This article is part two (of three) of the Shigesato article and will be covering the creation of the Mother series, the influence behind Earthbound’s final boss Giygas and Itoi’s little known fishing game. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, we’d recommend doing so by clicking here.
Working with Nintendo
Throughout the 1980s, the release of the Famicom resulted in a gaming phenomenon that spread across Japan. Shigesato Itoi was one of many who got swept up in this gaming movement, and he admitted to playing video games so much that it bordered on “obsession”. As he played these games, he would constantly consider how he would have done things differently. Itoi was not one to shy away from a challenge that he felt passionate about, so he had begun making design plans for his own game. On a small business meeting with Nintendo at their headquarters in Kyoto, Itoi had planned to also present his ideas to Shigeru Miyamoto. This was Itoi’s first opportunity to meet the legendary creator of Mario and Donkey Kong and he felt more nervous about Miyamoto’s response to his game than he did about the business that had originally brought Itoi to Nintendo. Itoi didn’t receive the positive feedback that he was hoping for and when Miyamoto had finished going through his design plans, he said:
I know it’s a lot of work, but… how about starting over from the beginning and making it simpler?
– Shigesato Itoi [relaying what Shigeru Miyamoto had said to him] (translation by shmuplations.com)
This response brought Itoi to tears, but it didn’t discourage him from seeing his project come to fruition. It was later revealed that Shigeru Miyamoto had some hesitancy towards letting celebrities releasing their games on the Famicom. On December 10, 1986, famous Japanese comedian/actor/director, Takeshi Kitano, made and released his own video game called たけしの挑戦状 (takeshi no chōsenjō – Takeshi’s Challenge). Takeshi’s Challenge is known to be one of the most difficult and convoluted games to have been created at the time, being a result of Kitano’s overambition coupled with the Famicom’s limited hardware.
But Itoi wasn’t just looking for a quick buck, despite what some employees at Nintendo had originally suspected. He was willing to learn all that he could about the process of creating video games in order to see his game come to fruition. Itoi had done some advertising for Nintendo in the past and continued to do so throughout his time making games for their consoles, so he had no intention of simply coming in and making a quick profit. He thought of Nintendo as like a family member to him.
In March 1989, Shigesato Itoi founded his own video game development company under the name Ape Inc., which would act as a foundation for video game developers to make video games exclusively for Nintendo. Ape Inc. would eventually combine with Tsunekazu Ishihara’s independent company Creatures Inc. to primarily develop Pokémon titles separate from the core RPG series. However in 1989, establishing Ape Inc. paved the way for Shigesato to see to the creation of his first game…
When Shigesato Itoi was imagining the setting for his first RPG, he had a look at the games in the genre that were flooding the gaming market at the time. With obvious examples like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Itoi noticed a distinct influence from Medieval Europe and classic fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings. However, Itoi admitted that he knew nothing about Medieval Europe, nor did he think many Japanese game fans would either (despite admitting that Dragon Quest III had a big impact on him). So Itoi considered a modern setting for his project, something for players to personally relate to.
On June 20, 2003, in an interview leading up to the release of Mother 1+2 on the Game Boy Advance, Shigesato Itoi discussed the meaning behind the title Mother. It wasn’t just one influence, rather stating:
Generally speaking, there are many situations where the word ‘Mother” is used. One idea was ‘Mother Computer’, and the game being so large that it could be a ‘Mother’ for all other games. Another one is from when I cried after John Lennon said, ‘Mother!’ … His voice made tears gush out. Being called ‘Mother’ in that way felt horrible to me, so I decided to make others feel the same way.
– Shigesato Itoi (Translation by Starmen.net)
Itoi later went on to say that as a copywriter, he would do so much research into a product/company that affiliating words would often take on multiple meanings. Itoi felt the same way about the title for the Mother series and felt as though the name seemed “the least game-like”. In an interview with The Dream 64, Itoi stated that he feels as though human beings are primarily shaped by their mothers and not their fathers.
