Interview:Nintendo Power July 2005
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Part II of Nintendo Power's series of interviews with the development team of Twilight Princess. This second one is with Satoru Takizawa.
Late Bloomer Visits Hyrule
Though the Famicom was extremely popular in Japan while I was in elementary school, I didn't own one. That's a surprise to some people, but at that time I wasn't into video games yet. While I did play games at my friends' houses, I was much more interested in drawing my own original comics, which I circulated among my classmates. Well, that and my parents didn't buy me the system!
I jumped into games years later when I was studying design at the university level., where I specialized in movies and was creating animated films for my friends' projects - a fashion show, a music band, etc. At the time Super NES nostalgia was really trendy, so I bumped into one of the very popular RPG games for the system. I hadn't played games since the Famicom generation, so it was a culture shock to see how far video games had come as a form of entertainment. Soon after my introduction to gaming culture, I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and I finally saw the light. I decided that I had to work for Nintendo - no doubt about it.
The Monsters in His Head
New people usually start off at Nintendo workin on the debug team, but after some training I got a shot at designing the logo for Yoshi's Island. When I started it was during the ascendancy of the N64, and there was a huge need for 3-D design work, so I quickly got assigned to lots of projects. As it turns out, I always seemed to design enemies, starting off with lots of creatures from Super Mario 64, like Klepto the Condor in Shifting Sand Land, the Eel Unagi in Jolly Roger Bay and the manta in Dire, Dire Docks. For STar Fox 64, I not only created many of the bosses - Goras in TItania, Bacoon in Aquas, Sarumarine in Zoness, and Mechbeth in Macbeth - but I also designed landscapes and 3D objects that fit within each game environment. Star Fox 64 was an incredibly intense, deadline-driven project, but I enjoyed the work a lot. The overall process - dreaming, designing, then finally playing with it - blew my mind, and it gave me access to very expensive technology that I wasn't even allowed to touch during my university studies. An amazing opportunity.
Link to Takizawa's Past
I was brought into the Ocarina of Time project to create the Ganon that you see in that world, plus unique bosses like Twinrova. As Zelda fans know, Twinrova is the Spirit Temple boss that starts as twins - one a fire witch, the other an ice witch - that eventually combine to make one creature. We always create a design based on roughouts for the setting and scenario. The scenario designer had written the Twinrova scenario that was really funny, with the two witches tormenting each other, and I was very skeptical that my proposed designs could live up to the comedy. But the director liked my treatment, and my Twinrova designs ended up in the game. That's one of the biggest moments in my Zelda background, which covers Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and The Wind Waker (although figuring out just the perfect look for the cel-shaded Moblin was another high point). In our group, hardly any character creation is ever trivial; and we really encourage a non-bordes environment where the designer, director and everyone else on the creative team can talk freely about how to make our games more interesting. Though how our designs are used may change considerably during the development process, they'll definitely show up somewhere in the game, which really makes our jobs as designers very satisfying.
Developing a World View
It's hard for me to pin down those artists who've influenced me. But when I was in kindergarten, I really loved comics, especially Shotaro ishinomori's Cyborg 009, plus the Star Blazer animated series, and I drew a lot of sketches based on them both. Star Wars was the first movie from the West that I saw, and I begged my parents to take me to the theater. Or so they tell me - I was very young at the time. In general, sci-fi has been a big influence on my creativity. I've always been a big reader as well. While other kids were reading light, fun stories, I was into epic tales with real heroes like Ieyasu Tokugawa or Nobunaga Oda. I've always liked stories with many characters, each with their own tales, that add up to one dynamic, massive tale. Even with Star Wars and Star Blazer, it was always the world vision that gripped me, not just simply the cool characters and sci-fi mechanics.
Realism in Zelda isn't a first with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. We did it in Ocarina of Time, but this is the first time that we've taken on the task of creating a realistic 3-D Zelda style that pushes the Gamecube's graphics to it's limit. Our development team is highly motivated to step up to the challenge. We aren't trying to achieve photorealistic "reality" however - and that's a vital distinction. When we look at Ocarina of Time now, we can't deny that the graphics quality isn't high, but you still get the feeling of each environment incredibly well. We've heard that opinion from many who've enjoyed the Ocarina experience. It's really key.
We haven't changed this focus. Not during Majora's Mask, and not during The Wind Waker. We like to hear that players really feel like they're part of the environment. And we love it when gamers compare what they see on the screen to a great painting, because we're creating a world of fiction, not an imitation of something that already exists. Here's another way we like to think about it: Our goal is to create a miniature landscape garden - a natural aesthetic that's a big part of Japanese culture - in which players can get in touch with their surroundings. Easier said then done, however. The development team must understand what kind of gameplay we want to achieve and where objects need to be placed in this garden. And each creative team strives to achieve the overall goal. From an art-direction point of view, that's the most exciting part of my job - to communicate the big picture, artistically.
Guiding Influence on Zelda
As an art-director for Twilight Princess, I spend a lot of time coordinating the efforts of other creative folks. After the atmosphere of the game is nailed down, it's my job to make sure that everyone's designs are consistent. I've done some design work on this project, but I'm mostly listening to other people's ideas. For instance, the cover art for this issue of Nintendo Power was done by Nakano-san, one of our illustrators. One day Aonuma-san and I were talking about the need to create abstract art that would represent the relationship between Link and the wolf. Nakano-san quickly did a monochromatic ink sketch, and we thought that his detailed approach really captured the essence of the game. His final rendition, with it's oil-painting-like approach, really represents the feeling of Twilight Princess very well.
Another important theme of the new game: Link as an adult. We're still thinking about many ideas from both a design and action point of view to show how cool the adult Link can be. We may choose to use Japanese-style sword action, for example, but we're still working through many ideas, and only some will be ready for the E3 demo version.
I grew up in the same town as producer Aonuma-san, my wife and his wife also come from the same town, and we even had a child at about the same time. I remember the summer when we were deep into The Wind Waker development: our wives went off on their vacation to visit their parents, and we had to stay at work and focus on finishing the game. Suddenly, Aonuma-san's wife sent a photo of his cute kid to his cellular phone, and he howled about wanting to be with his family. Sigh - no doubt we'll have another summer like that ahead of us as we head into final development on Twilight Princess! We have some big milestones ahead of us, but we're up to the challenge. However, a little pep-rally cheering from Nintendo Power readers would do us - and the game! - a world of good.