Published on September 6th, 2012 | by CB0
Mother Retrospective Part 2: A History
Hi friends, this is Part 2 of my Mother retrospective! It would make me very happy if you read my review of Mother if you haven’t yet!
Mother is a game that carries an interesting history behind it. Even for someone who has heard of this game, unless they are a big gaming historian or part of the series’ very loyal fan base, chances are they have not taken the chance to really look at the history of it. Now, this next part of the article will not be going over the history of the entire Mother series, as there are plenty of articles and videos that cover that subject: rather, this will be a more detailed look at the history of the first Mother game and the many events it has been involved with over the years.
To begin, Mother was the brainchild of Shigesato Itoi, a famed and influential copywriter in Japan. Best known for his lifestyle essays and his blog, Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun (the Almost Every day Itoi News), Itoi approached Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto about creating a game for the Famicom, which is the Japanese counterpart of the West’s Nintendo Entertainment System. Inspired by the likes of Dragon Quest, Itoi made the game an RPG, but with the intention of having the characters and settings resemble things players would see in real life. He decided to name his game Mother after the John Lennon song, mostly because he wanted a title that sounded “the least game like”: in addition, Itoi has said that he feels a very strong connection to Lennon in many ways; for example, both men had absent fathers, which is an element that would later show up Mother and EarthBound. Itoi remained involved throughout the game’s production, but later said that the game’s final few parts went untested as far as game balance went, saying ”When we got to fine-tuning the difficulty there, I was like, ‘Whatever!” The game was released to great praise in Japan, selling around 400,000 copies and scoring very well with the critics of Japan’s acclaimed gaming magazine, Weekly Famitsu. The game is still fondly remembered there and is considered a classic.
Meanwhile, in the West, Nintendo of America had taken notice of Mother and planned to release the game. Thus, production began on translating the game, with the name being changed to Earth Bound (yes, with a space) to appeal more to American audiences. The translation was completed in 1990, and the game was planned to be released alongside an 80 page strategy guide (rumored to resemble Great Grandfather’s Diary, an in game item), a map poster and an enemy list. With a release date set for some time in 1991 and a couple appearances in Nintendo Power, the game seemed to be ready for launch: that is, until it was pulled from production and went unreleased. For the most part, Earth Bound faded from the memories of gamers and few even knew the game existed. For the most part, the game went unspoken of for years in the West.
Then, in 1998, a strange eBay auction went up for what appeared to be a beta cartridge of the unreleased game: The game was bought for only 125 dollars by a certain Kenny Brooks. At the time, a fan translation group known as Neo Demiforce was already working on a translation of Mother: however, after catching wind of the leaked prototype, the group scrounged together enough cash to convince Mr. Brooks to let them borrow the cartridge to back up and distribute the game over the internet. The game was successfully backed up by Demiforce, but the group found that initially the game would not play on Nesticle, the best emulator for its time. It was found that by changing one byte of the game’s data, they could open the game and also add “Zero” to the title screen, helping distinguish from the game’s SNES sequel: thus, EarthBound Zero became the universally known fan title for the English prototype.
However, there were still a few problems that faced the Neo Demiforce. Upon playing the newly altered ROM, players soon began to discover that the game would randomly end and launch an anti-piracy screen for seemingly no reason. It was later realized that the game’s checksum, causing the crash. However, the protection was later removed from the game’s data, and the fully playable ROM of Earth Bound was released. In addition, many gamers did not believe in the validity of the prototype cartridge: many believed that the ROM released was simply a hack of Mother done by Demiforce to gain publicity. However, in an interview with the game’s English script writer, Phil Sandhop, it was confirmed that the game was in fact a leaked prototype of Earth Bound. Sandhop remembered many elements of the game’s translation and claimed that the script in the released ROM was in fact his words: in addition, he remembered the game’s added run feature and appearance of the prototype cartridge. Phil Sandhop can also be credited for now known reasons for the game’s cancellation. The main reason given was that the game was to be released after the upcoming Super Nintendo. Since the new console took priority, Earth Bound was shoved aside and eventually forgotten. To add, the new options and improvements given to Earth Bound meant that the game required more memory than that of the original Mother cartridge, thus adding to the high production and marketing costs of the game. In the end, the game just wasn’t deemed marketable given the situation, thus leading to the downfall of an officially released, translated and improved version of the little Japanese RPG. Since the original leak, five other prototype cartridges of Earth Bound have been confirmed to exist, four of which are owned by collectors. Whether they will one day find their way into the wild again is anybody’s guess.
However, the story of Mother and the English prototype Earth Bound does not end there. In 1999 two EarthBound fans, Reid Young and Clyde Mandelin (often known as reidman and Tomato) proposed a petition to try and get the fully translated Mother/Earth Bound ported to the Game Boy Color. With the help of IGN, the petition received around 1,850 signatures and was neatly bound and sent to Nintendo of America alongside emails from both reidman and Tomato. When the two received no response after months of waiting, reidman organized a campaign called Project: Ruffini the Dog (named after a character in the SNES EarthBound), which involved fans sending hand written letters to Nintendo of America. This time, reidman received a response, with Nintendo saying that “only time will tell if (Mother) will appear in the Game Boy line up.” Of course, this never came to be, but it still stands as a prominent point in the game’s history when the fans fought for the game’s official release. Today, Reid Young runs Starmen.net, the definitive fan site of the Mother series, while Tomato is known for his fan translation of Mother 3 and remains a prominent figure in the community.
Little did reidman or Tomato know, however, years later, Mother would be rereleased for the Game Boy Advance in Japan. In a marketing stunt to help promote the then upcoming Mother 3, Mother 1+2 was released in 2003 as a compilation of altered versions of Mother and Mother 2 (EarthBound). What is interesting about the port of Mother is that the game retains many of the same elements that are present in the Earth Bound prototype, including the run button and the altered ending: it is assumed that these changes were added to this version because they did nothing if not improve on the original Japanese version of Mother. On April 30th, 2011, Tomato released a translated version of the Mother side of Mother 1+2, providing English speakers once again with a precise translation of a Mother game.
So what’s so special about this little Japanese role playing game, Mother? The game has faced a long, interesting and sometimes troubled history, but the game itself is still being disregarded by many. While it may not be a guaranteed masterpiece for some, gamers should definitely check out this interesting piece of history, for it deserves to be as appreciated for beginning one the best cult classic series in gaming, not to mention for being an overall good game. With all this in mind, one can only wonder how Shigesato Itoi’s little Famicom game will impact the minds of those who have yet to play it. Will Mother/Earth Bound/EarthBound Zero gain the wider audience it deserves? For now all anyone can do is show the game the love it needs to live on: After all, love is the magic, love is the story, and love is a melody we all can sing, even for underrated gems like Shigesato Itoi’s Mother.
”EarthBound Zero Prototype Info.” EarthBound Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://earthboundcentral.com/2009/09/earthbound-zero-prototype-info/>.
“The MOTHER 1 2 Fan Translation V1.01.” The MOTHER 1+2 Fan Translation. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://mother12.earthboundcentral.com/>.
“Mother on Game Boy Color.” Mother on Game Boy Color. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://starmen.net/stonehenge/petitions/eb0/index.html>.
“Spotlight: EarthBound.” Lost Levels. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://lostlevels.org/200407/200407-earthbound.shtml>.