Interview:GameSpy June 6th 2004

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This article can be viewed over at <a href="" target="new">GameSpy</a>.

Nintendo does not turn over the reins to its top-tier game franchises easily. Yes, Rare made the Donkey Kong games and Retro Studios does the Metroids, but Donkey Kong was more than 10 years dormant when Rare began Donkey Kong Country and Metroid has never been popular in Japan.

The Zelda franchise, on the other hand, is in the inner sanctum of Nintendo®'s holy of holies. The Zelda and Mario games are the top of the arc; and, according to Shigeru Miyamoto (who created both franchises), Zelda games typically cost much more than Mario games to make.

Miyamoto has handed the Zelda torch to EAD deputy manager Eiji Aonuma. During E3, Mr. Aonuma met with GameSpy to discuss his take on the past, present, and future of the Zelda franchises. Here's what he had to say:

GameSpy: From which Zelda game does your new adult Zelda take its inspiration?

Aonuma: One thing that that has inspired this game is the adult portion of Ocarina of Time. This time we wanted to do an adult-themed Link, so I guess I would have to say that the inspiration was Ocarina of Time.

GameSpy: Were you a fan of the original Legend of Zelda on the Famicom?

Aonuma: Actually, as I mentioned at the Game Developers Conference, I could not stand the original Zelda.

When I first played it, I did not know what I was doing. I was overwhelmed by enemies and I got killed right away. It's not like I was a horrible game player or a great game player, but I did not know what to do and I kept dying and dying, so I ended up tossing the game away.

When I played A Link to the Past on the Super Famicom, I really enjoyed that game. I thought it was great. The reason I enjoyed that game was that there were so many things to do other than fighting enemies. You could lift rocks and chop grass, and the more you did this, the larger the world that you could travel through grew. I really felt like I was playing along with Link through this adventure

GameSpy: What kinds of games did you like during the Famicom days?

Aonuma: There was the "Famicom Detective" series. It was not released in the United States. It was a text adventure.

GameSpy: What was the name of the series?

Aonuma: "Famicom Tante Club." "Tante" means detective, so it was the "Famicom Detective Club." Mr. Sakamoto (Yoshio Sakamoto), the creator of Metroid -- those were his games.

GameSpy: Have you ever gone back to play the original Zelda?

Aonuma: Yes. Of course.

I played it when we came out with the GameCube Zelda collection. I thought I would try it out again, and I went and didn't like it.

GameSpy: The graphics are very primitive.

Aonuma: To be honest, I just do not have time. It wasn't a comment on the quality of graphics. I just did not have time for it.

GameSpy: So do you like the Mario games?

Aonuma: To be honest with you, I just don't like action games that require you to jump. They're scary. The jumping factor kind of freaks me out.

GameSpy: When did you start with Nintendo?

Aonuma: I started when I was 25, and I have been with Nintendo for about 16 years.

GameSpy: Were you a video-game player before that?

Aonuma: No, I never played video games ... not very often. I was just a poor student. I did not have the money.

GameSpy: What is your educational background?

Aonuma: I went to an art university and studied design. I worked on mechanical figures that moved. (Here the translator interjects: "I am not exactly sure how to translate this. What he is describing is not exactly a robot, it is more of a doll type of figure.)

GameSpy: Animatronics?

Aonuma: Not quite to that level. Mr. Miyamoto really enjoys that type of ... puppet. He liked my designs for those types of figures. The name Mario came from Marionette.

GameSpy: I've always heard that the name Mario came from Mario Segale, the landlord who rented the warehouse to Nintendo of America?

Aonuma: There are many different stories. The one I know is Marionette. A lot of people say it was the janitor or the warehouse manager.

GameSpy: So did Miyamoto-san hire you?

Aonuma: I don't think he was directly responsible, but I think he definitely talked to whoever it was who did the hiring. At that time he was just on the director level, so he was not somebody who could make those kind of decisions.

GameSpy: What are some of your past projects?

