Inside NVIDIA’s Secret Super Smash Bros. Cult
At NVIDIA, that’s the sound of engineers bonding.
Twice a week you’ll find a group of about a dozen NVIDIANs gathered at our “secret gaming room,” an old couch in an obscure corner of our Silicon Valley headquarters, to huddle around a 20-year-old cathode-ray TV set with the volume turned way up.
Our engineers are at the cutting-edge. But sometimes they just want to grab a controller, fire up a vintage Nintendo GameCube, and jump into Super Smash Bros., a game they’ve been playing almost their entire lives.
Super Smash Bros.: Midnight at 6
Talk to Eric Rock after a session, and he’ll tell you one of his earliest memories is from when he was six. His parents came down to the basement, at midnight, to tell him and his friends to stop playing the game. It’s a habit that Eric has found impossible to break.
“You can cheer, you can root for a team or a person, it’s a very welcoming community,” says Eric, an intern on his second stint at NVIDIA, of the community that’s formed around Super Smash Bros. He’ll be coming back full time to NVIDIA when he graduates, thanks, in part to sense of belonging the club helps cultivate.
The Super Smash community, of course, extends far beyond NVIDIA’s walls. Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. franchise is almost 18 years old. But it’s more recently spawned an enormous competitive gaming scene, with matches drawing crowds of hundreds of screaming gamers.
Secret Gaming Room
The group started last year when NVIDIA opened its cutting-edge eSports Studio (see “Our GeForce eSports Studio Brings in Gamers from Around NVIDIA, and the World”). NVIDIANs would pile into the studio to sharpen their skills on the latest multiplayer online battle arena games, then unwind over classic Nintendo games.
“People love Nintendo,” says Matthew DeNovio, the NVIDIA Super Smash Bros. club’s founder and organizer, who would stash his old TV set and vintage Nintendo GameCube in a closet at our eSports studio. “People would come for the studio, and stay for Smash.”
One of the world’s top players, DaJuan McDaniel, works at NVIDIA. He’s been known to sit down with the other members of the Super Smash Bros. club for a few rounds. “His motion is just incredible, he’s unbelievably smooth,” says Matthew.
Born in our eSports Studio
After a few months, the group of Nintendo enthusiasts grew big enough to begin meeting on their own, in a room just down the hall from our eSports studio that’s come to be known as the “secret gaming room.”
Now the group — with 40 members from across NVIDIA’s engineering teams — gets together twice a week for a few hours of gaming — a quick bite at NVIDIA’s cafeteria — and then, sometimes a few hours more.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. Look past the blocky vintage graphics and quirky electronic sounds generated as the characters bounce and bash one another around the screen and you’ll find Super Smash Bros. has the sophistication of an aged Scotch or a 1972 Porsche 911E.
How the Super Smash Bros. Community Has Grown Over The Years
Super Smash Bros. was originally meant to be a party game, where players compete to knock each other off the screen. There’s no online component. so gamers have to meet face-to-face to play. But the game’s depth, and subtlety, kept players coming back again and again to the long-lived game — eventually bringing them together to compete in a sprawling community of fans.
And, like many Nintendo games, while the game is easy to pick up and play, there are plenty of “corner cases,” or odd little touches, that experienced players can exploit.
“One of the interesting things is you can always get better,” says Matthew.
“Nintendo understands game feel to a ‘T,’” says GPU engineer Phillip Woytowitz. “It’s a very poetic game, it’s really about self-expression.”
As a result, every player has a unique play style that shows through their characters movement. Experienced players, like the ones in our club, can tell who is playing a particular character based on how the character moves and acts. Yet there’s always room to play better.
“You never really master it,” says Eric.
The result: a very NVIDIA kind of bonding experience. “More than once I’ve been gaming, looked up and it’s midnight, and there’s one of the security guards, and it’s like ‘Hey,’” says Matthew. “‘here’s one of the security guards checking in on us again.’”