A portion of an IndustryGamers interview with Eiji Aonuma…
IndustryGamers: Mr. Aonuma, I’d like to get your thoughts first on the new Nintendo console - how long you’ve been working on it and what new, fresh ideas it might give you for the Zelda franchise.
Eiji Aonuma: First off… I’ve been involved in it in some capacity since the stage where we started to bring things all together and decide what to make of this new system. We had the idea already that we’re going to have this monitor in the controller. So that was about 2 years ago when I started to be involved in these meetings and we decided how we should further develop the system, and in what direction we wanted to take it.
The way I was involved in many ways in the project was as the representative for how Zelda will evolve with this new console. That was the perspective I brought to those meetings. Obviously, Zelda is one of those games in which a lot of the gameplay is centered around the idea of items and tools that the player uses in various ways in their environment. And so, so far it’s just been me examining how I’d like to use that new controller on the interface there to allow additional control or easier control over the toolset that’s given to the player as well as how to open up new possibilities.
IG: The ‘HD Experience’ demo that was shown of Zelda, is that representative of just how good a new Zelda on the Wii U would look?
EA: Well, one thing I want to emphasize here, when talking about the Wii U Zelda HD experience, is that we really built it specifically to be an experience. The idea is using Zelda as the backdrop for one of these HD experiences, what kind of representation Zelda can make there. But this is really just to show people what kind of things the console can do. And so, it’s not necessarily the case that we would use that graphic style or depiction the same way we would in a new Zelda, when there is a new Zelda for the Wii U. Just like the map functionality that was also implemented in that experience - it’s simply us giving an objective look at the kinds of things that can be done with the HD hardware. And Zelda happened to be the filter through which we view it in that experience. So nothing is defined right now as far as how we’ll proceed.
EA: I can’t really speak to Mario, obviously - it’s not my forte. But with regards to Zelda, the development process is typically around 3 years and that’s a pretty big timeline obviously. So you’ve got a timeline for a given Zelda game and you’ve also got a timeline for new hardware. So obviously when those two timelines can line up neatly, then, yes we’d love to have something out and available at launch. There have been times when we’ve realized how important that is. For example, when Twilight Princess was being developed, we started on the GameCube and it turned out the game was going to complete itself more or lese around the time of the Wii launch and I thought, “Well, it would be a real waste not to have that available for new players with that functionality in the forefront.” So we did make a Wii version of the game as well as the GameCube version.
But in general, the timeline for new hardware is actually shorter than the timeline for a new Zelda game. And because of that, when they don’t line up correctly - and that’s often the case - it’s extremely hard to coordinate getting that title out as a day one title. But when possible, of course it’s something that we understand is great and we like to do it. And, naturally, I realize that it is in some ways a problem that Zelda games take as long as they do. I would like to get them out faster. That’s something that I consider a personal challenge and it’s something that I look into.
IG: Speaking of the personal side, do you wish at times that you could work on something other than Zelda? You’ve been sort of the go-to guy for the Zelda franchise for a long time now. Do you have a creative desire to maybe work on a brand new Nintendo franchise?
EA: Yeah, the truth of it is I always want to work on something new. It just turns out that as I’m coming up with these ideas along the way, I realize, “Y’know, this could really work on a Zelda game.” And it sort filters back into it and in the end, we come back into another Zelda project. So in some ways, it’s a bit of a challenge for me personally that Zelda ends up becoming this pool of my ideas and it keeps absorbing the ideas I have and they get integrated back into Zelda games. But that’s just sort of the way it’s flown for me.
IG: One of the things that Nintendo has been a little slower than other companies with is online gaming. I’m wondering with the new Wii U console, since there’s supposed to be a bit more of an online focus, what ideas you have about what unique ways you can present Zelda in an online feature set and get players involved over the internet with Zelda?
EA: To start off by addressing your point directly, I don’t think that it’s inaccurate to say that Nintendo has been a little bit behind in the online race compared to the other companies developing consoles. And a lot of that comes from the fact that we really decided first to tackle the issue head on after seeing how popular that style of gameplay and that functionality had become for the American market, and the Western market in general. So, in that sense, yes, the process was a little bit different. One thing I feel like we really need to emphasize is that just simply to provide online gaming for the sake of online gaming wouldn’t result in [unique gameplay]. Of course, we could put out a lot of titles that have online gameplay that’s similar to what people are used to online, but that wouldn’t result in unique products.
So one of the things we’ve been really trying to do is look at - in the context of the hardware, the functionality that people have and have already in the 3DS and Wii U - what kinds of possibilities might open up. And looking at, for example, Four Swords, which is going to be released initially for folks to get their hands on - that’s local play. But, just the same, it does bring up a question that I think we are examining and will continue to examine, which is “Looking at the capabilities that are in our hands, what kinds of gameplay possibilities are out there for a Zelda game that goes online, maybe something that goes multiplayer?” But it’s all about, for us, finding a clear direction to take that online functionality, to use that online functionality. Once we have that, I think things will move forward. But, until then, we’re in the process of really asking ourselves, “How will this be a natural extension - a natural and enjoyable extension of what makes the series the series?” So that‘s something for the Zelda team to continue to examine as we move forward.
IG: During the Nintendo roundtable, it was indicated that Skyward Sword would probably be one of the last remaining Wii titles from Nintendo since the focus is switching to Wii U. Do you feel you’ve been able to extract as much as you can from the Wii and that’s why Nintendo’s switching to the new system or do you feel that more could be done with the Wii itself?
EA: Well, Skyward Sword as a title in general is not about… It takes good advantage of the Wii, but it’s really focused on motion plus functionality using your sword and your shield and the kind of tracking controls that are possible because of motion plus, not just with your sword but with a whole variety of different gameplay options that are all controlled by motion plus. It’s a game that uses that as a central point of reference for gameplay and we really expand and iterate on that. As you mentioned, sure it’s possible that this could be one of the last titles for the Wii from Nintendo, but I certainly didn’t get the sensation that this is it - we’ve done everything we can. When making the game, it wasn’t even something I really paid attention to. We just focused on really expanding with motion plus and doing everything we could with that feature since it was sort of the backbone [of the project]. But there’s always more to iterate on, so gameplay possibilities will continue to grow regardless of system.