Interview:CVG May 23rd 2003

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The director of The Wind Waker, Eiji Aonuma, offers a fascinating insight into one of the greatest games ever made, plus discusses plans for the sequel and more! Full unmissable interview inside!

Original transcript at Computer and Video Games
Friday 23rd May 2003

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker without doubt ranks as one of our greatest games of all time. Link's sea-faring voyage of discovery is a profound masterpiece; a work of great beauty and astounding detail with so many memorable moments it makes us feel all funny inside just thinking about it.

And behind this great work stand two great men: producer Shigeru Miyamoto and director Eiji Aonuma, who have conjured a magical quest of staggering quality from their creative souls.

At last week's E3 even in LA we were fortunate enough to sit down with Aonuma-san for a fascinating insight into the creation of The Wind Waker, plus the truth about cel-shading, Wind Waker 2 details and much, much more.

Interview by Paul Davies

To begin, is there anything you can tell us about the sequel to Wind Waker? How far are you into development and when will we see it?

Aonuma: I am unable to give you any details right now. I am hoping to have a playable version ready by next year's E3, so I'm hoping you'll be patient and look forward to that.

As I did between Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, I will use the same engine and the same graphics of Wind Waker for its sequel. However, I do plan on powering everything up a bit.

Is it part of a series or do you just make each game standalone? Or is that dependent on the popularity of the previous game?

Aonuma: When creating a sequel to an original, I like to look first and foremost about what was good and bad with the original. However, when creating a game, I like to make sure it's a complete story within itself, so it doesn't require a sequel and there's no explanation needed - that is how I approach all my projects.

With regards to the graphical style, was it your idea to move away from the look of Ocarina and go with cel-shading?

Aonuma: Yes, I proposed it to Mr. Miyamoto as I felt it was the right way to go.

Why did you feel this was appropriate?

Aonuma: I tried to make something a little more realistic with the N64 version and I actually feel that took away from the playability of the game. When creating Wind Waker, I actually shrunk the characters a little bit, making them easier to manoeuvre, with simpler movements.

Right now, there's a really realistic looking Link in Soul Calibur II. That Link is not required to travel really long distances - if he had to it would take forever. Making Link smaller means he's able to travel faster and his movements are more direct.

Will the sequel to The Wind Waker be sea-faring again or do you plan to include a different mode of transport?

Aonuma: Did you find it a hassle to travel by boat?

I was playing it through in Japanese at first, so I didn't know about the fish who marks locations on your sea chart, but when I found that it was fine.

With regards Link's method of transport in Wind Waker 2, I still don't know. The play field has not been determined yet. In Wind Waker, because we decided to put him on the ocean, his method of transport was boat by default - it wan't that we specifically wanted to put him in a boat.

Can you give us a little background on how you came to work on The Wind Waker?

Aonuma: When we decided to release GameCube and make a Zelda game for it, I didn't think I was going to be responsible for it. But one day I walked into Mr. Miyamoto's office and said: "OK, what am I going to work on next?" and Miyamoto-san said: "You're not working on Zelda yet?" [laughs]

I don't know if there's a specific reason but it was Miyamoto-san's decision.

When you began the game, what were the biggest challenges you faced?

Aonuma: Because the GameCube was a new system, I had to learn how to develop for it and build a different engine - that's where I started and that was a big challenge for me. I did have the knowledge of 3D from N64 though, so that was something we overcame without too much difficulty. Also, the cel-shading was a huge challenge for me.

The Wind Waker is a massively important title with a controversial look, and must have been a very streesful project. Did you still have fun making it?

Aonuma: Actually with this project I was able to have a lot of fun. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older - I've recently turned 40 - but going into projects, while stressful, is always more of a challenge than anything else. I look forward to pleasing Miyamoto-san, and it's looking forward to his reaction that puts a good kind of pressure on me.

Why did you decide to stick with text-based dialogue rather than using speech?

