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Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma on Zelda: The Wind Waker

A transcript of a recent interview conducted with Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma

Something in the air

Last Friday, Shigeru Miyamoto and entourage descended on London's Oxford Street to meet and greet fans of his many games. But before he signed your bare chests and you ran screaming from the building like jubilant teenage girls at a Blue concert, Mr. Miyamoto and Zelda's director Mr. Aonuma spoke at length to assembled journalists in the underbelly of Virgin Megastore. What's more, Nintendo was good enough to take notes - we're sure you'll find them most enlightening!

Interviewer We want to know where you drew inspiration on wind controlling for the game. Were you planning to use fire or water in the game?

First of all we have to come up with a specific stage of a game for Link's adventure and we came up with the idea of the ocean and how Link would move. We decided to use a ship and make use of a sailing boat so players could have control over the wind and that is how we came up with the idea of wind control.

We were thinking also in terms of the advancement of the technology. Many people focus on beautiful graphics and we wanted to take advantage of areas that no one else was using and that was the controlling of the wind by taking advantage of the high performance of Nintendo GameCube. Zelda looks like animation and not like anything else available.

Interviewer What were the main elements of Zelda that you didn't have the time to put in. What were they this time around?
First of all in terms of time for completion we had to delete two stages, which included some dungeons. Yet, of course, the volume is big enough, but we had to delete some elements we were originally going to incorporate in the game. But I think this time, other than that, most of the ideas we were originally thinking about were incorporated into the final game.
Interviewer The new style of Zelda was a radical change when it was first shown. It sent big shock waves through the industry. Can we expect a similar type of shock with Mario 128 this time around?

Actually we never intended to create a shockwave, it's just we were trying to make something new. Of course it's best to base it on something consistent, but we always try to make something new. We wanted to make a new figure of Link and were confronted with a problem that if we went forward with a much more realistic graphic of Link, we may have had a big problem with being comfortable playing the Link character in the real world.

If Link is just walking and if he makes three steps, he would walk a metre away. In the real gameplay it is not natural, it does not make good sense in terms of game play. That is the kind of basic argument we had when we were making the Link character. Now talking about Mario 128 we have not come up with the specific stages of reformation for the Mario character. Once again, I try not to make any shockwaves in the industry, it's just that I am always thinking of perfect game play and character control.

One question: has anyone played with the English version of The Wind Waker. No? Japanese? Yes. Didn't you feel that it felt very natural to control Link?

[Nods and confirmations]

Interviewer Now that you've created this fantastic new game engine, will you be tempted to reuse it in future games?
It is now taking such a long time to come up with the basic engine for whatever game we are working for and if we can make use of an already completed engine, it is better for me as a producer. I want to make ideas come to life. As a producer and designer, I am hopeful we can make use of the Wind Waker engine for future games too. The basic functionality of the GameCube is so high I am sure we can easily make use of this for future games.
Mr. Aonuma: In answer to the former questions, we really didn't leave anything out when we completed Wind Waker, and those kinds of ideas which I had, which we could not incorporate into Wind Waker, are already incorporated into our next projects which may or may not make use of the Wind Waker engine.
Interviewer Another question about the graphical style. Given the cute childlike look and the mass markets leaning towards realism, do you see any problems reaching a large-scale audience? If not, what about Zelda appeal to people who like realistic games?

Well for example, in Japan we have a very popular cartoon movie maker, called Miyazaki who has created so many good titles that appeal to children and adults alike, and many of the fans of Miyazaki movies are fathers and mothers. It is a good example that in order to appeal to the mass audiences real graphics are not always necessary. Making use of the Wind Waker graphics isn't a handicap to reach out to the mass game users. We should not strictly be talking about this game alone as Nintendo as a whole has created a new looking type of game and we are working in new areas too. We are always trying to produce a variety of different things for many different audiences.

