For the past few years, Nintendo has run a series of interviews on its website called “Iwata Asks”, giving us behind-the-scenes looks at some of the company’s most important games and pieces of hardware.
This interview, though, does not involve Iwata. And was never on Nintendo’s website. Because it was conducted in 1991, and involved the developers of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Painstakingly translated by GlitterBerri, the interview could be found in a Japanese strategy guide for the Super Nintendo classic, and involved “celebrities” like series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and soundtrack superstar Koji Kondo.
It’s amazing reading because, unlike today’s carefully stage-managed meetings between the press and developers, this is a bunch of Japanese nerds answering some fairly standard questions in some fairly strange ways.
Take Miyamoto, for example. Despite LttP boasting a great “two world” mechanic, where players could switch between a light and dark game world, when asked what he wanted consumers to notice from Link to the Past he says “This time around, I’d like you to pay attention to the bottle system.”
And Kondo, who we normally associate with the famous scores to games like Mario and Zelda, is instead most proud of the cutting-edge technology of…stereo sound, saying “For this game, I tried to do the sound in stereo. I wanted to have it so that when there was a mouse crawling around in the darkness, you’re be able to hear which direction the noise was coming from, for example.”
He was also “really proud of the chicken noises”.
This is interesting not because they’re crazy, but because it highlights two things: one being the crushing modesty of many Japanese developers, especially in the “good old days”, but the other being the possibility that many of the reasons people love LttP may not have been seen by developers as that big a deal.
Take the game’s almost timeless graphics, for example. Not a single one of the lead developers mentions the game’s simple, iconic art style. Indeed, Toshihiko Nakago says that one of the biggest problems faced was “making the graphics more realistic”.
Aside from these awkward interview responses, there is also a ton of fascinating info to be had about the game. Did you know, for example, that at one stage the developers contemplated making the game compatible with the Zapper peripheral?
Or that Miyamoto was even by 1991 thinking that Zelda was being held back by its fantasy setting?
These days, fantasy games with swords and magic are quite common. When we first started out, there wasn’t a market for that, so that’s where the game got its appeal. However, now that we’re doing a series, we’ve got no choice but to continue using swords and magic. But the more we do that, the more we’re reluctantly forced to go in a different direction than we were aiming for. I feel like there’s no challenge in swords and magic anymore.
One final interesting note is that at one stage Miyamoto had planned for the game to take place across not two worlds, but three. In the end, this was pared back because “players would’ve gotten confused”.
Fans of Zelda or just game development should really give the whole thing a read. While it’s cute seeing relatively simple answers given considering the relatively simple mechanics of the game being developed, you also get a real “fly by the seat of their pants” feeling, as these men pushed forward making games free from the constraints and tropes of clearly-defined genres that so bog down the developers and games of today.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.