Author Topic: Animal Crossing / Nintendo Rant  (Read 1964 times)


  • Old Person™
« on: February 17, 2003, 03:03:19 AM »
I read this at and thought it was interesting enough to share with everyone here.

Animal Crossing - Nintendo is no stranger to world domination. Thanks to the 95% market-share domination of the NES in the late '80s, they were the most pervasive Japanese corporation in America at a time when America seemed to be hopelessly pinned under Japan's thumb anyway. Unpopular business decisions and a bit of complacency allowed Nintendo's competitors Sega and Sony to gain the upper hand in the videogame world, however, and they're a far cry from the world-smashing giant they once were. But Nintendo has its way, making selective choices and focused (often selfish) business decisions that allow the company to remain one of the most profitable companies on the planet, even when its market share seems a tiny fraction of its competitors.

If anything, Nintendo is a strange mirror image of Apple Computer, which also went from mighty powerhouse to deeply troubled venture to focused, inexplicably successful niche business. The two companies share an unexpected kinship in terms of corporate philosophy - and in other ways, as well. Even their hardware is similar [4]. However, the most significant element both companies share in common is their philosphy of "we make the whole widget." Apple is the only computer company to design its systems from the hardware to the OS to the basic applications; likewise, Nintendo is the only software giant that still creates its own hardware. Sony and Microsoft have their little collections of subservient second parties, but Nintendo creates most of the best software that runs on their systems. Just as this approach allows Apple to create software specially suited to their hardware configurations and make changes to their users' habits more or less at will, it allows Nintendo to create games that take full advantage of their consoles. Mario 64 was one of the greatest games ever, and this was in part because the N64 was designed specifically to make playing Mario 64 the most comfortable experience possible. Neither company makes the most powerful equipment on the market; rather, they sell machines that offer a specific feature set to maximum the effectiveness of their software. It's draconian, but unless you're an especially psychopathic Slashdot open-source zealot, it's also a pretty good setup.

And Animal Crossing reveals another facet of the Nintendo/Apple similie: the concept of the fully-integrated proprietary digital hub. Yes, Nintendo has superficially turned its nose up at the Sony/MS philosophy of the gaming console as a protean entertainment flagship, but don't be fooled - it's certainly not afraid to put its own spin on the idea. However, rather than simply give gamers the ability to use their hardware to duplicate the purpose of entertainment hardware everyone already owns anyway, Nintendo has created its own little world of interdependent doodads. And in AC, the killer app to sell them. Apple wants to sell you an iMac, and an iBook for when you go portable, and an iPod to attach to it all. Nintendo wants to sell you a GameCube, and a GameBoy Advance for when you go mobile, and a eReader to attach to it all. Different names, different trendy instances of irregular upper- and lower-casing, same basic relationship.

Animal Crossing is the glue that holds it all together. Despite being about nothing whatsoever, it is nevertheless the opening salvo in Nintendo's bid to create a fully-integrated gaming environment. It is also Nintendo's statement of intent: it knows how to take your money, and it intends to do so with maximum efficiency.

The concepts of capitalism and, more importantly, possession are at the very core of Animal Crossing. Nintendo calls it a "communication game," but they're stretching the truth in much that same fashion that Roger Ebert stretches a boy's size-S T-shirt by trying to wear it. Yes, communication - or at least the semblance of such - plays a role in the game. It's fun for a while to talk to your neighbors and send them letters filled with varying degrees of passive aggression, but after a while you realize that there's no real communication happening - you're simply activating preset dialogues and reactions within the copious game script, and your villagers lack any real memory of your former interactions beyond the occasional cherished letter or two. There's no ability on behalf of the computer to interpret the meaning of the letters you write to them. The much-vaunted "communication" aspect of AC is, in the end, little more than a pretty face for a Pokémon-like promotion of rampant materialism. Writing a letter to a villager is simply means to the end of getting more virtual stuff. Running errands for them is, likewise, simply a way in which you get more swag for your home. Visiting other towns and swapping codes with friends? These, too, allow you to earn more imaginary material possessions. Fishing and bug catching allow you to fulfill your requisite catch 'em all fixation... and then sell 'em all when you catch duplicates, to help pay off your house.

The house, in fact, provides your primary impetus in the game. You enter your town with nothing, fall immediately into debt by buying a cottage, and spend the next few (days, weeks, months, whichever suits your play style) paying off the loan. Whenever you clear your debt, the lien holder - a "raccoon" by the name of Tom Nook - encourages you to go further into debt, because everyone wants more! Once you upgrade your home to become as decadent as possible, the remainder of the game is spent tormenting neighbors, completing your collections, and - of course - buying better possessions with which to impress the Happy Room Academy, which judges your value as a person based upon the size of your home and the quality of the properties you place within.

