- Inside Zelda: Part 1
- Inside Zelda: Part 2
- Inside Zelda: Part 3
- Inside Zelda: Part 4
- Inside Zelda: Part 5
- Inside Zelda: Part 6
- Inside Zelda: Part 7
- Inside Zelda: Part 8
- Inside Zelda: Part 9
- Inside Zelda: Part 10
- Inside Zelda: Part 11
- Inside Zelda: Part 12
- Inside Zelda: Part 13
- Inside Zelda: Part 14
- Inside Zelda: Part 15
Volume 207 – part 15
Staying On Course
As you may have read in last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo coverage, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is headed to both Wii and GameCube, and it’s arriving in time for Wii’s launch. The man responsible for making sure the hugely anticipated game makes its ship date is Daiji Imai, who not only is one of the game’s directors, but also has the critical (although low-profile) position of production schedule manager. While visiting Los Angeles for E3 2006, Imai took the time to chat with Nintendo Power about how he’s keeping Twilight Princess’s development on track, and how he anticipates the game will deliver new experiences on Wii.
A Graphic Approach
Ever since my college days, I’ve enjoyed creating CG (computer-generated) graphics. Originally, I wanted to have a career in CG when I graduated. This year’s E3 is actually my second time visiting Los Angeles. The first time was in 1999, when I was here for the SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques) convention, where I was recognized for my CG work Iron Bowl.
When my graduation was approaching, I tried to get a job creating CG for one of the biggest animation studios in Japan—they even called me in for an interview—but unfortunately, I didn’t get the job. However, I was able to find an opening at a game development studio, which is where my career in video games got started. I stayed with that developer for several years before I took a job with Nintendo. To get more familiar with Nintendo’s products, right after they hired me, I decided to play through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as fast as I could! Even though Nintendo is all about fun and games, it’s still a professional work environment; it took me a while to get accustomed to regularly coming in at 8:45 in the morning!
The Iron Chefs of Gaming
My first duty at Nintendo was to create the special effects for Luigi’s Mansion on Nintendo GameCube. If you’ve played it, you probably remember how the beam of the flashlight would shine through the dust in the air. That was the first time I developed a GameCube game, and I was really impressed that the hardware was able to create those kinds of effects. I had developed games for other systems, and they just weren’t capable of creating effects like that.
Outside game developers view Nintendo as the number-one gaming company in the world. Before I got here, I imagined that it was like Iron Chef—that Nintendo had all these master creators feverishly at work! And after I started working here, I discovered that’s really what it’s like [laughs]. We have a great chain of command, and they don’t settle for anything but the best. After I worked on Luigi’s Mansion, I designed graphics for Pikmin, and then I got to direct Mario Kart: Double Dash!! I also helped out a bit with The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.
As far as Twilight Princess’s development goes, I think we’ve got the big picture all sorted out. Now we’re just fine-tuning the details. At this time last year, we were still discarding ideas and thinking up new ones, and the entirety of the game hadn’t come into focus yet. I think when Makoto Miyanaga (see Inside Zelda part 12, Vol. 203) joined the team, he changed our development process significantly. He brought in a new system. In general, our creators are reluctant to share an idea until it’s reached a certain level of completion. They don’t like other people closely scrutinizing their ideas before they’re fully formed. The problem with that development method is that sometimes other team members end up opposing an idea after it’s progressed a long way; if we end up removing or drastically changing the concept, then we’ve wasted a lot of time and effort. Mr. Miyanaga created a system where staff members share their ideas with the rest of the development team while they’re still in the early planning stages, and this has really helped improve our efficiency and let us look at the broader scope of the game.
I was a director on Twilight Princess originally; I was mainly in charge of planning the field. But recently I got the job of managing the game’s progress and keeping everything on schedule. I don’t want to be an unreasonable slave driver, but I do need to assign a timetable for each part of the dev team, so we can all understand where our tasks fall within the entire development schedule and how each part affects the others. By nature, a game like Zelda has an enormous amount of content, and we often have more ideas for it than we know what to do with. It’d be ideal if the creators were always able to use their own judgment to figure out which ideas to keep and which ones to throw away, but if I don’t schedule time for the team to interact and discuss which concepts are best, the game won’t be the best it can be. I think my philosophy of schedule management will help us figure out what aspects of development we need to concentrate on the most. Even though I haven’t been managing the schedule very long, the staff has been very cooperative so far. Of course, game development is still my primary interest, but I think this is a good experience for me. I think it’ll help me be more efficient and still make games that are interesting.
Even though the master plan for Twilight Princess is in place, we’re still figuring out how to best use Wii’s capabilities. There’s still a lot of work to do, and fans’ expectations are very high. I don’t think we should make things too complex, though. We have to be careful when it comes to Wii controls. When I saw people at E3 playing the Twilight Princess fishing demo, I noticed something interesting: Everybody who played it made a reeling motion with their hand, even though it isn’t necessary to play the game that way. I think it’s important that the game controls realistically and intuitively—that the reel feels like a reel—because that’s what feels natural to players. Since I was supervising the Zelda demo area, I only got to see a few other games at E3, but I can tell you this much: After I got used to the Wii controller, it was really weird trying to play a first-person game with a regular controller. As important as the Wii version of Twilight Princess is, though, I still think the GameCube version is important too—not everyone can afford to buy whatever they want.
Right now, I’m pretty much devoted to Twilight Princess full time. I haven’t even had time to think about what I’d like to do when we’re finally done! I do enjoy scuba diving, and so do some of the other people on the development team. We’ve discussed going diving together once the game is finished and we have some time to relax.
While I’ve been in L.A., I’ve had a chance to go to a local game retailer and do a little investigation, so to speak. I actually asked one clerk what he thought about Twilight Princess. He said that because it has been delayed a few times, his customers had said he lied about the release date [laughs]! So far, we have only revealed a handful of things about the latest Zelda—the village, the forest, the dungeon—but there are many other things waiting for you in the final game. I think Twilight Princess might be different from players’ estimations, but I guarantee that it will exceed their expectations. You can count on it!