Interview:Wired July 3rd 2013

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Wired July 3rd 2013


July 3, 2013





Aonuma talks about A Link Between Worlds and The Wind Waker HD.



Wired: I think I heard something recently that you were looking to maybe move beyond Zelda, or do some other things at Nintendo?
Eiji Aonuma: I would like to, I just don't have the opportunity (laughs). I'm working on games for both the 3DS and the Wii U, and I don't know that there are any other franchises or any other people at Nintendo that are [doing the same], so I don't have a whole lot of bandwidth.
Wired: And they're completely different types of games…
Aonuma: I'm happy that you understand this.
Wired: Typically do people in your position focus in on one game, versus you who are focusing on two separate ones?
Aonuma: Oh no, Mr. Miyamoto has many more than I do (laughs). Mr. Miyamoto looks at all of the projects that we're all handling at any given time, and tries to distribute evenly. We also need to support him as well because it's unimaginable to think that one person is handling so much at a given time. I'm working on two or three projects at the moment but there's an advantage to that because each of those projects can inform each other. I can learn things from each of those projects. So there are also benefits to it as well.
Wired: So let's talk about the Zelda games that are on the table right now. Of all the Zelda games that you could bring back and do an HD version of, why Wind Waker? What is it personally about Wind Waker for you that you wanted to reintroduce it? Because I always liked Wind Waker. I think when it first came out there were a lot of voices that said "I don't like this direction Zelda is going in," but I think time has shown that it's a really timeless game.
Aonuma: When we looked at creating a Zelda for Wii U, there were so many possibilities given the HD graphics. But rather than starting from zero, we actually ran a few tests. We tried converting other console games to Wii U. We actually did this with Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. And the result of that was, hmm, those are semi-realistic representations of the Zelda world so we weren't really surprised with what we got. But with Wind Waker, when we converted that to HD we were really surprised at how great it looked.

We actually started thinking, maybe it was too soon to create that graphic style with the GameCube because of the limitations of the hardware. And we're finding that we're able to do what we wanted to do: The vision that we had then was being created thanks to the system specs and the HD graphics. It feels like we're really able to create the complete Wind Waker experience on Wii U. In addition to the graphics, we've also got the GamePad and there's lots of other pluses that we're finding in converting to the Wii U system.

