The Makers Of Zelda On Why Their Games Are Usually Late

"First of all, it would be great if I didn't have to put a release date out at all," Nintendo's longtime chief game designer Shigeru Miyamoto recently told me when I asked him about the tendency for Zelda games to be late. "But I have to." We both laughed. Nearly every major Zelda console game from the past two decades has been delayed, usually at least by a year. That sets the series apart from Mario Kart, Mario Party and just about every other Nintendo franchise that more consistently ships on time and, perhaps not coincidentally, is not as critically well received.

Check the record. The all-time great Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was supposed to come out in 1997. It was released in 1998. The celebrated Zelda: Wind Waker slipped from 2002 to 2003. Twilight Princess? 2005 to 2006. The next Zelda, the one that was widely regarded as the best game of E3 2016 last week? Nintendo announced for 2015, but it is now slated for 2017.

I figured it was time to ask why these games are nearly always late.

"When we think about the release period for any Zelda game, we really want to get it out as soon as possible so that everybody can play and experience it," series producer Eiji Aonuma told me during an interview in Los Angeles last week. "But every time we make a Zelda, we want to make something new. It's hard to gauge how long that's going to take. And it's also hard to gauge at what point whatever we consider to be new is done."

Aonuma helped design Ocarina and has been the leadership roles of director or producer for all of the big Zelda games since. The first Zelda he oversaw, Majora's Mask, came out on schedule. Technically, the delays didn't start with him.

"A lot of times what we try to tackle takes a lot longer than anticipated," he said. "So that's why many times the development struggle there is a delay. The people around us keep telling us: 'This is the last one. You really need to shape up.'" Aonuma was laughing when he said this, but it's not hard to believe.

"I think there's different reasons for delays," Miyamoto told me a couple of days later. "One could be that the direction just hasn't been decided, which is probably the worst kind of delay. And the other is that the direction has been decided but putting that into reality — implementing that — is taking time. So it might have taken us six months to do this much. It will take us a year to do that much.

It sounds like the new Wii U Zelda, Breath of the Wild, was particularly tough for Nintendo to schedule. It's a very different kind of game for the company. It's vast and, from what was playable at E3, very open-ended as far as what can happen and where the player can go at any moment.

"In terms of Breath of the Wild, we implemented many things like the physics engine and the AI and the type of graphics that we use. We had to make sure that design has enough time to create that. It just dawned on us that we're not able to do that in this schedule. That's what we realised about two years ago. In this instance, we never really experienced this, so that's why we had to delay it."

One would think that Aonuma would be the one delaying the game or maybe Miyamoto, who is basically Aonuma's boss. It turns out someone else had to make the call.

"Mr Aonuma and I had this understanding that this game should be done in this timeframe," Miyamoto said. "And he's in a tough position. He can't say that we can't do it. So I had someone else look into it and they had to convince Mr Aonuma and then they had to convince me."


    TLDR; poor project management.


      More like AMMOSA;DR, right? ("already made my own stupid assumptions so didn't read.)

      If you had bothered to read, you'd have realised that the problem is not time management at all. It's not like these kinds of creative endeavours can be simplified as "we need to make 10X*3Y+15Z and we know how long X, Y, and Z take us, so the release date is simply a maths problem", that would make delays an issue of time management or laziness.

      Creative endeavours are by definition, creative. That means that meeting self-imposed time constrictions is less important than following your artistic instinct. Say, gave yourself a month to create a certain dungeon and half-way through came out with a way to make it really clever but that means scrapping quite a bit of the already completed work... what to do? Sheepishly keep marching towards the deadline, completing the planned but ultimately uninspired dungeon in time, or scrap the deadline to be able to produce something really great? Now multiply one dungeon times many, plus mechanics, sidequests, assets, equipment, and a ridiculous long list of etcs. Each of those is prone to inspire new or different things that require more time.

        I should've elaborated my point because you've read into my assumption backwards (not your fault). I wasn't criticising them for not meeting the deadline, I was criticising them for setting the deadline too ambitiously in the first place (or at all), based on the kinds of considerations you've talked about.

        Blizzard and Valve have learnt when to say "soon", which is an example Nintendo should probably be following.

          Ah fair enough. I think that that first quote by Miyamoto in the opening paragraph is all that needs to be said. Deadlines exist only because the "system" demands them but creative types are by definition terrible at measuring that kind of things.

    i would LOVE Nintendo to do what they did with ocarina and majoras mask. That being that they made a second game with pretty much the same design, graphics etc but with a differentish story. They were only 2 years apart. These days we are waiting about 4 to 5 years per zelda game. No need to re invent the wheel for every single game.

    EDIT: almost 6 years for this next zelda.... if no more delays.

    Last edited 24/06/16 12:03 pm

      Well you've got Link Between Worlds released end of 2013, and Triforce Heroes (does it count? Not sure. Pretty eh game if you ask me) released last year so they're still releasing Zelda games every couple of years.

      Not counting the remakes in this though, even though from all reports they improve on the original game.

      Last edited 24/06/16 1:13 pm

        they dont really count, they are handheld console games so not really same. Bu ti see your point

        Dont get me wrong i love what this next zelda looks like, they do need to keep it fresh but a gap of 2 to 3 years is plenty. I would have loved another zelda made on the wii like twilight princess. It might have even been better than twilight princess. New storey but same looking game.

          What about Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages? :)

            I don't know if they necessarily count either, since they were parallel games rather than game + sequel. Phantom Hourglass + Spirit Tracks probably a more fitting suggestion.

              Oh I more meant from the perspective of using the same assets to make multiple games.

                Oh, ST didn't?

                I haven't gotten around to playing it yet, but I thought it did.

                  Sorry for the confusion, I mean that's why I nominated Seasons/Ages, I have no idea about ST!

    If you release a game with a handful of bugs, people bitch and complain that you should have delayed it and released without the bugs. Everybody hates 20gb Day 1 Patches.

    If you delay a game to make sure it's as perfect as humanly possible people bitch about delays.

    It's the Game Development Kobayashi Maru.

    Ship has sailed.

    Bought the Wii U (when it was released) under the impression that Zelda would be released within the same year or atleast next year as they have released trailers with the the Wii U.

    Have since sold the console and moved onto better things.

    Last edited 24/06/16 3:07 pm

    No one's mentioned Skyward Sword. Do we not mention Skyward Sword? I guess we don't! The dowsing was terrible but I liked the game except for those parts.

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