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Bill Trinen Shares His History of the Treehouse, Localisation and Translating for Shigeru Miyamoto

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Back in '98 the Treehouse was a team of two

For those that follow Nintendo closely, through its various Direct broadcasts and public events, Bill Trinen has become a familiar and popular figurehead. He may be the Director of Product Marketing at Nintendo of America, a job that saw him nervously watching the time ahead of a meeting while making an appearance in the Nintendo Treehouse E3 live broadcast, but he's also a key figure in selling the Nintendo message. His rise to popularity has even resulted in some self-deprecating jokes from Reggie Fils-Aime, along the lines of Trinen stealing his thunder.

Of course, this rise to prominence as a public face of Nintendo didn't happen overnight. In a chat with Siliconera, Trinen outlined how he got started in the Treehouse in '98, having applied for a contractor role and, instead, being offered a full time job. It's clear that the process of localisation and marketing was far smaller in scale when he started, and he outlines how much it's expanded in the years since.

The thing about Treehouse is that it’s actually a huge team [now]. When I joined Nintendo back in ’98, there were two of us. We localized games, captured all the screenshots for promotional materials, wrote all of the manuals, captured all of the footage to help with T.V. ads for media…the list gets longer.

From there, the team started to grow, and one of the first things I said was, ‘We really need somebody else to capture the footage [for media], because there’s actual localization work to do, and we can’t do it all,’ so then we added what’s now called our Marketing Support Team.

Then there’s my team. I left out of localization several years ago and started up what is essentially the product marketing team. Our role is to educate the NOA internal marketing teams and their agencies on what the products are and how they can identify the key features of a product.

We also have our brand management/Pokémon team that handles all of the Pokémon products. They do some things around the Kirby franchise. Today, Treehouse is a very large group. Localization alone is 40 or 50 people. It’s hard to imagine that we started by translating text into .txt files.

There also seems to be an element of serendipity around Trinen's relationship with Miyamoto-san — despite his senior role at NoA, he can still be seen accompanying Miyamoto-san at major events, providing translations in presentations and interviews; that continued at E3 2014. Trinen had first worked with Miyamoto-san, and others from the HQ in Japan, in translating calls and emails during the localisation of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Months later Trinen was approached, due to his knowledge of the Japanese language, to assist Miyamoto-san in a speech to the Game Developer’s Conference, a big deal in front of thousands of spectators.

He was really nervous because he had never spoken in front of an audience that large before—and I was really nervous because I had never met Mr. Miyamoto. I can’t remember it exactly, but there was this little joke at the beginning…anyways, we got on stage, and he gets to his joke, tells it, I translate it, and the whole room just busts up.

That’s been our motto ever since—whenever we're doing anything, we don’t really care what the audience thinks, the two of us are just going to get up and have fun.

For some, and despite his many responsibilities behind the scenes, it'll be Trinen's appearances in Nintendo Direct broadcasts and alongside Shigeru Miyamoto that will make him a comforting, familiar presence. Yet still, being associated with Miyamoto-san isn't the worst legacy in the world, and it's one that Trinen no doubt enjoys.

There have actually been rumors that Mr. Miyamoto is going to retire, you know, so this E3 we were going to spread the rumor that the two of us had bought a place in a Hawaii and that we’re going to retire together.

No retirement for either for years to come, we trust.


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User Comments (26)



Hunter-D said:

Read this earlier, really do love them both!

Along with Mr. Sakurai, they're my favourite people in the entire industry.



0utburst said:

Haha! And what's for Shibata?

Anyway, good read. They will be spreading a rumor of them having bought a place in Hawaii? Isle Delfino? Super Mario Sunshine HD?



sinalefa said:


I guess Shibata will have to take a pic with his favourite fruit and let us know. If the rest of Nintendo wants to follow suit, they can use Pikmin 3 for inspiration



Tops said:

I for one am always interested in 'behind the scenes' type info so learning about how Bill got his start is quite interesting. I think he's great and working at Treehouse would be amazing! (lol I can dream, can't I?)



unrandomsam said:

I think they waste far too many resources on localisation (That could be used to make actual games).

The 1998 Staffing levels seems about right.



rjejr said:

He's starting to grow on me, but he really looks like a robot in that photo. Though he's in marketing, so he probably knows that.

Being Miyamoto's translator should be reason enough for anybody to want to learn japanese.



AdanVC said:

He is the coolest guy. The other day I was playing Wario Ware inc. on the Virtual Console and he actually appeared on the credits and everything as part of the localization team.



DiscoGentleman said:

Man... this really makes me want to apply for Nintendo!
Watching the Treehouse Live event at E3 and hearing him do JPN→ENG/ENG→JPN translation, I understood everything just fine and felt very confident that I could've done the same as him. Maybe I really should be more sure of my language ability and just apply to Nintendo and figure out the logistics issues later...



IceClimbers said:

I believe it was Bill who was up on stage with Miyamoto during E3 when they introduced Smash Bros Melee.



SphericalCrusher said:

Bill Trinen is definitely a one-of-a-kind type dude. I really enjoy hearing him speak about stuff and translate for the gaming God, Miyamoto.



Zombie_Barioth said:

"The 1998 Staffing levels seems about right."

What, the team of two? They expanded because that wasn't enough man-power even back then, never mind now.

You say they "waste" far too many resources on localization, but thats exactly what those guys were hired for in the first place. You do know that for companies like Atlus and XSEED localization is a big part of what they do, right? If Nintendo didn't do it in-house they'd have to hire someone else to do it for them, which would cost them more since the 3rd-party will want to profit from it. With Treehouse all they pay are the overhead costs. They're not being paid instead of developers, but in addition to them.



unrandomsam said:

@Zombie_Barioth Look at what has happened to Retro (Was originally capable of doing 4 games at a time) / NST (Was originally doing decent retail games) in the same time period.

For lots of games even a Megadrive - Zero Wing type translation is just fine.



ZenTurtle said:

Is there a mistake with the tags? Because I've never heard of 'Nintendo of American' ...



Zombie_Barioth said:

That has nothing to do with localization, if anything its the extra work created from the jump to HD.

Skimping on localization won't fix that, only cheapen the finished project. People actually do appreciate good localization, they might be able to get away with it but good localization doesn't just translate the words, it translates everything in a way that makes sense for the intended audience. Animal Crossing is a game that Treehouse made popular mainly due to their great localization, its thanks to them we even have the series in the west today.

Having a large staff allows the localization team to handle more than one game at a time, which is important for Nintendo given their strategy. They probably have them doing 2-3 games at a time depending on what they are.



IronMan28 said:

Gotta love Bill, he responded to one of my random tweets about him being correct on the Zelda cycle. Hilarious and likable guy.

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