Interview:GamesRadar November 9th 2011
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GamesRadar November 9th 2011
GamesRadar: When you sat down to compose the Zelda overworld theme, did you ever think that you'd be working on the same series 25 years later?
Koji Kondo: Not at all!
GR: How does it feel to have your music played at an event like the 25th anniversary concert?
KK: I'm very happy and very honored.
GR: How has your experience been composing music for Skyward Sword?
KK: Actually, I only composed one song for the game... (laughs)
GR: Oh, which one?
KK: When you first power the game on and you let it sit, and you see the movie that tells the history and backstory of the game – it's the song that accompanies that.
GR: So how was it working with other composers on a series that you've worked on for so long?
KK: With each new Zelda world that we create, we always try to add new elements to the music that we use to portray those worlds. So with each new game, it's really nice to be able to bring in some of the younger composers and bring new staff to each game to allow them to bring in some of their new ideas and compose in a way that helps create a new feel for each game. This time around in particular, because we're using a full orchestra on many of the songs, and because we're trying to create a very grand-sounding soundtrack to match the grandness of the sky world in the game, I think it should feel very nice and fresh for people.
GR: Speaking of full orchestra, when you first started, there were so many constraints on what game music could be. Is it easier or harder for you to compose without those limitations now?
KK: I think each method – the more primitive hardware with limitations and the newer hardware with the greater degree of freedom – each method has its own challenges. When we were working with limited notes, the challenge really was what can you add to the music within that limited note structure to make it sound robust and more full, and that was the challenge back then. Whereas now, when you have this ability to use any instrument, you have to be able to focus on and look for that main pillar and main theme, and how do you then leverage the freedom that you have in a way that will create the music you want without it feeling like it's gone too far. How do you distill down what's available to you in a way to create music that really suits the themes and scenes that you're creating music for.
GR: So are there still principles you keep in mind when composing videogame music compared to other types of music?
KK: I think one of the big differences between movies and games is that with movies, the music is generally always trying to convey an emotion or a feeling of the moment in the movie. With games, you have moments like that, particularly in things like cinema scenes, but a lot of what you're doing with game music is trying to create music for the experience that the player is having. That can include things like the battles, and things like that, and how you bring emotion to those moments, as well as creating the environmental music or background music for the different areas of the game that the player is in. I think that's one of the biggest differences.
GR: Decades later, the Zelda overworld theme and the Mario theme are still two of the most iconic pieces of videogame music of all time. Do you think it's harder now for game music to set itself apart now that it's not always so different from other types of music?
KK: Back in the early days of videogames, we were limited by the number of notes we could use in each song, and we were also limited by memory and how many songs could be included in a single game. So as a result of that, players would hear the same song over and over again, and I think that's perhaps what helped people remember the song, is the frequency that they were hearing it. Now as the technology has evolved, we're seeing much more freedom with the music. We're able to include more instruments, we're finding more melodies and themes, and of course the arrangements are changing and there are many more songs in each game than there were back in the NES days. So what we've tried to do as a way to help our music stand out and help people remember it is look at ways to keep the same song but change the arrangement, so even though the song is different you'll still hear the same theme within different songs throughout the game as a way to help people remember it.
Eiji Aonuma: One of the themes in Skyward Sword is that you'll not just explore the world, but you'll explore certain areas of the world multiple times over the course of the game. So because you're going back into these same areas and hearing the same themes from those areas each time you go back, maybe in a slightly different way, it'll help the music kind of sink in and you'll remember it a little better maybe.
GR: If you had to pick between the Zelda overworld theme and the Mario theme, which is your favorite composition?
KK: I like them both! When I think about composing the songs back then, I think the Zelda song was much more difficult to compose, so taking that into account, maybe that would be my favorite… …But of course personally, I like jazz music as well as latin music, so on a personal level I think the Mario theme is one that I enjoy more.
GR: So switching gears, Aonuma-san, you were a director on the original Ocarina of Time. How was your experience working on the 3DS remake?
Eiji Aonuma: At the time, after finishing Ocarina of Time, there were still a lot of things that we wished we could have done with the game, and of course we took a lot of those ideas and applied them to The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. But even after creating the game, I still felt that there were things that I wish we could have done within Ocarina itself. So this time when creating it for the Nintendo 3DS, I felt like it was a great time to go in and make some of those changes and improvements. In particular, I hope that the Water Temple has now become something that's much more enjoyable for people to play through (laughs).
