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Feature: The Minds Behind Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Nintendo Life

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© Nintendo Life

Last week we took a brief look at the history of Animal Crossing from Japan’s Animal Forest for Nintendo 64 and its GameCube conversion up to and including the latest entry on Switch, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Obviously there are many unsung heroes when it comes to the development of any video game, with various familiar names contributing to the series over the years in different capacities, as well as hundreds of Nintendo staff that aren’t so well-known or public-facing. Still, the people below are the principle players responsible for the series we know and love, from the initial entry up to the brand-spanking new Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

What’s that? You hadn’t heard there was a new Animal Crossing out on Switch? Sounds most unlikely, but you should probably read our review of the game, quick-smart! SPOILERS: we quite like it.

The principle people behind the Animal Crossing series

Katsuya Eguchi (Creator, Director, Producer)

As we said above, many people have contributed to make Animal Crossing what it is today, but the man most directly responsible is Katsuya Eguchi.

Euguchi joined Nintendo 1986 working as a designer on Super Mario Bros. 3 before moving on to direct Star Fox and Wave Race 64. He took on the role of Chief Designer for Yoshi’s Story before getting down to work on creating Animal Crossing based on his experiences of moving from his hometown of Chiba to Kyoto when he joined Nintendo over a decade earlier.

Co-directing the first Animal Crossing with Hisashi Nogami (below) with Takashi Tezuka on producing duties, Eguchi put down the foundation that the series has been building on for nearly two decades now. He would move on to producer roles on subsequent instalments (and on many other games besides), but he’ll forever be tied to this most delightful of Nintendo franchises.

Hisashi Nogami (Co-Director, Director, Producer)

Hisashi Nogami joined the company in 1994 and worked on character design for Yoshi’s Island. He directed the first three Animal Crossing entries (the first jointly with Katsuya Eguchi, Animal Crossing : Wild World solo and Animal Crossing: City Folk with Isao Moro) and acted as Producer on New Horizons.

He also produced Splatoon and its sequel, which we’ve spoken to him about. Thoroughly nice chap, and someone who has left an indelible mark on the series since the very beginning. Speaking with the late Satoru Iwata in an Iwata Asks interview for City Folk, Nogami recalled how Iwata’s approval during the development of the original game gave the team encouragement to persevere with an idea which wasn’t quite like anything else available at the time:

At that time, you were not yet President of Nintendo, but the fact that you had thought it was interesting really spurred us on in developing the title after that. Those of us working on it had thought it was interesting, but we were still at a point where we weren’t really sure about whether anyone would want to play a game that wasn’t quite a game…

It seems to have caught on, no?

Aya Kyogoku, (Co-Director, Director)

As noted last year in our look at the most important figures in Nintendo history, there’s a significant lack of women in higher profile developmental roles at the company, but Aya Kyogoku is certainly one of them. She began as a script writer on the Legend of Zelda series and was responsible for much of the dialogue in City Folk. After taking on the co-directing role with Animal Crossing: New Leaf (with Isoa Moro), she and producer Eguchi hired a large number of female staff to bring the gender balance of the development team to an even 50-50 split. This diversity contributed to the most successful series entry to date.

Over the years her prominence has continued to grow and she was the sole director helming the latest entry for Switch. Within the last year she’s been promoted to Manager of the production group responsible for both the Splatoon and Animal Crossing series and under her watchful eye we’d say the future of the series is in excellent hands.

Kazumi Totaka (Composer, Sound Designer)

One of several composers who has worked on the series, Totaka is without doubt the most prominent thanks to his beloved namesake character who has appeared in every iteration thus far: the guitar-toting canine and musical chameleon K.K. Slider. While it isn’t apparent from his English name, everyone’s favourite good boy performer is named Totakeke in Japan (in fact, he introduces himself as such in the first game saying that his more familiar moniker is his Saturday night stage name).

Totaka’s ‘appearance’ in the game tends to overshadow the work of multiple other Nintendo composers who have worked on the series including Manaka Kataoka, Asuka Hayazaki, Toru Minegishi, Shinobu Tanaka and plenty more of Nintendo’s audio department. Still, Totaka will forever be associated with this series, K.K. and the song he has sneakily inserted into dozens of Nintendo games over the years. The appearance of infamous Easter Egg Totaka’s Song in Animal Crossing is perhaps the most obvious of the lot. It’s called K.K. Song and Slider will usually play it on request.

