E3 2013: An Interview with Eiji Aonuma – The Man Behind Wind Waker HD

During E3 about a week and a half ago we here at COG had the opportunity to sit down and interview Mr. Eiji Aonuma.  Mr. Aonuma is a veteran of Nintendo who has spent much of his time working alongside legendary video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto.  He joined Nintendo in 1988 and his past work includes The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii console, the Nintendo GameCube game The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker; and Nintendo 64 games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  Most recently, he was director of the critical and commercial success The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Wii.

Our interview with Mr. Aonuma focused on upcoming game The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, which is currently slated for release on the Wii U in October of this year.  I have to admit that although I have played many of the Zelda games, including Wind Waker on the GameCube, I am not the most knowledgeable in all things Zelda given my gaming time is spread out amongst so much.  That being said, I thought that I had some good questions and looked forward to meeting Mr. Aonuma and chatting with him.

COG: Coming from the GameCube to Wii U, what were you most excited with regarding the Wii U’s technical abilities and what you could do well after the original game was released on the GameCube?

Mr. Aonuma: There are a few things that I was excited to do with WindWaker on the Wii U.  When we wrapped up development of Wind Waker on the GameCube there were elements that I was not totally satisfied with.  I was really excited to “fix those” and address some of the tuning issues in the Wii U version.

With the Wii U the graphics are now in HD and the graphical representation of the game will be more beautiful and this time we have the GamePad.  There are new controls added this time around.  For example, with the touchscreen you can control the Wind Waker, the baton, making the controls feel more intuitive and more fun.

Having played the game myself, I believe the experience is more fun than the GameCube version and I am looking forward to putting the game in player’s hands for them to play it.

COG: I have played the GameCube version of Wind Waker and the HD version on the show floor.  I can’t help but think that this game would be well suited for the 3DS with its art style and gameplay elements.  Have you ever considered putting it on the 3DS, and if not, how come?

Mr. Aonuma: Why do you think it would be suited for the 3DS? (Editors Note: The feared “answer a question with a question” response.  LOL)

COG: The art style, the gameplay, and the visuals seem geared for a younger audience, with the cel-shaded look, and many younger children play the 3DS.  To get them interested in the Zelda Universe and give them an introduction to it, this game would just make sense on the 3DS for them.

Mr. Aonuma: You hit some really good points with playing Wind Waker on the 3DS, but Wind Waker HD development and A Link Between Worlds development happened at the same time, and A Link Between Worlds is a game for the 3DS and I think that experience is well suited for that device.  I have long been tasked with creating a sequel or something, or re-visiting the Link to the Past world, so at that time I was not considering putting Wind Waker on the 3DS, it was A Link Between Worlds.

COG: How would you describe what Wind Waker HD is?  Is it a celebration of the GameCube version coming to a new audience, is it a way to bring new gamers who own the Wii U to the Zelda Universe, or is it a “thank you” to the fans who enjoyed the original on the GameCube and now play their games on the Wii U?

Mr. Aonuma: All of the above.

COG: In terms of Wind Waker HD, what is the key component you are using to bring new people to the franchise? Wind Waker was released on the GameCube and a lot of people to date have not played it.  Is this Wii U version the “stepping stone” to get them into Zelda? As well, except for the HD graphics, what is the hook to bring those who have already played it back to play it once again?

Mr. Aonuma: With regard to bringing new people via Wind Waker HD, it is not just with Wind Waker HD, but it is also with A Link Between Worlds.  We want to make all our experiences fun for first time players as well as for Zelda fans.  We don’t want people to think that the hurdle is really really high for Zelda games and that you need to be an experienced player to have fun.  Games are not fun because they are hard.  We need to strike a balance to make players reach the goal if they just try a bit harder but also make sure experienced gamers have fun reaching the goal.  This is something that we always struggle with and always think about.  It is not that we think Wind Waker HD is our key to bring new people in, but we think that with all our other projects too.

