Hyrule Weekly #2: Insights from the EDGE Feature

– This article was originally posted on 20th July 2016. It, and others, are being archived and updated here, so sections may seem out of date. This, specifically, is from the Hyrule Weekly series I intend to continue with new entries soon, especially as we get more news about the sequel to Breath of the Wild! –

The specialist gaming magazine EDGE (check it out here) recently released issue #296 (September 2016), and amongst all of the E3 coverage is a massive feature on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Other than the beautiful design of this feature (you can see images of this on Facebook), there is also a lot of interesting insight from The Legend of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma that hasn’t been uncovered elsewhere.

Indeed, you may have even seen parts of this feature cited elsewhere on the internet; the feature has been pulled apart into several articles, however, and so I thought you’d like an easier gateway into the best bits. So here’s another Hyrule Weekly compiling (and analysing) these parts in one place.

So enjoy the read – or get the physical magazine, to stop the digital takeover and The Matrix becoming a reality (there is a digital home for the magazine here, too). Your choice.

Break of the Wild

The beginning of the EDGE article has Eiji Aonuma explaining the inspiration behind the refreshed feel of Breath of the Wild. With a kind of Japanese theatre called kabuki, no less: “A kabuki master would say, ‘In order to break the mould, you have to know the mould’. Often, when I speak to Mr Miyamoto about a problem, that’s the feedback he’ll give me: ‘You don’t understand the mould here. That’s why it’s no good’.”

As you read this excerpt and match it to what we saw of the new Zelda at E3, it becomes clearer how recent Zeldas haven’t broken that “mould”. While fantastic games in their own rights, Zelda titles have been using the Ocarina of Time format for a while, giving us the open world we desire without ever actually fully giving us it. Look at The Wind Waker, with its vast ocean hiding the very structured map; Breath of the Wild is finally supplying us with the open world Zelda that previous entries haven’t quite managed.

Aonuma himself uses Skyward Sword to express this in the EDGE feature. “We got a lot of feedback from the people that played Skyward Sword,” he said, continuing on to explain that “There were these pockets of worlds that players were able to dive into, but they really wanted to see what was in between those worlds – all the hidden elements they weren’t able to see. I thought that was really natural for Zelda fans, who like to explore, to uncover little secrets. We realised that we needed to make this free, open-air world.”

Working Day and Night

With the saturation of open world games in the industry – they have become the first-person shooter of this generation, in many senses – simply introducing modern mechanics into Zelda may not have been enough to truly evolve the series. However, Breath of the Wild retains a magic synonymous with Zelda. An eloquent mentioning of the day/night cycle captures this; Aonuma said: “We didn’t want to create something that was dark and scary. I’ve been up a mountain at night and seen the stars; it was completely dark, but the starlight made it brighter. I wanted our nighttime environment to be something like that.”

Perhaps it is those kinds of details that keeps the game faithful to the Zelda series lineage, but it may also be the delicate balancing act of old and new elements. The EDGE interview has Aonuma describing said act: “I do question the staff about whether the way we did things in the past is really the right way to go this time. ‘Is this the path we want to take?’ That’s the question I ask them. The stuff we did in the past, we did for a reason. But a lot of the new staff on our team don’t know the real reason for why those things are there – they’re just so used to having them that they just kind of fit them in. We wanted to make sure they know why they’re doing something before they do it.”

Maybe it’s simpler, though. Aonuma adds: “Whenever I ask Mr Miyamoto what Zelda is, he says, ‘Well, Zelda‘s greatness is that it’s unique’. So we focus on what we weren’t able to do in other games.”

Go Your Own Way

Returning to the theme of changing what Zelda is, we have to remember that Nintendo plays games too. Some even affect development… “Of course we play a lot of games.” Aonuma says in the article. “Especially the staff – they play whatever they like. When someone says, ‘Hey, I’d really like to put this feature in the game,’ someone else may say, ‘No, actually, that’s already been done [in another game]’. We try not to focus too much on whether it’s already been done. We think, OK, it’s been done before, but how can we implement it in out game and make it our own, unique experience?”

