Development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time commenced during the same time when Nintendo was developing Super Mario 64. They presented the game originally at the Nintendo Space World of 1995 in December. Back then the game looked entirely different from what it looks like today. Perhaps the biggest change was Nintendo releasing the game as a cartridge rather than the planned Nintendo 64DD. Upon release, Nintendo confirmed that it was the biggest game ever to release on a Nintendo console in terms of megabytes, though Sony had far surpassed them with their PlayStation and their disk drives.
Super Mario 64 was the last game that Shigeru Miyamoto directed, and gave the rights to direct Ocarina of Time to various people, each focusing on various points of the game. All of the directors of the game, especially Eiji Aonuma and Yoshiaki Koizumi , went on to become prominent figures at Nintendo, the two spearheading the way for the Zelda and Mario franchise, respectively. Things went awry under the direction of the multiple designers, and thus Miyamoto stepped in to straighten things out, pretty much becoming a director himself according to designers at EAD. His passion for creating a fantastic game was unparalleled in the industry, and his role as producer gave him the ability to send the series in new and interesting directions, while giving younger employees the chance to prove their worthiness.
The game was first officially shown at SpaceWorld in 1995. The game was then simply known as Zelda 64, and it wouldn't be until much later would the name change. The developers creating the game at the time were currently more focused on making Super Mario 64 since it was going to be a launch title for the Nintendo 64, though after the game was finished they went straight to work on the Ocarina of Time. In its initial stages the game looked incredibly different from how it looked today. The environment wasn't as detailed, the characters didn't have the personality they do in the final version, and overall it just wasn't polished, which was to be expected of a game that wouldn't be released for another three years.
Early design goals, inspiration, and pre-development
Before development began, Nintendo and the team working on the game wanted the game so that it couldn't be compared to any other title. Early on everyone involved in the game wrote down on a piece of paper what they wished to do with a 3D game, and all of those slips of paper were placed on a wall. The directors of the game would look through the various slips of paper, and choose the ones that would best represent the series. They were especially drawn to the ideas that seemed impossible, knowing that no other developer had done such a thing at that point.
One of the primary goals that the developers had was smoothly translating the sword combats from previous games into a 3D world using lock on targeting (below). Eiji Aonuma explained that if they had not been able to do so, the game would probably not have been a very good game.
Due to there being absolutely no game that was similar to Ocarina of Time, the developers had to simply rely on their past video games that they worked on for inspiration. Many of the people involved had created Super Mario 64 and Star Fox 64, so they had a general idea of how to create a quality 3D game. Eiji Aonuma stated that their biggest inspirations were the company's previous video games. Having Shigeru Miyamoto on board would also help them achieve their goals due to his vast gaming knowledge.
Shigeru Miyamoto proposed the making the game a first person game rather than seeing Link through a third person perspective. There were multiple reasons for this. For one, The player would be able to enjoy the environment of Hyrule more than he could if it were through a third person perspective. He stated that when a player wishes to view his surroundings in a third person game, they always press the button that allows them to view it through a first person perspective to better appreciate the world around them. Another reason he wanted to make the game a first person title was so that they could focus more of their attention on creating enemies, dungeons and the like. However, in order for the player to notice the distinct differences between child and adult Link, they had to make the game through a third person perspective. He jokingly stated that another reason to make it a third person game was because it'd be "a total waste not to have Link visible on screen when he is so cool looking!".
The targeting system was entirely new to video games and the camera mechanics was unprecedented. In previous games some of the developers felt that it was challenging to go exactly where you wanted your character to go while moving in a 3D environment, especially when you plan to attack an enemy. For example, it may be a bit more of a challenge to stomp on a Goomba in Super Mario 64 than it would in a 2D game like Super Mario World. With a game like Ocarina of Time, the developers had to come up with an idea to conquer this disadvantage, and thus they came up with the targeting system.
Targeting is done by pressing the Z trigger on the back of the Nintendo 64 Controller. Doing so would cause Link to lock onto an opponent, character or important object. Doing so is extremely helpful considering that without it the player would be required to position Link so that the camera is facing towards the character, enemy or object, and would have to constantly alter the direction the camera is facing in. With Z targeting, the camera constantly keeps a focus on what you wish to look at, and this will also allow you to more easily attack your target if you're battling an enemy. This system was created by one of the game's directors, Yoshiaki Koizumi (Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy).
In 2D games (including pre-Ocarina Zelda titles) the distance of a particular object or enemy is clear to the player, though in a 3D environment such as the one present in Ocarina of Time, this is not the case. The sense of perspective is lost to the player in many early 3D titles, and creating a system in which this wasn't the case was one of the hardest challenges that the Ocarina of Time team at Nintendo had to overcome.
Another challenge was creating walls out of polygons according to dungeon designer Eiji Onozuka. According to him, Link had a variety of impressive maneuvers but unfortunately many of his moves would cause him to "clip through walls" (such as the Hookshot). According to Onozuka, the mappers of Ocarina of Time, of which there were three, had the most trouble of the entire game, and he said that there would be occasions where they would actually cry. There were many times when the designers would change the basic moves of Link, which would cause the mappers to totally redo what they had done in the maps to accommodate what the designers had altered.
