Posted on 16 November 2011.
Nick Cowen talks to Eiji Aonuma, producer of the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It’s Zelda’s 25th birthday this year. What do you think has allowed the series to survive for so long?
I think – and I think mr Miyamoto would agree with this – that since Ocarina of Time, our aim has always been to produce something different, something you’ve never seen before in a video game. To that end, a lot of our past innovations have become something that can only be seen in a Zelda game.
Zelda’s not really a genre in itself, but it should never limit itself to one genre. With Zelda we’re always trying to do something unique. I think this, and the fact that we continue to push ourselves to come up with new ideas for each title has kept the series fresh over the years.
So you’d say that malleability is the franchise’s key feature?
I think if players look at it like that I’d be very happy (laughs).
What do you think have been the most important titles in the series and why?
Well, the original, obviously! (laughs). There’d be no 25th anniversary without the first Legend Of Zelda! the big turning point in the series, though, was Ocarina Of Time because that’s when we went 3D.
The third most important title is Skyward Sword, which is the best realisation of what we think Zelda should be on the current gen of console and for the current audience of players. It’s what we’ve been striving for all these years.
How do you begin a new Zelda title? does it start with a story or a gameplay mechanic? and is the development cycle a democratic process?
Well, in all it took five years to make Skyward Sword and at the beginning of the development cycle there was a very long process of sorting out the basics of the game. When we started, we began with the game’s core features – the items and how they’d be used, the sword and how that would be used with Wii Motion Plus. Everything needed to be fun and needed to be easy to play with the Wii Motion Plus, from the combat to the menus and how you select items.
Once we had those core elements, we then started to build the story around them. so because the combat revolved around the sword, we thought it would be a good opportunity to present the Master Sword and explain the history of it, which is why Skyward Sword is a prequel to Ocarina Of Time.
As far as the development cycle went, there were five or six people in the beginning, including the director, and once again, this is where the core features are decided. then, all of a sudden a lot of people joined the development team, and these people obviously have a ton of ideas too. But the five or six project heads are the “gatekeepers”, if you will, of the entire game.
Has the Wii Motion Plus shifted the focus of the game? is the emphasis now more on combat than previous games in the series?
The combat is definitely a key part of the game. in the past you could fight almost any enemy by just button-bashing, but in this game, because of the Wii Motion Plus, the fights are almost puzzles in and of themselves. you won’t be able to beat the game simply by doing the same movements over and over again for each fight. you need to take each enemy separately. you need to find each enemy’s weak spot.
How did you settle on the visual aesthetic of the game? It’s been said Miyamoto-san is a fan of impressionist painters. Did that influence it? What other factors are important?
(Laughs) Actually, that comment from Miyamoto-san is a retrospective quote. he was looking back on the game and saying it looks like an impressionist painting.
Our basic starting point was about the fact that Skyward Sword is a fantasy story – after all, how else would you have an island in the sky as the starting point?
There are some interesting new items in Skyward Sword, such as the Digging Mitts and the Beetle. how do you deal with the challenges of adding these new items with their new capabilities? and are there any ideas for equipment didn’t make it into the game?
Every time we introduce new items and capabilities into the game, they’re very important. They allow you, as a player, to grow within the game and have new abilities. we had many ideas for new abilities in Skyward Sword. some of them didn’t work and so we abandoned them. some of them, though, we’re keeping. Even though we couldn’t make them work in this game, we felt they’re still good ideas. Maybe we can make them work on the Wii-U. It’s possible you might see them in another game we make in this series.
Speaking of the Wii-U, can you tell us about any of the plans you have for that platform? we were all blown away by the Zelda demo you showed on the Wii-U at E3. What can you tell us about that project?
We’re definitely excited about the Wii-U and its capabilities as a platform (laughs). Of course I can’t really tell you any details about that at this point. however, I should say the demo you saw at E3 is more of a starting point at this time, especially from a graphical standpoint. you should expect many changes, because as I mentioned earlier, our starting point is the gameplay and how we can make it work. It’s possible the game will look very different by the time it comes out.
Can you tell us anything about your future plans for Zelda on the 3DS? we all loved Ocarina Of Time, but do you have any plans for any new titles for the Nintendo handheld?
(Laughs) I really can’t talk about that! we are working on something, though. There was the Ocarina of time, which was an adaptation of that title to the new platform. the new 3DS game will be a continuation of our efforts on that platform. (Laughs) I’m sorry, I can’t say any more.
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Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – interview