The Men Who Made Zelda – Staff Interview

Posted By at 5:48 PM on Saturday May 28, 2011

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The following interview was taken from the official guidebook to the Japanese version of A Link to the Past, published in 1991 by Shogakukan. Special thanks to Rick Cressen of TCRF wiki for acting as my ALttP consultant.

The Men Who Made Zelda

The staff who gathered to revive The Legend of Zelda, a masterpiece that has gone down in the annals of game history, on the Super Nintendo. They may look cheerful in the picture, but behind those smiling visages hides 3 years of daily toil.

Top Row, From Left:
Tomita (Object Designer), Nishida (Programmer), Soejima (Main Programmer), Nakago (Program Director), Kondo (Sound Composer)

Middle Row, From Left:
Arimoto (Background), Yamamura (Assistant Director), Yamamoto (Program), Watanabe (Background Designer), Tanabe (Script Writer), Tezuka (Director), Nishiyama (Programmer), Takahata (Programmer)

Bottom Row, From Left:
Nomoto (Programmer), Morita (Object Programmer), Miyamoto (Producer), Yamada (Assistant Director), Imamura (Object Designer), Noto (Programmer)

In this Zelda, you should pay attention to the dash cut!

Shigeru Miyamoto
The producer responsible for the birth of the games in the Mario and Zelda series in addition to titles like Shin Onigashima. He’s 38 years old and hails from Kyoto.

• Alright, then. Please start with your name and what you worked on, then continue with a comment on what you want us to see in the game.

Miyamoto: I’m Miyamoto, the producer. I’m the guy who arranged and was responsible for everything. This time around, I’d like you to pay attention to the bottle system. However, the main theme of the game is for the player to be able to feel as though they’re doing everything themselves.

Tezuka: I’m Tezuka. I joined up intending to help out and ended up becoming the director. I think the part I like best is defeating enemies on the fly with the dash cut. I’d like you to pay attention to Link’s detailed actions.

Nakago: I’m the program director, Nakago. Beyond the obvious selling points, I think this game’s forte is that there’s nothing throughout the whole game that’s been overlooked. It’s very dense and very complete.

Morita: I’m Morita. I was responsible for object programming, mainly the programming of the enemy characters. I hate to sound like I’m boasting about something I’ve made being sold, but… well, it’s perfect! *laughing* Only kidding. I think I outdid myself with the multilevel areas.

The movement of enemies on multiple levels is a highlight of the program, one of the many considerations to detail evident everywhere in the game.

Soejima: I’m Soejima, the one in charge of the main programming. It was already mentioned, but the part I liked would have to be the stirring feeling you get when slicing through the grass with the dash cut.

Kondo: I’m Kondo, the sound guy. For this game, I tried to do the sound in stereo. I wanted to have it so that when there was a mouse crawling around in the darkness, you’re be able to hear which direction the noise was coming from, for example.

They were picky about the little things.

Toshihiko Nakago
Program advisor for many games, from Donkey Kong and Kung-Fu Master to Mario and Zelda. He’s 33 years old, blood type A, and hails from Kyoto.

• How long was the production period?

Miyamoto: To tell you the truth, we didn’t start much later than Mario.

Tezuka: If you include the experimental stages, it was about 3 years. We began well before the release of the Super Nintendo.

Miyamoto: In essence, the production took 1 year, but before that we had a year of planning and a year of experimentation. It was a tiring 3 years.

• Was the prototype you were contemplating in the early stages considerably different?

Miyamoto: Not so much, this time.

Nakago: The overworld map changed. The dungeons were more or less the same from the start. Compared to them, the overworld map went through a lot of changes.

Morita: The configuration of the dungeons and the overworld was completely different. From a developers’ point of view, it feels like we were making 2 different games. We also put in new actions in the middle of development.

