Interview:Game Informer May 17th 2004

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(Originally found at

During the Game Developer's Conference (yeah, that long ago), Game Informer Online Managing Editor Billy Berghammer got an exclusive one-on-one interview with Nintendo's new Zelda producer and Deputy Manager of EAD's Software Designing Department, Eiji Aonuma. We asked Mr. Aonuma about his new position, the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, Wind Waker 2, and the Nintendo DS.

Since this interview's embargo was lifted today, we can finally share it with you. Realize that back in March when this interview was conducted we were unaware that The Wind Waker 2 was actually the new "mature" Legend of Zelda title that we were teased with at during E3.

Billy Berghammer: Yesterday you announced that you were the official new producer over the entire Zelda franchise. You've obviously worked with the series for a long time, and with gamers, the Zelda series is held in such high regard. How do you feel about that? Are you nervous about your new position?

Eiji Aonuma: The first title that I was producer on is Four Swords Adventures. Right out of the gates I ran into a lot of problems with that – there are many things that went wrong. So, obviously I realized quickly that there are a lot of high expectations for the Zelda franchise, and that Zelda fans are expecting a lot out of me, and I know that I have a mountain of things to still learn about the franchise. So, I'm going to be going forward, talking with Mr. Miyamoto, having conversations with him as often as I can, learning more about the franchise and continuing to develop it in ways that people will look forward to.

BB: You said yesterday that Mr. Miyamoto was the "ultimate" producer over the Zelda franchise. How much say does he have over everything in comparison to you?

EA: Well, Mr. Miyamoto is still absolute. What he says goes. (Laughs) In that sense, things really haven't changed that much. Obviously, I as producer cannot go to Mr. Miyamoto and say we can't do this, or hey, we have to do this because this isn't something I fully understand, and demand things like that. So, we'll talk and exchange ideas and decide on things together. It's fairly similar to the situation where I was director and Mr. Miyamoto was producer. In this case, I'm now producer, and Mr. Miyamoto is looking over me, so it hasn't really changed. But we've gotten to this situation where we now have other directors working on Zelda games. So, we still have Mr. Miyamoto there, and I just want to make sure that everybody is aware that he's still very much involved with the Zelda franchise, and still "upending the tea table" every once in a while. It's just kind of a new development for the series that's going to allow us to do things differently.

BB: You said yesterday that when you played the first Legend Of Zelda title that it wasn't a game that appeals to you. Do you find that kind of ironic that it's your job to direct this franchise?

EA: (laughs) Yeah, I do think it is kind of ironic. I remember working on Zelda, and getting close to the final stages of development and thinking to myself, "Wow I can't believe there was actually a time where I couldn't stand Zelda." Obviously, that opinion changed when I played A Link To The Past. I played that game, and really had fun with it. In that sense, for me, it's kind of like following in Mr. Miyamoto's footsteps, where, I'm sure with the original Zelda there were things that Mr. Miyamoto wanted to do but he couldn't do, where he tried, and with The Link To the Past he introduced these new elements into the Zelda franchise. And likewise, in my work I'm going on and looking at the things that we hadn't been able to do. Maybe technologically speaking with the GameCube, or new hardware where we want to introduce these new elements. For me, it's really more like an extension of what he did, or in the next step of that the work that he's been doing has been passed on to me, and now I'm moving in the direction that he's moved in.

BB: Link is a creation of Mr. Miyamoto, his flavor, the "Zelda-ness" as you described. Now that you are the director, what kind of "Aonuma-ness" have you interjected that might be different from Mr. Miyamoto?

EA: I think in my speech yesterday, I think I elaborated on the thoughts that I had about the first time I played A Link To The Past. And the idea of seeing my actions reflected on the screen and seeing these actions that I've done on screen leading to this chain reaction of events that take place that then effect the storyline, and that bring me through the Zelda storyline, and the feeling and effect of that, and how much fun I had with that.

For me, it's going to be looking to expand on that, and expanding the way that the player can experience that reality of being in that Zelda world and being a part of that Zelda story.

BB: As far as the storyline, there was kind of a certain progression of the way Link progressed through the original Legend Of Zelda, to The Link To The Past, To Ocarina Of Time, and the rest of the titles, until Wind Waker. Miyamoto stated that the Link in the Wind Waker was really another Link. Can you explain that? It's a little confusing for some people that this is a different Link. Did Wind Waker start a whole new chapter, or a whole new story?