Fans speculate that the reasoning behind the series’ title is due to Itoi’s history with his parents. Itoi’s mother had left him and his sister at a very young age, and his father’s job caused him to be absent throughout most of his childhood. Not seeing one’s father is a recurring theme throughout the first two games as Ninten and Ness only speak to their fathers over the phone.
Mother was originally intended to be localised for the West, with a full English translation version having already been completed and finalised. There were some surprising additions made in the western localisation, such as a run feature as well as additional menu options, enemy descriptions and redesigned areas of the map. Most of these requests came from Phil Sandhop, Mother’s editor and scriptwriter. Sandhop also wanted to include an 80 page instruction manual with the game and a full release of the soundtrack, but the game was eventually cancelled due to the cost of the cartridge to fit the game on as it required extra memory and a battery for saving in addition to the extra physical material. Mother had been released in July 1989 in Japan and by the time it had been translated and localised, Nintendo of America were shifting their focus to the release of the Super Nintendo.
In a 1990 issue of Nintendo Power, marketing had already begun for the game…
It’s curious that the title for the localised version of the original Mother game had a space within Earthbound and there has been no elaboration as to why they decided to have it as one word in the sequel’s release on the SNES. It’s also unclear as to why the series’ name was changed to Earthbound in the first place, and a patent dated November 16, 1989 shows that the game was going to retain the name Mother. In another patent on August 16, 1990, the game was officially renamed as Earth Bound and on the same date, the name Space Bound was also registered.
Throughout the NES and early SNES era, Nintendo’s headquarters in Japan would develop and program games without any consideration to its potential localisation in the west. As a result, Nintendo would continue to work on a game even after it would release in Japan as they would have to make many changes in order to conform with Nintendo of America’s guidelines. Despite Mother never releasing on the NES in the west, the game’s unfortunate cancellation did create some ripple effects throughout the company. Phil Sandhop had this to say:
The Mother project and localizing it really opened up a few eyes at NCL (Nintendo Co., Ltd.). They began working closer with NOA (Nintendo of America) and the other subsidiaries to produce artwork for games that would be appropriately received anywhere in the world and not need localization.
– Phil Sandhop (http://www.lostlevels.org/200407/200407-earthbound2.shtml)
Perhaps the Mother/Earthbound series could have been a bigger success in the west if the original instalment managed to hit store shelves. However, the lessons that Nintendo had learned from Mother’s cancellation allowed for the localisation team at Nintendo of America to successfully release the sequel and finally introduce the franchise to western players.
On January 15, 1998, a prototype cartridge of the original Mother game’s localisation was put up for sale on rec.games.video.classic. Just over three months later on April 27, 1998, a backup copy was released, however there has since been a lot of debate over its authenticity.
At E3 on June 14, 2015, nine days after the 20th anniversary of Earthbound’s release in North America, a special announcement was made during the Nintendo World Championship. A pre-recorded video of Shigesato Itoi was presented announcing the long awaited release of Mother (retitled Earthbound Beginnings) on the Wii U Virtual Console.
Fans’ reactions were overwhelmingly positive, some even being brought to tears…
It just goes to show how much the Mother/Earthbound series truly means to its fans.
Shigeru Miyamoto is notorious for disliking RPGs, which is clear from his first reaction of the original Mother game. In an interview in the November 1994 issue of Famicom Tsushin (which would later be renamed Famitsu), he stated that RPGs feel as though the player always begins from a negative situation and must come back to zero, rather than starting at zero and ending at one hundred. However, Miyamoto admitted that the original Mother was the first RPG he had ever completed, albeit with the help of a debug mode. He later went on to beat Mother 2/Earthbound without any help and even restarted the game after he had unfortunately lost his save file.
