This week in the Iwata Asks interviews, we’ve got Q&A from the people behind what was quite possibly Nintendo’s biggest launch title ever, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii and GameCube.
You can look forward to every installment of the Twilight Princess interviews throughout the whole of this week (Or check out the Wii Sports Interviews).
In the first installment the team discusses what Zelda means to them, which includes cool trivia like why they broke with the tradition of Link being left-handed for Twilight Princess on Wii, what they did with an extra year of development due to the delay of the game, as well as what it was like to bring a game originally developed on GameCube to the Wii hardware.
They even discuss Miyamoto’s “sob-stories” that he tells to the team when he tries to do something in a Zelda game and finds out that no characters reacted to it! Obviously, this will not be allowed and they gotta go back and fix it to satisfy the Father of Link.
It’s also hilarious to hear them discuss Miyamoto’s habit of “upending the tea table” near the end of the 2nd part of the interview. The “that must be the ‘legend’ of Zelda” line given by Kyogoku is classic. Great stuff.
Part 1 – The Indefinable Essence of Zelda
Iwata – I would like to start talking about “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” today. Since many developers are involved with this project, I would like to have as many of them participate in this discussion as possible. First, I will talk with six young staff members who experienced being team leaders for the first time on this project. Just so you know, I am planning to talk with more experienced developers later on, and towards the end I will talk with the director (Eiji)
Aonuma-san and (Shigeru) Miyamoto-san. So, let’s start by having our young developers introduce themselves.
Oyama – I’m Oyama from Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD). I was mainly responsible for designing the enemies in Zelda. Before this project, I worked on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, PokÃ©mon Stadium 2, Luigi’s Mansion, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Pikmin 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.
Nishimori – My name is Nishimori, and I also work in EAD. I was mainly in charge of designing the player, in other words, Link. Before that, I worked on the animations of the non-player characters (NPCs) in Wind Waker and the characters in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Kitagawa – I’m Kitagawa from EAD. With this project, I started out as a chief designer for the dungeons, but part way through the project I took over the entire direction of the dungeons, creating the puzzles and and other challenges for the player. Before this project, I worked on the terrain in Luigi’s Mansion, the dungeons in Wind Waker and after that on the design of the game logo and title screen for Pikmin 2.
Miyagi – My name is Miyagi and I also work in EAD. I was in charge of planning the field design and managing the field design team. The main projects I have worked on before are Super Mario Sunshine and Pikmin 2, but between those two projects I was called in to provide support for some of the terrain graphics in Wind Waker.
Tominaga – I’m Tominaga, also from EAD. Just like Kitagawa-san, I worked on the direction of puzzles and challenges, but I was in charge of designing them for the field portion of the game. As for what I have worked on previously, I was responsible for the positioning of treasure boxes and enemies in Wind Waker. After that I worked on writing the text for Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and then worked on the game localisation for its worldwide release. Most recently, I helped with the debugging of Four Swords Adventures before working on the direction for Super Mario 64 DS.
Kyogoku – My name is Kyogoku from EAD. I was in charge of the overall script for this Zelda title as well as planning some of the events that used NPCs. I worked on the script of Four Swords Adventures before joining this team.
Iwata – I would guess that for all of you here today, this is the first project of this magnitude that you have worked on. The scale of development for a single title doesn’t get any bigger than it was for this project. With a project this large, there is always the monumental challenge of including everyone’s various ideas in the game while at the same time maintaining its overall integrity. If I were to pinpoint what it is that binds all of these seemingly disparate elements together, I would say that it is each individual’s concept of what makes Zelda unique. I would like to ask each of you how you define that for yourself. Let’s start with Oyama-san.
Oyama – Let’s seeâ€¦we are always discussing in the development team what it means for a game to be called a Zelda game, and I really think that there’s no clear definition that is shared by everyone. It isn’t like there are any rules written down on a piece of paper somewhere. What we do have are the unbroken traditions from the very first “Legend of Zelda” for the Famicom Disk System1. So we know for instance that Link holds his sword with his left hand…
Iwata – But we suddenly broke with that tradition this time, didn’t we! (laughs)
Oyama – We did! (laughs) Since Link is controlled by the Wii Remote, he swings his sword with his right hand in the Wii version. I think that was the best solution, but even looking at this one point, there were people who said they thought Link should still hold the sword in his left hand. That would always lead to discussions about what the essence of a Zelda game is. We faced this problem when it came to the placement of enemies, the user interface and everything else you could imagine. And we found that we couldn’t properly put it into words.
Iwata – It might not be articulated, but somehow there is a very mysterious shared sense of what this is, isn’t there?
Oyama – There is, and that’s why it’s so difficult to put it into words.
