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. Let’s introduce the participants!
The creator of a number of world-renowned video game franchises such as Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong joined Nintendo after graduating from the Kanazawa College of Art.
The man behind Dragon Quest got his start after placing in an Enix software contest he was covering as a freelance writer after graduating with a degree in literature from Waseda university.
The Discussion Begins
Horii: (producer of Dragon Quest IV) [Yukinobu] Chida’s really on my case right now. [Laughs]
Miyamoto: This must be your busiest time.
H: I’m thinking I’ll try to wrap things up within the next two months, though.
M: So, that must mean the game structure and everything has been decided on.
H: Yeah, that part’s all done.
M: From what I’ve heard, you’ve been really messing with the structure in order to make IV.
H: I actually think that the game structure was perfected around the time DQIII came out. The series gradually made the shift from the single protagonist of Dragon Quest to the party of Dragon Quest III. We incorporated a variety of other elements as well. We could have just changed up the game’s scenario, but that would have been boring. I wanted to make a leap forward with the game structure itself, rather than just having a different story. If the changes we make are too drastic, though, some players might reject them. In order to avoid that, I did multiple scenarios and made the game beatable due to the simplicity of its structure. I think the best course of action is to supplement what you have and add a few new things as well.
M: Is it true that the battles represent the most drastic divergence from DQIII?
H: The scenario and the battles, I’d say.
M: Do you go around collecting party members? Or are they all part of your team right from the beginning?
H: Haha, good question… There are 10 party members in all, however.
M: And how do they behave during battles? Is there a character who will just run away whenever he feels like it, for example?
H: They won’t run away on you. There might be someone like that in the game, but your main battling force won’t make a run for it. If they did, it wouldn’t make for much of a story.
M: Does that mean the two supporting characters might run away? And if they do, they’ll be gone forever?
H: Nah, I don’t really want there to be anything in the game that can’t be undone. For example, if there was a character that ran away and never came back, I have a feeling you’d be left regretting whatever you did to make that happen. "Oh, man! I made a huge mistake and then I accidentally saved my game!" That’s not what I want. I think that, no matter what happens, you have to be allowed to undo it.
M: The protagonist is a hero, right?
H: That’s right.
M: Does that mean that during the battles and stuff, players won’t be able to do anything that’s not heroic?
The Famicom board game Itadaki Street
H: I’m keeping that a secret. *laughing* We’re developing a board game alongside DQIV that’s going to fall into a completely different genre than anything you’ve seen before, so it’s worthwhile for us to do something different.
M: I always have a backlog of four or five games, all being developed at the same time. I’m currently working on four Super Nintendo games, from relatively simplistic titles to huge productions. And that doesn’t even cover all of it.
H: I heard that Zelda 3’s going to be for the Super Nintendo. Have you already started working on it?
M: Yes, we’re making progress, little by little.
H: What’s it going to be like?
M: Basically, I intend to make a return to Zelda 1’s style. This is something I’ve had in mind since even before we began making Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
H: That’s awesome.
M: Ever since I started making the first game in the series, I’ve been saying that the third Zelda will feature a party, one that consists of the protagonist, who’s a mix between an elf and a fighter, a magic user, and a girl. The fairy that appeared in Adventure of Link was actually a party member designed for Zelda 3.
A girl who looked a little like a fairy and whose role consisted of reconnaissance. Like the characters in action games that don’t engage enemies in combat but rather go and scout out the surroundings and return to you safely. It’s also fun when action adventure games lets you choose who to send out. That’s the sort of thing I’m thinking I’d like to put in Zelda 3.
I’ve never been too particular about the story in the games I’ve made in conjunction with (Earthbound creator) Shigesato Itoi. The stories of Mario and Zelda titles have always been supplemental to the actual gameplay. Action games only have stories attached to make the experience more interesting. Itoi is the one that writes the story, and I just help out a bit.
H: So, development is moving along?
M: We’re more or less finished already. Now we just have to wait until release. But the factories won’t make any copies for us.
H: Really? Even though you’re producing it in-house?
M: They have to make a ton of copies of Dragon Quest. I’d like to wait until it comes out before releasing the game. Once Dragon Quest fever sets in, this year is done for. Curiously, staggering the releases affects the demand for the Super Nintendo.
H: How has it been, making your first RPG?
M: We started out developing it as an action game, primarily. We’ve been careful to maintain a high degree of originality, noting where we’ve copied something from another game, though not substantially, and where we’ve done something completely new. We’re proud of ourselves for developing the game structure.
The game structure of RPG titles is already more or less settled upon, and an RPG overworld is something anyone can make. But that’s all the more reason to ask yourself whether it’s good enough to use the same template as everyone else and simply expand the story on top of that. That’s where the challenge comes in. These days, there’s a gap between players who prefer a solid story to having new features and players who prefer having new features to a solid story.
H: That’s right, it’s difficult to balance the two. Do you think you’d like to continue making RPGs in the future?
M: I hope to make a new game structure for people who can write scenarios like Shigesato Itoi can. Current game structures are being improved through the combination of elements from different game genres.
I want to break away from that a bit. I think it would be ideal if I were able to create a game structure that represented a turning point, much like the Famicom RPGs of old, for example. But more importantly, Mr. Horii… won’t you consider developing for the Super Nintendo?
H: Well… I don’t know…
M: You really ought to give it a shot!
H: Hmm, maybe. I don’t really have too many ideas right now…
M: With the way things are now, you can’t really express yourself, right? The Super Nintendo makes it easy. These days, it’s far more straightforward to realize all the things you’ve wanted to do but haven’t been able to. Game development has gotten much easier, in more ways than one.
H: I definitely feel that we’re approaching the limits of the Famicom. There are certainly a lot of times during the creation process that I find myself worrying about what will happen if we do. If you were to ask me what I had trouble with while making Dragon Quest, it would have to be the Spell of Restoration. The amount of information we made the players memorize was relatively small, to an extent. It was bothersome, however, and I wasn’t in favor of using the idea in Dragon Quest II, since it employed a party system. I said that we should at least have shorter passwords when there wasn’t a lot of information to remember. [Laughs] Dragon Quest III made it possible to save your data, amongst other things. We were able to create a variety of characters who were able to change their occupations, for example.
M: I see what you mean. The Zelda games use disks, meaning players have always been able to save their progress. The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest hit the market around the same time. It’s too bad that you had to resort to using a password back then.
H: I also struggled with memory limitations.
M: I was amazed by how much data you packed into Portopia.
H: Yeah, we were cutting excess data right up until the final stages of development, but there was still quite a bit left. We were 2 kilobytes over, around 2000 characters. We had exactly 1000 messages, so we started by cutting out all the suffixes. "This sentence doesn’t need an object marker," we’d say. "This emphatic particle can go too!" [Laughs]
M: I’ve sometimes had to do the opposite. We had 2 bytes left over in Super Mario Bros., so I decided to put something else in the game in order not to waste them. [Laughs]