Q & A: EIJI AON­UMA

EDGE - - JOY DIVISION -

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

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