Iwata – Moving on, can you give some examples of where in each of your specialised fields you reflected your definition of Zelda in the game? How about you, Kitagawa-san?
Kitagawa – Well, I was always thinking about puzzles because I was in charge of the dungeons. I thought the only way to learn what Zelda means was to play the previous Zelda games.
Iwata – The past games in the Zelda series act as a reference, something like a textbook, don’t they?
Kitagawa – That’s right, because as Oyama-san mentioned, there is nothing like a textbook where these things are written down. So I did my best to find what Zelda meant for myself by playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker. What I came away with regarding the puzzles is that each one should build on what the player has already experienced. For example, after the player solves a puzzle by destroying a rock, just when they think that the next puzzle will be the same, you put the rock up somewhere high where it can’t be reached. I feel that this gradual stepping up of puzzles is the essence of a Zelda game.
Iwata – In other words, what the player has just done will be useful to them, but by itself it isn’t enough to solve the next puzzle. So you feel that making the player think about that extra step is what makes a Zelda game?
Kitagawa – That’s right. But it’s not enough for it to simply get progressively more difficult. Once the player solves a puzzle, they should be able to move through the game smoothly for a while. In that sense, it’s different from the type of games typified by the Mario series that steadily become more difficult.
Iwata – There is definitely an action-game aspect to Zelda, but it’s a little different from the type of game where the player simply learns by repeating the movements over and over again.
Kitagawa – I think that’s right.
Iwata – Nishimori-san, you were in charge of designing Link and his movements. What do you think is the essence of a Zelda game?
Nishimori – Up to now I have known Zelda as a player, and what I have always admired about the essence of Zelda games is that when the player wants to see what will happen when they try something, there is always an appropriate response to it in the game. For example, there might be a switch in a dungeon that looks like it should go down if something heavy is placed on it, and the game meets those expectations. Because the game lets the player experiment with so many choices, it doesn’t feel like you are being forced to do things. This gives the player the sense that they are making progress in the game by virtue of their own experiences and working things out on their own. For me, the essence of a Zelda game is that feeling the player gets when they are able to solve puzzles in their own way. This is what I kept in mind when I was working on this project.
Iwata – Zelda games do meet the expectations of users in this way, don’t they? And that’s not only true for puzzle-solving. It also applies to situations in which the player decides to remember the result of taking a particular action because they are sure it will be useful down the road.
Nishimori – That’s exactly right.
Oyama – What you just mentioned is something that we were keenly aware of during development, and it’s something we struggled with, too. For example, there might be an enemy that attacks Link by throwing something at him. The easy solution is to use the shield to block it, but we also had to consider what would happen when the player hit it with the sword. These things pile up on top of each other very quickly and it becomes increasingly complicated to create these responses in the game. Taking the same example I just mentioned, if Link is wearing the Iron Boots when he is hit by that attack, should he just take damage or should he also be knocked down? It’s never-ending because everything that occurs has an effect on all the subsequent responses. If you’re just thinking about this on your own it’s overwhelming, but it’s undoubtedly an important part of the depth we have come to expect from Zelda games.
Iwata – I see. Miyagi-san, what do you think is the essence of a Zelda game?
Miyagi – This is a question that I have also struggled with. I even once asked this question to one of the most senior developers in the company who has years of experience with Zelda. You know what I got for an answer? “If the Zelda staff made it, it’s Zelda!” (laughs)
Iwata – It’s like a Zen riddle! (laughs)
Miyagi – I remember being very perplexed! (laughs) When I re-played all of the Zelda games starting with the first one, I realised that although what was just mentioned about meeting the expectations of the user is certainly a core part of the Zelda experience, so too is cutting out all of the unnecessary elements. Something that is all too common with games nowadays are movie scenes that the user can’t interact with. In Zelda, these are removed to the greatest extent possible in order to allow the player to do what they want. In this respect, Zelda games have a very high level of quality. So when I approached the development of this title, rather than thinking about what Zelda is or means, it was more important for me to preserve the quality of the Zelda series. Rather than thinking about what Zelda is, I thought about where the real quality of Zelda games should lie. For example, the story in Ocarina of Time starts when a small fairy called Navi flies from far away to find Link, an innocent young boy. Then, rather than just watching a movie, the player learns what kind of boy Link is by actually becoming him in the game, and the player is actually introduced to the town when Navi is flying around and bouncing from place to place. These were very effective devices in the introduction to that game.
Iwata – There’s nothing unnecessary in there, is there?
Miyagi – Nothing at all. There is no waste in terms of time or data. I learned a lot from that and tried very hard to reach that level of quality during development, but there were a lot of questions for which I wasn’t able to find answers. For example, I wasn’t able to find satisfactory answers to questions such as whether or not it’s still necessary to allow the player to cut the grass in Zelda games.
