Breath of the Wild's Making-Of is Full of Surprising Facts

Nintendo has released a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild making-of video series that is full of interesting facts about the creation of the game.

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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.

A Final Jomon statuette (1000-400 BCE), Tokyo National Museum, Japan.

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.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    March 14, 2017 12:10 PM

    Jason Faulkner posted a new article, Breath of the Wild's Making-Of is Full of Surprising Facts

    • reply
      March 14, 2017 12:41 PM

      Its pretty awesome of Nintendo to release all these video on the making of The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, I wish more companies would do that.

      I hope they switch to the Vulkan API on their next game they could get a big FPS increase if they design/update their engine to match Vulkan API patterns that provide best case/large increases in your games FPS.

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        March 14, 2017 12:46 PM

        Yeah, apparently they tried using adaptive resolution for this game but they definitely don't have it down pat given the performance problems it still runs into. I'm interested in ARMs and Splatoon 2 in particular to see if they've fixed the performance issues on games designed for the Switch from the ground up or not.

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          March 14, 2017 1:07 PM

          Huh had no idea they attempted the adaptive resolution cool, well it sure did not work out for them maybe next time.

          Same, the thing that worried me the most about The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is that apparently it was co developed on day one for both the Switch and Wii U. They did not do a last year cram and port it to the Switch. So it would appear that Zelda pretty much maxes out the Switch hardware :(

          This is why I mentioned the Vulkan API its really going to be hardcore important for any developer targeting the Switch. Your going to want to focus on that render path and most importantly leverage the patterns that take advantage/give you the FPS increase. The miss conception is that if you just port your Shaders and core render code to Vulkan it will double your FPS or provide some sort of free magically FPS boost this is not the case at all. You have to work real hard on your design, and GPU load focus in your engine/game design to take advantage of Vulkan to get it to kick in. When it kicks in it owns thoughs. The only real free thing with both DX12 and Vulkan is the draw call limit increase(which is amazing). If your engine or game where working that limit hard/or exceeding it in DX11 and Open GL 4.5 and you run into the dreaded CPU stutter GPU overload you 100% will solve that issue for free. The draw call increase is really epic.

          Anyways I really hope the teams take the time for it will be 100% worth it and to me top priority on the Switch, unless your game is light weight then just go OpenGL 4.5 and call it a day. Still long term the work on Vulkan API as a target for your engine will pay of with out doubt in my opinion.

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            March 14, 2017 1:22 PM

            It's hard to optimize when splitting resources like that, it is a bit frustrating that we see the slowdowns though given how long its been in development. I don't think it was day 1 with the Switch in mind though it had probably been at least 18 months. Personally I think they started working on the Switch version after the first delay. Either way, yeah a push to Vulkan would be extremely helpful in these kinds of situations.

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              March 14, 2017 2:04 PM

              No I totally agree with you and am confident if they update their engine to Valkan and have more resources and time it will own and maybe even hit 60 FPS 1080p.

              Even though I read it(wish I had the link took forever to find) I don't believe it was developed ground up for the Switch, more like a port a certain time in a shitty time frame. I believe they can do a better job with it next time.

              The game is totally GPU bound with out question and that is a very good thing for Vulkan to fix with some good design.

              Will see, sure a Tegra X2 config or the recently released Jetson TX2 would of been perfect in my mind: http://www.guru3d.com/news-story/nvidia-launches-the-jetson-tx2-iot-system.html but I do believe they still have a lot to get out of the current Switch.

              I really want to see ground up games/engines for the Switch in Vulkan, I hope their E3 is really good.

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                March 14, 2017 2:05 PM

                Yup, E3, with the PS4 Pro, Switch, and I think Scorpio is supposed to be out by then too? Should be awesome this year.

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            March 14, 2017 1:26 PM

            Where did you hear it was co developed on day one for both? For one, it's been in development for so long that just seems highly unlikely. It definitely seemed planned to be a major system selling type game for the WiiU originally. But since the WiiU failed and Zelda took so long, obviously they decided to port it to Switch.

