Interview:Iwata Asks: Skyward Sword (2010)

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Nintendo President Satoru Iwata sits down with Zelda masterminds Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma for an episode of Iwata Asks in which the focal point is the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Iwata, Miyamoto, and Aonuma discuss title of the game, motion control, charging the sword, and much more.

Iwata Asks: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Iwata: They just announced a brand new The Legend of Zelda game.

Aonuma: It's called "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword."

Iwata: What made you decide on that subtitle?

Aonuma: Well, first we thought that it has to be about a sword. The story revolves around a sword. And, additionally, the skies play a key element this time. To incorporate these factors, we visualized an image of the sword pointing skyward, something really symbolic, and that's where the name "Skyward Sword" came from.

Iwata: How did this The Legend of Zelda game get started, Miyamoto-san?

Miyamoto: When the Wii console came out, we wanted to come out with a Wii Zelda right away, so we released a Zelda for both Wii and GameCube at the same time. But we still had a lot of ideas that we could only do on Wii, so just like that we started development for the Wii-only version.

Aonuma: There was a sense that we had made The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess too big. We felt like we weren't able to fully leverage its scale and not quite package it into one solid piece. So we wanted to make sure, we first built a strong foundation for the game, and then create a compact, yet solid, playing experience.

Iwata: I see. You're not saying that there were too much to enjoy, but rather you might have been able to increase the density of game elements while packaging so many stages and other ideas in its vast world.

Miyamoto: Yeah, it's really more -- it's not about game density, it's about density of play.

Aonuma: There are a lot of twists and turns during development as we bring a game together, but we tend to move forward, fuelled by sheer momentum, even though we might have some doubts. During all this, we saw the release of Wii Sports Resort, which fully utilized the Wii Motion Plus accessory, and that made a huge impact in the way Wii Motion Plus is used in our game.

Iwata: Is it because you saw Wii Sports Resort that the new The Legend of Zelda game will only be playable with Wii Motion Plus?

Aonuma: With Wii Motion Plus, you would assume that being able to swing a sword around any way you please would be the way to go, and we actually tried it, but being able to swing a sword around freely doesn't really mean...

Iwata: Being able to swing freely and it being fun are completely different things.

Aonuma: Yes, that's right. But I wasn't able to figure it out. We did it the free way, but I didn't feel the effectiveness I was expecting. So we kept working on it, however the lack of effectiveness made it so that the foundation on which this high-density gameplay needs to be built wasn't getting done. So before Wii Sports Resort was finished, I told the staff we shouldn't do this Wii Motion Plus in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Iwata: [all laugh] You told them!

Aonuma: For a while, we gave up on the Wii Motion Plus accessory and went ahead without it. But when Wii Sports Resort came out, Eguchi-san, the producer, came up to me and asked me a question. He asked since he was able to make the swordplay game work in Wii Sports Resort, why wasn't I doing the same thing in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword?

Iwata: He asked you bluntly.

Aonuma: Yes.

Iwata: Very bluntly!

Aonuma: Well I think so. Since I had already played it, I told him I agreed with him and then I went to talk to Miyamoto-san about it.

Iwata: And what kind of position did Miyamoto-san have?

Miyamoto: I was the one that asked Eguchi to go say that to Mr. Aonuma, so everything was going according to plan! [all laugh]

Iwata: So you [Aonuma] were dancing around on the palm of Miyamoto-san?

Miyamoto: I wasn't just making him dance! We had talked about it several times at that point, but coming from me it wasn't persuasive. I thought we should go deeper into that desire to be able to swing your sword around with your hand freely.

Iwata: Miyamoto-san, you're always very persistent when it comes to the correlation between physical experience and games.

Miyamoto: Mhmm, yeah. But this is the kind of thing that can only be done on the Wii, so I see it as a chance; it's worth the effort. We just -- we have to have the confidence that if we do it right people will see that this way's better, it's a better way to play. So once we decided to focus on the sword, we found it fun, but we also found you want to charge up your sword. We've always had a habit of using the A button to charge, but then that's going to require more button presses in the game.

Iwata: Charging with the A button is standard practice in games.

Miyamoto: Yeah, we talked about this, and we thought that you have to stop swinging. If you swing, you stop your swing at some point. And if by stopping your swing you charge your sword, it feels very natural. We started saying that "pressing a button to charge up, that's just weird!" And then it just made sense.

Iwata: With a device like the Wii Motion Plus that can detect such movement, you're able to make the sword charge while you're stopping just like the real thing. When your team feels it out and can feel it working, that's when you know you're headed in the right direction.