Iwata – So, drawing the line between objects the player can interact with and which elicit responses, and those that don’t, is very difficult. If you leave too much out the game world won’t be realistic enough, but if you try to put too much in it will turn into an endless task.
Miyagi – That’s right. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I wasn’t able to find the right balance I had to seek support from Miyamoto-san. This made me realise how little experience I have! (laugh)
Iwata – I will be sure to ask you about how much Miyamoto-san “upended the tea table”2 with his last-minute suggestions later in the interview! (laughs) Tominaga-san, what are your thoughts about what Zelda means?
Tominaga – Apart from what everyone else has said, but I would say that it’s the realism of the game world. In other words, whether or not the player will be able to enjoy the story without feeling that it is unnatural. This is something that Miyamoto-san mentions frequently, but I don’t mean the kind of realism where each individual strand of hair is accurately depicted, but rather the fact that a shop owner is not likely to give a hearty welcome to a child that comes into their shop in the middle of the night.
Iwata – Miyamoto-san is pretty strict about that sort of thing, isn’t he?
Tominaga – He is! (laughs)
Nishimori – He once pointed out to me that Link shouldn’t be standing upright when there is an enemy standing right next to him. And that was when the player wasn’t even controlling Link!
Iwata – Even though the player’s not doing anything, he said “Link would be in a fighting pose if an enemy were standing next to him!” (laughs)
Nishimori – He did! (laughs) But putting in that one little touch has a really big effect on the game.
Tominaga – That kind of attention to detail is what helps establish the realism of the game world.
Iwata – They might be small details, but by having them pointed out, they set the standard for realism in the game.
Tominaga – That’s right. I think that’s also an important part of what makes a Zelda game. This is similar to what Kitagawa-san said, but another important factor is how the player feels when they solve a puzzle. The great feeling that comes from hearing the classic Zelda chime is one of the best parts of any Zelda game.
Iwata – That’s true, isnâ€™t it? Whenever I solve a difficult puzzle in Zelda, it always makes me think “I might be pretty smart!” (laughs)
Tominaga – It’s absolutely essential. Another thing that’s important is having fun getting side-tracked from the main story. You happen to go back somewhere you have already been even though you don’t have a particular reason to go there, and you find that you can use one of your new items to get to a new area and find a treasure chest. I think that having a game full of experiences like that might be what makes a Zelda game.
Iwata – I see. And what about you, Kyogoku-san?
Kyogoku – I think you can say the same thing Tominaga-san just said about what the characters in the game say. For example, hearing something unexpected when you talk to a character you haven’t talked to in a while, or being surprised when a character gets angry at you for something you casually did. If you overdo it, then it will be a nuisance to players, and there’s also no point in putting something in that no one will ever notice. That’s why I was always trying to think of subtle things that might or might not be noticed by players. These things are silly in a good way, and I tried to put in as many of them as possible.
Iwata – Mention Zelda and people will often say that it’s hard-core, a traditional gamer’s game, but it’s actually completely crammed with these silly things! (laughs)
Kyogoku – That’s right! (laughs) But things can get out of hand if you overdo it. On the other hand, if we don’t put enough of these things in the game, Miyamoto-san will always notice it and send an e-mail saying something like: “I went to all the trouble of trying this in the game and I was sad because I didn’t get a new reaction from any of the characters in the game.” I called these his “sob story e-mails”.
Iwata – “Sob story e-mails”! (laughs)
Kyogoku – These were e-mails where he would describe what he did and what happened in the game, and why that made him sad. In the later stages of development, there was a sob story e-mail every night!
All – (laughter)
Iwata – Well, I now understand what Zelda means to each of you. As far as my own opinion is concerned, I have a strong feeling that there are as many definitions of Zelda as there are people. But these definitions are not completely different from each other. Rather they all overlap to some extent with one another. That’s why I feel confident that it will come together nicely in the end. Taking it one step further, I think the fact that there isn’t a perfect definition that can be expressed in words is the reason that Zelda games offer such a rich and rewarding experience.
1. The Legend of Zelda was released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan. Elsewhere in the world, it was released as a cartridge for the NES.
2. This is a reference to the classic Japanese comic and animated series, Hoshi of the Giants, in which the strict father once upended the tea table when the family was eating their meal there. Shigeru Miyamoto’s working style has been compared to this because of his tendency to make last-minute suggestions that leave everyone else scrambling to implement them before the deadline.
