Zelda: Breath of the Wild - 9 Fascinating Facts About Its Development
The legends of The Legend.
It's been one year since Nintendo unleashed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but it hardly feels like it. Most games would have run their course after a few weeks--maybe months--but the latest Zelda game is the gift that keeps on giving. People continue to uncover new ways to manipulate its physics systems, sometimes for sheer fun and sometimes to gain a unique advantage over a specific moment in the game. And besides, many of us are still chasing every equipment upgrade or hidden Korok seed, even though we don't need them; it's the sheer delight of going on a Hyrule adventure that makes us want to chase every goal, no matter how small.
While players have gone to great lengths to uncover new and exciting things in the finished product, developers at Nintendo have, over the course of many interviews, unveiled lots of interesting anecdotes from the game's development. We're convinced that Breath of the Wild is one of the best and most interesting games ever made, so to gain so much insight into its creation has been a treat. Join us on a journey through some of the most interesting revelations from the past year, and share your own tales of adventure in the comments below.
Breath of the Wild is out now for both Nintendo Switch and Wii U. If you're interested in Zelda guides, check out our recipe and cooking manual, our beginner's guide, or just our general list of everything you might want help figuring out. And of course you shouldn't miss our official review of Breath of the Wild. You can also check out our full Breath of the Wild review, our guide roundup, or our feature detailing everything you need to know about the game.
Breath of the Wild is a year old, which also means Nintendo Switch is a year old. For an analysis of Nintendo Switch's first year, be sure to read our feature discussing the console's various successes and failures. In addition, you can also check out our features detailing all the Wii U games we ported to Switch, 13 things we still want to see from the console, the best games on the console as of 2018, and the best Switch games under $20.
Climbing would have been easier if it wasn't for Shigeru Miyamoto.
Climbing is a key component of Breath of the Wild, and it's easy to run out of steam when clambering up a tall cliff face. At one point during development, the team implemented a mechanic that would have made the process easier, but Nintendo legend (and Zelda creator) Shigeru Miyamoto wasn't having it.
"Until about halfway through the development," Fujibiyashi recollected, "we had a spec where you could take your weapon and stab it into a wall. When your stamina gauge was dwindling you could stab the weapon and kind of hang out and rest there."
So what happened? According to the director, "Mr. Miyamoto heard of the concept [and] said, 'You can't stand on the tip of a sword. This is strange.' And then we explained, 'No no no, you stab it in.' Then he's like, 'No, it's not going to work.' Another [reason] was that it's very hard to actually stab a sword into a big piece of rock. We considered that you can stab them into cracks or crevices in the wall, but then you can't freely use that feature anywhere you want, so I decided not to implement it."
Nintendo's custom QA tools helped shape the game.
Speaking to The Verge around launch, Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro Fujibayashi and technical director Takuhiro Dohta detailed two key components used during development. The first was a tool that clued the team into common player behavior, which provided valuable data to design around: "There's a development tool that we use that takes all of the data from this monitor test, and it centralizes it in one location so that you can see that data in real time. It shows how many hearts people have, or where people have died, or what path they're taking. And it's kind of on this one singular timeline so that you can see in real time where people are struggling, where people are really dying a lot, what path they're taking. So we took all of that into consideration as we tried to balance the game out."
Dohta went on to reveal that they had managed to automate Link in Hyrule, and used this passive playthrough to organically identify bugs or elements that needed tweaking: "We came up with a number of scripts that would basically allow the game to be played automatically, and allow Link to run through various parts of the game automatically. And as that was happening, on the QA side of things, if a bug did appear I'd suddenly get a flood of emails about it. That was one tool that we found to be really handy."
Source: The Verge
On multiple occasions, the dev team was ordered to stop work to play through the entire game.
In a long and fascinating interview published by Den Fami-nico, producer Eiji Aonuma revealed during the course of development, the entire team would stop work to play the latest build of Breath of the Wild from start to finish.
"So, our first priority with this production was to make sure that all the members of the development department would play the game," Aonuma recalled. "In the period of four years, I think everybody convened and played the game at least 10 times."
"In the early stage of development, it took about a day to play it, but at the end, it took about a week to see the whole image. When that happens, you want to just eliminate the process, but you can't. The rule was that everybody plays it and we stuck to it till the end."
Source: Den Fami-nico
Aonuma had the most fun of his career working on Breath of the Wild, and he has his team to thank for it.
Aonuma has had a long and fruitful career, but he views his time spent on Breath of the Wild as the most enjoyable project he's ever been a part of. Speaking to Game Informer, Aonuma said Breath of the Wild was "really fun to develop--maybe the most fun I've ever had making a game. It was because of the staff. They took so much initiative, and were always looking at everything in the game with this eye to improve. They took so much initiative. I could see it every day. As a producer, it gave me a lot of courage, and made me realize 'Okay, this could actually work.'"
