Interview:Iwata Asks: Skyward Sword (Volume Four: The Dense Desert and New System)

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Volume Four: The Dense Desert and New System 1. The Transformation System 2. The Logical Dungeon 3. Twice (or Five Times) the Fun 4. Mobilize Your Experience and Inspiration

Iwata: This is the fourth session of "Iwata Asks" over The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Today, we will talk about the desert. I've talked with you quite a lot now, Fujibayashi-san! (laughs)

Fujibayashi: Yes. (laughs)

Iwata: Thank you for coming, everyone.

Everyone: Our pleasure.

Iwata: I would like to start by asking all of you who worked on the desert exactly what it was you did.

Takemura: I'm Takemura from the Entertainment Analysis & Development Division (EAD). The desert has three independent areas. I worked on the third.

Iwata: The desert has three whole areas?

Takemura: Yes. In the forest and volcano, the theme was playing the same areas multiple times, but we used a completely unique "transformation system" for the desert, so we made three separate areas. Each one turned into quite a rich stage.

Iwata: That is representative of how dense the content of this Legend of Zelda game is. You just used the word transformation, which you don't usually hear used in connection with The Legend of Zelda. I will ask about that in more detail later.

Takemura: Okay.

Fujino: I'm Fujino, also from EAD. I worked on the second area. The game field I worked on used the transformation system just mentioned. The desert becomes a sea and…

Iwata: Huh? The desert becomes a sea?

Fujino: Yes. (laughs) When the desert becomes a sea, you use a boat for transportation.

Iwata: Huh? You cross a desert in a boat?!

Fujino: Yes. (laughs) The dungeon you eventually arrive at is a stage set on a ship drifting around a desert sea. I worked on that, too.

Kitagawa: I'm Kitagawa from EAD. I worked on the first game field and dungeon when you first enter the desert stage.

Iwata: Because I asked each of you by seating order, you introduced yourselves in reverse order starting with the third area! (laughs)

Kitagawa: I guess we did! (laughs) In the first area, we challenged ourselves to incorporate all kinds of gameplay revolving around that transformation system.

Iwata: You say the desert has three areas, so it's a rich place representative of this dense Legend of Zelda game. I doubt the readers of "Iwata Asks" understand what you mean when you talk about transformation and the desert becoming a sea. Fujibayashi-san, how did you compose the desert?

Fujibayashi: So far, we've talked about three game fields—forest, volcano, and desert—and each one has its own theme. In the forest, we tried to change the landforms for many forms of gameplay. For the volcano, rather than making big changes to the landforms, we tried to change gameplay by changing the rules. Then we wondered what to do for the desert. Well, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was based around present and future, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was based around light and shadow.

Iwata: The gameplay involved clear contrasts. The original game, The Legend of Zelda, had first and second quests.

Fujibayashi: That's right. We wanted to make gameplay with that kind of contrast for the desert. In Ocarina of Time, you went back and forth between the present and a few years later, but you had to go to the Temple of Time. Very early on, we began researching and experimenting with making use of the Wii console's capabilities so players could go back and forth between the past and future in an instant, wherever and whenever they wanted.

Iwata: What kind of experiments?

Fujibayashi: Like an experiment shooting an arrow in an empty desert, and when it hits something, that suddenly changes in real time to a verdant land. We wondered if we could turn back time before your very eyes, and when we did it that made quite an impact. And, using the forest game field, we explored gameplay very representative of The Legend of Zelda that involved trees growing up one after the other and things disappearing or multiplying.

Takemura: At first, I thought we could make a whole game using that system! (laughs)

Fujibayashi: That's right. All sorts of ideas popped up, so we decided to make three separate areas.

Iwata: Could you explain what the transformation system is?

Fujibayashi: Sure. The transformation system was the result of that experiment we did for gameplay with contrast in the desert. You cut through space and that becomes the past. If you use your sword to strike a stone in the desert called a Timeshift Stone, the present turns into the past in a widening circle.

Iwata: Oh, that was in the video we showed at Nintendo 3DS Conference 2011. I was impressed when I saw that transformation occur, spreading so quickly.

Fujibayashi: It felt good to our team that was making it, too. Placing Timeshift Stones here and there around the game field expanded into various types of gameplay, and it began to look as if we could include some challenging ones.

Iwata: You thought that if you made a slightly challenging stage to come after the forest and volcano, the players would be used to how to play the game and would enjoy it.

