Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 14, 2011

Aonuma should never have been hired by Nintendo

It is not that Aonuma should not be charge of the Zelda series. It is that Aonuma should never have been hired by Nintendo in the first place.

His background, however, is in the design of marionettes, not video games. “At college, I was making wooden dolls. Not simple wooden dolls, but mechanical dolls, ones that were able to play musical instruments, able to dance. I loved people seeing them and being surprised, watching them wonder how these kind of things could be done, what kind of gimmicks were inside.”

This might be my American side talking, but what type of young man in college spends time making wooden dolls?


Above: This clip not only shows Aonuma’s background on marionettes, it is an accurate portrayal of the tone of Modern Zelda. The clip even revolves around the ‘goat-herder’ in the green hat! Hahahaha

 

“But Malstrom,” you say. “Those were not mechanical Japanese marionettes that play musical instruments. I demand a fair representation.”

Oh you stubborn, little… Very well, here you go:

Would you hire the person who made something like that to make video games? Would you hire that person to become producer of the Zelda series? No wonder Modern Zelda has become so lame.

I believe Aonuma is ‘Miyamoto’s Pet’. Miyamoto, who has probably bought into that he is a genius, has never had a real job aside from working for Nintendo his entire life. So when it comes to hiring people, Miyamoto would look for people who remind him of himself. When Miyamoto looks at Aonuma, he probably sees a mirror image of himself. At least, the self he sees in his mind. Since Aonuma made ‘wooden dolls’, that automatically made him a ‘good fit for Nintendo’. Why? Because Miyamoto made things like puppets and such.

Despite the failures and disappointments of Modern Zelda, Aonuma is amazingly protected. He doesn’t seem to suffer from these setbacks unlike the other Nintendo developers. It is as if someone is protecting him. Perhaps he is Miyamoto’s pet. He was suppposed to become the new Miyamoto. But it isn’t working. It is not just that Aonuma shouldn’t have been hired, Miyamoto doesn’t have the chops to hire the right people. How could he? He’s only worked one job his entire life!

From this interview:

From the start, he says, it was clear there would be parallels between making these dolls and designing dungeons for games. “I did an interview , and had my first encounter with [Nintendo’s chief developer] Shigeru Miyamoto, who happened to love the dolls I brought. He said: ‘If you want to make things like that, Nintendo might be a good place for you to work.’ So that’s how I decided to work for the company.”

But it wasn’t a good place for Aonuma to work. The only reason why Miyamoto said that is because Aonuma reminds him of himself.

Like Miyamoto, Aonuma confesses not to play games much as relaxation. Once again, he is apologetic, penitent. “Sometimes I hear stories of other developers who play video games in their leisure time in order to remove the stresses of video game-making. I am sorry that I cannot be that kind of hardcore gamer myself. Whenever a lot of people are playing with certain software, I try to play these games because I want to know what’s in them that is capturing so much attention. That’s part of my job, though.”

Playing video games for relaxation is considered ‘hardcore gaming’ by Aonuma? Come on! I don’t even think Aonuma likes video games.

He admires the Professor Layton series of puzzle games on the DS for their “interesting presentation style”, but says that he is no good at “jump games” such as Mario. “I always miss the point where I should land, and I always cry out and say ‘Wait a minute, is this the end of the whole story? Is there no rescue from that?'” This is, he says, the root of Ocarina of Time’s auto-jump system.

No one will be surprised that Aonuma is a big fan of the Layton series.

But Aonuma can’t even play Super Mario Brothers. Holy moly! The most mass market Nintendo game, outside of Wii Sports, and Aonuma cannot even play it! Yet, he was hired by Nintendo and is producer of the Zelda series. This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Aonuma approaches games as he approached his puppets: as a craft. They are mechanical puzzles, designed to inspire wonder as they are understood and solved. “Surprise” is a word he keeps returning to. He loved the way that his dolls “surprised people”, and what first drew him to Nintendo was his observation that they were “trying to surprise people with video games”.

It is Aonuma who is the force behind Modern Zelda being Puzzelda (just a bunch of puzzles). When complaints about this are brought up to Miyamoto, he snarls and says, “But puzzles have always been part of Zelda! Since the first Zelda!” That is not what the complaint is about. But what is going on here is Miyamoto is protecting his pet. Miyamoto admitting he was wrong about Aonuma is Miyamoto admitting Miyamoto isn’t a genius. It will never happen. (Most businessmen know how to hire the right people. And yet, the so-called ‘genius’ of video games can’t even do something most businessmen can do?)

“I have an eight-year-old son myself at home, and quite recently he started playing The Phantom Hourglass for DS, because when the software first hit the market he was too young. When he started playing with the boat, I told him: ‘In the next Zelda, you are going to be able to ride on the train.’ He answered: ‘OK, Dad, first boat, and then train? Surely next time, Link is going to fly in the sky … ‘”

We’ve all heard this quote, but it is representative of Aonuma trying to entertain his son instead of making a product for the mass market. Having a child is the most life-changing event in a person’s life. This is an example of Aonuma being overwhelmed by a very natural event occurring with Human beings. “What do you mean, Malstrom?” Do music producers start making music to please their children? Do movie producers start making movies to please their children? Of course not. The only reason why someone would do this is if the life process overwhelmed him. This would occur with a sensitive individual.

“Why are you so mean, Malstrom?” cries a reader. It is because video games are a very tough business where wimps eat flaming plasma death. Or something like that.

Now, I want to go through Aonuma’s GDC 2004 speech where he talks about the ‘evolution’ of Zelda. I believe what he is saying is the official Nintendo perspective on Zelda (as Aonuma will believe what Miyamoto believes). Listen very carefully to what he says here.

