When the initial trailer for The Wind Waker revealed a brand new cartoon style in 2002, initial reaction was incredibly mixed at best. Fans were shocked and disappointed by the new graphical direction. However, upon release, Wind Waker quickly went on to be one of the most beloved instalments in the franchise. The game was so popular, in fact, that a HD version was released in 2013 for the Wii U.
It was during this production for Wind Waker HD that the development team decided upon the art style for Breath of the Wild. As Satoru Takizawa, the art director for Breath of the Wild, explained during the recent Zelda panel at GDC: “This new Wind Waker art stood out from the other HD mockups and really captured the imagination of the lead artists on Breath of the Wild, myself included.” Takizawa explains that, despite there being over a decade since the original release, the art style for Wind Waker still stood out. Moreover the lead art director believes that the art style for Breath of the Wild “guarantees playability from all aspects, including visibility and action, and still allows the construction of a unique reality.”
Takizawa reveals that during the development process he was called to see Hidemaro Fujibayashi, the director for Breath of the Wild, who simply “pointed to a Wind Waker screen and said, ‘This right here.” The decision on the artistic direction took “less than a minute”. Plenty of directions for the graphical style had been discussed and debated, but it’s clear that the success and longevity of Wind Waker helped the team confidently decide upon that style.
“Wind Waker art really captured the imagination of the lead artists on Breath of the Wild”
Despite the confidence and eagerness from the development team, there was one concern they all felt. They worried that this art direction was almost too unrealistic and too linked to their cartoony style.”The Wind Waker art style in its depiction of form, feel of materials, etc. is very stylized,” Takizawa explains. “One of our goals was to have the art intuitively suggest possible physics and chemistry gameplay based on the player’s own experiences in the real world.” The physics system in Breath of the Wild was developed in order to make the setting feel more real and lifelike. The art direction from Wind Waker displayed an unrealistic portrayal of the world, even if it was immersive and engaging.
Through overcoming this issue the team for Breath of the Wild came up with the slogan “refreshing and full-flavoured.” This linked to their vision of creating a unique and lifelike setting within the game. Takizawa explained that this slogan related to a number of factors, including “Shaders, lighting, models, terrain, effects, UI, weather environments”. By refreshing the art style for the game they could provide an element of realism to their graphical direction. Takizawa goes on to reveal that “we needed to suggest things anyone could do in the real world, so we needed a certain level of realism, and we needed an information-dense, mature art style.”
By refreshing the engaging yet limiting art style created for Wind Waker the team behind Breath of the Wild were able to create a ‘full-flavoured’ realistic environment. The latest instalment in the Zelda series has reinvigorated and revolutionized the franchise. The art direction certainly has a lot to do with the fantastic reception the game has been receiving, but most importantly, the Breath of the Wild developers related the art direction to the gameplay style. Just like Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild will be a classic which will be fondly remembered for many years to come.