When Nintendo started conceptualising where next to take the series, The Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto and series producer Eiji Aonuma asked the game’s directors to describe The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s main theme.
That saw them ask a simple question: what would players be able to do in the new game? In response, director Hidemaro Fujibayashi chose to show how limitless it could feel.
“My response to Mr Miyamoto and Mr Aonuma was: You can do everything,” Fujibayashi explained to Kotaku. “But I had to sell it to them. How we’re going to make this happen. And I felt like the best way to convey this idea to them was to show them that you could climb walls.”
He set out to build a prototype with his team, creating a starting area with a small field populated with trees and rupees hidden across the world in areas that they felt that Miyamoto and Aonuma may explore. This was then presented to the Nintendo luminaries.
“We put rupees at the top of the tree to let them know that this is something we’re taking into account, but I didn’t tell them,” he explained. “All I did was say, ‘Here, play the game.’ So the first thing [Miyamoto] did was start climbing, and he climbed the tree, and once he was able to do that and see that he can go anywhere within this small field, he got how this game will play out and that’s how I presented it to him.”
After that, they watched how Miyamoto continued to interact with the world around him.
Fujibayashi continued: “When we first presented this to Mr Miyamoto, he spent about an hour just climbing trees. We left little treats like rupees on the trees, but we also left other things in other places we thought he might go. But he just kept climbing trees. Up and down. And so we got to the point where we go, ‘Do you want to look at other stuff?’ But he just kept on going. Once [he] got out of the Shrine of Resurrection, he spent an hour just within a 25-50 meter radius outside of that cave just climbing trees.”
In that moment, Fujibayashi and his team realised that they had created a concept for a game where climbing could be just as much fun as riding horses, fighting monsters and exploring the world around them.
This concept was referred to “multiplicative gameplay,” the way in which the game’s objects and mechanics all work to enhance one another. Rather than adding multiple ideas, the development team selected core mechanics such as climbing, gliding, and magnetic force, and concentrated on using them in as many different ways as they could.
“As you’re climbing trees you use up stamina, and once you run out of stamina, instead of just falling you can input a key and you start dragging down the wall,” Fujibayashi added. “Even that provides another level of fun… What we realised was instead of trying to make all these new ideas and building them from scratch and adding them, we decided to look at what we have. We realised there are so many ways of playing the game hidden within the world we built.”
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is now available exclusively on Nintendo Switch and Wii U worldwide.