In 1991, we released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and followed that a year later with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on that system. With this title the Zelda series once again returned to the top down, isometric view. But, it can probably be said if it were not for this title, the Zelda franchise would never have been developed. It established many of the conventions for Zelda games to come, including those that were refined in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening released for the Game Boy the following year. Even now, Link’s Awakening is lauded as a quintessential isometric Zelda game.

Look at the bold! I always write these posts laughing at the absurdity of the “Video Game Industry”. Very rarely, do I get angry. But the bold above makes me angry.

Apparently Zelda wasn’t an actual game until Link to the Past? And then Aonuma says Link’s Awakening is the ‘peak’ of the isometric Zelda. I would disagree with that, big time. I haven’t played Link’s Awakening recently, but that game is popular only because it is Zelda on a portable and uses a more classic Zelda skeleton (essentially LTTP’s skeleton). But the content of Link’s Awakening was the most unprofessional crap I’ve ever seen and felt like it was made by amateurs. Nintendo themselves confirm they were just throwing in whatever with lots of influence from the TV show ‘Twin Peaks’. No one speaks up about how horrible Link’s Awakening’s content is because it was a handheld game. Handheld games aren’t placed up to the same high standards as the console games. Super Mario Land games were great portable 2d Mario games. But when compared to the console equivalents, the Super Mario Land games are crap. But then again, all handheld games are ‘bad’ compared to their home console cousins. Metroid II was a great Gameboy game. But if it was on the home console, Metroid II would be ‘bad’. Everyone judges the handheld games in a different light.

Due to this lack of criticism on the atrociousness of Link’s Awakening content, Nintendo probably thinks their ‘CREATIVITY’ was ‘amazing’ because of the lack of dissension.

The reason why anyone bought Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening was because of Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It was the NES games that created the Zelda series, not the Gameboy game or LTTP.

The reason why Aonuma is pretending otherwise is because Zelda I and II, especially, contradict his vision of Modern Zelda. It is easier to pretend they don’t exist as ‘Zelda games’ while he takes the things he cherry picks what he likes out of LTTP and LA (e.g. cutting bushes and ‘omg unleashed creativity’).

Finally, in 1998 came the game that revolutionized the Zelda series by taking the top down 2D series into full 3D. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time refined the 3D camera of Super Mario 64, allowed players to target enemies, and created a smooth sword fighting experience — strengthening the appeal of the Z button on the Nintendo 64 controller and selling 7.6 million units world wide.

There is so much misinformation with Aonuma’s presentation here at GDC 2004. First off, the sales numbers he presents for all the games are wrong. He didn’t account for population growth or for global markets. NES didn’t have much of a presence in Europe, for example, but now Nintendo does. There was the cartridge shortage of the late 80s. This is all leading to a skewed nature of the popularity of certain Zelda games. (Because of the scarcity of some of the NES games, many people like myself had to share Zelda games. I couldn’t find Zelda I in stores until the re-release at the end of NES’s lifespan.)

Unless you are an old school gamer, you would remember how heavily copied Zelda games were by competitors. After Zelda II came out did games appear like ‘Battle of Olympus’. The Sega consoles had their ‘Zelda clones’. Turbographx-16 had their Zelda clones. And these Zelda clones were based entirely on the first two and maybe first three Zelda games. And these competitors sold well too.

Today, Modern Zelda has no competitor. The main reason for this is because the production values of Modern Zelda has allowed it to buy marketshare. But the other main reason is that Modern Zelda does have competitors, you just don’t hear about them because the games flop.

Okami was a Modern Zelda clone. When Twilight Princess came out, there were some spirited discussions on the Gaming Message Forums about whether Okami or Twilight Princess was the better Zelda game.

The creators of Okami were huge fans of Zelda. Okami was a flop in the market on the PS2, the console with the largest install base ever. What if Okami was on a Nintendo platform where all those Zelda fans are? Okami Wii also bombed.

Apparently the Wikipedia writer for Okami was a fan, and the sales reception is talked about very little (and spun as if the game was super popular, hahaha). The Wikipedia writer actually wrote that Okami’s bad sales were not responsible for the closure of Clover, but when you look at the source article, it says exactly that. If Clover games were selling big, the Clover people would not have been reassigned. But they wanted to follow their ‘creativity’. Look at the disaster their ‘creativity’ brought them.

It is like the entire game media was trying to prop the disastrous Okami up. From this article:

They interviewedClover’s Atushi Inaba a while back about the “apathy at the Japanese marketplace” in response to the release of Okami in Japan, in which Inaba responded:

A lot of the staff, the director [Kamiya] included, were a little down about the numbers. They were expecting it to do more than it did. They were hoping for it to do a lot better than it did.

The direct quote from a primary source clearly says Okami’s market performance was bad. But the game media must prop Okami up! So next we read:

And yet a few days prior, Capcom had mentioned Okami in a financial report as a strong seller. Okami also debuted in America at number one on Amazon’s PS2 sales list in September, and as of 10/6 was still fourth. So it couldn’t have done that bad, right?

Maybe. But the fact remains that interest in Viewtiful Joe tapered off after the first game, and none of Clover’s titles reach nearly the success of Capcom franchises like Resident Evil and Megaman.

Really? A company’s financial report declaring a product as ‘successful’, alone, makes it so? Financial report will try to spin things in the most positive light for the company. It is like Nintendo’s Financial Report declaring Mario Galaxy 2 a ‘success’ even though it failed to sell hardware and failed to sell to 2d Mario fans (which is the entire reason the game was made).

If Modern Zelda was so entertaining and popular, the clones would perform well. Not only are the Modern Zelda clones bombing, even Modern Zelda is finding itself in big trouble as Zelda games begin to appear in bomba bins. Zelda is in such a precarious condition that Nintendo is limiting the production of Ocarina of Time 3DS just so the game doesn’t end up in the bargain bin (where everyone can mock it).