Some of the game's best items can only be found by visiting Animal Island, which is accomplished by hooking a GameBoy Advance to your GameCube. If you want, you can also hook an eReader to your GBA (which you then hook to your GC) and scan cards which will add characters, music and, naturally, more items to the game. Of course, the cards don't come free. They're sold in packs of five for $3 apiece - packed randomly, of course, to ensure you can't get a complete set without sweating it out. The drive to buy/trade/possess which pervades the gameplay also surrounds the actual game, extending beyond the physical boundaries of the GameCube and landing with a solid thwack amidst your fleshy existence. The overwhelming subtext is that AC is incomplete unless you get everything - and that includes not only items within the game, but accessories and peripherals to enhance the game as well.

You thought Pokémon was scary in its super-charged marketing mania, and so it was; but if franchises were super soliders, Pokémon was Rambo, brazenly striding forth and noisily laying waste to all around. Animal Crossing, on the other hand, is Solid Snake, slipping quietly in, snapping necks and securing objectives with no one else the wiser until suddenly they have a gun to their heads. AC slips beneath that parental radar which typically alerts them to obsessive-compulsive money sinks targeting their children; Nintendo isn't selling the game with a blatant line like "Gotta Buy 'Em All!" There are no action figures. No afternoon cartoon. No Animal Crossing plushies. Yet AC will likely be the most expensive game I've ever owned. How can this be, you ask? Because Nintendo knows the art of the sale, and the science of fostering materialism.

$50 for the game and memory card;
$20 for a Memory Card 251 to create a town for my girlfriend;
$15 for a GC-to-GBA link cable;
$45 for an eReader;
and then there are three waves of eReader cards forthcoming, each with sixty cards selling for 60¢ apiece. In the improbable event I could somehow procure the randomly-distributed cards with no duplicates, this would amount to an additional $118 for all 180.
The total cost? $248. And that's assuming I already owned a GameBoy Advance, which is a necessary tool to unlock many of the game's secrets... and make use of the eReader.

And unfortunately, Nintendo will get away with this diabolical scheme. That's because as savvy as the company is when it comes to marketing, it's also devastatingly skilled at creating wonderful games. Nintendo remains the only software company with its own hardware because it is quite possibly the only company with sufficient breadth, depth and quality of content to entice gamers to buy an extra system. And AC upholds this trend of excellence. It's a difficult game to quantify; while it has a definite aroma of Sims and Harvest Moon about it, the flavor is distinctly Nintendo. The presentation is, in fact, a pretty good example of what the Zelda series would be like if Miyamoto hadn't decided to move the camera behind Link's shoulder (and the sounds effects are classic Nintendo, too, from the 1-Up sound when you score bonus cash to the startup screen music which could pass as the more casual twin brother of the main Yoshi's Island theme). But unlike Zelda, you don't go around killing things and solving puzzles in AC; you walk around, catching bugs and digging up buried treasure and replanting trees and fetching items for people. There is no goal outside acquisition, no aim beyond pretending to communicate. The game does not end until you decide to stop playing it. It is, in a word, extraordinarily addictive. It's so addictive that a single word doesn't suffice.

If anything, Animal Crossing is a game consisting entirely of Zelda-esque fetch quests. While fetch quests and minigames normally irritate the living bejeebers out of me, here I'm quite alright with them. I think this is because in a normal video game, all the stupid side jobs and extra diversions interrupt the pace and flow of the main quest, and typically are far less involving than the meat of the game anyway. I refuse to believe that anyone was delighted to spend three hours racing chocobos at the end of Final Fantasy VII; here, however, such nonsense is perfectly at home and belongs.

Animal Crossing is a game that glorifies acquisition of material goods. It utilizes Nintendo's special knack for quality gameplay to encourage gamers to buy, buy, buy. And it's painfully fun. If the communication aspect actually worked, it would be even better. If there were more to do once you complete your home than watch the seasons change and seek ultimate feng shui, it would be better still. And if AC were online in order to allow free exchange of items and effortless visitation of friends' towns, it would be impossible to topple for sheer addictive quality.

Of course, if AC were online, Nintendo could cement its nefarious evil by hovering Big Brother-like over every transaction and exchange and correspondence. So perhaps it's best we remain fettered by outdated technology.

Everything is perfect!  Hyrule is a very liveable place. ;Þ

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-->    Town: Hyrule     <--
-->     Name: Link      <--
--> Now Only ß9,999,990 <--
“Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know."

Chupperson Weird

  • Not interested.
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2003, 11:17:45 PM »
I happily buy into whatever Nintendo throws at me (except Pokemon). I don't mind at all that they may be trying to get all my money... it sure isn't going to any other company. I have more respect for Nintendo, probably, than any other company of any sort...

I write poetry when I`m not looking.
That was a joke.

« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2003, 02:19:28 PM »
I've never been a big fan of Pokemon, but Ruby and Sapphire are gonna be cool!

Chupperson Weird

  • Not interested.
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2003, 09:43:22 PM »
You know what's funny? Rubies and Sapphires are both the same mineral, but with different impurities mixed in to make the colors different, and they're red and blue, and I think they ran out of ideas for Pokemon colors.

I write poetry when I`m not looking.
That was a joke.