Isao Moro, (System Director, Co-Director)

After acting as System Director on Wild World, Isao Moro graduated to subdirector on City Folk and co-director along with Aya Kyogoku on New Leaf. In collaboration with Kyogoku, it was Moro who fashioned the finest Animal Crossing experience to date (well, until New Horizons came along) and introduced the world to the wonders of mayoral duties, fan-favourite administrator Isabelle and the ability to customise not only the interior of your home, but also the town itself with bridges, fountains and a wide variety of public works projects.

The spin-off game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, which debuted several quality of life features that would find their way back into New Leaf via the Welcome amiibo update, would be Moro’s last directing gig at Nintendo. He left the company in 2018 and relocated to the island of Okinawa where he teaches programming.

Ryuji Kobayashi (Design/Art Director)

Kobayashi became working on character animation for the first game and graduated to design director on Wild World for Nintendo DS, a role he returned to for the Wii entry. He took on the Art Director role for the gorgeous New Leaf and over the years has steered the series in a very specific direction in terms of look and feel. He has also worked extensively on the Legend of Zelda series, most recently doing animation work on the rather lovely Breath of the Wild.

Much like its systems, there’s an elegant simplicity and beauty to Animal Crossing’s visual presentation and Ryuji Kobayashi is one of the people responsible for that.

Koji Takahashi, (Character Design, Design Director)

Another veteran staff member with a nebulous sounding credits on the series, Koji Takahashi has been responsible a broad number of things across several series entries, notably the design of characters in Wild World and coordinating design for Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a role he also took on The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

One area Takahashi worked on was choosing the right characters for the right jobs in New Leaf, which introduced Cyrus and Reese the alpacas and Leif the sloth. According to the Iwata Asks interview on the game, finding the right fit wasn’t always easy:

Well, we weren’t indiscriminate in our search. We tried to find animals that fitted their in-game function and suited the shop where they would appear. That’s why we thought that an animal that lives in the forest would work well in the gardening center, so we settled on the sloth.

In the same interview Takahashi mentions the hard work that goes into the growing list of items available in each entry, and it’s clear that his efforts haven’t been in vain, with each game adding to the list of items and activities to enjoy in a way which makes returning a thrill, even if you’ve played every last game to death.

Makoto Wada, (Script Writer)

Makoto Wada is credited with script work on Animal Crossing, although given Nintendo’s habit of doling out director credits across the spectrum, we wouldn’t be surprised to find out he had one of them somewhere for this series, too.

He’s directed game like Super Punch-Out!! and Mario Kart DS, but he has worked on the script of multiple Animal Crossing games including the original and New Leaf. According to an Iwata Asks interview, he was responsible for the lines of Mr. Resetti, the gruff, curmudgeonly mole who would get’s most upset if you turn the game off without saving properly. Without him, we’d be without those fabulous rants.

Nintendo Treehouse

Okay, we’re cheating here by lumping Nintendo of America’s entire in-house localisation team into a single entry, but we couldn’t finish this list without doffing our collective caps to the sterling work the Treehouse has done with every single entry in the series. The easy-going nature of the games belies the colossal about of text and translation work required to bring an Animal Crossing game to the West and while the original writers obviously deserve recognition, the localisation team is equally deserving of thanks for the capturing the spirit of the original script.

More than that, the Treehouse team has fed back into the series from the beginning when Nintendo of Japan ended up reincorporating holidays from original GameCube localisation of N64’s Animal Forest into an updated Japanese version. Since that time the teams across different sides of the globe have collaborated much more closely from the beginning of each new project.


If you can’t get enough Animal Crossing content to satisfy your insatiable thirst for all things Nook, our ranked rundown of the best Animal Crossing games puts every series entry and spin-off into best-to-worst list form, so feel free to check that out and let us know how you’d amend our picks in your own personal ranking.

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Senior staff leave gaming firm Ubisoft in harassment probe – Japan Today

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Gaming company Ubisoft’s second most powerful executive is among senior staff to have left the firm as it pursues an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations, it said Sunday.

Last month the French company, one of the world’s largest video game publishers whose portfolio includes Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, launched a probe after allegations of sexual misconduct were shared online.

Serge Hascoet, chief creative officer and the company’s second-in-command, has now resigned along with human resources director Cecile Cornet, Ubisoft said in a statement.

“Ubisoft has fallen short in its obligation to guarantee a safe and inclusive workplace environment for its employees,” said CEO and co-founder Yves Guillemot.

“This is unacceptable, as toxic behaviors are in direct contrast to values on which I have never compromised — and never will,” he said.

Guillemot will take over Hascoet’s role temporarily as he oversees a staffing overhaul, the statement said.

