GlitterBerri has done a great job in translating an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto about the development of Zelda: A Link To The Past from 1991. It is a really interesting read about one of the defining games of computer game history.
We started making the game at the same time as Super Mario World. Even back when we first unveiled the Super Nintendo at the company in July, 1989, our plan had always been to develop the game alongside Mario. I’d wanted to release the game this March, but the release date was extended to summer vacation and, in the end, it came out for the Super Nintendo’s 1 year anniversary. [laughs]
(A Link to the Past was released in Japan on November 21st, 1991, exactly 1 year after the release of the Super Nintendo.)
At Nintendo, we don’t spend a long time or have a lot of employees working on the development of a single game. We start by having a few people developing a title, which lasts about a year. Then we add some more staff who spend about 8 months putting in the finishing touches. It was November, 1990 that more members were added to Zelda’s development team.
Basically, we begin by doing a bunch of silly experiments with a small number of people, then, once the project begins to take shape, we put a larger amount of staff to work on it. If you start out messing around with a large number of people, you’ll end up with a bunch of employees with too much time on their hands. Specifically, we eke out what system the game is going to use by testing the hardware limits early on, then incorporate things like the enemies and the scenario afterwards.
During development, I worked so hard that people asked me “What are you going to do when your body gives out since you never go home?”, but I always ensured that I get 8 hours of sleep a day so my brain doesn’t get tired. I also made sure that the programmers were taking time off to sleep. Work never progresses if you don’t get any sleep. But, while it’s important to get some rest, it’s also not good to have people saying “Well, it’s time to go home, I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” If someone prances out the door because the day is over when everyone’s still hard at work, their reaction will be “Who is this guy?” [laughs].