How Did Aliens Get Into The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask?
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Following up on the success of The Ocarina of Time remake for 3DS, The Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask 3D is coming out soon alongside the launch of Nintendo's next handheld iteration, the New 3DS. But while Shigeru Miyamoto make take the spotlight as the original creator of the Zelda franchise, the man who's been guiding it as director and producer since the release of the original Ocarina of Time is Eiji Aonuma.
While he's not ready to talk about the highly anticipated Wii U chapter in the Zelda franchise, we went on a nostalgia-filled trip through the original Majora's Mask's development in this recent interview. What was the inspiration behind the cow-mutilating aliens? What Western games does Aonuma draw inspiration from? And why doesn't this remake have Amiibo support? Find out below!
GameSpot: Thematically, the game is very different than previous Zelda games and even compared to the games that came after. What drove the decision to make this more of an adventure-puzzle game, and why do you think the series hasn't tried this kind of experimental form again?
Eiji Aonuma: I guess one way to address that is, when you're thinking about time as an element of gameplay, we really did all that we set out to do here. And to a certain extent that's true with masks as well. Because we so fully realized our ideas with how to use those as themes in the game, we felt like we were done with it and were ready to move on to new ideas afterwards.
We didn't feel the need to use those exact ideas in other games beyond that. But it's interesting for me to come back to it now because in this remake, we got the opportunity to revisit those same game ideas, but also to make some interesting improvements and changes elsewhere.
With the way that you progress through this game as opposed to more traditional Zelda games, especially with all the time manipulation, is that something that we might see again sometime in the future?
One particular game element, being able to slow down the passage of time, I think that's something that we may be able to revisit in the future. But if we were to do so, it would have to to be implemented in a different way. It would have to be different to be meaningful. So that's something you might see again in the future.
Late last year we talked with Koji Kondo, the Majora's Mask's musical composer. He mentioned that he found inspiration in Chinese opera for several of the game's aural themes. What was your inspiration and direction for Majora's Mask?
Is that true? I'd never heard that about Mr. Kondo's inspiration! But I know that in coming up with the music for Ocarina of Time, there were a lot of melodies where we were going for a sort-of magical feel. And then moving on to Majora's Mask, we had the masks as the theme, so we thought it would be interesting to switch between different genres in this game. We started to think about how we could mash those up.
For example, we thought about pairing the Zora people in the game with Bossa Nova. And there was certainly a moment in the beginning where everyone in development wondered if we could really do that. We were unsure whether or not it would work. I hope I didn't cause too much trouble for they guys working on the game, but I think that they came up with some amazing compositions and also some really interesting variations on the music that appeared in Ocarina as well.
Playing through the game a again for this version, some of the easter eggs that I remember from before have been changed. There's no longer a dolphin the Astral Observatory, but there is a R.O.B. in the Curiosity shop. Are there any other new additions like that?
Because it's a remake, there were a couple things we were able to do now that we had a higher resolution to work with. So you will find some new objects that were not in the original N64 version. There's a lot of stuff like that all through the game. Little playful touches here and there. I hope people have fun looking for those.
One specific Easter Egg people have discussed before is a set of four masks that seem to represent Star Fox characters. In the N64 version they were set up in a fixed order on the second row: a fox, a rabbit, a bunny, a frog. Was that intentional?
You know, as it turns out, I think the ordering of those masks in the N64 version might've been entirely coincidence! As we progressed through game's development, they just lined up that way. Or, I guess the other possibility, is someone did it on purpose, but they just didn't tell me about it!
There are lots of refinements to the 3DS version of the game, but in a broad sense it's very true to the original. But were there any masks or elements that came up during the original development when this was coming to the Nintendo Disc Drive system that you ultimately weren't able to incorporate?
Originally, we were thinking of doing a re-arranged dungeon version of Ocarina of Time for the Disc drive. But I realized that the person who would have to do the arrangement of the flipped dungeons, and would have to do all the tuning for that, was going to have to be me. But I really didn't want to go back into the dungeons that we had just worked so hard to lay out, and then have to rearrange them and tune them in that way.
That's when we moved toward the proposal of doing Majora's Mask instead. Maybe it's not entirely, 100% accurate to say that Majora's Mask itself was going to be a disc drive game, but rather that there was this re-arranged Ocarina idea for disc drive that got scrapped and we ultimately landed on Majora's Mask.