But getting back to the topic at hand, I do not say Aonuma is spreading misinformation lightly. Years ago, everyone (including game journalists) was writing that Zelda II was a ‘black sheep’ of the franchise. This is completely false. Zelda II was extremely popular in its day, even a phenomenon. And this is very interesting despite its superficial differences with Zelda I (not isometric).

I do not expect people to have not lived through that time to get it right. Game journalists, many of them young and most of them aping what they hear other people say, I don’t expect to get it right. But here is the rub:

Why didn’t Nintendo step forward to correct the widespread misinformation concerning Zelda II? When I began associating Super Mario Brothers with Alice in Wonderland, Miyamoto spoke up against it to ‘clear the misinformation’ (but apparently it was Miyamoto who was misinformed because he is directly quoted as associating Super Mario Brothers with Alice in Wonderland on several occasions. Perhaps he is getting old and doesn’t remember what he says). But if Nintendo could respond to something a blogger said, you would think they would want to clear up the misinformation that was wide spread about Zelda II being the ‘black sheep’ of the Zelda series. But they were completely silent. Why?

It is because Zelda II was the ‘black sheep’ to Miyamoto and Aonuma. Not to the gamers.

There was also misinformation that Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine were Mario games and sequels to Super Mario World. This was written as true by the gaming media because Miyamoto and Nintendo believed it to be true. The market, however, clearly do not see Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine as sequels to Super Mario World.

We might be too harsh on the game journalists. They are reporting as ‘facts’ which are actually Aonuma’s or Miyamoto’s opinion.

I would also wish Aonuma presented the marketing budgets for each of the Zelda games. Marketing budgets do have a major factor in the sales of the game.


Above: The marketing budget used for Ocarina of Time was likely greater than all previous Zelda games combined.

And that was just for some soda. Look at Link to the Past’s commercial for the US (everyone knows the Japanese commercial):


Above: Cheesy commercial.


Above: Nintendo aggressively markets Ocarina of Time 3DS. Reggie Fils-Aime believes the game will be a ‘killer app’. He’s wrong, of course, but whenever I entered a game store I was flooded with Ocarina of Time 3DS marketing.

The only marketing Classic Zelda had was its prominence in Nintendo Power and Nintendo Fun Club (but every big game Nintendo wanted to push had this prominence). Classic Zelda was also a cartoon, but that cartoon only appeared on Friday.

Nintendo released more games than they do today. As marketing budgets have greatly grown, and the number of games by Nintendo is reduced (Zelda only gets made like once every 5 years), the marketing budget has to be insane compared to Classic Zelda.

Of course, Aonuma isn’t going to mention this fact.

While you Modern Zelda fans are probably screaming insults at your monitor screen, let me remind you that Smash Brothers Melee and Soul Calibur II are officially Zelda games and are considered Zelda Canon.

Yes, yes, you are shocked. Perhaps it has stopped you long enough to take a breath. Your guy, Aonuma, is saying this. Not old Malstrom.

That covers my discussion of the history of the Zelda series. But, in addition to the games I’ve listed here are games that can’t be left out when talking about the Zelda series. [Shows a clip of Super Smash Bros. Melee and SoulCalibur II].

What you just saw are two Zelda titles developed by different creators after my involvement with Zelda began. The first was Super Smash Bros. Melee and I’m sure you’re all aware it was developed under the direction of Masahiro Sakurai (former director of HAL Laboratories), who is also speaking here at GDC this year. The second was SoulCalibur II, which was made in collaboration with Namco and featured Link as an exclusive playable character in the GameCube version.

While I was not directly involved in the development of these titles, both teams were extremely careful with how they handled the Zelda characters and universe. Their work led to the even further expansion and development of the Zelda franchise.

Aonuma clearly considers these games not as spin-offs but as part of the Zelda series. And from that, Aonuma talks about the Oracle games.

In planning collaborations like these and the Capcom developed Oracle games for Game Boy, which were listed in the timeline, there can be difficulties in fitting the direction the creators would take into the existing Zelda universe. We’re always nervous that the collaboration will feel forced and worry that it will negatively affect the franchise, but allowing other talent to developer new possibilities for Zelda games is a very important development for the series.

Now Aonuma is going to talk about the first time he played Zelda. Listen to this!

My first encounter with Zelda occurred in 1988 shortly after I joined Nintendo. After studying design in college, I began work designing pixel characters. At the time, I didn’t have much experience playing games…

So why was he hired at Nintendo in the first place? Why was someone hired to make games who didn’t play games? Video games were very popular back then. They were popular all the way back to the late 70s with Space Invaders.

I will not interrupt Aonuma this time. Play the tape!

My first encounter with Zelda occurred in 1988 shortly after I joined Nintendo. After studying design in college, I began work designing pixel characters. At the time, I didn’t have much experience playing games, and I was particularly bad at playing games that required quick reflexes. So, immediately after I started playing the original Zelda, I failed to read the movements of the Octorock in the field and my game suddenly game to an end. Even after getting used to the controls, each time the screen rolled to a new area new Octorock appeared and I thought ‘am I going to have to fight these things forever?’ Eventually, I gave up getting any further in the game.

Even forty year old men could handle the original Zelda game. I knew them (and they were in their 60s when they returned with the Wii). But of all the complaints to make about Zelda I, it is about the octorocks?


Above: Aonuma couldn’t handle this. Someone should ask if he has ever finished the game. I would bet the answer is no.

Aonuma then confirms that Malstrom is right about what Zelda is. Hey! Listen!

The result was that I was under the impression that the Legend of Zelda was not a game that suited me. So what kind of games did suit me? Those would be text-based adventures. For someone like me who enjoyed reading stories, these were games that allowed you to participate in the story and letting you experience the joy of seeing your own thoughts and actions affect the progression of the story. Plus, these games don’t require fast reflexes and don’t require traditional gaming skills. So, I thought that if I were going to make games, I would like to make this type of game.

