Development of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is now complete, with manufacturing on physical retail copies no doubt underway and members of the press happily playing through to work towards producing their reviews. It would seem like a good time, therefore, for Eiji Aonuma and his team to take a rest, though as he's explained to USgamer in an interview, he's had "no sort of break" due to ongoing work on 3DS title The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
Leading one of Nintendo's most treasured franchises is a high pressure job, and there may be additional stresses when remaking a title that, for some, stands tall as one of the best and perhaps under-appreciated entries in the series. It had — like almost any game — its share of flaws, however, such as momentum breaking quests and moments of relative tedium, depending on your gaming sensibilities. In this interview, Aonuma admitted that his memory of the game and what it actually included didn't always match, as would be expected of a busy mind with a lot of Zelda to remember. Nintendo's subsequently made much of its tweaks and balancing with this re-release to improve these areas, and the famous producer explained how he played through the whole experience from start to finish in order to improve the overall flow from a consumer's perspective.
I think there really are a lot of different cases you have to look at. I don't think there's any set rule for how to determine what is something you want to improve or smooth over and what you want to leave as it is. I think the important thing for us as developers is to start at the beginning and play and really get into the flow of the game and put ourselves in the player's shoes. If you just focus on one thing here, one thing there, and you look at those objects individually, outside of the context of the whole game, and make changes to them, you're not doing a service to the player or to the game itself. You're taking them out of their context.
So again, it's really important to look at the overall player experience and look at the game through the player's eyes. That's very important, to look at it with fresh eyes and make sure you're feeling what the player feels. When you hit a point in the game that's too difficult or maybe too easy, you're seeing it in that overall context, and not just as an individual instance or individual experience. If something is too tough and gets the player in a mood like, "This is terrible, I can't do this," then of course that's something we want to look at. If it's so easy that we're just going to breeze through it and not remember having solved that puzzle or overcome that challenge, that's something we want to look at and possibly revise as well.
But again, the important thing is to look at the overall game flow and try to experience it from the player's viewpoint, so you're impacting the whole experience, and not just those single instances or single events.
The impression with Aonuma is that he's continually trying to improve the momentum of Zelda titles, though sought to correct an impression that he'd cited Bethesda's Skyrim as a source of inspiration for the new Zelda Wii U title.
I just wanted to say, I've been a bit surprised by the focus on my comments about Skyrim. I started playing Skyrim because the name was so close to "Skyward Sword" and I wanted to see what that was about. [laughs] I didn't pick it up because it was popular or because it was getting good reviews or anything like that. I just wanted to take a look at it. "Oh, okay, this is what this game's about. There are some things in here that are sort of Zelda-esque and maybe some things that aren't."
But there was no inspiration taken from Skyrim. It didn't impact what I was thinking about for future Zelda titles. I'm always thinking about, "Okay, next time, what are we going to do with the next one?" As a producer, whenever I can find more time to play games, I'm taking that free time to go out and play other games just to play them and see what's out there.
As far as whether or not those are inspiring me or influencing my decisions, I guess it's probably the same way as when I talk to young developers or new people on our staff, or when I read interviews with other people saying, "Yeah, this game was influenced by my experience playing Zelda as a kid." Or, "Zelda really impacted my design decisions going forward." I think the problem with that is that everything you play influences what you're thinking, but I'm not looking at other games to try and find inspiration. If it happens, it's a natural process.
With The Wind Waker HD getting closer, how important is balancing and a smoother sense of momentum and progression in this re-release? Do those of you that played the original see major areas for improvement in that respect?