Fujibayashi: That's right. In our first session of "Iwata Asks" about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, we talked about the ancient civilization.

Iwata: How rocket fists gave rise to an ancient civilization.

Fujibayashi: Yes. (laughs) The present time that Link is in is a desert region, but underneath all the quicksand lies an ancient civilization. If you strike a Timeshift Stone with your sword, your surroundings transforms back in time to reveal that ancient civilization.

Iwata: I see. Kitagawa-san, you were in charge of the first desert area. What did you have in mind as you made it?

Kitagawa: It's the first stage, so I paid a lot of attention to what changes would be easy or difficult for the players to understand.

Iwata: You prioritized helping the players understand the transformation system.

Kitagawa: Yes. If dried-out plants turned green again or cacti disappeared, that would be easy to understand visually, but turning that into material for gameplay would be too simple.

Iwata: It doesn't make for a deep game experience.

Kitagawa: Exactly. I had more trouble than I've ever had before thinking up material good for transformation. For example, if you make a broken cart move after the transformation…

Iwata: You can't use it in the present, but when you return to the past, it works again.

Kitagawa: That's right. By using that cart, you can go somewhere you couldn't otherwise, and gameplay rapidly unfolded from there.

Iwata: The rocket fist item, which developed out of a boomerang and ended up as a beetle, led to the ancient civilization, and then you added the transformation system, allowing you to think of a whole variety of gameplay.

Kitagawa: Yes. It's all thanks to the rocket fist! (laughs)

Iwata: In our first "Iwata Asks" discussion about this game, I heard that the ancient civilization led to some characters becoming robots.

Kitagawa: Yes. That is another big characteristic of this stage. The characters and enemies in the desert are robots that run on electricity.

Fujibayashi: We wondered if we could call it electricity in the world of The Legend of Zelda. (laughs)

Iwata: Yes, I can understand that. (laughs)

Fujibayashi: We thought about terminology like that and tried to avoid a robot design that would look incredibly mechanical.

Iwata: Fujino-san, when you heard that, because of this ancient civilization, there would be robots in the world of The Legend of Zelda, what did you think?

Fujino: I thought, "Is that really all right?"

Iwata: You thought, "Can we really put something like that in The Legend of Zelda?"

Fujino: Yes. (laughs)

Iwata: At first, everyone hesitated to put in anything mechanical.

Kitagawa: That's true.

Iwata: But looking at the actual animation, they don't seem out of place for the gameworld. They fit in somehow.

Fujibayashi: Yes. That shows the designers' skill. We would simply convey functional points to them—like, "We want a robot that can do this."—and they would come up with something that fit the world.

Iwata: I do think you can chalk that up to skill in design, but how did they make them fit it? As someone with a background in design, what do you think, Kitagawa-san?

Kitagawa: The designers in charge tried to give them a softer appearance. They referred to ancient clay figurines and pottery from the Jomon period in Japan and wondered what they would be like as robots.

Iwata: I see. It's an ancient civilization, so they used those as motifs. Usually, you would design robots to be metallic and hard, but they were able to make them look softer by basing them on ancient Japanese earthen figures. And they were able to make them fit naturally into the world of the game.

Kitagawa: I think so.

Iwata: What other aspects of the game came about because of the ancient civilization?

Kitagawa: The map, for example. In terms of the first area, the one that I worked on, when you're walking around in the present, there are puzzles you can't see, so you can't solve them. Then you get an ancient map, so you understand how that area was long ago. Then you overlap the present circumstances onto that.

Fujibayashi: Since it's a desert, there are places you can't advance into because of the quicksand, but when you look at the ancient map, you can see there are ruins hidden underneath.

Kitagawa: So that ancient map serves as a hint for making progress.

Iwata: Oh. That's like looking at an old map of Heian-kyo, Japan's old capital, as you walk around Kyoto today.

Now I'd like to ask about the second area. Earlier, Fujino-san mentioned using a boat to travel through the desert when it becomes a sea, which is a little unclear. What in the world do you mean?

Fujibayashi: The first thing I thought was, "What would be interesting to contrast with a desert when it transforms?"

Iwata: The sea.

Fujibayashi: Yes. And if there's a sea, there's got to be a boat.

Iwata: You ask for a lot. (laughs)

Fujibayashi: Yes. (laughs) In the usual way, I said to Fujino-san, "Sea and ship. Let's put in a sand ship for crossing the desert!"