When I suggested moving forward with Wind Waker HD, internally there was actually a lot of pushback. The reason for that is, people were saying, "Oh, that Link. People didn't like that Link." But in talking to our counterparts in the U.S., that wasn't actually the case, people didn't have that negative reaction maybe anymore to that younger Link.
Wired: I think you've hit on it; it may have been too early on the GameCube not only from a technological standpoint but also from an artistic standpoint — people may not have been ready for a graphic style like that. You didn't see that sort of cel shading — Sega had Jet Grind Radio, there were a couple other games that used it, and then Wind Waker — and there was that pushback at the time. And especially when Twilight Princess was introduced, people cheered for Twilight Princess because they were cheering for the return of that mature graphic style. And yet now, if you go look at the indie games on the show floor, they're embracing aesthetics — there's a game at Sony's booth on PlayStation 4 where it looks like the designers were inspired by Wind Waker. So maybe now is the time.
Aonuma: It could be that when we introduced Wind Waker in that graphic style, people resisted it because it was so new, but over time, we may have created this environment that 10 years later is ready to embrace that graphic style.
Wired: One of the things that I keep hearing about the Wind Waker remake is that there were dungeons that were cut out, and so I'm curious if you're adding more extra dungeons to the remake.
Aonuma: I know that there have been articles that say we actually had to cut dungeons or remove certain elements, and it is true that I did have to remove certain elements because of scheduling and demands of time. If it was up to me, we'd have added more content: Make the sea even bigger, add islands and puzzles and all these other things, but there's always the schedule that you need to look out for. If there were sections of the game where you felt that there was supposed to be a dungeon there, or the experience was not what it was meant to be originally it's probably because we weren't able to flesh out the architecture; the architecture was not tuned enough. You had traveled this long distance, invested this time, you got somewhere and the experience was very shallow. The reason for that is that tuning was not complete, it's not that there was a missing dungeon or something was removed. What we're doing with this version of Wind Waker is, we're making those adjustments so that the payoff is there. The payoff seems to match your investment.
Wired: I believe Wind Waker is your favorite Zelda game, right?
Aonuma: I wouldn't say that it's my favorite because it makes it sound like I don't like the other ones! (laughs) Each one is special to me. I would say that Wind Waker is particularly special because I worked on that just as my son was being born. So it's the first game I created as a father. For example, the King of Red Lions, I created that, and he has a very paternal, very fatherly-sounding voice, so that I think comes across a little bit. So it was a new life milestone, the timing of that particular project, so it's certainly special to me and I'll always remember that. As I'm working on the game again, some of those feelings are coming back. So there's a special kind of love for that game. But all of the titles remind me of different points in my life, so they're all very special to me.
Wired: Moving on to the 3DS version. Link to the Past is very loved by Zelda fans, obviously, but why after the DS games were playable only with the stylus, it seems like you've pulled a 180 to go back to the buttons-only formula of the Super Nintendo games. So I'm curious as to why you went in that direction.
Aonuma: When I made the first DS Zelda game, I had to take advantage of the touch screen. And using the stylus created a lot of opportunities for introducing new surprises and a lot of new fun. So it's actually kind of interesting because I ended up making two games for that platform, which is actually kind of special. With 3DS, we've now got the 3-D, which we did that with Ocarina of Time but I wanted to incorporate that as a function, the 3-D aspects, the 3-D capability. I wanted to make that actually function as a part of the game. Link to the Past is a 2-D world and I wanted to make players experience that shift between 2-D and 3-D. But it's hard to play with a stylus when you have 3-D on the top screen. Those two things just didn't match up. So I went back to the button controls. I did move, though, from D-pad controls to the stick, which means a shift from digital to analog. Another thing is, Link to the Past was only up, down, left, right and diagonal. Now you can move in any direction. So we're tightening up, we're tuning those controls as well and it's actually creating new experiences and a new way to interact with Link.
Wired: I think people are ready for this because of that one level in Super Mario 3D Land where it looked like a top-down Zelda-style game, but in 3-D. It looked pretty cool, that type of top-down gameplay with a 3-D display. I'm assuming you were already well into production on this game before that level came out, but I'm wondering if the reception to that level made you more confident.
Aonuma: That was all Mr. Miyamoto (laughs). Those are Miyamoto's ideas; he came up with the top-down 3-D in Super Mario 3D Land, and he actually gave me a mission: To work on a 3-D Link to the Past. But I didn't want to make a remake. I wanted to make a new title but I wasn't exactly sure how I could incorporate this world into my new project. One of my designers was working on this concept of having Link go into the walls, and being able to access places that he couldn't get past. If you think about this idea of top down, walking around on the ground and all of a sudden merging with the wall and then the camera angle kind of shifts into this 3-D perspective — if you think about it, maybe Mario Kart is doing something kind of similar to that — but the 3-D representation really matches when you think about shifting between those two perspectives. So that's when it kind of clicked. And when I looked at how Super Mario 3D Land was also doing the same thing, and the positive reaction it was getting from the users, it did, it reinforced what I was doing and it told me I was on the right track.
Wired: You have to think about it in a different way, the ability to merge into the wall and walk around. Because the game looks so much like Link to the Past, you think about it as acting like Link to the Past. If you see a window, you anticipate that it's just a window, just furniture, window dressing. But then you realize, oh, I can actually go on the wall and out that window because this is not actually Link to the Past. But it tricks you because the visual style is so similar, you expect it acts the same way.
Aonuma: I do that same thing over and over, almost every day as I'm playing the game. I'll get stuck in the game and say, hey, this level isn't complete, is it? And my team has to say, "Remember, this is the new game," to remind me that I'm not playing Link to the Past anymore, there's actually this other dimension that I need to move into. I want to give users that same feeling of frustration, that frustrating feeling of getting stuck, because I think that's a great part of the gaming experience. We'll continue to work on those, find new ways to do that, and we'll continue tuning the game to make sure that it's a good experience for everyone.
Wired: You've said you're working on, past Wind Waker, an all-new Zelda game for Wii U. I know it's very early in development, but I'm curious if you can give us any idea about what it is you're thinking about as far as how to use the features of Wii U in a Zelda that's made entirely for that platform.
Aonuma: That's actually a really hard question to answer, because if I put it into words it might be misunderstood at this point. Wind Waker is kind of a test pattern for the team. In converting Wind Waker, there's a lot to be learned. We can't change too much, because in changing one thing you can break something else, which is not something we want to do. But it's a shared team working on both of those projects, Wind Waker HD and the new Zelda for Wii U. Every day, they're learning something new. As we develop the controls for Wind Waker, they're learning how to apply those controls in the Wii U version. There's a feedback process where when something's discovered in development for Wind Waker, all that information is fed to the Wii U team. So we're working on those things, polishing as we go, and all of those things — it's a learning process, it's a test case almost, and we'll apply all of those learnings that we've acquired in developing the Wii U game.
Wired: It seems to be, if you're making a Wii U game at this point, you're being pulled in two directions: On the one hand, people really like off-TV play. Especially if it's a big adventure like Zelda, I can sit on the couch and play Zelda and I'm not taking up the TV, somebody else can watch TV. On the other hand, as a maker of prominent titles for Wii U, you've got to be thinking, I've got to use this GamePad screen. You could come up with a really cool idea for a Zelda game that uses the TV and the GamePad, has puzzles going across both screens. But as soon as you do that, you can't do off-TV play anymore. Mario 3D World is off-TV play, Donkey Kong Country is off-TV play. I'm wondering what direction you might want to go for Zelda on Wii U.
Aonuma: The gaming community is — I don't want to sound rude, or anything — very fickle. You've got one group that really likes the possibilities that using two screens affords, and then there's the other half of the group that just likes the simplicity of one screen, they don't want to bother with two screens. I'm the same way, I'm very fickle. I totally understand where they're coming from. As a developer, I need to listen to these things and I need to, maybe, make it possible to do either one, do whatever your preference is. I certainly have my preference, but I shouldn't limit everyone to my preferences. I need to provide an experience that is flexible, allows for maybe both of those options.

