GDC 2007: The Eiji Aonuma Interview

by Steven Rodriguez - March 12, 2007, 5:00 pm PDT

We ask the man behind Zelda about the things that were with Twilight Princess and what to expect from Phantom Hourglass, as well as the future of the Zelda series.

Officially, Eiji Aonuma is the Managing Producer of EAD Group 3. However, we all know him better as the main man behind the Zelda games. After GDC concluded, we were granted the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Aonuma and expand on his GDC presentation about Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass. Speaking through his translator, here is the full transcript of our talk.


Nintendo World Report: First we want to ask you a few questions about Twilight Princess. It has a very detailed story, but we'd like to know why most of it happened in the first half of the game. The second half of the game was heavy on the action. Why not spread the story across the entire game, instead of putting it all toward the beginning?

Eiji Aonuma: Because it had the light world and the Twilight, it was necessary to explain what exactly Twilight was thoroughly, so the player understood what exactly the goal was in the game. As Link progressed through the game, he basically lifted the Twilight off these different realms. So towards the end of the game, it wasn't really necessary to focus so much on the story, and focus more on the action.

NWR: In the second half of the game there were points where we needed to collect items and such. How do you keep things fresh in the exploration area, to prevent it from becoming a collect-a-thon kind of game?

Aonuma: In a game where exploration is such a heavy focus, like with a Zelda game, collecting items is always an integral part of it. What we try to do to keep it fresh is change the timing and the conditions under which the player accesses an item. For example, if they need to collect an item without having cleared certain conditions, it's going to be significantly different if they try to collect that item having cleared the same conditions. We take all these things into consideration when we plan a game.

NWR: What do you think the motivation is for people to collect all the Poes and the other optional items?

Aonuma: If we create a game and make it feel like a player has to collect all of these items, it will be intimidating for some players who might not want to. It's always necessary for us to balance giving players incentive to collect these items, but also giving them the choice to take the item. It's definitely the player taking part in the game, deciding where the game will go for themselves.

NWR: There will always be those people who want to get every secret and every single hidden object. With that, there's one thing that's been bugging us about the game. Fado's house in Ordon Village is always locked. How do you get in there? We want to get everything!

Aonuma: Because Fado is always on the ranch, he doesn't want to reveal too much about his private life. [Laughs] But because there's a door there, we would have needed to create the room inside. However, there wasn't enough time to do that.

NWR: Oh, that's going to nag us forever. Okay, so the Cave of Ordeals was that extra challenge for people who beat the game. However, a lot of the hardcore crowd wished that the entire game was a little more difficult. When you were considering difficulty, what was the happy medium you wanted?

Aonuma: When I create a game, I always have to think about what a light versus a heavy user can play, and try to find that balance. For the main game, I make it so anyone can clear it. But I'm always thinking about the side quests that heavy users might be more interested in playing. One example of that would be the Cave of Ordeals, where you can just keep going deeper and deeper. It's one of the things I always keep in mind, having something for everyone.

NWR: It's always a challenge to keep the old items fresh, but is it also a challenge for the new items like the Ball and Chain and the Spinner? A lot of people kind of criticized that some items are only really used once and never used again. How did you incorporate these new items into the gameplay and not make them feel like they were just one-time use?

Aonuma: When we decide to introduce a new item in the game, like for example the Spinner, you can't use the Spinner without rails. So we did create those areas to take advantage of the fact that Link now has the Spinner. But after we were done with the game, we looked at other areas where we might have been able to incorporate rails into the environment so that the game player can have a more rich experience and revisit these areas, having just remembered “oh, I saw rails there." But when you saw them, you didn't know what you were supposed to do in that area. That's more toward the end of development, so it's kind of a battle against time. We were always thinking about fleshing those things out, and not just making it one-time use.

NWR: You say it's a race against time, but after you moved the game over to the Wii there was a lot of time there. How much time exactly was spent changing the game, and how much time was taken adding in the extra stuff? Zelda games are usually in development for a very long time, but it seems that if some of these last-minute things could have been considered during that period.

Aonuma: I can't say exactly how many days or weeks we had to do that. But our main priority is always making sure the main game is clean, and something that's going to be enjoyable for the end user. Because we originally made the version for the GameCube and transferred it to the Wii, there were many things we needed to work out. I know that there were still many things that I could have done with the game, but we made the main game our priority and did as much as we could.

NWR: Let's talk a little about Phantom Hourglass now. We haven't seen a new playable form of it for a while. I believe the version at Nintendo's booth on the GDC expo floor is the same as the last time we saw it at E3 2006. Why have you not shown the game off more, specifically the single-player portions?

Aonuma: At E3, we showed the single-player and multiplayer versions. During E3 the multiplayer wasn't quite where we thought it needed to be. On top of that, because it's become Wi-Fi compatible, we really wanted to push that message at GDC. That's why we only showed the multiplayer version. Wi-Fi compatibility for Zelda is a first, which is a key feature for the game. The single player is in the final stages of development. We're polishing it up right now, so you'll be able to play it pretty soon.

NWR: The multiplayer aspect of Phantom Hourglass is obviously very important. But in general, how important do you feel multiplayer is in the Zelda series overall?

Aonuma: I appreciate single-player. I think there's definitely value in that, but I really appreciate the possibility of games to bring people together and have them play together. In the past there's been Zelda: Four Swords which was a multiplayer game, but this new DS version has another potential for multiplayer in Zelda. Moving forward, there will be many other multiplayer games.

NWR: Now about the touch screen controls. A lot of the purists of the series might be questioning the fact that you indirectly control Link. You use the touch screen to tell him where to go, but not exactly control him directly. How do you think Zelda fans should take this? Will this be the future of the series on the DS because of the touch screen? Will you abandon traditional controls or go back to them eventually?

Aonuma: Did you try the single-player DS Zelda [at E3] where you draw a circle and he swings?

NWR: Briefly, yes.

Aonuma: We polished the controls so it really does feel like you're controlling Link even though you are using the touch screen instead of buttons. [Talks with translator] I think that buttons are not necessary. It is my desire to eliminate the need for buttons.

NWR: So is that why you swing the sword with the remote in the Wii version of Twilight Princess?

Aonuma: Yes, exactly.

NWR: The cel-shaded style from Wind Waker fits very well on the DS. Can you comment on why you feel the style fits so well?

Aonuma: In hindsight, I believe that because you have the big screen, because visually it's so big, that the toon-shading didn't work very well [in Wind Waker] because it is a little bit cuter. The realistic look in Twilight Princess was really effective there. Because the DS has such a small screen, the toon-shading works really well because the environment is so small visually.

NWR: For the record, we thought that Wind Waker looked fantastic on the GameCube.

Aonuma: [Delighted] All I've been getting is the negative feedback about the toon-shading. The media folks all really, really like it. I'm confused! [Laughs] I'm really, really happy with how the DS version is going, so I hope that you'll enjoy playing it!

NWR: Yeah, we're looking forward to it.

Aonuma: Even gamers need to wean themselves from buttons. [Laughs]


Nintendo World Report would like to thank Mr. Aonuma and Nintendo for the interview. Interview conducted by Steven Rodriguez, Michael Cole and Aaron Kaluszka.

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