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The Realm of Blade
March 20, 2012 9:16 AM   Subscribe

The Realm of Blade: Why Nintendo Will Always Rule.
posted by Foci for Analysis (35 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a cool story, but I feel doubtful that Nintendo would respond the same way if a couple of kids sent them an idea today. Maybe I'm wrong, though.

I find it slightly ironic that the author considers himself a lifelong fan of Nintendo, but then notes that his Wii is collecting dust and doesn't actually get used.
posted by asnider at 10:03 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well dammit now I've just fired up Twilight Princess again.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:16 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a cool story!

Nerd Nitpick: This sentence, however, stopped me in my tracks:

Sega usually won out on the graphics department, but Nintendo (in my opinion) usually won out on the character and gameplay department.

I know it's his opinion, but I've been playing both Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis emulators recently and the SNES games almost always have better "graphics" (though not necessarily better art direction). This makes sense also because the Genesis/Megadrive hardware was about two years older than the SNES...for example I believe the SNES was able to draw something like 256 colors on-screen while the Genesis could only draw about 62.

Also I do think Nintendo might still respond like this today. They're a pretty family-friendly company even after all these years.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:17 AM on March 20, 2012


So, I worked at NOA's correspondence department during this time.

We answered each and every letter we received by hand. It was part of the corporate culture at Nintendo to treat every customer with respect and personal attention.

After a few months on the job, I developed a system of macros that would allow me to concatenate a highly personalized letter from my stash of about 150 pre-written paragraphs. My numbers shot through the roof, and I had to throttle my output to prevent anyone from getting suspicious.

Once I had that system in place, my day consisted of about 90 minutes of macro-ing, printing and signing letters, and about 6 hours of playing Nintendo (on the desktop bug-testing station) or watching Transformers (on the high-scores verification VHS console). Also, there was an R-Type arcade box in the break room that I got really, really good at. It was a great job.

(Lest anyone accuse me of slacking off, let me just point out that I raised our department's numbers to such an extent that everyone got bonuses, and I spent a great deal of my "spare" time helping others in the department with gameplay questions and pc issues.)

This letter is unfortunately not the best example of our responses as it is almost entirely legal boilerplate, drawn up to avoid any liability in plagiarism lawsuits. We used to be able to answer more enthusiastically (i.e. "Wow, nice drawings! I love the boss in the red suit!") but they put the kibosh on that pretty quick.

More standard letters (game play questions, general queries about the company, stories from kids, etc.) got a very personalized response. I've never seen anything else like it from any large corporation. Nintendo really went the extra mile for their customers. I have no doubt that this was no small factor in their extremely loyal fan base.

BTW, Diane Johnson (the customer service rep who answered this person's letter) was very pleasant to work with in person, and pretty cute, too!
posted by Aquaman at 10:18 AM on March 20, 2012 [120 favorites]


asnider: "I find it slightly ironic that the author considers himself a lifelong fan of Nintendo, but then notes that his Wii is collecting dust and doesn't actually get used"

I imagine he would say that he's been a lifelong fan of the Nintendo he knew from his childhood, whereas the modern Nintendo can go to hell. Similar to many Gen Xers and our relationship with, say, Star Wars.
posted by barnacles at 10:18 AM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know it's his opinion, but I've been playing both Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis emulators recently and the SNES games almost always have better "graphics"

That was my recollection; the Sega kids back in school would brag about having all the cool violent games, but the Nintendo kids had better the graphics

his Wii is collecting dust and doesn't actually get used

Yeah, but there's been a pretty long lull in good releases for the Wii so it makes some sense. The last few games I got were NBA Jam, House of the Dead Overkill, and Monster Hunter Tri. I think I eventually want to pick up Last Story and Xenoblade when it comes out, but my impression is Nintendo and developers are winding down the Wii for whatever is coming next.
posted by Hoopo at 10:22 AM on March 20, 2012


After a few months on the job, I developed a system of macros that would allow me to concatenate a highly personalized letter from my stash of about 150 pre-written paragraphs.

MetaFilter: Shitting on your childhood accomplishments since 1999.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:28 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hoopo: "whatever is coming next."

They actually announced what's coming next nearly a year ago. I know, right? I found out last week.
posted by Aiwen at 10:28 AM on March 20, 2012


I had the Sega Master System. I will tell you why Sega will always rule. It wasn't because the graphics in Rocky were way better than Punch-Out. It wasn't because of Hang-On or Astro Warrior.

It was because while this guy was reading his one letter from Nintendo, I regularly spent hours -- HOURS -- on the phone at night talking to the operators at 1-800-USA-SEGA.

