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Zelda producer shines a candid light on how they made a crowd-pleasing Tears of the Kingdom

Eiji Aonuma and his team didn’t take Zelda fans’ enthusiasm for granted

Link looks confused while wearing the Champion’s Leathers in Zelda Tears of the Kingdom. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Eiji Aonuma, the franchise director for Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise, says The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was in fact ready for launch more than a year ago, but held for polish to make sure nothing disappointed fans at launch.

In a revealing interview with the Washington Post, Aonuma says his development team was caught off-guard by a perceived lack of enthusiasm — a remarkable observation considering the level of anticipation for Tears — in response to the second gameplay trailer that Nintendo released in February. That resulted in a 13-minute demonstration (led by Aonuma himself) at the end of March.

“People had not gotten their heads around the gameplay elements or where the fun might be,” Aonuma tells the Post. And a big reason for the March Nintendo Direct was to explain Tears of the Kingdom’s signature machine-making gameplay mechanism, where players construct their own devices to solve puzzles and progress through the game.

That emerged from the meta-game that Aonuma observed in players of 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as they went back into the game, years after its release, to develop creative means to overcome boss fights or traverse the game’s enormous open world.

There are other details from the discussion worth reading but, in sum, it’s interesting in that Aonuma understands (as good software developers do) that he is not his user; in games, a creative builds things to respond to the audience interest, even if they might seem whimsical. And perhaps Tears of the Kingdom could have launched in March 2022, but a substandard release, given the attention on this franchise and the passion of its fanbase, would have been devastating.

Polygon also spoke in depth with Aonuma and game director Hidemaro Fujibayashi when The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom launched May 12, and the two mentioned a lot of the same themes: it’s a game of big swings, but one that still takes them very seriously and very carefully.

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