GR: So are there any aspects of the 3DS that you think work particularly well for the Zelda series?
EA: Of course with the Nintendo DS games, one of the things that we looked at was how we could utilize touch control with the Zelda series, particularly of course with the first game, Phantom Hourglass, and then refining it again after that. With Ocarina of Time 3D for Nintendo 3DS that was another thing we looked at, was what sort of touch screen control was really suited to that game. I do think that in general, touch control is something that works very well for the Zelda series. But the other thing we did with Ocarina of Time 3D of course was the motion control. The idea is that you're able to take some of those items that you use to aim in first person, and you can now aim them yourself with the motion control. In particular, it gives the feeling that the game world extends beyond the screen and really helps give you the feeling that the game world exists all around you. I thought that was something that worked really well with Ocarina 3D.
GR: So working on Ocarina 3DS, did you get any ideas for a new Zelda 3DS game?
EA: Of course! But I can't give any concrete examples…
GR: Is there any chance of seeing Majora's Mask on 3DS?
EA: I did hear that there's a website here that was launched in North America by some people that are hoping we'll release a 3D version of Majora's Mask. Of course I'm very flattered to hear that so many people are asking for that game, so I hope that at some point in the future hopefully, maybe, we'll be able to do something with it.
GR: At this point in time, would you ever consider making another 2D Zelda game?
EA: Well actually, even Mr. Miyamoto himself has been talking recently about going back to the 2D Zelda games, in particular the ones that were designed with multiple levels to the world like A Link to the Past, and taking those 2D graphics and recreating them in 3D so that you could get a sense for the depth of those worlds. That's something that might be interesting to do, so I would say there might be a possibility of something like that in the future. If we had had time, we would have probably done something like that for Four Swords.
GR: So how has working on Skyward Sword been for you, and how does it compare to working on Twilight Princess?
EA: The team worked very hard on Skyward Sword, and in particular, the director, Mr. Fujibayashi, worked very hard on the game design. I think the development took maybe a little bit longer than we had anticipated, but certainly none of it was time wasted. It was all very much geared toward making the game as good as it can be, and in the end I think the final game is one that really does feel like a full and complete Zelda game with a lot of depth and variety to it.
GR: It seems like the series alternates between darker-themed entries like Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess and lighter ones like Wind Waker. Where does Skyward Sword fall on this spectrum and is there a reason why the games tend to alternate?
EA: I guess maybe if we do create something that's more on the darker side, then it's just because we want to have a change of pace ourselves, then maybe the next time around without thinking about it, we start creating something that feels a little brighter than the previous one. This time in particular with Skyward Sword, because the world was set in the sky and sky was such a strong theme throughout the game, it certainly would have been difficult to make a sky that feels dark and gloomy. It really did feel like it needed to be a brighter world. And then of course, the game also has the skyward power where you lift the sword into the air and charge it up with the beam of light, so I think that may have played into that as well. And then graphically, based on those themes, everything grew from there.
GR: One of the things that fans love most about the Zelda series is the familiar quality of certain recurring elements. How do you balance between giving what fans want and still trying new things with the series?
EA: Generally when we start work on a new Zelda game, in terms of how we retain that traditional Zelda feel, one of the things that we really look at is what the elements are that have really resonated with people and that, from an interactive standpoint, felt really good. Those are the ones that we tend to bring back and retain and keep a strong focus on. When it comes to what we change, we really try to look at what the areas are where, within the current age that we're in, that we maybe no longer need to cling to and can look at changing. A good example of this is the save system – we've completely redone the save system for the game this time. Another example was taking the puzzle solving that you experience in the dungeons and bringing that out into the overworld so that the overworld feels more complex, like there's more going on there. Generally what we try to do whenever we're sort of evolving the series is we look at trying to remove the borders or barriers between the different elements of the game, and those are I think two good examples. Perhaps one of the reasons we tried to do that this time is looking at people's busy lifestyles today, and with the save system what we wanted to do was create a save system that made stopping play and resuming play much easier, so that when people are busy in their everyday lives they still have an opportunity to pick up the game and play it in short bursts and be able to continue the adventure without getting lost of confused. In terms of looking at both what people want from a Zelda game but also in terms of how we can take the Zelda game and make it something that's easier for them to be able to spend the time that they need to to finish the game.