The approach to building an open world shows this approach off. A criticism of other open world games such as Assassin’s Creed can be the large quantity of rather shallow objectives filling the world; Breath of the Wild takes one of the defining aspects of Zelda – the dungeons – and draws on them to occupy the world. In between the large-scale dungeons, over 100 Shrines act as mini-dungeons that encourage you to explore and find new areas. In addition, the open thinking being applied to world design is transferring across to new-style puzzles with multiple solutions.

“In the past titles, if a player found a different solution to the one we’d intended, we’d call it a bug,” Aonuma explains. “But for this title we created puzzles with multiple solutions. Even battles against enemies have a puzzle element: you can push a rock off a cliff and defeat them that way, or have bees chase them away so you can sneak up and take their weapons. Even if it’s a strong enemy, there are a lot of strategies, and it’s not just about battling.”

Breaking the Wild

Much of the news around Breath of the Wild, at least pre-E3 2016, was unfortunately about delays. Initially revealed at E3 2014 as a 2015 game, it ended up missing not only the 2015 release window but also E3 that year. Now it’s been slated for a 2017 launch, alongside NX. However, if you’re looking for a reason why it’s been so drastically pushed back, Aonuma might have an explanation:

“We have these milestones during development,” the Zelda producer said. “I play the game, then give staff my comments, my advice on what direction they should be heading in. At one of the milestones, the game was fantastic. There were so many great elements. But at the next milestone, that was all gone.

I’d made a lot of comments about what they needed to add, but I never told them what I thought was good about the game at that milestone. So they added stuff that I’d recommended, but they also added some other elements they thought would work well – and that ended up breaking all the good parts of the previous build. I learned that, when it’s good, I have to say so. If I’d managed that well, maybe development wouldn’t have extended quite so much!”

A pretty big admittance of error there, but it’s not difficult to excuse. For starters, Aonuma has been behind so much of Zelda‘s success over the years. More significantly, Breath of the Wild‘s transition from a Wii U exclusive to a dual release on NX as well may have been inevitable. In which case, the date may well have still been pushed back. As it is, we have a pretty stellar game for the launch of Nintendo’s next console (whatever that is).

In fact, unlike when Twilight Princess performed the two-platform trick with GameCube and Wii, Aonuma is directly involved in Nintendo’s hardware now. “When they told me about [Wii’s] motion controls, I was kind of surprised,” Aonuma recalls. “But I’ve been with Nintendo a long time. At first they would say, ‘Hey, we made this new platform. Make a game.’ The next step was, ‘Is there anything you want to add to this new platform?’ Now I’m involved in creating the hardware. They’ll ask me what would be a good feature to add. I’m not so taken back by it anymore.”

To close thoughts on hardware, it’s intriguing to note a sentence in the article on motion control. EDGE writes that: “Aonuma admits he felt “fulfilled” by his work on motion controls with Skyward Sword, and would be happy to try it again. “But I really like anything new,” he says – something that’s hard to reconcile with the familiar way in which Breath Of The Wild is controlled.”

If nothing else, this throws up many more questions on what NX could be. We all need more of them, right? Oh, wait.

Among Sheikahs

Finishing our findings from EDGE’s article is Aonuma talking about his own future. Could he work on something that isn’t Zelda? “Actually, Nintendo has been telling me to create a new IP,” he reveals. “But then, they’re also telling me to make more Zelda games.” It’s a conundrum, isn’t it. A mind behind such masterpieces may well have some amazing ideas beyond the world of Zelda. Actually, he may already have them…

Aonuma said: “I can’t really share much; I’m not sure I’m allowed to say anything. But I really like the idea of a game where I can live as a thief. That’s all I’ll say.” Now, this makes me think of the Sheikah. Which would bring it back to Zelda, which isn’t really the point of this exercise… Still, this means we may have something outside the setting of Hyrule coming from Eiji Aonuma – which is very exciting.

Whew, there’s a lot of meat to chew from that EDGE article and interview! Remember you can find out how to get the physical edition of EDGE here, or find the magazine online at their new home of gamesradar.

Finally, what do you make of Eiji Aonuma’s comments in EDGE #296? You can let me know in the comments. See you in the next edition of Hyrule Weekly!

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