Wednesday, 3 April 2013

5. IwataAsks: New Year's Noodles and a Dozen Grapes


Iwata
Animal Crossing for Nintendo 64 was only released in Japan, so at first it was geared exclusively to Japanese tastes, but subsequent titles were released in other regions and overseas events began to appear in the game. I suppose you have all come to know a great deal about festivals around the world.
Takahashi
Yes, that's right.
Moro
When we made the Nintendo DS game, for instance, in order to make it easier to localize for markets outside Japan, we leaned towards making events shared. But at the same time, Japanese people enjoy having distinctively Japanese events like Setsubun  and Tanabata included in the game, as it makes the game world more familiar to them.
Iwata
So having events in the game that people have personal experience of means they feel more of a connection between the game and the real world.
Kyogoku
Yes, that's right. So on New Year's Eve, we want to eat Year-Crossing buckwheat noodles, but players outside Japan don't share this custom.
Iwata
Ah, yes indeed! (laughs)
Kyogoku
We researched what people in other countries do on New Year's Eve, and we also asked our staff overseas. In some places, they make a toast with champagne, and in others they eat a dozen grapes.
Iwata
Really? People eat twelve grapes on New Year's Eve? That's new to me! (laughs)
Kyogoku
There is a custom in Spain of eating a dozen grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve.
Iwata
Is that right?
Moro
Our company's staff in Europe said they wanted these grapes as an item. (laughs)
Kyogoku
But we'd never witnessed this custom, so we didn't know if the grapes should be served on a plate, or in a bowl. We didn't even know the type of grape, so we started by making a sketch...
Moro
We communicated back and forth with the staff in Spain, asking if it was all right, and we finally got their approval. (laughs)
Iwata
You learned all sorts of things that only people well versed in foreign cultures would know about, isn't that right?
Kyogoku
Yes. For this game, we included foreign customs for the overseas market, while also including customs for the Japanese version that only Japanese people would understand, such as throwing beans and eating a sushi roll while facing in a certain direction that is considered lucky at Setsubun.
Moro
Actually, when we looked into the custom of eating this sushi roll, we learned that it's only one of four directions that can be considered lucky.
Iwata
Oh, is that so?
Kyogoku
Every year, there's an announcement in Japan along the lines of: 'This year, the lucky direction is south by south-east'.  But actually, the lucky direction is just one of four directions.
Iwata
Ah, is that right? And so at Setsubun, players can eat a sushi roll?
Takahashi
Yes. And not just the players, but the animals in the town can enjoy sushi too.
Kyogoku
And they actually face in the right direction when they eat! (laughs)
Iwata
So you really took it that far? (laughs)
All
(laughter)
Kyogoku
At first, we just had this sense that since we'd gone to all the trouble of making the sushi rolls, we should have the animals eat them too.
Moro
But then a programmer suggested having them eat them facing in the right direction. He looked into it and ended up actually doing it.
Takahashi
And this was all for the sake of one day! (laughs)
All
(laughter)
Moro
There were those on the team who asked if it wasn't a waste of time putting so much effort into such a small detail, but when we explained that it was just a matter of making the animals face in one of four directions, they came round. (laughs)
Kyogoku
During the development of this title, there were times when people would question whether things were a worthwhile use of time, but the people in charge of different aspects of the development process were taking it upon themselves to come up with ideas, without having been instructed to do so. They would then discuss these ideas with each other, and this process resulted in a lot of interesting elements being added to the game.
Iwata
The Setsubun sushi rolls are just one of many fun little ideas.
Moro
Yes, we've included all sorts of things that will grab different people's attention, and allow them to enjoy the game in their own way.
Iwata
Each person has something different which will attract their attention, but that's precisely what the world of Animal Crossing is: a place packed full of things that are waiting to grab people's attention.
Moro
Yes, that's right.
Takahashi
What we really didn't want is for people to be hooked by some element of the game and then be disappointed when it doesn't deliver what it promised. To avoid this, we got together and discussed how we could fully realize all of the elements we added and give them real depth.
Moro
I think people will find that once they begin to delve into whichever aspect of the game appeals to them, it's incredibly deep.
Iwata
It's true that when you play Animal Crossing, it surpasses your expectations, and you think: 'Wow, you can actually do all of this!'; When you see this dawning on players, it must be incredibly rewarding for you, and a vindication of all your hard work.
Moro
Yes, it does.
Iwata
The Setsubun sushi rolls aren't in the versions released outside Japan, are they?
Kyogoku
Those sushi rolls are only available at Setsubun, and that's only in the Japanese version. But if visitors from overseas visit a Japanese player's town, they can buy them too.
Iwata
Really? Does the same apply to the twelve grapes?
Kyogoku
Yes, it does. If someone is playing the North American or European version in Spanish and you go to visit that person, you can get that item too.
Iwata
So if someone from overseas visits a Japanese player on New Year's Eve, they could receive a gift of buckwheat noodles?
Kyogoku
That's right. You can say, 'This is a custom we have...'
Moro
I can imagine a good conversation where one player might ask the other why they eat buckwheat noodles, and the other player responds by asking why they eat grapes.
Iwata
Ah, I like that! (laughs) That's a really good way to promote international cultural exchange! I think that's great!
All
(laughter)

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