The managing director of the company’s Canadian branch, Yannis Mallat, also stepped down.

“The recent allegations that have come to light in Canada against multiple employees make it impossible for him (Mallat) to continue in this position,” the company said.

The announcement follows the departures of another two top executives earlier in July, after current and former employees used social media to denounce predatory behavior by managers.

Ubisoft, which counts 18,000 employees worldwide, is the latest video game company to face sexual harassment allegations.

The global game industry has been dogged by criticism over its treatment of women in both games and real life.

This was encapsulated in the so-called “gamergate” controversy in the United States in 2014, which saw critics of the way women were depicted in games receive death and rape threats, prompting calls to reform the industry’s culture.

The allegations made against Ubisoft on Twitter last month accused managers in the company’s Toronto and Montreal studios of sexual misconduct, and denounced an allegedly toxic work environment for women.

Accusations also targeted managers in Brazil, Bulgaria and the United States, with some of the alleged incidents going back years.

Some named the alleged perpetrators, and many accused the company of failing to respond to staff complaints and even promoting those accused of wrongdoing.

“I am a former employee and they swept every claim of sexual harassment under the rug,” read one tweet.

Alleged incidents include a creative director licking the face of a female co-worker during an office party, and a manager demanding oral sex from a colleague.

“Moving forward, as we collectively embark on a path leading to a better Ubisoft, it is my expectation that leaders across the company manage their teams with the utmost respect,” Guillemot said on Sunday.

© 2020 AFP

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Watch Dogs: Legion preview: Three hours with Jane Bond and a construction worker – Polygon

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My name is Margareta Ionescu, and I am a spy.

I spent the last several minutes on the trail of a possible informant, investigating a series of crime scenes and tailing the ghostlike AR apparitions of getaway vehicles in my Aston Martin-inspired spy car that fires missiles like I’m in Spy Hunter. I’m wearing a designer suit and way-beyond-smart watch, which is useful for hacking into the high technology of near-future dystopian London in Watch Dogs: Legion.

All of that led me here — a city block that’ll one day be a building but is now little more than a crater filled with construction equipment and ramps and bare concrete rooms. I crouch behind a Jersey barrier and consider my options.

I put my spy skills to the test, and I looked good while doing it. But now I’m wearing a mask that looks like a pig with a monocle mouthing a stick of dynamite like it’s Churchill’s cigar, and honestly, it’s cramping my style.

I can’t take off the mask, though. And anybody who sees Jane Bond here will throw me some serious side-eye. Probably attack me on sight, now that I think of it. Everything that makes me a credible MI6 agent also makes me a terrible fit for the next phase of this subterfuge.

I consider the possibilities, pull out my phone, and call my teammate for an assist. A few seconds later, I’m no longer a spy.

Image: Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft

My name is Pam Ahmadi, and I am an unassuming blue-collar construction worker.

When I saunter into the construction site, nobody cares. My reflective vest, hardhat, and the wrench that I’m carrying reflect my humble origins and also hide me in plain sight. To the baddies patrolling, I look like I belong here. No pig mask necessary.

I spend the next 15 minutes or more role-playing as a lowly construction worker. But I’m really a DedSec agent, a member of the heroic faction in Watch Dogs: Legion. We fight for the people, I’m told, and against the forces of technological oppression.

I hack the closest surveillance camera and use my electronic vantage points to mark enemies. I arc to another camera where I disable the alarm systems above doors. A few cameras later, I even find the hostage I’m looking for.

I turn the surveillance systems against their owners, and I sneak up behind armed guards and choke them unconscious. When stealth fails me, I knock the forces of evil out cold with my wrench.

This is the ideal, I think. This is how those at Ubisoft want me to play Watch Dogs: Legion.

The moment-to-moment gameplay in an open-world city is so familiar that it’s hardly worth discussing. I can do all of the things I expect — wander around, hijack cars, bump into people, fast travel, accidentally punch people when I hit the wrong button, find missions and liberate neighborhoods. Exploring greater London lifts the fog of war that’s covering most of my map, so incentive abounds to check my map for hotspots, missions, and landmarks.

If that was all there was, I’d be bored. But Watch Dogs’ twist has always been a layer of futurism — a not-too-distant, more or less credible version of our future world where high technology allows you to do more than just run around a city. That continues in Watch Dogs: Legion with ambition — everyone you meet in its vast open world of near-future London is potentially a playable character.

