Mar 30th 2018 by atlasobscura • 57 Questions • 5893 Points
Hi and welcome to my iAMA. While I've completed the "active" response period, I will revisit this topic several times over the next few days and try to respond to as many of your questions as I can. I am the creator and former writer of Nintendo Fun Club News and Nintendo Power. Don't forget to check our my segment on the EMMY nominated series “8-Bit Legacy: The Curious History of Video Games,” available now on www.greatbigstory.com.
Have you ever seen a baby hummingbird?? What are hummingbird nests like?
What was the most obscure piece of Nintendo merchandise/product/media?
I have seen and held many baby hummingbirds. They are sooooo tiny, it’s ridiculous. The nests are like little teacups, made of lichens and spiderwebs. They always lay two eggs. After they hatch and grow bigger, the nest begins to stretch and stretch (thanks to the spider webs) and by the time the chicks fledge, it is literally bursting apart.
The Knitting machine
How do you record, track, and qualify hummingbird song? Do you have shorthand and nicknames for different songs/sets of 'notes'/sounds, and is any of the terminology used related to an understanding of Music Theory?
Did any "heads roll" due to the graphic Castlevania image on Nintendo Power's second issue?
Wow, what an interesting question!! We have very high-tech equipment for recording hummingbird songs. My students have been asked if they are FBI agents! Before we had tools for digital analysis of hummingbird song, which has made life much simpler for bird researchers, people would try to document songs by writing them in musical format and/or playing them on an instrument. I will say that my students who are musically inclined have been very perceptive in the field, in terms of identifying individuals and noting changes in song. Every student has a unique strength!
Nope - it was Gail Tilden's idea and the controversy / PR was good for the game
Do you still have contact with Nintendo? Do they ask you to test new games on the Switch?
Hummingbirds are attracted to brightly colored, tubular flowers that hold lots of nectar.
I have a few friends still at Nintendo but they rely on a new set of eyes and fingers to do their testing now...
What’s the craziest or most asshole-like thing you’ve seen a hummingbird do to a human, insect or animal?
Did you feel like you were personally playing with power at Nintendo?
Outside my office at Cal State Fullerton, we found two hummingbirds who had stabbed each other with their beaks and died that way. Kind of like Romeo and Juliet, but the opposite. That seems pretty crazy to me. Lots of experiences of them singing or diving at inappropriate species, like humans, cats, butterflies. Testosterone poisoning is how I think of it.
A marketing agency came up with that phrase - it didn't resonate with me but... playing with Nintendo Power (the magazine) as a companion piece made sense to me.
What happens to the hummingbirds that can’t learn song? How do they communicate?
Why did North America immediately lose the SNES cartridge locking mechanism just after launch while the rest of the world kept it? I suspect maybe Americans kept trying to yank-out game paks and damaged them.
I have never met a hummingbird that can’t learn song. Only the males sing, btw. They wouldn’t be able to attract a mate if they didn’t sing the correct kind of song.
Edit: Just realized you are asking about the hummingbird species that don’t learn song! Some species know the correct song from the time they are born - they don’t need to learn it.
Americans were pretty dopey-hard on the hardware compared to the rest of the world where players treated their systems better. One of the things we did at NOA was help Nintendo Japan appreciate just how hard American players could be on their game systems.
I love Hummingbirds... I never even thought this could be a potential job possibility. This is so cool to me. So with that in mind: How does one go about becoming a biologist / ornithologist who specializes in Hummingbirds? What are the prerequisites and requirements for such a field? Where do you even work?!
What are your thoughts on socks? Noticed you weren’t wearing any in the GBS video...
Hm, so you need to get a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field (like environmental science, or wildlife biology, or something). You can sometimes get a job directly after that with a federal or state agency, but more and more you need to earn a master’s degree first. If you want to be a professor, where you do research as part of your job teaching college/university, you will need to earn a doctorate first. Many years being in school and not making money, so you want to make sure you really love what you are doing before making that kind of commitment! But it is an amazing way to make a living!
Socks are a winter city thing - the segment was filmed in the Summer and I live in the high but warm desert : )
If you were going to be reincarnated as any animal, would you choose a hummingbird? What are the best and worst parts of being a hummingbird in your opinion?
Super Mario Bros. 2 was deemed too hard for American audiences, and we didn't see a console version of it until the Lost Levels.
Did you have any input to that decision?
I wouldn’t choose a small bird, because they don’t usually live very long! Best part: live in a warm, sunny place and drink from flowers. Worst part: fighting all the time! (They are very aggressive.)
My choice for an animal to be reincarnated as: a dolphin, or whale, or maybe an otter. They have lots of friends and swim all day and eat sushi (well, raw seafood anyway).
