Friday, September 9, 2011

Predicting Zelda's Future by Looking at its Past

The changes that we implement often come from ideas for improving and expanding elements found in previous installments.
- Aonuma (GDC2004 speech)

An easy method to predict future Zelda titles is by looking at the past of the franchise. By listening to interviews with the developers when they talk about things they wanted to do but couldn't. By looking at beta material which didn't make it into the final game.

There are many examples, a recent one would be Ocarina of Time. Originally Miyamoto wanted to have real horse combat in the game not just archery (source), but they weren't able to do it. But it would later be an important part of Twilight Princess. Also, Miyamoto wanted Link to raise the sword over his head and now we get a game that is named after this pose. Aonuma always wanted to "fix" the Water Temple, there hasn't been a single Aonuma interview, where he didn't apologize for the Water Temple. And now he finally could fix this with Ocarina of Time 3D. So, it's always wise to listen to the developer's regrets, because someday they might bring back old ideas.

The probably biggest regret that is going to be fixed now is the ocean from The Wind Waker. They cut quite some content from the game and it was a common complaint that the game could have used at least two more dungeons. They also could have extended the underwater Hyrule into a full fledged overworld with multiple spots where you travel between the Great Seas and Hyrule. And I think this is exactly what they're doing right now with Skyward Sword. Instead of the Great Sea you will get Skyloft, however, this time the Hyrule under the ocean will be massive.

Beta content is a little bit trickier to judge, because sometimes things get scrapped because they simply didn't work out. But a recent example would be the giant spider chasing sequence from the Twilight Princess GDC2005 trailer. It never made it into the full game like tons of other stuff shown in the trailer. But then in Spirit Tracks we would get a similar sequence only on train this time. And now they even brought back the whole idea for Skyward Sword, only this time inside a temple and with the spider on fire. But it uses the same camera and everything.

^Remember me?

And who knows, maybe the Unicorn Fountain appears in Skyward Sword, too? (Nah, they would have included it in Ocarina of Time 3D if there really was the intention of bringing this back.)

The second method is dealing with minor game elements that might become the center attention of a future game. This is where the quote from the beginning of my post comes in.

The best example is probably Majora's Mask. Because this game really takes a lot of minor sidequest elements from Ocarina of Time and turns them into the game's central elements. Like the masks, the masks were an optional sidequest in Ocarina of Time and became probably the most important feature of its successor.

Another example would be The Minish Cap. The idea of the Minish Cap itself is based on the Gnat Hat item from Capcom's previous game Four Swords. Or the flying from Skyward Sword is actually based on the Zora River Kargarok flying sequence in Twilight Princess. Something that is some unimportant side feature in one game, could be the big idea of the next game.

The third method is predicting direct successors and their content. A direct successor is a game, that reuses the entire engine of a previous game. If two games of the same franchise are released for the same system, it's only natural that the second game would reuse everything from the first game. The first big example would be Majora's Mask, it was designed as a game that could be made within a year using the engine of Ocarina of Time as well as all graphics and game elements.

Mr. Miyamoto's goal of completing the game in a short period of time was a result of having spent so much time developing the 3D Ocarina engine. He wanted to make effective use of that engine in creating a new game. [...] We decided that this would be very important for future Zelda development.
- Aonuma (source)

It was not the only game to do that. Capcom's Oracle games were based on the Link's Awakening engine. Capcom would then later take their multiplayer game Four Swords and turn all its content into a singleplayer game, The Minish Cap. Pretty much everything from Twilight Princess was used to make Link's Crossbow Training. And the latest example was Spirit Tracks, which reused the Phantom Hourglass engine.

Even though [we] felt [we]'d done everything [we] could with The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask came out of it. Now, in the same way, [we] progressed from The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass into making The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.
- Iwata (source)

The first predictment I made on this blog back in 2008 was that we would get a second Nintendo DS Zelda before the Wii Zelda. I was laughed at for this comment, noone would have thought this at the time, but at GDC2009 then Spirit Tracks was announced. And this was simple to predict, because a second game using the Phantom Hourglass engine could be easily made, while the next Wii game probably was going to get its own engine, where the development takes much longer. If I would have looked further into this, I even could have predicted the train idea, because a third game on a boat would have been terrible, but they also wouldn't want to scrap the engine parts for the boat travel.

So, you want to predict how the next Zelda game looks like? Just look at the past, the game is somewhere in there.

No comments: