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N-Sider Interview: Nate Bihldorff

Friday, July 8, 2005

Interviews
July 8, 2005

I recently had the pleasure of conducting a sort-of-interview e-mail exchange with NOA Localization Producer Nate Bihldorff, after a brief faux-rendezvous at E3 2005. What follows are the questions I asked him (in blue!) and the answers he gave me (not in blue).


Q: Starting off with a little biographical stuff, can you please give us a bit of a description about what it is you do with Nintendo for those of us who might not be familiar with your work?

Nate Bihldorff: I'm a Localization Producer (and manager of three writers). Besides management, my main purpose is rewriting games from their original Japanese--I work with our translators to rewrite every bit of text you see in a Nintendo-published game. I also write scripts and record voice for games, edit and rewrite manuals and box text, and do about a zillion little things like demoing games for journalists and writing ad copy.

Q: Many people dream of going on to work at Nintendo, but every college professor will tell you that it's not good to lock yourself into one potential job opportunity. How was it that you came to be hired at Nintendo?

Nate Bihldorff: Pretty random, actually. I graduated from college with a degree in English (concentration in creative writing) and decided to go snowboarding for a season while I was still young and relatively unaware of my own mortality. I had lived on the east coast my whole life, so I headed west to Sun Valley, Idaho and tended bar for a season. I moved up to Seattle the following year, and eventually ended up picking up some temp work at Nintendo doing game testing. The game I was working on was Ocarina of Time--I couldn't believe I was getting paid to play it. After several months, I saw an opening at Nintendo Power magazine and got a job there for three years. Then, more snowboarding. Finally, I came back and got my current job in the burgeoning Localization department.

Q: What fields did you specialize in during your time at university?

Nate Bihldorff: English, heavy concentration in creative writing. Basically, lots of reading and writing.

Q: Did you do any other creative writing before being hired at Nintendo? Any published works? Short stories, poetry?

Nate Bihldorff: Tons of creative writing, none published. No poetry, but I've written short stories, a couple novels, a children's book, and several screenplays--one of those actually went into pre-production but got canned when our actress won an Independent Spirit Award and backed out of her contract.

Q: How much Japanese education did you have? Was it in preparation for other career paths like general translation, or taken primarily as a hobby?

Nate Bihldorff: None! Actually, that's not true, since I started here I took a semester of Japanese, but I still suck at it. I depend 100% on our translators for Japanese work.

Q: I'm sure the answer is yes, but did you grow up playing video games? What were some of your classic favorites? Current favorites?

Nate Bihldorff: Oh, God, yes. All Nintendo, though--I was and still am a Nintendo freak. No other systems. I saved up for my first NES and played it relentlessly. My favorites were all the first-party games--Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus. These remain my favorites, although the Super Smash Bros. series is probably now my all-time most-played game.

Q: What is your commute to Nintendo like? Do you drive or take public transit? Do you play games on the go?

Nate Bihldorff: I generally drive--I only live 10 minutes away. If I take the bus I play Meteos.

Q: What is a typical work day like for you? How do different translation projects proceed? Is it primarily a team-based work to find character voices, or is it more of a personal endeavor?

Nate Bihldorff: We pull long hours in the Treehouse, so I generally arrive a little past eight and leave whenever. Depending on where we are in a project, my day varies greatly. Early on in a project, we'll play portions of early ROMs of the game and communicate with the dev team about changing things via videoconference or email. Once we get into the meat of a project, I might spend all day just writing text that the translators have translated. Or, I might play through a current version of the game with my most recent text to see if it works or not. Or I might work with our debug team to find and fix bugs. Or all of those things--it's not uncommon to juggle 4 or 5 projects at once.

Every project is different because every team is different, so there are always snags, but we try to iron them out early. Finding a voice for a character involves researching how the voice was in the past (old characters) and then having pow-wows about new ones. Generally I'll work with the translator to find out the nuances of the character in Japanese and try to play off that, but sometimes, if something jumps out at me, I just run with it--like Fawful.

Q: Have you ever seen the elusive NoA president Tatsumi Kimishima? If so, what's he like?