As I mentioned before, because of the features on the GamePad there are opportunities to make the experience more intuitive and more direct, so in addition to the HD graphics having the GamePad with the second screen should change the experience overall.  There are two ways to play, you can play with the GamePad and TV monitor or you can play using the “Off TV Screen Mode” which allows you to use the GamePad screen as the gameplay screen.  So we are offering variety and that is something that all players will really latch onto.  Depending on your preferences you can change the way you play.

COG: I apologize if this is a silly question.  Is the story going to be identical?  Have you added anything to give that “surprise” to those who are coming back or is the experience the same as the GameCube version in terms of the narrative and events that happened in the original Wind Waker?

Mr. Aonuma: We are not changing the story at all.  We may change some phrasing to clear things up, but we are not changing the narrative.  We are also changing some of the processes, there were some sections of the game that took too long and this is our opportunity to tune them and optimize them.   The story will not change but the tempo of the delivery should be more streamlined.

COG: You seem to be proud to have a chance fix some things you weren’t happy with.  Were you able to fix everything you wanted, or were there things that just couldn’t be fixed due to time constraints or any other limitations?

Mr. Aonuma: Can’t fix everything because if we were to fix everything we’d have to start from scratch. Anything we can fix, any improvements we can make, we are fine tuning all of those adjustments to optimize the experience for the user but we do have a deadline and we need to get this on store shelves, so we can’t fix everything.

COG: This is more of a personal question.  Not many people are given a second chance.  You get the opportunity to take a look at your game in the past and make it for the present.   How do you feel to have this chance to fix some of the things from the past?

Mr. Aonuma: This is something that I have been asking to do for a long, long time.  It is something that I wanted to do, but also in my mind was the question “is this something that people would really want?”  I came to a point where my confidence grew that we could make something good and that people would be happy to have in their hands.  And just to reinforce that I asked Nintendo of America (NOA) if the American audience do they want this, and NOA said absolutely.  This added to my sense of confidence that this is something that we should do.

I asked Mr. Miyamoto “just give me six months, just six months” and I will finish this.  I also said that I would take responsibility of this whole thing.  Normally what would happen is that Mr. Miyamoto would ask me “hey, would you work on this thing?” but I turned things around and said that I wanted to do this thing and he gave me the OK to go ahead and it is something that I am excited about.

COG: When Wind Waker was first unveiled for the GameCube prior to it’s release, there was somewhat of an uproar with the direction of the game, specifically the cel-shaded graphics and how the game itself had seemed to change so much given the history of the franchise.  Of course after Wind Waker was released there was lots of critical acclaim, but there were still those not willing to accept the changes.  Do you still face that now in present day?

Mr. Aonuma: When we released Wind Waker on the GameCube I think we were one of the first developers to present that cel-shaded art style and many followed suit afterwards.  It might have been that the presentation was jarring at the time, but when you think of it it is fairly common to see that graphical representation.  For me personally, I think we will be able to take that existing look and improve upon it so even though there are other cel-shaded games out there Wind Waker will feel fresh.  I think with time, over the past 10 years, opinions have changed so those that were critical before are not as critical now and many have come to like the cel-shaded presentation that we have done for Wind Waker.  It’s like fashion trends change, the graphics trends change as well.

COG: Has anything changed with the audio? Is there any added music or is the score more dynamically linked to gameplay with the processing power you have now?  If so, what has changed?

Mr. Aonuma: There won’t be more in terms of content music wise, but you should get a richer sound.  The reason for this is that we can add more layers to sounds so you should hear the results of that in Wind Waker.

COG: You’ve mentioned wanting to do a sequel?  Are you still contemplating that?

Mr. Aonuma: We have made a follow up.  The Phantom Hourglass is the sequel to Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks is the sequel to Phantom Hourglass.

COG: I have never linked them up like that….

Mr. Aonuma: Please let people know that.

COG: I go into each game as an individual experience, and don’t usually stand back to link them in that way (Editors Note: maybe Outtie just doesn’t play them enough to see the full link between all the stories).

