Nintendo’s three-part making-of series on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has premiered, and it’s packed with insight on what thoughts and efforts went into designing the game. Producer Eiji Aonuma, Director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, and other members of the Breath of the Wild development team explain the various aspects of developing the game from pre-production to release. Below are some of the more interesting facts we pulled from the Zelda: BOTW making-of videos.
The Making of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The Beginning
From the very beginning of production, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s design team wanted to break conventions that had become synonymous with the series. Previously, the main areas of the game were separated by many small areas due to technological limitations, but newer Nintendo hardware finally allowed the possibility for a more seamless design for Hyrule.
In the beginning, the team mocked up the world using a 2D representation that looked similar to the original The Legend of Zelda. In that 2D world, they slowly started adding connections between objects. Actions like firing an arrow through a campfire and into a tree to set it on fire and that fiery tree’s reaction to its environment were first modeled in 2D before the idea was expanded upon into a 3D world. The team behind Breath of the Wild wanted interactions like these to spur new and emergent gameplay that would further immerse the player in the experience.
The design of the shrines, Divine Beasts, and Guardians are based on the Jomon period of Japanese history. As you can see in the statue above the Zelda team used the strange and alien curvature of that era’s art to project the ancients of Hyrule in a foreboding light.
Language support was also a consideration very early in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s development. Eiji Aonuma stated during the video that even though previous Zelda games had been subtitled, parents had said that their children still had trouble understanding the games through text only. By releasing the game in eight languages, Aonuma hopes that more people than ever will have a chance to enjoy Zelda. He also recommended that since the Nintendo Switch is region-free that those studying a foreign language try playing the game in the tongue, they’re trying to learn for a fun new experience.
The Making of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Story and Characters
Each character in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild required a different approach when it came to designing them. The story began with the need for Link, Zelda, and Ganon designs since the team knew that all events would revolve around them.
For Link, the team first thought about what kind of personality he should have. From there they started work on refining his visual design.
The first consideration for Ganon’s design was how he should fit into the game mechanically as the final boss. Once they decided how they wanted the last confrontation of the title to play out, work started on fleshing him out visually.
The design for Zelda was the most divisive amongst the designers working on Breath of the Wild. The game planners thought about Zelda in terms of, “what about the person Zelda is will make players want to save her?” The designer's approach was, “what about her looks and behavior will stir feelings deep within the player?” Although both the planners and designers butted heads on Zelda’s design, their ideas eventually melded into the end product. However, up until the game went gold, changes to Zelda’s gestures, character lighting, and fine details were tweaked and changed. Art Director Satoru Takizawa stated that she was the hardest character by far to design in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The Guardians, as noted above, were aesthetically based on Jomon period Japanese art. However, the larger Guardians, the ones with the tentacles, were based on a conversation Eiji Aonuma had with a designer. He commented that the Octoroks in the original The Legend of Zelda looked immense compared to how they looked in recent titles and he wondered how that design would look interpreted into 3D. The resulting design was the basis for the Guardians,
Each character in Breath of the Wild exists to support the conflict between Link, Zelda, and Ganon. As such, fluctuations in character design were common up until development concluded on the game. In fact, a trailer released in January featured a character that would receive a complete color change by the time the game released in March. Other characters didn't make it into the game at all. At one point there was a race of tiny people in Breath of the Wild that would have a village Link could visit in-game. There he could shrink down and experience the world much the same as the gameplay in The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. However, the team came to the conclusion that these tiny people would likely be overshadowed by the characters and content already planned, so they scrapped them.
The Making of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Open-Air Concept
The “open-air” concept for The Legend of Zelda started in The Wind Waker. Aonuma explained that he wished to eliminate the small sections that connected the main areas of the world together and change them into more open and exploration-friendly expanses. With The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Aonuma was able to do this to an extent by using the wide-open ocean as the connecting point for the world.
Unfortunately, The Wind Waker didn’t quite live up to the idea Aonuma envisioned. The GameCube’s specs limited the amount of islands that could inhabit the world, and the game ended up feeling smaller than intended. For Breath of the Wild, the team went back to the beginning of the series and used The Legend of Zelda’s lack of restraint and handholding when players traveled throughout its world.
When deciding just how massive Hyrule would be in Breath of the Wild the team didn’t worry about comparing to previous Zelda games. They would end up using Kyoto as a basis for Hyrule and was used as a physical reference to scale the world. Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is around 12 times as large as that of Twilight Princess, but the team’s dedication to making sure that this distance remained manageable and overall fun for the player means that not the size of the space, but what’s it contains that remains the more important consideration.
As part of the exploration motif the team wanted to impart with Breath of the Wild, it was decided to end the Zelda series convention of giving the player hearts to refill their life. After implementing the extensive cooking system available in Breath of the Wild, the team wanted players to use food to heal instead of randomly finding hearts. The need to cook for health encourages the player to explore Hyrule hunting animals and looking for plants that can make the best dishes, and ensures that you’ll use the cooking system instead of ignoring it for random drops.
The music in the game is much more subdued that in previous titles. The team wanted to focus on the visual aspects of Hyrule so it was decided that for the first time in a Zelda title a piano would be the instrument the orchestration centers around. The soft piano is meant to add to the ambiance of a scene instead of sweeping the player out of the scene, and the sound designers used new arrangements of some tunes from previous Zelda titles to add a feeling of familiarity to the soundtrack. A subtle aspect of the background music is that it also marks the passage of time, with many themes lowering their tempo and becoming more subdued at nighttime.
With so many people working on so many aspects of the game, it was important to Aonuma that each individual knew how their contributions fit in amongst the whole. When the development team reached an important milestone, work on the game would cease for around a week while each person played through the latest build of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Aonuma says that the time taken out to play the game allowed each person to more deeply understand how the work they were doing intertwined with the work of their colleagues and allowed them the knowledge needed to know how to complement their peers' work better. Even though when this play testing occurred work on the game stopped, Aonuma said that it shortened development time because the increased understanding of the game allowed the team to work on Breath of the Wild more efficiently.
These making-of videos were fascinating. I hope that Nintendo creates more in the future. To see what thoughts and effort went on in the development of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game I praised in my review of it, gave me a new appreciation of just how thoughtful and intelligent the development team. I’m happy that they were able to get to share their stories and get the recognition they deserve for making such a great product.