Interview:IGN June 16th 2010

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IGN June 16th 2010


June 16, 2010





Aonuma tells IGN about the Zelda games featured at E3 2010 and the series' near future.



E3 is a whirlwind this year as always, but we've done the hard work of finding a calm within the storm to sit down with some of Nintendo's most important developers and ask them the hard questions. First up is Eiji Aonuma, the Big N's father of all things Zelda. He's been the man in charge of the greater Zelda franchise for years, and with two new projects in the series just revealed yesterday this is the prime time to be picking his brain.

Read on to discover his thoughts on the Wii's new The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Ocarina of Time remake in progress for the Nintendo 3DS and why he just can't seem to free his mind from thoughts of Zelda, Zelda and more Zelda.

IGN: It seems like not everyone was happy with the presentation of Skyward Sword at the press conference, and I was wondering if you could kind of go on the record and say anything about that?
Aonuma: Well, really all it was was an accident in the presentation. I think Mr. Miyamoto did a great job following up with that. That being said, the best way to understand how the play controls are really implemented is to get hands-on time with it, and we hope that you're able to do that and that you'll follow up with an article explaining about how good the controls actually are.
IGN: Oh yes. I have played it -- I played it just after the press conference and I saw exactly what you were doing. You worked on Spirit Tracks beforehand. I'm kind of wondering what the overlap was between the development cycle for Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword.
Aonuma: The director for Skyward Sword is Hidemaro Fujibayashi, who was the sub-director for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. So once he finished Phantom Hourglass, they started actually working on Skyward Sword. Then they started Spirit Tracks, and so those were all pretty much being worked on all at the same time. And then when they finished Spirit Tracks, Mr. Fujibayashi and the rest of his crew came back over to Skyward Sword.
IGN: So when the Wii MotionPlus was developed, everyone assumed that there would be a Zelda game that would use it for swordplay. Was that the way Skyward Sword was originally developed, or did the swordplay through Wii MotionPlus come about later in development?
Aonuma: This is a difficult answer to give, kind of complicated. We had MotionPlus, and when that technology came out we wanted to implement it in Zelda and so we started looking at the sword. To be honest with you, we weren't able to get the effectiveness we were looking for, and we tried some different ways to implement it and it really wasn't going well for us. And we actually decided that "we're not going to put in MotionPlus, let's just move on with something else" and stop getting distracted from the rest of development. But then Wii Sports Resort came out, and its Swordplay mode used Wii MotionPlus really well. So then we said "Wait a minute, you can actually implement it in a way that allows people to use that sword very freely and very naturally." So we went and talked with that development team, and we were able to borrow some of their technology and then put it back into The Legend of Zelda.
IGN: When did the new, or "old/new" art style come into play? With realistic Link, but with cartoony shading?
Aonuma: In the past we did use toon shading, specifically in The Wind Waker. But in that game, the main character was a very young Link -- so the art style was a really good match for displaying him. Just a good match for that character in that game. Now, Link's a bit older and we just didn't think that that particular art style was what we were looking for. You know Link grew up, so maybe the art style grew up a little bit. That might be one way to put it.
IGN: Going back to the MotionPlus, when you discovered the right way to implement it that must have changed the gameplay somewhat. You've showed off some enemies that you had to slash in a specific direction, and some of the boss battles use it as well. Did it change the direction of the gameplay?
Aonuma: Yes, it really had a dramatic effect on the strategy with which we've implemented the swordplay. Up until now, the swordfighting has always been based on timing in Zelda. And now, instead of timing we've really shifted over to location. So you have to look at where the enemy is blocking, or from which direction the enemy is attacking. What's open, or what isn't open. And then that really informed how the character designs were implemented as well.
IGN: In past Zelda games, people noticed that Link was obviously left-handed. And I know that all the Zelda games are stand-alones -- but in this particular game, will there be a lefty option for left-handed people?
Aonuma: It's interesting because people say "all you have to do is switch it." But in reality, it's really hard. You have to change all the models -- you have to make two of everything. So really you're making two complete games, one left-handed version and one right-handed version. We just can't do that. For Twilight Princess, what we did was just create a mirror -- we flipped everything. And if that worked I guess we could do it that way, but again having to create two games is not something we want to do. We just hope that people will play it right-handed.
IGN: So the game itself that's on the show floor seems like it's just a demo made specifically for the E3 show floor -- it's just a bunch of pockets of things to do. Was there anything that you wanted to show us that you didn't have time to get into this demo version?
Aonuma: Yeah. One of the things I would have loved to have shown -- and something we actually have ready -- is more of the dungeon elements. You know, where you have to solve puzzles to move from room to room or advance to the next part of the level. That's something that's very Zelda-esque and something we do have ready, but we wanted to focus on the sword interaction and the fighting sequences here at E3. Most of what you're seeing in this demo will appear in-game. We wanted to concentrate on that seemless interaction of switching items and switching to your sword and didn't want to break that up by introducing puzzle elements. But yeah, that is one thing I would have liked to have shown here.

