To celebrate the release of Perception on the Nintendo Switch, The Deep End Games Creative Director Bill Gardner reflects back on an old childhood dream finally coming to fruition–to publish a game on a Nintendo System.
By Bill Gardner // I was about 10 years old when Nintendo took over the world. For years, The Big N had their hand in everything from comic books, to board games, from cereal, to Hollywood films. But we all know this.
What I’m sure you don’t know is that Nintendo stole my ideas. OK, not really, but stick with me because it’s relevant. When I was a kid, I wasn’t just obsessed with games like everyone else, I was the kind of kid who took it to the next level.
In passionate discussions about NES on the playground, I was always the go-to kid, the arbiter, and a sort of paper of record to help solve problems and sort through the schoolyard misinformation. I was THE Nintendo kid – the king of the rising digital kingdom. My parents owned a video store and I got to choose the games the bought and rented out. And as compensation, I got to play pretty much every Nintendo game there was.
And yet, even this wasn’t enough. Tired of waiting for a game version of Indiana Jones, one of my favorite movies at the time, I sat down one day with my buddy and we wrote up what I suppose could be described as a “design document.” It briefly described the core mechanics, the levels, goals, player tools, etc. It was probably about ten pages of 3rd grade chicken scratches – I don’t know, I never got them back. But what I did get was a letter from the Nintendo Fun Club.
“You’ll be pleased to learn that the specific game you requested, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, has been planned for release.” Young Bill (or B.G. as I was known at the time) did not read this as “someone is conveniently already working on this game.” I read it as “we love your idea, kid!” I’m sure you can imagine how this impacted me. I spent the next few years feverishly whipping up new concepts, including one for Metroid 2. Nintendo’s response from that point out became a bit clearer in that they outlined that they “cannot accept unsolicited materials” and sent my pitches back. Well, some months later, when I finally sat down to play Metroid 2, I was shocked to find MY item, the “Spider Ball” IN THE GAME! Of course, this was pure coincidence, but again, to a child who happened to send in the idea by the same name, I was convinced that the dev team in Japan had somehow seen my proposal. “Get my lawyer on the phone!” I growled. Only not really. I instead spent years drawing maps, writing pitches, and studying what little tidbits I could scrounge on the craft of video game design.
And through the years, as things changed, one of the few constants in my life beside family was Nintendo. When my family lost our house, I still had my family and my NES and SNES with me. In the cold winter nights sleeping on my grandmother’s porch, I lost myself in Super Metroid, imagining what it would be like to work on a masterpiece like that. When we were all living in the basement of my best friend’s house, we forgot our worries with Mario Kart. And Nintendo further entrenched itself in my heart through all of life’s ups and downs.
While I went on to adopt other consoles, despite being a former General in The Great SNES/Genesis Console Wars of the early 90s, I became (affectionately?) known as the “Nintendo Nut” (among some other more colorful names) when I started working at Funcoland. Whenever people asked for recommendations, I found myself extolling the virtues of Nintendo. I tried to be fair and told customers up-front that I was probably biased, but I couldn’t help but wear my passion on my sleeve. This continued for a few years and carried over to Electronic Boutique, where every Christmas, I pushed the N64…hard.
Eventually, I got my foot in the door at Irrational Games, where I worked my way up through design to various lead roles. I’m incredibly proud of what we created and my contributions, but there was always something missing. Something that even all the superlatives and awards our games won could not fill. I wanted to be on Nintendo system. For too many reasons I won’t list here and will just chalk it up to the stars not aligning right, after twelve years in the industry, I had not released a game on a Nintendo system. And it hurt!
The Nintendo tradition carries on…Bill with Perception writer/producer/wife Amanda and 2/4 of his Smash Babies.
So, needless to say, when the opportunity came up to bring Perception to Switch, I jumped at it faster than Mario leaping out of a pit of lava.
To me, this is like playing at Fenway Park, or performing on Broadway, or putting a concert on at Wembley. It’s a dream that I’ve had for over 30 years. I know it’s going to be worth the wait!
Dreams do come true.