This year, Nintendo once again held a “developer event.” These events, which have always featured Shigeru Miyamoto and other important development heads at Nintendo Company Limited, are typically revelatory. At one year, the small, college lecture-styled event was used to unveil Super Smash Bros. Brawl. At last year’s event, after learning about the challenges of developing New Super Mario Bros. Wii, we got the first glimpse at The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword‘s concept art. And this year, with the Vitality Sensor a no-show and the reveal of 3DS, expectations were high for something unknown.
Yet nothing previously unseen was shown or discussed– instead we got multiple insights into the development of Skyward Sword and Nintendogs + Cats, and a few tidbits about 3DS’s development. Even without surprise games or hardware revealed, the event was captivating as always thanks to the presenters, and we learned a good deal of fun details about Nintendo’s inner workings, which are always fascinating.
About the 3DS
The hardware has been in development for three years. At the outset, Miyamoto hoped to see The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule Field location in 3D, so that was an initial motivator while creating the new handheld gaming machine.
Steel Diver, originally a tech demo for DS some six years ago, returns as a finished game on 3DS. The submarine-simulator software was nearly a complete game for DS when it was first demonstrated, but over the last six years the software has been further refined and added to, moving beyond the realm of tech demo and into full fledged game.
Expect more of Star Fox? During the Nintendo E3 press conference, showing a Star Fox Arwing fly out of the 3DS’s 3D screen wasn’t coincidental. Once committed to making a 3D system, Miyamoto admitted to immediately wanting to start on a “new” Star Fox game. Miyamoto acknowledged that something like Star Fox 64 3D could be expected on 3DS, but immediately followed up that statement with a statement that Nintendo is not interested in just porting old games but also considering new ways to enhance and evolve existing series. We took this as a hint– unconfirmed of course– that Star Fox will have more than a remake on 3DS, and a new title may come from Nintendo versus a third party.
“Younger” developer chosen to head up 3DS team. Hideki Konno, who previously worked at Nintendo as a software producer and was on the team behind Mario Kart DS and Nintendogs, was chosen by Nintendo to head up the development of the 3DS hardware. Miyamoto noted that Konno was “younger”; Konno acknowledged he was stressed about the project, but if it did well he could retire. He also had a new appreciation for hardware folks after spending years on software teams who would often point a finger at hardware deficiencies when facing software development challenges.
Nintendogs + Cats
Keeping it secret. Konno had hoped folks would have no inkling of Nintendogs + Cats until this year’s E3, but then Miyamoto’s adoption of a cat last year was released to the press, instantly causing fan and analyst speculation that a “Nitnencats” was around the corner. Miyamoto joked that the final product wasn’t “Nintencats” and therefore people had been successfully fooled in not realizing the ‘dogs would still be around.
Unusual cats. The initial inclusion of cats into Nintendogs wasn’t elegant but was amusing. Cat models were dropped into the game, but they immediately seemed “off.” For one thing, they’d sit when verbally instructed to do so, but for another, when called over by an owner, they’d wag their tail like a dog, too. Imagine that.
More expressive animals. In addition to improving the rendering of fur on the animals, Konno stated that the development team has put a lot of effort into making the pets in Nintendogs + Cats have stronger personalities with unique traits. And since the pets in the game can now track your movement with the 3DS’s built in camera, they’ll eagerly respond when they see their owner holding the machine, but they may run off into the distance if an unfamiliar person picks up the 3DS running the game.
Better-implemented “bark mode.” Bark mode– where a DS is left on but wireless transmits and shares game data with other nearby people in possession of a DS that’s on and running the same game– was popular in Japan, particularly thanks to population density. Miyamoto and Konno would like to see it take off more in other territories, though, so now the game’s not required to be inserted and running when leaving traveling with the 3DS in bark mode– and data will still be shared if a nearby person has also played their own copy of the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It’s well on pace. The gameplay structure and controls of Skyward Sword were nailed down last year, but the only visuals that had been created at that point was the concept art shown at last year’s developer event– that’s why we didn’t see more. Today, the game is very far along. Some additional dungeons and boss battles need to be constructed, but things are going smoothly. That said, Miyamoto still didn’t feel comfortable committing to completing the game this year, so he erred on saying the game will be out next year versus saying this year and having to delay it.
The sprite is the sword. As guessed by many folks last year, the silvery sprite figure seen in last year’s concept art is indeed the embodiment of the “skyward sword” and ultimately becomes the series-staple Master Sword. The sword just takes the form of that sprite figure when dispensing guidance and help.
Descendant of the clouds. In Skyward Sword, Link was born and lives on an island floating in the sky called “Skyloft.” Up until the events of the game, he had no idea there was a full world beneath Skyloft, ruled and haunted by evil forces. Yet discovering the Skyward Sword reveals the land below to Link, and he’s thusly motivated to go back and forth between Skyloft and the world below throughout the game. As Spirit Tracks’ director’s child mentioned that Link was on a boat in Wind Waker, a train in Spirit Tracks, then he must therefore fly in the next game, and we’re guessing that’s exactly the special transportation we’ll see in Skyward Sword. A Link with wings, anyone? Either way, director Eiji Aonuma said the scene at the end of the Skyward Sword trailer, in which Link runs and leaps off a cliff into the clouds, is a pivotal moment in the game’s story. And in case you’re wondering, no, seeing the ocarina, mask, boat and wolf at the start of that trailer doesn’t signify any tie between those previous games and this one– Nintendo was just being artsy.
About the new art style. At one point during the developer event, Miyamoto and Aonuma joked that if they could have kept Twilight Princess’ art style, Skyward Sword would already be finished. Yet the development team quickly realized using that more “realistic” art style would look awkward and strange with as much as Skyward Sword‘s enemies hold exaggerated poses to get the gamer to swing the sword in a specific, opposing way. Something more cartoon-styled was necessary. Also, Aonuma confessed to being a big fan of the Impressionist painting style, so Skyward Sword‘s style therefore has a much more painterly appearance, like something Paul Cezanne may have created.
The haunting legacy of Ocarina‘s Water Temple. Aonuma revealed he still carries a lot of guilt over how cumbersome Ocarina of Time‘s Water Temple was, particularly with having to equip and unequip the heavy boots that allowed Link to walk underwater. This experience is one of the primary reasons why Skyward Sword Link’s items can be selected via the quick item wheel shown in the demos.
Expect beautiful music. During a Q&A session at the event, one of the attendees asked if we can expect an orchestral soundtrack the same as Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 had. Miyamoto said that he traditionally had to fight against these types of expenditures as part of his job, but since so much was done for the Galaxy titles that Nintendo couldn’t back down from doing the same for Zelda. Plus, many more folks have been hired to work on musical arrangements, so gamers should expect something comparable to what was done for the Galaxy games.
No instant gratification. While the demo allowed gamers to jump into Skyward Sword with a majority of Link’s special weapons unlocked, we were advised to expect a traditional Zelda progression in the final game, wherein each weapon or item is collected and learned one at a time.
More seamless, broader worlds. What won’t be traditional is the actual world design and progression. As we’d heard rumored before, Skyward Sword will feature more cohesive and organic landscapes. One will flow into the next, perhaps being seen across the horizon before reached, and dungeons will occur in a much more subtly transitioned manner.
Those were our favorite highlights from this year’s Developer Event. What was discussed that you’re most excited about? Let us know in the comments below.