So! Did you get fooled by the latest hoax regarding a Nintendo product? It's okay to admit if you were. Somewhere deep inside you is that little kid who wanted to believe Mew was hidden under that truck. He's still there and he still wishes it was true.
They say when you examine the time period in
which certain urban legends were popular, those legends reveal a
lot about the culture of the period and what the public dreamed
about or feared. Internet hoaxes are sort of urban legends in
their own way, and they can be examined similarly. Today let's
take a look at the most successful Nintendo hoaxes through the
Internet's history, the possible psychology behind why they
worked, and what they reveal about the culture of that time.
Back when the Internet was young, the N64 was in its heyday, and most people were playing through Ocarina of Time for the first time, fansites were very successful endeavors (if you did them right). People who were crazy about a specific TV series or video game would make their own website devoted to that property, other fans would find the site, they'd meet in the forums and form little cliques. These sites had little regulation or fact-checking, and the seeds were planted for crazy rumors to take root and spread like weeds.
In the late 90's one of the more popular
fansites was Hyrule: The Land of Zelda, a very polished-looking
Zelda fansite with fancy animated Flash buttons and an
entertaining, deeply sarcastic writing staff. In February of 1999
HTLOZ published an E-mail from a
Colombian girl named Ariana Almondoz, who claimed she had found
the secret location of the Triforce in Ocarina of Time. Attached
with her E-mail was a screenshot she had taken with her camera.
She also claimed she couldn't replicate the trick immediately
because her file was accidentally erased and she'd have to play
back up to that point again. Sound legit?
Keep in mind: this was a time period when photo manipulation was sheer wizardry to most people. Photoshop was too expensive to touch, and too large for a meager 56k modem (or lower) to pirate. The majority of folks who laid eyes on this screenshot had no idea how it was done:
The people swallowing this rumor
and spreading it around were teenagers who had grown up with
games that had been known to stock secrets. The Minus World, the
Second Quest, the Konami Code. Though little easter eggs were
still placed in games during the N64 era, there hadn't been
anything like hidden worlds and entire second quests for some
time. This was the first time the Zelda series had come back
since 1993, when big secrets were still a part of video gaming.
Fans felt there had to be more than they were experiencing; there
had to be SOMETHING hidden in Ocarina no one had found yet.
Thus the rumors started, based around innocuous things the game creators had never intended to hint at. Hyrule Field contained a constantly-jogging man who would challenge you to a race, but always beat you by one second no matter how fast you flew. There were gamers convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt it could be done, and that by doing it, they would unlock the Triforce or some magnificent hidden temple. They wasted hours of their lives on a futile effort to better their best time.
Secrets like this were usually one man's word against another's. But now, thanks to Ariana, there was (supposedly) photographic proof of a secret. And the community went nuts.
Ariana returned with more cryptic
clues: you needed to play a secret ocarina song, which would open
a hidden palace called the Temple of Light. She provided more
screenshots as visual evidence, but this time, people caught the
holes: the image of Link in the left photo had been reversed and
he was holding the ocarina the wrong way, and the right photo was
a location from Dampe's Grave Race, which most people would have
zoomed right past and not committed to memory.
There were still devoted believers, though. The end came when Ariana appeared one last time to laugh at everyone and admit the photos were complete fakes. The girl disappeared after this, and was never found.
That is, if she even existed at all. This conversation is supposedly between two former editors at HTLOZ, where they admit they created Ariana themselves with their own bad Photoshop skills and a crude knowledge of Spanish.
The odds of anybody being fooled by a mere screenshot ever again were slim by the mid-2000's, so a man from Spain named Pablo Belmonte increased his effort. Nintendo had something in development that they were calling "Project Revolution." The mere name made the imagination go wild, and fans didn't know what to expect. Pablo toiled for an entire year on a lavishly-rendered, epically-scored, dream-reveal of a virtual-reality machine called the "Nintendo ON." In May of 2005, about a week or so before the Wii was unveiled, Pablo made an account on a message board and casually left the link to his video.
The awe-inspiring score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams for the movie "The Rundown." It still remains the best hoax I've ever seen from an entertainment standpoint. If anyone is curious what makes a Nintendo fan tick, the very essence of fervent fanboyism is captured in this video. It's that constant addictive desire that secretly, Nintendo is creating something POWERFUL, something that will BLOW THE WORLD AWAY, something that will create a NEW GAMING REVOLUTION (like the name suggested). That low whoosh when the "ON" logo first appears is exactly how fans want to feel when a new console is unveiled. Job well done, Pablo.
People watching it for the first time today,
though, may wonder how anyone could be fooled by it. Several
dates in the presentation are incorrect (though not if you're
Pablo -- the Gamecube came out in Europe in 2002). The notion of
a virtual reality device being sold back in 2005, when the market
for such things was deader than dead, is completely laughable, to
say nothing of that weird off-model Mario that appears at the
The video also cuts off halfway through the Mario portion because Pablo accidentally deleted that footage and had to re-render it. With E3 fast approaching, he ran out of time and had to upload what was complete, suggesting the video had been cut off because it had been hastily grabbed.