I believe so - ultimately Mr. A decided but I lobbied hard that the game had some sucky bits in it. Unpredictable and so unavoidable kills like the wind gusts on jumps is not good design IMHO.
I noticed the aggressive bit when I got to watch them daily! Is there any really specific reason they're so aggressive? Why so aggressive for such a small birb? (I assume it's territory based, but I'm intrigued!)
Hi there.....were you involved with game development back then? What games?
I’m not sure, but I sometimes wonder if they are so aggressive because they are so much smaller than other birds that compete with them for insects. That is also likely the reason they sing at such a high pitch (my husband can’t even hear some hummingbird species sing!) PS females at feeders are as aggressive as males on territories, interestingly...
I provided feedback on the arcade games and Game & Watch products to Mr. Arakawa (NOA) and Nintendo Japan. I also ran the test route for the arcade games. The I played all the FCS games as potential future NES games and gave feedback to Mr. Arakawa and Nintendo Japan. The I was a 2nd-party producer of sorts for the RARE NES games and the North American liason for the NES versions of the Nintendo's FCS games...
What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research on how to teach science to non-scientists?
What is the most underrated Nintendo game in your opinion?
Great question!!! This wasn’t my finding, but it does not appear to be true that students learn better in small classes. Go figure. In terms of my research (and experience) - I started out my career thinking that my job as a professor was to create more biologists like me, but I gradually came to realize that the most important teaching I do is teaching nonmajors. There are three reasons for this. First, even in my majors classes, the majority of my students will not go on to be scientists. The reality is that, quantitatively, I am mainly teaching nonscientists. Second, the last time many students will spend time in a room with a scientist or in a laboratory is in my nonmajors biology class. So every single moment of that time is precious and my last chance to help them understand science. When I design a class, I always ask myself “What if our next senator or president is in the class? What do I want her to know?” Finally, occasionally in a nonmajors class – if we do things right - we manage to convince a student who has never imagined themselves as a scientist that in fact science is the right career for them. In my own life, those students have often been women, or from an under-represented minority, or from a working class background. For the United States to continue to be the land of opportunity, as well as a world leader in science, we need the next generation of scientists to be more diverse, to look like…America. A great nonmajors class, paradoxically, can contribute to that goal.
Faxanadu - a great game lost in the release of so many highly promoted sequels
I understand hummingbirds have large brains. Can they identify people as pets do?
Have you ever watched "speedrunning", where players try to finish games as quickly as possible and if so, which games are your favorite to watch?
I’m not sure I would say that hummingbirds have large brains. Look at the size of their heads - it would be hard to fit much brain in that!
Having said that, great question about whether they can identify people! I don’t know if they can, although the CAN identify other hummingbirds. We know that by watching how they respond to songs of known and unknown males. Most birds are less aggressive toward strangers than neighbors, but hummingbirds are more aggressive toward their neighbors.
I was always a fan of SMB speed running - this started being a thing around the office once Sonic came out - you could play SMB like it was Sonic.
Hi! This is so exciting, thank you for doing this :) What's your favourite story from your time working with hummingbirds?
I'm in the middle of reading Console Wars currently. I'm actually at the part where Sega of America tried to woo you but it's from their point of view. How do you remember that dinner meeting?
You are most welcome. Hm, favourite story… Well, it really is heaven working out in the desert and along the California coast with my research students, so it’s all good. OK, here is a good story. We had a film crew from BBC at our field station and they wanted to film a dead hummingbird, because we had explained that small birds often die from starvation/cold overnight. I explained you almost never find dead birds, because something will eat them or they are so tiny they dry up and blow away. BUT I had a student (Erin Chin) who was amazing at finding hummingbird nests, and she found a male for them the next day, dead, hanging upside down from a branch like a bat. Amazing!
The dinner meeting as described didn't happen : /
I did have dinner with Shinobu Toyoda (I recounted the story of that in the post reply below)
Whats the coolest/best/maybe most valuable/rarest item that you have from working with Nintendo?
Before I switched my research to hummingbirds, I studied zebra finches, white-throated sparrows, house sparrows (aka English sparrows), juncoes, cardinals (that went badly…)...probably some other species too, but drawing a blank right now. Now I raise chickens and one turkey and LOVE watching them - they behave just like other birds!
I have some detailed info on each game cartridge that hasn't seen the light of day (yet ; )
Hello there, thank you for doing this AMA! I was wondering if you have ever read the book "Console Wars"? If so, do you feel the book gave you, Nintendo, and Sega fair portrayals when it comes to culture? As a third party reader it seemed a bit biased.
Yes they do! I believe the rufous hummingbird makes the longest migration in the world, if you consider it in terms of number of body lengths flown. Which is only fair, right?