What my son does is, he'll actually turn off the TV and hide in a corner and play. So as a parent who wants to make sure that my child is studying and learning, I don't know that that's necessarily the best option! (laughs)
Wired: I've heard a lot of parents say they like off-TV play because instead of having to wait for your child to go to bed before you play Call of Duty, you can play things you don't want them seeing and they have no idea because they're watching TV. So there's two sides to that coin, I guess.
Aonuma: Everyone's needs are different, so it's really important to provide the possibility for them to do whatever it is they need to do.
Wired: It seems like a lot of Nintendo's games are going in a multiplayer direction right now. I was surprised to see the Tokyo team, instead of doing something like Super Mario Galaxy 3, do a 4-player Mario game. I'm wondering if something like Zelda: Four Swords might get revisited on Wii U.
Aonuma: Actually, multi-play has been a high hurdle for me, something that's plagued me for a long time. We did come out with Four Swords but I don't think that offered a whole lot of surprises for the user. I still believe there's one Link; the one-Link philosophy works for Zelda. But there are other ways to incorporate kind of a multiplayer experience. One of those ways is the Tingle bottle that we announced. It uses Miiverse. In Wind Waker there's this vast kind of sea world that you're traveling in, and there are lots of Links exploring this space. Through the Tingle bottle, that's where that communication happens with those other Links. They may not physically appear in that space, but you know of their presence through the messages that they leave. They share their experiences, things that they've discovered through their explorations, and so again you can feel their presence without their physically being there. That's a kind of multiplayer, if you think about it. With the new Wii U Zelda, we're coming up with new ideas that still allow the one-Link idea but are the same type of multiplayer.
Wired: We see Nintendo franchises come and go. Some aren't updated for long periods of time. Zelda is not one of those. And yet Zelda, it's not as if it's a 5, 6, 7 million seller like a New Super Mario Bros.. It's not one of the huge franchises. So what does Zelda mean to Nintendo? What is the importance of Zelda in the Nintendo world?
Aonuma: You said that Nintendo releases Zelda games regularly. We do release them regularly, but we don't release them that often. Mario games, if you push to get it done, you can finish it in a year. Zelda games take at least three years to complete. At the same time, I'm getting pushed to release them quicker but the users are expecting bigger experiences. And those things don't match up. So I struggle with that all the time. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do to meet both of those demands.

With the Mario series, there are two producers, Mr. Tezuka and Mr. Koizumi. With Zelda, it's just me.