Part 2 – Ideas Born Out of Functionality
Iwata – We had originally planned to release Twilight Princess at the end of 2005, but as we entered the final period before completion, we decided to postpone the release by a year. This decision had the effect of moving the finish line further away right at the end of the race, so to speak. There was also the added challenge of developing the Wii version, and I think this made things more difficult for everyone. I would like to hear how you felt about the extension of the release date and how the extra time impacted the project. Let’s start with Oyama-san.
Oyama – When the extension was finalized, part of me was relieved that we would have more time to create more things in the game, but another part of me realized that this meant having to work on the same project for another year. In the end, the feeling of happiness at being able to create more things in the game was much greater. This was because I realized how big the expectations for this game were from the time the first footage was revealed at E3 in 2004.
Iwata – The whole world is expecting the greatest Zelda ever, isnâ€™t it? I expect there was a tremendous amount of pressure on you to meet those expectations.
Oyama – In terms of the volume of development, there was even more than there was with Ocarina. I felt that rather than hurrying to implement everything by a particular deadline, I would rather have the time to do it right.
Iwata – What about you, Nishimori-san?
Nishimori – I felt glad to have more time to polish the game. Zelda is a type of game, that the only reason you end development is because the deadline is approaching, so completely finishing the game with time to spare before the deadline is nearly impossible. In other words, it’s the kind of project where you can always use more time to continue polishing it. With that extra time you don’t merely make minor adjustments, you continue to improve it as a game by adding as many new elements as possible. So the more time I have the happier I am. But at the time it was initially decided to postpone the release, I didn’t have a clear understanding of how much time I would need to finish my work.
Iwata – With a project this large, it’s difficult to know at what pace to work, isnâ€™t it? Naturally at the beginning you didn’t know how much work there was to be done. What about you, Kitagawa-san?
Kitagawa – Honestly, I was one of the people who was happy to hear about the delay. At the beginning of the project, the director (Eiji) Aonuma-san told me how many dungeons to make, and it wouldn’t have been possible to make that many by the original deadline. But with the delay, it was possible to put together a realistic plan to create that many dungeons. Of course, I mean this in terms of quality as well as quantity. The dungeons in Zelda games are the biggest part of the gameplay, so it wouldn’t make sense if only the outside parts of the game were complete. We constantly received feedback from people whom we have asked to test play, about how to have the player use certain items or at what angle to place the camera, and we used that feedback to improve the dungeons. With the extra year, I felt that we were able to polish the dungeons to a level that I am personally satisfied with.
Iwata – What were your impressions, Miyagi-san?
Miyagi – I had always felt that it wouldn’t have been possible to finish everything by the original deadline, so I felt that the one year delay was only natural. Since the game wasn’t nearly ready in terms of both quality or volume, and we were lacking a clear roadmap for how to proceed, when the decision to postpone release was made I felt that I had to reassess things. Before that, in the period when I felt that it would be impossible to complete everything with the way things were going, I was personally burned out. Readjusting myself, in all sorts of ways, was really quite a struggle. Before the decision to delay the game was taken, I was working on what had to be done every day with the deadline right in front of me. The release date being moved back felt like a chance to begin afresh, and it was of real significance that we could fundamentally reconsider our approach to completing a whole range of issues.
Iwata – When you are short of time, all your energy goes into getting those files done by the end of the day. That’s why you can’t really look at the bigger picture and make decisions that will be better for the project in the end.
Miyagi – That’s right. That’s why, to speak frankly, I thought: “If you were going to postpone it by a year, why didn’t you tell us that from the start?” (laughs)
Iwata – I understand! (laughs) Tominaga-san, how about you?
Tominaga – In my case, I only joined the team right before the decision to push back the release date was made, which meant I didn’t really feel too deeply affected by it. I didn’t think much beyond: “that’s a pain.” In fact, I was more worried about the decisions to develop a Wii version or release it at nearly the same time worldwide. But seeing first-hand how Nintendo comes together and co-operates when they have a tight deadline approaching really made me take a step back and appreciate what a great company this is.
Iwata – Kyogoku-san, how about you?
Kyogoku – When the schedule was extended, sure enough I felt relieved as I would have more time to work on the game. But as I was responsible for the in-game text, localizing the game into all the languages needed for the simultaneous worldwide release was no easy task, even with the release date postponed by a year. With text, you’re still making changes right up to the last possible moment. Honestly, even now I wish we could put back the release date another month…
Iwata – That might be a problem! (laughs) But you’ll always find places that you could keep
Kyogoku – That’s true! (laughs)
Iwata – How about the decision to take a game which had been developed for the GameCube and making a Wii version? I’m sure it presented challenges, but tell us also about the positive side of developing the Wii version.