EA: I think the easiest way to explain this is that Link is always the main character in Zelda titles. With new games, naturally people are going to think how does this Link relate to the Link from the last game? The thing is, when making a new Zelda game, we don't necessarily start with the storyline first, we start with the game, and we think, "What's Link going to be like in this game? What kind of a character is he going to be, and what kind of a personality is he going to have?" In that sense, for us, we didn't necessarily feel there was a need to have an infinitive connection between everything, because it was this idea that Link is the hero no matter what. He's here, and he's part of the story. Obviously for people that are fans, it's something that they pay a lot of attention to. If you start thinking about that, then you'll have questions, say, if this Link is related to that Link in this way, what does that say about the four Links in Four Swords? How does that all fit in?

To me storyline is important, and as producer, I am going to be going through, and trying to bring all of these stories together, and kind of make them a little bit more clear. Unfortunately, we just haven't done that yet.

BB: That's something that, you (Bill Trinen – Localization Team) and I have talked about with the release of the Zelda compilation disc, cleaning up some of the spellings like Ganon, and making sure everything is cohesive. Maybe that's an American thing – us wanting to know how it all works together. I guess that leads me to my next questions. How do the Links in The Four Swords Adventure relate to the overall story line? Or is it just a subchapter or something like that?

EA: The GBA Four Swords Zelda is what we're thinking as the oldest tale in the Zelda timeline. With this one on the GameCube being a sequel to that, and taking place sometime after that.

BB: I've been playing through the Japanese version of Four Swords, and I was wondering why the game was broken down into 8 chapters with 3 subchapters per chapter.

EA: In designing the overall scale of the game, and looking at how big it was going to be, we decided from the get go that we wanted to make a level based game, where you were going through and clearing stages. Zelda, over the installments, have always been a big adventure, and requires a lot of time to finish. Because of the way the game was designed, it becomes difficult to stop halfway through, take a break, and then come back later to try and finish it again. Part of this problem stems to the fact that in the Japanese market where a lot of game consumers say that they don't have the kind of time to devote to a game of that epic scale – to play all the way through, and complete it. So one thought that we had this time with Four Swords, was if we go through this method of level-clearing type of gameplay, that gives people the opportunity to sit down and play it, and pick it up again sometime later. It's something that you don't have to play all the way through in one sitting.

BB: When you were making Four Swords for the Game Boy Advance, was the thought process that the next step was to make a Zelda connectivity title for the GameCube?

EA: I actually wasn't involved in the Game Boy Advance Four Swords game – that was before I became producer of the Zelda series. So there was another person at EAD that was responsible for the supervision of that title. I, of course, was solely dedicated to the production of the Wind Waker at that time. This time around, as producer, our initial idea was how do we take connectivity and make a connectivity Zelda game. In looking at the possibilities, obviously, the first thing we thought of was well, we had Four Swords, which was a linked up Game Boy Advance game, and the things that you could do connectivity wise, and hooked up like that opens the door to a game like that. That is kind of where the focus went this time.

BB: Could you explain the story line in Four Swords Adventures?

EA: If you recall the ending of Four Swords on the Game Boy Advance, ultimately the four links were able to defeat Vaati and seal him away, and protect the world from what he was trying to do. In this game Vaati returns, but he returns because Shadow Link appears in the beginning of the game, and basically causes this problem which forces Link to draw out the four sword. In doing so, it releases Vaati back into the world. The problem is, in the beginning of the game, that you don't really understand why Shadow Link has done this or for what purpose Shadow Link is being used to do this. That becomes and integral part of the story line.

BB: Square-Enix tried to make a single player element out of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and it was sort of lacking, to say the least. In playing Four Swords alone and with friends, you've seemingly pulled it off. What were some of the challenges that you faced balancing the single player and multiplayer game of Four Swords Adventures?

EA: First off, I'm very happy to hear that you enjoyed both modes. Our first idea in making Four Swords, and making a connectivity Zelda game was essentially to make a game that would be most fun multiplayer as a connectivity title. But then, we think back and say well, the single player element has always what has been most important in the Zelda series, up until now. So we thought it would be very important, to again include some type of single player mode that can be enjoyed by Zelda fans. To do that, obviously as you've seen, we incorporated the formation system. What that allowed us to do was let a single player to go through and play the same levels and the same maps that normally you'd need four players to clear the levels and puzzles with. In doing that people would say, oh if the single player game and the multiplayer game are exactly the same, obviously there's no reason to play it both ways. I think what people are going to find is that is completely incorrect. When you play it alone you have a single goal that you are working towards, and that's getting to the end, and you are entirely focused on that. When you play in multiplayer you kind of have this goal of getting to the end, but at the same time you have this other goal of trying to be the one who collects the most stuff, and ultimately wins.