Blake interviewed me. His retelling is somewhat reflective of what really went down. His dialog attributed to me is made up, e.g.; I never had a dinner with Shinobu Toyoda and Tom Kalinske - I did have one with Shinobu-san and it was one of the more awkward and embarrassing moments of my career - I had decided to turn SEGA down (for reasons not mentioned in Console Wars) but Shinobu-san got on a plane and flew up to Seattle before word got to him - he thought he was signing me to SEGA over dinner and I had to let him know I had changed my mind - ack!
Wow, you managed to catch a hummingbird mid flight? Must be some kung fu master.
So, what are some things us general plebs should know that are actually harmful to hummingbirds? So that we stop doing it.
I rarely see hummingbirds nowadays, wonder where they all went.
EDIT: Should clarify my geography, SE Asia. I remember hummingbirds are a lot more common about 15-20 years ago.
What's Nester up to these days?
Any friend of hummingbirds is a friend of mine! I’ve actually caught many birds in flight. Although now I mainly catch (and watch) chickens, since we have moved to Indiana. Re anything not to do - better not to poke around any bird’s nest, although it is not true that they will automatically abandon the chicks if you do. And be sure to change the sugar water in your feeder regularly, otherwise it could make them sick. Or maybe drunk. Regardless, you don’t want to be around a drunk hummingbird - remember they are very aggressive even when sober!
I'm not sure - that an NOA question ; )
I once saw a Ruby throated hummingbird in NJ during the summer. Is it common for them to make it that far north? Also would a hummingbird instinctively know to return south when the weather got colder?
Was your character Nester based on you or someone you knew?
New Jersey isn’t out of the ordinary for hummingbirds, they make it into Canada and even Alaska. The signal for them to head south at the end of summer (and north in spring) is daylight, not temperature. Hooray for hummingbirds in Jersey!
You (all) are Nester - so many of you responded to offered (and even requested) help by saying "I new that" ; )
I’ve always been curious about the process of writing a textbook. How long does that take? What percentage of the work is research vs. actually writing?
What is your favorite Game & Watch? Mine is Climber!
Oh gosh, it takes FOREVER. I started working on my biology textbook in 2003 and it finally published (I was working on other things in between) in 2014. It’s called Biology Now, but I sometimes joked that it would be better named Biology...Eventually. Our book is different, because each chapter is a current science story and then we embed the science in it, so there is more research than you would typically find in a textbook. I work with an AMAZING science writer, Megan Scudellari, who does a lot of that. Having said that, one of the best things about writing a textbook vs. other kinds of writing is that you are part of a team. We have another professor, Cindy Malone of CSUN, a host of different kinds of editors, led by Betsy Twitchell, and incredible artists, photographers etc. We wouldn’t need cover art if we gave authorship to everyone who makes the book so great; the cover would be full of their names!
PS second edition - much faster! Eight months I think.
Fire and Greenhouse. FIre because it got really hard quickly reaction-time-wise and Greenhouse because it was weirdly on the side of the Nintendo character set (Stanley!)
Apart from the infamous fan letter from Mark Discordia published in Nintendo Power in the 80's, what are some examples of weird fan mail that you guys just couldn't publish?
Really almost all of you were so wide-eyed and innocent - those that wrote in were 99% cool - on only a few occasions did I get a nasty you-suck-my-ideas-are0great letter.
I'd like to think its because gameplay was more important than game theme - start with novel interesting play, not some weird character : )
Did you ever get to meet Shigeru Miyamoto or anyone like that?
yep - when he visited Nintendo of America and at various trade shows
Two amazing daughters and still having fun
I noticed that the SNES SuperScope and its receiver were clearly designed by Lance Barr since it matches the styling of the North American SNES. The Japanese SuperScope has the same North American style design. Other than the Super Scope and HVC-101 / SHVC-101, are there any other designs from Lance that were released overseas in Japan?
Good question - I'm not sure if one or more of his controller designs made it back to the Japanese market or to Europe. Good question!
Did Asciiware have access to original Nintendo parts like buttons, pads, connectors, etc? The Asciipad for SNES seems like a first-party product in many respects, especially when compared to other licensed controllers. Also, I love the NES Advantage joystick. It has many similarities to other sticks made by Asciiware (especially the joystick shaft and removable ball), but nothing on the package mentions the name. "Asciiware" was front and center on the Super Advantage box. Can you confirm if NES Advantage is related to Asciiware at all?  clarity
I don't think they did - the Advantage was a roll-your-own entirely by NOA industrial designer Lance Barr
What is your favourite Nintendo game? Mine is Super Mario 64! 🍄
So many really great games - Donkey Kong, SMB, Zelda (the first one). But the list is easily dozens...
Researching and writing - cognitive science, neuroscience, and play. Thinking about contributing to "the real story" of the early 8 Bit days...