That’s why I could trade my spy for a construction worker. I have a roster, and I can and should bring the best person possible to the front. But I’d need to put in the work first using the system to recruit Londoners to my squad. If I showed up to that mission without a construction worker, things would have played out very differently. But if, say, a few hours before, I found and recruited someone from a construction site, contacted them, went on a mission to convince them that I was helpful, and then folded them into my team of rebels, I could be better prepared later. Apply the same logic to a Bobby or an office worker, and the argument for team diversity makes itself.

Speaking of which, my construction worker is still on the trail of the prisoner, and there are two doors leading into the room where he’s tied up. Both of them are locked. (Of course they are.) I need a key. Fair enough, I figure. I’ve played video games before. I know what I need to do.

A construction worker hits someone with a wrench in Watch Dogs: Legion

Image: Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft

I spend the next five minutes or so looking for the people I haven’t knocked out yet. And I’m getting good at this. I’m hacking and downing drones, I’m stealthing my way through, and I’m enjoying myself. It’s only when I think that everybody’s incapacitated and nobody’s dropped a card that I find myself confused. Where’s the key card?

To answer that, I have to think like Watch Dogs: Legion, which is unlike basically any other game.

So I walk back to the room where the prisoner’s waiting patiently. I peek through a window and hack into a surveillance camera, and wait — what’s that I see in the corner of the room? An item labeled “Smart Tablet / Access Key!” But if I can’t get in the room, how do I get the … oh.

Duh.

I’m not thinking in the way that Watch Dogs: Legion wants me to. I don’t need a physical key.

I highlight the tablet, press my controller’s left bumper, and I’m downloading the key’s data. A few seconds later, I open the door and save the prisoner’s day. Not bad for a construction worker. And not bad for an open-world game that’s trying to do something different.

This is Watch Dogs: Legion’s potential, if you ask me (and thanks for asking, by the way!). It’s also what sets Watch Dogs apart from its city-based open-world competitor cousins. Grand Theft Auto games have grit and grime. Saints Row games have smut and superpowers. Watch Dogs has a layer of in-game tech that twists open-world ideas into a game that wants you to rely on the near-future hacking skills as much as (if not more than) your punching or shooting.

If you aren’t building a team of everyman subversives and switching between characters and cameras, then you’re just playing it like yet another open-world game set inside of a city, and that’d be pretty boring. This, on the other hand? Whether I’m Margareta Ionescu or Pam Ahmadi or potentially thousands of other characters, this twist has potential.

Watch Dogs: Legion will be released Oct. 29, 2020 on Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows and later on next-gen consoles.

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Nintendo's Brutal Mario Game. Shigeru Miyamoto and his team made a… | by James Burns | SUPERJUMP | Jul, 2020 – Medium

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Shigeru Miyamoto and his team made a “kaizo” game long before fan hacks emerged

James Burns

Jul 12 · 7 min read

Have you ever heard of a kaizo game? The concept is pretty straightforward. Players take an existing game — including its assets, like character sprites — and “remix” them to build eye-wateringly difficult levels. There’s a whole culture around kaizo games. If you’re curious, I highly recommend checking out Josh Bycer’s fantastic piece on the topic.

One of the most fascinating elements of kaizo games is the concept of a kaizo trap. The idea is that the designer sets up a particularly nasty obstacle that the player will trigger with little to no forewarning. It’s often the case that these traps are aimed squarely at players who attempt to take the easiest path through a level. I think of it as a kind of contrapasso, which makes it all the more delightfully fiendish.

Most people would probably think of kaizo games as setting out to achieve the exact opposite of what games generally aim for. For the most part, video game designers try to carefully balance difficulty. Challenge is important, but overwhelmingly punishing difficulty (where, for instance, players routinely encounter unavoidable deaths) is usually a sign of poor game design. Kaizo games avoid the “poor game design” moniker because they are deliberately designed to inflict maximum pain, and players understand this when diving in.

Aside from the specific mechanical traits that make a kaizo game, well…kaizo, there’s another important ingredient at play: it’s the fans taking an established game and “hacking” it in order to turn it into the equivalent of running uphill during a landslide.

But what happens when a prominent, family-friendly game company converts one of its most iconic, beloved titles into a heinous meat grinder?

That’s exactly what Nintendo did in 1986, when they released Super Mario Bros. 2 on the Famicom Disk System in Japan.

The story behind Super Mario Bros. 2 is fascinating and there are many wonderful documentaries on the internet that dive into quite some detail on the topic. For now, though, I’ll give you the crash course.

Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 and became a global phenomenon. Nintendo wanted to rapidly follow it up with a sequel, which was due to be released on the Famicom Disk System (an attachment for the Famicom console that played games on special re-writeable disks). There was a feeling that many Japanese players had already mastered Super Mario Bros., and therefore needed a more challenging sequel. Nintendo marketed Super Mario Bros. 2 as being “for super players”. Unfortunately, the game was so brutal that Nintendo of America didn’t want to publish it (leading to another title — Doki Doki Panic — being retrofitted to become Super Mario Bros. 2 in western markets). The “real” Super Mario Bros. 2 would eventually be released in western markets as part of the 1993 Super Mario All-Stars compilation for Super Nintendo. On the compilation, it would become known as Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels.

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Super Mario Bros. 2 (Famicom Disk System) box art. Source: inserteaquititulodeblog.wordpress.com.

Let me just say: I’m a huge Mario fan. And I’m pretty damn good at Mario games, if I do say so myself. But I’ve never beaten Super Mario Bros. 2 — not until recently, that is. The ability to play this game as part of the Nintendo Switch Online NES catalogue (with those sweet, sweet save states) has been a literal game-changer for me.

I always knew Super Mario Bros. 2 was difficult. What I didn’t really appreciate until my latest play through is just how blatantly treacherous Nintendo’s designers could really be. This game is full of dark patterns that strike at the heart of Nintendo’s own Mario rulebook. This is, in part, what makes Super Mario Bros. 2 so much fun to play. It’s as though the Mario team got utterly ruined on sake after a haywire office party, said fuck it, and took a match to the million-seller they’d only just shipped.

Let’s start with the most well-known change: the poison mushroom. This little bastard appears right away in World 1–1. Sure, it looks like the recently-paroled cousin of the regular super mushroom upon close inspection. But if you’ve just arrived here from the first game, your instinct will be to pick up whatever looks like a “power up”. Doing so is the equivalent of absent-mindedly putting your hand on a hot stove: after recoiling from the sting, you’ll immediately be on a more careful and deliberate footing.

Don’t worry, though: the poison mushroom is just the beginning of the fuckery. How about World 3–1’s backwards warp pipe? Just like the original game, you will find warp pipes at various points and some of them will certainly propel you forward to later worlds. World 3–1 is a masterclass in psychological warfare. You find the springboard right before the flagpole. As you fly right over said flagpole, you just know you’re in for some Nintendo magic. How exciting! Sure enough, you’ll eventually stumble upon a warp pipe. Then you realise it’s a World 1 warp pipe and you have no way of avoiding it (other than falling into the pit and losing a life). It’s like someone asking you to taste some delicious cake batter from a wooden spoon…only to smack you in the teeth with the same spoon a moment later.

There’s a whole lot more to contend with in Super Mario Bros. 2. Some jumps are physically impossible unless you first find a hidden block in the environment to leap from. Even then, some of these blocks are high enough that you can’t easily jump on them from a standing start — it’s necessary to get a good run up, leap on the hidden block, and then leap across the impossible chasm.

Later in the game, you’ll encounter powerful gusts of wind that violently propel Mario across the screen while in mid-air. I found World 7–3 particularly challenging. In order to navigate through the level you need to use springboards while dealing with the wind gusts. Because the springboards propel Mario up “above” the visible are of the level, it’s incredibly difficult to know where he’ll land when he eventually comes back down.

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Source: Nintendo.

Although it’s filled with devious twists and turns, I am being slightly hyperbolic when I suggest that it’s a kaizo game. There’s nothing here that’s inherently unfair; nothing that leaves the player with no recourse. Rather, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a clear indication that Miyamoto and co. understand their own creation down to the pixel. They know exactly what skills you had to master in the original game, and the expectations you established based on that game’s rules. The deliberate violation of these rules in the sequel doesn’t imply that Nintendo abandoned all sense and structure. Rather, your muscle memory is used against you in an effort to shake you from complacency. It’s almost like being forced to write with your opposite hand — the basic rules of writing are the same, but you can’t entirely fall back on what you already know. You’re pushed back into a growth mindset, where knowledge is again replaced with curiosity. For this reason, I’d say Super Mario Bros. 2 is great to dive into right after you’ve finished Super Mario Bros. Playing both back-to-back will further sharpen your appreciation of the sequel.

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Source: Nintendo.

Remember, too: if you’ve never played Super Mario Bros. 2 then you will die and this will likely be a repeated occurrence. This is why playing the original version with limited lives is extremely tricky. But if you’re playing on Nintendo Switch, don’t be ashamed to take advantage of those save states. They make the game accessible enough to work your way through without entirely dulling the (good) pain.

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