And also this time we have a lot of items in the demo. I think in the past we've shown just a select number of them and then just said "Hey, there are other items too, so look forward to them." And this time, because we wanted to highlight the item-switching interactions we went ahead and gave you access to some of the items you won't see until later on in the game.
IGN: At last night's roundtable it was hinted and maybe even answered that you might have orchestral music like Super Mario Galaxy 2 has. Will Skyward Sword be fully orchestrated, or just part of it, or what?
Aonuma: This is actually something we've been talking about for quite a while. I've discussed with Mr. Miyamoto, "are we going to do orchestration?" and mulled it over for a while. We got here to E3 and still didn't have an answer, so last night in the roundtable when the question came up, Mr. Miyamoto just said "I guess we're going to have to." And I said "We can? We can do it, really?" But, to be honest, I haven't had the chance to sit with him and get the OK on that. So, to be honest, I don't know either. He might tell me he was just joking around later.
IGN: I think one of the big surprises at the show was the 3DS. We knew the new Wii Zelda was happening -- you showed some artwork for it last year. But the 3DS showing Ocarina of Time 3D, that was a big surprise. I think it excited people. I was wondering if you could talk about some of the ideas you have. Not just adding depth, but some of the gameplay elements we might see. Will it be a direct port, or an enhanced game?
Aonuma: We've talked about remixing Ocarina of Time for a long time, saying "should we remake Ocarina of Time for Wii?" And, to be honest, I said no. I didn't want to just re-release it on a different platform -- I wanted to have a specific reason to remake Ocarina of Time. I didn't want to just make a port. And so I was waiting for something to come along that would not only help us to retell the story, but improve upon it. Making it different, more unique in its own way. Now, with 3D, we're able to take the environments of Hyrule and add depth -- giving them a more expansive feeling, a more immersive feeling. In addition to that, now that we have the 3D we can looking forward to new ways to implement 3D into the gameplay and make it fresh and new. And we also have the motion sensors that are built-in to the Nintendo 3DS. So we're looking at quite a few ways to make the gameplay more immersive, more natural, more accessible. So again, not just a port -- but a retelling of the tale using new technologies to reinvent it.
IGN: Was there any other project on display in the 3DS area that you'd say was your favorite implementation of the 3DS technology?
Aonuma: I really like Steel Diver. I just look at that and I think that the way it's put together, everything about it just really works with the Nintendo 3DS environment. And that game's been around for quite a while, so it seems natural that it could be adapted well. When the 3DS comes out, that's one of the first titles I'm going to purchase.
IGN: How do you decide which style to use in each Zelda game you work on? What determines if it's going to be a realistic Zelda game versus a toon-style Zelda game?
Aonuma: I know it seems like we change the art style every time. And I guess for most of them we actually have, though Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time both used the same kind of art style. But it's not like we sit down and say "OK, let make a new Zelda title. What's the art style going to be like?" We don't do that at all. Instead we sit down and say "OK, we're going to make a new Zelda game. What's the gameplay going to be like?" What are the designs? Once we have all of these ideas set out -- a real idea of what we're going to do -- that's when we ask "OK, does the current art we have work with this?" And then we decide what kind of art style best suits the gameplay.
IGN: With two Zelda games now in the works -- Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time 3D, and both of them using an older, more realistic Link -- do you think we've seen a brief retirement of the Toon Link character? Or will we see Toon Link again pretty soon?
Aonuma: We haven't made a specific determination about what's going to happen with Toon Link. As we talked about earlier, I think the toon-shading style worked really well with The Wind Waker because it was a story of a young Link. So if we did something again with a Link at that age, maybe we'd re-use it. Who knows? If we're going forward, looking to adapt Link to a new piece of hardware, maybe we'd want to bring him to life again with the technology that'd be available then. I can't say -- I don't even want to say that he's retired. I just don't know.