Oyama – To be honest, at first I wondered whether we could really pull it off. After all, it’s a completely different piece of hardware. There was resistance to the idea within the team at first, as people thought that the GameCube controller they were used to would work better for the game. That’s a very common feeling, isn’t it? You might show something to people, and no matter how great it is they’ll feel that the thing they are familiar with is better. Particularly during the period when the game was being fine-tuned, it felt like every week they would present us with new controls that felt different from before. I must say, I was a little concerned at that point. The director, Aonuma-san, settled on the current specifications after a process of trial and error at around the time of this year’s E3. It was only when I got to try out this version that I realized how fun it was going to be. At this point our final adjustments proceeded at a really rapid pace.
Iwata – And how about you, Nishimori-san?
Nishimori – The fact that the final game is so solidly put together makes me feel a real sense of achievement. Often people who play the Wii version for the first time will express astonishment that the game was originally developed for the GameCube. I am truly happy that so many people feel it is so well made that it feels as if it was designed for Wii from the start. When the decision was made to develop a Wii version, I had serious doubts that a Zelda game could be played with so few buttons. But in the end, thanks to the control offered by the Wii Remote, the range of ways to enjoy the game expanded even further, which was fantastic.
Kitagawa – That’s right. When you use the remote for pointing with items such as the bow and arrow and other projectile weapons, you really feel like you have become Link. Now, if I had to choose between one controller or the other, I would choose the Wii Remote every time. Swinging the sword, using the bow, doing Link’s spin attack: they all become completely different. It may feel confusing at first, but I honestly feel that you won’t know how good this controller really is until you get your hands on it.
Iwata – So you mean you shouldn’t say you don’t like a dish until you taste it, right?
Kitagawa – That’s it! (laughs)
Iwata – How about you, Miyagi-san?
Miyagi – Personally, I’m not very good at games so I had the impression that playing the game with the GameCube controller might be a bit tricky. With the Wii Remote, I felt that the fact that there were less buttons was actually an improvement. At first, when the decision was made to develop a Wii version of Zelda, the overall feeling in the team was concern at having to start from scratch with the gameplay at this late stage. Speaking for myself, I felt strongly that we should get moving on the Wii version right away.
Nishimori – Well, this is kind of obvious, but the hard part was making the necessary adjustments to get both versions right. As we had to be absolutely thorough in our fine-tuning of the controls to get them perfect for both the GameCube and Wii versions of Zelda, it doubled our work, to put it simply. So even though we had an extra year to do it, we didn’t feel that we could afford to take our time. Quite the opposite: we were working flat out right to the end.
Iwata – I see. So it seems there were both positive and negative sides to it. Now, let’s come to Miyamoto-san and his habit of “upending the tea table!”1 (laughs) In what ways have you witnessed him doing this? If you have ever experienced this, don’t hold back!
Oyama – Where I was working, there weren’t any particularly serious incidents! (laughs) So I thought: “That’s what everyone is talking about? Is that all…?”
Iwata – You expected something more? (laughs)
Oyama – Well, yes! (laughs) To give an example, with the strength of the enemies, he would say: “make them a bit easier” or “this one’s too weak!” But even more than these pointers, what I found extremely useful were his reminders that: “Regular players will feel this way…” When you spend all day, every day dealing with nothing but the enemies in the game, you lose perspective and there’s a tendency to make things so they will be fun for experts. But Miyamoto-san is always able to look at things from the viewpoint of regular players, which was exactly what I had expected from him.
Iwata – Interesting. How about you, Nishimori-san?
Nishimori – I had also heard a lot of stories about Miyamoto-san, so I worked on the final adjustments to the game while living in constant fear of him “upending the tea table.”
Iwata – “Living in constant fear!” (laughs)
Nishimori – I sat near Aonuma-san, and Miyamoto-san would occasionally drop by to discuss various things. I was always anxious to hear what he would say, so I would invariably listen in on their conversation. But just like with Oyama-san, there weren’t any “tables upended” regarding Link’s design or movements. In fact, I would say that we received very valuable guidance from him throughout the entire process of our work. I’d say his style of advice was more like: “It would work better this way!” One thing I remember was the advice we received on the wolf’s design. In this game, Link is transformed into a wolf-like beast. In other words, the character the player controls at times moves around on four legs. When we were discussing the wolf’s design, Miyamoto-san said: “It’s no fun to just look at the back of a four-legged animal all the time.” It’s true that with a four-legged animal, if you look sideways on or from an angle, you can clearly see the motion of the legs and the overall way the character moves. But if you look directly from behind, it looks really boring compared to a human character’s movements. So Miyamoto-san told us to have someone riding the wolf. At the early stages, we went for a very unassuming character on the wolf’s back, but by the end we had made this character occupy a central place in the game.
