RPGamer got a chance to sit in on a session involving history of The Legend of Zelda series, under the direction of Eiji Aonuma. Much was discussed, such as the challenges the team faced and how the game has evolved into what it is today.
The first thing Aonuma talked about was the basis behind the drastic change in the recent Zelda games; why they were so different. The biggest reason for the change was gamer drift, where gamers were moving away from the Zelda games because of the franchise becoming too difficult. This drift caused Aonuma and his team to look at new approaches to the Zelda franchise. One of these approaches was what Nintendo called Connectivity. This feature was the link between the Gamecube and the Game Boy Advance, using the GBA as a controller. The first application of this was the Four Swords Adventures. It was not, however, met with the success that Nintendo had hoped, mostly due to the fact that everyone needed a GBA, a link cable, and it was too difficult for new players.
Another big issue that faced the franchise was the toon shading used in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and how it was received. The shading effects caused even further gamer drift, because it inadvertently sent the message that this Zelda was focused on a much younger audience. When the development team started work on Wind Waker 2, they knew that it would have to be changed in order to make it something that would relight the spark in the ever decreasing interest of the franchise. This lead to the decision that the next Zelda game would have to be realistic, but raised other issues and challenges. The team didn't know if making a realistic Zelda would work, so they were given a task by Miyamoto: make something that you didn't get to do in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, attack while riding a horse. Four months later, it became a reality, and the realistic Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was born.
Work continued on the game, and as it did, even more problems became apparent. It didn't feel like a Zelda game. The team was struggling with the camera controls, as well as trying to come up with something that would keep the game fresh. While this was happening, Aonuma was pulled away from the Twilight Princess project to work on The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. He was hoping to gain inspiration for the Twilight Princess project, since it was still lacking something big and uniquely Zelda. When he returned to the Twilight Princess project, he was still without inspiration for it. Miyamoto said that they needed something new for Link and that it needed to be 120% Zelda. Aonuma was shifted to the Director of the project, and work went forward, but they still lacked the innovation that they needed to make the game work.
As E3 drew near, they drew on other Zelda games that had two separate worlds, light and dark or past and present, to come up with the idea of Link turning into a wolf. While a step in the right direction, this was still not the innovation that the team needed for the new game. Miyamoto then suggested changing the game to the Revolution platform, since the controller would be ideal for making a breakthrough in the Zelda franchise. This brought up the question of whether or not to abandon the Gamecube version of the game for the Revolution. If they did not, it wouldn't be able to be released in the time frame as promised, and instead would be a launch title for the Revolution in 2006.
The controller of the Revolution (Wii) was just what the team needed. They decided to start with making the bow and arrow able to be shot with the pointer. Once this was accomplished, they moved on to the camera control problems they were having earlier. They tried to eliminate the control stick and move the camera completely with the pointer, using an overlay with a circle in the middle of the screen for aiming, and when the cursor was moved onto the edges the camera would rotate. At this time, the remote swinging was implemented as the sword swing action.
One of the failed ideas that Aonuma and his team tried out was making the view switch to first person when a player entered into combat. It didn't work as well as they had hoped. The sword swinging was also abandoned, since Link was left handed and it didn't fit right to be swinging the remote in your right hand. The sword was assigned to the b button, and the items to the directional pad for the E3 demo. However, they were not received well by the people who played it. It was consistent that there was camera drift which interfered with gameplay, as well as the controls being too difficult to use. Aonuma needed to redesign them if the game was going to be a success.
The controls would have to be comfortable and easy, so that anyone can pick up the game and play without much trouble. The camera control was redesigned, and made into the final product. The item assignment to the directional pad had to be fixed, since the press and hold function was causing issues. It was difficult to hold just one direction, and players were hitting multiple directions at once, causing conflict. The sword swing was re-added to the motion sensor of the Wii remote, letting any swing of the remote attack with the sword. The items were shifted to a press the pad to equip, and b to use scheme that was seen in the final game. The problem of Link being left handed was solved by mirroring the whole game from the Gamecube version, making it feel natural.
The game was released alongside the Wii, and although the team worked hard to try and make it as easy as possible to play, sales in Japan were not what they had hoped because of its complexity. The Zelda franchise is still facing the problem of gamer drift, but Aonuma is working hard on bringing innovation and new ideas to the series. Gamers can only hope that the trend continues.