Aonuma is saying Classic Zelda was about fast reflexes and traditional gaming skills. Remember, Aonuma says he cannot handle Super Mario Brothers either. I wonder if Aonuma could handle Pac-Man. Apparently, he probably never played that game either. Yet, someone who hates Zelda is put in charge of the Zelda series.

The games Aonuma likes are the non-selling ‘story’ adventure games for the PC (In Japan, this is PC gaming which is why PC gaming is not big in Japan). What Aonuma is actually saying here is that he does not like ‘video games’. There is only one type of PC gaming and that is Western PC games. Japanese PC games are arguably not games. This is why PC games spread to Korea (like Starcraft) while Japanese PC games could not.

After that, I spent my days drawing pixel art of Mario & Peach and honing my design talents on a variety of projects. Then in 1991 I came in contact with a new Zelda game called A Link to the Past. Although I’d been frustrated with the original Legend of Zelda, since I knew the graphical improvements of the SNES, I knew that A Link to the Past was a game I had to play even if I quit half way through.

The producer of Zelda has never finished Zelda! Amazing!

In planning A Link to the Past, I kept playing basic actions that were completely unrelated to battling the enemies — things like cutting the grass, lifting stones to search beneath them, and using keys to open doors. In these, I discovered that I was proceeding through the game, and I got the same feeling I did when using command inputs to actively participate in the story of a text-based adventure. I realized that those same feelings, coupled with a sense of play control response, far exceeded what I could experience through command input alone.

Hello! All of this was in Zelda I as well! Maybe if he actually completed the game, he would have noticed it. While there weren’t ‘bushes’ that had money in them in Zelda I, there was money to be found if you explored in Zelda I AND Zelda II (in Zelda II, there wasn’t money but a bag of experience points!). There were keys in Zelda I and Zelda II. In Zelda I, you could burn down trees and search beneath them. In Zelda II, you broke down rocks to explore them.

The ‘advancements’ in LTTP, Aonuma cites, were already in Classic Zelda. But Aonuma never played through the earlier Zelda games so he never discovered this. The reason why he got through LTTP, instead of Zelda I and II, is that LTTP is an extremely easy game. Zelda I and especially II will give any gamer a run for his money.

So in realizing the types of control input response you could have while still pushing through the story, I realized that this was the kind of game I wanted to create. Unfortunately, at that time Nintendo still had need of my role as a designer, so my hope to create a Zelda-like game could not be immediately realized.

This is another quote that makes me angry. After bashing Classic Zelda, Aonuma then says that his duties prevented him from making a Zelda-like game. But he was playing Zelda, yet he bashed it!  This confirms that Modern Zelda is an Aonuma vision.

Two years later though, there was a project that gave me just that opportunity in 1996. The game was released in the overlap between the SNES and Nintendo 64 and for a variety of reasons it was never localized, so it did not make it to the worldwide market. But, this game called Marvelous was built upon the Zelda style of adventure events and was praised in Japan as an ambitious work that felt like a change to the Zelda-style gameplay. Now, I’ve never asked how Mr. Miyamoto viewed this game, so I can’t really make any claims about his thoughts on it. But, it was after this game that he instructed me to join the team to create Zelda.

Marvelous bombed in Japan. That is why it was never brought over. That and the poking the boobs thing.

So why did Miyamoto ask for Aonuma after Marvelous? I think Miyamoto had plans for Aonuma since the beginning to mold him into another Miyamoto. But I also suspect Miyamoto had a strange fascination for writers due to the success of Mother. He was on board with Aonuma’s vision of Zelda becoming a Japanese PC adventure game.

Modern Zelda fans say, “Malstrom cannot connect Marvelous with Modern Zelda.” But Aonuma is. Aonuma is directly saying Marvelous is Zelda. Modern Zelda is Marvelous. (Heh.)

I wasn’t involved with Ocarina of Time from the initial stages of development, but rather from the point at which the planning framework had already been finalized and work was beginning on building onto that framework.

And this is why Ocarina of Time is sooooo much better than the Zelda games that have followed it. This is why Ocarina of Time fans are so unsatisfied with the Zelda games that have followed. Aonuma had nothing to do with the planning of the game or the framework.

I became responsible for dungeon design and the design of enemy creatures in the dungeons. Of course, I felt it was strange that I, who was so terrible at fighting creatures in the original Zelda and decided that Zelda wasn’t the game for me, ended up working on enemy design. But, the type of gameplay used in enemy battles becomes an extremely important mechanic in Ocarina of Time, so there was really no way for me to escape it.

This is strange. So why did it occur? Why is Aonuma anywhere near Zelda in the first place? It would be like someone who hates Metroid to be put in charge of a Metroid game’s development.

But let us say that occurred. Someone who hated the games that made the series is asked to develop them. The result is always ostracizing the original audience. The core audience responsible for building the franchise is confused and dissatisfied with the new games. The result is once these original fans leave, it starts a domino effect.

I’ll give you a modern day entertainment example of this occurring: the modern remake of Battlestar Galactica. The writers and showrunners for the show held contempt with the original Battlestar Galactica (which was based heavily on the book of Mormon). The result was the modern remake of Battlestar Galacta had atrocious ratings. Reruns of Enterprise were gaining larger ratings. The original Battlestar Galactica was a massive smash hit on regular TV.

Another example would be the latest Star Trek movie (made by a director who disliked Star Trek). The result is the final nail in the extremely successful Star Trek franchise that had been around for half a century.

Listen to this again:

But, the type of gameplay used in enemy battles becomes an extremely important mechanic in Ocarina of Time, so there was really no way for me to escape it.

It is like Aonuma wanted there to be NO battles whatsoever in Zelda. It is no wonder Zelda Wii originally had Link without a sword. It also explains why Aonuma keeps taking Link’s sword away (such as the first dungeon of Wind Waker).

In Ocarina of Time, in addition to doing the dungeon design, I also took up the challenge of incorporating adventure elements into dungeons. By which I mean, giving the dungeon some type of theme, such as rescuing trapped Goron or hunting down the Poe sisters.

