Interview:Kotaku May 31st 2005

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This was originally posted over at <a href="" target="new">Kotaku</a>.

So on the first day of my first E3 I got a chance to sit down with Eiji Aonuma, the producer of the upcoming Zelda game. Instead of turning the thing into a so-so little feature story, I decided to post the rather lengthy, sorta surreal translated interview up as a Q&A.

During the interview, Aonuma talked about how this latest game is a coming of age story for Link and that the game's Link Wolf is a metaphor for puberty and the angst teens go through as they become adults. I love the fact that the Zelda team doesn't really worry so much about there fans, instead concentrating on making the best damn game they can.

The Q&A also includes some interesting exchanges like when Aonuma disses me about my age or when Gizmodo's Joel, who was video taping the whole thing, asks a hardcore Zelda mythos question. Enjoy the ramblings:

Kotaku: What is your title, are you co-producer of the new Zelda?

Eiji Aonuma: What is a co-producer?

Kotaku: What is your title?

Translator: He is producer and director.

Kotaku: Did you have any concerns about sort of casting Zelda in this darker light when you started working on this idea?

Eiji Aonuma: The original intent wasn't just to create a darker Zelda game it was really to focus more on a story line that centers around an adult link or a growing up link. In the stories we have done around Link when he was a child you don't really have quote the same themes you would have for an adult. Adults obviously face aspects of their lives that have a lot more challenges and can be a little bit more darker. So in that sense, because we are trying to create a realistic looking game we are trying to create a game that feels real as well. In that sense we have tried to focus on some of those maybe more adult oriented themes that you might expect an adult to face in their life. That's why it may have taken on this darker them, but it wasn't an objective in the beginning.

Kotaku: Where did the idea of following Zelda into this later stage in life come from? It sounds like it could be perhaps that you wanted to follow your gamers as they grow up. A lot of people that will be playing this game grew up playing Zelda.

Eiji Aonuma: Actually, in Ocarina of Time we had this theme in the game where both the character that the player controlled and the player themselves matured or developed over the game. The idea was that as the player played the game and Link gains more abilities, that the player essentially matures as they are playing. In the same way we wanted to have the character also mature along with the player. For that reason in that game we saw Link go from young Link to an older Link. Since then the only Zelda games we have done have focused on Link as a younger boy. This time, we thought maybe it would be a good idea to focus on Link when he is older.

Kotaku: What about the idea of being able to transform into a wolf, where did that idea come from?

Eiji Aonuma: One thing we didn't want to do was just be the same as any other Zelda game with just an adult Link. We really wanted to have something that would change the gameplay so there is a new experience. We looked at this idea of Link being an adult now. So you're still an adult when you can do more adult things. We liked this idea of link being an adult and being able to do things he normally couldn't do but when he gets transformed into a wolf he loses all of the ability to do all of the things he could do as a human and as an adult. So then you have Link in this form where he can't do things he would normally be able to do and then players would have to figure out what he could do as a wolf.

Kotaku: What age would you say link is in the game?

Eiji Aonuma: We have been thinking about link being 16 or 17, maybe we should decide on that.

Kotaku: Are you playing around with the whole concept and deeper ideas of what teenagers go through as they are becoming an adult? (Ed's note: The word my sleep-deprived mind was having trouble finding here was puberty.)

Eiji Aonuma: We are definitely looking at that. If you think about it teenagers are at this awkward stage. They are not really children, they are kind of adults but yet at the same time they still kind of do children things. So they are not quite a child and they are not quite an adult. We wanted to look how we could try and incorporate that into the game and have Link really give players the feeling that they really want to be an adult and Link really wants to be an adult, but at the same time he might still do things that are childish.

Kotaku: In the bits we saw of the game there is another character. Is that a sidekick?

Eiji Aonuma: Yeah, in a sene it is almost a sidekick character but it's one Link has to work with in wolf form. That character allows the wolf link to do different things and has magical abilities. Really without that character Link wouldn't be able to do some things like battle some of the enemies he encounters in the game.

Kotaku: Are there any sci-fi themes in the game?

Eiji Aonuma: While we are doing the realistic graphics at the same time we are sort of incorporating some of those elements you are seeing,, they are kind of more hyper-realistic and have kind of that science fiction feel to it. So while it is still a fantasy-based theme and is still the same Zelda world we are going to be incorporating some of those elements in the game.

Kotaku: When you see this sci-fi element, does that show us that you guys are starting to shift the world a little bit? I mean become more science fiction than fantasy?

