By Aria . December 11, 2011 . 5:30pm
This 1989 discussion between Shigeru Miyamoto and Yuji Horii reveals never-before-seen details concerning the development of Dragon Quest IV and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It also touches on each icon’s respective views on the future of game design as well as their predictions for what gamers might see in the future. It was retrieved from Game Staff List Association Japan, a Japanese website that, among other things, aims to summarize, transcribe, and categorize interviews with video game developers.
The Discussion Continues
Horii: I’ve had times where I’ve found that ideas I’ve come up with have already been used in other games. There are even things I’ve been wanting to use in Dragon Quest IV that have already been done. Nothing to do but cut them.
Miyamoto: You take something out if it’s similar to something that’s already been done?
H: You got it.
M: So, what you’re saying is that you wouldn’t hesitate to cut something that resembled what somebody else did, even if you’d thought of it before they had? I have to keep in mind the amount of time I have before my deadlines, meaning that I release things the way they are, regardless of whether they’ve been done before or not. I just think to myself "Oh, so someone else had the same idea."
H: It also depends on the scale of the thing and the ideas that comprise it. If it’s something that doesn’t really matter, I just get rid of it.
M: Ghosts’n Goblins debuted in arcades while we were making Super Mario Bros. You don’t get killed in one hit in that game, either. "They’ve gone and done the same thing," I thought to myself, but I couldn’t get rid of that part of the game structure. It would break the entire game.
H: DQIII has a world map. We were pretty far in development when Mirai Shinwa Jarvas came out, which boasted a world map itself. I cursed my luck and called the staff together, but we couldn’t change anything at such a late point. If we’d altered the map system, we’d have had to change everything, so we were forced to leave it as-is. At our company, there’s always a huge discussion whenever something comes up that goes on until we reach an agreement.
M: That sounds very reassuring.
H: Each staff member puts themselves in the players’ position and speaks from their perspective. They’ll go so far as to say things like "If that’s what the game was like, I’d throw it at the wall!" But because they’re speaking from the player’s standpoint, we can only try to persuade them. You’ll hear comments like "The players will hate that!" and "Can’t we just do this?" Everyone gets a say.
M: The way we make games is a little different. I can’t comment on the tiny details of the game program or make suggestions for other ways someone could go about what they’re doing. I just tell people what I want to do, and the programmers tell me whether or not they can do it. We try to reach a compromise. Two or three days later they’ll come to me and say "Well, we can do this much," and then, two or three days after that, "Well, we can accomplish that if we go about it like this."
It often happens that we end up achieving what we set out to do in the process. [Laughs] I have my teams to thank for that. The Mario games have all involved the same group of people. The Zelda team is mostly the same as well, only the director has changed. We start out with three or four people, and then when we run into trouble we add around 20 more. Even if we had dozens of people, there wouldn’t be any work for them to do before we’d decided on the direction we were going to go with the game.
H: Our opening meetings are always comprised of three people: Me, [Koichi] Nakamura, and Chida. Once we’ve begun establishing the details, the number of people present at these meetings gradually increases.
M: When we run into a big problem, we stop the people who are making progress in their work and ask for their help. This is mostly during the last two or three months of development, however.
H: Personally, I fix things I’m not happy with right away. I owe a thank you to the Chunsoft employees for taking care of that for me. They completely redid the map when we ran into trouble with it.
M: They do it because of their desire to make something they can be proud of, I imagine.
H: Adjusting the difficulty of the game is tough as well. Whenever I draw out a dungeon on paper, it always ends up being really hard. I test play it thinking it’s going to be easy, only to find it’s outrageously difficult.
M: We always endeavor to reduce the difficulty of the dungeons by 20% once we finish making the game.
H: You decide that in advance?
M: That’s right. I’m exaggerating a little when I say we always plan to reduce it by 20%, though. Our criteria isn’t that concrete. [Laughs] When we’re doing an action game, we start with the second stage. We begin making stage one once everything else is completed.