I almost feel like this didn't exist or that I am making this up, but I know it was true because my dream girl...the Sega operator I would talk to regularly as a little kid....she told me about the existence of that secret snail maze game. Can you imagine? Sure, I could save up my money for a year and buy Rastan or one of those odd games I never had that came on cards instead of cartridges. But here, over the phone, she taught me the secret of the hidden snail maze, and suddenly I had a FREE game. Free. And so I would call her all the time and just talk about games and tips (and now that I think back I really hope this was free)...I would do this all with my clear phone...you know the phone, the clear acrylic two-piece phone with the rainbow colored guts that would light up when it was ringing. I would lay on my back twirling the cord in that oh-so-80s-way, tossing wacky wall walkers against the wall while chatting it up with my secret gaming staff about Shinobi and Wanted and how the hell to get anywhere in Zillion.

That is Why Sega will always rule.*


* Also, because nobody else had a f'ing Sega, so I couldn't ask anyone else for tips since they were all neck deep in Nintendo Power Magazines and Mario and Zelda...even my sister had a Nintendo. Dammit, so here I was holed up in the dark forced to call some hotline to figure out why Rocky can't hit a f'ing speed bag to save his life.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:31 AM on March 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


That's really cool, Aquaman. I would love to hear more about your time working for NOA.

As a business, Nintendo seems to me to be a very traditional company with strange impulses. Once in a while they'll try something really odd (like the Virtual Boy, Satellaview, the e-Reader to name a few) and it will be a spectacular flop. Other times they'll go against the grain and it will work in their favor.

Their huge success with the Wii is a testament to that. Back in 2006 when the Wii was released, Sony and Microsoft were struggling to sell their consoles at a loss, Nintendo swoops in with the Wii, selling it at a profit and you basically couldn't find one anywhere on the planet. Even now I think the Wii is still the best selling of the three consoles. Nintendo did everything the other two didn't: less powerful hardware, no games for the hardcore gamer set, no dedicated multiplayer online system.

The DS was also pretty much the only game (heh) in town for mobile gaming, the PSP turning out to be a bit of a non-starter.

It worked really well for them for a long time, and Miyamoto came out with some stellar titles during that time as well. Then iOS came along and totally unexpectedly ate Nintendo's lunch in the portables market, and now Microsoft's Kinect is picking up some slack in the "family gaming" arena that Nintendo had dominated for so long. Nintendo is at a crossroads, and for the first time in a while I don't think they're future is so clear.

I really hope they figure things out and don't end up going the way of Sega, but at the end of the day it's the first party titles that really make Nintendo worthwhile so it wouldn't be the end of the world I suppose....
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:36 AM on March 20, 2012


MetaFilter: Shitting on your childhood accomplishments since 1999.

Excuse me? I loved those kids and their letters. I just got tired of typing the same thing a hundred times. My "stock paragraphs" were tailor-made, on-topic responses for each and every one of their questions.

Maybe you are imagining that I just sent back whatever crap I felt like, but that's not the case. I carefully chose responses that I had previously written that were applicable to the letter I received, and made sure the final letter sounded exactly as if I had written it from scratch for that person alone. I would always personalize the header and footer with some bit of info from the writer's correspondence.

From time to time I would add new paragraphs to my macros as new issues or questions turned out to be popular ones.

If that's "shitting on your childhood", I'm sorry. Nintendo wouldn't allow us to come to your house personally and explain how to beat Mother Brain with pantomime and sound effects, so that's the best I could do.
posted by Aquaman at 10:38 AM on March 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


Doleful Creature: "Nerd Nitpick: This sentence, however, stopped me in my tracks:

Sega usually won out on the graphics department, but Nintendo (in my opinion) usually won out on the character and gameplay department.

I know it's his opinion, but I've been playing both Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis emulators recently and the SNES games almost always have better "graphics"...
"

You have clearly never played a TurboGrafx 16!! I remember a friend who had one back in the early 90s; I was blown away by the colors and the graphics. Mind you, the games were shit, but, wow, them fancy pixels!!!
posted by barnacles at 10:45 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, This_Will_Be_Good, I had the SMS as well, and I distinctly remember the friendliness of the operators of the Sega hint line. Phantasy Star and the last twisty dungeon with Lassic's Shadow, Lassic and Dark Falz was my impetus.

... and now I really want to go play that again.
posted by phong3d at 10:46 AM on March 20, 2012


Excuse me? I loved those kids and their letters. I just got tired of typing the same thing a hundred times.

Dude. I'm kidding. The contrast between Dusty's life-transforming reaction to a personalized letter from NOA and your "system of macros" is wonderful. My irony wasn't meant as a dig against you personally. Sorry if it came off that way.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:48 AM on March 20, 2012


The contrast between Dusty's life-transforming reaction to a personalized letter from NOA and your "system of macros" is wonderful.

