Exclusive Interview: Dan Owsen Talks Zelda Timeline

Mases HagopianMay 20th, 2011 by Mases Hagopian

Dan OwsenDuring my hands on with Ocarina of Time 3D over a week ago, I got to meet with several Nintendo of America representatives. One of these gentlemen was Dan Owsen, a longtime member of the Nintendo team. He started with the company all the way back in the late 80’s and has worked with Nintendo Power Magazine, on various Nintendo Player’s Guide, as a localization manager, and in the late 90’s he ran Ask Dan, a question and answer section on Nintendo of America’s website. While he left the company for several years, he is now back as a Localization Manager.

His Zelda credentials are pretty extensive as he worked alongside Shigeru Miyamoto’s R&D team in Japan. Dan has been credited in A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, and Ocarina of Time as the English Script Writer. Additionally, he was an editor for the official Nintendo Player’s Guide for A Link to the Past, as well as an editorial consultant for both the Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time official player’s guides. His name is also well known in the Zelda Theory community as he has made a couple of timeline related quotes in the past and you can find some of them here. During my short stay with the folks from Nintendo, I got to talk to Dan about the Zelda Timeline, and you can find out the exciting information he shared with me after the jump

Mases Hagopian: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but you’re sort of a celebrity in the Zelda Community. Interviews you did 10-15 years ago are still quoted to try to prove the validity of various timeline theories.

Dan Owsen: You know, at one point we had drafted a timeline and wanted to make it available online. We showed it to the guys in Japan and they basically told us that it would be best if we didn’t post it. They do have a timeline that has continuity between the games but they wanted to keep it open for how each player views the chronology of the series. There are a lot of connections between the games, but they do have a timeline that has continuity. It’s up to the player to place all the pieces together.

Mases Hagopian: So there seems to be a disconnect between you guys (Nintendo of America) and the developers in Japan.

Dan Owsen: I wouldn’t call it a disconnect. Just that the developers feel that posting a full narrative would take away from the players’ imagination. Part of what makes the series so special is the legend that spans across the series and they wanted to preserve that in the players’ vision. It’s also why they have never given Link a voice. The story is told as if the player is Link. Giving him a voice would eliminate that attachment.

Before I analyze the series of quotes above, I’d like to point out that this is a very close quotation of what was said, but might not be 100% accurate. The reason being was that I was not allowed to have a recorder in the room during the press demo. After the demo, I typed up a transcript of what Dan and I spoke about. Our conversation was significantly longer than this and in particular we talked about Dan’s involvement with A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, more about the localization process, the various Nintendo Player’s Guides, and much more. I’ve delayed releasing this material as I’ve tried to reach to Dan to get some clarification about some of the other things that we talked about. I’m still trying to get in touch with him, and any future interactions I have will likely be posted here at the site. I’d also like to point out that I did not know Dan Owsen was going to be at this event until I actually walked into the conference room and met him, thus I didn’t have time to prepare pre-written questions for him.

On to the quote. I was a bit surprised when he specifically stated that while he was working with Nintendo of America, they actually drafted up a full Zelda Timeline. The Nintendo of America folks wanted to release it, and had it been up to them, a timeline would have been posted on the Nintendo of America website. The Japanese developers are really the ones who are secretive about the whole thing and it seems clear that they value what the Zelda timeline has become. It really has become a Legend in its own sense.

A Zelda enthusiast by the name of Triforce also got to meet with Dan Owsen and the same Nintendo of America representatives during the press event in San Francisco. Triforce posted his experience and thoughts in a video interview and you can see it embedded below. He was reluctant to give away the developers names, but after personally contacting my Nintendo representative about the matter, I was told that it was okay to mention Dan by name.

So pulling out the important stuff, it appears Dan also affirmed to Triforce that a timeline arc across the series does in fact exist. However, Nintendo is reluctant to release such a timeline, because it would take away some of the magic that makes up the series. The legend will no longer be a legend, it would simply just be a story. Basically, it eliminates the player’s imagination to come up with their own ideas and theories. The mystery and uncertainty with the Zelda story is part of what makes it such a beloved franchise and Nintendo is fully aware of this.

In April 2003, Dan Owsen commented about the Zelda Timeline in a private message and had this to say,

The creators did tell me a few times that they didn’t want to set any story points in stone, as that would restrict them in future games. I worked on three Zelda games screen text. Even when writing the text, it was funky because they were very picky about the wording so it wasn’t specific. It made it sound strange, but hey it was their game so I did the text the way they wanted.

So it seems that Dan has been consistent over the years and we can affirm that the Japanese developers are deliberately vague on the topic. It’s not just that they are vague on it, but even when presented with a timeline to be posted on Nintendo of America’s website, they advised otherwise since they appear to be protective of what they have created. The Zelda series is special and much of that reason is due to the mystique of the Zelda Timeline. It’s been this way for the better part of the last 25 years and while Japan might have an official Timeline Document locked away somewhere, it doesn’t have too much of an impact on what we can come up with on our own. It appears for us Zelda fans, we can always discuss, debate, and live the Legend that they have created.

This fragment of my interview with Dan Owsen has been added to our Zelda Interviews page, as well as our Developer Timeline Quotes page. It was really an exciting opportunity to meet Dan and he was very insightful throughout the press demo. I’ve made a Forum Post in the Zelda Theory section of our forums, so be sure to head on over to discuss this interview with other Zelda theorists. Alternatively, you can let us know what you think by posting in the comments below.

Related: Developer Timeline Quotes

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