Animal Crossing almost never made it

The famous Nintendo Treehouse is situated deep in Nintendo of America's headquarters and is responsible for a lot of things, including bringing the company’s games from Japan to North America.

Shrouded in a mist of secrecy, the team that climbs up to the Treehouse every day are often devising complex marketing strategies, creating and compiling content and deciding which titles will be localised and which ones will stay put on Japanese soil.

Kotaku recently caught up with a select few members of the exclusive Treehouse and some interesting insights were revealed. For example, manager Leslie Swan said the team assesses the sales potential of each game and then decide whether it's good enough to justify spending the money on localisation.

Well, actually we have an evaluation system in place here 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.

Predicting the games that will sell and which will not is no easy task and several titles that are now a big part of Western gaming culture may never have made it. Take Animal Crossing for example, a title that was full of elements that linked back to Japanese heritage. Animal Crossing: New Leaf producer Katsuya Eguchi said Nintendo Japan had no intention to sell it overseas but sent ROMs of the N64 game to the Treehouse to see what they thought.

After some extensive playtime the Treehouse came to the conclusion the game could have a future in North America but it needed to have a few modifications so it fit in well with the culture in the proposed new market. For example, the shrine situated in the middle of the original game’s town was replaced with a fountain, while other items and jokes that would have made sense in Japan were swapped with some that would be more appropriate for North American gamers.

Animal Crossing made its debut on the GameCube in North America and the rest is history.

The team is also responsible for the localisation of European languages as well as English and this is not an easy task by any means. For example, writing dialogue for cut scenes that already exist can be tricky and they must painstakingly find wording that matches the movement of the characters lips without losing any of the meaning. This was particularly tough for the GameCube title Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, which had many cutscenes that couldn't be changed and script had to be written so it resembled what the characters were saying in Japanese.

The work of the Treehouse staff is not easy, but it also sounds like a lot of fun. Who knows what could be going on in there right now. Just thinking about it is exciting!

What are your thoughts on Nintendo's secretive department? What would you like to see come from it next? Let us know in the comment section below.