Interview:Electronic Gaming Monthly June 2005

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An interview with Twilight Princess director Eiji Aonuma, originally appearing in the June 2006 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

EGM: Let's start at the beginning, or at least the beginning as far as the public eye is concerned. Were you at the Nintendo Press conference [during E3 industry tradeshow in Los Angeles] when Zelda was unveiled for the first time, and everyone who saw it just went nuts?

Eiji Aonuma: Actually, as soon as I arrived in my hotel in L.A, Nintendo people were congratulating me, saying "Nice job!" and patting me on the back. I was like, "What? What did I do?" Then I learned that the Zelda video [had already been shown] without my knowledge. So I found [Zelda creator and Nintendo honcho Shigeru] Miyamoto and asked him, "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you schedual it so I could be there?" He just said, "Oh, sorry, I forgot." Just like that. [laughs] Later on I saw a video of the unveiling, though - saw people standing, clapping their hands, even crying. I was very impressed.

EGM: Why do you think the audience had such a strong reaction? It was crazy, even for a Zelda game.

EA: Well, [it might not be the answer you're looking for], but actually, that kind of reaction eas partially expected. I worked on editing that trailer myself, and I specifically wanted people not to realize it was a Zelda game at the very beginning. What we showed was simply a horse, gradually building to the close-up, and then people finally realize it's Link, it's a Zelda game. If people didn't get excited then, I was in trouble. [Laughs] I knew that there was a demand for a photo-realistic Zelda - that we couldn't deny.

EGM: On to the game itself: what can you tell us about the setting for this new Zelda game?

EA: At the very beginning, Link is a cowboy living in [a small rural community called] Taoru Village - not in [the usual Zelda kingdom of] Hyrule. Hyrule does exist, but it's a long way away. Actually, they raise cows in Taoru to sell to the kingdom of Hyrule. The two places have a friendly relationship with one another.

There are several other villages, and every year the kingdom of Hyrule gathers them all together for a kind of festival where all the villages can communicate with each other. Each year, the chief of the village is supposed to attend the festival, but this year, the chief orders the young man [Link] to go instead.

On the way to the festival, Link is going to encounter some kind of accident, which eventually leads him to the main adventure.

EGM: Will this Zelda be about rescuing the Princess again?

EA: Yes, the story will involve Zelda, and the story will involve Ganon, but of course the plot won't be identical to [those in] past Legend of Zeldas.

EGM: Where does thi Zelda fall in the overall series' timeline?

EA: I can't really go into that, partially because I want to keep it a secret, but also because we haven't decided yet. There are some kinds of... unstable, uncertain ideas that we're working on. Depending on what course we choose in the process of development, the final ending may change.

EGM: Is it safe to say that there is some major gameplay element we still don't know about, like the sailing in Wind Waker, that will remain secret until just before the game comes out?

EA: You're right. [Laughs]

EGM: Is that why the game name still doesn't have a subtitle? Will the full name give something away?

EA: We don't really know about what we're going to do with the title at this point. [It could work the other way around] - maybe there will be some kind of mystery about the title, and somewhere in the course of the gameplay, you'll realize its meaning.

EGM: From what we've played, the combat feels exactly like it does in Wind Waker - we noticed you can still shields, knock off helmets, etc. Do you have any changes planned?

EA: [Remember how] in Wind Waker, if the enemy comes within a certain range of Link and you press the A button [at the right time], sometimes Link will do a special attack? We thinked that worked very wel, so we're thinking about intensifying that aspect with this game. We've already added some things, like a jumping downward stab. We're going to incorporate more of these cool-looking performances [and a few other changes]. People are going to say that this game is pretty different from Wind Waker.

EGM: Besides combat and the graphics, how else will this game be different from Wind Waker?

EA: About the setting, in Wind Waker it was the ocean. I really cannot tell you what kind of setting we're going to adapt for this new Zelda, but I can say we are really trying to expand the sense of scale. Before, whenever we made 3D games, we shied away from using too many big objects. If they weren't necessary for specific gameplay ideas, they became an obstacle. But in this game, we are trying to be more realistic. [In] this horse-riding battle, you can see [it takes place on] a huge land, even if [it's mostly empty landscape]. That's why we need the horse from the very beginning of the game. We want people to feel that this is a huge land they're playing in, and without a horse, it's impossible for you to explore. Also, sometimes you're going to see something that's just vast, even though it's not [involved in gameplay] - something huge or something very tall. We want to realize [that sense of awe] by presenting things realistically.