Oh God, I hated that. Ocarina of Time is a good game, but those dungeons were atrociously bad. The dungeons were the reason why I got so bored with the game. When people make a complaint about Ocarina, it always centers around a dungeon (often the Water Temple).

After finishing work on Ocarina of Time, Mr. Miyamoto instructed us to use the Ocarina of Time engine to create Ura Zelda — Ocarina’s second version with rearranged dungeon gameplay. But, I felt that just changing around the puzzle solving without changing the overall structure was too limiting.

I turned down Mr. Miyamoto’s offer and proposed that if anything I wanted to make a new Zelda game. Now, Ura Zelda was developed for the Nintendo 64 disc system that was released only in Japan, and since I turned down this project other staff members developed it. It was finally bundled in the GameCube version of Ocarina and released as The Master Quest. Even now, Mr. Miyamoto scolds me for being the lazy type of guy who jumps to conclusions before even giving something a try.

Aonuma didn’t even bother finishing Zelda I (let alone anything with Zelda II). It is no wonder Aonuma makes up his mind about things without trying them.

Mr. Miyamoto’s goal of completing the game in a short period of time was a result of having spent so much time developing the 3D Ocarina engine. He wanted to make effective use of that engine in creating a new game. While we decided that this would be very important for future Zelda development, we were faced with the very difficult question of just what kind of game could follow Ocarina of Timeand its worldwide sales of 7 million units.

In response to this challenge, we came up with the idea that the solutions to puzzles would be found in a series of recurring events. We adopted a three-day time system. This three-day system in Majora’s Mask introduced players to a variety of events that occurred at the same time over this period of three days that the player played through multiple times. Once all the puzzles were solved, then the hidden goal would appear. With this system, it was possible to make the game data more compact while still providing deep gameplay.

What I find funny is that Nintendo thinks Ocarina’s “7 million sales” is ‘high’. This is not that interesting for a game released on a game console, with high name recognition, in 1998. Final Fantasy VII sold around 8-9 million copies. And Final Fantasy was never popular in the West. Zelda always was popular in the West!

The result of this is that I now work as a producer overseeing all Zelda development. I have inherited this role from Mr. Miyamoto, but the situation is more one of me being a producer who is closer to the development team and Mr. Miyamoto remaining the ultimate producer who has final say over all things Zelda. That process has not changed.

The people responsible for the trainwreck of Modern Zelda are Aonuma and Miyamoto. If you think the story sucks (which is everyone who doesn’t use an anime avatar), you can blame both.

Before creating Majora’s Mask, there was actually one new type of expression that we began considering but weren’t able to accomplish on the N64. With the immergence of the GameCube platform, we had the power we needed. We went back in this direction with the toon-shaded graphical style of The Wind Waker, which we completed in 2002. We decided in advance that the story of the Wind Waker would begin with Link being young and unfold from there. But, we felt that there was an unnatural feeling to using a more evolved version of the realistic Ocarina model to tell the story of a child. That led us to adopt the toon-shading graphics technique. We all had great expectations for evoking new gameplay ideas out of this new style.

How the hell do you get new gameplay ideas from a freaking art style?

The result of this was to use the main character’s impressive eyes in a new focus system and increase the game’s action elements with improved sword fighting. In the end, I feel I can boast that with the new visual style and new game ideas we were able to push the franchise in a pioneering new direction and further expand the Zelda universe.

Improved sword fighting? In the first dungeon, Link doesn’t even have his sword! And in the other dungeons, he is doing strange stuff like controlling a statue or gliding with that eagle girl. Improved sword fighting my ass. There was less sword fighting than ever. And Wind Waker was so easy, it was an achievement if you somehow managed to kill yourself.

This leads us to my next topic today, which is my main theme, is the all important question that Mr. Miyamoto always chides us on, which is ‘what does it mean to be Zelda-esque?’

Oh, I’m just dying to know. Please tell us, Aonuma. Clearly, we customers have no idea what Zelda is and only you and Miyamoto  know. The Zelda games over the past decades didn’t give us any clue what Zelda was so we need you to inform us.

The first thing I want to tell you about in my discussion of Zelda-esqueness is an extremely important process that is incessantly connected to Zelda development and that is something I call the “Miyamoto Test,” also known as “upending the tea table”.

The tea table is a low dining table that you sit on the floor to eat at. But, you don’t see them often now a days as most Japanese people eat at Western-styled dining tables. When I was growing up in the 1950s through the 1970s, every house had one. What it means to upend the tea table — it actually comes from a scene in a famous Japanese manga called “Star of the Giants,” in which the father seated in back there on the left hits his son in front of him so hard that the food on the table is knocked up into the air. The father being in no mood to eat what’s been served, upended the table — forcing his wife to cook a new meal. This action by the head of the household was absolute and it represents the action of an old fashioned Japanese father.

The analogy of ‘upending the tea table’ cannot apply to Miyamoto then. Miyamoto (and Aonuma) do not consume the games like the father does the wife’s cooking. The power of ‘upending the tea table’ correctly belongs to the consumers.

What you call ‘Wii sales collapse’ or ‘3DS not selling’ or ‘Gamecube disaster’ is actually Malstrom upending the tea table. We demand quality products, not garbage you have fun developing.

Of course now a days, if someone was to do that it would actually destroy the family and the father would be arrested for child abuse. So, all that remains today is the phrase ‘upending the tea table.’ So, long ago there was period in Japan where they thought this was proper and acceptable. Now a days with only the phrase remaining, it is generally the lead figure who takes on the role of the strong proper father.

And this is why Japanese men no longer marry or make families (there’s nothing in it for them). The role of the father is no more. And this is spiraling Japan into a baby crisis and a shrinking of the population. Nature will correct society in time… it always does.

