Kotaku recently got the chance to sit down with Eiji Aonuma, the man behind Majora’s Mask and executive producer of the Zelda series. Aonuma has been working on Zelda since Ocarina of Time, and shared some of his unique insight on how Zelda games are made as well as the more adult tone they were striving for with Majora’s Mask.

When asked about the process of how dungeons are created for Zelda games, Aonuma told Kotaku that they first ask themselves what kind of gameplay they want to incorporate into the dungeon. For instance, do they want the dungeon to be action oriented, or focus more on puzzles? After they come to a decision based on that, they decide what item they want to build the dungeon around and how it will interact with Link’s surroundings. They then move into an implementation stage.

“For example, are we trying to build a dungeon around puzzle type gameplay, or is action more of a focus?”

Aonuma made sure to note that while this is how they typically begin creating a dungeon, the team is constantly challenging the conventions of Zelda and how they create each game. Therefore, while they still look for themes as a baseline for each dungeon, they are constantly looking for new and unique ways to shake things up in regards to how they approach dungeon design.

Aonuma also reminisced about his time working on Majora’s Mask and the dungeon design in that game. The one dungeon in the entire game that stands out to him is Woodfall, which he himself designed. Development on the dungeon began just after Ocarina of Time was finished, and Aonuma and his team knew that they wanted to make a dungeon that was different from the ones in its predecessor. He stepped in during the development process and wanted to give it “more flavor”, and was responsible for about half of the dungeon. Mr. Aonuma was also responsible for the initial layout of all of Ocarina of Time’s dungeons. Now that they have larger teams though, that work can be spread out so it’s not pushed all on one person, which can be a bit overwhelming.

The next topic that was talked about was the more adult tone of Majora’s Mask compared to other Zelda titles. Termina is a world filled with melancholy, and Aonuma had some choice words about the mood of one of the darkest entries in the franchise.

“When we talk about the feeling of sadness in a game like Majora’s Mask,” Aonuma said, “for us ultimately it’s something that we think about in terms of how it motivates the player. In this particular case, that really strong feeling of sadness makes you want to save this world.

“And you had a similar situation in Ocarina of Time, where Ganon was threatening to destroy this world, a hero rises to oppose him. But it didn’t have that same sort of tone. It was more a hero story there. In this particular case, we’re looking at a slightly different way to tell that, which is that the sadness of this world can also raise a hero.”

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Majora’s Mask is a game filled with tragedy and sorrow, and as opposed to the typical “hero’s journey” that was found in Ocarina of Time, emotions are what drive the player to want to save Termina in Majora’s Mask. The game was geared towards a more adult audience. This helped result in one of the most famous sidequests in all of Zelda, the Anju and Kafei wedding sidequest.

The inspiration for the sidequest was the actual wedding of one of Majora’s Mask’s staff members. The thought process behind the famous quest was that there was a wedding set to take place in three days, but there was also a cataclysmic event that was going to take place simultaneously. Aonuma believed that it would be very interesting to portray because a wedding had never been depicted in a manner such as this before.

The Anju/Kafei sidequest is not only one of the most touching events in the game, but it is also one of the most intricate sidequests in all of Zelda. Aonuma mentioned that they were trying to “age things up” from Ocarina of Time in order to appeal to more mature gamers. Because of this, the quest itself is “aged up” and quite a bit more complex and difficult than previous sidequests in Zelda. While the quest is definitely more difficult than the item-trading quest in Ocarina of Time, Aonuma felt the Anju/Kafei sidequest was still a bit difficult to understand in the final version of the game. He is happy to have the new Bomber’s Notebook in Majora’s Mask 3D, which makes the sequence of events much easier to keep track of for the quest.

Majora’s Mask is definitely not my favorite Zelda game, but if anything I have to admire the dungeons, which are some of the best in the franchise (even 15 years later), the risks the game took with the three-day time cycle, the sheer emotion portrayed by the characters, and the heightened level of difficulty that appealed to a more adult audience. Mr. Aonuma created a masterpiece that has allowed Zelda to evolve and paved the way for future titles in the series to take risks, like The Wind Waker.

You can read the interview in its entirety over at Kotaku.

