Iwata Asks is a series of interviews hosted by Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata, who sits down with the team of recently-released Nintendo games and discuss the development processes behind them. The latest interview features major members of The Wind Waker HD development team.
To kick off the interview, the team reflect upon how Toon Link was conceived. His design happened “out of the blue” after design manager Yoshiki Haruhana presented a sketch to the rest of the team. This then inspired the design of a Moblin, and the ideas and enthusiasm poured into the project naturally.
“Takizawa: Everyone on the core staff making the game at that time had a sense that proceeding in that direction didn’t feel quite right. Then one day, out of the blue, Haruhana-san hit us with that new Link.
Iwata: Just out of the blue?
Aonuma: Yeah, it sure was.
Takizawa: The instant I saw that drawing, my designer’s spirit came to life and I thought, “With a character like that, we can give him actions that will look and feel good no matter how he moves!””
The team then actually acknowledge what many fans have long called “the Zelda cycle”. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a seemingly common cycle in the fanbase where a number of fans have a negative opinion about a new Zelda game, and then change their mind and love the game years later. The Wind Waker is a prime example of this–angering a lot of people due to its unique visual style only to be considered a classic today.
However, the visual style appealed to the wives of both Eiji Aonuma and Satoru Takizawa, who were not gamers. Also, Aonuma compared the fan response to the original Wind Waker and the HD remake.
“Aonuma: The response of fans in North America was like that for The Wind Waker. When we first announced the original version in 2001, the majority of voices we heard were against it. However, the responses for the Nintendo Direct13 we aired in January were incredibly favorable. Also at the Nintendo Experience event at Best Buy14 which was held at the same time as this year’s E315, a lot of people lined up in front of the single demo station for The Wind Waker HD in each store, saying they really wanted to play it.”
The discussion then moves on to how the concept of an ocean game world came to be.
“Aonuma: Without much hesitation, we decided rather early on to set the game among the seas. We liked how we could use the open sea in designing the mechanics of the game world, and more than anything, we thought it would be interesting to show the sea in that visual style. I think we got into a good flow with everyone coming up with ideas about what the islands in those seas should be like and what the people living there would be like.”
The team explain how there were many distinctive characters included in The Wind Waker and why. Haruhana and the character production team he was leading had been proposing more eccentric characters than ever for the game.
“Takizawa: I remember that the planning staff and the character production team, led by Haruhana-san, played off each other really well.
Aonuma: Ever since Ocarina of Time, Haruhana-san had been proposing a lot of eccentric characters, but for The Wind Waker, it was like he had powered up and unlocked the safety! (laughs)”
They agree that WW’s “anime-style” allowed these unique characteristics and their cartoon-like appearances because there was no urgency to be concerned about realism.
“Iwata: It seems like the whole world of The Wind Waker was created by boiling down those eccentric essences.
Arimoto: That’s the strength of that visual style. With the stylized, anime-like look, no matter how big the head was, or how short the legs were, it didn’t feel weird. Rather, it all gave a positive impression where everyone was just fine with it.
Aonuma: Yes. The characters are truly rich and expressive.
Iwata: Right, their expressiveness really leaves a lasting impression. When you try to make the expressions realistic, it usually comes off as awkward because of the differences with real life. But with those visuals, those things don’t become an issue and you can express all kinds of facial expressions and gestures.
Aonuma: That’s right. Until Ocarina of Time, if we wanted to make a single mouth movement, for example, it was difficult to express some things, so we put in a lot of effort to that in The Wind Waker.”
Here’s my favourite part of the interview, when Takizawa made the humourously off-rails statement that the development team had at one point discussed giving Toon Link the power to shoot laser beams from his eyes.
“Takizawa: Now that the eyes had gotten much larger, we wanted to make their facial expressions richer by increasing the number of patterns for the eyes and mouth. Partway through, we even talked about having beams come out of those eyes! (laughs)
Iwata: Huh? Eye-beams?!
Takizawa: (Shigeru) Miyamoto-san and (Takashi) Tezuka-san17 said we needed to supply a reason for the eyes being so big. I don’t think beams were really an option, though.”
The team discussed how the GameCube’s hardware was too limited to present the full extent of what the team wanted to created, but the Wii U had no such barriers for the HD remake. They described the original Wind Waker as “over-designed”.
“Dohta: In that sense, it felt to me like what they were originally trying to do with The Wind Waker didn’t fit within the confines of SD resolution. By changing it to HD, I saw how the number of colors increased, the resolution go up, and the animation became finer and fluid, so the character’s eye movement and things like that come alive. It’s something that I realized comparatively as I was working.
Iwata: Before, they were trying to stuff more than would fit into the container. As you were converting the data and programs from that time into the new container, you realized what they had really wanted to do.
Dohta: Right. That’s exactly what happened.
Aonuma: Upon seeing The Wind Waker HD, I realized that with the original version, we had been trying to make something beyond what the Nintendo GameCube could express.
Iwata: If it looked better than before simply placing it in a new container, then it must have been over-designed for it.”
They add that despite WWHD’s style being unrealistic, it can still evoke strong emotions in a player. Aonuma’s philosophy is “reality over realism”.
“Takizawa: I think I was able to make that world convincing because when I made those first test images, I envisioned how good I feel when I’m there.
Iwata: The comfortable way it feels isn’t something you can derive from a scene in a photograph.
Dohta: I think Aonuma-san has said this before, about how it’s “reality over realism.” With The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, I think we were able to express a good feeling that doesn’t come across by simply portraying a photorealistic sea or sky.
Iwata: That includes light or a breeze that the eye can’t see. Of course, it isn’t actually bright and a sea breeze isn’t actually blowing, but you sense those things in that gameworld. It’s interesting how this game was made based on something that was created 11 years ago, but the way it feels real surpasses the many games out there today with realistic graphics.
Aonuma: Yes, it’s very interesting. It’s a 100% fabricated world—in exact opposition to live-action movies—but it’s natural and feels comfortable. It’s difficult to express why that is.
Arimoto: Maybe it’s because comfortableness itself is stylized.
Aonuma and Takizawa: Um-huh!
Iwata: A stylization of comfort.
Arimoto: The sunlight and the nice breeze are represented in a pleasant way, with anything extra cut out. Only what’s good is left over, so it feels comfortable.”
Arimoto points out that the brothers on Outset Island, Orca and Sturgeon, are easier to identify as siblings in WWHD than in the original.
“Arimoto: I think they will discover things they didn’t notice before. For example, the brothers Orca and Sturgeon on the first island don’t really look alike, but when you see them in HD, Sturgeon’s eyes have a sharp glint to them behind his glasses. When we saw that, we thought, “Oh, they really are brothers!””
And finally, the group all discuss how Toon Link is wrongly associated as the most cutesy Link, when they believe he’s actually the strongest and most developed Link in the series.
“Arimoto: Yeah. There are other things too, though! (laughs) And some people who haven’t played the original game think that there’s nothing more to Link in The Wind Waker than his cuteness. While he does look cute, his actions are always manly and cool!
Takizawa: If you look at what he does and accomplishes in the game, he is the manliest Link in the history of the series.
Arimoto: He doesn’t make a lot of sugary cute facial expressions and poses.
Iwamoto: But he does kind of frolic when he gets a Heart Container!
Arimoto: Oh, right! (laughs)
Iwamoto: That’s cute.
Iwata: Well, the rest of the time, he plays it cool, which makes that behavior stand out.”
While I’ve highlighted the key points, I’d urge everyone reading to go read the full interview right here.