About the train ...
I knew that was coming. (laughs)
We were sure you were going to ask that. (laughs)
Does somebody like trains? Before I discovered video games, back when I was in middle school, I was absolutely crazy about trains. There were steam locomotives which ran in Hokkaido and were about to be decommissioned, and I went up there and tracked it down so I could get photos, and I collected model trains…. Things like that. Was there a railroad fan on the development staff?
No railroad fans.
There weren’t any at first.
What do you mean, “at first”?
Well, of course, while we were researching trains, some of the staff members got interested in them.
But at first, we didn’t have a single railroad fan. At the beginning, since we were making a new Zelda, I put out a proposal. I said, “This time, why don’t we do away with the ship? Instead, let’s have a big, Zelda-like development, where you rush across the land of the wide world, headed to some place you’ve never been.”
So boats were out completely.
Right. No boats allowed (laughs). I think it’s fun to have a new land becoming clearer and clearer right before your eyes, and have all sorts of different developments open up. It piques your sense of adventure, too. But then we had to think about what to use as a mode of transportation, in place of a boat, and at that point, I remembered a certain picture book.
A picture book?
…Which I brought with me today…
My son loved this book. When he was four or five, this was the book he’d bring me every night before bed. “Read it, dad, read it.” In the book, the children keep on…
(flipping through the book) …Laying the tracks.
They come across all sorts of things, and, for example, when they find a mountain…
…they dig a tunnel. When they come to a river, they build a bridge…
When they come to a road…
They build a railroad crossing.
Up until there, it’s an ordinary story.
But this is where it gets interesting. They come across a great big pond. And there are animals there, so they start wondering what to do. And what they do is…
Oh, they go around it. To protect the animals.
I love that. (laughs) At that point – and since I read it to him every night, I’m sure my son knew the answer too, but I asked anyway – I always asked, “What do you think they’ll do?”
You like the way they detour around the pond instead of filling it in and going over it.
We’d get to that part, the “punch line”, and then I’d put him to bed. That was the routine. Then, at the very end…
They make a station.
Yes. And then a train comes. And everybody gets on it and goes home. That’s the story. It’s a very simple one, but the pioneering spirit, the kids building the railroad… Something about it seemed as though it would fit with Zelda. But I didn’t tell the staff about this book.
Even though you’d gotten the idea from it, you kept it secret.
That’s right (laughs). I didn’t tell them about the book, I only said, “Let’s make it a train.” And then, “Let’s make it so that you can lay the tracks yourself.” I brought it up, and we started from that experiment.
But, at first, when I thought it up, I was very casual about the whole thing. I’d say “It would be fun if we could lay the tracks, wouldn’t it?”, things like that.
We all said that, didn’t we? Cheerfully. (laughs)
But that turned into a bit of a nightmare. Because, you know, the actual laying of the tracks is a real pain. In the book, it’s over in a few pages, but as you’d expect, trying to do it in a game is tough. And I just casually tossed the proposal out there. It was pretty unwise of me…
Well, but when the rest of us heard your idea, we thought it would be a lot of fun to lay the tracks any way you liked, to be able to travel anywhere at will.
So at first, the staff members thought laying the tracks would be fun as well.
Right. But the problem is that, even if people can lay the tracks anywhere they like, they won’t know where to lay them. Then, to make the story work, there are places where you absolutely mustn’t go, and other places where you really can’t be at certain points in time. So we examined all sorts of different ways of playing. That went on for about a year.
A whole year? But your development period was two years…
We spent half of those two years on the railroad. And then, one day, Aonuma-san said, “Why don’t we just drop the idea of laying the tracks?”
At first, you started development from the angle of making it possible for players to lay the tracks anywhere they wanted, and then, one year later, Aonuma-san said, “Let’s not”… How did the team handle that?
Did it feel as though a small tea table had been upended?
Not… a small one. A pretty giant one (laughs).
Well, you’d spent a year making it, and then things just started to go wrong you. How did you fix it?
In this world, the tracks were there to begin with, but for some reason they’ve been erased. The player has to put them back to the way they were.
In other words, somebody’s erased these tracks, and Link brings them back together, little by little.
Then, we remade it that way, and when we took it to the monitor, lots of people said, “It’s easy to understand and easy to play”.
If you’re completely free, you don’t know quite what to do. If your goal is clear, I’d guess that makes it a lot easier to play.
Yes. With the railroad tracks, there’s a clear route, and people said it was really fun to work on steadily expanding them. So I thought, “Well, I had that part right.” (laughs) But on the other hand, some people in-house felt that the freedom may be lost. But even if the destination is set, there’s a freedom in the expansion.
So there’s an increase in a different sort of freedom.
That’s right. Not only that, we stumbled on a new way to play. What if you’re racing down the tracks and something comes barrelling towards you from the front?
You’ve got to avoid it somehow.
Right. But all the railroad tracks are single lines. So you can’t avoid it, you’ll have to crash into it. And there are some trains that will definitely defeat you, if you run into them.
So there’s no way to run (laughs).
We made it possible to brake and back up, and to switch to another track when you come to a fork. You get through spots like that by using your head.
I see. You can try backing up first, then switching to another track, and going on again once the enemy train’s passed you.
That’s right. The tracks the other trains will be travelling on are marked on your map, so you can think, “If I wait here patiently, he’ll go that way”, and time your advances.
Play like that wouldn’t be possible without a train.
We felt a real pull from that sort of play, so we were very thorough when we made those areas of the game.
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