H: I see. We’re actually collaborating with Famibou Tofuya (the pen name of former Famitsu editor Yoshimitsu Shiozaki) to make a board game. We made stage one before doing anything else, and it turned out to be really difficult. So, we decided to make a practice stage. It was still too tough. In the end, the first stage we made ended up becoming stage four. [Laughs]
M: Do you think that RPGs and adventure games will become a substitute for novels?
H: Nah, I think that novels still have their place. Games are more active. If you were to write a novelesque story for a video game, players would feel that it dragged on and on. The sense that you were the one driving the story would disappear. I think the most important aspect of game design is to immerse the player in the game’s universe and make them feel like they’re actively driving the plot. That’s the reason I won’t risk having the protagonist speak, even though it would make writing the story much easier.
M: That’s a common feature of RPGs these days.
H: Oh, yes? Generally speaking, I think having the protagonist speak alienates the player. He’s playing as though the character is an extension of himself, so why is his avatar suddenly speaking of its own accord? He’ll be struck with the realization that the character he’s been thinking of as himself up until now is actually someone else entirely. Having the protagonist speak for himself and decide own his own which way the story goes would make players uncomfortable.
To tell you the truth, I actually did take that approach once. In Dragon Quest III, you rescue the pepper sellers from Kandar’s cave and they run into Kandar while they’re trying to escape, right? The protagonist, if he’s the head of your party, says "Leave him to us! Run! Quick!" I took that route because I couldn’t see another way around it, but there were a lot of people who were uncomfortable about the fact that the protagonist, who’d been silent up till then, suddenly spoke. It doesn’t matter how much talking the supporting characters do, only the protagonist’s lines will stick in the players’ heads.
M: Cutscenes in action games are the same in that regard. There are scenes that make you feel as though you’re the one doing everything, and scenes that make you feel like you’re being pulled along against your will. I actually really dislike taking control away from the player. I want to do everything I can to ensure they feel like they’re in control. Mario grabs onto the flagpole, slides down to the bottom, and enters the castle on his own, right? I don’t like that at all. I want to let players enter the castle themselves, if possible.
H: So, action games run into that problem as well.
M: R-Type’s cutscenes are really good. It’s like you’re sitting in the dock the whole time. It’s easy to grasp when you’re able to move on your own, and you can fire bullets the whole time. Just between you and I, I don’t think Adventure of Link had very good cutscenes. You feel like you’re watching things happen rather than achieving them yourself. Exactly what you were saying, pretty much.
H: That’s what makes games different from movies or novels. If you make it work, you won’t alienate the players, and it’s possible to make them feel like they’re actually there.
M: There’s also a big difference between feeling like you’ve figured out something on your own and feeling like you came upon the solution by chance. It’s really difficult to give players the impression that they’ve solved a puzzle themselves in an adventure game that consists of choosing commands from a menu.
H: You can’t let them solve it by accident, and it’s no good if they still can’t figure it out after trying everything. It’s a huge bother to go through a list of commands.
M: Games that have you choosing icons or options from a menu allow players to stumble upon the solution. Did you worry about that when you were making Okhotsk?
H: Because you’re guided through the game and not given a lot of choices, I don’t think players felt like they were being pulled along. I actually decided to make a catch for the PC release. The PC version of Okhotsk was my first multiple choice adventure game. If you try out all the commands, you’ll eventually come upon the solution. So, what would happen if you weren’t able to do that? I was thinking about penalizing the player if they did something wrong, but I eventually gave up on the idea. If someone is really going to go to the trouble of trying everything, I might as well hand them the solution.
M: So, you thought it was fair if players like that got a reward for their trouble.
H: When you think about it, there are always going to be some people who want to take the shortest path and some people who want to meet everyone and do everything. That’s not a bad thing, is it?
M: Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Onigashima. It has a command system and I can’t help but worry.
