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Aonuma on Zelda: Breath of the Wild – full Gamekult interview translation

Posted on January 29, 2017 by (@NE_Brian) in News, Switch, Wii U

A bunch of French interviews with Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma popped over the past few days pertaining to Breath of the Wild. One of these was with Gamekult. While we published a summary at the time, we now have a complete translation thanks to the hard work done by Nintendo Everything reader Kyrio.

With the translation, there’s a better understanding as to what Aonuma said about certain subjects, such as testing done for the game. We also have his comments about topics like coming to an agreement with Shigeru Miyamoto about the essence of Zelda. Honestly, this is one of the more interesting interviews with Aonuma in quite some time, so it’s definitely worth a read.

Continue on below for our full translation.

Gamekult: What motivated the choice of such an open, systemic world?

Eiji Aonuma: The wish to create an open world game came shortly after Skyward Sword was finished. We realized that the way you flew from one area to another, with no opportunity to walk instead, had frustrated a lot of people who wanted to know what was hidden between the regions. One of the greatest thrills of the Zelda series lies in exploring and looking for hidden things, so after a few preliminary tests, we reckoned that the Wii U had the power we needed to create a satisfying open world – one that would allow players to visit the entire world with no loading times. Everything stemmed from that intention.

On what criteria did you build the world, scatter the key items, place the shrines and temples? Are they linked to personal experiences or any particular philosophy?

When you create an open world, when you take the map and say “I’m going to put this here, that here, and that thing over there”, while paying attention to the distances and estimating travel times between different points, it is important to take relief into account. There has to be a big difference between the 2D representation and the 3D world you explore; you realize that you need to cross mountains and canyons and that it is much more difficult to progress. That’s why we chose an implementation that followed the building of the game, by wandering on the map and deciding when we should place an important element or a secret. If you want to hide areas, it’s even more complicated in 3D because the player doesn’t necessarily know what he’s looking for. So we made all those measures by walking in the game’s world, in order to have a good understanding of the travel times and the distances between all points of interest. It’s not a well-known fact, but Mr. Miyamoto actually did the same thing in 2D to place the dungeons in the very first Zelda.

Since you’re going on that topic, you said in a Iwata Asks that this founding episode was too difficult and stingy with clues for your taste, which brought you to make things easier for players when you started working on the series. Isn’t Breath of the Wild, which pays tribute to the original Zelda in its communication, a modern re-reading of the game?

That’s an excellent question, since the first Zelda is a game where you get lost a lot and I think Breath of the Wild will have the same effect in 3D. I believe there are two ways for you to get lost in a game: because you don’t know where to go, or because you feel like checking out other places out of curiosity. While the former isn’t remotely interesting in terms of gameplay, the latter is something I look forward to making the players experience. In fact, that’s why the game mechanics encourage you to explore. From the beginning of the adventure, Link is able to climb high enough to allow you, once you reach the summit, to observe the landscape and head for the place that caught your eye using the paraglider. This loop made of climbing, contemplating and gliding is the essence of exploration in this Zelda, and I really wanted to make getting lost in this world a pleasure.

Speaking of the climbing mechanic, there is another game that makes heavy use of this feature: Shadow of the Colossus. It was influenced by Zelda, and influenced it in turn since Twilight Princess. Do you enjoy the games and style of Fumito Ueda?

It’s funny that you’re mentioning this game, because we are friends with Mr. Ueda and he’s always said that he wanted to make a game like Zelda – hence the similarities in Shadow of the Colossus. Mr Ueda was kind enough to send me a copy of The Last Guardian late last year and as I was playing it, I could notice the moments when you climb on Trico’s head to find a path, and jump to reach places that were inaccessible from the height you were at. Without seeing each other or talking about it, I realize we had the same idea. It’s amusing to see we had the same inspirations, the same gameplay velleities at different times.

Since we’re talking about inspirations, it’s no secret that Hidetaka Miyazaki, current president of From Software, is a big Zelda fan. His Souls series has often been likened to a hardcore evolution of Zelda that would have preserved the emphasis on merciless combat, survival and pleasure to get lost in exploration of the first games. Have you ever played these games, and what’s your opinion on them?

I apologize because I’ve never played Dark Souls so I can’t really compare, but it’s true that one of the qualities of the Zelda series is to offer an increasing level of challenge as you progress in the adventure. The goal is to have Link win new abilities as the player gets more skillful. So I suppose a Zelda with extremely rigorous fights would maybe result in a Dark Souls.

The first time I tried Breath of the Wild, I was surprised by the amount of RPG numbers, the weapon strength statistics, the rich inventories, the craft system… What prompted this change, and aren’t you afraid that it might impede the game experience for those who are used to a more symbolic, stripped-back Zelda?

Indeed, I always wanted to avoid putting numbers on things in the past. But since the scale of this game is much greater than any of those we’ve made so far, with a large number of unique items to offer the players, I think the most simple solution is to have more numbers. I found it difficult to compare equipment in a natural way without them. At first glance, you may think it’s going to get in the way, but I think people will eventually find it easier to understand when they’ll need to decide if an item is better than another.

I read in several interviews that you talked a lot with Mr. Miyamoto about the definition and essence of Zelda when you started working on Breath of the Wild. Have you found a good answer, and how does the feeling of adventure in this game differ from – or relate to – the previous installments?

It’s indeed always a source of debate with Mr. Miyamoto, simply because we both think about what defines Zelda and we’re not always on the same page. We eventually agreed this year, when we went to New York for a promotion tour. As we were talking, Mr. Miyamoto found the right words by saying that the essence of The Legend of Zelda is an environment where Link evolves and gains power, which the players will directly feel through the actions they can take as the story goes on. In Breath of the Wild, the fact that the world is supported by a coherent physics engine has a major effect on the possible actions. It sounds obvious, but for example, if you push down a rock, it’s going to roll according to the slope. We wanted people to be able to feel things in a “realistic” way, to break or move around big objects in the game and believe they could have had the same feeling in real life. This physically lived experience is very important.

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