            Also, during the GDC conference, the lead tech guy jokingly posted an email from his bosses that said "Zelda needs to be ported to the Switch by launch date" and there are articles online talking about the touch features they cut out because it wasn't only on the WiiU. I mean, they may have had plenty of time to port it, I don't know that anyone knows the exact time frame, but it obviously wasn't originally developed for the Switch.

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        March 14, 2017 12:48 PM

        I would love to see this implemented.

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        March 14, 2017 12:49 PM

        Most AAA games have their own Video Documentaries of development. Even Kickstarter backed games will make it a stretch goal especially with Double Fine Productions.

        I always liked watching the Halo ViDocs when it was still Bungie.

        Still legit gaming documentaries are fun. The Smash Brothers is by far my favorite and I really enjoyed the one for EVE Online called "A Tale of Internet of Spaceships". It's a fun way of being on the outside looking in.

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        March 14, 2017 2:24 PM

        Vulkan on the Switch wouldn't see any performance benefits over the native API (NVN).

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          March 14, 2017 2:27 PM

          Too be clear, OpenGL/Vulkan support on Switch is there to aid in porting efforts. But the native API will always give the best performance.

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            March 14, 2017 2:30 PM

            Yup. And it's unlikely that Zelda uses OpenGL since it started as a Wii U title and the Wii U has it's own low level graphics API.

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              March 14, 2017 2:32 PM

              i wonder how different the switch api is from cafe

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                March 14, 2017 4:25 PM

                They're different classes of hardware, so they're different enough. Both are fairly low level and quite different from OpenGL.

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          March 14, 2017 4:03 PM

          So your saying The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild engine was re written for the Switch's native API? Where did you read that, thought it was Open GL 4.5 port of the Wii U engine due to time constraints(that is what I heard, I have no idea if its true).

          If The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is using the Switches native API and we assume its the fastest API for the Switch then does that not prove the Switch hardware is already maxed out on Zelda give or take?

          Can we assume that Nintendo's engineers or who ever they contracted out wrote a faster API than Vulkan? I really don't know if this is true?I doubt the native API would be so low level that its very hard to use, it must be very similar/level to DX, OpenGL and Vulkan, which would mean it does not have to necessarily be better or faster. I don't think Nintendo are know for being pro graphics API kings of the industry, and as far as I read they wrote the API. Who knows, I really wonder now though...

          Keep in mind I don't have a Switch dev kit yet or wrote anything for the Wii U so I have no idea what the deal is with Nintendo stuff.

          Are you writing software to the Switch right now?

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            March 14, 2017 4:24 PM

            It's super low level and basically just a thin layer over the hardware itself but still fairly easy to use. It's similar to Vulkan but with a lot less boilerplate code. Very simple and concise C-based API. It can be more lightweight than Vulkan because it's specialised to a single chipset.

            Nintendo wrote a wrapper API of their own over the Nvidia provided one to streamline some things, but you can mix and match if you want.

            I'd be more curious to find out how much they specialised the render backends for each platform (WiiU doesn't have compute support while Switch does, etc). If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that they aren't specialising too much and the hardware provides some very interesting features that could really help performance.

            But I doubt they would have shipped on OpenGL. They're just convenience libraries for indie titles and porting from GX2 to OpenGL would have been as much work as porting to any other graphics lib.

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              March 14, 2017 5:23 PM

              Huh interesting and very cool! Thanks for the info man I appreciate it, I get my dev kit in two months. I am really looking forward to it.

              Ah I had a hunch about the wrapper for Nvidia's stuff, cool.

              Man you got my juices flowing now :)

              Again very cool and thanks for the info! \m/

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      March 14, 2017 2:25 PM

      Holy shit, I want to play that 2D Zelda game.

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      March 14, 2017 5:23 PM

      Any spoilers in this?

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        March 15, 2017 6:28 AM

        I'd like to know as well. I'm still very early in the game.

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      March 14, 2017 9:13 PM

      This is a truly cool article. Thanks for sharing.