GDC 09: Chatting with Nintendo's Rich Amtower


Thank goodness for Nintendo's Rich Amtower and the company's Treehouse division.

Day two of Game Developers Conference, Dale North arrives from Tokyo in possession of his fancy new lime Nintendo DSi. With the menus in Japanese, it took me ten minutes to figure out how to take a picture. Add another 20 minutes to record my voice and then make myself sound like a parrot. 

Due to the hardwork of Amtower and Nintendo's localization team, this should be a snap. I had a chance to sit down with Amtower to talk about the localization process, the upcoming DSiWare offerings, Rhythm Heaven versus Rhythm Tengoku, and more. The full conversations can be found after the jump.

So, real quick, could you just tell me what you do with Nintendo?

I'm the localization producer at Nintendo of America. I work in the "Treehouse." My job covers a bunch of different things, all of them related to the localization of and North American releases, in this case, systems like the DSi, and game titles. 

I'm also pretty heavily involved in the Nintendo DSiWare launch line-up. So at Nintendo my job has been to pretty quickly work with all of these. They're small titles, but they require all of the love and attention that any packaged release gets. So it's been a bit of a rush. 

The system launch is about a week from now?

April 5. 

Are you guys all ready with the DSiWare games at launch? 

Yeah, you know, it's interesting. Digital distribution means once the title clears its final stages of testing it can pretty much go live right then. You don't have that lead time that you normally have with packaging and all that. So yeah, everything's looking pretty good for us right now. 

Will you do a schedule cycle like you do with WiiWare and Virtual Console games? Is it going to be an every Monday type of thing? 

There is going to be a schedule, there is going to be a cycle, but we haven't determined what it's going to be yet. It depends on how many games we're going to see coming out of Japan, how many games other developers produce for us. So that's sort of up in the air right now. 

Yeah, we need to know so I can figure out what day of the week I need to wake up early in the morning to get the press release to right a story about it. 

Absolutely. [laughs]


Do you know how many DSiWare launch titles you're going to have? 

Well, at GDC we've announced a couple of titles; I don't know what the final number is going to be yet. But we've mentioned WarioWare: Snapped, the Internet Opera browser, Birds and Beans... ArtStyle Aquario. I've actual seen a couple of more of them running on the videos that weren't actually covered in my [GDC] prep materials; I'm not even sure what's showing. At the very least, I know that those have been verified as definite launch titles. [Note: Post-interview, it was clarified that the DSiWare launch line-up has yet to be nailed down and is subject to change.]

Yeah, there was a pretty decent line up of games available in Japan for DSiWare. What stuff did you localize? There were a few titles that probably wouldn't hit their target in the states. You probably had to pick and choose. 

It's been a process. We look at what games represent the system well. If you look at what we've already been talking about, it's not just Nintendo DSi hardware specific stuff. It's all downloadable to the Nintendo DSi, but WarioWare: Snapped takes advantage of the camera and demonstrates a little how you can actually use the camera in gameplay to create this new and user driven experience, really get something out of it.

But then on the other side you have stuff like ArtStyle Aquario, which doesn't use any specific features of the DSi; it doesn't even use the touch screen really. It's just a really simple and straight forward puzzle game. But what really drives that game is the aesthetics of it and the series. If you're familiar with the ArtStyle series that have been released on WiiWare already, it's the same kind of thing with the Nintendo DSiWare releases of the ArtStyle titles. 

And Birds and Beans. Did you ever play WarioWare


The unlockable Puro games, the two Pyoro games together make up Birds and Beans. I love that idea, because I don't think enough people got exposure to Pyoro in WarioWare. So this gives people a chance to see this game kind of with fresh eyes. I loved it at the time, and it feels like it would have been a beautiful 8-bit NES-era game; it was just fantastically designed. It was just this little sub-portion, a little unlockable in the original WarioWare. The Nintendo DSiWare library we've been trying to build is things that demonstrate what developers can do to bring a new experience to gamers. A creative difference to what they might be doing with packaged titles. You know, very simple and pure fun games. The idea is really not to showcase, the hardware itself, but to show off what developers can be doing with the smaller packages of games. 

I had a chance to play with the Japanese DSi recently; one of our writers came from Japan with it, right to our hotel here at GDC. So I've been playing with the DSi. Any changes in terms of what's shipped on the system that you had to localize? 

It's the same core content. The localization for the system itself was happening as the system was being developed in Japan, so we were working really closely with the development team. So we were making sure that our version was going to match the same intent of the Japanese version, so we worked really closely with the team to come up with terminology and tutorials for the DSi camera and the DSi sound. So it's going to be the same core set of things at the launch DSi in America.

