As someone charged with big secret projects at Nintendo, it surprised me that producer Eiji Aonuma isn’t afraid to answers questions with detailed responses. During an interview via videoconference last week with IGN, the charismatic 50 year-old developer tackled each with positive energy and well thought-out answers.
Behind the scenes at Nintendo, I always imagined Aonuma's workday resembled a whirlwind of meetings and high-pressure decisions. Up until fairly recently, he's had his hands full with three (!) Zelda games in development. Now that Wind Waker HD is done, only two remain: A Link Between Worlds for 3DS and the mysterious Zelda game for Wii U.
Most video game developers rarely get the opportunity to fix an earlier game. So, as one of the rare creators given a chance to revisit a project many considered a masterpiece, how has this experience impacted the way he looks at games now? How will it impact any future work on Zelda?
"Well, as you know, Wind Waker really takes the biggest look at Hyrule. It has the biggest world of all the games in the Zelda series, and players are able to move around it freely – crossing the oceans, riding in the boat, " Aonuma said. "That free movement is something we’ve come to know. Now, as an open world environment, I consider this game to be included in that whole open world type of game."
When Aonuma took the opportunity revisit Wind Waker, he wanted to take that freedom of movement, the ability for the player to go wherever they wanted, and make it more enjoyable. "In addition, I think it’s something that I’d like to be able to implement in other games moving forward. Again, just the idea of giving players the freedom to move about and have an enjoyable experience is definitely something I’m keeping in mind when looking at new development,
Aonuma quickly clarified that an open world in this case doesn’t mean a physically large space. Instead, he wanted to emphasize that it's a place where players can explore, and where it's fun for them to explore. "[The player is] always discovering new things within that world, rather than just wandering around a physically large area, " he said. "That’s something I want to continue doing in development going forward – creating that environment where [they] can go explore and find new and interesting things."
My weekend experience with Wind Waker HD proved how Aonuma's emphasis on freedom of movement could feel gratifying. After 10 hours or sailing between the islands on the open sea, I reached a point where I just wanted to move faster.
Once I acquired the Swift Sail, an optional tarp that made my tiny red vessel faster than most ships and enemies in the game, I used this new piece of equipment to tackle one of the underemphasized-but-important aspects of Wind Waker: cartography. As I darted from island to island, my eyes would scan the horizon line in search of helpful fish that could fill out my sea charts.
This admittedly small detail -- in a word, speed -- made the difference for the rest of my weekend. And it’s one of several improvements Nintendo has boasted in the remade Wind Waker HD. The final game included sped up animations, a streamlined end quest, and integration with the Wii U GamePad, but which feature was Aonuma most thankful to revisit?
"I think that, when we first launched Wind Waker, there were some people who looked at the artwork and thought [it] was maybe a little bit focused for a younger audience. Maybe it’s a little too cartoony, maybe a little too childish. Maybe some people didn’t pick the title up, "Aonuma said. "They knew it was this big great adventure, but the artwork didn’t really appeal to them. I’m thinking that this time, with HD and being able to show more graphical fidelity, a higher resolution, I think maybe we’re going to take that image of Wind Waker as something that skews a little young and we’re going to draw people in with the graphical look."
"Obviously I think the history of the game itself, people knowing that it was a title that was popular and [it] seems to have weathered the test of time pretty well. We’re going to see an appeal to a wider audience. We’re not just hitting older Zelda fans,
"They’re going to look at it, with the higher resolution and the HD artwork, and think this is a game they want to try. It’ll maybe remove some of that obstacle they created for themselves. I’m very happy to have been able to do that."
After digging back into Wind Waker for the first time in ten years, I compared it with the last big Zelda I played. In 2011, I reviewed Skyward Sword and at the 12-hour mark, I recall feeling much differently. Skyward Sword took a formulaic approach filled with three-part quests and a handful of repetitive errands. By comparison, Wind Waker HD never felt nearly as rote. Contrasting between the two games reminded me just how much the series had changed.
But during a previous Nintendo Direct this past January, Aonuma expressed that his team is rethinking the conventions of Zelda. So I asked him, as he looks at the entire 3D era of the series, what has been lost over time? What themes, if any, is he trying to reintroduce?
"That’s a tough one."Aonuma took a few moments to think before he answered my question. "Well, for us, when we’re developing a new Zelda, we’re not necessarily focused on which target audience we’re aimed at. We definitely think about who the target audience is, but we’re not focused on a specific age range or specific gender. What we want is a wide audience, so that this game is open and accessible to as wide an audience as possible and everyone enjoys it."
Aonuma quickly clarified that going for a larger audience doesn’t mean watering a game down. He means making it a fun experience for everyone. "I think there’s been a tendency lately to see games as more focused in on a specific audience or a specific age, " he elaborated. "We’re seeing that range of interest in a game become narrower as we feel like we’re forced to make a game that appeals to a certain group. If we don’t make it appeal to a teenager, then it’s not a game that they’re going to mark off on their calendar.”
"What I want to do going forward is to find that balance, where the game appeals to a wide audience, but is still true to what we’re trying to create, " Aonuma said. "That’s the challenge for us, trying to find that balance. Going forward, I want to make Zelda accessible to a wide audience. It’s trying to find that direction and the vehicle through which we can accomplish that goal that’s the challenge we face every day in development."
Since Wind Waker's first release in 2002 in Japan, six original Zelda projects have been made. Of the six games, two released on Nintendo's last home console, the Wii. Now that Wind Waker HD is done, and presumably when work on A Link Between Worlds begins to wind down, the Wii U project becomes Aonuma's next major focus.
But it's interesting that Aonuma had the opportunity to visit two very distinct projects before the next major entry on Wii U. In Wind Waker's case, he had a chance to revisit his own work. For A Link Between Worlds, he's had an opportunity to look closer at Zelda: A Link to the Past -- a game that legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto directed. How does revisiting those two games distinct game worlds inform the development of the next Legend of Zelda?
Aonuma acknowledged that the opportunity to work on these two Zeldas is a unique and almost fateful occurrence, if you wanted to put it in overdramatic terms. "Of course, we’re looking at the new Zelda game for Wii U, and absolutely, working on these titles has influenced and impacted the development of the new Wii U title,
"For example, in Wind Waker, we’re using the GamePad to travel around in the boat, using it almost like a GPS controller. I really want to take that mechanic and implement it in the Wii U game, " Aonuma explained. "I’m not saying that we’re going to be in a boat, but we’re going to be traveling around in the adventure. I think the GamePad is something that can allow us to make that as smooth and enjoyable an experience for the end user as possible."
"Also, with A Link Between Worlds, we have some brand new elements, some never before seen in Zelda play styles in that game, " Aonuma said. "I don’t have any direct or concrete examples, but it’s definitely bleeding over into the development on Wii U."
"So what we’re seeing is…,
Jose Otero is an Associate Editor at IGN and host of Nintendo Voice Chat. He wants you to stay tuned for a few more stories about Zelda coming to IGN this week. If you want to know when these stories are live on the site, follow him on twitter.
Source : ign[dot]com