Q & A: EIJI AONUMA
Eiji Aonuma is one of the most important people at Nintendo. As a senior member of creative staff, he’s been involved in the design of Switch since the concept was in its infancy. And as producer of The
Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, he’s helmed development on a game that is both the star of Switch’s launch lineup and Wii U’s software swansong. Here, he reflects on Switch’s development, on the reception to its unveiling, and on why it always seems to fall to him to make a game for two generations of hardware.
How does making Breath Of The Wild for Switch and Wii U compare to your experience of making Twilight
Princess across GameCube and Wii?
With Twilight Princess, the hardware was very similar, so there weren’t many problems. This time, comparing Wii U to Nintendo Switch, the hardware is completely different in terms of structure and functionality. So we thought that we might encounter some difficulties there, but actually the programmers said it was easy. One area where we had to put a lot of effort in was the controls. We wanted to make use of the touchscreen functionality of the GamePad for the Wii U version; for the Switch version, we needed to consolidate that down into a one-screen display. That required a lot of effort.
Do your bosses see you as the guy they call when they need a game made for two generations of hardware?
I don’t really think I’m thought of that way within Nintendo! Zelda is an extremely popular franchise, and one that, when we have a new system, we know will grab people’s attention. In an ideal world, as a developer, I would look forward to carefully planning and creating a game that I could focus on just developing for one platform. I’d love to do that in the future, maybe for Nintendo Switch.
You were involved in Switch’s development from very early on. How did it evolve from the initial concept?
It started from the core concept of being able to play the game on the TV, then just pick it up and take it with you and continue to play. That core concept really was there from day one. The smaller and more detailed aspects like the Joy-Con were added during the process, but even the idea of having the Joy-Con slot into the sides was there from a very early stage. In terms of the development of the hardware it’s been, conceptually at least, quite smooth, and not much has changed from the original idea.
The final product packs in plenty of Nintendo innovations from down the years. Portability aside, what do you think is its most important feature?
I think a very important point about the Switch is tabletop mode – being able to set up a local multiplayer game wherever you are.
That’s been a goal for years, right? You’ve been tr ying to make handheld gaming social since the Game Boy.
That’s right. A handheld system is quite a personal thing; handhelds naturally lend themselves to singleplayer. We wanted Switch to be about sharing: you can take not just the singleplayer experience out of the living room, but the multiplayer experience as well. That’s really important for us, and something we’ve wanted to achieve [for a long time].
“I’M NOT OVERLY WORRIED BY ANY NEGATIVE REACTION, BECAUSE I’ M CONVINCED THAT OVER TIME IT CAN BE CONVERTED TO POSITIVITY”
The reception at the Switch event was largely positive among people who had hands-on opportunities, but there’s a lot of concern over the price, both of hardware and software, and the release slate. What’s your response to those sentiments?
There will always be negative reaction to anything that you do in life. With Switch, the people that are getting it in their hands understand its appeal, and how good it is. Personally I’m not overly worried by any negative reaction that might have come out, because I’m convinced that over time it can be converted to positivity, when more people have had the chance to play with the hardware and see what it can do.
How about speeding up development processes? Does the Switch architecture mean you can unify your handheld and console software teams, enabling you to get games out more quickly?
There’s an element of that, but it doesn’t automatically mean things will happen more quickly or more easily. Plus, Nintendo 3DS still has plenty of titles in development. The concept of the Switch is that you have a home console that you can take with you on the go, and in that respect it is both home console and handheld, but it doesn’t mean for us that the concept of a dedicated handheld will just disappear.
Eiji Aonuma, series producer for The LegendOfZelda