As for mask's that weren't implemented or other gameplay ideas that we didn't end up using, to be perfectly honest, there probably were lots of those. But because it was 14 years ago, I'm having a hard time thinking of an example.
The fans probably think about the Zelda timeline a lot more than you do as creators. I imagine that when you were putting together Majora's Mask, you were mostly just trying to make a fun experience that was a follow-up to Ocarina and that used some of those same assets. But retroactively at least, how does Majora's Mask fit into the world of Hyrule? Especially since it does use so many characters who are familiar but at the same time a little bit strange?
So even to see words as scary as "cattle mutilation" on TV and the idea of UFOs abducting people led to this whole idea of Earth being invaded by aliens becoming rather popular.
It's difficult to talk about how Termina fits into the world of Hyrule because it's almost like it's another dimension. When I think about the very beginning of Majora's Mask, I like to think about the characters as already being in Termina at that point.
But honestly, I don't know that we thought about it in exactly those terms at the very beginning of development of this game. Our goal, rather, was to create something familiar that has been warped in a very unusual and interesting way. And so the visuals that we ended up with reflected that, I think. By comparison you saw a lot more black being used, the entire world just felt a lot darker, and we wanted to do this to set it up as a distinction visually from the world that you see in Ocarnia of Time.
So the goal was to make this a more frightening, supernatural experience than the other Zelda games?
There were some opportunities to do rather dark and scary things in Ocarina as well. You know you had the "seven years later" version of the world that Ganon had wrecked. But in the case of Termina, we're really doing something a little bit different. We're changing the entire game world around this concept. And what we were going for here was trying to age-up the demographic of Zelda a little bit. We were thinking about a world that might be particularly appealing to adults who would play this game.
One thing that felt very different from other Zelda games was the section where you're rescuing Romani ranch and its horses from aliens. When I played this as a kid, I thought that they were sent by the Gorman Brothers. But replaying it now, they were definitely just a weird, alien-like presence. What was the inspiration behind their inclusion?
Really? I'd never heard anything like your Gorman Brothers theory before. I'll have to remember that!
As far as what games might be remade in the future? I think that we always pay a lot of attention to user demand to see what sort of things people are talking about.
But the reason we used this at the time was because Japan was experiencing something of a UFO boom. And it even went so far as for shows on TV to cover it and explaining to people what cattle mutilation was. So even to see words as scary as "cattle mutilation" on TV and the idea of UFOs abducting people led to this whole idea of Earth being invaded by aliens becoming rather popular. I thought it would be really interesting and scary to use in a game. That's how we decided to go with that.
I'm not sure how its release lined up with the development of Majora in Japan, but was Twin Peaks an inspiration at all? I feel like in some ways it had a similar, quirky vibe.
While I certainly did watch Twin Peaks, I feel like I watched it quite a bit before working on Majora's Mask. One thing that stands out to me is speaking with Mr. [Takashi] Tezuka [director of Link's Awakening], and he was saying there was a certain storyline in Link's Awakening that was inspired by something that he'd seen in Twin Peaks.
I feel like maybe when the show aired in Japan, that was quite a bit further back compared to when we were working on Majora's Mask. But I absolutely do love that really strange world that was drawn in Twin Peaks. And who knows, I might've carried something forward with me that wound up influencing the creation of the world in Majora's Mask as well.
Were there any other pop culture, or ripped-from-the-headlines ideas that you incorporated into the game?
Not so much that we took as inspiration from television or things that we saw in the news, but honestly, there were things happening all around us that we would end up wanting to use. Someone who got married on our team led to a certain event in the game. And even the mummy story in the game was inspired by things that were just happening around me at the time.
But I feel like that's always the case when you're developing a Zelda game; you're taking inspiration from things that are sometimes very close to you. As those come together, they combine and create slightly different feelings or different possibilities.
So the mummy story was related to something that you experienced? How did that happen?
That one's a little bit harder to explain, but sometimes we just do a little bit of association and wordplay. So when I was researching one particular character and thinking about mummies, I ended up really getting into it and reading a lot about mummies and thinking I would never want to be made into a mummy. But then, the more I got into it, the more I started to entertain the possibility.
