Zelda's Eiji Aonuma on annualization, and why the series needs 'a bit more time'

We spoke to Zelda series director Eiji Aonuma about his take on annualization.

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Annualization. Activision is able to push out a new Call of Duty game every year. Ubisoft can make a new Assassin's Creed game every year. And lately, Nintendo has been able to get new Mario games out on an annual basis. But what about Zelda? We spoke to series director Eiji Aonuma about his take on annualization. The Zelda series is actually no stranger to the one year turnaround. Majora's Mask was intended to come out just one year after Ocarina of Time. "This was an idea that came from Mr. Miyamoto," Aonuma explained. "The challenge he gave to me: to try and make a sequel to Ocarina of Time in just one year." At the time, Nintendo thought that it would be possible to make a new game every year. "Ocarina of Time was the first 3D Zelda game. When you make a 3D game, you have all these 3D models. But in a 2D game, you're drawing all these 2D images. Even if you wanted to make another game right away, if the background is different, you actually end up having to re-draw everything. But in a 3D game, you can put those 3D models in different backgrounds and animate them," Aonuma told Shacknews. "So Mr. Miyamoto thought 'well, actually shouldn't this make it easier for us to make a sequel?'" After many long nights, Majora's Mask launched less than two years after the release of Ocarina of Time. The Wind Waker followed two years later, on Gamecube. However, releases between the console games have slowed down considerably since then: four years for Twilight Princess, five years for Skyward Sword. According to Aonuma, the pace is intentional. "I think before, we did maybe try to make Zelda games come out faster. But there's so much expected of Zelda titles now, so you have to reach a certain level of quality, so that's why we started to take a bit more time now," he told us. "I don't think it's necessary that development needs to be longer. But to reach a certain level of quality, there's just a certain amount of time that's needed," he explained. "Obviously, the company is telling me that I need to put games out as quickly as possible."

Wind Waker HD helped Nintendo work on their Wii U Zelda game

While Aonuma and his team are currently working on a Zelda game for Wii U, Nintendo has done a remarkable job of keeping the franchise in the spotlight thanks to its handheld games. "It's not like we feel like we have a duty to get one out a year," Aonuma said. "Right now, we're able to split ourselves between the handheld and console games and have two teams. I think we're pretty efficient in getting games out on a regular interval." The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD is now available on Wii U, and A Link Between Worlds will be on 3DS this holiday.
This is the final part of our interview with Eiji Aonuma. Also check out part one and two, if you missed them.

From The Chatty

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    October 16, 2013 12:00 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Zelda's Eiji Aonuma on annualization, and why the series needs 'a bit more time'.

    We spoke to Zelda series director Eiji Aonuma about his take on annualization.

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      October 16, 2013 1:30 PM

      With how long they are taking how about we add voices to the characters? I'd honestly love to hear spoken dialogue but I might be a bit biased after playing Bioware games for so long......

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        October 16, 2013 1:39 PM

        I don't want Link to have a voice

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          October 16, 2013 1:40 PM

          Agreed. The series would lose a lot if we started getting voice actors. And it would definitely lose a lot of that magic if the voice acting was bad.

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            October 16, 2013 1:44 PM

            Yep. Terrible idea.

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            October 16, 2013 2:04 PM

            I guess yea but I've been playing Twilight Princess again and I've found myself not as enthralled with it as I once was and just hearing grunting, laughing and no talking really gets on my nerves lol.
            And I know Aonuma wants to do something different the series to freshen it up and I'd think adding voices would work well. Have Link be the silent protagonist.... it worked with Freeman... Or add a classic option to silence the voices and make it like the older titles in the series if you wished to do so.

            Remember all the flak Nintendo caught for jumping from the more mature looking Twilight Princess to the more cartoonish Wind Waker art style? And remember how people shut up after playing it because it was a great game? Although change hasn't always been good like say Zelda 2. And if it misfires on them then they could just not do it for future games but they need to take a risk and do something because the only things that have really changed with the series is they way you play it. Zelda is getting stale and Aonuma knows it. Imagine if they had actually stuck with a annual release schedule?



