hen Shigeru Miyamoto decided to take Link into the third dimension with The Ocarina of Time, he tapped the talents of Eiji Aonuma. From then on, Aonuma has been closly tied to the world of Zelda, most recently with his work on the Phantom Hourglass. We spoke with Aonuma about his thoughts on developing for the DS and his favorite games--and even got a little Super Smash Bros. Brawl scoop.
Game Informer: So how does it feel to have Phantom Hourglass finished—at least in Japan?
Eiji Aonuma: Because the response from the public has been so positive and the numbers have been as good as they have been, I really feel that with this Zelda we were able to create something that has a play feel unlike any other Zelda game before. I’m very happy.
GI: We imported the Japanese version of the game, and it looks like you successfully squeezed the Wind Waker into the Nintendo DS. It must have been pretty trying…
Aonuma: Actually, the DS supports the Toon Shading, but because it is a smaller screen, the number of polygons we had to play with was lower. We did have to take that into consideration when we made the change to the DS from the GameCube.
GI: Now that we know the story, can you speak about it being a sequel to Wind Waker and explain the story’s background?
Aonuma: Yes, it is a sequel to the Wind Waker, but that doesn’t mean that people who haven’t played the Wind Waker can’t play Phantom Hourglass. If you saw the paper cut-out illustrations, the storyboards that appeared in the beginning, that kind of summarizes what happened in the Wind Waker. It’s definitely a game that people who haven’t played that game can just start from the beginning and feel like they’re experiencing a full story.
GI: Capcom has handled the last few portable games and you’ve handled the console versions of Zelda. How did you like working with the Nintendo DS? From a design standpoint, did it change a lot of your work?
Aonuma: The reason that Capcom was working on the handheld games was because it was a project between a man named Mr. Okamoto at Capcom and Miyamoto. I was still involved in that, as the producer. I began work on Phantom Hourglass because I wanted to create something that utilized all the features in the DS. It wasn’t that I was creating something for a handheld, but I was creating something for the DS and all the features that come along with it. Because it is a handheld system, there were definitely, in the development process, certain things I had to take into consideration, because it is different from a console.
GI: Did you feel that there was anything within the DS hardware that limited what you wanted to do with the game?
Aonuma: Well, it’s not that I couldn’t create something because it was a handheld, but my approach was different. When you play a game on a console, you play something in front of you and you kind of sit back when you play it. But with the DS, you’ve got two screens and you’re usually looking down on the lower screen—because that’s the interface of the game. One of the big differences is that with the DS, because you’re looking down on it, it’s a top view. That’s just kind of the natural result of working with the DS system. With a console game, because you’re sitting back and looking at it, 3D is more natural.
GI: I’ve interviewed you many times, and you’ve always said that Link to the Past is your favorite Zelda game you’ve played and was kind of what got you into the series. Was anything brought over from that game into this game or was there anything from Link to the Past that inspired you?
Aonuma: No, Phantom Hourglass is now my favorite. [Laughs] I guess one similarity is that Link to the Past had that sort-of top-view experience, and with Link in the center the player can look 360 degrees around him and then interact with the various features in the environment. With this one, the player uses the touch-screen to interact with the environment, so the experience is actually closer.
GI: I’m left handed. One thing I noticed is that when I’m directing Link around, my hand is covering up much of the screen. Were there any thoughts of possibly allowing for the D-pad to control Link while still being able to use the stylus controls?
Aonuma: Actually, the idea of giving the player the option of being able to use the D-pad and the touch screen was brought up in the course of development. But as a game developer, I really don’t like the idea of switching controls, because it removes the player from the experience and the player has to think about which controls they’re using and at what point they have to switch and always keep that in mind. That was a conscious decision on my part to not give the player that option. With regard to the hand getting in the way, that’s something I’ve thought about, but I’ve found a solution in using a longer stylus. [Laughs]
GI: Have you been consulted at all for the usage of Link or Sheik or Ganondorf for Smash Bros. Brawl?
Aonuma: I’ve been working with Sakurai for a very long time with this new Smash Bros., because the Wii came out and when discussion for a new Smash Bros. took place nobody could think of anyone other than Sakurai working on it. He was kind of the default, and I was very happy to hear that he would be working on it. Actually, my designers did work on the designs for Sheik and Link and Ganondorf. So they submitted the initial designs, and so it would fit in the Smash Bros. Brawl environment, they’ve had to tweak some of the designs. But Sakurai has brought those altered designs to NCL. We’re working very closely with the team of Smash Bros. Brawl to make sure the characters look their best.