Nintendo — The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

Gallery: “The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time”

In the 1980s video games were being thrust into popular culture. Nintendo, originally a playing card company formed in 1889, had been venturing into the electronic era  since the mid-70s. From the early “Game & Watch” handheld games to the arcade cabinets that supported their early hits such as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.” Nintendo swiftly established itself as one of the leading video game production companies out there.

At this time video games mostly featured titles where the goal was to earn “high scores” as opposed to completing a story. Nowadays video games navigate players through narratives as the problem-solve their way through the story. A lot of that is thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto.

Shigeru Miyamoto sought out to focus more on gameplay with “Super Mario Bros,” and even more ambitiously with “The Legend of Zelda.”


Nintendo — The Legend of Zelda

Miyamoto wanted to create an in-game world that players would identify with, “a minature garden that they could put inside their drawer.” His ambitions for the original game came from his experiences around Kyoto where he explored nearby fields, woods, and caves. “When I was a child,” Miyamoto said, “I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure..”

“The Legend of Zelda” was a franchise that revolutionized the “adventure game.” It went on to produce sequels from the late 80s to the early 90s such as “The Adventure of Link,” “A Link to the Past,” and “Link’s Awakening.” Games that would be released subsequently for the Nintendo Gameboy handheld device, and for their Nintendo and Super Nintendo consoles.

All of these games proved to be critically successful. In an industry that, at the time, was continuously growing and relying on innovation to survive. Nintendo had to always keep up, which is why they began development on the Nintendo 64 early.


Nintendo — The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

Even though the Super Nintendo (SNES) was successful, sales took a hit from the Japanese recession. With Sega and relative newcomer Sony making their mark in the video game industry, Nintendo had to quickly develop a successor to the SNES, or risk losing market dominance to their rivals.

A merger between Nintendo’s various internal research and development teams led to the creation of Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development (Nintendo EAD), which Miyamoto headed. Shigeru Miyamoto wanted his first game on the new console to be “Super Mario 64,” for which he was the principal director.

At this time video games were evolving from 2D side-scrollers to having 3D roaming environments. All of the sudden games became much more difficult  and expensive to produce.


Shigeru Miyamoto

Using what he had learned from developing “Super Mario 64” and “Star Fox 64,” Miyamoto produced his next game: “The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.” He would lead a team of several directors, including Eiji Aonuma and Yoichi Yamada and it would build upon the same engine used to develop “Super Mario 64.”

At its core “Legend of Zelda,” was about adventure, it was important that the game could utilize the new 3D-roaming environment to expand the Zelda universe. Miyamoto hired a veteran for Nintendo Toru Osawa to create the scenario for the gamed based on a story by Miyamoto and a newcomer named Yoshiaki Koizumi.

Koizumi became inspired by video games at the age of 21 when he first played “Super Mario Bros.” He climbed the company ladder at Nintendo working on the manual for “A Link to the Past” to writing the story for “Link’s Awakening” and being an assistant director on “Super Mario 64.”

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Nintendo — The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

During the game’s development, individual parts of “Ocarina of Time” were handled by multiple directors – a new strategy implemented by Nintendo EAD. However, when things were progressing more slowly than expected, Miyamoto returned to the development team with a more hands-on directorial role.

Assistant director Makoto Miyanaga recalls a sense of “passion for creating something new and unprecedented.” Miyamoto wanted so much for “Ocarina of Time” that was left on the cutting room floor. One of the commonly noted things was that “Ocarina of Time” was originally going to be played in a first-person perspective. This changed once the idea of having a child Link was introduced, Miyamoto believed it was necessary for the character development to see Link on screen.


Nintendo — The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

The game was first shown as a technical demo at Nintendo’s Space World trade show in December 1995. “Ocarina of Time,” due partially to the combination of motion-captured animations, was a 32-megabyte game upon release. It was the largest game Nintendo had ever created. There were many concerns over the memory constraints of the N64 cartridge.

“Ocarina of Time” was released to an immediate outpour of widespread critical acclaim. In the United States alone over 500,000 preorders were placed, more than tripling the number of preorders for any previous video game. It sold over 1 million copies in less than a week.

Beyond financial success, “The Ocarina of Time” was a critical hit, and to this day is widely considered the greatest video game of all time by multiple outlets.


Nintendo — The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

Being a 3D free roam game in the 90s wasn’t anything new by the time “Ocarina of Time” was released. However, no other game utilized the format the was “Ocarina of Time” did. Giving the players a sense of wonder, mystery, and adventure that the franchise had always embodied.

A “minature garden that you could put inside your drawer.” “Ocarina of Time” changed a medium forever. It showed that video games could become more than just recreational escapism, that like movies or television shows, it could be a canvas for ideas and innovation. From its solemn soundtrack, to its ground-breaking graphics, to its heart-breaking story. “Ocarina of Time” became living proof that video games are art.

“If you think about games only as a thing that you interact with, you’re missing the possibility of immersion. The inspirations that I tend to draw on for that all come from real life itself. Hiking on a mountain and seeing a cave and thinking what’s inside – it’s that sense of wonder and excitement I want players to feel.” – Yoshiaki Koizumi.