GR: Every Zelda game has something that's iconic and unique about that game – what's that going to be for Skyward Sword?
EA: I would say that with this game, it's got to be the motion control that's going to set it apart, both in terms of how you use to it control and swing Link's sword, but also in terms of how it becomes a tool that lets you control the items in the game. What I mean is, we really challenged ourselves this time around to see how much we could let the player control the game the way that they want to. What I mean by that is, you use the Wii Remote to control the items, but when you're playing with a controller with buttons, it feels like you're playing with a controller and you have to do specific button combinations in order to make the items work. What we wanted to do this time with motion control and with Wii Motion Plus, was really make it as streamlined and simple as possible for people to do the actions that they want to do with all of those different items, but almost have it be so simple and have the Wii Remote itself be the tool that you're using, that without even thinking about what they need to do, they're able to just very quickly, like "boom, boom, boom – OK, I've done it." And it feels more like you've actually used the item itself rather than controlled something with buttons on a controller. That was really our goal with the game, and I think that'll be the area where it'll really stand out this time.
GR: So do you think you'll continue to use motion control in the future? Will you ever go back to traditional controls?
EA: I don't think we could go back to button control, especially after creating something that's as natural to use as the interface that we have with the Wii Remote Plus in Skyward Sword. I think Nintendo will continue to have that focus on motion control and we'll see that continue to evolve. And the hardware as well, in a way that will let people control things very naturally just using their own motions.
GR: Looking forward, can you say anything about the Wii U Zelda project?
EA: What can I say…? It's a difficult question (laughs). We're just getting started on it even as we speak, so I'm just worried that if I let something slip that's off that mark… The feedback that I've been getting from a lot of people on Skyward Sword is that they like the game very much, so of course I think probably the most important thing that we're focusing on right now is how do we take those elements that people seem to really love about Skyward Sword, and really bring that and connect that to what we do with Zelda on the Wii U while still continuing to evolve the game.
GR: Is there any particular feature of the Wii U hardware that you're excited to work with?
EA: Obviously, it's the new controller that's got the screen built into it, and in particular we're looking at how we can combine that new controller with something like motion control, and perhaps use the new controller in such a way that it becomes a new item that you're able to use to make the game feel fresh and new.
GR: Going back to Skyward Sword, it feels like Zelda the character has had a bigger role in recent games, is there a particular reason for this?
EA: Well, it is, of course, the Legend of Zelda. So particularly with the more recent titles, we've really been thinking about how we can express that and portray her more as the titular character of the series. Particularly we've been looking at how we can create a Zelda that's not just a princess that needs to be rescued, but as somebody who has an active role and has her own part in the story. Then it becomes more of a story of what is Link's connection to her, and how does that impact the adventure that he goes on, because I think the better job we do portraying her as a character and Link's connection to her, the easier it is for players to immerse themselves in the game and the adventure.
GR: Is there any chance we'll ever see Tetra come back?
EA: I thought Tetra was an interesting character because we created her and built that character as somebody who didn't actually know that she was Zelda, and I thought that was an interesting curveball to throw in that game. Personally, I really like the character, but the director on the DS games after that, Mr. Iwamoto, said he didn't really like her, so he didn't want to use her. So maybe if we switch directors on a future game, then maybe there's a greater chance that Tetra will return (laughs).
GR: Aonuma-san, do you have a favorite piece of music from the Zelda series?
EA: We actually have a band at Nintendo that's an orchestra band sort of, and we play a lot of songs, and one of the songs that we play is the boss battle theme from the Molgera battle in Wind Waker, which is a song that we'll be featuring in the concert tonight. Listening to that song, it just has a really great feel to it. When I heard that it was going to be in the concert I got very excited, and started realizing that that's perhaps one of my favorite songs in the series. But it's not in the CD that's bundled in with the game (laughs).
GR: And Kondo-san?
KK: I think for me it would have to be the original above-ground theme from the Legend of Zelda.
GR: Do you have a composition that you created that's maybe less well-known that you're particularly proud of?
KK: There is one that you'll hear a snippet of in the concert tonight. In the scene in Hyrule Castle, in the courtyard when you're trying to sneak past all the guards to get to Princess Zelda, that's a song you'll hear tonight as well that's one that I guess I kind of like, and even when I sit back myself I think that song was very well done.