Aonuma: I started working on my first Zelda franchise about eight years ago. Before that, I was not working under Mr. Miyamoto. I was in another group doing design work and doing drawings, but nothing major.

The title of one game was Marvelous. (Marvelous, or Mouhitotsu no Takarajim, was an RPG for the Super Famicom.) The game was never localized and sold in the Unite States. I also did all of the character design on Mario Open Golf.

Those are the only ones I can think of at the moment.

GameSpy: Was Ocarina of Time an apprenticeship for making Zelda games?

Aonuma: Actually, the game that I mentioned, Marvelous, was heavily influenced by A Link to the Past. Mr. Miyamoto saw the game and asked me to join him on Ocarina of Time, and I got to incorporate the same types of things in that game -- dungeon layouts, enemy placement, and things like that.

I do not believe it was some kind of apprenticeship for me to become the go-to Zelda guy, it was just a job that I was given.

GameSpy: What was your title on Ocarina of Time?

Aonuma: Game system director.

GameSpy: My understanding is that during the last days of the creation of Ocarina of Time, Mr. Miyamoto was taken off the project.

Aonuma: It was the opposite. At the beginning of the project, his attitude was "Okay, guys, I will let you go ahead and make this game." At some point, he said, "No, no. I've got to get in here." He jumped in and took control of the direction. It was not him beginning then leaving, it was him watching and then taking over the reins.

I think maybe we were moving a bit slow for him. Obviously, Mr. Miyamoto had a large passion for Ocarina of Time. He could not hold back anymore. He jumped in and started giving direction.

GameSpy: Any idea what percentage of the game was complete when he took over?

Aonuma: Tough question. Maybe 50 percent, I guess.

GameSpy: What was your title on Majora's Mask?

Aonuma: For Majora's Mask, Mr. Miyamoto was the producer and I was the director.

Because we had worked together on Ocarina of Time, he relied on me quite a bit. We bounced ideas off each other.

GameSpy: Majora's Mask was a very different direction for Zelda games.

Aonuma: Of course a lot of the ideas were mine, but it was a staff effort and everybody contributed. The driving force behind it was that we had a very short development time. Because we wanted to make the game in a short period of time, we came up with using the masks to innovate gameplay and cut down on development time.

GameSpy: That was the first time that two Zeldas ever came out within a year of each other? (Not including the Zeldas for the Phillips CD-i.)

Aonuma: I believe that was true. It was about a year and a half difference. That was because Ocarina of Time took too long. It took about three years. We said, Okay, we can't do that again. That was too long. This time let's create a Zelda game that doesn't take so long.

That was when we came up with the idea of using the same system again. Our goal was to shorten the development cycle. Using that as an impetus, what kind of new and creative thing could we do?

GameSpy: Did you or anybody at Nintendo have anything to do with the three Zeldas for CD-i?

Aonuma: I had nothing to do with them. I do not know how that happened or how that worked. I have no information on them.

I must admit, they were a strange characterization of the Zelda games.

GameSpy: How many Link games are under way right now?

Aonuma: Three. We have a Game Boy Advance Zelda, a DS Zelda, and this GameCube one.

GameSpy: The DS game has not been announced.

Aonuma: That is correct. It is something for the future.

GameSpy: Does it have a title?

Aonuma: There is no name yet. We don't even have a name for this one (the adult Link) yet.

GameSpy: There has never been a Zelda game at the launch of a Nintendo console. Will we see one at the launch of one of the next two systems?

Aonuma: I cannot say for sure, but generally we have a new launch and then there is a Mario game. Usually, Mario comes first, but there is no rule that says that Mario has to come first.

Would I like to have a Zelda game at launch? Of course I would, but I do not have any specifics on that right now.

Eiji Aonuma exudes a quiet air of confidence throughout the interview. He cannot be unaware of the huge responsibility that comes with leadership of the Zelda games, but shows no signs of concern. He has worked on every Zelda since Ocarina of Time and he is comfortable with his team's ability to carry on the tradition.