Five years. That’s the amount of time that the development of Skyward Sword took Nintendo until its release. That’s pretty long especially if you take a look at other huge franchises where the game developers manage to release one new title each year! Shack News sat down with Eiji Aonuma and dug for the answer to the burning question all of us might have asked themselves at least once: why doesn’t Zelda follow an annual schedule like most popular franchises do?
The Zelda franchise is huge and covers not just the home console market but also has a significant presence on the handheld scene. That’s a big field to cover, but wouldn’t it be nice to actually see annual releases of it?
Back in November 1998, Miyamoto had that idea as well: the next Zelda was supposed to be a 3D N64 game and should be developed within a short time after the release of its successor, Ocarina of Time. That was when Miyamoto challenged Aonuma with a difficult task:
“The challenge he gave to me: to try and make a sequel to Ocarina of Time in just one year.”
Ocarina of Time had been the first 3D Zelda game, and the team had the 3D models of it ready at hand. It’s different from when you make a sequel to a 2D game, where you have to draw every single image. If you want to recycle an image out of a 2D game and plan to change the background, you have to re-draw everything again. For the 3D models, all you need to do is place them in a new environment and animate them. This is what Miyamoto thought would make it easier to do a sequel within a year and the reason why Majora’s Mask is mainly using recycled models from Ocarina of Time.
Left you can see Anju from Majora’s Mask, and right the Cucco Lady from Ocarina of Time 3D.
By now we know that it didn’t work out. Majora’s Mask launched less than two years after the release of Ocarina of Time, which is indeed a significantly shorter time period than any of the following games would require.
Ever since then, the development time didn’t really decrease. The Wind Waker took two years for the GameCube version, and for Twilight Princess the development time doubled. Skyward Sword was in development for about five years. Eiji Aonuma thinks that the amount of time fans are kept waiting for a new core game is an essential factor in developing a good game that satisfies the targeted audience. Nintendo tried to release Zelda games really quickly in the past but the fans’ expectation has grown significantly ever since.
“I think before, we did maybe try to make Zelda games come out faster. But there’s so much expected of Zelda titles now, so you have to reach a certain level of quality, so that’s why we started to take a bit more time now, I don’t think it’s necessary that development needs to be longer. But to reach a certain level of quality, there’s just a certain amount of time that’s needed.”
He tries to keep up with the expectations of the fans, while at the same time the company tells him that he needs to produce games as quickly as possible. Most remarkable is, that Nintendo still manages that the Zelda franchise remains a hot topic within the gaming community. The trick is, that Nintendo currently has two teams working on Zelda projects.
“Right now, we’re able to split ourselves between the handheld and console games and have two teams. I think we’re pretty efficient in getting games out on a regular interval.”
Nintendo doesn’t aim for releasing one Zelda game a year, but thanks to the fact that they are covering the gaps between the releases of core games very well with handheld games and remakes, they manage to come up with new releases in regular intervals. Whether the new games really live up the fanbase’s expectations remains to be seen.