Back in the late '90s, all eyes were on Nintendo and the development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. After numerous delays, the game launched in November 1998 to rapturous applause and plaudits and is now widely considered one of the best video games ever made. But, with the delays and gravity and notoriety of the game, not everything was quite as rosy behind the scenes.
While credited as the Manual Designer, that was just one of his many jobs on the now-legendary Zelda game. Jim revealed that he "did just about everything in that game except write the screen text", and though he was still an associate producer, he was making the transition to full-time graphic design and juggling lot.
"(Ocarina of Time) was towards the end of my associate producer days. It was one of the last projects I worked on before I transferred over to design, so it was a little frustrating to get to the end of the game and see my name in the credits as manual editor."
Wornell says he worked on many different aspects, including debugging, advertising, marketing, and the legal side, among other things. The manual editing for Ocarina of Time was his first graphic design job, so he would move between the AP role and editing role while going over bugs and glitches at the time.
Likely because of the game's numerous delays, to ensure Nintendo would get it out on time, Wornell remembers how much time and crunch he had to do in order to get everything finished, doing 14-hour days without a break for the last two weeks.
"Zelda was, while I love Ocarina Of Time, it's a great game, it was almost the death of me because so much of my time was spent working on that game, you know two weeks without a day off, working from eight in the morning until ten at night you know. It was crazy."
Wornell admits that, given the amount of time spent on tidying up the game, the fact that he was learning how to use Illustrator on what was "one of the first manuals I edited or laid out", that it was a "miracle" that everything turned out as good as it did.
Host Reece Reilly asks more about the hours Wornell put in, who acknowledges the timing of the crunch and the amount of people involved. Multiple people had to verify and check various aspects of the game before it was sent back to Japan in order to be approved:
"Especially when you get to the end of a game you know, it's getting close to lot check approval so it can be released to the market. You’re putting in some serious time to get it done."
Extended hours, poor working conditions, and excessive overtime has long been an issue in the video game industry and often hits some of the biggest, most high-profile releases. It's still ongoing today, with TT Games speaking out about crunch on the recent LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
Reilly asks if this was commonplace at the time, or if it was just Ocarina of Time — which Wornell says that he "definitely" realised how special the game was going to be while working on it — where crunch was an issue:
"Well, Ocarina was the biggest Nintendo release at the time, it was massive. It's not like that with every game, no, not at all. I mean, it was definitely not like that with Shadowgate Game Boy"
Fortunately, it hasn't dampened Wornell's opinion of the game at all, as he confidently says ,"I've played it since (the game's release), I've enjoyed it, enjoyed the heck out of it."
This interview with Wornell follows Reilly's talk last year with Mike Wikan, a former employee of Retro Studios who acknowledged that lessons were learned following crunch on the first Metroid Prime.
The whole podcast is absolutely worth listening to, as the pair discuss Wornell's design history at Nintendo of America, including the Animal Crossing Logo, Metroid Prime logo, Paper Mario logo, and working on F-Zero X. You can listen to the whole interview below.
Let us know what you think of the Ocarina of Time discussion in the comments.