Whenever a game nears completion with only the final polish remaining, with no fail Mr. Miyamoto upends our tea table and the direction that we all thought we were going in suddenly changes dramatically.

So why is it when customers upend the tea table with a game’s sales, the direction of the series never changes?

Mr. Miyamoto doesn’t just upend the tea table and send the team into utter confusion. He then sits down with us and together we rethink what we’ve done that has been affective and what we can do that will create a positive result for a Zelda game.

A positive result for a Zelda game? Has this ever occurred? Twilight Princess was ‘upended’ to redo the beginning of the game. Yet, that part is the most horrible and boring part of any video game I’ve played. Watching paint dry is more exciting than the beginning of Twilight Princess.

When he speaks, there is a phrase that Mr. Miyamoto always mentions that speaks directly to the very nature of the Zelda series. The phrase is, ‘Zelda is a game that values reality over realism.’ In the art world, realism is a movement to faithfully replicate the real world to whatever extent possible. Reality is not mimicking the real world, but rather making players feel like what they are experiencing is real. The big difference is that even exaggerated expression through toon-shading can be an effective means of making things feel more real.

Huh!? Toon-shading is the exact opposite of making things feel more real. And the market told you that big time with Wind Waker’s sales. You fools don’t even follow your own definition you made up. ‘Reality is valued over realism… except when we don’t want it too.’ Miyamoto’s definition also sucks because it places things like a sign floating down a river as ‘high value’ when it has no entertainment value at all. We play games because of what we can do, not to witness what developers can do with a game engine.

So what exactly is this Zelda reality that Mr. Miyamoto talks about? The next image is one scene that represents that reality. [Shows clip of Link from The Wind Waker entering the Bomb Shop at night]. As you can see, this is a scene from the Bomb Shop in the Wind Waker. Now, I’ll explain this scene in detail. First we see the Bomb Shop shopkeeper. Now, as you can see from the movie, he’s got kind of a weird looking face — other than that he’s a normal guy. Next Link comes. In response to Link’s arrival, the shopkeeper says, ‘welcome,’ or in this case ‘this is the Bomb Shop.’ So far, this is the general flow of shopping at any store and there’s nothing special about it. But, I think there may be some who notice that this scene occurs in the middle of the night. Link is just a child. This means that technically this scene fails the Miyamoto Test.

What would the correct answer be? When we finally reach the point where Link talks to the shopkeeper, it’s the shopkeeper’s response that must change. ‘Are you alone kid, where are your parents? This is a BOMB Shop. This is no place for kids to come in the middle of the night. You be a good kid now and run on home. Well, that’s what I should say, but the thing is these pirates came and stole my bombs, so business hasn’t been good lately. I tell you what, I’ll sell you bombs if you promise not to cause any trouble for my shop.’ This type of response from the shopkeeper would pass the Miyamoto test. Of course, when I tell you this some of you will think, ‘It’s Nintendo, of course they want to remind people of what’s proper, but that’s not the point.

The ‘Miyamoto Test’ fails because nothing about it involves the customer, you know the person who actually buys the game. The ‘Miyamoto Test’ is nothing more than developer vanity of ‘ooohhhh, look at what we developers can do. Ooohhhh.’ All that matters is what the PLAYER can do. Everything else doesn’t matter.

I say: “Replace the bombshop with a guy who says nothing but one line. Spend the development time on what the player can do.”

This ‘logic’ of the ‘Miyamoto Test’, that apparently Nintendo thinks is ‘good’, is a big fat failure compared to how things are done in the Western World. Think of the intricate schedules of NPCs, of the positions of the moons, the fleshed out characters of the Ultima games. It was this intricacy and fleshed out, logical, world that led to the creation of the MMORPG. The ‘world of Zelda’ is so laughable and doesn’t even make any logical sense.

Where was the ‘Miyamoto Test’ when it came to Spirit Tracks? How the hell are TRAINS ‘logical’ in Zelda? This is all developer vanity, and nothing they are saying is what they actually do.

The important point here is that people who have been playing the game for a long time tend to forget that Link is just a child on an adventure towards some sort of objective.

Now Aonuma is lecturing us.

The important point here is that developers who have been involved with Zelda for a long time tend to forget that only the customers define the customer experience. Developers don’t get to speak for the customers or tell them how or what to think. They do not possess the power. But the customers do possess the power to destroy your game. And this appears to be what customers are doing to Zelda.

You know, when playing through the game there’s no need to be aware of Link’s age or what his ultimate goal is. But, when this happens, the things that the player is doing tend to become typical game actions and the awareness that player is just playing a game becomes stronger. Players who need bombs to progress through the game, but don’t have any, will by chance find themselves visiting the bomb shop in the middle of the night. When the shopkeeper says, ‘Hey, you’re just a boy!’ the player who had not been consciously thinking that Link was just a boy realizes, ‘Oh! That’s right! I’m just a boy.’ The player than reflects that he’s walking around in the middle of the night and starts to feel the loneliness of the middle of the night. That leads the player to become one with the game world, and the player experiences reality.

But the player DOESN’T experience ‘reality’. Why is Aonuma putting words into the customers’ mouths? We’re saying this is boring crap that shouldn’t be in Zelda in the first place. What Zelda is about is Link being a swordsman and kicking ass.

Without you knowing it, reader, Aonuma and Nintendo have concocted a fantasy world they live in where they think they understand Zelda. If this is true, then why is the series in serious trouble? If these people understood the appeal of Zelda, then sales should be stable and growing.

Allow me to show you one more example. [Shows a scene from Ocarina of Time where Link is destroying a blocked passage with a bomb.] This is a scene of blowing a wall up in Ocarina of Time. In this case, Link is blowing open the entrance to the dungeon, but that’s not what’s important. It’s the sound that’s important.

What the player does isn’t important. But the SOUND! Yes, the SOUND is what is important!

