The Making of The Game
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

This series of articles will take a look at the development of Nintendo-published software. These Q&A sessions conducted by Nintendo Online Magazine, and transcribed to English exclusively by N-Sider staff member Anthony JC, come directly from the developers so as to give you a first-hand look at the amount of sweat and blood that goes into Nintendo's most celebrated releases.

October 2000

Shigeru Miyamoto
Nintendo Co., Ltd Entertainment Analysis & Development

Eiji Aonuma
Nintendo Co., Ltd Entertainment Analysis & Development

Mitsuhiro Takano
Script Writer
Nintendo Co., Ltd Entertainment Analysis & Development

Q: A game that is very repetitive or continues to cover the same ground over and over again can become boring quickly, yet in Majora's Mask you've actually done just that, using a time loop to make players repeat the same three days and the result is far from boring. How much of a challenge was it to keep the game's repetition from becoming tiresome?

Shigeru Miyamoto: Those challenges were met not by me but by director Mr. Aonuma. As a matter of fact we intentionally made it so that people had to repeat certain tasks during the three days. But when it comes to the repetition, you may recall that the Zelda series by now has the same kind of repetition, not about time, but about the terrain. The town maps, the game map you are playing with . . . by exploring the same terrain or map again and again the player is supposed to become the master of the landscape. Here, in Majora's Mask, we simply added another axis called Time, so we wanted all the game players to become fully familiar with the events happening during the three days, what kind of changes are going to be made to the world you are exploring. That was the primary goal of this game. [There was much effort put into making the environments rich with characters and events] so that the repetition cannot be called "boring." But we believed, that from the very beginning we would add time aspects to the Legend of Zelda game series to not be boring. [The director was responsible] for making sure the repetition did not become boring.

Eiji Aonuma: Yes, it is very important for us to take note the time flows in the game world and the participants experience different things. Being at a certain place at a certain time, trying to do something might not yield the same result if the player attempt that action at a different time. Even with a ten minute difference. We just didn't believe this would be boring.

Miyamoto: We understand that the repetition is a kind of hardship. And when we were working on Majora's Mask we experienced a lot of the hardships because of this repetition. Sometimes we tried to make things very easy, but we [realized that hardship] is needed in every game, experiencing the same events again and again, but doing something repetitively is one thing, and feeling it's boring is quite another thing. By putting many enjoyable events, wherever you are going to repeat the same thing, [the game becomes enjoyable]. Game players can be on their own, exploring their own ideas allows it to be enjoyable.

Q: Each new title in the Zelda series has taken several years to be released, for this title however, development took less than two years. Has this increased production rate come from a larger programming effort or the fact the team is more experienced with the N64 hardware?

Miyamoto: It's primarily because I was not deeply involved [in the production]. Making Majora's Mask as quickly as possible was key to the project. In the past we had to build games from scratch, but when it came to Majora's Mask, it was based upon The Ocarina of Time. [During the production of Ocarina of Time] we did not believe we could fully utilize [the game engine], so why not use it again but make a completely different game? That's the starting point. So, from the beginning we had something to work with. The rest, of course, was dependent upon the game directors, all of whom had to work very hard. I'll pass the question to one of us who actually faced many of those challenges.

Aonuma: We could only concentrate on one or two elements in Ocarina of Time. With Majora's Mask we were able to explore elements that were just not possible in Ocarina of Time. This is the way the Legend of Zelda series has always progressed. The preceding chapters built up all subsequent games.

Miyamoto: When it comes to the Legend of Zelda . . . whenever a new hardware platform is introduced by Nintendo [we have to adjust our programming]. Majora's Mask, even though we have added the memory expansion pack, the hardware platform is still Nintendo 64, so that we were already accustomed with the hardware when we started developing Majora's Mask. That's just one of the elements that facilitated the development process.

Q: Basically, when Mr. Miyamoto is developing a new game series what sort of development sequence is he following? Such as, what platforms did he test it on and what sort of Manga and Anime were used for some of the sequences? I've noticed fairly sophisticated animation sequences that are reminiscent of some of the new Manga and Anime coming out of Japan.

