The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is tantalisingly close to being released on Wii U. It emerges in North America and Europe on 4th October and will even have its own special limited edition console bundle for those who haven't embarked on their Wii U adventure yet.
With the release date looming, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata sat down with the development team behind it for the latest instalment of Iwata Asks. Naturally, Eiji Aonuma, who directed the GameCube original and produced this updated version, was present as was Daiki Iwamoto, the new game's director, Satoru Takizawa, the man behind the glorious artwork, Takuhiro Dohta, the HD refining program director, and Masanao Arimoto, who had the arduous task of taking data from the original and making it work on Wii U.
Firstly, the team discussed the origins of Toon Link, a character design that certainly raised a few eyebrows when it was shown off in 2001. Aonuma confirmed the new look wasn’t exactly what he had first proposed but he certainly grew to love it.
Takizawa said at the time, he and Yoshiki Haruhana, the design manager for the GameCube title, had been trying to figure out which graphical direction to take for the upcoming game. There were a few options, but the main ones appeared to be an evolution of the Ocarina of Time graphical style, or something completely new.
It was all becoming a big struggle, but suddenly Haruhana found an idea right out of the blue with a sketch of Toon Link. Haruhana's drawing became the detonator for the project and the development staff began to think of a whole bunch of ideas.
Takizawa was arguably the most inspired and said his designer’s spirit "came to life" and he realised with his new image, Link could perform actions that would look and feel good no matter how he ended up moving. After seeing the sketch he quickly drew a Moblin and all of a sudden everything fell into place, as Aonuma explained:
Looking back at the history of Zelda games, that happens a lot. For Ocarina of Time as well, once we had Link and a certain kind of enemy, gameplay started developing rapidly
In the case of The Wind Waker, the visuals for Link and the Moblins started everything. Things quickly shaped up around how we would have them fight.
From there on out, the cartoon version of Link was the new direction but of course it did not go down well in some quarters, with a few gamers expressing their disappointment at the childish look of the new Legend of Zelda title, especially after they had seen an evolved form of Link from Ocarina of Time at Nintendo Space World in 2000.
However, the developers noticed that the new visuals were opening gaming up to new people, which pleased them greatly. For example, Aonuma and Takizawa both revealed how their wives became interested in video games after seeing the art style of Wind Waker, with Takizawa saying it was the first time he'd seen his wife show disappointment at not being good at video games.
The Wind Waker was released in a time when video games were quite difficult to interact with if you were not a regular player so the team were very happy to see new people want to jump aboard, as Takizawa observed:
We were able to create visuals where we could get someone who doesn’t usually play video games want to play one. That really made me happy.
Toon Link has since settled into the handheld games and has appeared in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, which has assisted in making him an accepted character in his own right. Plenty of Super Smash Bros. Brawl players certainly enjoyed using him too.
Very early on in development, Takizawa and Dohta were plugging several different adaptations of Link's adventures into the Wii U to see what he would look like and the Wind Waker iteration stood out as exceptional in HD.
While working on it Takizawa and Dohta were called by Aonuma who asked how long it would take to get the game on the shelves. They told him it could be done in under a year, which was a big reason for the project getting the green light. Aonuma asked Shigeru Miyamoto if it could be made and he approved, especially when he heard it would take so little time to create.
Shortly after this, those famous high definition images appeared during a Nintendo Direct presentation in January and anticipation started to grow.
Amusingly, returning to the game after 11 years was not an easy task and some of the team would frequently get stuck on puzzles they designed, with Takizawa admitting they had a strategy guide at hand the whole time they played it.
Once it came to the development one of the key considerations was highlighting what could be improved and Iwamoto, who was not part of the original project, got to work on ironing out the creases. A consistent problem many found with the GameCube title was that it was fantastic at the start but dragged a little in the second half and this was taken into account during the development of the HD iteration.
Iwamoto said he played through the game again, no doubt with his handy strategy guide, and noticed places that could be changed in order to create an experience for the players of today.
The development team itself was much smaller this time round, with only a few in-house designers working on the project. When it came to doing more time consuming tasks such as working on the high-resolution textures, a lot of external designers were brought in, but for the most part it was made up of three key designers, including Takizawa and Arimoto. Not bad considering how quickly they turned it around and the task was made easier by devising a way to convert GameCube data for the Wii U, while making the visuals look better without touching the 3D modeling data too much.
It's fair to say the developers are proud of what they've achieved with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Many people see this as an experiment, to see what the Wii U can do when Nintendo create a brand new Zelda title. Indeed, the team has taken plenty from this one, especially the visuals, which look warm during the sunny areas and cool in the shade of trees and buildings. This is something Takizawa paid close attention to and was tweaking right up until the last days of development.
Aonuma: The shades really do look cool. You feel like you want to go there! (laughs)
Takizawa: That’s possible because of Wii U. In technological terms, the Wii U can present a wide range of brightness, but that’s a somewhat dull way to describe it! (laughs) When we make Zelda games in the future, I think that will be one important point.
It's certainly worth taking the time to read the full interview to find out more about the development process behind The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and how it differs from the GameCube original, and if you're still unsure about making a purchase, you can see what we thought to it in our review.
If you can't wait until 4th October and you're lucky enough to live in North America, you can download it from the eShop on the 20th September.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming release? Are you excited? Let us know in the comment section below.