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GDC Live blog Keynote - Aonuma talks Zelda

Well here we are waiting for the keynote to begin. Word has it that the Phantom Hourglass trailer from earlier will be shown here again. I wouldn’t expect much in the way of new info, but it should be interesting nevertheless.

Mr. Aonuma is talking about Wind Waker. Unfortunately the game did not sell very well in Japan, but sold very well in the US. Aonuma was convinced that it did not sell well due to the graphical style. There was a mix of seasoned gamers getting board, and new gamers being too intimidated to play. Twilight Princess was originally titled Wind Waker 2, which later moved away as the game went futher into development.

Aonuma is moving into the connectivity aspect of the Zelda series. He is discussing the Four Sword Adventures for the Cube. Mr. Miyamoto felt this title was important because it would use connectivity as the main aspect of gameplay…and therefore Aonuma went ahead with it. That title did not sell too well either, which is closely related to all the hardware needed to play. Another reason was how difficult it was to pull gamers in due to the nature of the title. It was hard to show off just how to play the game, what you needed and what needed to be done in a simple commercial.

Moving back to Wind Waker, while the game did sell over a million units, the title trickled off in sales quickly after passing that mark. The reason Twilight Princess went with a more realistic style was because Aonuma wanted to give the North American market what they wanted. The North American market is much stronger (when talking Zelda) than the Japanese market, so the move was made. The gameplay was to be more realistic as well, when compared to Wind Waker.

Once the DS came into play, the team that worked on Four Swords moved onto a DS Zelda project. This team put cel shading to use, and showed Mr. Aonuma that it was possible to do a cel shaded 3d Link on the DS. Orginally Link was on the top screen, and you controlled him with the D-Pad. Aonuma wanted to change this to something much more innovative. The team switched Link to the bottom screen, allowing for full touch screen control. On top of this, Nintendo added the battle mode which we saw at E3, and the show floor at GDC.

Aonuma wanted to innovate with Twilight Princess, but couldn’t find any way to work something into the Cube game to better gameplay. Eventually the idea of Link changing into a Wolf came to mind. Miyamoto didn’t think the idea of a Wolf Link in a Zelda game would work at all, and thought it amateurish of Aonuma to even mention the idea. Aonuma continued on, and believed that he and his team could find a way to make this idea work. Minish Cap also helped Aonuma see how two worlds could work well together, and helped him to evolve Twilight Princess.

E3 2005 came along, and Aonuma felt there was nothing special about Twilight Princess to show at E3. It left Aonuma with little to show at E3. Miyamoto gave Aonuma the goal to strive from Zelda at %120, it had to be better than Ocarina in every way. Even with Aonuma doubting Twilight Princess, the game was very well received at the next E3. Aonuma felt there was much more to do with Twilight Princess. There was a need to do something else new with Link…something to get people to interact more. That’s when the idea of using the Wiimote on Twilight Princess came about. At first Aonuma didn’t think the Wiimote would be used until the next console Zelda…the one following Twilight Princess. Miyamoto gave the goal of using the Wiimote as the bow and arrow as a main goal for Aonuma to approach. The problem that came up was the one of alienating Cube owners that wanted to play on the Cube, and not Wii. Miyamoto convinced Iwata to wait until 2006 so that a Wii and Cube version could be created.

Cube and Wii development with hand and hand, with a goal of completing the Cube version first…and then finding out what needed to be done with the Wii version. The first thing to tackle was camera control. Finding a way to combine traditional joystiq control, as well as pointer control. After that, motion sensor discussion came up. A first person view was originally used for link swinging his sword, but the development team feels that this didn’t work well. A video was shown, and it actually looked very strange to see a Zelda title work this way. They also tried third person sword control with the Wiimote(like we have in the final version), but the team first felt that it didn’t work. Seeing Link swing his left hand and using your right to accomplish this didn’t function well. The version that was at E3 didn’t have motion sword controls. Miyamoto came back from E3 saying that many people felt there were a lot of issues with controls. Aonuma thought that people had a rough issue playing the game on the show floor, and that the opinions they have would disappear once they had a more relaxed play session. Aonuma and Miyamoto took all the negative feedback and started things over again.

Aonuma had to completely redesign the Wiimote controls. The problem of the B trigger came up. The B trigger was used for Link’s sword, but now the team wanted to use it in conjunction with the d-pad for items. This forced the team to rethink the sword controls. The idea came to mind to mirror the world so that Link could be right handed. The team tried this out, and it was decided that this was definitely the way to go. Now players could swing the wiimote as they wanted to to control Link’s sword. All of this work went on to great success for Twilight Princess, except in Japan. Aonuma believes that Twilight Princess gave the impression of being too hard, and that’s why the Japanese public didn’t buy it.

This is why work on Phantom Hourglass is so important. (Phantom Hourglass was once again confirmed for this year) One of the first things Aonuma is discussing is the wifi-enabled battle mode found in the game. He is going through how the game works, which many of you saw in the videos posted. The mode is called hide and seek mode. You collect triforce pieces and take them to your base. Your opponent tries to catch you and hit you, which ends your turn. That’s when the two players switch modes. Both modes use touch screen control. One Link versus 3 enemies. Carrying a triforce pieces slows your character down a lot, making it harder to get them back to your base safely. The bigger the piece, that slower you run. Bigger pieces are worth more points. When you play as defense you draw a path for the path of one of three enemies. When you switch to another enemy, the camera switches to him as well. This way you can watch him walk on his path until you switch again. Enemies cannot enter bases or safe zones. Safe zones are scattered throughout the field.

Aonuma says that there is something that happened to him that has been very influential. Aonuma’s wife is not interested in games at all. She doesn’t understand the hardships of game development, and thinks that he just plays games all day. Aonuma’s 5 year old son wanted a Wiimote. He didn’t say that he wanted the system, he thought it was a stand alone device. Aonuma had to convince his wife that 5 years old wasn’t too young to start playing games. He started his son on Wii Sports. His son was able to pick up the game very easily. He also brought Twilight Princess home, even though he thought his son was too young. His son had a little trouble at the start, but by teaching him he could fish and call the hawk…and later on he could aim and shoot. Aonuma came home the next to find his own wife playing, and his son cheering him on. His wife said that she was helping his son at first, but then she got more into the game. Now they both play Twilight Princess all the time. His wife stated that with old games she never wanted to try, but after seeing their son play the Wii she became very interested. This reminded Aonuma of playing his first game of Mario on the NES. This is a vital aspect to the Wii. Now the keynote is ending with the Phantom Hourglass trailer.

That’s it…now we have to make it back to the hotel and update all we can before the G.A.N.G. awards. We will see you guys soon!

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