The Legend of Zelda – 2000
At Nintendo’s Space World event in 2000, various videos were shown promoting Nintendo’s upcoming console, the Gamecube. One of the videos Nintendo presented was a short clip of a swordfight between Link and Ganondorf.
This clip led many fans to believe there would be a darker, more realistic Zelda on the horizon. Many other clips shown later became announced as full games (such as Metroid Prime), so it was fair to assume that this was the direction Nintendo was taking for their next Zelda project.
However, at E3 2001, Nintendo’s formal debut of the next Zelda surprised many players. Shown for the first time was a trailer that showcased a cel-shaded Link and much more cartoon-inspired art direction.
At this point, it’s likely the game had little content beyond essential gameplay mechanics and graphics. There was most likely little to no story in place at this time. The bulk of development would have occurred after this point.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Beta
The development process of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was heavily influenced by the last two console Zelda projects: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. In a sense, Wind Waker widely acted in part as a tech demo for everything the Zelda team could not accomplish on the Nintendo 64. Things such as weather and a lack of loading screens in the overworld were all planned from the beginning.
Much of Wind Waker remained unchanged from initial concept to final release, largely due to the game being so concretely planned beforehand and not facing any major developmental issues, unlike its predecessors. What the game essentially started as was a technical showcase of everything the development team wanted in their last two titles. If anything, the largest changes pertained to the game’s storyline.
Wind Waker’s original story was much more related to the original story of Ocarina of Time (seen above), which initially followed Link undergoing his coming-of-age ceremony. While Wind Waker’s final story was quite different, many thematic elements of the game’s story relate to the concept of coming-of-age.
This method of storytelling was originally going to be something visually apparent in the game, where Link would visibly grow older as the game progressed. Many pieces of unused game elements have been recovered from the Wind Waker game data. While many of them are merely alternate versions of things that made it into the final game, there are still many oddities worth examining.
Unused Wind Waker Assets
Perhaps the game’s most discussed element is its cel-shaded art style. The Zelda team explained that they believed this approach allowed for much more emotion to be communicated by the game’s characters, as a realistic art style makes it much harder to convince a player of emotion. Resulting from this was a large amount of highly detailed and expressive characters throughout the game, as well as a very emotionally-driven story.
On this page you can see images taken from the various beta builds of Zelda: the Wind Waker, as well as old art of the characters that would later populate the world. As you can see, the differences are clear: in the first video from Space World 2001, which aroused so much buzz because of its original style, the Link design was even more minimalist than the final version’s design.
Another interesting detail is the color of Link’s shirt; it changed from brown, the color he wore in the first game of the series, to light green. The HUD and button layout were changed over time for many times. The old character concept art clearly shows a different Link design from the released version of the game. It’s interesting that Nintendo originally planned to use an “older” Link design for the story, even if he was always in cartoon-style.
Thanks to Jay and 8PM for the english corrections! Thanks to Bryan for the updated description!
You can find more info about The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker in the Zelda Wiki!