Miyamoto: Things I thought we probably wouldn’t be able to accomplish at the beginning started looking possible once certain parts came together. Even when working on the characters’ movements, for example, we put a lot of consideration into what we were going to do. Then, when we tried putting the finishing touches on everything, there were certain patterns like walking animations and poses that ended up being useless to the player. There were more of those than I can say. I thought that would really weigh on my mind, but when I actually went through with it, it wasn’t so bad.

• As little things like that accumulate, you start getting a feel for how dense the game is.

Miyamoto: I don’t pay any mind to things that are going well because I can only see the parts that aren’t so great. I think that might be why this game doesn’t have too many.

• The first game in the series was The Legend of Zelda, followed by Adventure of Link, both of which debuted on the Famicom Disk System. When it was decided that the third game in the series would be coming out on the Super Nintendo, were you thinking of all the things you’d be able to do with the new hardware?

Miyamoto: That’s pretty much all we did. But there were a lot of times we’d go forward with our heads and reality wouldn’t be able to catch up.

Adventure of LinkReleased on January 14th, 1987. The viewpoint of the game was changed to turn it into a side-scroller.

Morita: Now that you mention it, the enemies are smart. Oops! I think I might be bragging. *laughing*

Tezuka: Morita is a guy who does a very thorough job of creating things. For example, if you made a noise, enemy soldiers would hear you, so he’d make it so they’d go searching for the sound.

Miyamoto: That sort of thing is interesting, isn’t it? Even if the soldiers in this game can’t see the player over a wall, they’ll come running when they hear noise. So, if you hide motionlessly they won’t come after you, but they’ll approach if they hear you fighting with another soldier. There are also stupid enemies programmed to seek out the player without paying any heed to walls or other obstacles. Essentially, they’re soldiers with a low IQ. Actually, though, those enemies are stronger. We got into an argument about intelligent soldiers being weaker than stupid ones. I got the impression that Morita didn’t like the idea.

• You certainly pay attention to detail.

Miyamoto: There are a lot of troublesome little things like that in this game. Once you start on them, you have to see them through to the end or you’ll go crazy. You could just discard your idea and not have to labour over anything, but I hate doing that

Mario ripped off Zelda characters?!

Yasunari Soejima
Programmer for Mario, Zelda, F-1 Race, the arcade version of Balloon Fight, and many other titles. He’s 30 years old, blood type A, and hails from Saga Prefecture.

• By the way, there were several characters in this game that also appeared in Mario. Was that your idea, Mr. Tezuka?

Tezuka: We’d had concept art for Bow-Wow lying around for awhile. We’d put it aside thinking we might make use of it if we could, but someone discovered it and ended up using it for their own purposes.

Bow-Wow, formerly Kelvin. No matter how long you wait, he can’t break his chains like he does in Mario.

• There were fire bars, too. I was wondering if there was some trick to the order of the creation process.

Nakago: Not at all. *laughing*

Morita: I was always saying “You can get rid of them at any time!”, but it would have been a waste not to use them, so they were left in the game.

Tezuka: To tell you the truth, fire bars were originally made for Zelda. They were a lot of fun, so we used them in Mario too.

Fire (spinning) bars that were originally made for Zelda.

Miyamoto: Now that you mention it, it was Mario that did the ripping off. There were things we couldn’t use in the first Zelda, you see, but as time passed and the statue of limitations was about to expire, we thought about using them again and ended up implementing them in this game.

Nakago: They were originally made for Zelda 1.

Terrorpins, quiet and carefree. Looks like this guy knows the trick to defeating them.

Tezuka: The way you pick up and throw the grass is similar to Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic, isn’t it..

• That’s right. Did you have the idea of picking up and throwing it from the start?

Tezuka: I had the idea early on, but was undecided on how to put it it into practice. It took a lot of effort. Mostly, there was the problem of whether we’d actually be able to draw it in Zelda 1′s perspective. Once we tried, though, it turned out somehow.

The Legend of ZeldaFirst released on February 21st, 1986, for the Famicom Disk System.