Iwata: How did you take such a wild request, Fujino-san? (laughs)

Fujino: I thought it sounded interesting. He wanted to have a boat, so I gathered a bunch of resources about ships.

Fujibayashi: His desk was really something. It was piled high with books about water vessels, cross-sections, blueprints, and such.

Iwata: What did you do with those?

Fujino: I flipped through them from cover to cover and picked out ideas. I wrote down notes on what stood out to me, and I thought round and round in my head, "I could use that…" and "I can't use that."

Iwata: Oh, okay. You broke down the various elements, turned them over in your head, and then put the separate pieces together, saying, "It would be cool if I combined this with that," and "These would go together nicely."

Fujino: Exactly. Then I gradually got a vague image of it. But two or three pieces just wouldn't come together.

Iwata: You can only do so much on your own.

Fujino: Yes. Once I reached that point, I presented it to everyone. Then the landform designers and programmers added ideas.

Iwata: The idea you had cultivated in your head hadn't reached completion, but you had raised it to a certain point, so various people could give you suggestions, like, "You can finish it if you do this."

Fujino: That's right. They were a big help.

Iwata: How many times, including this game, have you been a planner?

Fujino: I was a programmer through The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I was a planner for the first time with The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, so this was my second time.

Fujibayashi: I didn't participate in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, so I could play from the point of view of a regular player. Playing just a little, I could tell which dungeons Fujino-san had made. He has a distinct touch! (laughs)

Iwata: Oh, how so?

Fujibayashi: A good thing is that he makes these incredibly straightforward Legend of Zelda dungeons focusing on solving puzzles. But another thing is…they're intensely logical.

Iwata: Ah. Like you have to be logical like a programmer to solve them?

Fujibayashi: Yes, that's it! They're logical dungeons! (laughs) And we wanted to make a dungeon like that in the desert this time, so he was perfect.

Iwata: I see. Once it was in your hands, Fujino-san, what kind of gameplay did you think of for the desert's second area?

Fujino: You know how this game has Dowsing, right?

Iwata: It's a way to look for Zelda and others.

Fujino: Listening to the other stage developers talk, I realized that up until arriving at the stage I was working on, there wasn't much gameplay involving looking for something moving in real time.

Iwata: What you were looking for was fixed in place or standing still.

Fujino: That's right. But the stage I was working on was in the middle part of the game, so I wanted to raise the difficulty a notch and make gameplay that involved looking for something on the move. Then I thought of a big ship roving the seas and you have to look for it.

Iwata: It's wandering around, so it is sort of like a game of tag.

Fujino: Yes.

Iwata: And your logical dungeons come into play here?

Fujino: Exactly! (laughs) When they find the ship, I think everyone will have a good time! (laughs)

Iwata: Did Fujino-san's logical dungeon satisfy your expectations, Fujibayashi-san?

Fujibayashi: Yes, even more than I had hoped. His area is the second one, so it's good that he made it relatively challenging. For the first area, though, I thought someone with the chops of a designer would be able to create something visually comprehensible and asked Kitagawa-san to work on it.

Iwata: Oh, so that's how you decide who works on what.

Fujibayashi: Yes. The third area would test the application of the system the most, so I asked Takemura-san, who had been involved since the original transformation experiments.

Iwata: Takemura-san, as one with a thorough knowledge of the transformation system, how did you start?

Takemura: The transformation system is vast in scope.

Iwata: Earlier, you said you could make a whole game out of it.

Takemura: That's right. Take the Timeshift Stones that Link hits. If he could carry one around…

Iwata: Then only the area around him would transform.

Takemura: Yes. The various things around him would return to the past or come back to the present, giving rise to lots of new material for gameplay. From early on, even though there were lots of such ideas, we couldn't fit them in the first and second areas.

Fujibayashi: Or, if a really cool idea came up while we were working on the first area, we might think, "But I'm not sure this is the right place..."

Iwata: Well, no matter how cool it is, you can't ask the players to do anything too difficult in the very first stage.

Takemura: That's true. Lots of variations using the transformation system came up right from the start, so we talked about how it would be a waste if we didn't use them, and that led to me working on a third area.

Fujibayashi: We had lots of leftover interesting ideas involving the transformation system and had Takemura-san use them to broaden the fun. So the area with the most transformation gameplay may be the third one.

Takemura: Among the parts I worked on are some time paradox elements between the past and present.

