Aonuma on Zelda: Breath of the Wild – full Gamekult interview translation
Regarding the physics engine, I understand that it was one of the elements that’s been the most difficult to include and balance, because of the unpredictability of some reactions. How did you manage to have more good surprises than bad ones on this aspect?
It took a lot of time for a simple reason: when you have a single physics engine to manage all the rules that will apply to a world, if you change even a tiny value at one place, anything can happen on the other side of the map. For example, we had one dungeon designer who wanted to make a puzzle that made you move clay pots with wind, so he changed a slider value so that the wind could carry the pots. When I tested this build of the game, I went to another place where there were supposed to be pots and I couldn’t find them. They had actually been carried by natural gusts and got stuck at the base of a distant mountain. We had a lot of anecdotes like this one during development and from there, we made it a principle to have perfect communication between teams. We could have used emails, but it was more simple to give everyone equal access to the latest informations on the game. It took a lot of time but we decided to organize simultaneous and mandatory game sessions. Everyone had to test the current build before going on to the next step, in order to check that the changes made by one group weren’t affecting the other groups’ work in a bad way. More than the building of the engine itself, it’s the adjustment necessary to make all parts of the game work together that took a lot of time, and made me ask the board to delay the release.
So there were a lot of internal tests, but did you also use advanced external playtests for this episode? If so, which player profiles did you target in particular, and what was the most interesting feedback?
In Japan, there are companies which offer to outsource playtesting and we indeed used their services, with diverse panels of people who were able to play the game in an intensive way. We also lead playtests with Nintendo employees who were working on completely different projects to have their opinion. Given the number of people participating to these tests, I asked the team to create a PC tool displaying a map on which the movements of a hundred players would be drawn in real time, with a marking point every hour. It was very amusing because there are as many play styles as there are players. If I saw lines thickening, a sign that many people were going to the same place at one time, I asked them why they had headed there. I was told “It’s because there’s that” or “It’s because I found this” and often, it was something I’d never thought about or seen in this angle during development, but sounded very funny. It also allowed us to detect locations no one was going to because it wasn’t very practical, in order to modify or add a path, change the topography, make a place more attractive… It was instructive to observe and allowed us to do statistics and make every portion of the world interesting.
Did you consider adding a multiplayer mode or online features allowing players to communicate and encourage each other to visit places?
That’s a very good idea. I’ll tell the teams about it when I return to Japan! (He laughs)
As with Skyward Sword, you’ve been working with Monolith Soft employees on Breath of the Wild, which is not surprising since they’re now used to open world games thanks to Xenoblade. To what extent have they influenced the technological choices of this episode?
On Skyward Sword, Monolith had mainly helped us on graphics design and other artistic elements. Even though we could have asked them for help on the technical side, we realized their way of making games was completely different from ours and we didn’t have much to learn from them on this installment, since we were almost doing two different jobs. On the other hand, for Breath of the Wild, we’ve been assisted by level designers used to large game areas, in order to make topographic arrangements.
Breath of the Wild is a Wii U game that ended up on Switch, which is reminiscent of Twilight Princess on GameCube and Wii. With hindsight, which was the most difficult transition in terms of development?
At the time of Twilight Princess, I was the game director and I had to lead two developments on two systems simultaneously. Since I had less experience back then, I’d say that this transition was more complicated to handle than that of Breath of the Wild. As a matter of fact, it’s thanks to Twilight Princess that I quickly learned what to do or not do during the development of a game on two platforms. I was able to plan more things in advance and make it so the entertainment quality would be the same on Switch and Wii U, avoiding most last minute surprises.
What prompted the choice of actual voice acting in this episode? Is it linked to the story or has the ubiquity of recorded voices in big games weighed heavily on the decision?
We were originally only going to dub the major cut-scenes. Characters actually talking in that kind of scene, but not in the rest of the game, may seem weird but when you see it for yourself, it’s not disturbing. We hadn’t given other characters voices so far because Link never talks and we thought it’d be odd to have everyone express themselves vocally except him. But given that Breath of the Wild contains a large number of cut-scenes, we decided to hire voice actors for all sequences.
If you were allowed to work on games other than Zelda, what would they look like and which ideas would you like to develop in them?
(He laughs quietly) I already have time to do something else than Zelda, and I’ve been told before that if I wanted to work on other games, I shouldn’t hesitate. The problem is, every time I start thinking about what I could do, as soon as I find a nice idea, I tell myself it could work in Zelda and I always come back to this series. To the point that I’ve put a few ideas aside and forbid myself to put them in a Zelda so I can use them elsewhere; even though for now, I’m busy enough with Breath of the Wild.
Is the idea of cooking in Breath of the Wild yours? I understand you love cooking in real life.
It’s not mine at all, I’m sorry! (He laughs) It was a logical choice considering that when you wander in the game’s world, you pick up all kinds of ingredients that you can eat as is, but we thought it’d be interesting to mix them to get better effects. Mixing ingredients is one of the bases of cooking and it felt natural to be able to cook dishes in the game. It seemed logical to us but the first time my son, a Zelda fan, saw the trailer which showed you could cook, he found it weird! What looks natural to some may not be to others and either way, I didn’t insist to have this gameplay idea included.
If I told you my favorite Zelda games are those where the supporting characters are as important as the protagonists in the story and world development, would you say I’m going to enjoy Breath of the Wild?
I think you’re going to be very satisifed. (He smiles)
Last question: according to you, what’s the central theme of this episode, in one sentence?
“Climb, live, protect”. Those are the three words we’re using in the commercial on the official Japanese website. It means you can explore by climbing anywhere, exist in harmony with the world that surrounds you and protect something or someone to accomplish a mission. That is truly the essence of the game.