Posted on February 03 2016 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Welcome to a new editorial series where I examine misconceptions some people have about aspects of the
Zelda series, its development, or even its surrounding fan base and community. For some readers you will simply nod your head along with this series. The goal, however, isn’t necessarily to target those that already agree with these points – rather the point is to inform and educate those that don’t know any better.
As with everything of course, many misconceptions with the
Zelda series and the surrounding community don’t have an exact definitive answer. This series goal isn’t always to define an absolute (though there certainly can be one, depending on the topic). Rather, the goal is to provide as much evidence and support as possible as to why I firmly believe that something is being misconceived. I will also try to detail out why such misconceptions exist in the first place.
The first topic is one that comes up rather frequently over the years.
“All these Zelda remakes are silly. They are causing delays of new Zelda games.”
If you’ve been around the
Zelda fan base often the last three years, chances are you’ve run across this comment on more than one occasion. The base idea behind it is rather simple: instead of working on new games, Nintendo continues to pump out remasters and remakes, delaying the release of new Zelda titles.
Again, as I warned at the start, some misconceptions don’t have definitive answers. This would be one of those. However, there is plenty to say that refutes the entire ideology behind these claims.
Zelda series has been getting remasters and remakes like clockwork ever since 2011: Ocarina of Time 3D in 2011, The Wind Waker HD in 2013, Majora’s Mask 3D in 2015, and now Twilight Princess HD in 2016. That’s four total remakes or remasters over a time span that only saw the release of Skyward Sword, A Link Between Worlds, and Tri Force Heroes as new games. In other words, remakes and remasters did outpace the release of new Zelda titles. However, let’s not confuse sheer amount of production with actual, concrete new game delays.
Remakes and Remasters Are Mostly Made by Third Party Studios
Let’s get this one out the way right now. Outside of
The Wind Waker HD, every other remaster or remake since summer 2011 has been created by outside studios. What this means is that the team actually crafting brand new Zelda experiences is virtually hands-off, sans Eiji Aonuma signing off on the project. This is easily verifiable by looking at the game’s credits. Heck, even the back of the box generally gives a great picture of who actually crafted these games. So, the idea that Nintendo’s Zelda team is crafting these titles and causing delays is simply a myth.
Rebuttal: But, certainly the money spent on those games could have been used to bolster the Zelda team and increase the rate of new game production, right?
Money not Spent on Remakes/Remasters Doesn’t Correlate to More Money Spent on New Zelda Games
Outside of the fact that business simply doesn’t work that way…anywhere, Nintendo has an extremely unique way they run their business and hiring process. While the argument is the money could be used to hire more staff, that’s thinking with a more progressively “American” approach to business.
In the United States (really, North America, Europe, and most everywhere else), it is very common for studios to hire on extra employees in the middle of or even at the tail end of a new game being created. They are generally only ever hired on for a set amount of months or until project completion, then simply let go. The sad reality of game development in most of these companies is that you’re primarily just an easily replaceable number. Job security is low, and you’re constantly looking for work or waiting for the next game in said series to get created so you can maybe get hired on again. You’re a contract employee – not a long term solution.
Now, that doesn’t mean people don’t get those cushy long term jobs; but in the world of bringing new people on for a project, that’s not generally how that works. You’re bringing in contract workers to finish or speed up a project in the short term, and then simply letting them go to cut costs when things are complete.
This is a valid way to run businesses, and many game developers often prefer some of the freedom offered with contract work. However, this isn’t how Nintendo works.
Nintendo views their employment as a destination job. You don’t just come to Nintendo to work on a project and hop ship – they want you there for life. They want to bring you on as a permanent member of their team. They don’t believe in these short term hiring periods, they believe in a shifting of internal resources. As an example, Monolith Soft just released
Xenoblade Chronicles X last year – chances are a large chunk of that development team has been shifted over to Zelda U so as to get that product out on time here in 2016. While in an ideal world you may feel they should just hire on a hundred extra workers full time to get Zelda games out more quickly, that’s also a significant commitment from Nintendo – especially during a time where they are still arguably trying to find some long term stability in regards to profits while on the cusp of a new hardware generation.
It’s just not feasible. The reason Nintendo outsources projects like this so often is because, first off, the projects will sell, while at the same time the projects are generally cheap commitments. If the financial gain in sales doesn’t make up for the finances spent on the outsourcing, it’s a very small loss compared to bringing on long term staff and still not selling enough. Nintendo likes to shift resources rather than create a massive influx of temporary staff. It’s arguably why their quality has remained as high as it is.
Rebuttal: Okay fine, maybe Nintendo shouldn’t go the route of western development studios in terms of hiring staff. Still, the Zelda team did create The Wind Waker HD. That’s like, a full year they could have worked on Zelda U, making the 2015 release a reality!