Iwata – Ah, I see! The really interesting thing about what you’ve just told us is that Miyamoto-san was “speaking from a functional point of view.” It wasn’t that he wanted a character riding the wolf for narrative reasons. Rather, the reason was to do with its function in the game, as “viewing an animal directly from behind all the time is boring.” It’s really interesting to hear that the idea of having someone riding the wolf was because of this. I really feel that this is the thinking of someone who worked in industrial design. Sidetracking just a little, when Miyamoto-san got Mario to ride Yoshi in Super Mario World, the thinking behind that idea was “functional.” What I mean is that the SNES was a console which didn’t allow a lot of sprites (the technical mechanism that allows graphics to be displayed on the screen) to be lined up on-screen at the same time. To explain why Yoshi ended up looking like a dinosaur, it’s because that shape allows you to limit the number of sprites lined up on screen when Mario and Yoshi are overlapping. You’ll understand if you take a look at the original blueprint for Yoshi, that Yoshi was designed purely from a functional point of view. So the reason Yoshi ended up being a dinosaur is not because we wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur. Rather, it was because something like a dinosaur was the shape which was allowed by the technical limitations. Sorry, I digressed slightly there! (laughs) Kitagawa-san, did you have any “tables upended?”
Kitagawa – I also honestly didn’t experience anything where I could say: “This is it! This is him shaking things up!” Looking back and considering why this didn’t happen, I think it is because with the one-year extension to the project, our team’s planners kept coming up with so many ideas that there was no room for things to be “shaken up.” I mean, once we had made something, we repeatedly examined how well it worked in the game, decided which aspects didn’t work, and then revised them. For that reason, when Miyamoto-san played the dungeons later on, he wouldn’t say “do this!” or “do that!” In fact, he would say “if you changed this a little it would look better” or “if you do this, the route through the dungeon will become clearer.” That is, he didn’t flip our ideas on their head, but rather he gave us really constructive advice.
Iwata – Interesting. I am looking forward to seeing whether you’ll see things the same way as you go on to develop more games in the future. (laughs) How about you, Miyagi-san?
Miyagi – For field design, which I was responsible for, there were not that many things which he changed. But actually my opinion varies a little from everyone else here, in that I think that Miyamoto-san limited his demands on us to ensure that everything we developed had that fundamental Zelda feel. To give an example, when we showed the game at E3, the feature allowing you to fire arrows at enemies was included in the game, but I had serious doubts about the controls for this. Not to beat around the bush, I thought that it was much simpler to use the GameCube controller. It was then that Miyamoto-san introduced the slingshot, which had not featured up to then, in the early stages of the game, which acts as a tutorial. At the same time, he put in a feature where, when you go to hit something with a projectile, the action stops to give you a second to line up your pointer. That brief pause is a great feature, and renews the player’s feeling of excitement and urgency. The second I experienced this, my view of the game changed right away. I have the impression that by Miyamoto-san adding those subtle refinements to the game, elements that had caused me concern were dealt with one by one. Thanks to Miyamoto-san’s guidance, the introductory stages that draw new players into the game in particular, became extremely “Zelda-like”. So although he didn’t shake things up in a dramatic way, I would say that Miyamoto-san made a remarkable difference in changing the finished product into a Zelda game, through making numerous small changes. But rather than feeling awestruck by this, personally I felt strongly that I needed to work a little harder as a game developer! (laughs)
Iwata – Maybe you felt that you had to get things into better shape before Miyamoto-san took a look at your work?
Miyagi – Exactly. My overall impression was that Miyamoto-san was very sensitive to the amount of pressure we were under, and the level of stress that accompanies such a long-term development project. But although it looked like he was going easy on us, my opinion is that he did in fact “shake things up” a great deal.
Iwata – That’s a really interesting assessment!
Miyagi – That’s why I think that if the project had been extended by another six months, he would have exerted his influence more overtly.
Iwata – He would have worked you hard, like Ittetsu Hoshi!2 (laughs)
Miyagi – He would have! (laughs) To be honest, at the stage before Miyamoto-san checked it, there were a large number of things that we needed to change. But perhaps Miyamoto-san understood that if he had shaken things up too radically at that stage, the amount of things to be done would have gotten completely out of hand. That’s why he began with the things which he knew we would be able to do to make the game more “Zelda-like,” little by little. Then at the end, once it had become a true Zelda game, he would say: “I’m sorry to do this at such a late stage but…” Then he would go ahead and change all of the things that had been bothering him. I think he deliberately chose to do it this way.
Iwata – I see. And how about you, Tominaga-san?