Now, there is a start and an end to the explosion. There are several frames from the start of the KABOOM until the smoke blurrs your view. The player still does not know for sure what has happened. Once the smoke is cleared, the player can see the result. This is the time that we hear the now famous Zelda success chime. The purpose of this chime is to inform the player that he has solved the puzzle.

NONE OF THAT MATTERS! The Zelda chime is irrelevant to the actual game experience. We don’t need a chime to let us know we ‘solved a puzzle’. What are we? Pavlov’s dog?

So in the scene we just saw, the chime was timed at the start of the explosion. This also miserably fails the Miyamoto test. Please look at the correct answer. [Shows clip from The Wind Waker of Link destroying a stone pillar with a bomb.]

NO ONE CARES! Oh God, no one cares if the chime starts  later or earlier. No wonder Modern Zelda is a lost cause.

Why doesn’t Aonuma (or Miyamoto) start caring about something that involves the actual player? Everything mentioned doesn’t involve what the player can or cannot do.

This is the same type of this scene, but this time it’s taken from The Wind Waker. Were you able to catch the difference between this scene and the one from Ocarina? In the Ocarina scene, the success chime was heard before the explosion ended. Although this chime is supposed to indicate success, it occurs before the player realizes the result of his action. Thus, he does not feel the reality that his actions were the correct anwser. Instead, they feel like a mere game mechanic. In the Wind Waker scene, the success chime was moved to play at this point in time [end]. This way, the player has some idea of the results of his actions when a success chime is heard and as a result the player has a feeling that he accomplished something. This is reality.

This is not reality. This is not even what Zelda is about. You guys are a bunch of Don Quixotes tilting at windmills.

Now, the Zelda success chime is one element of Zelda-esqueness that has been carried on throughout the entire series. If we think we can just insert it whenever, it becomes a negative rather than a positive. So, this is one of the examples of a mistake that developers accustomed to developing Zelda games can make.

Most adventure and RPG games have chimes or signals. Zelda is not unique in this. Yet, Aonuma speaks that it is the most original thing in the world. I just shake my head in stunned disbelief.

I think these examples might give you an understanding of the Zelda reality, but these are primarily what would be considered production techniques and are really quite trivial in relation to gameplay.

Well duh. But listen to what Aonuma says next…

But, Zelda reality is built by piling on these trivial elements. These are what draw players into the game world. This begs the question of whether we should apply these trivial details to all areas of the game, but the answer is no. There are countless areas where we must remove areas of reality for the sake of gameplay.

This quote is so crazy that it has put me into a seizure. Modern Zelda defenders should realize Aonuma is saying, directly, that trivial, non-gameplay elements, are what Zelda is.

Let us repeat that last sentence.

There are countless areas where we must remove areas of reality for the sake of gameplay.

Let me get this straight. So it is gameplay that removes the Zelda experience!? That is what he is saying, folks.

In considering implementing production techniques, what’s important is not adding them everywhere, but instead adding them with effective timing and anticipating how players are going to play the game and how they are going to interpret the different moments is what determines this timing — such as the Bomb Shop example above. Of course, trying to figure out how players will interpret what you are creating while you’re creating it is extremely difficult. Whether game developers can do so objectively is also difficult to answer.

Game developers who actually make games that sell do it all the time.

The ‘effective timing’ is the ‘cutscene’ mentality. It is like they want the player to approach from the west so they can create a ‘scene’. The player is not in control. Let the player create the ‘reality’, not the developer.

How then do we assure that Zelda reality is maintained in a Zelda-esque way? The answer to that is to allow outside developers to play the finished game and have the developers stand behind them and watch their reactions.

This is circular logic. A developer, whether he is part of the team or outside, is still a developer and still carries all that baggage the developer personality brings. With Brain Age and Wii Sports, Nintendo was showing the games off to everyone, to people on the streets. Why not try that? (They won’t because the people on the street won’t like it.) Outside developers are not representative of the consumers.

Another option is to ask the opinion of the producer who is separated from the actual development team. This is why I think the Miyamoto Test will continue to be an important one for us.

Why stop there? Why not have the game designer be separated from the actual development team? After all, Aonuma says it is the trivial production things that define the Zelda experience, and ‘gameplay’ gets in the way.

But at the same time I get frustrated that I did not notice sooner the thing that Mr. Miyamoto notices. So, it is my objective to be able to look at Zelda from the same perspective that Mr. Miyamoto does.

This is a losing strategy. Aside from simulation software (puppy simulation, sports simulation, fitness simulation), it has been twenty five years since Miyamoto made anything new or interesting. His career since then has been decline.

In the few Zelda titles that I’ve had my hand in, I’ve tried to establish a new theme that guides the gameplay. We feel that if we continue to do the same things simply because Zelda has succeeded in the marketplace as a franchise — it will only be a matter of time before people grew tired of the series and Zelda would have its place stolen in the videogame world stolen by some other revolutionary new title.

First of all, this has already occurred. Zelda no longer has a place in the videogame world. No one gets excited by Zelda anymore.

Second, Aonuma has been doing nothing but repeating the same old tired formula again and again since Ocarina of Time (or even Link to the Past). There is absolutely nothing different with Skyward Sword or Twilight Princess or Wind Waker. The difference being motion controls, a wolf, and a sailing ship are not differences of substance. Video games do not revolve around this trivial stuff.

If you want to see Zelda actually changing in a substantial way, look at Zelda I, Zelda II, Link to the Past, and so on. Note how the changes were not changes of trivial stuff. In fact, the content of the games are remarkably similar. There is nothing crazy like trains, sailing ships, wolves, or flying through the sky.

Even more importantly, as creators it wouldn’t be any fun to simply continue making the same thing over and over again.

But that’s what you are doing.

We have continued creating new Zelda titles over the last few years without changing our core team members. Creating the next installment with the same team as the last can lead to barriers caused by conformity of ideas, but being able to take the regrets of the last title and make them a theme for the next is extremely effective and leads us to decisions of change and continuity.

