You’ve seen Rob Heiret’s name if you’ve unlocked K.K. Slider in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Every time the famous musician strikes up a tune on Saturday, the game’s credits play and names and companies from all over the world scroll by. 

Yesterday, Rob began tweeting snippets about his time working on the game’s script, his thoughts and feelings on how the game is being received, and more. The entire tweet thread can be read on Twitter and below: 

During the localization of #AnimalCrossingNewHorizions, we joked repeatedly that we were building the next 5-10 years’ worth of memes. We knew the game would be big, but we obviously couldn’t have imagined the real-world circumstances of its release. (Thread)

We’ve never had a time like this, where safety and responsibility to one another keep us physically distant, and digital tools have taken the place of face-to-face contact.

But Zoom and Twitter and the other platforms are, by design, rather plain. Animal Crossing is different.

The AC aesthetic is cute. I’ve seen people here observing that even the tarantulas are cute. Even the CHAIRS are cute.

But it’s more than cuteness–it’s comfort. It’s positivity. It’s a retreat.

If you’ve played the game, you’re tired of the sea bass joke. I get it. *I’M* tired of the sea bass joke, and I wrote it. But here’s a secret about the sea bass joke:

It was originally “I caught a sea bass! Well…maybe a C- bass…)

And when we were workshopping the fish jokes, someone pointed out that, as a joke people were going to see many, many times, generally along with disappointment they didn’t catch something better, maybe it would be better to spin it positive. Make it a C+ instead.

From a comedy-mechanics perspective, it’s the same joke, relying on the homophones “sea” and “C” to change how you perceive the description of the animal (and, let’s be honest, it would work better as a verbal joke than it does in print, but that fish has sailed).

Anyway, my point is, we were doing our very best, down to details you might not have considered, to make this the most positive, comforting, funny game we could. And I know the dev team was doing the same.

So it’s been humbling to see this thing we worked on become so important to people, in part because of the weird accident of history that it was released during this scary-ass time.

I wasn’t *really* surprised when people started having their birthday parties in the game (hell, mine’s next week and I’ll be doing it). After all, the game has specific mechanics to acknowledge your birthday, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

But today I saw a screenshot from someone who, unable to visit their real mother’s grave for Mother’s Day, created a place in the game to visit. And that feels important.

Not only is Animal Crossing: New Horizons a safe, pleasant, perpetually smiling space, it’s a world of its own that the player can shape to their whim. Obviously the real world feels very out-of-control right now, so that, I think, is the secret sauce to this game.

When Nintendo first showed off the terraforming options in the game, I saw a lot of jokes about “the last game made you a mayor, this one makes you a GOD.”

But in the time of COVID19, we don’t need to be gods, we just need agency. We need a comfortable bed where we can arrange the blankets JUST how we like them. That feels like the single most important part of the game’s popularity to me.

Anyway, it’s an honor to have been involved in a small way in this thing. Here’s hoping we don’t need the eventual next game in the franchise quite so much.

 
Now we know who is responsible for the Sea Bass joke and its original version! It’s nice to get a “look behind the curtain” when it comes to localizing video games, especially text-heavy titles like the Animal Crossing series.

 

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Written by Jennifer Burch

Illustrator, designer, writer and big Nintendo geek, you can find Jennifer with an N3DS within reach 24/7. As the oldest of three, she has survived many Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart sessions intact in addition to getting her brothers hooked on some really weird games. (Cubivore anyone?)

Jennifer Burch