I somehow missed this when it was first published, but Kotaku has republished a really fascinating look at Nintendo’s Treehouse division, what they do, and the amount of work they contribute to making their North American localizations what they are.
Say what you will about Nintendo’s hardware, its recent software design foibles, or their crazy attitudes towards online services—they know how to do localization well. And it’s a team that appears to have long-term cohesion:
After a brief tour of the facilities, I was ushered into one of the conference rooms—I think it was the one named Magikoopa—to meet with some of the core members of the Treehouse, all people who have been there for at least a decade. With me was Nate Bihldorff, best known for writing English for all of the Mario & Luigi RPGs; Leslie Swan, who helped found the localization department almost a decade and a half ago; Tim O’Leary, a grizzled veteran translator; Rich Amtower, who helped localize several Final Fantasys and other big Square RPGs; and Reiko Ninomiya, who ran translation on the critically-acclaimed (and super-popular) Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
It’s an enormous amount of work to translate some of the games Nintendo is producing:
“[We spent] three years working with the development team, cause again they consulted us really early, talking about [in-game events] and some things like that,” said Reiko Ninomiya, who headed up localization on New Leaf. “And then actual heads-down in the files… a year and three months.”
And somewhat unsurprisingly, there’s a strong culture of saying “no” to things that won’t work:
That’s the big question: how does the Treehouse decide what to bring over—and what not to bring over?
“Well, actually we have an evaluation system in place here,” said Leslie Swan. “And through that process we get the game in, do an evaluation of it to determine what we think the sales potential is, and it comes down to essentially if we don’t think the sales potential is great, we don’t do it.”
Give it a read; it’s pretty fascinating. No matter what the future holds for Nintendo, with their current mainline console flailing in a competitive market, I hope they never lose this kind of thing.