Tominaga – Just like Miyagi-san, I also got the impression that we were being asked to change things one by one, beginning with those we could comfortably handle. Another way to look at it is that Miyamoto-san was clearly thinking through and methodically dealing with those issues which everyone was concerned about, but didn’t know how to handle. For instance, in the version we showed at E3, you were able to play through the first village in the game. But even though that was specifically designed for E3, because it was a self-contained level the task of integrating it into the main Zelda game involved making a lot of adjustments, and we didn’t quite know what to do. Miyamoto-san did that for us, which was a great help. So I think rather than upending the tea table, he was actually creating things we didn’t have in the game. A change in the game which was particularly memorable was to do with a sub-event which had no connection with the main story. We made that sub-event, intending it to be completely optional, but then quite far into the latter stages of the project, Miyamoto-san proposed that this should be worked into the main body of the story. Because of the stage we were at, that sent shockwaves through the staff! (laughs) But once we’d actually made it, the item that you gain through that event linked really smoothly into the development of the main game, so the feeling was that we’d come up with something really good. So while it wasn’t as if things had been totally thrown into disorder, I remember thinking that perhaps that was an example of Miyamoto-san upending the tea table.
Iwata – How about you, Kyogoku-san?
Kyogoku – Personally, I definitely experienced that tea table being upending! (laughs)
All – (laughter)
Kyogoku – The reason we had to change things boils down to the fact that in the first village, there were a lot of things particular to the GameCube version. This meant that there were many aspects of the Wii version that did not take into consideration the fact that players wouldn’t be familiar with the game itself or the Wii Remote. Because of this, and I think this again goes back to what Iwata-san just referred to as “ideas born from functionality”, there were still a huge number of things that needed to be communicated to the player at the beginning of the game so they would be able to enjoy playing it on Wii. At first, the idea was that the player would spend one day in the village, but out of the blue it was decided to make it three days. We got a sheet of paper with a specification plan written on it, a kind of “Miyamoto-san’s Three-Day Plan”…
Iwata – Ah, a “specification plan?” That’s always an indication that he wants to make some major changes!
All – (laughter)
Kyogoku – This really was at the latter stages of developmentâ€¦ Well, to be precise, it was just after E3â€¦
Iwata – (laughter)
Kyogoku – Localization had already gotten underway. To suddenly go and make a change like this, well I was speechless… The programming had to be changed, the number of items increased and of course the positioning of the characters also changed. It also required some adjustment of the field design. Naturally, all of the lines spoken by the characters were affected so I was frantically getting in touch with Europe and America. I had to tell them: “That village is going to be completely changed, so please wait a couple of weeks! Please don’t translate anything yet!”
All – (laughter)
Kyogoku – So we made the changes, and just as I was thinking we were going to make it in time, the table was overturned again when it was decided to tie a sub-event into the game’s main narrative, as Tominaga-san just mentioned. So I got in touch with everyone around the world and told them: “It’s going to change again!” Personally speaking, I felt that the table was being constantly overturned. When we somehow managed to finish in time for the release date, I thought: so that must be the “legend” of Zelda…
All – (Roaring laughter)
Kitagawa – You were just dying to say that, weren’t you?
Iwata – Trust the scriptwriter to get the best lines! (laughs) But seriously, I think that, as you said, Miyamoto-san probably viewed that first part of the game as performing an absolutely crucial function. That’s why he had such a definite idea of precisely what needed to be communicated to the player at that point. This is exactly why he gave such clear directions that there was something missing, or that things needed to be introduced to the player in a specific order. As the project draws to its conclusion, and the development team are working like crazy, they will naturally become increasingly less sensitive to what kind of things might confuse a first-time player. For that reason, I think it’s actually inevitable that Miyamoto-san will come in at the last moment and upend the tea table. Now that things have calmed down, when you look back at those major changes made to the first village, do you think those changes were a good thing?
Kyogoku – Yes. It’s not only easier for the first-time player to become familiar with the Wii Remote, but in terms of the story the player will be drawn straight into the world of Zelda. As a result, I am really glad that we made those changes.
Iwata – Incidentally, I remember being told a long time ago that Miyamoto-san’s definition of an idea is apparently: “something that solves multiple problems at the same time with just a single adjustment.” What you’ve just told us seems to fit that definition to a tee. Now, I’ve got a final question I would like to ask each of you. Can I get each of you to give me one aspect of The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess which you are particularly proud of, and that you want everyone to see? Let’s begin with you, Oyama-san.
