Interview:GamePro November 14th 2006
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Can you talk about your history with the Zelda series? My first involvement with the Zelda series came on The Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64). In that game I was responsible for dungeon design and enemy design and was one of multiple directors on that project handling those specific areas. After that, I became the overall director of Majora's Mask as well as Wind Waker, after which I moved into a producer role on several AGB projects. Beyond that, for Twilight Princess, I initially started off as a producer on the project but then halfway through came back to a more director-style role and took a more hands-on role in the development.
What was it like collaborating with Miyamoto?
To be frank, it's difficult. (Laughs). Of course, that's just a joke. But actually, every project that I've worked on, Usually the way that the project flows is that we'll be working on the project and then towards the end, Miyamoto will come in and start playing the game and then providing us with advice. With Twilight Princess, Mr. Miyamoto started playing Twilight Princess just within the last month and a half. Since that point, he's been coming to me saying things like "Don't you think we should take this part here and change it so that it flows this way instead?"
Which, because we're in the final stages of development and really aiming towards fine tuning the game and completing it, becomes almost a battle in terms of completing the game while also finding time Mr. Miyamoto's changes.
So when I say that it is difficult or tiring to work with him, that's what I mean in that sense. But at the same time, it leads to the best overall product in the end. So actually, for me, it's a very enjoyable process.
Was there ever an incident when the two of you disagreed strongly? How did you resolve those conflicts?
To tell you the truth, we don't have a lot of differences of opinions. Throughout the development process there will be elements of the game that bother me. I keep thinking that I want to do something to improve those areas but because my role as director is to look at the overall project, I often find that I don't have the ability to focus on some of the more detailed areas of the game early on.
So towards the latter stages when Mr. Miyamoto starts playing it, he'll find some of those same areas that have been bothering me and he'll bring those up, at which point it almost hurts my pride because the whole time I've known that I wanted to fix them but I haven't had the solution or the time.
But what really happens is that Mr. Miyamoto is able to look at those areas and come up creative solutions that solve some of the issues that we might have in those more detailed aspects of the game. In a way, that manages to overcome the challenges we have with time and resources left at the end of a project. So in that sense, it's a phrase that I've used often but Mr. Miyamoto comes in and "upends the tea table." But then he's kind enough to find these solutions to put the plates back on the tea table and arrange things again.
So in all honesty, the biggest problem is cases where he tells us to make a change to the game but just looking at how much time we have left, we'll say "We can't change that right now," or "That would be a huge change," and usually at that point, he's understanding of that because he's been involved in development for a long time. So he'll say "What can we do to resolve this issue without it being a big drain on time and resources?"
The Legend of Zelda series is approaching its 20th anniversary. Why is the series still so relevant?
You know, I've never really tried to analyze why people have the feelings about Zelda that they do. I think there's one thing about the Zelda games that stands out from other video games and that's this really universal experience that Zelda is. What I mean is that within the Zelda games, we don't really look at creating something with RPG elements things from other video game genres. Instead, we really just focus on creating this existing virtual world, and this world is filled with elements from people's everyday lives. So when you go into this video game world that is the Zelda universe, you might experience something in there that you could potentially experience in the real world. Because of that, the game draws you in more deeply.
We then try to build upon this world the idea of a story, a kind of grand, epic story, but one that still relates to you and is told in a way that makes you feel like you're a part of that story.
What will Twilight Princess add to the franchise's legacy?
One thing that we talked about in all of our discussions about Twilight Princess is the realism of the game. And not just in the sense of the graphics being more realistic, but the game itself having a greater sense of realism to it. So in that sense I think that, really, the world of Twilight Princess is going to have the greatest sense of realism of any Zelda game that we've released.
Even within the game, [Link's abilities shift and change almost constantly.], It's going to feel entirely new and be almost a different experience from what you've seen in past Zelda games.
Additionally, in past Zelda games, Link has started off as a child or grown from being a child to an adult. This time around, he starts off as a teenager. We've never seen Link on the verge of adulthood, actually going through an adventure at that stage of his life. So in that sense, you'll feel a different atmosphere in terms of the interactions that he has.
Of course, this answer applies to the GameCube version of Twilight Princes. Once you take the game and play it on the Wii, because of the functionality of the remote, the realism of the game is expanded upon that much more because you're actually directly interacting with the world and physically interacting with the things that you see on the screen.
What development challenges did you find with the Wii platform?
Well, of course, Twilight Princess was originally developed for the GameCube and the GameCube controller. In terms of challenges, the biggest was actually the overall Wii control scheme because we felt that we couldn't just take the game and simply apply a few Wii controls [which would make] it feel kind of gimmicky. We really wanted to find a way to really take advantage of the functionality of the Wii remote, but do so in a way that fits in with the Zelda world.