Nate Bihldorff: I see him quite often, he's just around the corner. He seems like a very nice guy, although we've never gone out for beers or anything. He did shake my hand when I won the company-wide Smash Bros. Melee tournament. Good shake.

Q: Have you ever had the opportunity to meet former Nintendo Co., Ltd. president Hiroshi Yamauchi? If so, is he really the scary emperor the American press makes him out to be?

Nate Bihldorff: I saw him drive by in a car once when I was at NCL in Kyoto. I wasn't very scared.

Q: Your name is often mentioned with the hallowed NOA Treehouse. Care to provide a little Treehouse background? What crazy hijinks go on in this fabled mystery-land?

Nate Bihldorff: The Treehouse encompasses the localization department, some product development, and marketing support. Since we handle so much sensitive information, we're one of the few areas at NOA with no windows and no through access--we're basically in a bunker at the center of a building. It sucks when it's nice out, but luckily it rains frequently, so we don't miss much. I wish I could tell you about the hijinks, but they're just as top-secret as the games. I can tell you this: Smash Bros. Melee gets played every day, and loud swearing is involved.

Q: Do you visit many fan-run videogaming sites? Are you active on the Nintendo.com forums?

Nate Bihldorff: I keep tabs on pretty much every video game site out there, including fan-run ones. While I do lurk on many, many forums, I never post (though I'm often sorely tempted to, if only to dole out some pwnage on a couple of misinformed fools).

Q: Several E3-denizens had the fortune of seeing you wander Nintendo's booth, specifically the Zelda exhibit. Have you attended many E3 shows? What do you like and dislike most about the event?

Nate Bihldorff: I don't remember how many E3 shows I've been to...maybe 5? I get tired of all the shameless bright-light, hot-model pimping of the latest first-person shooter, but I generally like seeing all the new games. Unfortunately, whenever I have to go in a demoing capacity, I have to work my butt off. It's tiring being on your feet all day, talking. Lately I've mostly met with development teams and given interviews at E3, so it's been better. E3 is also great because I get to hang out with all my heroes, like Miyamoto-san, Aonuma-san, and Sakurai-san.

Q: Rumors run rampant on interweb message boards about the shape the Revolution controller will take. Have you seen it? Is it composed primarily of Twinkie spongecake, as I have speculated?

Nate Bihldorff: I can't comment on this other than to confirm that it will NOT be made of anything edible.

Q: Animal Crossing -- who decided to make the rhinocerous always call me "hippie?"

Nate Bihldorff: Animal Crossing was the product of our entire localization department at the time, so you can blame either me, Rich Amtower, Leslie Swan, Bill Trinen, Scot Ritchey, or Tim O'Leary.

Q: I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Amtower regarding Sword of Mana a couple of years ago. What is he up to these days?

Nate Bihldorff: He's about thirty feet from me, finishing up Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and generally kicking all sorts of literary ass.

Q: I'm sure you're asked this all the time, but what projects (that you can tell us about) do you currently have underway? Which are you enjoying the most? What's on the horizon?

Nate Bihldorff: I'm allowed to tell you about...Nintendogs, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Animal Crossing DS (tentative name), Mario Superstar Baseball, and Mario and Luigi DS (tentative name). Mario and Luigi is insane--I'm so happy to be working on another one, as the first one is one of my favorite games. And obviously Zelda...I mean, come on.

Q: Do you have any level of involvement with Nintendo Power? How might one go about becoming involved with this publication?

Nate Bihldorff: As I mentioned above, I used to write for them. Now I occasionally proof articles for games I'm working on get interviewed for features.

Q: Resident "The Press" co-author Smith Gregg wants to know: "What is the source of this 'Nintendo Power'? Is it evil?"

Nate Bihldorff: It shines down from smiling clouds, and if fun is evil, then yes, it's evil.

Q: What is your favorite "The Price is Right" pricing game?

Nate Bihldorff: I haven't watched that show since I was in short pants. Does Bob still do that one game with the yodeling hiker?


Thus ends the e-mail interview. I hope you all learned a great deal about Mr. Bihldorff and his Nintendo-related escapades. If nothing else, he has taught me one thing: snowboarding leads to gainful employment at Nintendo. HIT THE SLOPES!!!! GO NOW!