Ironically, Dusty's life-transforming letter was by far the most boilerplated thing we ever sent out.

My letters were all genuinely personal responses that happened to be constructed from pre-typed words of my own choosing.
posted by Aquaman at 10:57 AM on March 20, 2012


Dusty is going to find this thread and the foundation of his entire career and life will just crumble into pieces. A year from now he will be homeless on the streets of Portland, known as that guy who waves black and white copies of some kid's video game artwork at passing strangers.
posted by Atreides at 11:10 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aquaman: "Ironically, Dusty's life-transforming letter was by far the most boilerplated thing we ever sent out."

Aquaman, I – and, I guarantee, many more people here! – would love to hear you talk further about your time at NOA. Please don't be shy (even just your big comment above was more interesting than 99% of posts about old Nintendo!)!
posted by barnacles at 11:12 AM on March 20, 2012


almost entirely legal boilerplate, drawn up to avoid any liability in plagiarism lawsuits.

Oh man. It was wonderfully friendly when I read the first time, but re-reading it with this in mind changes everything. She does everything short of making him sign a waiver.
posted by naju at 11:55 AM on March 20, 2012


Aquaman, I – and, I guarantee, many more people here! – would love to hear you talk further about your time at NOA. Please don't be shy (even just your big comment above was more interesting than 99% of posts about old Nintendo!)!

Me too! Can we do something like Reddit's AMA? Maybe in MetaTalk? (I actually don't know what would be the appropriate venue for this; I'm still newish around here.)
posted by asnider at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2012


This_Will_Be_Good, the hint line was free for many years, but at the end of the Master System's life cycle they switched it to tech support only. I tried asking about game content, but they politely told me I'd have to call the new 900 number instead.

Oh, and I loved the Snail game, but it was way too hard. I think round 3 was the best I could ever do. Turns out there were 12.
posted by Sibrax at 4:39 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I imagine he would say that he's been a lifelong fan of the Nintendo he knew from his childhood, whereas the modern Nintendo can go to hell.

How do you define old and modern Nintendo? If you are talking about their 1st & 2nd-party games, they have been consistently good. If you are talking about 3rd-party support, I sympathise re their home consoles, but DS has a library second to none.
posted by ersatz at 5:30 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh god that Nintendo letterhead... I sent in a game idea in the late 80's or early 90's and got one of those personalized replies. It was awesome. I'm sure I still have it in some pile of young phantomx belongings. I've pared a lot of it down, but I'm pretty sure that has always made the cut. It was never a question for me when someone asked SEGA or Nintendo.
posted by Phantomx at 9:26 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy crap. I really did remember the Nintendo Game Hotline number from twenty years ago. whoa
posted by effugas at 12:29 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I too remember specific answers sent in response to my handwritten letters. Thanks, Walter!
posted by architactor at 4:44 AM on March 21, 2012


The awesome and thoughtful responses to my letters to NOA were a huge part of what cemented my brand loyalty to them. I must have sent in a dozen or so over the years. The most awesome response I got went down thus:

It was the early 90s, and the Mortal Kombat console versions had just been released-- the SNES without blood and the more violent fatalities and the Genesis version which left the blood 'n' guts in. I wrote in to Nintendo expressing my displeasure at this, and then offered, in the style of David Letterman, a hunorous attempt at the "Top Ten Reasons Nintendo Could Give For Taking Blood out of Mortal Kombat". As an afterthought, I also threw in as a PS: It's bugged me and my Dad for years-- what do the cigarettes in Metal Gear do?

The letter I got back started with a standard-sounding "this is why we decided to sanitze Mortal Kombat" etc. But the rest of the letter? "Top Ten Things The Cigarettes Do In Metal Gear", with 9 funny reasons, and number ten being the actual purpose (give Solid Snake more time in the final boss fight). It was AWESOME. That letter and a letter from Teller of Penn and Teller are the two atefacts from my early teenage years that I wish I still had.
posted by ShawnStruck at 5:22 AM on March 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


The letter I got back started with a standard-sounding "this is why we decided to sanitze Mortal Kombat" etc. But the rest of the letter? "Top Ten Things The Cigarettes Do In Metal Gear", with 9 funny reasons, and number ten being the actual purpose (give Solid Snake more time in the final boss fight). It was AWESOME.

This is an awesome story. I love that Nintendo employees actually took the time to write personalized responses, instead of just sending generic form letters (or not responding at all).
posted by asnider at 8:29 AM on March 21, 2012



You have clearly never played a TurboGrafx 16!! I remember a friend who had one back in the early 90s; I was blown away by the colors and the graphics. Mind you, the games were shit...