Fujibayashi: You could say it is the area that makes the most use of the transformation system in addition to being the area most typical of The Legend of Zelda.

Iwata: The transformation device appears here for the first time in the series, so it will be refreshing for the players, as it was for the developers.

Takemura: Yes. It was refreshing to make, but actually making the transformations meant that all the data had to be doubled.

Iwata: Oh, I suppose so. You had to make two sets of data—past and present—for everything.

Takemura: Aside from Link, we had to make two of everything, from enemies to landforms!

Kitagawa: The three of us who worked on the three areas of the desert asked the programmers, sound staff, effects team, and designers to make two of everything, so we had to be certain to make incredibly fun results out of it! (laughs)

Iwata: Because if you put in twice the effort but it's only one and a half times the fun…

Kitagawa: That's right. No one would accept it. We opted for only those ideas that made us say, "Oh, well we got to do that!" (laughs)

Iwata: Unless it's a project that makes the staff say, "We're doing twice the work, but it'll be three times, no, five times as fun!" we won't be able to light a fire in their hearts.

Kitagawa: If they went to work saying, "Well, it's work, so okay…" it wouldn't turn out good.

Fujibayashi: But Fujino-san used to be a programmer and Kitagawa-san and Takemura-san were designers, so they understood the difficulties and worked it all out.

Kitagawa: Yes. The three of us planners understand the realities of development, so I think the desert stage turned out to be quite satisfying.

Iwata: That's an interesting point. There are various ways to make a video game. Depending on company policy, you can become a planner right from the moment you enter the company.

Kitagawa: Yes.

Iwata: But Nintendo doesn't employ new graduates as planners. We place them in development departments, where they design or program or make music, learning the realities of making video games, before moving on to planning work. This is one characteristic of Nintendo.

Kitagawa: Yes. With a system like that, the planners know what kind of confusion their instructions may cause.

Iwata: With the transformation system that required making two of everything, from enemies to landforms, if you did something wrong, you would inconvenience a large number of people.

Fujibayashi: That's right. After I asked them to make two of everything, I couldn't very well say, "Sorry, but we scrapped them."

Iwata: Twice the flavor isn't enough. It has to be three or five times as good or it isn't worth the trouble.

Kitagawa: That may be why we decided to make three areas.

Iwata: I see. (laughs) The transformation material was tasty enough to make three!

Fujibayashi: That's right.

Iwata: Aside from the transformation system, how is the desert different from the other stages?

Fujibayashi: Well, we prepared gameplay using the Wii MotionPlus accessory that's different from the forest and volcano. You can use it in special ways to solve mechanisms in the desert, by twisting things and inserting them.

Iwata: In other words, you prepared ways of using Wii MotionPlus aside from swinging your sword in various directions.

Fujibayashi: That's right. And we designed enemies for helping clear the stages. Until now, once you defeated enemies, that was the end of them, but on the desert stage, you don't just defeat them with your sword. Rather, you can also use defeated enemies to solve puzzles.

Iwata: What do you mean by using enemies?

Fujibayashi: Defeated enemies don't just disappear. Specifically, an enemy called Ampilus appears. It sort of looks like a cross between a squilla (a type of mantis shrimp) and an ammonite.

Iwata: Oh, so that's why he's named Ampilus. (laughs)

Fujibayashi: Yes. (laughs) When we first thought of that enemy, we just had an idea of the kind of gameplay and function we wanted, but no image of how it should look. Then we had a meeting with the designers, and they asked, "Is that a living creature or a machine or what?"

Iwata: You think of the function first, so the design comes later.

Fujibayashi: Exactly. We all put our heads together, and in the end the designers polished up Ampilus.

Takemura: Quite a few enemies that appear in the desert look completely different in the past than in the present. I think the players will be able to enjoy a lot by just looking around and noticing those things.

Iwata: I don't generally think of deserts as places with a lot of change, but it sounds as if no one will get bored in this one.

Fujibayashi: I agree. Even from the looks of it, the desert has enough changes to not be outdone by the other stages, so it's a stage with challenging content.

Iwata: It does appear that you included a number of tricks there. I saw a little of it and it seemed that way to me. Why do you think this area turned out to have such dense content?

Kitagawa: When I first saw the transformation experiments that Fujibayashi-san, Takemura-san, and others were doing, I was amazed.

Iwata: You mean that experiment Fujibayashi-san mentioned earlier in which you fired an arrow and everything turned green.