Aonuma: With conversation, using text has always been Zelda's style - it's always worked that way. And another reason for keeping it text-based is because, when anyone reads anything - a novel, text on a screen - they're able to give it their own kind of flavour, their own interpretation and voice.

Rather than influencing that by making the on-screen characters speak, I intentionally wanted players to read the text. I don't know if you've noticed, but Link never speaks - this is also intentional as I want the player to create their own idea of who Link is, rather than giving him a voice.

What is it about Link that has captured the imagination of gamers for years?

As I said before, each player has their own version of Link. And because everyone has created their own Link, everyone can relate to him and have their own idea of who he is.

Does The Wind Waker match up with your original vision for the project?

Aonuma: I am not an artist. Granted I do have an image of how the game will look in the end, but what I normally do is try to convey the look and feel of the game to the artists - lots of minor details. The artists then take those words and create something on-screen for me. I'm very grateful that I have the staff that I do, because they usually come up with something more beautiful and elaborate than I could have imagined.

Going into The Wind Waker, I had an image that they were able to create and more. I'm very happy that I'll be working with the same staff on the next project, this time as a producer. But the planning department is the same, the creative department is the same, so I hope we can create something even greater than The Wind Waker.

Are you going to be working on any online titles?

Aonuma: I don't know where the company stands on this at present, but I'm not working on any online projects, nor have I heard of any online projects. One thing I can say is that, rather than online, Nintendo's focus this year is on connectivity with many games based on this. My take on connectivity is that it's one-room online gaming.

What games have impressed you at this year's E3, and are there any Xbox or PS2 titles you would like to see on GameCube?

Aonuma: Unfortunately I've been very busy this E3 and not had the time to walk the showfloor as much as I'd have liked. I did check out the PS2 and Xbox stands and tried a couple of the games. As for games I like, I've always had an interest in series games, seeing as though I'm working on one myself. It's always nice to see what other companies and other people are doing with their titles, and how their titles are evolving, making we wonder about where my title should go in the future.

With regard to games I'd like on the GameCube, my head is full of Tetra's Trackers and Four Swords, so I haven't had a chance to think about that yet! [laughs].

Have you been working on Zelda series since SNES or before? Did you work on the original Zelda?

Aonuma: I'm still a student! [laughs]

I guess what I'm driving at is, when I spoke to Miyamoto once, we were asking him about online and so on, and he said that games should be about communication, and that communication was a really strong aspect of the Zelda series. Not just the characters communicating with each other, but also players getting stuck and communicating with their friends. I was wondering how much of that element you were conscious of including in The Wind Waker. Are there puzzles in there you deliberately make difficult so that people will talk about them?

Aonuma: With regard to making puzzles too difficult, I would never do that to our fans! [laughs] If anything, I'll make it so there are a series of steps required to solve the puzzle, but in the end I want the player to feel: "Hey, I'm really clever for solving that by myself!" To force someone to go and ask their friend is probably not a good way to go.

And is there one element you try to include in all of your titles? Nagoshi-san [currently working on F-Zero] says it's speed. Is there one for you?

Aonuma: I really value communication; the relationship between the player and the characters around them. The thought of having just one character progressing alone is not something I want to happen in my games. The way my character meets others, relates to them and leaves is really important.

It's good when he says goodbye to his granny.

Aonuma: [laughs]

And the little snotty kid as well!

Aonuma: [laughs]

Can you tell us about any life experiences that have helped in/had an impact on making Zelda games?

Aonuma: I recently had a baby - he's just over a year old - and I find myself taking walks with him quite often. When I'm with him, even if I'm going down the same street I've walked many times, I get a different view of the world just because of his reactions to it.

He looks at things I haven't noticed and looks at things that aren't there, and sometimes it's a little scary! [laughs] I do find that that's a little bit of an adventure with my son and a different kind of communication, and you might see aspects of that in the following game.