In order to promote the newest title in the Zelda franchise, Nintendo recently released a three-part documentary series about the origins, story, and gameplay design for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The series features interviews with the game’s creators, including game director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, which discuss the various decisions that were made in the design process to ensure the quality of the newest title. Each video is roughly ten minutes long, and features English subtitles, concept art, and video footage of early versions of the game as well as of previous entries in the series.
The first video, entitled “The Beginning,” discusses the early development process for the newest Zelda title. It explains how the game’s creators set out to “break the conventions of the Legend of Zelda series from the very start of development” by “distinguish[ing] between the unchanging, universal traits of the Zelda franchise and things that had simply become conventions of the series.” As one of the changes made in the newest iteration of the long-standing franchise, the creators cite the inclusion of an “open-air” overworld, which differentiated from earlier entries in the series which featured a game world comprised of small but interconnected levels. Although a game world of this type had been present in Zelda titles for decades, it was a result of technical limitations rather than of intentional design, so the design team decided that they could implement an open-world gameplay style while still staying true to the roots of the series.
Another example of a major break in convention can be found in Breath of the Wild’s capacity to use items in unique and interconnected ways. According to technical director Takuhiro Dohta, the team realized that “if objects could all interact with each other, that interconnectivity would create entirely new emergent experiences.” This approach differed from previous Zelda titles, in which items could generally only be used for single purposes, and is intended to give the player a greater sense of freedom and creativity to match the game’s open-world environment.
Because one of the main focuses of the game’s development was giving the player choices, the way the story is told to the player had to break from convention as well. Unlike previous Zelda titles, which prompt the player to complete challenges in a particular order to progress, Breath of the Wild allows players to approach challenges in the order and pace that they wish. As such, the game’s story had to be designed in such a way so as to allow it to be understood when encountered in different orders.
The game’s creators stressed that the story had to complement the player’s interactions with the game, rather than get in the way. As such, the team decided to tell much of the game’s story in media res by featuring a protagonist who has lost his memories and must retrieve them. This way, the player could experience elements of the game’s story in any order, and piece together the overall narrative. Additionally, the team stressed the importance of making the characters compelling, and particularly of making Zelda a character that the player would be motivated to save. In order to do so, the team started by giving her character a compelling visual design, and using this design as a reference point for creating a backstory.
In addition to explaining the principles of the game’s overall design, the videos also feature interesting and compelling pieces of trivia, such as the fact that the game’s overworld was inspired by the city of Kyoto, where Nintendo’s headquarters are located, and that the decision to give the player freedom to explore the entire map from the beginning was actually inspired by the first entry in the series from 1986.
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