Aonuma: When we made The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Miyamoto-san was saying he wanted to have Link raise his sword up high while riding Epona. We tried to make it work, but we weren't able to really make it feel like he was raising the sword up in the air.

Iwata: Right.

Aonuma: That's because we didn't have the Wii Motion Plus accessory. But from what I just heard just now, I think it's really important to be able to hold the sword still in a fighting stance. Because you're able to do this, you can just go right into the game.

Miyamoto: When we made Wii Motion Plus, we felt there had to be mouse-like control too. The Wii has a pointer.

Iwata: Yes, the pointer that you point to the screen.

Miyamoto: Now, I love the double hookshot that we had in Twilight princess; I think it's really unique, but after you cling on to a wall and then you aim to the next spot, it takes a while each time. You know, you lose track of the pointer. I wanted to make controls like that feel good, and be able to do things like a 3D mouse. This feature has been decided to be built into the Motion Plus when we designed it, and we made sure we implemented these two features in Zelda as well.

Iwata: The way the pointer works using the Wii Motion Plus is very interesting.

Aonuma: We've already done the type of pointing that uses the sensor bar. Even though we've done that before, when we tried this new way it felt great, but at the same time we were used to the old way, so that back-and-forth happened for quite some time. But that being said, the term "freestyle" fits really well with how it works. You can control it any way you like, and it feels like that part is already finished.

Iwata: If there are people who have pre-determined thoughts that controls with the Wii Remote are good for beginners but not good for the deeper game players, I would really like those people to try out the new Zelda game.

Aonuma: That's right. The history of Zelda is one that however complex the controls or how many items you have, it's really been important to be able to access those elements very simply. This goes back to the N64 era, where we assigned different items to each of the four face buttons.

Iwata: So the players could just select which button to push, rather than open up icons and having to choose from a list.

Miyamoto: When you're in the middle of a heated sword battle and you instantly want to switch to a bow and arrow to shoot, well you shoot arrows from afar, so maybe in a battle you might switch to a slingshot, you can do it; you can shoot right away.

Aonuma: Yeah. And there's no confusion either. Your body will remember where the items are. So you're able to learn by the way you're holding the Wii Remote what items you're able to pull up right away.

Iwata: We have the Japanese expression that our fingers know what to do, but now our body remembers now.

Aonuma: Yes, that's right.

Miyamoto: Just like you put what item in what pocket.

Iwata: Miyamoto-san, your EAD team's approach in making games can be defined as a team that typically focuses on creating new ways to play rather than creating a game world. Even so, when the world gets as big as The Legend of Zelda, I think the need to build out the world, the settings, and creating the scenarios, including all the details become very important. But Miyamoto-san, you said that for this new Zelda game, you have been placing significant priority on specifically how the game will be played since it started development.

Miyamoto: Yeah, that's right. As we're making Zelda, I continue to discuss with Aonuma-san and the team as to why and what makes Zelda so much fun. We talk a lot about what is that flavor of Zelda. I think there's a sense of realism in being in Hyrule, but I think that realism comes from the characters and the details of the scene. You need a sense that you're actually doing these actions, that you're in that world. So in that sense, pushing a huge block is actually kind of absurd. I don't think anybody wants to see a young man pushing giant blocks with graphics that are better than that of the GameCube.

Iwata: There is no way someone could push an object bigger than him that's most likely made out of stone!

Miyamoto: It's not like it's comedic; he's got a serious look on his face when he's doing it. But that's fun when you actually play it. It's because there's some sense of experience. You feel it.

Iwata: You feel it. Word has been out that we've been working on the next Zelda game for a while, and now that it's been officially announced, and you were able to explain the controls, what you can do, and the world it takes place in, I think many people are looking forward to it. Do you have anything that you'd like to say to them?

Aonuma: Hmm. Well I've been talking about this with Miyamoto-san and we've been throwing around the phrase "back to basics" as we were asking each other what core elements made The Legend of Zelda games fun.

Iwata: By pursuing why Zelda games are fun, you boil it down and make it denser, that's what this new game is about, right?

Aonuma: Yes, that's right. And that's why we need all the things like story and world design, and as we pool these things together, we add more and more, to make sure people can fully enjoy the game. I feel the process is working; I feel it first-hand that things are coming together nicely. As you start playing and enjoying the game, all these elements will gradually fill up your experience, and I think that's what it's going to feel like when you play. And that's what I want people to enjoy when they're playing the game.