But nobody questioned the strange Mario, and it
was due to a rumor from several years back that Nintendo was
thinking of redesigning the plumber for a "modern
audience," to match all the stylized, loud, edgy mascots
that were being tried in the early 2000's in Crash's wake. Pablo
had, in fact, successfully spread a smaller rumor two years
earlier of a fake Game Boy Advance game, using a similar Mario
Pablo admitted part of the reason he created Nintendo ON was to become employed at Nintendo. "If there is a door in your way, you must break down and demolish that door," he quipped. And his attention-calling stunt nearly worked. The Nintendo ON video attracted the attention of Reggie Fils-Aime, who said he'd like to get in contact with Pablo soon. But then...nothing. As bad luck would have it, Nintendo wanted to go in a completely different direction with the Wii's marketing, and Pablo's approach wasn't it.
The success of Nintendo ON reveals the immense faith Nintendo fans had in the company at the time. Though the Wii was, in a sense, a revolution, it wasn't the kind they were hoping for, and within three years, fans felt forgotten and ignored as Nintendo put out watered-down simplistic motion games for a new buying audience -- an older generation that didn't care about innovation or graphics. Eventually that market faded away as cell phones became more powerful and capable of running the same simple games that once sold the Wii.
In response Nintendo tried to sequel the Wii with Wii U, once again pairing low technology with a gimmick (a screen controller instead of a remote). The machine was marketed poorly and its name made consumers think it was a Wii add-on, not a new console. The casual market disappeared, and the hardcore followed them as third parties found it impossible to port their high-tech, AAA titles to the Wii U's primitive processor. Within two years, Nintendo would wind up supporting their latest console entirely by themselves.
Rumors of a replacement sprung up immediately, and Nintendo confirmed them. Something named NX would replace Wii U, which would only have a shelf life of four years -- the shortest life span of any Nintendo machine.
It's in this climate that "leaks" began appearing again, but of a different variety. A screenshot appeared on message boards of a strange, round, football-shaped controller that had no buttons to speak of, save two directional sticks jutting out of each end and two shoulder buttons described as "behaving like mouse scrollwheels." The photo was met with skepticism, and the few websites that reported on it cautioned to take it with a grain of salt.
It was the second photo that did it. Another picture, this one from a completely different source, showed the football controller unmistakably existing in real life. Nintendo's next console hadn't been revealed yet, but game studios had possessed dev units since last October. It was completely plausible it came from one of them.
What was really going on? A Frenchman named David Im had used patents Nintendo actually filed to create a literal mockup of what they appeared to represent. He rendered a 3D model of the NX "controller," found a nice flat table, wrote "You Will Say Wow!" on a piece of paper and superimposed the mockup on it. Anyone with 3D modeling skills could have done it. But what of the second controller?
That required access to better tools. Frank Sandqvist was co-founder of CNC Design in Finland, a company that specialized in laser cutting and engraving. When he saw David Im's controller go viral, he wondered how hard it would be to create one himself -- and it turned out to be relatively simple. A 3D printer was used to create the shape seen in Im's photo, which included the thumbsticks (they could not move). Then a piece of black plastic was laser-cut and glued over the top. Frank did not show the bottom of his creation because it had no battery door.
You can imagine the look on David Im's face when he saw that second screenshot and wondered what on Earth was going on. Frank had posted his photo anonymously, but David attempted to get in touch with him via the Reddit account he used. No response.
Three days later, after just about every gaming website had given in and posted the "leak," David Im came clean and put up a YouTube video showing how his hoax was made.
If the first one was a phony, the second one had to be too. Frank figured the jig was up and created his own video detailing how he made his real-life controller.
You might notice that this hoax had a different tone than the one from eleven years prior -- instead of faking something the audience wanted, they faked something the audience didn't. Reaction from those who believed the controllers were real was overwhelmingly negative. They wanted buttons; they wanted to feel the correct finger placement. No doubt, the fakers preferred that as well. So if they were making up something, why not something they wanted?
The reason is because they were playing to the current expectation. Instead of being hopeful for Nintendo's future, fans are now afraid of what they'll come up with next. They fear that, in a renewed effort to get back the phone-game audience, Nintendo will embrace the gamer-unfriendly business practices of that market, and fall into ruin as a result. The football controller is a representation of that fear. Where people once were seduced by visions of magic head-shaped VR devices that displayed 512,000,000 castles at once, now they're just hoping Mario doesn't crap the bed.
It takes a lot to craft a believable hoax. With each one that works, the fanbase learns what to be suspicious of, and new tricks have to be tried. This one's success was by accident -- no one had tried creating two different versions of the same fake machine before. You can bet future fake-makers will be adapting that strategy on purpose. But the public may not fall for it a second time.
One thing's for certain....as long as actual, confirmed leaks of information are a phenomenon, no one can be truly sure who's right and who's wrong. And there will always be an opening to play a prank.
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