Interview:IndustryGamers July 14th 2011

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IndustryGamers July 14th 2011


July 14, 2011





IndustryGamers sits down for a chat with Aonuma-san at E3 2011 to discuss the new Wii U console, the Zelda franchise, working with Mr. Miyamoto and more.



Nintendo's Eiji Aonuma has been working on the Zelda franchise for a long time now, ever since Shigeru Miyamoto recruited him to work on Ocarina of Time. During the recent E3 Expo, IndustryGamers had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Aonuma-san to discuss the new Wii U console, the Zelda franchise, working with Mr. Miyamoto and more.

IndustryGamers: Mr. Aonuma, I'd like to get your thoughts first on the new Nintendo console - how long you've been working on it and what new, fresh ideas it might give you for the Zelda franchise.
Eiji Aonuma: First off... I've been involved in it in some capacity since the stage where we started to bring things all together and decide what to make of this new system. We had the idea already that we're going to have this monitor in the controller. So that was about 2 years ago when I started to be involved in these meetings and we decided how we should further develop the system, and in what direction we wanted to take it. The way I was involved in many ways in the project was as the representative for how Zelda will evolve with this new console. That was the perspective I brought to those meetings. Obviously, Zelda is one of those games in which a lot of the gameplay is centered around the idea of items and tools that the player uses in various ways in their environment. And so, so far it's just been me examining how I'd like to use that new controller on the interface there to allow additional control or easier control over the toolset that's given to the player as well as how to open up new possibilities.
IG: The 'HD Experience' demo that was shown of Zelda, is that representative of just how good a new Zelda on the Wii U would look?
EA: Well, one thing I want to emphasize here, when talking about the Wii U Zelda HD experience, is that we really built it specifically to be an experience. The idea is using Zelda as the backdrop for one of these HD experiences, what kind of representation Zelda can make there. But this is really just to show people what kind of things the console can do. And so, it's not necessarily the case that we would use that graphic style or depiction the same way we would in a new Zelda, when there is a new Zelda for the Wii U. Just like the map functionality that was also implemented in that experience - it's simply us giving an objective look at the kinds of things that can be done with the HD hardware. And Zelda happened to be the filter through which we view it in that experience. So nothing is defined right now as far as how we'll proceed.
IG: One thing I was wondering about from the Nintendo strategy side - and I don't expect you to speak for Mr. Miyamoto - but it seems like it's been a while since Nintendo has launched a new platform, specifically, a new console, with a Mario or a Zelda. And I'm wondering why that is; obviously, the teams are made aware of when new hardware is going to be launched and released to the market, and I would think that it would be in the best interest of Nintendo to have, for example, a new Zelda at the launch of a new console like the Wii U.
EA: I can't really speak to Mario, obviously - it's not my forte. But with regards to Zelda, the development process is typically around 3 years and that's a pretty big timeline obviously. So you've got a timeline for a given Zelda game and you've also got a timeline for new hardware. So obviously when those two timelines can line up neatly, then, yes we'd love to have something out and available at launch. There have been times when we've realized how important that is. For example, when Twilight Princess was being developed, we started on the GameCube and it turned out the game was going to complete itself more or lese around the time of the Wii launch and I thought, "Well, it would be a real waste not to have that available for new players with that functionality in the forefront." So we did make a Wii version of the game as well as the GameCube version. But in general, the timeline for new hardware is actually shorter than the timeline for a new Zelda game. And because of that, when they don't line up correctly - and that's often the case - it's extremely hard to coordinate getting that title out as a day one title. But when possible, of course it's something that we understand is great and we like to do it. And, naturally, I realize that it is in some ways a problem that Zelda games take as long as they do. I would like to get them out faster. That's something that I consider a personal challenge and it's something that I look into.
IG: Speaking of the personal side, do you wish at times that you could work on something other than Zelda? You've been sort of the go-to guy for the Zelda franchise for a long time now. Do you have a creative desire to maybe work on a brand new Nintendo franchise?
EA: Yeah, the truth of it is I always want to work on something new. It just turns out that as I'm coming up with these ideas along the way, I realize, "Y'know, this could really work on a Zelda game." And it sort filters back into it and in the end, we come back into another Zelda project. So in some ways, it's a bit of a challenge for me personally that Zelda ends up becoming this pool of my ideas and it keeps absorbing the ideas I have and they get integrated back into Zelda games. But that's just sort of the way it's flown for me.
IG: How difficult at times can it be for you to work for Mr. Miyamoto? Because he, I would think, has the final say in terms of what goes into a game and there might be certain features that you are really passionate about and would love to put into the Zelda game, and then he, as he likes to call it, "upends the tea table" and just throws it out. How often has that happened for you and how frustrating can that be for you when you're creating something and it just gets thrown out right away?