It's a strange story, but there's a lot of things that happen like that. When we were coming up with those Gibdo enemies in the game, there was a lot of Japanese wordplay that went on. Sometimes one thing just led to another, and it brought us to another entirely new episode as an idea.
Are there any Western games that influence where you get these ideas or inspiration from?
Certainly, I do play Western games. I think I've put some comments out there about being really interested in Skyrim, but then people started connecting it to the idea that I was making an open-world game now. I really didn't want to make that connection to explicit since it's really not how it works.
I do play a lot of games from the West; for example, I've been playing Far Cry, which also has this large, open world. When I play these games, what stands out to me is that there are different kind of themes and the ways that they make the player feel when they experience them. I think that that's always a really valuable reference for developers. And I think that is something that all developers do. It's something that they all think about when they're playing other games.
I'm definitely a huge fan of Majora's Mask; it's my favorite game in the Zelda series. But I'm not sure that I'd recommend it as the first one that someone new to the series should play. With so many Zelda games out there, where do you recommend that people start?
Did you feel like it's not a good place to start even after playing the 3DS version?
To explain, it's not that I wouldn't recommend it, but I really enjoyed how different it was from the previous games. I think some of that appreciation comes with my connection to the characters that I got from playing Ocarina and earlier Zelda games. Majora definitely stands on its own, but it's even better when its informed by the changes that all these familiar characters have undergone.
Ok, I'm relieved to hear that clarificiation. [laughs]
But as for where I think it would be best for a new player to the Zelda games to start, since the first Zelda game that I worked on was Ocarina of Time, I feel like I really used that as my base and built on that going forward. So, based on my personal experience, I would probably tell people to start with Ocarina and then play Majora's Mask next. I think that 's a good flow.
The release of this game in the West along with the New 3DS is a little bit of a coincidence, since the system's been out for a while in Japan. But given the New 3DS's built-in NFC reader, was there any thought given to Amiibo support for the game? It seems like the Skull Kid statue that comes in the special edition would make a perfect figurine.
We really did want to do Amiibo, like with Skull Kid, that would work with Majora's Mask. But one of the things that was really difficult was, because this was a remake of the game, we didn't have the opportunity to build the kind of gameplay that would connect to using an Amiibo in this way. Ultimately, and unfortunately, we had to back off of that idea.
But looking forward, I really want to do something like that on a new title. So I hope you're going to look forward to that.
Assuming Majora is as successful as Ocarina was, is there any chance of seeing more remakes like this in the future?
When I think about the remakes that we've been doing, I realize it's been mostly Zelda titles so far. But there's a lot of things that come into consideration when you're looking at doing something like. What can you bring to the gameplay experience to make it more comfortable or to give it a slightly different feel? In particular, there's some interesting things you can do on a handheld.
You had to consider how you would use a controller in these previous Zelda games, and you have to pay particular attention to how that translates into a handheld so that you're definitely improving on the experience rather than simply transposing it. We always think about things we wanted to do in the original development of Majora's Mask, as well as other games, and as time goes on, sometimes new technologies appear that allow you to do those things you couldn't in the beginning. I love those sorts of opportunities, because I think that's a really interesting way to recontextualize a game, and, in some cases just improve it outright.
As far as what games might be remade in the future? I think that we always pay a lot of attention to user demand to see what sort of things people are talking about. When I first came to this 3DS Majora's Mask project, it was something that I personally had really wanted to remake for a while. But at the time that I first started working on it, I didn't really know if people wanted it. If they'd want to buy and play it. So I was really happy to see as I was coming into the later stages of development of the game, that there were a lot of player voices out there of people who were saying that they wanted this game to come out. And I was really happy to see that.
My final question: you've been known as the caretaker of the Zelda franchise for such a long time. Have you wanted to branch out from that at all, or are you content with taking overseeing this franchise?
Honestly, I'm getting to the point in my career where I have to think about what sorts of things I want to do and how much time I have left before retirement. I've certainly enjoyed all the time that I've spent working on Zelda games, even when it's a struggle, I've absolutely enjoyed it. But I'm probably not too far from retirement. I should start to think about a successor, someone who can take over all of this. That's a very important decision, but that's one of the things that is bouncing around in my head on a daily basis as I work.
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