The people who made this game didn't have troubled faces. They were smiling the whole time they worked on it. At the start of development, with all of the new things we were doing, I definitely was worried--I had a worried face. As a I saw the staff put it together, that concern started to go away. We were doing challenging new things, but we always did them with a smile. I don't think I've experienced that before. The development experience was so great, and the game that came out of it was great. That's something I'm really proud of."
Source: Game Informer
The team considered giving you the ability to manipulate Hyrule's weather.
When the weather shifts in Breath of the Wild, the effects can be detrimental. But at the same time, it's this difficult relationship with nature that makes the adventure so engrossing.
But during the same interview with Game Informer, director Fujibayashi also mentioned that they had almost incorporated a feature that would have given you the ability to bend nature to your will:
"Initially we did consider giving players control of the weather, but realized not being able to control it is much more fun. Controlling it wasn't really fitting in this game. In Ocarina of Time, you were in places that were just sunny or raining. That was the way the players were able to control that. Adding in the weather control would have increased the number of variables in the world. It was more interesting to have Link against nature, not controlling it. That ended up being more natural and fun."
Source: Game Informer
The lack of HD Rumble support? Blame the Wii U.
Aonuma understands the potential of the Switch's HD Rumble feature and had hoped to use it in Breath of the Wild, according to an interview with Gamereactor. But given that the Wii U version was also in the works, the feature had to be largely ignored.
"To give a concrete example," Aonuma said, "there are what are called 'HD vibrations' which are specific to the Switch and which allow you to almost experience what the character feels when it touches something. For example, when you take an object in hand you can feel it thanks to the vibrations. It is a rather interesting approach, it adds more realism too, [and] simply it would have been necessary to develop scenes around that. The real problem that made it impossible to use this technology is not so much a matter of time problem but rather that we were going to have too many differences with the Wii U version and they both had to be identical games. But now that we can free ourselves from this connection, this constraint, since the Switch is developing well, we will be able to use this in the next Zelda."
Hyrule's dragons were designed with Japanese folklore in mind.
Nintendo Power magazine may be discontinued (RIP), but Nintendo recently revived it in spirit in the Nintendo Power Podcast. Late last year, for the first episode, Aonuma and Fujibayashi guest-starred to share new insight into Breath of the Wild. There, they explained the reason for the dragons in the game, and why you can't engage them in a fight.
"As for dragons," Fujibayashi said, "just as I spoke earlier, we wanted to incorporate something that could be seen afar, kind of like the Divine Beasts. So we thought we definitely accomplished that with the Divine Beasts, but we also thought we could incorporate a little more and that would be great. We wanted to incorporate something that was a little bit romantic. And maybe it's because I'm Japanese, or the team was Japanese, but instead of having that battle theme or something that will have an adrenaline rush, we thought something mystical, maybe something serene and kind of a different experience would make the adventure for the player be more exciting. And that's why we decided not to make it necessarily like a battle. And addressing the idea of how Japanese people portray dragons, we wanted to incorporate that feel of godliness or maybe something more serene."
Aonuma added: "In lots of Japanese folklore, there's often stories where dragons are basically incarnations of gods. So, I think that might be part of the reason why we incorporated that in this game."
Source: Nintendo Power Podcast
You can't pet dogs because, well, then you'd have to pet everything else.
It's only natural that when you see a dog, you want to pet it. In a game as open-ended and flexible as Breath of the Wild, you'd expect to be able to pet the playful pups found throughout the world, but no dice. IGN got Fujibayashi to explain the decision, which all boils down to a very key design philosophy.
"In the game it seems like you can do anything, but what it really is are all these interlocking systems where you actually have a pretty limited number of actions that can do a ton of different things. So if it came down to something like petting a dog, we would actually have to put in a custom action just for petting a dog that couldn't really be used for anything else."
Aonuma's experience with Skyrim shaped his expectations for Breath of the Wild.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a beloved open world game, and it's also partially responsible for Nintendo's vision for Breath of the Wild. That's not to say that the developers cherry-picked ideas from it, but it helped them come to terms with the difficult task they were signing up for.
"In the past I've also actually said that I have played Skyrim, so it's not necessarily that I don't play games," Aonuma stated. "But we don't look at it from, 'Oh, what kind of things can we take from this game?' It's more of like, 'How can we prepare for this? What should we expect from games like this?'"
"And so we also think about how many people we might need, or how we can make it improved, or with the number of people," he continued. "We would collect data and see what worked, [and] what didn't."