It’s not Animal Crossing
Tomodachi Life started out in Japan as Tomodachi Collection: New Life before it’s western localization. As Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata described it, “Even the most ‘Japanese’ games can translate abroad without losing their identity.”
Now here we are with a June 6th date given for the game. How did this all happen? What went on behind the scenes? IGN’s Jose Otero spoke with Nintendo Senior Product Marketing Manager Bill Trinen to gather the details.
“It is a difficult thing to understand. Your first impression is really going to be to compare it to an Animal Crossing, or to look at it as a sort of simulation game. But we don’t really look at it so much as a simulation,” Trinen explained. “We look at it really as this sort of living breathing world, and it’s a bit of an alternate reality, where the Mii characters of people you know in everyday life come together to interact and mingle. And the results of it are incredibly funny, with unexpected moments that occur between all of these characters.”
Jose continued stating that Trinen likened Tomodachi Life as a blend of social media and gameplay, describing the as one where players might feel compelled to constantly check up on how their Miis are getting along. Not only that, but the game is “layered with subtle interactions between these characters and ideas built around an alternate little world. One where the Miis have specific desires for food, clothes, other accessories, or even relationships,” Your Miis will even want to interact with you.
“I look at names as kind of a peculiar thing,” Trinen said responding to why the word ‘Tomodachi’ wasn’t translated during localization. “Looking back, there was a time when Pokemon was not going to be a great name for that franchise, or people thought Wii was not going to be a great name for that system. And so, from that perspective, when we’re looking at naming something, we’re often looking at trying to find something that has a unique sound or a unique feel to it. And, certainly, taking a word like ‘Tomodachi’ and combining it with life has a little bit of that intrigue.”
Tomodachi Life has reportedly been under localization for more than a year. During this time the team gave special attention to transferring this Japanese game to a relatable cultural context in a various ways, such as choosing relevant dishes and music for people living west. Miis can even react to food given to them in the game and participate in rap battles.
“What the localization team has done is probably very similar to the process that went into the localization of the original Animal Crossing,” Trinen said about the localization process. “We looked at that and said, ‘OK, We’re not changing the core gameplay or the structure of the game as it currently exists.’ What we wanted to do is try to find those moments where the localization team can find a way to make [it all] a little bit more relevant for people here in the US.”
Thanks to the changes the localization team made to the personality profiles of the Miis as well as the ability to generate voices from text, “the personalities will be a huge reason why this game is what it is.”
“They really are the next evolution of the Mii characters, and the first time that you really see Mii characters who genuinely have a personality.” Trinen said. “And, of course, they also have a voice.”
Producer and former Super Metroid director Yoshio Sakamoto also weighted in on the development and localization process behind the game speaking to CVG.
“Development began when we started thinking about if it was possible to make a DS game which players could not only enjoy inside of the game, but one which could also trigger communication outside of it,” he explains . “Eventually we came up with a simple tool that users could use to make portraits of themselves or other people. When we presented this tool to Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto, they felt that it would work very nicely with a new platform, so it evolved into the Mii Channel that was implemented on the Wii.”
Despite having their tool being featured in one of the forefront applications on the Wii, he still felt it’s ultimate purpose was not realized; “to create a game that could trigger social interaction between 3DS users, even when they weren’t playing.”
So Sakamoto, along with Nintendo SPD Group 1, began testing how they could breath life into Mii avatars, and the rest is history.
“By turning Miis into something that felt alive, we found we were able to achieve the goal we were originally aiming for,” Sakamoto-san continued, “entertainment which is fun just by watching, and also having the actions of those Mii characters become a social topic.”
The connections to reality that this game makes is also precisely the reason Sakamoto-san believes “Tomodachi are completely different from the Miis of Mii Studio.”
“They freely move around with their own will, and independently build relationships,” he said. “They get hungry, have fights, catch colds and even fall in love. To players, the Tomodachi are alter egos of their friends and family, so their problems become serious issues for players.”
“In order to have players feel the core of Tomodachi today, we needed to have Mr. Iwata, Mr. Aonuma and Mr. Miyamoto play a role in the Nintendo Direct preview – people consumers are familiar with.”
“The actions of Tomodachi based on friends and family stimulates your imagination and brings empathy. If your Tomodachi were based on unknown people, the experience would be less appealing.”
Perhaps what makes Tomodachi Life stand out is the amazingly wild attention it gives humor, but what else did we expect from the team that brought us Wario Ware and Rhythm Tengoku?
“By putting the Tomodachi in unrealistic incidents, it made the Mii characters more funny,” Sakamoto said. “Many members of the team came up with wacky concepts – and maybe there are some actual dreams reflected in these sequences – but to be honest, dreams were the easiest way to implement the funny ideas.”
It’s Sakamoto’s intention to have the game go viral as it did in Japan, and it certainly does seem to have that feel.
“I honestly do not know if Tomodachi Life can be similarly accepted overseas,” he admits, “however I believe that the emotion of caring for and loving others is universal. There are many crazy elements in the game, but I hope that after looking deeper at the core of the entertainment, the way you feel towards it has changed.”
“In Japan, Tomodachi Life was played by a huge number of people and made a lot of them very happy. I hope that we can make many more people happy, not just in Japan but also in Europe and America.”
Tomodachi Life sounds like it will have big potential in west. Let us know your thoughts on the matter below.