EGM: I know you got so many questions about the graphics for Wind Waker and now this name Zelda - do you get tired of talking about the graphics all the time?

EA: No. After all, I have a designer's backgrounds myself, so I know how important the visuals are. A change in graphics can give a perfectly different impression to game users - I know all about this. But I should say it's not very easy for me to explain why [we] use this visual style here, why [we use] that graphic style in other games. I'm kind of forced to make some reasonable, rational background explanation in order to persuade people to understand why this is better than the others. It's not very easy. In my mind it's the emotions you get from one visual style that are different from another [style]. Whenever we work on a game, we have [lots of] internal discussion about what kind of graphical style we need to adapt. Graphics are very important.

EGM: Looking back, what do you think about the reaction to Wind Waker's cartoon-style graphics?

EA: I know that before the game shipped, there were many debates and arguments about the graphic style. But as soon as we launched Wind Waker and people started to play with it they said "We understand now. This is the reason why you this graphical style this time." Likewise, we're very hopeful that when we launch this new Zelda game, people are going to appreciate it without any furthers questions [and] think, "OK, that makes sense."

EGM: True, once people actually play Wind Waker, the visuals don't bother them, but do you think a lot of people never even picked it up just because of how it looked?

EA: Well, yes, that's unfortunate, but it's true that [with] graphics... people like certain graphics, and people don't like certain graphics. It's very clear for each different individual. So I'm sorry for that, but what I can tell you is, we are pretty confident that we were right about the [cartoon] approach for Wind Waker. Without that approach, we couldn't tell enough about the story. So whenever people have some doubts, ll I can say is - this is a very Japanese expression - "You may think it's a trick, but try it and see."

EGM: Let's move on to things we've seen in the last two video trailers you've released so far [check if you missed them]. What's with all the cats, for example?

EA: We're thinking about incorporating some ideas where Link can communicate with animals, one way or another. I can't elaborate on specifically how. [But] the reason you can pick up cats early in the game in Taoru Village, for example, is [because] we wanted people to understand you can touch the cats, you can play with them. After leaving that impression, it'll become easier for us as developers to have complex ideas afterward, where the players are willing to approach the animals.

EGM: What about where all the ghosts appear? Is that Link using the Lens of Truth item to see invisible stuff?

EA: You may be right - it's one of those [mechanics] where, after solving riddles, what's invisible can become visible. But once again, I can't elaborate on how that works in that specific case. Please look forward to the actual game. [Smiles]

EGM: And that shadowry figure on our cover with his or her back to Link?

EA: Very sorry, but we'd like to keep it secret. People can take your cover as a big mystery. We're not sure when we want to break that information - maybe [at the next E3 show] in May or maybe not. As a hint, you can also see a kind of castle in the background scenery...

EGM: Wind Waker had a fantastic connectivity feature where a second player could play on a Game Boy Advance hooked up to the Gamecube to help Link. Are you planning on anything similar for this Zelda?

EA: Wll, I liked the connectivity feature in Wind Waker very much, and I'm hopeful that we can create that kind of play experience for other games. What's cool about Wind Waker's connectivity is that you can get some additional information on a real-time basis. Even though it may not be "real" real time, somehow we may be able to reproduce a similar gaming experience. Maybe a second character [in this new Zelda] can get access to certain information and help the main player. As far as the character the other player controls - Tingle - I found out some American people didn't like him very much. So, we need to think about what kind of character we're going to use. [Laughs]

EGM: So would this new system use the same GBA-GC Link Cable setup?

EA: No, we really want everything to be realized with a Gamecube and a disc, nothing else. [With connectivity], the downside is you need the Link Cable and you need the GBA. For those who don't have everything, the idea of creating something through connectivity, even if it's very good, is [pointless]. So what I'm thinking is, maybe we can reproduce a similar gaming experience without the Cable or GBA.

EGM: In the movie trailer and on our cover, we can see a wofl howling - can you tell us anything about that? There's some speculation that maybe Link is a werewolf...

EA: Hmm... Sorry, confidential.

EGM: In the early version we played, we didn't notice any voice work - just the usual grunts and yelps and so on. Is that the plan for the final game?

EA: Last year, I was asked that same question by the press. "Will Zelda have voices?" My answer was, "Let me think about it." But as soon as those articles were printed, Mr. Miyamoto immediately rejected the possibility. Seriously, as far as this new Zelda is concerned, we really cannot see the whole reason why we would need to incorporate voice-acting.

