a result of that, Link's eyes started to become the most expressive part of his design. Moving these eyes around, and making that part of the gameplay, ended up becoming one of our missions. Also, when the player is moving Link around and sees his attention diverted to this or that thing in the game world, it makes it seem like Link's aware of his surroundings; it enhances the feeling that the player's really there with him. The eyes also became an important part of Link's expressions and animation throughout the story. So, basically, Link's eyes came about naturally as we developed the character and settings.
Miyamoto: At one point in development, we were thinking about changing Link's eye color throughout the gameturning them bright red during battles, that sort of thing. Of course, we realized that you're usually behind Link when he's fighting, so you'd never see this anyway... (laughs) And some people also thought if we did this too much, then it'd just make Link look weird and unrealistic. So that's why we decided to make them as they are now.
At the very beginning of the project, Link's eyes were completely black. After we released the first screenshots, though, we got a lot of mail from people in the U.S. and Europe about the eyes, suggesting colors and so on. In the end we kept them mostly black, but you zoom in really close, you can see that they start out jet black at the bottom and very gradually graduate into a dark shade of green up at the top. We experimented with putting rings of blue around them and so on, but it looked nicer this way. So those may have been some of the screenshots you've seen. You're pretty sharp. (laughs)
Q: I normally don't like comparing video games directly to movies, but the use of dynamic music in Zelda makes the score sound more like a soundtrack, where you can emphasize fighting with certain sounds. What were some of the challenges you faced when implementing that, and how successful do you think you were?
Aonuma: Well, it's not like we were particularly thinking about movies when designing the sound for this game. We just thought that adjusting the music during battles, based on how the battle is going, would make fighting more exciting. We've used this technique here and there since Ocarina, but with the resources we had this time, we definitely tried to expand on that ability as much as we could. It makes the game sound more like a movie, but that wasn't necessarily our goal.
Miyamoto: We try to come up with ideas that work best for interactive games, not just ideas based off of movies and other media. I think the music during battles sounds very natural and flows much better with the game. We tried appealing to different emotions by using different instruments and melodies, not necessarily the way movies do it, but in a way that makes you respond to the music with your senses; something that really moves you. It may sound like a movie, but I think we succeeded in what we did ourselves. We used a lot of different instruments; we sampled an Irish harp, my mandolin, all sorts of things. It resulted in a very interactive soundtrack, something that draws the player into the experience.
Q: There's a concert the night E3 ends this year; are you going to be playing the banjo?
Miyamoto: (laughs) Oh, I haven't gotten much finger time in lately.
Q: I have a question about the size of the game. Can we expect something comparable to the N64 titles?
Aonuma: The record finishing time for the testing department is around ten hours right now, I think. Considering you could finish Ocarina in six hours if you tried, I think that gives you an idea of how much bigger this one is. (laughs) Of course, you need to be an incredible player that knows where everything is to beat it in ten hours; for normal players, I could see it taking forty hours or so the first time.
Miyamoto: Well...I don't want to talk about how big the game is too much. (laughs) I mean, there are a lot of gamers out there that don't have that much time to play games. I don't want people telling me that Zelda sounds too big for them to deal with. I know a lot of people think that Nintendo's games have gotten short lately, but you will definitely not have that problem with this Zelda. (laughs)
While playing the game, I kind of feel like The Wind Waker is basically divided into three distinct parts, like a stage play. And that was just something I felt while playing; it wasn't something deliberately designed by us. Of course, a lot of the events can be played out of order before the finale, and you don't even have to go through a lot of the events to finish the game, so I think what you see will depend a lot on what kind of player you are. It's very interesting in that aspect.
Q: A lot of Nintendo characters, like Mario, Zelda, Link, and Kirby, have been around for many years nowsome games selling better than others. Has there been any discussion on closing the occasional franchise? Do you ever maybe get tired of doing it year after year?
Miyamoto: Well, I think we still don't have enough internal developers at Nintendo for what we want to do. We try not to use teams any larger than absolutely necessary for our games. That's why we sometimes have second parties make our products, and we're hiring more personnel for our internal teams as well now.
So it's not like we ever sit down and say "Let's stop making this franchise," but we're always thinking about new ideas and how to put these ideas into games. That's why I'd like to keep on making new characters too, like Pikmin.
Q: Does Link age throughout the game?
Miyamoto: That's a difficult question...we didn't decide how much we should talk about the story beforehand (laughs).
Aonuma: Within our internal design, Link does mature in the game.
Miyamoto: You'll have to see the ending to find out what happens.
Q: Now that Zelda is just about done, do you have any other large, high-profile GameCube titles in the pipeline?
Miyamoto: Oh, there are some in the works. Of course, if I talk about them any more then people will think that Nintendo's just making the same things all over again, so I'll have to ask you to wait for further announcements.