Mr. Aonuma: As the creators of the games we also want to make them as individual experiences, they should be individual and complete experiences.  It is not as if you have to play them in any certain order, or play all of them, but for those who do play all of them, we want to put little things in there so they can identify “oh, that is why this happened in the previous game” or just as an added benefit of playing everything, but again as creators we try to make sure each one is a complete experience so I understand where you get that.

COG: My final question.  How can you describe what you want people to experience when they play this remastered and remade Wind Waker?  What are you looking for them to experience, feel, and walk away with when they are done?  

Mr. Aonuma: I would love for them to look forward to the next Zelda game, that next experience.  Something to have a really positive experience in Wind Waker HD that wants them to experience more of that world.

We here at COG would like to thank the fine folks at Nintendo Canada for setting up this interview for us.  The 30-minutes of conversation that transpired just flew by as Mr. Aonuma is such an interesting person to talk to.  It is clear that he loves what he does, and that he wants fans to have the best gaming experience possible.

We hope you readers out there have enjoyed this interview as much as we had doing it.  We think it provides more of a personal side to what Mr. Aonuma does and shows how much he work he puts into the Zelda series.  Thanks for taking the time to read and feel free to check out the gallery of screenshots below:

  • Nintendo Fan 4 Lif3

    Not to put Nintendo down, but I think that if they had invested more in the power and potential of their consoles like they had with N64, they would’ve been further along in their vision and possibly have made their games even better than they are now. I mean, when you look at Skyward Sword you see parts that look awesome and environments that stand out and make you wish Nintendo had put equal effort in those and other areas so that the game maybe felt grander than it was or looked even better so that they can fully realize their vision as a developer. I’ll bet you this though: Nintendo’s next console after Wii U won’t be backwards compatible and will most likely be much closer in power to PS4 and X1’s successors; let’s face it, Nintendo’s home console and handheld divisions are teaming up so obviously something is up and they’re probably already conceiving ideas as to what they can do to avoid the issues with Gamecube, Wii, DS. 3DS, and Wii U so that they can get back to the glory days of N64. Teaming up means they produce more bringing down the cost of development, but that’s just my theory. Like how Mark Cerny made PS4 deviate away from Sony has done mostly since PS1, Nintendo will most likely take a turn for the better while not losing their identity 5-6 years from now. I still want them to put gameplay and story above all else, but still also increase the capabilities of the console so they’re not restricted by limitations as Eiji Aonuma mentioned. So yeah, that’s what I think Nintendo’s up to and why they couldn’t spend money to do much of their show at E3 and instead opt more for Nintendo Direct this year and most likely the next and other stuff that they’re doing. Anyone have any thoughts on that cuz we all know Nintendo reverting their focus back to also prioritizing console power is inevitable. In fact, it doesn’t matter how powerful any console gets cuz catridges are actually more advanced discs. Chris Seavor, the creator of Conker and voice of Conker in Conker’s Bad Fur Day-for those who remember- said himself that since catridges use SSD, they can hold a lot or even much more so he was able to a lot of stuff with that game, with possibilities exceeding that of Bluray or even whatever comes next, but due to the limitations of N64 and the fact that cartridges are expensive to develop for, hence why Square went to PlayStation for Final Fantasy, they could only do so much; heck he even said that they had to lower the resolution on his game since N64 had its limitations and make the final product lower than what he was aiming for. Don’t believe me: go to his developer commentary on the game here: http://www.computerandvideogames.com/409294/blog/rare-treat-conkers-bad-fur-day-dev-commentary-video-released/ there are 6 parts to it: go to the 5th and go to 5:00 minute mark to where he talks about cartridge advantages for like 2 minutes but I strongly suggest to watch all the videos, it’s fun to watch. I never played the game myself since I started gaming Gamecube era unfortunately so I enjoyed watching it and hope I can play it someday since the game is Rare-pun intended. Anyway, anyone who would like to share their thoughts about my ideas please do so. Thanks for listening.