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Wind Waker HD and the pursuit of perfection

The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's most important series, so it's no wonder that the company has three in the works right now, all helmed by the same man: Eiji Aonuma.

Aonuma is busy at work on an as yet to be named new Wii U game as well as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS. But it is the remake of 2003's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker that seems to have most of Aonuma's attention right now.

He worries that remastering the game for an HD system, going in to tinker with the way it plays, looks and feels, could be akin to George Lucas remastering and re-releasing his classic Star Wars titles in 1997, a move that wasn't very well received.

"That's something I'm very concerned about, I'm always thinking about," he told Polygon in a recent interview. "With Wind Waker HD the first thing we did was release a still during a Nintendo Direct presentation and there were quite a few fans who said, ‘That's not my Wind Waker.' They said it looked different from the Wind Waker they've experienced.

As developers, he said, they are always trying to strike the perfect balance between what they want to do with their creations and what fans say they want from them.

"It is certainly a bit of a balancing act," he said. "I too was one of those Star Wars fans who saw the HD Star Wars and was a little bit disappointed because it wasn't my Star Wars. I understand those feelings and I understand the possibility of it happening. So it's something we're aware of."

When it releases on Sept. 20, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD won't just improve upon the game's look, updating the more than 10-year-old graphics to 1080p, but it will also offer what Aonuma says will be the "optimized" version of the game.

Overtly, the game includes new features like the ability to share tips through the Wii U's communal, online Miiverse, a second screen map using the GamePad, improved aiming assisted by the GamePad's built-in gyroscope, and a new harder-to-beat Hero mode.

But the biggest changes will be the subtleties introduced by Anomua and his team as they worked to perfect the game.

"I didn't want to change what made the original so much fun," he said. "Whenever there were areas that players were getting stuck I wanted to smooth those out, if the pacing wasn't optimized, if it felt like the rhythm of the game was being effected by whatever task the player was having to do those would be tuned, we tightened those areas up. Basically, the overall image of the game, including the story and the flow hasn't been affected, wont be impacted, but we certainly made adjustments so the rhythm doesn't drag."

"That's something I'm very concerned about, I'm always thinking about."

And even in working to smooth out the experience, reacting to some of the things that players of the original didn't like, Aonuma knew that he was treading on thin ice.

"Certainly I understand even those areas of the game that weren't optimized could be associated with very fond memories for people who played the game originally, but I wanted to make those adjustments to really optimize the experience for all players, including new players," he said. "Hopefully there will be a lot of new players who will pick up the game for the first time and I wanted to make sure that this was optimized for them."

The decision to remake, and attempt to perfect The Wind Waker, came about as Aonuma set to work on the first entirely new Zelda game to come to the Wii U.

"When we were thinking about the new Zelda for Wii U, which is something we're actually working on, we needed to experiment with a variety of graphic styles and it was part of that process we took some existing Zelda games and made them HD just to see what would happen," he said. "In doing so we realized that the Wind Waker graphic style, the art style, really represented well on the Wii U given the graphic capabilities of the new system. It really brought that world to life. On top of the graphic representation of this world, we were able to tighten those areas I was mentioning before, I really felt like it could breathe new life into this already existing space, this already existing experience."

And, Aonuma said, the process of creating this remastered Wind Waker also helped the team learn some things they hope to apply to the new Zelda game.

"Not that the sequel will look exactly like Wind Waker, but there are certainly things we can learn in developing for the Wii U," he said.

Where Wind Waker is a by-product of creating a new Zelda game, the 3DS' A Link Between Worlds was the result of not remastering another game.

Aonuma said that Shigeru Miyamoto came to him and asked him to recreate 1991's A Link to the Past for the 3DS. But after looking at the original title, Aonuma decided it made more sense to make something new.

"As a creator, I want to make something new, remakes really aren't something that get me excited," he said.

While Wind Waker is a remake, Aonuma said the new look, the new features and the reworking of the game's pacing combined to create something that felt entirely new to him, which is why he moved forward with the game.

"We discovered that there was a new fun experience to be had there so there was never any discussion of making a sequel rather than a remake for Wind Waker," he said. "As I mentioned before, as a creator I always want to create something new. The decision to make Wind Waker HD actually came as a result of our intent to create something new for the Wii U. "

As for the new Zelda game, Aonuma said he can't share any information about it yet.

"Honestly it's not finalized yet, where in the Zelda universe this story will land," he said. "We're exploring different directions that we can take this story at this point, so there's unfortunately nothing I can share from that perspective."

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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