• For the moment, the basic system hasn’t changed since The Legend of Zelda, released in 1986. Sorry to bore you with older stuff, but what was it that first inspired this system?

Soejima: In the beginning, there were only dungeons without an overworld.

Miyamoto: Furthermore, when we did put in a world map, everything was clumped together at first.

Tezuka: We basically decided to do a real time adventure game. No one wants to do physical things like pushing and pulling by selecting them from a menu. If they’re going to push something, they want to put some force behind it.

The “push” and “pull” commands are actual actions rather than words.

Miyamoto: In addition to that, it has everything that’s good about an RPG. It’s interesting to hear my players bragging about how they’ve got this armor and that tunic, so they don’t take any damage. It means they’re really attached to their character. That’s why I wanted them to choose their own name. But maximum priority was put on the adventure. A puzzle game is an adventure everyone can understand. The game eventually became more and more puzzle-oriented, to the extent that there were times when I wondered if it wasn’t an adventure at all anymore. Sure enough, those were the times when I started worrying about whether a real time adventure be interesting or not. In the end I figured it would be a thrilling enough game on its own merit.

• This game has a light world and a dark world. When did you decide on that sort of duality?

Miyamoto: At first there were 3 worlds, but players would’ve gotten confused. That’s why we had to fix things up. It’s difficult to plant a new concept like that in an action game, you see.

Tezuka: In that regard, Nakago was very realistic. He was saying from the start that we wouldn’t be able to make 3 worlds.

Nakago: I ended up just making one, but it was split into two and reborn.

We wanted to give players a lot of options.

Koji Kondo
The sound composer who birthed masterpieces like Mario, Zelda, and Shin Onigashima, games that will forever remain in the annals of music history. He’s 30 years old, blood type A, and hails from Nagoya.

• How did you decide on the game’s difficulty?

Nakago: The difficulty level of the enemies changed a little every day as we observed how the testers were doing and talked over the details.

Miyamoto: It’s relatively easy to set as you get used to it, but figuring out the difficulty for the puzzles was tough. There’s a difference in that there are people who can find hints by themselves and people who can’t. If you think there will be people who can solve it in one minute, there will also be people for whom it will take hours.

Tezuka: Even a single dialogue message would change a lot, which caused us some trouble. If you say something right out, players will catch on too fast, but if you say it in a really roundabout way, maybe they won’t understand.

Nakago: If you only put a piece of information in one place, players would overlook it, so we’d put it into three places.

The difficulty of the game weighs heavily on hint messages.

• Another example: When you’re searching for bottles, it gets easier to continue with each one you find. How did you decide on the number?

Miyamoto: We wanted to let the player decide. The people who don’t want bottles don’t have to have them, and the people who want to put fairies in them can fill them with fairies. The people who want to play around a little can stuff them full of bugs. We wanted to expand the number of options available to players.

Tezuka: We wanted it to be a game you could play over and over again. Beating it once, for example, and then challenging yourself to see how fast you can beat it again. I think that there are lots of things to discover, even just walking around on the overworld.

• Are there any bonuses like hidden commands or characters this time around?

Miyamoto: There are lots of little details. Players worn out from solving puzzles will discover them by accident when they’re wandering around. Besides, players who beat the game once and come back to replay it a year later only to discover something new will be happy, don’t you think? I actually wanted put in more attractions like that, but I think that if there’s too many, players will forget what they’re doing.

Link, a lefty? Our hero is always wielding his sword in his left hand. Have you noticed?

• There’s a sense of accomplishment when you discover the way to solve a puzzle or uncover a secret, isn’t there.

Miyamoto: At first, when we hardly put in any hints, the testers’ faces looked angry. *laughing* But they had good reactions when they solved the part they were working on. When they looked back on the part they were having difficulty with, they remembered the struggle as fun. When we increased the number of hints and made it easy, it became boring for them, so we decreased the amount again. There were people who’d get stuck on one part and never make it out, and people who, like I mentioned before, would fool around and try something different and get through right away. People’s personalities shone through.