            I think with a lot of games having voices overs I'm spoiled with it now lol.

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              October 16, 2013 2:08 PM

              Compromise. He'll talk, but he'll only say dirty things.

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              October 16, 2013 3:17 PM

              Ooops I meant OoT/MM instead of TP as TP came out after WW.....

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          October 16, 2013 2:55 PM

          Agreed.

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          October 16, 2013 3:03 PM

          I would like the characters to have more depth. Zelda, in particular, might as well be a magical potato for all the empathy she inspires. Voice acting alone won't fix the problem, but I think it'd go part of the way towards doing so

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            October 16, 2013 3:19 PM

            Oh on voice acting alone it would go along way but you are correct. What matters is getting Actors who can properly portray these characters. Oh and some good writing and directing help as well lol :P

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          October 16, 2013 3:18 PM

          Well exc]uuuuuuuse me/, princess!

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          October 16, 2013 6:31 PM

          I wonder what the voice of the guy who makes his grunts and such sounds like.

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        October 16, 2013 3:32 PM

        This is what people said about Final Fantasy and then they panned the VO's.

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        October 16, 2013 4:28 PM

        oh my christ, what is the matter with you? link is a silent protagonist. you know what other huge nintendo character was a legendary silent protagonist, and when she opened her mouth it literally destroyed the character in the eyes of many? Samus.

        i dont care about zelda, but i respect the franchise and dont want to see them ruin the only other semi-serious character they have.

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        October 16, 2013 6:28 PM

        God forbid you READ IN A VIDEO GAME.

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          October 16, 2013 6:43 PM

          Stay awhile, and read.

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          October 16, 2013 6:44 PM

          um its called a video game not a book game okay

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            October 16, 2013 7:16 PM

            yeah and shit, last thing id do is read a book about video games

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          October 17, 2013 8:04 PM

          I actually keep the subtitles on as well.....

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      October 16, 2013 3:58 PM

      the extra time required would be fine if they could get the timing to actually line up well with their hardware releases so you got 2 Zeldas per hardware cycle with one ready near launch

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        October 16, 2013 4:32 PM

        this is the thing that makes me scratch my head. it would be such a huge, guaranteed blockbuster smash hit for a new N console to launch right alongside a new Zelda, yet N seems sort of apathetic about it. they should have synced that development cycle up years ago, i dare say a new mainline Zelda launching at or very near the Wii U launch would have made the Wii U a much, much larger success.

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          October 16, 2013 4:41 PM

          The Wii launched with Twilight Princess. Like any AAA launch title the major hurdle is the lengthy development time and foresight needed, which requires them to plan it out years in advance when they likely don't have the upcoming console specs or concept finalized yet.

          I believe TP was originally a Gamecube came that was ported over mid development to be used as a Wii launch title.

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            October 16, 2013 5:28 PM

            It was released on both though, so if you had a GC (which you most likely did if you want Zelda) then you didn't actually have to have a Wii to play the new one

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            October 16, 2013 5:47 PM

            the only reason TP launched on the Wii is because it was so delayed for the GC (which had already "lost" that generation in marketshare) and the power upgrade to the Wii was so minor that they just decided to make it a cross gen game. It was not designed for the Wii hardware or controller. If it had been on track for the GC it just wouldn't have been a Wii game and you'd have seen the first Wii Zelda many many years later.

            No one denies the difficulty of getting a big release ready for new hardware, but a first party team should have a leg up and the other platform owners find ways to get tentpole franchises out for hardcore fans within a reasonable timeframe of launch. It doesn't have to be day 1 but it can't be years later, and if your plan is to release the hardware a year ahead of the competition you better have some software available in that window to convince people to jump onboard.

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              October 16, 2013 6:34 PM

              Or you can just wait to release the game and have an enduring classic

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                October 16, 2013 6:35 PM

                if your goal is to just make a good game, sure, if your goal is to have a profitable platform with meaningful marketshare compared to the competition then you have other priorities that need to be weighed

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                  October 16, 2013 6:49 PM

                  Nintendo flubbed the Wii U launch but games going to carry them through like they always have. The DS and 3DS also had weak launches, and both were carried by games in the following 1-2 years after release.