Eiji Aonuma explained that time travel was included to allow players to play as both young Link and adult Link. He said one of their goals with time travel was to have what young Link does in the past effect what happens in the future. They also wanted there to be a distinct difference between the two time periods, with Link's childhood being a peaceful place run by the Hylian Royal Family and the adult Link phase to be smitten by Ganondorf's malevolent rule. The team was influenced by the dual world of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES.
An ocarina was an item that the player could use in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES, though it wasn't until this game did Miyamoto suggest allowing the player to actually play it using the Nintendo 64 controller's buttons. Eiji Aonuma said they were also influenced to use it because the Nintendo 64 controller looks slightly like an ocarina.
Early on in development, the team knew that they wanted to incorporate magic of some sort. They decided to do this through the ocarina. By playing a song that Link has learned, the player can cause one of many things to happen, whether it be changing the weather, talking to people far away, or causing the sun's light to appear in dark dungeons. According to Eiji Aonuma, the composer Koji Kondo had a hard time trying to think of catchy songs using a five note format.
Using the controller as an instrument was used in many future games. Eiji Aonuma speculated that after Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to use the idea of controlling an instrument via the controller as a full blown game. He accomplished that goal with the Wii game Wii Music.
When creating the game, Miyamoto wanted to make absolutely sure that when Link exits Kokiri Forest and enters Hyrule Field, he will be awed by what he sees. A huge landscape with an outstanding musical score accompanying it. Eiji Aonuma has stated that this part of the game is his favorite. It tells the player then their adventure starts now.
Field designer Makoto Miyanaga has stated that in the beginning Hyrule Field was "terribly uninteresting". There was barely anything to do in Hyrule Field, though the planners decided to add things such as wind, temperature, and atmosphere. The changing time of day is also apparent in Hyrule Field more so than any other location. Getting the sun to rise, then set, followed by the subsequent moon, was a challenge for the developers, as was getting the correct color tones as well. The Nintendo 64 was capable of producing fog, so they took advantage of it, though Makoto Miyanaga stated that they didn't want to overuse it, so they had an appropriate amount of fog during the different times of the day, with the morning having the most. As the day progressed, they altered the thickness of the fog.
Yoshiki Haruhana was a character designer in Ocarina of Time. The various characters in the game caused a lot of problems. In all there were 60 in the game, which was at the time quite a lot. Each character, according to him, took around 2 to 3 days to create, and that was minor characters rather than the most prominent ones such as Link, Ganondorf and Zelda. Character designer Satoru Takizawa wanted to make the characters feel real to the player. He wanted to design them with realistic and interesting animations and give them unique emotions.
Link is obviously the main character in the game. Both the adult and child versions of Link were programmed with identical animations. According to Yoshiaki Koizumi the team involved with programming movements with to the Uzumasa movie studio in Japan to observe the sword battles and how to make certain actions look. Program director Toshio Iwawaki has stated that Link has around 1000 different animation combinations.
While the team went to Uzumasa to do research on some animations, the team eventually decided to also use a little bit of motion capture as well. Miyamoto recalls how the team was debating how Link should open a treasure chest in the game for three years. When the idea of using motion capture came up, many of the team members were against it, though in the end they were convinced to use just a little bit of motion capture for the portions of the game where it was required. Initially the team used wireframe, though in the end used a method that was "twice as much" (Nintendo was already against the idea and this made it that much more). Miyamoto stated that the team eventually managed to accomplish their goal of the animation of Link opening a treasure chest.
Miyamoto said that he went to work one morning with an actual chest with a sword and shield within it. When he asked why this was there, they replied that they had finally found out how to open a treasure chest. The only way they could make it look realistic was to make Link kick the hinge on the chest first then open it.
Eiji Aonuma and dungeon designer Eiji Onozuka both said that the reason they included the horse Epona was really because Shigeru Miyamoto simply liked horses and wanted to include one in the game that Link could ride. There weren't any other games were the player could ride a horse, and since Miyamoto wanted this game to be unique he decided it would be a good idea to incorporate it in the game. Originally he speculated if he should just include the Pegasus Shoes from A Link to the Past as a form of transportation, though came to the conclusion that riding on something that you could interact with would be more fun.
According to Shigeru Miyamoto, he would go to riding clubs when he wasn't working and they would give him photographs of horses so that he could reflect those designs in the game. He knew, however, that creating a horse would become a huge challenge for the developers. Though Yoshiaki Koizumi presented an experiment that he created, and it became clear that they would be able to do it. One obstacle they ran into was that in Hyrule Field there were too many trees, and that the player would often run into them while riding on top of the horse. They started to remove them, and it eventually became what it is today.
In the game the player is able to call Epona using the Ocarina of Time and playing Epona's Song. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, the player could originally use a reed pipe in the game, though because it was "too much trouble", they eventually switched it to the Ocarina. In the end, the reed pipe wasn't even included in the game.