And another thing I just thought of is that for Twilight Princess we made a more realistic Link, but with the fantasy realm if the art style is too realistic it really narrows down what you can do and still feel like what you're doing still fits within that world. I want to make sure that some of the crazier elements still fit within the game world, and aren't breaking that world view -- so sometimes it's better not to be so realistic. Sometimes we need that exaggeration to implement the elements that are more outlandish and could only fit within the realm of fantasy. I think there are a lot of games out there that are super-realistic, and I've never felt that Zelda really fits into the same category as those games.
IGN: So I've been sitting here just asking questions to you about Zelda. Kind of assuming that all you do at Nintendo is Zelda. But is there anything else you'd like to talk about? Other tasks at Nintendo that you work on, and maybe not everyone knows about?
Aonuma: It's interesting -- because we're doing this with Nintendo 3DS as well -- when we look at new hardware platforms and consult with software teams, we ask "what are you guys looking for, what do you want?" And everyone who comes and talks to me says, "Hey, if we're going to put Zelda on this platform, what would you like to do?" I always have to be thinking about, OK, Zelda. Zelda. And then more Zelda. It's all I'm able to think about, because I know all those questions will be coming to me and I have to prepare some answers. So if I ever wanted to do anything away from Zelda or outside of the Zelda universe, I think really what I'd have to do is take something like a year-long sabbatical, leave the company and go somewhere else. Otherwise I'm just trapped in the Zelda cage.
IGN: You don't have any pet projects you're working on that don't involve Link or Zelda?
Aonuma: Well, I can't really say that, because I do. I sit and think about stuff that has nothing to do with Link or Zelda, and I'll start writing down the ideas I have and start doing some character designs, and then before I know it I'll look at those character designs that I've set off to the side and they somehow make their way into Zelda.
IGN: So, I'm asking you Zelda questions basically. In Four Swords Adventures for example, people see that as a favorable game, but it was very limited in that you had to have several Game Boy Advance systems, and the GameCube, and bunch of Link Cables. Now that the technology allows for it, do you think that idea could come back? Maybe for the DS?
Aonuma: Absolutely. There's always the possibility of that coming back and taking center stage. Multi-play, online play -- I'm always think about how we could take that and re-envision it. It's in my mind a lot. I'm looking forward to the day when we can do that and present it to everyone. I don't have a plan or a definite timeline. But am I thinking about it? Absolutely.

Sorry, I can't give it away and I don't want to get too detailed, because it'll end up like Mr. Miyamoto and Pikmin 3 where people are asking me every year "When is that coming? Where is that?" And I don't want to get stuck in that loop.
IGN: Well, I will say that you can't be too obsessed with Link and Zelda, since you're wearing a Kirby shirt.
Aonuma: (laughs) I love all Nintendo characters!
IGN: One final question. It seems like Nintendo's going back to its roots more and more, not just with its characters but also in gameplay with games like the new Donkey Kong Country and new 2D Kirby. And I know that both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were mostly top-down. But I'm wondering if you've ever considered going back to the top-down, classic Zelda style from Nintendo's earliest consoles?
Aonuma: I hadn't thought about it personally, but now that you say that I think that if you took that top-down classic perspective and used, say, Nintendo 3DS you'd be adding new vertical depth. I think that would bring in a pretty interesting new element. I think there are lots of ideas there that we could play with.
IGN: I played the tech demo that took classic NES games and made them 3D. I don't know if they're ever going to take that further, but it was a neat idea.
Aonuma: It's not only taking those 2D things and putting them in a 3D environment to make them 3D, but it's looking at whatever's in the 3D environment that we can add that will surprise everybody. I want to find those new things that we can add, through 3D play, to get people excited.
IGN: Well, that's a great way to end our interview.