Imagine you're tasked with writing fun dialogue for a game that'll be played by millions on a daily basis. Next, imagine that the game's sales actually far exceed expectations, and that due to a terrifying global pandemic, many are taking solace in that game's atmosphere. That's what Nintendo employee Rob Heiret is experiencing with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and he'd like you to know he's as tired of those C+ sea bass as the rest of us are.
Heiret shared his thoughts on the runaway success of New Horizons in a thread on Twitter, during which he revealed that he both wrote the sea bass pun and that it changed after a round of joke workshopping. At first, it was a bit more negative.
"It was originally 'I caught a sea bass! Well...maybe a C- bass...[']," Heiret writes. "And when we were workshopping the fish jokes, someone pointed out that, as a joke people were going to see many, many times, generally along with disappointment they didn't catch something better, maybe it would be better to spin it positive. Make it a C+ instead."
Heiret points to the "C-" to "C+" tweak as an example of the many ways the Animal Crossing localization team tried to make New Horizons "the most positive, comforting, funny game" possible, along with the dev team. Still, Heiret says the sea bass gag would work better verbally, and in the replies to his thread he also explains the letter grading system to a player who'd never encountered it before. It's not perfect, but "that fish has sailed," says Heiret.
The point of peeling back the curtain on this one joke and the New Horizons localization process as a whole, for Heiret, is to reflect on the huge impact of the game during the COVID-19 pandemic. "During the localization of #AnimalCrossingNewHorizions, we joked repeatedly that we were building the next 5-10 years' worth of memes," says Heiret. "We knew the game would be big, but we obviously couldn't have imagined the real-world circumstances of its release." He adds that "it's been humbling to see this thing [the team] worked on become so important to people, in part because of the weird accident of history that it was released during this scary-ass time."
New Horizons' localizers definitely deserve some well-earned recognition, and besides, it's not as though they had a say in how often sea bass spawn only to ruin our hopes of landing a bigger, better fish. That said, Heiret does take credit for New Horizons' dreadful Manila clam gag as well, and that sin might be a bit harder to forgive.