Having said that, however, I'm [still] thiking about [it] ... some kind of voice reaction, even a simple one - like "yeah" or "oh," just like that. Maybe we can expand it from there.

EGM: Why not just give everyone real voices? more and more games are doing it these days, and it would seem to fit in nicely with Zelda's new "realistic" motif.

EA: Well, for example, if every single character talks to each other with actual voices, it may be interesting at the very beginning, but not so interesting when the game is in progress [and you grow accustomed to it]. But, for example, if all the communications are [via] text, and then someone suddenly speaks in voice, and all throughout the game there are only one or two characters who use voice to communicate, that should [stay] interesting.

EGM: Will the overall game still follow the familiar Zelda mold? You have a town or towns, then a dungeon, fight a boss, and so on?

EA: Well, the basic structure is just like that, yes. As with any adventure game, the area you can explore gradually expands. We, we have the [overworld], [and] we have the dungeons. Other then that, we're thinking about incorporating some other elements in terms of the game system itself. But once again... that's one of the most important and crucial elements [we'r not talking about yet].

EGM: Wind Waker has some stealth elements early on - any plans for more of that in this game?

EA: I really don't know why, but I love that kind of stealth action. Maybe it's because I liked it when I was a child... The feeling of walking about and doing something secretly.

Since most of the time in Legend of Zelda, players have to engage in sword fights; it's very active and looks cool, but once again, in tersmf oa making a good contrast, I think working in some quiet, silent, and stealthy moves is a good idea. So, I'm willing to incoporate some of those stealth-game ideas.

EGM: The very first time we saw a realistic Legend of Zelda for the Gamecube was way back in 2000 when the system was first unveiled. Is any part of that early demo, any assets or ideas, being put to use?

EA: I believe there's nothing that they're working with [from that demo]. As a matter of fact, the staff members who did that demo have moved [on] and are working at Nintendo in]Tokyo.

EGM: Speaking of realistic Zelda, I don't know if you'll recognize this. [Shows screenshot of CD-i Zelda]

EA: No... is that really Zelda? [Laughs]

EGM: Yup. It's from the CD-i game Zelda's Adventure. Very realistic though, don't you think? [Everybody laughs]

EA: Whenever I think of a very photo-realistic Link - for example, if a live actor is going to play Link - I wonder if he can actually look cool. Link in that attire, especially with the green cap abd all that - can anyone look cool in that? Or maybe everyone would look like Tingle? [Laughs]

EGM: Funny you should mention Tingle.. [We show him a picture of a Zelda fan dressed a Tingle]

EA: [Laughs] How old is he?

EGM: Hard to say, could be anywhere from his early 20s to 30 or so...

EA: I'm pretty sure men over 30 shouldn't do this. [Laughs]

EGM: OK, so maybe not the CD-i games, but is there anything from other Zelda titles, such as Four Swords or The Minish Cap, you've enjoyed that you want to bring to this new title?

EA: The kinstone idea in The Minish Cap was proposed by Capcom, and that was great. [Kinstones are medallionlike items that you find one half of and match with halves carried by other characters to unlock chests, caves, or secrets.] Even though you've passed through the world before, [by matching kinstones] you find there are still unsolved mysteries here and there, so you explore the same areas once again. Even though we aren't going to reproduce the same thing in the next Zelda game, I'm thinking about incorporating something like it.

EGM: After Wind Waker, you joked that maybe you wouldn't work on the next game. But here you are.

EA: In fact, when I finished Wind Waker, I asked Mr. Miyamoto, "Please give me some other assignment." He said, "Let me think about it." [Finally] he told me, "OK, you'll be the producer on the next Zelda." I said, "What? I wanted [something else]." But he told me, "Rather than working on details, you can coordinate and supervise and concentrate on making it a better game." [So] I was interested in taking the assignment.

EGM: Nine years of nothing but Zelda. You must be always thinking about it, at lunch, in your dreams...

EA: I'm really not tired of making Legend of Zelda games, even after all these years. But do I dream about games? I don't think so. Then again, when I'm taking a shower, my mind is often occupied with Zelda. Without realizing it, I'll just keep the shower running. My wife winds up very upset - but that's a kind of routine I need to have. [Laughs] That's nothing new. What I've been doing in the past, I'll probbaly be doing the same in the future.