Feature

Zelda Producer Eiji Aonuma Talks Creating Majora's Mask And His Personal Hobbies

by Kyle Hilliard on Feb 21, 2015 at 12:30 PM

We recently had the opportunity to speak to Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma following the release of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D. We asked him questions about developing one of the most divisive games in the Zelda series, some absurd questions about the fiction of the Zelda universe, and even himself.

There are a lot of reused character models and assets from Ocarina of Time in Majora’s Mask. Was that just a time and money saving decision, or a stylistic choice?

Really, it was a little bit of both, whether it comes down to the decision of saving time in the schedule or it being more of a stylistic decision. I think a lot of it comes down to those character models having the ability to express something that they couldn’t in the setting of Ocarina because we had this very different image for the world where Majora’s Mask takes place. You know we described it as being a nearby land, but in feel, it’s almost like another dimension. Even though these characters have a similar appearance to the version of them that appeared in Ocarina, they express something different in a different world.

Were you surprised to learn Majora’s Mask is a divisive entry in the Zelda series? Or did you expect some fans might be confused by it?

I guess I should start by pointing out that when the Nintendo 64 version of Majora’s Mask came out this was the pre-internet era so we didn’t necessarily have as many opportunities as we do now for the voices of players to reach us directly, but I certainly did have a lot of opportunities to talk to friends and family who played the game and to hear their reactions, and of course I heard some pretty interesting things among those. In fact someone mentioned that they got pretty close to throwing the controller at one point, and that really stuck with me. But we also had the opportunity recently to solicit the memories of Japanese players who had experienced the Nintendo 64 version of Majora’s Mask on our website and it was really interesting to see the kind of things that people would talk about. They also look back with very fond memories on some of these experiences. For example, we saw some comments where people were saying that the game got so hard that they would have to call in their mom or dad to help, but the way they relate it now is with a sort of really fun nostalgic past to it.

At the time of release, if I had heard something like that, I probably would have spent a good bit of time in reflection and sort of thinking about it in a rather regretful ways, but what has come across to me now is that though the game as it was released on Nintendo 64 was very difficult, there was a lot of charm to it and that seems to be what stuck with people. What I’m really happy for now was the opportunity to address some of the things that made the game difficult in the wrong ways in this remake, and that’s been really nice for me.

There are hints in Majora’s Mask that Link’s whole experience in Termina could be a dream. One small example, the Indiegogo’s play The Ballad of the Wind Fish, which was featured in Link’s Awakening – which was revealed to be a dream at the end. Is Majora’s Mask all a dream?

The reason that this song from Link’s Awakening was used in this game really came down to a decision by the sound team. They were looking for inspiration, something that would fit the theme, and since the previous game was about collecting instruments it made sense that you would want to use this for a band in this case. For us, really, it was just a playful choice that referenced a previous game and nothing more than that.

However, I love that people think about stuff like this, and I think it shows how they feel about the franchise as a whole that they’re interested in these possibilities.

Head to page two to find out why bottles are so rare and why no one is concerned when Link transforms in front of them.

Why are bottles so hard to find in the Zelda universe? Is there a shortage of glass?

As it turns out, in this remade version of Majora’s Mask, we added one extra bottle. If you happen to collect all of them, you’re going to see a slightly interesting event. It certainly is true that they were hard to find in the original games, and we wanted to address that by giving people more chances to find bottles by adding this extra one.

Regarding the bottles themselves being very valuable? I suppose it’s true since they can hold so many different things it makes it possible for you to do more in the game. They do have a very precious existence, from that perspective. As to why there are so few, I would simply say it has to be that way based on how powerful they are in the game.

Why is the bank vault in Clocktown not affected by time? Why is your money always the same when everything else resets?

Part of this is just the most practical answer. The bank needs to maintain your rupees, otherwise you would lose them at the end of every three day cycle, despite the fact that it’s really important to build up enough money to buy things in the game. We needed to find some reason for stuff to stay in the game, and we considered the idea that there would be some kind of markings on Link’s hand that maybe you could only see if you shone a black light on them. This was talked about, the identification of his account and the current balance in it.

This would sort of make sense in that world because every time he goes back to the beginning of that three day cycle, he goes back in time but he stays who he is, he retains everything that is part of his person. We thought that would kind of make sense, because you could just look at your hand and say, “Oh, yes, you were this person, with this account, and this is your balance.” But that still would represent a situation where the amount of money in the vault was changing over time.

People have different responses for Link’s different forms, but no one seems to react to the actual transformation. Why is that?

I should point out that this is something we actually considered during the development of Twilight Princess. We had an early iteration of the wolf transformation where you couldn’t transform when in front of other characters that could see you. We thought this would be an interesting way to address exactly the thing you’re bringing up here, but what we found in practice was that it was simply too troublesome. So for purely practical game reasons we decided to avoid that.

For more on Aonuma himself, like what non-Nintendo game he's playing right now and his hobbies, head to page three.

What are your non-video game hobbies?

I guess my hobby outside of video games would probably be playing music. It’s something I have always had an interest in and I had the opportunity at Nintendo to start up a band with people I work with. We began with just a few members, but now we are up to 70-something people. We hold these really large concerts inside the company about three times a year and we also have the occasional opportunity for outside performances, as well. I really enjoy this because it has a very different feeling from developing video games. It’s something you work up to – performing – and you only really get one chance at it, so you have to make sure you get that right. It has a slightly different feel from video game development in that sense, so I find it very stimulating to have that kind of pressure.

What instrument do you play?

I really tend to focus on percussion. I enjoy the drums in particular. I like playing the bongos. You might notice the Goron in Majora’s Mask plays a sort of bongo-like instrument. I put that in there just because that is something I personally enjoy. It really feels good to pound out a rhythm, but I’m really not a musician at heart considering don’t read music. I’m not someone who is playing a long song or a particularly complicated instrument. Rather, I’m just sticking with what I consider to be the easy fun stuff like the rhythm section in this case.

When you play games for pleasure, what genres do you gravitate towards? Have any non-Nintendo games caught your attention recently?

I don’t play a lot of video games outside of work because for me video games are work. There are a lot of things I choose to do with my free time besides play games. But whenever I do hear about something interesting – if there is a new game that has a particularly interesting hook – that is something I will want to spend some time playing. But when it comes to genre, I definitely don’t specify one particular genre that I’m interested in. I’ll absolutely play anything in regards to genre.

As for games I’ve been interested in lately that were made by people outside of Nintendo, I guess one that stands out is Far Cry 4. I’ve long been interested in the Far Cry series and just had the chance to start playing this one, but I haven’t really seen all of the game yet so I’m just beginning to get into it.

This is only a portion of our chat with Eiji Aonuma. For more with him, including more about himself and even stranger questions about the world of Majora's Mask, keep an eye on the magazine.