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Sick of Animal Crossing’s sea bass joke? Its writer is, too

Here’s how the team workshopped fish jokes

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Animal Crossing character wearing dress and holding a Sea Bass Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

After Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ first fishing tournament, I started dreaming about sea bass. I dreamed I was participating in a real-life fishing tournament — like the ones I participated in as a child — but every time I pulled something up, regardless of species (most often, sunnies) I shouted the line. You know the one: “I caught a sea bass! No, wait—it’s at least a C+!”

I caught the most fish in the tournament, but everyone was so annoyed with me at the end that they refused to give me the prize. They were sick of the joke. I am, too. The thing with sea bass in New Horizons — and Animal Crossing, in general — is that they’re common. If you see a large shadow in the water, it’s probably a sea bass. They spawn everywhere, all day and all year. Every time I see a large shadow, I get excited; maybe it’s a shark! But every time, I’m let down. It’s a sea bass.

Text on screen says: “I caught a sea bass! No wait—it’s at least a C+!” Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Nintendo knows this disappointment. It’s been joking about the fish’s prevalence since Animal Crossing: Wild World: “I caught a sea bass! Not again!” This continued into Animal Crossing: City Folk and Animal Crossing: New Leaf, too. For New Horizons, Nintendo dropped the not again! for a pun, and that’s where the C+ thing came in.

New Horizons localization writer Rob Heiret — the guy who wrote the joke — is already tired of it, too. Heiret posted a Twitter thread this weekend to explain the joke. He said he originally went with C- for the line, but that changed somewhere during development.

“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,” Heiret tweeted. “Make it a C+ instead.”

Heiret explained that the joke is still the same — though it appears they dropped the “bass” off the end of it — that replies on the “homophones ‘sea’ and ‘C’ to change how you perceive the description of the animal.”

His point is, Nintendo was trying really hard to make New Horizons “the most positive, comforting, funny game we could” — even down to the sea bass jokes that torment players. And, indeed, it does. I mean, the game wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t, right?

It’s worth checking out the rest of Heiret’s thread. He’s got a lot of interesting insights into the game and the way it’s played. “But in the time of COVID-19, we don’t need to be gods, we just need agency,” Heiret wrote. “We need a comfortable bed where we can arrange the blankets JUST how we like them. That feels like the single most important part of the game’s popularity to me.”

Plus, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find out another secret: Heiret is also responsible for the Manila clam joke: “Manila is my favorite flavor of clam!” Sigh.

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