  • CEObrainz

    I like that approach to design, instead of going water, fire, air, etc looking at a specific gimmick or ability and then building around it is something that shouldn’t go. However at the same time I’d like to see more choices in dungeons, more than one way to solve a puzzle or reach the boss room.

    Hopefully this new Zelda game for the Wii U also has interesting dungeons (like that Hyrule Field sized dungeon rumour). I also hope that they do have some more “Mature” side-quests in this game, give something for everyone.

    I don’t know what others would think about having DLC in Zelda U, but I think it could be a good way to tell a different story from another characters perspective without ruining the game. It’d also allow for those more mature side-quests to be added as optional content which would also allow the game to receive a lower age rating (as if that really matters).

    • Arthur Miracle

      DLC costumes or music. Hyrule Warriors needs more music. I don’t even think small kids would play Zelda. Would a three or four year old understand the plot beyond good guy, bad guy, a cool sword and smash bam kapow? Sure, let them roam around in your completed file, but I wouldn’t expect them to intentionally progress through the story. Not because I don’t think kids can be smart, it’s more a case of if they’re ready for the complex gameplay that Zelda provides. It ain’t Minecraft.

      • CEObrainz

        Are we even talking about the same thing? Your comment is about Hyrule Warriors whilst mine is about Zelda games in general and more specifically Zelda U.

        • Arthur Miracle

          I know. I was using Hyrule Warriors DLC as an example, as we don’t yet know much about what the new one has to offer. We were given extra costumes in one, why not do the same with the new one?

          • Arthur Miracle

            I’m not too sure if I was clear enough there, so let me know if I should explain it a bit better.

          • Arthur Miracle

            Anyway. I like your idea of extra dungeons and side-quests.

          • CEObrainz

            I see. I don’t think it works as well because Zelda U (as of now) has just one character whilst Hyrule Warriors has many. That’s why I suggested more mature side-quests and possibly dungeons as DLC instead.

  • waitnsee

    I’d love to see a Zelda game where the dungeons have two layers. You’d go through them once on the front half of the quest and then revisit and dig deeper into each them on the back half.

    When I first revisited Skyview Temple to assist the Water Dragon in Skyward Sword, I thought that was the way the game was going to go. I was disappointed it didn’t.

    I imagine dual-layer dungeons would be challenging and fun to design. Plus it would play off the already-established concept of quest/master quest, but in a new way that could really mess with and challenge players. Can you imagine how maddening it would be to “finish” a dungeon’s first layer knowing there were more mysteries to solve?

    • CEObrainz

      Sort of like the Spirit Temple in Ocarina of Time? Although it’d be interesting if all the temples had this “other” side to them, but that would probably be dependant on the design of the game as a whole.

      We may see something like that in the new Zelda where dungeons could be completed in different ways, to the point where entire sections could be missed if you take another route or use a different item, but there’d need to be some sort of incentive to revisit the temples either treasure/item wise or something to do with the story.

      • waitnsee

        I suppose the Spirit temple is a little bit like what I’m talking about, but I’d still consider that a done-in-one temple in that you don’t really need to leave it to accomplish something else before eventually finishing it.

        The Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass might be another example of what I’m talking about. You go in looking for an item and then realize later that you need to go deeper. In terms of Ocarina of Time, it’d be more like gaining the Master Sword and then finding out that the Deku Tree became a hiding place of one of the Sages.

        Kind of inline with that type of design would be having the items from one dungeon be crucial to the completion of another dungeon. It never makes sense to me that the one boss that can be killed with the hookshot is the one protecting the dungeon that contains the hookshot.

        • CEObrainz

          Ahh, I think I have a better understanding of what you’re saying now. In fact I’ve already started thinking of examples that I would love to see in a Zelda game.

          The idea of potentially having multiple bosses within one dungeon is also an interesting idea, especially if you need a new item or key to gain access to the lower dungeon whilst at the same time the area you’ve visited has been changed (for story purposes perhaps).

          Using OOT as an example: An idea of that would be if Dodongo’s Cavern and more specifically the boss room was the entrance to the Fire Temple but you needed some special bomb or hammer (from another dungeon) to gain access to it.

          Is that something similar to what you’re thing or do I still have it wrong?