A team of four people — Shigeru Miyamoto, Koji Kondo, Takashi Tezuka and Hiroshi Yamauchi — made the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES. As technology advanced and projects entered the 3D realm, development teams and the worlds within games grew to match. Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s biggest game ever, and that meant it required contemporary design techniques and more intense team management to co-ordinate the development of this highly-rated title.
This is an especially commendable feat considering how free and exploratory the game feels — even over 100 hours in. While we already know Breath of the Wild was developed using the original Legend of Zelda engine as inspiration, it’s now even clearer why the game is so enjoyable and how it’s so beautifully designed.
At this year’s Computer Entertainment Developers Conference (CEDEC), the Breath of the Wild development team discussed how they designed this monstrous version of Hyrule, their biggest iteration yet. Game director Fujibayashi Hideyuro was joined by the lead artist of the project, Makoto Yonezu to give a presentation that discussed their development ideas in quite some detail. Thanks to Capcom’s Director, Matt Walker, the presentation has been translated from its native Japanese, and the details posted on Medium.
One design concept the team used to implement was the humble triangle. While there will be no member of the Zelda development team a stranger to triangles, the “Triangle Rule” was used by Nintendo to give the player plenty of options throughout the game world, with two options deriving from the “Triangle Rule” in the form of either going straight over the triangle, or around it. Triangles were perfectly placed as mountains of varying heights, which encourages the player to wonder what is waiting to be discovered on the opposite obstructed side, or to make the game more visually interesting (and full of Korok seeds).
Hideyuro-San and Yonezu-San went on to talk about another design concept in using rectangles within the design of the game, which provided the perfect solution to hiding those hard-to-discover secrets that every Zelda game is famous for. Just look over a cliff within the game and you can get an idea of just how this concept is put into action by viewing the hills, while the same idea can be found in forest areas with trees acting as vertical rectangles.
After an initial placement of the map towers, feedback was negative due to the ease of access and how straightforward tasks were to overcome. Nintendo used heatmaps in response to this in an attempt to find the hotspots where players had become stuck or bored to better find a suitable area for the towers. Structures of varying visibility and importance were also strategically placed to side-track the player and lead them off to different directions.
The visibility of a structure was heavily considered, and is a huge reason why the head of a horse can be found at each of the stables across the land. Shrines are quite a small structure in the scheme of the game, which purposely provides them as perfect proposition for a well-hidden reward within the game, allowing for versatility. Nintendo even considered how each structure would play a role at night time, with Shrines being quite visible, and stables being attractive for shelter.
You can check out more details on these aspects of development and others on Matt’s Medium page, where he has posted four translated articles. Perhaps you’ll look at Breath of the Wild with more of a developer’s eye the next time you gaze over Hyrule Field.