The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is now just weeks away, arriving on the Nintendo Switch and Wii U on 3rd March. The anticipation is palpable, as it's not only the first new '3D' Legend of Zelda title since Skyward Sword on Wii, but it's the most ambitious game the series has ever seen. An enormous open world and an all-new physics engine underpin the bold approach to the release.
Of course, at one point it was a WIi U title, plain and simple, but original target release dates slipped and, as time passed, a double release with the Switch seemed inevitable; this also happened with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in the past, of course. Speaking to Eurogamer, series producer Eiji Aonuma has spoken a little about the point when it became clear that the title would also come to Switch; the final call was actually only made in Spring last year. He acknowledges that control scheme changes were made, as the dual screen mechanics shown off early in the game's development made way for a single-screen approach to suit the Nintendo Switch. This, ultimately, is to ensure that the gameplay experiences is the same on either system.
...And then obviously because up until that point the development team had been developing it as a Wii U title and making it as comfortable and enjoyable an experience as possible on Wii U, when we decided we'd also develop for Nintendo Switch, we knew in a way we would be placing a large extra burden on the development team. And I knew some would complain about it, as they'd been developing it for Wii U and they'd have to make some changes, but I really led that process myself - I really thought myself about how we could make that title work on Nintendo Switch, and had to sell the idea to the development team, in a way.
Obviously a major difference between developing for Wii U and a major thing we had to change for Nintendo Switch was the controls. Wii U has the Wii U GamePad, and we originally envisaged making major use of that for the controls. Of course on Wii U you have two screens - the main screen, and one on the GamePad - but the Nintendo Switch has one screen. That was a major change, but we achieved it a lot more easily and quickly than we expected. In the end we're happier with how the controls came out, having made those changes. I feel that the control system we landed on was better than what we originally had.
There's little doubt that this is Nintendo's most ambitious project to date in terms of scale, and is arguably the first game of its kind to come out of its internal studios. As a project of firsts, it took a lot of time to nail down the internal processes and underlying physics at work in the game.
One of the major problems we faced on a game of this size was actually coordinating everything, and by that I mean creating this huge open world by lots of development staff. Each individual person might be working on just one part of that world, but if they're working without a broader context, within isolation, then they might think, "I'm creating this particular area or feature or object", but if they don't know how that fits into the broader world and context of the game, things won't tie together very well.
We had to make sure everyone was communicating as much as possible, and everyone had an idea of that broader world, but we really had to make sure all the development staff could play the game as much as possible. That takes a long time for a game of this size as you can imagine. So we had to take time throughout the development period to really play the game and make sure that this cohesion was maintained.
Another example of a challenge we faced was the physics engine. We wanted a consistent physics engine throughout the world that worked in a logical and realistic way. Actually implementing that was sometimes more complicated than it seemed. [For example], one day I picked up the latest build of the game and went to an area, and saw that all the objects that were supposed to be in that area weren't there. I was quite surprised and confused, and I realised after asking the programmer, the reason the objects weren't there was because the wind in-game had blown them all away.
That's the kind of challenge we faced, making the physics engine realistic, but not to the extent that it would negatively impact things - striking a balance between realism and having it work within the game world.
I really think the implementation of this physics engine is a major development for the Zelda series. The way the physics engine underpins everything in the world really offers up a lot of new possibilities. For instance, in Breath of the Wild you might have a puzzle where making use of the physics, there'll be various ways you can solve that puzzle. That really opens up a lot of possibilities so there's not just one way to progress in the game or just one way to solve a puzzle.
It's undoubtedly a project that's drawn a lot of dedication from its development team, and it'll certainly be the highlight of the Nintendo Switch launch; for Wii U, meanwhile, it could be the perfect send-off.