Interview With

Nate Bihldorff

Voicing acting and the localisation of Metroid
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We are thrilled to be speaking with Nate Bihldorff, localisation manager for Nintendo Treehouse. Nate has worked on some of the biggest games for Nintendo, including seven Metroid games. We speak with Nate regarding his contribution to Metroid: Other M and his involvement in the Metroid franchise over the years.

SS: So first of all Nate, please tell us a bit about the work you do at Nintendo and your involvement with Metroid over the years.

NB: I’m the senior localization manager in the Treehouse at Nintendo—essentially, I manage all the writers in our group as well as working as a writer on projects. The first project I ever worked on was Paper Mario for the N64 in late 2000, and I’ve been localizing first- and second-party Nintendo games ever since. As far as Metroid goes, I was the localization writer on Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission, and did lots of writing with Retro on the first Metroid Prime. Most recently, of course, I worked on Metroid: Other M.

SS: You were one of the very first people to actually see and play Metroid: Other M. Tell us about the moments you first heard about, and saw the game, along with your thoughts and feelings at the time.

NB: I remember being blown away when I heard about the concept—I mean, I’m a huge freak for Metroid games in general, but the idea of switching between traditional 2D game play and first-person exploration sounded so immersive and unique that I couldn’t wait to check it out. The first time I saw some of Samus’s melee moves in action, I could tell that the game was going to be something special.

SS: For the first time in Metroid history, Samus Aran was given a voice in the form of the actress Jessica Martin. After working with her closely, what are your opinions of her? Do you think she did a great job as the leading role and do you feel she has a future as Samus in any future games?

NB: Jessica did a fantastic job with an extremely difficult role, and I would love to work with her again should the opportunity arise. Not only was she working under the mighty expectations of a huge and passionate fan base, but she had a room full of directors. Mr. Sakamoto’s vision for the character called for a very detached delivery for much of the voice over, but also required passion and pain as the story progressed. Jessica handled long sessions without flinching, and her voice quality never stuttered.

SS: There was a wide range of voice talent in Other M such as Dave Elvin who played Adam Malkovich and Mike McGillicuty who played Anthony Higgs. What were they like to work with?

NB: Dave was awesome—his timbre just sounds naturally cool, and he never had problems with giving us alternate reads. He was especially good when we did simultaneous sessions with him and Jessica. And Mike did an incredible job—the amount of energy he brought to the studio was a huge boon. I thought the scene where he’s calling out Ridley was one of the best in the game.

SS: You were also lucky enough to have a vocal part in Other M as one of the scientists at the start of the game. What can you tell us about the process of recording lines for a game like Metroid: Other M and how do you feel your performance went?

NB: I thought I sounded like a nerd…but that’s what Mr. Sakamoto was looking for, so I guess I’d call it a resounding success. It’s definitely easier to direct than act, I can tell you that much. I’ve done a ton of tiny little roles in our games over the years—I did Salvatore’s “SPLOOOOOSH” in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and all the Shy Guy noises in various Mario games—but I’ve never really had to do extended reads. It certainly gave me newfound respect for how difficult an actor’s job can be.

SS: Metroid Other M saw a historic collaboration between Nintendo, Team Ninja and D- Rockets to bring together some great talent. Do you think Project M did a good job and do you see similar efforts happening in the future for Nintendo?

NB: Oh, absolutely, I think Project M did a great job. The game couldn’t have been made by any one of the individual companies, in my mind—from the incredible cinematics of D- Rockets to the action-packed fighting of Team Ninja to the unique Metroid level design of Nintendo, this really was a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. I can’t speak to what the future holds, but I’d certainly love to see similar efforts going forward.

SS: Metroid Other M has provoked some controversial comments. Some fans feel it didn’t meet the high expectations that they held for it and have complained about poor writing, voice acting, dropped sub plots and other various aspects. In your own personal opinion, what are your feelings on these comments?