Eiji Aonuma: No, we are not trying to make any dramatic changes to the series or to the sense of the world of Zelda. We are creating this twilight realm which are the dark areas or the castle that you saw. And in trying to create this twilight realm that's going to be different from the town and the world that Link comes from, we really had to figure out how can we make those two feel very distinct and really kind of draw out the characteristics of the twilight realm. One way we a redoing that is using these elements that kind of have this sci-fi look to them. But it's not like we are going to take that and try and push the Zelda series more in that direction.

Kotaku: The art of the new Zelda, is there a certain inspiration, an artist that inspired the look of the game?

Eiji Aonuma: I didn't go to an artist and tell them to recreate a particular world or a particular feel. And they certainly didn't come to me and say we want to recreate this. It was really more they have seen a lot of different things in their life time and use that for the inspiration of their work.

The one thing I always tell our artists: I want you to draw something and create something that people have never seen before. In that sense, rather than looking at something and taking inspiration from it and trying to recreate it, they are really trying to go in different directions.

Kotaku: It is sort of a radical approach to the look of Zelda, is there any fear that you might, maybe not lose fans, but fans might not be willing to accept such a new look for Link?

Eiji Aonuma: We were asked the same question quite a bit when we were working on the Wind Waker and when we released that game.

As the creators of the game, it's really difficult to think about what the fans want because Zelda has such a large fan base. I'm sure there are people out there who want different things and expect different things from Link. In that sense, I don't think there will ever be a way to please everybody.

Really, what we are trying to do is sit down and think if we can create Link in this way and have it be a fun game and have people enjoy it, then that's going to make us happy. So its really more a direction coming from within and not trying to please all of the fans, because I think trying to do that would be just too hard.

Our one real objective this time in creating the Link model and the Link character, is we wanted to make Link look really, really cool. We are hoping that people who are looking forward to seeing a cool link when they see this link will be happy and say 'Yeah, they really did a good job and he does look great.'

Kotaku: Can we expect to see an adult link in a future game, like continue this trend make him grow older and take on different things?

Translator:Like older than a teen?

Kotaku: Yeah, make him....thirty....two.

(Translated. Tons of laughter between the two.)

Eiji Aonuma: Hmm, why 32?

Kotaku: I don't know. I'm 34, I don't know what the hell I was thinking. Two years younger than me.

Eiji Aonuma: Who knows, maybe we can find a way to make a 32-year-old Link fun.

Kotaku: Heyyyyy!

Kotaku: How far along is the game?

Eiji Aonuma: Well, we have the overall flow of the game put together, but we are still very much involved in the process of polishing it up and getting it finalized.

Kotaku: Do you have a particular part of the game or element of the game you like?

Eiji Aonuma: It's a big theme for the game, the realism, in terms of the sense of the world, the scale of the world.

There haven't been a lot of games so far where you have had a really good scale in the games, where you've had things that should be gigantic are really gigantic and things that should be really tiny are really tiny. So one of the thing we are focusing on is focusing quite a bit on the scale of the game the scale of different parts of the game, different areas and different objects.

One of the main focuses is Hyrule Field itself. We are going to create this vast, vast plane for people to kind of go out and experience. For the first time in the game, to experience a vast landscape that they will be able to ride their horse across, really feel like they are out there in the real world but also to be able to experience something that most people can't experience in their normal daily lives. I think that really it will be the first time in the game that this will be realistically achieved.

Kotaku: Have you announced a release date?

We haven't announced a specific release date, but we are releasing it in the year, this holiday season.

Joel: Can I ask question. Each Zelda game seems like a new iteration in the same theme. There is always sort of that hallmark back to there was a previous light sword bearer in ages past. Should we just accept every time that Zelda is a reimagining of the same theme? Is it sort of assumed that every thousand years this same thing is happening over again?

(Looooong conversation back and forth with lots of laughter.)

Eiji Aonuma: It's certainly not the same story being told over and over again. It's not that we have a one thousand year time span between every game or anything like that.

When creating a Zelda game there is the connection between Link and Zelda and the Triforce and Ganon. When we get set to make a new Zelda game, we are focusing on the theme of the game and the game play rather than to create a new timeline for the series.

Joel: So it's basically a reimagiining of the same story line?

Eiji Aonuma: No, not so much.

(More translation)

Eiji Aonuma: It actually really comes back to the mythology of the land of Hyrule. There is a Triforce and each segment is tied to a different (Long explanation of the Triforce and Zelda mythos.) It is in a sense events recurring overtime.