More circular reasoning. So using Aonuma’s thinking here, does changing the core team mean the game would remain the same? If not changing the core team causes change, certainly the opposite applies.

For instance, in the 3D Zelda games since Ocarina, we have continued to make use of the targeting camera that always focuses on the axis that links the player’s character to the target. The reason we’ve made this decision is because this patently Zelda-esque camera allows players the smoothest control of their character in a 3D environment and thus should not be changed.

But it isn’t the smoothest control of their character in a 3d environment. This control was feasible back in the N64 era, but it is obsolete today. The real reason is that Aonuma wants to focus on things like ‘story’ and ‘npcs’ and not do the normal stuff a game developer has to do (like come up with the control system).

(It may be possible that Nintendo might have some patents on the Zelda system that they would prefer to keep using.)

A strong game developer would be itching to change up how the game is played and how the controls are done. A weak game developer would only be concerned with the ‘inconsequential things’ like the STORY or the PUZZLES and other shit that doesn’t matter.

Instead, we’ve continued to tune this system to ease gameplay even more with each new installment.

Then why has Zelda lost all its prestige?

Also, since our objective in displaying the button control for the actions the player can perform via the action icons on screen is to give players guidance in solving puzzles, which have become more difficult in 3D, we have continued using this action icon system as well.

Then why not try using less puzzles?

And it isn’t that puzzles have become more difficult in 3d, it is that there really wasn’t any puzzles in the 2d games. There were mazes, but those do not qualify as puzzles in the Modern Zelda sense. The mazes were the reason why you needed a map and a compass. And the map and compass no longer make sense in the way how Zelda is currently designed.

It’s true that we changed the entire game system in Majora’s Mask into a three-day time system. This idea actually stemmed from the thought that we could take the time passage system that we developed in Ocarina of Time and find a way to flesh it out more.

A weak game developer only wants to play with the STORY and NPCS.

Likewise, the idea of turning the main field of play in The Wind Waker into a vast ocean that players traverse by boat started with the idea of presenting players with a new type of movement to enjoy that would be different from the horse-based movement of Epona in Ocarina of Time.

Because clearly the Zelda experience is about riding a horse.

Seriously, WTF!? Zelda has never been about the ‘movement’.

Probably the most representative example of a change made without consciously thinking about a past installment would be the toon-shading of The Wind Waker. But, as I explained before we thought this was the best style suited for a younger Link. Our objective was to develop this into new game ideas — so it could be said that even this was changed in the pursuit of reality.

The ‘Pursuit of Reality’ lead to the cell-shaded style. Where is Modern Zelda developed? A padded room?

The question of whether what the creators see as being inevitable or necessary changes will be considered so by the consumer is a difficult one to answer.

You aren’t creators. You are developers.

It is not a difficult one to answer. The consumer tells you through the sales. With Modern Zelda sales in decline, the consumers are telling you that what you are doing they don’t like. So why do you keep doing more of it?

Oh, that’s right. Because you think you are creators.

But, we think that as long as we’re able to add new elements of fun without losing what was good about the last installment, then we believe the new games will continue to be games that Zelda fans are happy with.

New elements of fun without the losing what was good in the previous Zelda game?

What about Zelda I?

What about Zelda II?

What about Link to the Past?

The elements that made those games fun are completely absent in Modern Zelda. But apparently that doesn’t matter because according to Aonuma, those games don’t count. Since he cannot play ‘traditional video games’ like Super Mario Brothers, he wants to believe what made those games a success doesn’t matter. He can’t even handle the Octorocks from Zelda I.

This is a bit of tangent, but can everyone here cook? I personally am a bit of a glutton, so I like to both cook food and eat it. Cooking is interesting because I think it’s something that everyone can try and immediately see the results of their efforts. It’s a very friendly form of creative work. It may be difficult to understand, but when you stew together different ingredients you have to skim impurities off the top when stewing because if you don’t the stew you are making won’t be delicious. It’s difficult to explain clearly, but generally if you’re combining distinct flavors and textures, the stronger the taste of the flavor or texture — the more impurities or aku will come out when you mix them into the stew. On a side note in Japan, people with very colorful personalities are described as people with a lot of aku.

Aonuma worships at the religion of ‘creativity’. The big red flag is talking about people with ‘personality’ which, apparently, can only come from being creative. People who are said to not be creative (scientists and engineers) apparently possess no personality. Or that is the myth.

I am convinced this fanaticism of ‘creativity’ is an intellectual and emotional virus that is destroying Japanese gaming. It certainly has destroyed Zelda.

Even when you’re making a game, mixing together different ingredients into one pot produces aku. In games, the impurities are the elements that feel unnatural or out of place. I think that making a good game or being a good chef means doing a good job of removing these impurities. By combining this slow and steady work of removing these impurities and adding the spice is what Mr. Miyamoto calls Zelda reality. Doing a good job of stirring in the occasional fresh ingredient keeps the deliciousness of Zelda and leads us to new innovations with the franchise.

The cook is judged not how he STIRS the pot but what the food actually tastes like.

There is nothing ‘fresh’ about Modern Zelda. It stinks in its staleness.

I’m afraid that some of you here today were hoping to hear a more technical discussion, but the essence of the Zelda franchise is difficult to sum up in technical terms.

A technical discussion is a rationale discussion. Since ‘creativity’ is not rationale, Aonuma resorts to talking about stirring a pot of food.

Since I’ve only been involved in three Zelda titles to date, I can’t say I’m anywhere near having a complete and thorough knowledge of the Zelda franchise

Then why are you giving us a speech about Zelda? Why are you even in charge of Zelda in the first place?

Going forward as a producer, continuing to make the Zelda franchise an even more stimulating one…

Stimulating is not a word that goes with Modern Zelda.

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