EA: Well, back at GDC, when that conversation was presented, I think it painted a picture of Mr. Miyamoto's role inside the company as coming in and being a really disruptive force in the development process, but I view it a very different way and I think a lot of people do. It's that his time to come in and flip things on their head is part of the development timeline. It's an event that happens. It's almost a ritual in that sense. And it's a necessary process, because I find that when he offers that feedback, a lot of the time, he points out things that I, myself, was having trouble with and maybe felt that I couldn't solve or didn't have a good time for or felt like we didn't have the time for and he comes in and really gives focus to everything. So I'd really like to reinforce that fact that I don't view the process that people refer to as "upending the tea table" as something unpleasant. It's actually quite necessary and useful.
IG: One of the things that Nintendo has been a little slower than other companies with is online gaming. I'm wondering with the new Wii U console, since there's supposed to be a bit more of an online focus, what ideas you have about what unique ways you can present Zelda in an online feature set and get players involved over the internet with Zelda?
EA: To start off by addressing your point directly, I don't think that it's inaccurate to say that Nintendo has been a little bit behind in the online race compared to the other companies developing consoles. And a lot of that comes from the fact that we really decided first to tackle the issue head on after seeing how popular that style of gameplay and that functionality had become for the American market, and the Western market in general. So, in that sense, yes, the process was a little bit different. One thing I feel like we really need to emphasize is that just simply to provide online gaming for the sake of online gaming wouldn't result in [unique gameplay]. Of course, we could put out a lot of titles that have online gameplay that's similar to what people are used to online, but that wouldn't result in unique products. So one of the things we've been really trying to do is look at - in the context of the hardware, the functionality that people have and have already in the 3DS and Wii U - what kinds of possibilities might open up. And looking at, for example, Four Swords, which is going to be released initially for folks to get their hands on - that's local play. But, just the same, it does bring up a question that I think we are examining and will continue to examine, which is "Looking at the capabilities that are in our hands, what kinds of gameplay possibilities are out there for a Zelda game that goes online, maybe something that goes multiplayer?" But it's all about, for us, finding a clear direction to take that online functionality, to use that online functionality. Once we have that, I think things will move forward. But, until then, we're in the process of really asking ourselves, "How will this be a natural extension - a natural and enjoyable extension of what makes the series the series?" So that's something for the Zelda team to continue to examine as we move forward.
IG: You're closely tied to the Japanese video games industry, and you have the perspective of living in Japan and understanding how the industry works there. Lately, a lot of Japanese game designers have sort of lamented the state of the industry and they feel that maybe creatively there's something lacking and they've gone out of their way to target Western audiences; maybe that hasn't been received too well amongst Japanese gamers. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the state of Japanese game development.
EA: Well, in general, I think as the industry has evolved and more people have thrown their hat in the ring, that it's gotten progressively harder to make new and exciting things, things that have a unique core to them and have a unique value because of that. And one of the ways Nintendo has tried on their own to really propel things forward is to continue to develop hardware that allows for new potentials in gameplay and new possibilities there. That's the way we try and contribute to the issue.
IG: I would follow up by quickly adding that there have been people, like the former Capcom executive Inafune-san, who have literally said, "Oh, the Japanese games industry is finished." I'm curious to hear what your thinking is on that.
EA: My initial reaction is that I don't feel like I've been involved in the game industry. I don't have the kind of sense constantly lurking over me. It feels more like I've been part of a company that tries to make interesting and entertaining things. When we find something that brings out that curiosity in ourselves and other people, we just continue to develop and iterate on it and make different things. So I think that...there's a lot to still be discovered and innovated and iterated on. So no, I don't think in general, that it's fair to say that things are over. When I hear Mr. Inafune making those kinds of comments, it makes me think that maybe he's just a little tired. [laughs]
IG: During the Nintendo roundtable, it was indicated that Skyward Sword would probably be one of the last remaining Wii titles from Nintendo since the focus is switching to Wii U. Do you feel you've been able to extract as much as you can from the Wii and that's why Nintendo's switching to the new system or do you feel that more could be done with the Wii itself?
EA: Well, Skyward Sword as a title in general is not about... It takes good advantage of the Wii, but it's really focused on motion plus functionality using your sword and your shield and the kind of tracking controls that are possible because of motion plus, not just with your sword but with a whole variety of different gameplay options that are all controlled by motion plus. It's a game that uses that as a central point of reference for gameplay and we really expand and iterate on that. As you mentioned, sure it's possible that this could be one of the last titles for the Wii from Nintendo, but I certainly didn't get the sensation that this is it - we've done everything we can. When making the game, it wasn't even something I really paid attention to. We just focused on really expanding with motion plus and doing everything we could with that feature since it was sort of the backbone [of the project]. But there's always more to iterate on, so gameplay possibilities will continue to grow regardless of system.
IG: It was a pleasure Mr. Aonuma. Thanks very much for your time.