Oyama – There are just too many to mention! (laughs) Naturally, as I was in charge of the enemies, I think it’s the battles. The fighting techniques, the effects you see when an enemy is hit, falls to the ground and disappears, and what Link does during that time as well. I certainly want players to enjoy savoring those details. Also, several familiar enemies from previous Zelda games make an appearance, and it wasn’t simply a case of giving the graphics a polish. We have also given them slightly different methods of attack, so both people playing for the first time and experienced Zelda fans will be able to enjoy a fresh challenge.
Iwata – Nishimori-san?
Nishimori – Firstly, as the Wii version is being advertised so widely, I would like to say to everyone that the GameCube version is also packed with great features, so please give it a go! Of course, it has a completely different feel from the Wii version. Something which I gave a lot of attention, and which I think is one of the game’s outstanding features, are the horse-riding scenes. In particular, the parts where you are fighting enemies while on horseback is something I’ve been dying to do ever since Ocarina of Time. When we let people have a go at a horseback battle scene at E3, there was an incredibly positive response, but within the team there were those who felt that this part of the game needed a little more work. After Miyamoto-san suggested it, I even went horse-riding!
Iwata – You actually went horse-riding?
Nishimori – I really did. Miyamoto-san just said: “Go and ride a horse!” (laughs) I got the designer responsible for the horse and the person responsible for the animations of Link and the horse, and the three of us went to do some field work. As we were beginners, we weren’t able to fully master horse-riding, but we got to appreciate that feeling of the size of the horses you get by standing beside them as well as the sensation of riding a large animal, that kind of enjoyable sense of not being fully in control. We experienced a whole range of things, including the way riding a horse affects your line of vision, and I think there were elements of the game that we couldn’t have made unless we had actually ridden a horse. So that’s what I really want players to notice.
Zelda: Twilight Princess Trailer from E3 ’06
Iwata – How about you, Kitagawa-san?
Kitagawa – Well, as the person in charge of the dungeons, I want players to enjoy the rich variety and the attention to detail that has gone into all the dungeons. To give a more specific recommendation, there are some unexpected old-school elements making a 3D appearance, and I am sure they will bring smiles to the faces of long-time fans. I hope players enjoy the hard work that has gone into them.
Iwata – And you, Miyagi-san?
Miyagi – If I’m asked to give a recommendation or an aspect that I am particularly proud of, I think I have to speak on behalf of all of the staff who worked on the field design, so it’s very difficult to narrow it down. Firstly, of course, is the fun of galloping on your horse across the vast plains of Hyrule. I think the sense of speed is something the players will really enjoy. Another thing I secretly like is that once you have progressed to a certain point in the game, there is a place that has been designed so that the player can look out from Hyrule Plains and see exactly where the mountains, lakes, deserts and rivers you have journeyed through are located. Of course, it isn’t perfect, but it has been made with the greatest effort to make it all consistent. You can enjoy that view in-between your adventures!
Iwata – Tominaga-san, please.
Tominaga – As I feel like I want to recommend everything, I would urge players to get side-tracked and explore every corner of this world. To give an aspect of the game I paid particular attention to, I would make a slightly unusual choice. I really put a lot of effort into naturally leading the player in a particular direction when we didn’t want them straying too far from the main plot of the story. The fact that you can move around freely is one of Zelda’s great points, but there are situations where you definitely don’t want the player to wander into a particular place. So you have to make sure you guide the player along the flow of the game without them noticing they are being guided. This is extremely difficult, and as I worked hard on it, I’d like to say that everyone should pay attention to it… But this is something that players aren’t supposed to become aware of so we can’t have them thinking: “Wow, someone has really put a lot of effort into making this seem so natural!” So in the end I can’t really recommend that players pay attention to that! (laughs)
Iwata – And finally, Kyogoku-san.
Kyogoku – The worlds in the GameCube and Wii versions are mirror images of each other, with the left and right completely reversed. Just by using a different controller and experiencing a completely reversed world you really get a completely different type of enjoyment. All of us have become familiar with seeing this world on a daily basis, but I still get lost when I have a go with left and right reversed. I really want people to experience both. And personally, the parts which I put particular effort into were all the really insignificant details! (laughs) If you’re progressing in the game, and you discover something where you laugh and think “This is just ridiculous…!”, I’m certain that will be a part that I really gave a lot of attention to and want people to see!
All – (laughter)
Iwata – Thank you for joining me for such an extended discussion! I hope everyone will view this as the greatest game in the Zelda series. Thank you all.
All – Thank you very much!
1. This is a reference to the classic Japanese comic and animated series, Hoshi of the Giants, in which the strict father once upended the tea table when the family was eating their meal there. Shigeru Miyamoto’s working style has been compared to this because of his tendency to make last-minute suggestions that leave everyone else scrambling to implement them before the deadline.
2. Ittetsu Hoshi was the name of the father in Hoshi of the Giants.