A hot conspiracy topic for Earthbound fans focuses around the game’s final boss Giygas. It was further touched upon in part 1 of this article but to briefly recap, Shigesato Itoi had a traumatic experience as a child when he walked into the wrong cinema and witnessed a disturbing scene in the film 憲兵とバラバラ死美人 (Kenpei to Barabara Shibijin – The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty). Shigesato Itoi elaborated in an interview on his website that he had interpreted this scene as depicting rape, to which inspired him for Earthbound’s final Boss Giygas, however that same interview contains an editorial note stating that the film did not contain a rape scene and Itoi’s twisted interpretation comes as a result of his shock and fear that had manifested as a young boy.
Giygas inspiration scene from 0:54 – 2:00
In the interview, Itoi refers to the experience that inspired Giygas as “… a direct blow to the brain” and when he thinks back on the scene, he remembers that “the boobs… distort like balls”.
In other words, there was this sense of terror having atrocity and eroticism side-by-side, and that’s what Giygas’ lines at the end are. During the end, he says, “It hurts,” right? That’s… her breast. It’s like, how do I put it, a “living-being” sensation.
– Shigesato Itoi (Translation by Earthbound Central)
Shigesato Itoi wanted the player to continue on a light-hearted and wacky path only to end up on a much deeper one that left them feeling uneasy. The form of Giygas is not intended to be taken literally, rather it represents the twisted manifestation of evil and taking pleasure from another’s suffering.
Itoi expressed that he took inspiration from many different authors and western films which can be seen if the player looks hard enough. Most notably, he has taken inspiration from Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut, both famous horror and science fiction authors. At the Mother 1+2 event, there was a display case with some of the films that Itoi took inspiration from:
Fans have also speculated that Mr. Saturn was inspired by Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians, a strange alien creature described as:
… two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings about time.
– Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five, pp. 26)
Whilst Tralfamadorians don’t seem to have much physical resemblance to Itoi’s Mr Saturn, they both have wacky designs, as well as their friendly mannerisms and an eagerness to help humans. Shigesato Itoi also wanted Mr. Saturn to resemble innocence:
In any normal society, there are those who don’t really fit in well with ordinary people, but actually have skills that surpass those of ordinary people. I personally love that sort of ‘power of innocence’ in things.
– Shigesato Itoi (Translation by Earthboundcentral.com)
Shigesato Itoi always wanted to highlight inclusiveness in his games. In the real world, there are a variety of different people, each with their own personality, motives, characteristics, strengths, weaknesses and sexual preferences. This will be further touched upon in part 3 of this article when we discuss Mother 3, however Mother 2/Earthbound deliberately featured a homosexual child. Itoi wanted to stress the fact that this is a common occurrence in modern society and that it shouldn’t be ignored in a game that is set in a modern suburban setting.
Itoi also took inspiration from a variety of different mediums, especially for the purpose of Earthbound’s soundtrack. The trumpet player in Onett plays a melody that resembles Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9, Movement 2; the music when battling an enemy that is weaker than you resembles the song Tequila by The Champs; when fighting Frank, the music clearly resembles Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry; if the player listens very carefully, they can make out the melody of the American National Anthem in the music for Moonside; and lastly, The Megaton Walk track’s drum beat resembles Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band by The Beatles.
It was due to these similarities that Earthbound did not release on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Nintendo of America ran into difficulties with copyright and it wasn’t until April 17, 2013 that Satoru Iwata announced it’s eventual release on the Wii U’s Virtual Console in a Nintendo Direct. Fans in Europe only had to wait a few months for Earthbound to become available on July 18, 2013.
Mother 2/Earthbound had a difficult development process and the team at Ape Inc. were struggling to make the game polished for release. Former HAL Laboratory president and Nintendo CEO, Satoru Iwata, was renowned for his programming skills and was very good friends with Shigesato Itoi. Iwata analysed the source code for Earthbound and determined that Itoi had two choices: keep working on what they had already created and have it released in two years, or start from scratch whilst keeping the art designs and have the game ready in six months. Itoi chose the latter.
Nintendo had high hopes for Earthbound’s release in North America. The game released on June 5, 1995, almost a full year after the release in Japan. Shigeru Miyamoto thought that Earthbound was going to be a great success in the west and estimated that the game would sell over three million copies. However, the game only sold approximately 140,000 copies.