What do you feel was your shining achievement while working at Nintendo? Also, Do you still play games today, if so what do you like to play?
I'm most proud of helping you all have access to fun games (not sucky ones).
For fun I play more casual games today and for professional interest I play games under development, especially games that are designed to provide benefit (therapy, etc.)
Have you ever played "A Week of Garfield", a Japanese Garfield game for the Famicom that mysteriously didn't have a U.S. release, and if so, do you have any thoughts on it? If not, what is your favorite game for the NES which is often looked at negatively but that you've always thought is pretty good?
A Week of Garfield didn't release on FCS until Spring of '89 - by then things were so hot in the North American NES market that most of my time was spent on those 1st party and 3rd party games.
Maybe Ice Climber? Challenging gameplay, interesting ice block effects, rewarding vertical progress - hmm...
Aw man, you're cool dude! Who owns the rights to the cartoon version of you? Would it be possible to make a new Howard-centered action adventure comic series?
The legacy H&N is Nintendo - future comic images would belong to whoever creates them I suppose...
Hello, thank you for doing this AMA. As a kid I was a big fan of the Nester Comics that came in the Nintendo Power magazines and always wondered, did Nester ever appear as an Easter egg in any game?
Not while I was at Nintendo 1981-1991
It should - it deserves it - possibly because Broderbund was not strong at marketing and it didn't have a positive NES legacy to build upon - also, two words NINJA GAIDEN ; ) Ninja Gaiden came out about the same time and rocked the NES world.
What was one of the biggest games that Nintendo pushed, that you actually thought was a sub-par game?
that's an easy one - Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior - it was sub-pay because it was pushed into the Western market several years too late.
I've read that you believed "Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels" was to difficult to complete for it to become the official "Super Mario Bros. 2". If you had changed your mind back then, what do you think would have happened to the franchise?
Hard to know - many variables impacting that hypothetical - possibly we would have burned a bunch of players with the overly punishing difficulty and shifted interest away from the SMB series? Also, the sensibilities at Nintendo Japan might have been reinforced in a manner that resulted in most punishing games being released - alternatively, it could have been a great success - we'll never know : |
What were your hopes, dreams and aspirations before working at Nintendo? Hearing your story, it sounds like you kind of lucked into what was probably the most coveted job of many a kid of the 80s and 90s. I'm just curious what you would have liked to have done with your life had providence not led you to Nintendo and a career in video games.
I wanted to work hard, accomplish stuff, and have fun while doing it. I've always been a builder and a fixer. Optimizing the use of resources and materials towards useful ends is intellectually and creatively the best job in the world... and with the ongoing tech revolution, the opportunities to do so are ever increasing. If Nintendo and I hadn't crossed paths, I'm sure I would have been building, fixing and optimizing stuff elsewhere
What are your thoughts about Microsoft's acquisition of Rare?
That said, i wish Chris and Tim the best - I enjoyed working with them when it was just the two of them (R.C Pro-Am!)
I assume you played many prototype games in your day. What were some of your favorites that were never released in the US?
Ack! - so many games... my favorite (quasi-)game is Ikinari Musician - not really a game, but...
How good did you get at games with all that playing? Did you typically beat the games you were testing? I'm curious what game you think was your biggest accomplishment to beat.
I beat almost every one - it was my job to do so.
The 8-Bit Legacy video mentions that in 1985 you were asked to list the 15 best games for the American market (https://youtu.be/h815ocHjbwI?t=176), do you happen to remember what games were on that list?
I posted my best recollection of the list below. I think Wrecking Crew was a later addition.
10-Yard Fight Baseball Clu Clu Land Duck Hunt Excitebike Golf Gyromite Hogan's Alley Ice Climber Kung Fu Mach Rider Pinball Stack-up Tennis Wild Gunman Wrecking Crew
Any interesting stories from the days of the Nintendo Tip Hotline? My parents almost killed me for making a really long call once.
Only that we HAD to create Nintendo Power magazine to preclude so many phone calls - at one point it was a toll-free 800 number and then we needed 100+ game counselors just to answer questions - Nintendo Power really helped get in front of a lot of those questions/calls...
Were you involved with anything to do with the animated show "Captain N: the Gamemaster"? It has you written all over it.
no - I was blocked out of that project - I wish I could have been asked to contribute : |
Did you ever get to try out the unreleased NES game “Return of Donkey Kong”, or did that game not make it past the conceptual stage?
Return of Donkey Kong
As I recall it was just early concept work ...
What do think of the Gaming Historian on YouTube? You are mentioned in some of his videos, most notably in his Super Mario Bros. 2 and ROB the Robot videos.
On a somewhat related note, what was the weirdest game that you play-tested?
I applaud serious efforts such as the Gaming Historian