Nonsense. Military Madness was the best game ever made ever forever amen.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:00 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"That was my recollection; the Sega kids back in school would brag about having all the cool violent games, but the Nintendo kids had better the graphics"

The arguments I got (and honestly, still occasionally get into to this day) about whether the SNES version of Mortal Kombat was better or worse than the Genesis version, and the sheer depth of insanity people would go to to defend the shitty Genesis port because some of the pixels were red instead of grey; i think it was the first indication that I wasn't like the other boys my age.

(Yes, it was cool the Genesis version had blood and fatalities intact, but literally EVERYTHING ELSE about it was terrible: The vocal samples were PC Speaker quality, the music was poorly synthesized, and weirdly different from any other version, and the graphics were so bad that Johnny Cage's trademark green fireball was rendered as grey. The SNES version felt almost identical to the Arcade version in every way except for the lack of a 'blood code')
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then iOS came along and totally unexpectedly ate Nintendo's lunch in the portables market

Where's my Nintendo Gameboy Phone!
posted by wcfields at 11:25 AM on March 21, 2012


Then iOS came along and totally unexpectedly ate Nintendo's lunch in the portables market

Part of the problem here is of Nintendo's own making. Getting licensed to make games for their systems has long been a tiresome, corporate process.

I wouldn't count Nintendo out just yet thought. There are some great iOS games, but finding them amidst the sea of crap isn't a simple matter. (To a degree these two states are related, but the limiting factor that Nintendo has been using to determine suitability for making games for their platforms, corporate presence, is flawed. Hence the flood of lacklustre shovelware for the Wii.)
posted by JHarris at 4:28 PM on March 21, 2012


Here's the thing with the SNES and the Genesis. The SNES did have much better graphics then. In particular they had hardware sprite scaling and rotation called "Mode 7" which let them do rudimentary 3D for games like F-Zero and tons of other things. I think the 3D was actually done by changing the sprite scale every scanlne. They also had more colors.

However, it had a really slow CPU. I thought the chip ran at 1.7Mhz, but looking at Wikipedia, it looks like it ran at different rates depending on what memory was being accessed, but for basic memory IO it would have been 2.68. The Genesis ran at 7.6Mhz. So with a higher clockrate you could do more complex operations. Sonic the Hedgehog was designed to highlight that, but you could do more complex sports simulations and so on.

I think the Master System might have had better graphics then the NES. I actually had a friend who had a master system and I was impressed it had some built in games you could play with no cartage installed.
Dude. I'm kidding. The contrast between Dusty's life-transforming reaction to a personalized letter from NOA and your "system of macros" is wonderful. My irony wasn't meant as a dig against you personally. Sorry if it came off that way.
Yeah, but read the letter -- it's all broiler plate and kind of impersonal (they're trying to cover their asses legally as well)

---
It will be interesting to see how Nintendo adapts to the phone age. I don't really play many video games at all except for random 'casual' games on my phone when I'm bored. What have their sales figures looked like since phone gaming has gotten huge?
posted by delmoi at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2012


Like this I guess.

Seems ok if not amazing. I don't play myself, but I notice a lot fewer dedicated portable gaming systems out there on the trains and such. People seem to prefer their phone while on the go.
posted by Winnemac at 1:09 AM on March 23, 2012


Metafilter: all genuinely personal responses that happened to be constructed from pre-typed words of my own choosing.
posted by matthewr at 12:27 PM on March 25, 2012


I think the 3D was actually done by changing the sprite scale every scanlne. They also had more colors.

The SNES didn't have hardware sprite scaling. Mode 7 graphics work by scaling a single background layer, but the hardware is capable of providing scaling, rotation and perspective. Some weird effects are possible using it (check out the title screen intro on Actraiser some time), but most of the time it was just used to present a flat, textured plane in perspective, like when flying around the overworld in most 16-bit Squaresoft RPGs.

Wikipedia's sidebar on the SNES says its processor was clocked at 3.5 MHz, but I had heard the chip actually ran much more slowly, as in, not much faster than an NES. I am no expert on the hardware though. Although the SNES didn't have the proliferation of mapping chips the NES did, many of the more technically demanding SNES games will use extra hardware on the cart to provide extra muscle. The most common of these was the DSP chip included in Super Mario Kart and Pilotwings, but the most famous were the Super FX chips in Starfox and Yoshi's Island. Wikipedia page on SNES enhancement chips.
posted by JHarris at 7:47 PM on March 26, 2012


I don't know anything about Nintendo but that is the same kind of cut and paste boiler plate customer service letter I would have sent out from the insurance company I worked at in the 1980s.

Of course no one ever sent us cute drawings. Once we got a letter with crazy drawings accusing us of being the spawn of satan. We didn't send it back, we hung it on the bulletin board.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2012


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