NB: This is a touchy subject, to be sure. Bear in mind, we’re dealing with a beloved series that’s almost 25 years old, and since Metroid has traditionally been extremely light on exposition, fans have filled in a lot of the blanks with their own imaginations. Samus’ story—her voice, her motivations, everything about her—has largely been a matter of individual perception, especially in the US, where people haven’t read any of the official manga related to her childhood. Mr. Sakamoto is the only one who knows who she really is, and his vision for her and her voice was always going to be different than the character people had built in their heads.

I’ve seen the same comments you have, and while I understand where they come from, I definitely don’t agree with most of them. For me, Samus’s detached monologue speaks to the reticence of a wounded character, one scarred by the tragic events of her childhood. The glimpse of the pain and fear she carries—shown in the flashback scene when she sees Ridley—is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. People who call out that scene as anything but empowering are kind of missing the point, in my opinion—she does end up torching Ridley, after all. There is no courage without fear, in my mind, and knowing that Samus overcomes that repressed terror makes her all the more heroic than someone who plods forward without a hint of humanity.

I do think that Samus’s reliance on Adam’s commands is an important part of her canon as we see later in Metroid Fusion, Samus hates taking orders, and that problem with authority can be traced directly back to the events on the Bottle Ship in Metroid Other M. Obviously her relationship with Adam was complicated, and her confusion about his role in her life led her to put up with a command structure that she ordinarily would have scoffed at. Make no mistake, though—the events of Metroid Other M change her.

SS: Metroid Other M is set between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion in the timeline. Do you think Project M did a good job in tying together plot gaps between the two games?

NB: I do. Like most fans, after playing Metroid Fusion, I was dying to find out what happened to Adam Malkovich in the intervening years, and finally seeing it in action was both sad and satisfying. Seeing how deeply the Metroid’s death affected Samus was also vital to the series arc.

SS: You worked very closely with Mr. Sakamoto during localisation. Can you give us an insight into what it’s like working with such a noteworthy character?

NB: We met with Mr. Sakamoto several times in Japan, and he came over for all of the recording sessions. The guy is just plain cool—he feels passionately about making people smile, and the incredible diversity of his games is a testament to his talents. I was in awe the first time I met him many years ago—after all, I’ve been playing his games since I was 12, and they’re among my favorites—but his humble nature set me at ease immediately. The way he brought all of Project M together to create a unified vision is inspirational.

SS: How much of the lore and script writing in the Prime trilogy was done by you, and how much was done by Retro?

NB: The first Metroid Prime was mostly me, with some Retro additions late—at that time, Retro didn’t really have any full time writers, so they’d send me a rough skeleton of what they wanted and I’d just go to town. I’d get emails like, “Give a scan hint about a cracked wall here” or “Make a lore entry about the Chozo ghosts,” and then I’d have to extrapolate that into encyclopedic entries. It was incredibly fun, since I got to go hog wild with descriptive fiction, and the world was so masterfully built that I almost felt like a naturalist on Tallon at times. They expanded their staff with some great writers by the second and third games, so those ones were all Retro.

SS: After working on many Metroid games and being a keen Nintendo gamer yourself, tell us which game is your favorite of the franchise and why.

NB: Can’t pick just one, I really can’t. Super Metroid remains the greatest adventure game I’ve ever played, Metroid Prime is the most immersive, and Metroid Zero Mission is the most refined Metroid experience out there. I 100% all three of those pretty much every year.

SS: There are a handful of websites on the internet that are dedicated to Metroid, with many passionate fans. Does Nintendo visit these websites often for feedback and have any of them made any impact on the company?

NB: I can’t speak for Nintendo as a company, but personally, I dip around the enthusiast websites for all of our franchises. I like seeing people’s reactions to our games. Nintendo fans are easily the most passionate out there.

SS: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Nate, do you have any closing comments you would like to make?

NB: I’d just like to thank all the fans on behalf of Nintendo. Please know that we love the Metroid series just as much as you do, and will do our best to continue bringing you quality games worthy of such a storied franchise.

We would like to thank Nate for taking the time to speak with us and hope that he continues to bring us localisation on our favorite Nintendo games for years to come.

© 2011 Darren Kerwin and Nate Bihldorff
Special thanks to Andrew Kelly and Kit Ellis
Interviewed 23rd February 2011