Nintendo had spent a lot of money on the marketing campaign for Earthbound that featured this TV commercial:
However, the commercial had failed to capture the game’s unique tone and gameplay. In addition to the commercial, Earthbound had some poorly worded magazine ads, including a featured ad that stated: “… this game stinks.” as it came with scratch and sniff cards. The release of the game also came with a strategy guide, which increased the price and discouraged potential customers. Lastly, Shigesato Itoi wasn’t a household name in the West like he was in Japan, therefore a cute and colorful RPG made by someone fans had never heard of at the time where fans were eagerly awaiting jaw-dropping 3D graphics was surely doomed to fail.
On July 7, 2013, an eBay user by the name of Kaiser499 listed a prototype cartridge of Earthbound for $15,000USD.
At the time, the listing provided images of the game in working order and official VGA ratings. However as it was a prototype, it received an NG (No Grade) rating. It is unclear whether the cartridge was ever sold and where it is now, but it’s an interesting part of Earthbound’s history nonetheless.
Itoi Shigesato No Bass Tsuri No.1
It is certainly excusable to think that Shigesato Itoi’s career in game development only consisted of the Mother trilogy, however there is a little known game that only saw an unusual release in Japan.
The game’s initial release took place across various tournaments throughout 1997 on the Super Famicom Satellaview. We at Switchaboo would like to do an article on the Satellaview at a later date, but for the purpose of this article, it was simply an add-on for the Super Famicom. This peripheral allowed the Super Famicom to receive radio broadcast signals from St.GIGA to broadcast exclusive hour-long games during the スーパーファミコンアワー (Super Famicom Hour).
The broadcast allowed for exclusive features, which were including in an enhanced version of the original Legend of Zelda featuring voice acting and 16 bit graphics. This version was known as BSゼルダの伝説 (BS Zelda no Densetsu – BS The Legend of Zelda).
On February 21, 1997, the Super Famicom cartridge for Itoi Shigesato No Bass Tsuri No.1 became available for consumers to purchase in preparation for an upcoming tournament. The first Qualifying event was held during April 27 – May 3 at 7:00PM and involved players (including Shigesato Itoi himself) catching up to five fish within an hour and submitting the total weight. At the end of the hour, the results and passwords for the top 100 players were displayed on screen, to which they could submit their entry for the finals via postcard or FAX.
The players who made it into the top 100 division took place in a finals tournament that was held on May 25 – May 31 at 7:00PM, whilst the players who didn’t qualify could still participate in a general tournament. Competitors within the finals tournament who placed from 1st to 20th received an original fishing lure (BS Color), whilst the remaining competitors received a tournament original sticker. This was the same for the general tournament, however only those who place from 1st to 10th received the lure.
For those who owned the Satellaview add-on for the Super Famicom but didn’t own a copy of Itoi Shigesato No Bass Tsuri No.1, they were still able to participate by taking part in the Akashi Lake Cleanup Campaign to pick up garbage. During this campaign, participants could also pick up garbage tickets in order to enter a lottery to win one of the original stickers.
On March 31, 2000, a definitive edition of Itoi Shigesato No Bass Tsuri No.1 was released for the Nintendo 64. The marketing for the game highlighted more precise controls and lure movement thanks to the analogue stick on the Nintendo 64’s controller, as well as compatibility with the Rumble Pack to imitate the feeling of a fish fighting back on the line. The definitive edition also featured a cast of colorful characters, as well as Itoi himself in the “Help Mode”:
Part 2 focused around the creation of the Mother series, Giygas and Itoi Shigesato no Bass Tsuri No.1, but us gaming fans also know that there was a third Mother instalment that didn’t make it’s way to the west. So,
Be sure to like us on Facebook in order to get updated on every article we post, along with more Nintendo content. And hey if you enjoyed this article, why not read about Shigesato Itoi’s career before video games (if you haven’t already) in Part 1?