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.
Yes, that’s right.
When we made the Nintendo DS game, for instance, in order to make it easier to localise for markets outside Japan, we leaned towards making events shared. But at the same time, Japanese people enjoy having distinctively Japanese events like Setsubun12 and Tanabata13 included in the game, as it makes the game world more familiar to them.12. Setsubun: A Japanese festival held at the start of Spring, where people throw roasted soybeans – known as ‘fortune beans’ – to cleanse the evil of the previous year and bring good luck to the coming one.13. Tanabata: Also known as the Japanese star festival, Tanabata sees people writing their wishes on strips of coloured paper, hanging them on bamboo stems and placing them outside their houses on July 7th. The word literally translates as ‘Evening of the seventh’.
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.
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.
Ah, yes indeed! (laughs)
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.
Really? People eat twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve? That’s new to me! (laughs)
There is a custom in Spain of eating a dozen grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Is that right?
Our company’s staff in Europe said they wanted these grapes as an item. (laughs)
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...
We communicated back and forth with the staff in Spain, asking if it was all right, and we finally got their approval. (laughs)
You learned all sorts of things that only people well-versed in foreign cultures would know about, isn’t that right?
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.
Actually, when we looked into the custom of eating this sushi roll, we learned that it’s only the four cardinal directions which can be considered lucky.
Oh, is that so?
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 the four cardinal directions.
Ah, is that right? And so at Setsubun, players can eat a sushi roll?
Yes. And not just the players, but the animals in the town can enjoy sushi too.
And they actually face in the right direction when they eat! (laughs)
So you really took it that far? (laughs)
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.
But then a programmer suggested having them eat them facing in the right direction. He looked into it and ended up actually doing it.
And this was all for the sake of one day! (laughs)
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)
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.
The Setsubun sushi rolls are just one of many fun little ideas.
Yes, we’ve included all sorts of things which will grab different people’s attention, and allow them to enjoy the game in their own way.
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.
Yes, that’s right.
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 realise all of the elements we added and give them real depth.
I think people will find that once they begin to delve into whichever aspect of the game appeals to them, it’s incredibly deep.
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.
Yes, it does.
The Setsubun sushi rolls aren’t in the versions released outside Japan, are they?
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.
Really? Does the same apply to the twelve grapes?
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.
So if someone from overseas visits a Japanese player on New Year’s Eve, they could receive a gift of buckwheat noodles?
That’s right. You can say, “This is a custom we have...”
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.
Ah, I like that! (laughs) That’s a really good way to promote international cultural exchange! I think that’s great!
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