• So, it’s better for it to be difficult enough and have enough things to discover that players will never want to put down the game.

Miyamoto: During the early planning stages for the first game, we were discussing whether or not to use the Zapper, but there were a lot of people who didn’t have one. If we’d had the memory for it, though, we might’ve done it.

No, this isn’t from the original interview… I just couldn’t resist!

Tezuka: We made this game keeping those days in mind.

Miyamoto: These days, fantasy games with swords and magic are quite common. When we first started out, there wasn’t a market for that, so that’s where the game got its appeal. However, now that we’re doing a series, we’ve got no choice but to continue using swords and magic. But the more we do that, the more we’re reluctantly forced to go in a different direction than we were aiming for. I feel like there’s no challenge in swords and magic anymore.

• That’s very true.

Miyamoto: It’s no good to have a constant stream of sidequests, but you can’t make a game without doing that. That’s why I didn’t want to have quests that told you to “Go give the medicine to the girl,” but rather for the players to think for themselves what they ought to bring to her. Early on, we planned to have more actions available like “Eat” and “Dance”, but we couldn’t deal with them all in the end.

There’s no match for the chickens’ cries.

Kazuaki Morita
The programmer who brought games like the Mario and Zelda series and Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic to life. He’s 26 years old, blood type O, and hails from Fukuoka Prefecture.

• Everything we’ve been discussing has made me realize how many things you’ve figured out through trial and error over these 3 years. Which parts would you say caused you the most trouble?

Nakago: Hmm… making the graphics more realistic, perhaps. That was really hard on the program…

Morita: The ambiguity disappeared.

• So, you’re saying that when planners like Mr. Tezuka thought up new ideas, the programmers would labour to put it into practice..

Tezuka: …Uh oh, you’re wandering into dangerous territory here. *laughing*

Miyamoto: There were times when the program got ahead of the planning, and times when the data was all assembled and the programmers hadn’t caught up. We never had gaps like that in the past. The scale of this game was just that big.

The Kondo sound compilation Super Mario World – One of the two CDs contains an encyclopedia of the game’s sound effects. Warner Pioneer / 3800 yen ($38).

• Moving on to the music, about how many tracks does this game have?

Kondo: About 15. If you include the little ones. somewhere around 30.

• Which do you feel the most confident about?

Kondo: The music inside Hyrule Castle at the beginning of the game. That took me a bit of time to do.

Orchestral Game Music Concert – Though it was released before the game, it includes music from ALttP. Warner Pioneer / 2800 yen ($28).

• Did you receive requests from everybody about what kind of music they wanted?

Kondo: I wasn’t given too much direction this time.

Miyamoto: Even though I left it to him to come up with music, I’d listen to the finished result and tell him if I didn’t like it. We ran into trouble near the end when we simply didn’t have enough memory.

Kondo: The music was a whole megabit at first. *laughing*

Tezuka: I think the programmers struggled a lot to compress the memory.

Morita: As a result, we couldn’t accomplish everything we wanted and there were a number of things that were left undone.

Tezuka: Aside from the map zoom, there weren’t too many things that showed off the capabilities of the Super Nintendo. I would’ve liked to have done something a little more shocking.

Zooming in on the opening map. A very Super Nintendo-esque effect.

• As we wrap things up, is there anything you’ve forgotten to say?

Kondo: …I’m really proud of the chicken noises. *laughing* I lavished attention on the coin noises and such as well.

A scene right out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds“. Let’s put an end to animal abuse!

Tezuka: The Fortune Teller’s fee is random. I was a little picky about that. I was thinking “Wouldn’t a somewhat meaningless place like a fortune teller not have any set prices?”

The prices here depend on when you go. An example of Mr. Tezuka’s determination!

Miyamoto: I guess you could say that you shouldn’t be shopping somewhere that doesn’t have the prices on display. *laughing*

Tezuka: Other people were telling me that it would be better to have set prices, but… whatever. It’s just a little thing. *laughing*

• I guess we can conclude that this Zelda the compilation of a lot of little things like that. Thank you very much for your time today.