So it became this long filtering process, to try and not only hone the controls and have them be smooth and fluid but to have them feel right in the Zelda world. And so in that sense, it really comes down to allowing you to do a lot of different things in the game in very unique ways.
Can you talk about the decision to delay the GameCube version of Twilight Princess in order to bring it to the Wii?
Well, actually, we hadn't finalized the GameCube version around the time that they were finalizing the specs for the Wii console. So as we were still in development of the GameCube version, Mr. Miyamoto threw out the idea of taking advantage of the Wii controller. So we weren't simply applying Wii controls to an already completed GameCube game. We did some experiments and tried it out with the GameCube version of Zelda and really, the ultimate decision was that if we were able to find something that was successful and worked well with Twilight Princess, we would then focus on creating a Wii version.
So the decision was made last year, just before the end of the year and we worked forward from there to create the two versions of game concurrently. One other thing that came into play was actually the idea of 16 by 9 widescreen which is something that only the Wii version of Twilight Princess supports. And the idea was that with the additional processing power of the Wii, we would then be able to expand the size of the screen. And that would allow you to do is immerse yourself more in the world while at the same time allowing you to take advantage of the freehand control of the Wii remote.
What that does is you don't have to put a lot of strength or effort into the sword swings. And just the ability to swing the sword yourself and be there in this expansive world that's there before you, especially when you get into the more dramatic settings like the boss fights, having that physical element to the game is a feeling that you can't get anywhere else, neither in the GameCube version or from any other console.
Are there any concerns about the viability of the GameCube version, especially since it releases a full month after the Wii version?
Well, to be honest, I think that there are almost two different concepts behind both versions of the game. Obviously, as I explained, the Wii version is built on the idea of an expansive world and the physical interaction. The GameCube version features a different play style because it is suited to the GameCube controller and for a lot of people, that control style is something that's ingrained into their brains. So in that sense, I think that a lot of past Zelda fans are going to be curious about the Wii control style and they'll want to play the Wii version. So they'll pick it up and I think a lot of them are going to like it but there may still be some people who, just because of the way they've played games until now, will still want to go back and play the GameCube version because that style of play is what they're most used to.
And also, just the idea of the GameCube controller, which has a lot of buttons, is a play style where you're mastering all these buttons, while the Wii version is all about using the Wii remote, which is a much more streamlined and physical style of interaction. So that in and of itself provides a different play experience in each version.
Honestly, I would like to see people try out both versions; that would make me the happiest. But I'm not worried about the GameCube version getting left behind or forgotten about, so to speak.
Can you talk about the decision to give Twilight Princess a much darker and more mature look and feel?
One thing that we really wanted to do was to show this stark contrast between what the world once was, which was a world of light and peace, and the darkness that's now overcome it. [We had] this idea of a very sudden change in the beginning where you're only very briefly in the world of light and you're already seeing the effects of the darkness there. Then you suddenly get sucked into this dark world right away, and I think a lot of other games and movies don't do this because it can confuse the player as to what is the world supposed to be and what it's become and what do I need to do to take it back.
But the idea behind it was to try and engulf the player in a sense of confusion about what has happened, with a whirlwind of events. Link does gradually work his way through the darkness and pushes it back and you'll see that as the darkness lifts from areas of Hyrule, that we still have the kinds of silly events and funny characters from previous games. So in the end, while the game starts off very dark and kind of sinister, you do eventually manage to bring peace back to the world.
That's something we noticed as well. The game has a darker feel, but there are still lots of light-hearted moments. Can you talk about the use of humor in the game?
Of course, in thinking of the over-arching story, there is a lot of darkness and darker themes present, but at the same time, you really want to have some fun elements and some silly things in there. And once they get back into the light, they find all these different things to experience and a lot of fun things to interact with. As for the dungeons themselves, we wanted things in there that weren't the usual dungeon-crawl elements. Even in these moments that most people would think were really serious, you have these silly moments that make you step back and say "Whoa, what's going on here?"
That seems to be an important cornerstone for the game, that dichotomy between the light and the dark. Can you talk about the decision to make that a game play and thematic element?
Up until now, this idea of change within the world has been a big theme of all the Zelda games. And particularly, when you're creating 3D worlds, if you're able to affect some change to that 3D world, then what that allows the player to do is to experience different kinds of things within the same area. And in doing so, it adds depth to that world. With Ocarina of Time, we did that with the concept of time, so you had two worlds, one where Link was a child and the other world where Link was an adult. Although they both represented Hyrule, the things that you could do in each world changed because of the passage of time and because Link himself was different in terms of his age.
