Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi, the development leads on Tears of the Kingdom, recently gave an interview to The Telegraph in the UK about making a sequel to one of the best games ever made. They talk about creating a seamless world, creating the sky islands and the depths, plus answering some long asked questions like what happened to the Sheikah Tech. Today we’re going to go through the interview with Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi, and reveal some of the secrets to developing a successful sequel.
Eiji Aonuma described the main challenge of creating Breath of the Wild, and the technology limitattions before it restricted their ability to realise the world the way they wanted it.
“In the games in the series before Breath of the Wild, it was difficult to create a huge seamless world without any load time,”
This was true until up to and including Skyward Sword, where the world wasn’t seamless, it was more of interconnected areas.
“Each time you would leave or enter one, the data would be loaded. Even if our intention had been to create a huge world, there were impassable walls at the edges.”
Eiji Aonuma describes these older games as “simply a giant dungeon without a roof where the lines of movement were fixed”.
Freedom was the name of the game in Breath of the Wild, allowing players to forge their own path, interact with the story and dungeons in any order “where each player could make their own experiences”. While Breath of the Wild was a huge success, this provided problems for the team creating a sequel.
“Providing new experiences to people who played Breath of the Wild was one of the challenges we identified when we started making Tears Of The Kingdom,” says Fujibayashi.
The way the team differentitated the experience in Tears of the Kingdom was through Link’s abilities. The Hyrule mainland was the same, and while the introduction of the Depths and the Sky Islands helped differentiate the player experience, it was Link’s abilities that would be key to providing new ways to play in Tears of the Kingdom.
Ultrahand is arguably the biggest game-changing feature in Tears of the Kingdom, allowing the player through Link to stick together pieces found in Hyrule to create contraptions; vehicles, mechs and weapons.
“We thought that this would enable us to create a game where players can enjoy being even more creative than the last game. As we progressed in the development, we noticed that this gameplay was actually more fun in places and areas you know well, rather than in a place that is brand new. You can imagine new solutions, such as building a bridge to get across a place you had difficulty crossing in the last game. You can only come up with ideas like this if it is a location that you are already familiar with.”
The development team wanted to create a world which players could enjoy long after the main story had been completed. This idea first started coming to life during the development of Breath of the Wild’s DLC packs.
“When we made the DLC for Breath of the Wild, it made me feel that this world still has a lot of potential for new gameplay. I talked with Mr Fujibayashi about it and he was also thinking about gameplay using the same world as the last game as a base, so we decided to make a sequel set in the same world. Of course, that also presented challenges in terms of making sure it’s not repetitive or feeling like you’ve seen it before.”
The Sky Islands took up a lot of the promotion pre-release, as the developers looked for a way to introduce new play spaces into the existing Hyrule map. They even toyed with the idea of having a version of Skyloft in Tears of the Kingdom “we did think a little bit about ‘what if we had Skyloft [the setting of that game, beloved by fans] up in the sky…?” said Fujibayashi. It’s a shame they didn’t do that, but I guess it would have been confusing for fans of the timeline. Each new zone (sky and depths) were designed with the players emotions in mind.
“Our concept for each of the areas was as follows,” said Fujibayashi. “For the skies, we wanted players to have an exhilarating and happy experience. In the caves, we wanted players to have an exciting experience of discovery and exploration. In the Depths we have a different ecosystem from up on the surface, and rare items can be found, but we also have the strongest enemies of any area, so players experience tension as they explore a space filled with the unknown.”
Hyrule as a whole was designed with player freedom in mind. Climbing was a huge focus in Breath of the wild, but skydiving and traveling through the sky became the focus in Tears of the Kingdom
“As it became possible to travel in ways such as creating an airplane-like device and flying through the skies, or creating a horse-drawn vehicle by having a horse pull a large box with wheels attached, there was a need to add new kinds of interesting things you can find while playing, and also change the nature of some of the existing things,” says Fujibayashi. “Some examples of this are placing large geoglyphs that you can only notice when looking down at the surface from above while flying in the skies, or creating characters that ask you to transport many people at once.”
The fuse mechanic was also introduced, and Fujibayashi says “We thought up a system where these places are full of elements that will make your character stronger, so you don’t have to force yourself to do something you’re bad at and can just keep doing the things you enjoy or you’re good at to become more powerful”.
Now, here’s the interesting part. Much of the Sheikah technology dissappeared from Hyrule, and players have been left to wonder why. Nintendo finally gives us the answer.
“They disappeared after the Calamity was defeated (sealed),” Fujibayashi explains. “All of the people of Hyrule also witnessed this, but there is no one who knows the mechanism or reason why they disappeared, and it is considered a mystery. It is believed that since the Calamity disappeared, they also disappeared as their role had been fulfilled.
“It is, anyway, commonplace for mysterious events and strange phenomena to occur in Hyrule. Thus, people have simply assumed the reason behind the disappearance to likely be related to ancient Sheikah technology and it seems there is no one who has tried to explore the matter further. The main civilizations in Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are completely different, so we thought about the game based on concepts that match each of these civilizations.”
So it appears as if there’s no great mystery, they simply went away when the Calamity was sealed.
Underlying the sense of creativity in the game, Ultrahand combined with Fuse allows the player to interact with the environment. There’s a specific example of this in Tarry Town.
“There’s a part of this game where you can make your own house. It’s a unit construction type house, and I like how the architectural style resembles that of the post-modern style we had a while back,” says Aonuma. “The large unit has one side with a large opening so if you make a three storey house, and have this opening facing the sea, then you can enjoy watching the sun set from there. Like a stereotypical older man, I enjoyed twilight and taking in that view.”
The Nintendo developers also revealed some secrets not known to all players.
“I don’t think this is known yet, but if you hold up a Cucco [Zelda’s iconic chickens] and go near a Yiga Clan members in disguise, the Cucco makes a fuss, and you can see through the Yiga’s disguise.”
They wrapped up the interview reiterating they are focused on the next Zelda iteration from this point, and DLC is unlikely.
“When making Tears of the Kingdom, we were able to implement all of the ideas we had on the development side,” says Aonuma. “I think lots of players will have already completed the main game, but we aren’t creating any DLC this time. We as the development team are hoping you will continue to enjoy this huge land of Hyrule.”
While no DLC maybe dissappointing for some fans, it makes sense given Tears of the Kingdom started as DLC for Breath of the Wild. While Master Mode would be great, I’m more interested in the team at Nintendo focused on the next Zelda adventure, likely to appear on the next iteration of Nintendo’s home console, dubbed the Switch 2 at this time. It’s heavily rumoured for the console to release in 2024, and given the lengthy dev time for a Zelda game (upwards of 5 years), then the earlier they start work on it, then the earlier we’ll have a new mainline Zelda adventure in our hands.