So, it leads to essentially, you know, you have four people playing, and each of those players are going to have their very own style of play, and that's going to bring a lot of variety into the game play. Then you have this unique element of the nature of the game, which is cooperating to the extent that you have to, and then competing to get the rewards that are the result of that cooperation. So it really mixes up and kind of adds a completely different vibe from the style of gameplay that you get from the single player experience. I think if people were to sit down, like you did, and play it single player, they'll find that that's fun, and then play it multiplayer they'll find that that is fun too.

BB: Is Ganon at all in Four Swords Adventures?

EA: If I tell you that, it won't be interesting by the time you find out. (laughs)

BB: Is there anything different that players will see if they only play it single player, and not multiplayer – or visa versa.

EA: There are some slight changes. Obviously, technically, there's four ways to play the game. You can play it single player, and you can play it multiplayer with four players. Or you can play it multiplayer with three or with two. So there are some very subtle differences with the puzzles that you will see in the levels. Partially because, if you're playing this single player, and you have a formation, you can do different formations with the four links, whereas if you're playing with three players, you may not be able to get all those formations, or the ones that you can do with four players. So in that sense, you'll see some slight changes in the puzzles.

BB: Are there any unlockables in Four Swords Adventures?

EA: You know we had so many discussions up until the tail end of development – we should do this, and we should do that – there was so much that we were talking about doing that I can't remember what we ended up doing. (laughs) But, I'm pretty sure there's something.

BB: What's your favorite part about Legend Of Zelda: The Four Swords Adventures?

EA: Actually, the individual director of this game Toshiaki Suzuki, is a big fan of the Zelda series. So one thing that he did with this game that I really want to praise him for and the work that he's done on it, was he went back and looked at a lot of past Zelda games, and he took elements almost from each game. So if you're playing through, and if the only Zelda game that you played was The Wind Waker, you'll look at that and say that this is very familiar to The Wind Waker. Or for people that know Ocarina very well, might be able to pick up little hints from Ocarina. Obviously, it's not like we have the same exact same puzzles in these games, but kind of puzzles that evoke some of the same ideas and will give people a sense of familiarity and at the same time getting something new. He did a really good job with it and it's almost kind of a typical theme for the Zelda game – each new Zelda game has a lot of elements of past Zelda games in it, and he did a really good job of putting all the elements in this one?

BB: You replaced rupees in the game for force gems. Why was this decision made, and what's the difference between force gems and rupees?

EA: If you've played through Four Swords on Game Boy Advance, you'll see that in that game you do collect rupees, and it's a multiplayer game and so it makes sense for people to be basically scrapping for money, and trying to collect the most money. This time around, in thinking that we really wanted to make a game that has both a very strong multiplayer and single player mode, we realized that in single player mode, it didn't seem right than in the single player mode the objective is to collect money. That felt very un-zelda-esque. In thinking about how we deal with that issue, there was this idea that well if we change it so, essentially if you are building up or storing up a sort of power in your sword, so you can defeat enemies, although it's the same collection, and you're collecting these gems, your motivation for that is completely different. As you play Four Swords Adventures, and you collect the gems, you'll notice the more you collect the more power gets built up in your sword, it allows you to defeat some of the enemies. Instead of collecting money, you're collecting the essence of power and putting it into your sword. That is another example of Mr. Miyamoto upending the tea table. (laughs)

BB: You're going to be the producer on the upcoming Wind Waker 2. Will Wind Waker 2 be a direct sequel, or will it be kind of a departure like how Majora's Mask was?

EA: You'll have to wait and see. If it'll be a direct sequel or not, it is being called Wind Waker 2, so what does that mean? (laughs)

BB: You've hinted that Wind Waker 2 would have some sort of relationship to the Nintendo DS. Would this be some sort of DS – GameCube connectivity title?

EA: I guess what I was trying to say was with the development of the DS, and with the development of this new platform arriving. We're going to look at the Zelda series, and take that in new directions on the new platform. Some people took that there would be some connection between the GameCube and the DS. The Wind Waker 2 is a new game with new ideas. As far as the DS, you'll have to wait and see.

BB: Would you like to make a Zelda title for the DS?

EA: Yes, I do.