                  The Wii launch was a freak event by any measure.

                  Either way, nobody's games sustain value the way that Nintendo's do. Classic SNES games cost hundreds of dollars, Gamecube and Wii games still sell at or above retail, and I have no doubt that the upcoming Wii U games are also going to be great.

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                    October 16, 2013 7:03 PM

                    that Nintendo's brand built decades prior influences the current game resale values doesn't seem all that interesting. It's been a long time since a Zelda game popped in the way they did in the N64 and earlier eras. If their goal is to limp along with a Nintendo box for Nintendo games and little else then yes they can continue to employ this strategy. The history of the company suggests they'd rather be more like the Nintendo of the NES/SNES era but their current strategy doesn't seem likely to take them there.

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                      October 16, 2013 7:18 PM

                      Which I don't care about. Nintendo still makes many of the best games out there. Buying Nintendo hardware to play Nintendo games is fine by me.

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                        October 16, 2013 7:47 PM

                        No one was arguing that the games don't end up decent

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                          October 16, 2013 8:41 PM

                          Certainly. I just think its fine to disregard deadlines when there is usually good return on the extra time

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              October 16, 2013 6:43 PM

              Regarding the Wii U's slow crawl toward relevance, Nintendo admitted that they underestimated the time and resources needed to create HD games.

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                October 16, 2013 7:00 PM

                which is absurd considering HD games have been in development for like 10 years now. Nintendo wasn't approaching a new problem space with a lack of industry information about risks and challenges.

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                  October 16, 2013 7:28 PM

                  Yup. They've argued similarly w/r/t to their online integration.

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                    October 16, 2013 8:01 PM

                    Nintendo lives in a bubble. I don't agree with it, but that's the reality.

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              October 16, 2013 8:37 PM

              Oh I agree, TP was a special case I was merely pointing out that it's not a matter of simply choosing which title out of your extensive list of IP's to launch with.

              Regardless, it's not like Nintendo is the special case here. Console launches are very rarely shipped alongside a popular AAA exclusive title to sell the system. We all want Halo 5 and Uncharted 4 on launch date but it rarely ever happens. The difference is the other platforms have the 3rd party support to fall back on which Nintendo always fails at reeling in.

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      October 16, 2013 6:30 PM

      I actually love Zelda's 3-to-5-year release cycle. As much as I love Zelda, Batman: Arkham, the Souls franchise, and other IPs, I'd get burned out on them if one came out every year. I think I'd also fail to appreciate new entries: "Oh, I'll just skip this one and get next year's."

      We live in a world of instant gratification. There are some things I want YESTERDAY IF NOT SOONER. Games aren't one of them. I'll always have plenty of games to play. Let Nintendo and other great developers do justice to their brands and nurture each entry until it's good and ready.

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        October 16, 2013 9:52 PM

        I agree. The wait time between them makes them feel really special. When I finished Majoras Mask I was like "they reused the assets from OoT and rearranged them." The saving grace of this entry was that Link relived the same end of the world days over and over again.

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        October 16, 2013 10:51 PM

        Agreed. I can't think of one instance in which annualization has been broadly seen as a good thing for gamers. It generally boils down to a way to get more money from gamers while simultaneously giving them less. (More quantity obviously, but usually at a net decrease in quality and enjoyment.) The very word was made up by executives looking for ways to exploit a market, not by gamers hoping for an Assassin's Creed every year. The best excuse for it would be the sports games, but even there I think a lot of people would be happier with an annual teams/players update pack and a big jump in quality and interesting features every 3-5 years.

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      October 16, 2013 8:35 PM

      How about you just spend an extra week removing all the extraneous crap? I'd gladly wait a month if they removed all the "You got a rupee! It's worth 1 rupee! Don't spend it all in one place! lol" crap that shows up every time you reload a game in the last few.