Takashi Tezuka
Character designer for the Mario and Zelda series. 30 years old, blood type B, hails from Osaka. His nickname is TENTEN.

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21 Responses

  1. [...] kijk, iemand heeft een interview uit 1991 met het A Link To The Past-team vertaald. Het leest als een aflevering van Iwata Vraagt, alleen dan [...]

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  2. ima420r says:

    A very good read. Thanks!

  3. [...] The men who made Zelda- Staff Interview [Glitterberri.com] [...]

  4. [...] the Past is the greatest game of all time is merely a subjective opinion to which I subscribe, but this incredible document, unearthed by GlitterBerri, features interviews with key members of the Zelda development team [...]

  5. Walheimat says:

    Fantastic read, thank you.

  6. [...] Found this great interview with the team behind Link to the Past taken just after they finished. Its not too long and a good insight into an amazing game destined for many revivals on later systems. Link Here. [...]

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  7. Bryan says:

    Great read and a rare look into Nintendo’s development at the time. Thanks for putting this up! I wonder what Miyamoto might think about his comments regarding fantasy games at the time.

  8. GlitterBerri says:

    Indeed! I’d love to ask him how he feels about the series now that it’s gone through 15+ incarnations. Does he really feel that swords and magic have been exhausted now? Is it still possible for such an old series to be innovative? Has it taken a vastly different direction from what he originally hoped? What does he feel the future will bring for Zelda?

  9. [...] translated by GlitterBerri, the interview could be found in a Japanese strategy guide for the Super Nintendo classic, and [...]

  10. PixelRyan says:

    Awesome interview thanks for translating this and putting it up!

  11. Bryan says:

    “However, now that we’re doing a series, we’ve got no choice but to continue using swords and magic. But the more we do that, the more we’re reluctantly forced to go in a different direction than we were aiming for. I feel like there’s no challenge in swords and magic anymore.”

    I wonder how much time those kinds of concerns take up in his work now.

    I would guess that the challenge now for Miyamoto is more in the big picture maintenance of what has become this massive institution/brand that the early series laid the groundwork for.

  12. Mory Buckman says:

    It’s really interesting how Miyamoto keeps emphasizing that you should feel like you’re making all the decisions yourself:

    “However, the main theme of the game is for the player to be able to feel as though they’re doing everything themselves.”

    “It’s interesting to hear my players bragging about how they’ve got this armor and that tunic, so they don’t take any damage. It means they’re really attached to their character. That’s why I wanted them to choose their own name.”

    “That’s why I didn’t want to have quests that told you to “Go give the medicine to the girl,” but rather for the players to think for themselves what they ought to bring to her.”

    This attitude has somewhat fallen by the wayside in the Zelda series since Aonuma took over. Now the games are much more linear, telling you “Do this. Now do this. Now do this.” and not giving much room for the players to feel like they’re being themselves.

  13. HeatPhoenix says:

    Thanks. Great read.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Fascinating!

  15. [...] http://www.glitterberri.com/a-link-to-the-past/the-men-who-made-zelda [...]

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  16. [...] is what Tezuka said about the very first Zelda [...]

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  17. Alex says:

    Thanks so much for translating this. I have so much nostalgia and adoration for many of these early games mentioned in the interview (Zelda LttP being one of my all-time favorite games). What a delight to read what the minds behind the game were thinking in the development of this masterpiece.

    Thank you!!! >_<

  18. [...] The Men Who Made Zelda – Staff Interview games retro zelda interview [...]

  19. [...] The men who made Zelda [...]

  20. [...] as a companion piece to the recently-translated developer interview, the following article provides a glimpse at prerelease ALttP and how it differed from the final [...]

  21. Via The Wire says:

    [...] glitterberri.com > The Men who Made Zelda. [...]

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