When playing through a massively open, exploration-based title like Breath of the Wild, it’s easy to forget how much work goes into creating such a spectacle. While it broke the tried and true formula of past Zelda games, it created a unique spin with roots in the origins of the franchise. Approaching the development of Breath of the Wild, Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi say that they were constantly rethinking their approach to creating a fresh new Zelda title.
In a recent interview with GamesRadar about the development process, Fujibayashi said, “And then we thought, ‘Oh no, why do we actually have to do that?’ And a lot of that was re-thinking things specific to Zelda. You know, ‘Zelda games have always been like this so we have to make it like this.’ But thinking about it from the user’s perspective, we wanted to give them more creativity and freedom, thinking, ‘Well, no. It doesn’t actually have to be like that.’ We definitely learned a lot from that whole process. And hearing how people have reacted to that makes me very happy.”
With such a massive world to explore, playtesting was invaluable to the team. The developers note that throughout the process, the almost-300-person team would all playtest the game, even in the later stages of development.
“thinking about it from the user’s perspective, we wanted to give them more creativity and freedom”
Regarding the massive number of playtesters involved during development, Eiji Aonuma said, ”Initially I thought if we did this we wouldn’t have enough time to finish the game, but as we did this more we realized, ‘Oh, the staff’s motivation is really up too!’ And so we realized that we needed to do this to the end.'”
Providing more insight on the importance of playtesting during development, Hidemaro Fujibayashi said, “When they hear the story about 300 people testing the game at the same time, I think what a lot of people misunderstand is [in thinking] that the big leaps ahead came from all of the data we got out of that. And obviously we did get a lot of data out of it.
“But I think what was even more important was just the fact that people were able to see exactly what they were working on in the game, and also what the people next to them were working on in the game, and figure out, ‘Well, what can I do to make that part of the game better?’ Getting that group understanding of how everything was working together really leveled up the staff’s work, and I think that’s a big part of how we came to the level of quality that the game has.”
With Aonuma recently saying that future Zelda titles must retain the freedom in Breath of the Wild, this peek into the development process for the game is illuminating. It will be fascinating to see how these experiences will translate to more games in the series!