Kitagawa: Yes. And because of the transformation, broken carts and robots would work again. When I saw that, I really wanted to play it. I was thrilled, like, "I could do some cool stuff with this!" Above all, I thought from the bottom of my heart, "I don't want this to go to waste!"

Iwata: You didn't want it to end with the experiments.

Kitagawa: That's right. This overlaps what Takemura-san said earlier, but when making the first stage, we thought up all kinds of ideas and actually tried them out, but we just couldn't put them in the area I worked on. Usually, you would just let it go, but I didn't want the ideas that arose from the transformation system to go to waste, so I went around advertising them to others, saying, "This is really cool. Can you use it?"

Iwata: Huh? You went around peddling your ideas? (laughs)

Kitagawa: Yes. (laughs) But not just me. The other planners and people who made enemies were doing the same thing.

Iwata: Oh! I heard in the last session of "Iwata Asks" that they were going beyond their own respective game fields and exchanging ideas about Bokoblins. No one wanted their ideas to go to waste, and actually implementing them led to this game's density.

Kitagawa: I believe that's true.

Iwata: What do you think, Fujino-san?

Fujino: This is a continuation of what Kitagawa-san just said about asking people if they would use his ideas, but when I joined the team, quite a lot of objects were coming together.

Iwata: You joined development partway through.

Fujino: Yes. I looked at each one, and while they weren't complete, I sifted through them, thinking, "I could use this…" and "I can't use that…" and turned them over in my head.

Iwata: Oh, that's the same method as mentioned earlier. (laughs) You gathered together all these incomplete bits and pieces and thought them over, like, "This would polish up nicely…" and "It would be cool to hook this and that together."

Fujino: You got it. (laughs)

Iwata: Perhaps the way you have used these materials must be logical once again. (laughs)

Fujibayashi: That's hitting the nail on the head! Fujino-san is logical about everything. To put it another way, he's like a chef who pulls all these ingredients out of the refrigerator and mixes them together for wonderful content like a delicious meal! (laughs)

Iwata: Understood. Takemura-san, why do you think this game is so dense?

Takemura: We had a ton of material, so we decided to structure the desert into three areas. That's bigger than the other areas, but Fujibayashi-san had a clear policy regarding the direction he wanted the game to go, so we were able to divide up the areas and invest them with our three individual personalities. I think that's why we were able to make each stage dense and unique.

Kitagawa: The desert stage truly is rich in variety.

Iwata: The desert stage turned out to have such rich variety and density because you injected your individual personalities even as you hungrily adopted ideas that others had come up with.

Takemura: Yes.

Iwata: I'd like to end by having each of you who worked on the desert stage say something to the fans who are excitedly waiting for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Since you made the first area, let's start with you, Kitagawa-san.

Kitagawa: Okay. As mentioned earlier, we made a past and present for each single area, so please experience them both. They hold a lot of puzzles, and some are a little challenging, but I hope you'll go back and forth between the two times and do your best to solve them.

Iwata: Fujino-san? You made the second area.

Fujino: Like he said, the desert is quite challenging. I think some people will sometimes think, "This is hard!" but it isn't made in a way that feels unreasonable.

Iwata: Because it's a logical dungeon. (laughs)

Fujino: That's right. (laughs) We aimed for a satisfying balance in the game field and dungeon, so I hope people will play to the end and experience the mystery of a desert becoming a sea and the fun of searching for the wandering ship.

Iwata: Okay. And the third area… Takemura-san?

Takemura: In the desert, you can enjoy both the past and present via the transformation system, but the other stages as well have content that makes you aware of the past, and that connects to the desert.

Iwata: It isn't restricted to the desert.

Takemura: That's right. So discover those elements and enjoy them!

Iwata: When I hear that, I get the feeling that when you play, you can enjoy the game to no end as you think, "Perhaps this is connected to that…" And now from the director. Fujibayashi-san?

Fujibayashi: There's a building important to the story in the desert, and within the game as a whole, the desert is the scene of a big turning point within the story. And it's a level up in swordplay, item use, and puzzle-solving, so I hope players will mobilize their experience and inspiration. Finally, you can witness a major turning point here, so I hope you will look forward to it and try to clear it.

Iwata: I see. An impressive moment lies just ahead.

Fujibayashi: Yes. (laughs)

Iwata: I'm looking forward to it. Thank you.

Everyone: Thank you.