The games industry, especially in Japan, is having hard times in terms of making good business but on the other hand, looking at the movies, Miyazaki stimulated the market and attracted many audiences to the animated movie. I don't think it is a good idea to focus just on the gaming industry if we are just narrowing down what kind of tastes there are. For example, if one theme is popular and if everyone tries to get on the bandwagon then that will have a negative effect on the industry as a whole. What is more important for the games designer is coming up with many unique ideas rather than trying to create something similar.

Interviewer We would enjoy the game even more if we knew what kind of influences you had, what were you watching, reading, doing to give you inspiration for your creativity…

I have been saying that we need to do a lot of different things to stimulate the industry. That question is about what I am doing personally and I am always thinking about games and talking with my friends in the industry. But it is important for me to always try to be positively involved in other activities other than making games. Nintendo is trying to sell its own games to its users and non-gamers when we are trying to expand a market. What is important for me and for us is making a lot more relationships with people in other industries.

Most specifically I like playing some musical instruments, so I try to have communication with musicians and also I kind of like gardening so I have relationships with professional and expert gardeners and you may not believe it but I have relationships with dog trainers and I have serious conversations about what "dog" means!

Well often I have to stay at the office until very late at night and I don't think this is a good idea in my experience, so now I am trying to finish my work as early as possible and try something new all the time.

Recently I became a father, and having a new baby boy is turning out to be quite a challenge. I was a very lucky though as I was able to take a one month long holiday to spend with my new baby in the midst of the development of Wind Waker.

Interviewer Last year you said that Mario Kart was giving you the most trouble out of all the games you were working on. Have you resolved that trouble and can you tell us anything about it?
First of all let me remind you that Mario Kart was not involved in the film, not because it's not completed but because we want to show it at E3. We don't have any problem with the development of Mario Kart but we had to focus on the making of the Wind Waker so many designers were involved in this meaning we could not share resources for Mario Kart. That was the main problem.
Interviewer In previous years, Nintendo sold the most popular games in the world. Tastes have changed though. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is currently the biggest game in the West. What are your thoughts on such a violent game being so popular?

That is quite a tough question and I really don't have any quick answer to make. If we were just focusing on the games and if the game can sell then it's very good business and we would just sell that kind of title. It is not that simple for Nintendo as we are not making those kinds of games. After all, as long as people can realise what kind of morals they should have playing with a video game, many games are alike including the excessively violent games. But when we are talking about the mass audience, many people have different viewpoints and have different ways of making use of the technology in front of them.

As the makers, we have the responsibility to think about how it will be used and thought about by the mass audience. In Japan, no companies are willing to market Grand Theft Auto but it will become different if people become desperate to sell their software. Companies right now are not marketing Grand Theft Auto but people now have an idea of the danger of the current situation and the more important thing is that we need to think of a substitute for Grand Theft Auto in terms of video games sales. It is our mission to think of an alternative that is unique and not as violent.

Interviewer In comparison with PlayStation 2 and Xbox there is a relatively small level of third party support despite the quality of games. Nintendo may face an uphill struggle due to the lack of third party support, and I wondered if you could tell me your thoughts on that?

If you are just simply comparing the 3 hardware consoles in terms of functionality, you can make similar games and many people are now trying to introduce multi-platform games. It may be good for game users but when it comes to some kind of unique interactions with the hardware I don't think multi-platforms games are contributing a lot. Whilst I think it is good to have many different titles for the platforms, I think that only Nintendo can provide certain experiences. That is why its very important for the best first party titles and best hardware that Nintendo can provide

Now Nintendo is aggressively pursuing the connectivity between the GameCube and Game Boy Advance and this year we are going to introduce the Game Boy Player so you can play Game Boy Advance games on a wide screen. In the US, we have already started selling the e-Reader system so that from the simple cards you can get important playing data onto the GameCube or Game Boy Advance now. Nintendo is trying to construct these unique systems all the time and I'm positive that more and more third party people are interested in these kind of unique applications and opportunities only Nintendo can create. With those interested in taking advantage of Nintendo unique opportunities, Nintendo is more positive than ever in trying to cooperate with them. I can't give any specific examples now but we are discussing this sort of thing with EA for one and with Namco and Sega maybe even having closer ties to create unique gaming opportunities for gaming platforms.