So, you had said you were involved in the localization of Rhythm Heaven? I haven't had a chance yet to crack open a copy that you guys had given us. But we played the Japanese one extensively, just about everyone on staff...

"Obsessively" is how I described it for myself.

Someone had noted that the language was changed in some of the songs. Were some of the songs in English? 


Was there a particular reason you did that? One of our writers couldn't believe it; he was pretty upset. 

It's interesting. The localization process as a whole raises those questions over and over again. Like, if there's a reason to keep Japanese in hte game, if there's something about the setting that makes it appropriate to the game title, then we keep that Japanese in there. The development team comes to us wanting to make a title that's designed for an American audience. Not necessarily for the pure Japanophiles, but for the whole American audience. They want the game to have the same impact for American gamers that it had for Japanese gamers; to get the same impact you need to have the language carried across so there's no gap in understanding. 

One of the songs, for example, uses audio cues to tell you how to do things. So that song had to be translated. And it was all done with the development team; they cared passionately how it was going to look in America. We went to Japan to do the voice recording with them. They just poured over everything we did to make sure it was appropriate for the game. And then we ended up sending all of our links back to Tsunku in Japan. He took care of all the recordings, so he got all of the vocalists. He put his stamp of approval on the vocals, sent them to us and we listened to them and were like "Yeah, he's done this. He's done this well." So, I mean all of it basically got vetted through the development team, through Tsunku himself. All this stuff, all the way down the line, was designed to give U.S. gamers the same experience that Japanese gamers had. 

We actually talked about whether it would be feasible to put the Japanese songs as an unlockable in there, and the team was really into the idea. But memory constraints on the DS cart made it not possible. 

Good, I can let him know and maybe his fears will be put to rest a bit. 

You get pretty whetted to your first experience of something. To most U.S. gamers they're not necessarily going to have played the Japanese version. There are cultural variances in the way pop music sounds, and Tsunku managed to pick those up. But in my head, I still hear the gap between the two of them. I think about what the Japanese version sounds like and what the English one sounds like, and I'm happy with both of them. They're different things, and for me -- I own the Japanese version as well as the U.S. version -- and I can still play the Japanese version. 

Are there any DSiWare games -- either first, second, or third party -- that you think will do particularly well with an American audience?

I'm pretty sure WarioWare: Snapped is going to take off. It seems designed to be like a play-and-pass game. You were at the keynote, so you saw what Bill Trinen was doing there. Part of the fun of it is not just playing the game; it's seeing what happens and passing it off to someone else, and then making them play it and seeing what they get out of it. It's hard to call it a "party game" in the traditional sense of multiplayer party games. But it becomes almost a conversation piece, you're passing it around and it becomes the centerpiece for discussion, seeing the silly things your friends have done. So I think that's going to be a pretty strong one.

I have no idea how the ArtStyle games are going to do, but I think those are a fantastic experience as well. Ever since the original Game Boy Advance Bit Generation series, I've just fallen in love with the look of them. I'm thrilled that we've had the opportunity to release them on WiiWare -- I've loved [those] versions. Seeing them on the handheld, where they become these experiences you can pick up, chew through really quickly, and come back to later on. That feels like home to me; that's the experience I really want to have.

Obviously, you want everything to be successful, but is there anything you think may not get the attention it deserves? Something you have hopes that people will catch on to?

Oh, there's so much stuff we haven't announced yet...

You can announce them now, I won't mind. 

[laughs] If you look to what they've been doing in Japan, you get a sense of the kind of breadth that they're putting into the DSiWare. I'm sure we're going ot be focusing on the same kind of breadth, focusing on a wide-range of experiences, not just conversation pieces. Other kind of games as well. Pyoro 1 and Pyoro 2 -- Birds and Beans -- is brutally difficult... it really appeals to the old-school gamer in me. From a personal standpoint, I love seeing games like that, that bring back those little hardcore obsessions in the back of my head. I just kind of really obsess over it, finessing the stages and squeezing every point out of the game. 

The guys who've been working on DSiWare with me -- you have to have a real high score to see the end credits of Pyoro, but I didn't tell them that. I just said, "Here's your first English build, make sure you see everything today and verify every message in the game." I come back and they're pulling their hair out, banging their heads on the table -- "I can't do it, I can't do it." I had a debug version, so I was just like "What are you talking about, it's so easy!"

They were furious. So I kind of played the angles on that one.

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Nick Chester
Nick ChesterFormer Editor-in-Chief (2011)   gamer profile

Editor-in-Chief @ Destructoid.com nick at destructoid.com  more + disclosures



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