H: Personally, I want to make titles that have a story that draws the player into the game’s universe rather than titles that fit nicely into a genre like "RPG game" or "adventure". Today’s RPGs are incredible, in a sense. They get a lot of publicity and suck you into the story. I wonder, however, if we can’t take them a little further. I think one example would be an RPG game that made use of a network connection.
M: There’s been talk at Nintendo about making a Famicom network. However, speaking as a player, it’s not going to happen as long as the biggest problem of the telephone age remains unsolved. People will go crazy for a game with a network connection once it’s released. Then they’ll see their monthly telephone bill and realize that they can’t afford to play anymore. NTT is going to have to change the way they look at phone bills and figure out how they’re going to separate the cost of connection fees from regular phone use.
As long as phone bills remain fundamentally unimproved, it’s going to be a hard thing to pull off. Until NTT stops thinking that connection fees fall under the same umbrella as general phone calls, the potential networks have to reach a wider audience will be limited.
H: I don’t think people will start making games that utilize networks until they extend their scope. There’s no use in making something only a small number of people will play. Once networks can be accessed by a bigger audience, that’s when game worlds start getting interesting.
M: It’s boring if only a certain subset of people will be able to play.
H: Yeah, I agree. I feel like that’s the trouble with today’s computer networks.
M: Anyhow, once the day comes that the general public is able to easily access different networks, I think we’ll be able to pull off something interesting.
H: I think there are a lot of ways to go about making games on the Famicom. It’s interesting to think about what rules you’re going to have when making a board game, for example. If people get tired of RPG battles, maybe new games won’t have any. If everyone makes fantasy games, people might get sick of those as well. Then another type of game world will come onto the scene. Instead of each genre stagnating, people will release games that push their boundaries.
RPG games, action games, simulations… I feel that RPGs might be split into two types, for example. In one type, the story will take precedence, and people will take it very seriously. In another, only the world will be established, and you’ll get to eke out your own existence. Wouldn’t that be interesting? To have a fun RPG that allowed you live your own life?
M: Sounds like fun!
H: We could even take RPGs a little further. Up until now, the computer has been the master of the game world. I think it would be neat to have an RPG where the player was a god. You’d be able to plant seeds by giving information to one of the world’s many inhabitants. Then you could have fun by observing what changes occurred the next day as a result.
M: I wanted to do a game that revolved around raising a child. I might be ripping something off by saying this, but your kid would start off not knowing anything and not being able to speak and you’d teach them everything. If you taught them something contradictory, it would cause a disruption and you’d get to see their reaction. They’d keep getting smarter. Just as I was thinking this, though, a game called Puppy Love came out in the States.
H: A long time ago, before I made Okhotsk, I had the idea for a game where your partner was a robot that gradually gained new memories. You’d raise him RPG-style. I imagined it would be interesting to have a game that was two-sided. If you gave it an order it didn’t understand, it would ask you what you meant, and you’d tell it what you wanted it to do. Then, next time you gave the command, it would do it, growing smarter and smarter.
M: How about a game where you get to be a mother-in-law who bully’s your son’s young wife? It’d be like in "Star of the Giants" where the wife wouldn’t submit to you and you’d have to compete with her by trying to throw her out of the house in a certain number of months.
H: That’s one kind of RPG, alright. You play a certain role. I think it would be neat to have a really tragic RPG as well. Because it isn’t real life, everything you do goes wrong, and you could marvel at how bad things got.
M: It would be fun to see just how bad you could make it.
H: "My wife ran off! Where did she go?! What should I do?" Talk about funny.
M: I think people would accuse game designers of being cruel if we were to do that.
H: I just want to relax once DQIV comes out.
M: I’d like to make a game for the Super Nintendo that even fathers will be able to enjoy. Something that makes people criticize me, wondering why on earth I’d do a game like that in modern times. I want to make a game that us fathers find amenable.
Read more about the development of A Link to the Past at Aria’s website!