Miyamoto: I, myself, am not that type of genius director. I don't draw the original graphic content myself. I'm a kind of planner. I make some decisions and then I ask all the different artists to take on each different part, painting, drawing, graphics, etc. When it comes to these artists, I understand that some of them [are very influenced] by Japanese animation techniques or Hollywood movie techniques. My position is somewhat different. [I'm there to make sure they don't get out of hand] and make sure that we can make something really, really Nintendo. If you believe that the elegance of the Japanese animation and Manga, I believe that [it shows how each artist influenced the way the game looks]. Having said that, I'm racing for 50 in a few years time, and for the 50-something Japanese men, I think I am very influenced by the Japanese animation.

Q: I would like to know, when you create a game, you begin with what, the character? The story? Or something else.

Miyamoto: In my own case I started with certain actions. By touching the controller myself, I started with asking myself "is this going to be a fun action, something enjoyable if I move in this direction?" Based upon certain actions I think about the story which will incorporate and require these actions. Then graphics and pictures are determined depending on the story and actions. That's my way of making videogames. But everyone is different. Mr. Takano was responsible for creating the game story in Majora's Mask (among others), so I think I will ask him the question.

Mitsuhiro Takano: Well, in the case of Majora's Mask, first came [the thought] "is this going to be interesting or not?" What kind of features are going to make Majora's Mask interesting? There were discussions with Mr. Miyamoto and the other directors. Then, based upon the concepts [that came out of those meetings], the character design process started. Particularly in the case of Majora's Mask we decided first which character was going to do what. We then decided what they were going to say. Then finally, to bring everything together, the story was created. Story was the last stage so everything could be put together.

Q: What was the number one most challenging component when designing Majora's Mask and how did the development team overcome it?

Miyamoto: I think the most challenging is the fact that if you go back in time all the items you secured are lost. We had a very heated discussion before we reached this decision. Legend of Zelda is the kind of game where you try to secure some item. Then by making use of the different items you have secured you are going to enjoy yourself. This time we have changed the diagram so different joy could be sought. After returning to the original point why not make the game so that the people enjoy themselves by trying to figure out how to attain items the easiest way. [There are multiple ways to secure items]. To find the item again, an easier way, players can find joy. We also looked for ways to make the game easier for players. There were some hardships associated with the Japanese version of the game. When we created the American version, Enlgish version, of Majora's Mask we added features. We added the save function during gameplay. This function was not in the Japanese version. I believe that players using the English version will suffer less hardship because of this.

Q: What was it about the Goron, Deku and Zora that appealed to you, leading to them being characters Link can change into during the game?

Miyamoto: Actually that was not my own idea, but in Ocarina of Time, Link can change between Adult Link and Child Link. These forms offer different experiences. We wanted to develop this concept further in Majora's Mask. So this time instead of riding on a dinosuar or horse, or riding on a bird, why not become something else so you can do some completely different action even though you are still Link. In the case of Majora's Mask we wanted people to experience becoming the people that players became familiar with in Ocarina of Time. So that is why these characters are ones you can become in Majora's Mask.

Q: After Majora's Mask, when are we going to see the next Legend of Zelda game? And on what platform would it be? Would it be on GameCube?

Miyamoto: Mr. Takano here is actually the director for the next Zelda game. He will give a comment. I am not in a position to tell any details on the GameCube project until May 2001. And if somehow Mr. Takano tries to go beyond that, I'm going to stop him.

Takano: The next platform will be GameCube. The new controller will allow for many different actions. We are experimenting with what kind of actions the controller will accommodate. What we have to do next is work on the details of the storyline, but we first want to see what can be done with GameCube controller. At this point Link is running around the screen and looks very cute and adorable.

Miyamoto: At Nintendo's Space World we made some video demonstrations of Link facing off with Ganon. [The] graphics are already completed. There are still quality checks to do for the graphics. [We've also completed work on Link's actions] Now we are working on the different camera angles for the fighting scenes.

Q: What was Mr. Miyamoto's role you played in the creation of this game?

Miyamoto: In my case, I was involved in the planning sessions at the very beginning and in the finishing stages. At the planning sessions we decided on the three day system and worked on making sure the three day system was enjoyable [and I talked] to all the other people on the project. In the original concept building stage, I think I was involved until we decided on the three day system and also adjusting the abilities of the four different characters the player can become.

Q: A final word from the development staff?

Miyamoto: Thank you very much and stay tuned for Nintendo's products well within the next year !

Source: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask NOA Teleconference
Transcribed by: Anthony JC