In Twilight Princess, we've done that with the concept of darkness. So you have the world of Hyrule and the Twilight that's clouded over parts of Hyrule, and in those two worlds, there are different things that you can do. And on top of that, there's Link as a human and Link as a wolf, and that adds another layer of interaction with the world.
And on top of all this, we have the two worlds of the GameCube version and the Wii version. I believe people now know that in the GameCube version, Link is left-handed and in the Wii version, Link is right-handed. And in actuality, the two versions are mirrored, so in the GameCube version, you have left-handed Link and the whole world is oriented in one direction and in the Wii version, everything is flipped. It's mirrored left to right. So if you were to go through and play the GameCube version and complete that game, everything that you experienced would be reversed in the Wii version.
It's rather funny because we'd talked about doing something like before but we didn't think there'd be a lot of merit in it. But in fact, we've found that when people who've played the GameCube version pick up the Wii version and start playing that, it feels like a completely different world and they can then re-enter the world and interact with it again in a way that feels new and fresh.
Speaking of Link being left-handed, there's a rumor that Miyamoto-san himself is left-handed. So it's interesting to see that the Link in the Wii version of Twilight Princess is right-handed. Was there any sort of dissent from Miyamoto-san over this?
(Laughs). Actually, it was Mr. Miyamoto's idea to do this with the Wii version, so he wasn't resistant to this at all. And while Mr. Miyamoto is left-handed, I am right-handed, not that that has anything to do with it either. (Laughs). In fact, when Mr. Miyamoto plays with the Wii controller, he holds the Wii remote in his right hand and that was one of the reasons why Link is right-handed in that version. We just felt that it was much more natural to swing your sword that way.
Because Mr. Miyamoto was able to hold the remote in his right hand and swing it without it feeling unnatural, he felt that other left-handed people would do the same. He also felt that because of the way game controllers have been made up to this point, most gamers would want the analog stick in their left hand and swing with their right, so they would be able to play without any problems as well.
As for the question of whether Link was made left-handed simply because Mr. Miyamoto is left-handed, that is, in actuality, just a rumor. As for the real reason why Link was made left-handed, well, we'll just have to let people wonder about that for a little while longer.
The perception among most gamers is that the Wii is an underpowered console. Can you talk briefly about the capabilities of the Wii as a hardware platform?
We've been developing on the Wii for some time now, and in all of our time in development, we've never once found that the system is lacking in power. In fact, with the Wii version of Zelda, because we were developing the GameCube version at the same time, we felt that we needed to make them essentially interchangeable, so we haven't touched the graphics in the Wii version of Zelda. So it's certainly not a game that's maxing out the powers of the Wii. If anything, you could say that those graphics represent the maxed-out capabilities of the GameCube.
What we're concentrating on is taking advantage of the functionality of the Wii remote, which no other system has. In terms of the other consoles, I can't really say as I don't develop for the PS3 or the Xbox 360, but to be honest, I really think the bigger challenge is the amount of work that our developers have to put in if they want to try and max out the Wii. I would like people to take a look at Zelda and think of that as a baseline and wonder "Where is it going to go from there?"
Princess Zelda seems like a much darker character in this game. Can you speak about her role in the story?
I believe that when you were playing the game, you encountered a scene in which you meet Zelda for the first time and that scene reveals a decision that Zelda was forced to make that has resulted in what has happened to Hyrule. Obviously, because she is a princess of the kingdom, and thus a very important person, she was fated to make this decision. In Twilight Princess, she's very distraught throughout the game over whether she's made the right decision and that plays into her character quite a bit. Additionally, as Link goes through the game and pushes back the darkness and brings light back to Hyrule, some of the things that Princess Zelda is considering is what her role is going to be in this new Hyrule and also what this new Hyrule should be once it's been restored.
So just like Link is grown up and is an adult in Twilight Princess, Zelda is an adult too and in that sense, one of the things that we really wanted to touch on in the story is that, as an adult, you're forced to make decisions that sometimes you don't want to have to make or that you find very difficult. In that sense, I think you will really see Zelda develop as a character in this game.
So any chance that Princess Zelda will get her own game the way Princess Peach did?
(Laughs). Well, obviously, in the Zelda games, the main protagonist has always been Link, but the series is called "The Legend of Zelda." And so, when it comes to the title, Zelda is the main character. I don't know why that is, but I don't think there'd ever be a game where Zelda was the main character. Obviously, we've had many people raising their voices, talking about their desire to play as Zelda or take a more active role with Zelda in the games so we'll just have to give that some thought.