The Wind Waker HD Was Actually a Learning Tool that Helped Zelda U Development
Sometimes we forget that HD development was brand new to Nintendo when
Zelda U was first being conceptualized. That means there was a huge learning curve their entire internal studios needed to go through in order to better understand how to approach HD gaming. To us it’s just a resolution, but to developers it’s a massive leap in fidelity of their visual work – both programming wise and by pixel counts. A team of people who have never completed an HD game before certainly need a stepping stone – a learning period, as it was – to be able to get things done efficiently. That’s what The Wind Waker HD was. It helped, not hindered, Zelda U‘s development. Without that experience, it’s wholly possible this game wouldn’t release until 2017 or later, rather than sooner. Here is the evidence to this fact:
“Wind Waker is kind of a test pattern for the team. In converting Wind Waker, there’s a lot to be learned. We can’t change too much, because in changing one thing you can break something else, which is not something we want to do. But it’s a shared team working on both of those projects, Wind Waker HD and the new Zelda for Wii U. Every day, they’re learning something new. As we develop the controls for Wind Waker, they’re learning how to apply those controls in the Wii U version. There’s a feedback process where when something’s discovered in development for Wind Waker, all that information is fed to the Wii U team. So we’re working on those things, polishing as we go, and all of those things — it’s a learning process, it’s a test case almost, and we’ll apply all of those learnings that we’ve acquired in developing the Wii U game.”
Rebuttal: Fine, I get it. Maybe they have nothing to do with a real delay. Still, the games are coming out less often. There has to be a reason!
Zelda Games Are Releasing at Relatively the Same Rate as They Have Been the Last Decade
It’s true there was about a six-year period where it felt like
Zelda games were arriving every year. From 2000 to 2006, we saw the release of eight Zelda titles: Majora’s Mask, Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages, Four Swords, The Wind Waker, Four Swords Adventures, The Minish Cap, and Twilight Princess. What is often forgotten about this time period is how unique it was. There has never in the other 24 years of this amazing franchise been a release slate like this, because there has never been a time when Nintendo combined a bunch of unique situations at once.
Majora’s Mask was a direct sequel with reused assets. We haven’t seen that happen again until Spirit Tracks in 2009. It’s very rare that the series does this, as it’s only happened three times out of 18 games released. Also in that eight game span, there were three titles made by a third party studio – two of which were sister games released at the same time. To date, only Tri Force Heroes before or since has been a main line game primarily developed by a third party studio. There has also never been a sister game setup before or since. Again, a unique situation indeed.
The true outlier, however, goes beyond all of this:
The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Both of these games released three years after the console game before them. Eiji Aonuma has stated in more recent years that the three-year benchmark is his ultimate goal for new 3D Zelda games, and this is the only time in Nintendo’s history they achieved that goal.
You can call that six-year period the golden age of
Zelda if you want. We’d all love to get eight solid titles every six years with three home console releases (four if you count Four Swords Adventures) in that time span. But reality is that this is untraditional.
Before those six years, we had five total
Zelda games released over fourteen years. While the first two Zelda games on NES released extremely close together, A Link to the Past for SNES came nearly four years later. We then quickly got Link’s Awakening on handheld a year later, but it took six years before Zelda returned to home console in the form of Ocarina of Time on the N64. This to date is the longest drought of Zelda games in home console history. You think the wait today is bad? How about we push Zelda U to the end of 2017!
Fast forward to the post-
Twilight Princess world (let’s call this the beginning of the modern era). We had a quick turnaround for Phantom Hourglass in 2007 followed by reused assets in Spirit Tracks in 2009. We didn’t get a new home console game until 2011 with Skyward Sword. That’s a five-year gap with four games (bookended by home console releases). Since 2011 we got A Link Between Worlds in 2013 and Tri Force Heroes in 2015. We’re supposedly getting Zelda U in 2016. It’s another five-year span where we’ve again gotten four titles bookended by home console releases.
See a pattern there? The development cycle for new
Zelda games has been wildly consistent for the past decade. This is despite a move into the HD era and the 3DS adding, well, 3D into the mix. Only in the past five years have Zelda remakes really released in a consistent pattern, yet they haven’t actually impacted the overall release rate of brand new Zelda games. And I can think we all agree the release rate of the first five titles in the series was a lot longer and not an era we wish to revisit in terms of development time.
Rebuttal: Uh, Tri Force Heroes doesn’t count!
According to Nintendo, it does. According to the timeline, it does. And it’s not the first game to reuse assets, nor is it the first to do multiplayer. Not everyone likes every
Zelda title. That’s just the reality of the series we so love.
Obviously there are many cherry picked arguments that can still be made to support the idea that these games cause delays and hey, I don’t work at Nintendo, so I can’t 100% refute the prospect that they do – maybe Eiji Aonuma will clarify this if asked during E3 (and heck, we may do the asking ourselves!). But to me the reality here is that the facts don’t support the idea, and if the facts don’t line up. It’s a misconception.
*Banner art is by X-Mr-No-Name-Xx.