Interviewer Do you imagine the key Nintendo franchises like Mario and Zelda will continue forever or will a time come when you can't do any more with the characters?
Well I really do not think there will be an ending to the new ideas to be incorporated into Mario and Zelda. Talking about the Wind Waker game, we incorporated many ideas from the past game and past Zelda series but I do not think that people will think we have rehashed these from the past experience. I have been involved with previous Zelda projects from the past, Majora's Mask mainly and I think that another person taking charge of the whole idea can make Zelda a whole new product. There will be no ending to thinking of Zelda in new ways.

It is not the lack of new ideas that bother me at all. The thing which concerns me is that Nintendo has so many important game franchises and we have more than anybody else. Most of the teams are occupied with the creating of sequels and that situation is kind of troublesome, but new people are growing fast and I can trust the new people to work on the latest series of past existing games. We have time to work on new challenges but I have to admit it is a danger that at a company like Nintendo that you have so many character franchises there is always a job to create the sequel.

So you know that Retro has worked on the Metroid franchise and Nintendo is working with Sega on F-Zero and with Namco on Starfox. In that sense more third party people may be involved in creating Nintendo character franchise games and now you have seen the Soul Calibur II demo which includes Link character from Nintendo. In many different ways we are cooperating with third parties now.

Interviewer Mr. Miyamoto has created a lot of games over the years, such as Mario and Zelda, which are much anticipated, and everyone has always been excited, but there was much shock when Wind Waker was announced. It was the first game that could have created negative backlash, even though it was in the minority. What did you think of this?

Well we should not be too concerned about whatever is said and talked about a game not on the market yet. But if people's reactions are negative after sales of Wind Waker have begun, that would concern me a lot. Before the sale of the game we have to do our best in the things we believe in. When I come to think about it, even though there may be some negative opinion, we have a good situation with Wind Waker because people are talking about it.

We have already started selling Wind Waker in Japan and you will have it soon. In terms of graphics nothing has been changed. It is identical. We have fine-tuned the game balance and controls of Wind Waker for the European and US markets. And that is the result of getting comments from users in Japan.

Interviewer Can you please explain briefly how the different games in the Zelda series tie together and has there been more than one Link in the games?
That is a kind of tough question. Actually throughout the long history of Hyrule there is a Link existing and making some contribution to it. And if we are allowed to present some long papers we may be able to explain the long background!
And talking about the Link character in the Wind Waker, the game is a kind of unprecedented challenge for us in the Zelda series. The Link character is an ordinary boy not destined to fight at all but was involved in an incident and forced to be involved in a role in the long history of Hyrule. People have asked "why did you choose to have a sister for Link this time?" The reason is a good motivation for challenge in a new life and a new adventure. We thought that the sense of rescuing his little sister would be a good trigger for the ordinary boy to be involved in a new adventure. The new Link is the ordinary boy who now out of blue became involved in the adventure.
Having said that however, in whichever Zelda game in the past, the Link at the beginning was an ordinary boy but he was forced to fight against the evil somehow and that's because the player was Link himself. In the Legend of Zelda game, it is most important that the player can feel that Link is growing, the players are growing and they are sharpening their own abilities. It is important too at the beginning to be involved in the destiny of the character and to fight against it somehow. During that process we can describe how Link will evolve into the new being. The Link at the start of each game is an ordinary person but in the Wind Waker we described, the Link is a small boy you can find anywhere.
Interviewer How do you feel about Link being in such a violent game as Soul Calibur?
Well, we do not have much concern about the Link being used in the Soul Calibur II game and Namco was very good about characterising Link in the game. We really appreciated that so we didn't have any concern about Link being involved and the fighting character has already been established in Smash Brothers.