An absolutely fascinating interview with Shigesato Itoi, the creator of Mother/Earthbound has surfaced, and it includes a very detailed look at how the original Mother/Earthbound Beginnings game was pitched to Nintendo. Check out a summary straight from Itoi himself below, which is just a small snippet of the full interview.
“I owe a lot to Mario. I have asthma, and I start coughing when I lay down. I’ve always had a hard time sleeping, and for a while I had to sit up at all times or else I just couldn’t stop coughing. The only things I could really do while sitting up at night were read a book or play a game. So I’d wake up and grab a controller, and Mario would see me through my asthma at night. ...It’s more like I felt indebted to Nintendo.
...one day I finally started playing a copy of Dragon Quest that someone had given me. It’d been sitting around for a while, but it was raining and I had nothing better to do. ...I started it with pretty low expectations, and before I knew it, I was having a great time.
...It was fun. At first I was simply enjoying the game, but then it occurred to me that there’s someone out there who’s entertaining me through this game.
Yeah, it’s like laughing at a comedian’s joke and realizing, “Hey, that person on stage is the one making me laugh!” After a while I found myself thinking about what kind of things I’d do if I made the same sort of game. I wondered why all the role-playing games that were popular at the time had swords and magic.
Games were more unpopular back then. I was defending them on TV, saying something like, “Manga used to be taboo — you’d be scorned for having manga as a college student. Video games are in the same position today, and although it sounds a little extreme, I think games will eventually be an even bigger part of our culture than manga.”
People at Nintendo wondered who I was after that, and Yamauchi said he wanted to meet me. They invited me to their office to ask me what I thought of a game, and after that, we chatted for a while. That’s when (Shigeru) Miyamoto came in. We ended up becoming really close — we got along quite well from the start. I told him I actually had an idea of my own, and pulled out some copies of the notes I’d taken, asking him if he thought it would work as a game.
I pictured them jumping up from their chairs, saying, “Wow, what an idea! We must try it!” It was a dream of mine that they’d make a game using that idea, but instead the conversation just kind of stopped at Miyamoto asking me how serious I was about it. Itoi, how involved do you plan on being in it? Being totally involved in a project can be very demanding.” He sounded very solemn.
He probably assumed I wasn’t interested in being involved. Plus the extent to which he warned me ended up being on a totally different level than the extent to which I assumed it would be demanding. ...From Miyamoto’s perspective, it’s easy for someone to say they want to make a game. It’s the ‘making’ part that’s incredibly difficult. Just like it’s easy to say, “Some old guy in overalls is gonna jump around and save the princess.”
...I knew I wanted to make a game, but when my resolve was questioned, I was very sad about it. ...I went back to Tokyo totally crushed. I thought Miyamoto and I had hit it off well at first, but then I was like, “What a taskmaster.” (Laughs)
He did say to me, “Give me some time to figure this out and see how we can get a team together.” So he was earnest in making it happen. But from my perspective, since he didn’t say how interesting it looked, I’d assumed that meant he didn’t like it. ...I’d never made a game before, so I interpreted his response as, “Well, it’s not great, but if you’re going to keep insisting on it, I guess I’ll think about whether we should bother putting a team together. As someone without any experience, it was easy to get paranoid.
He was kind enough to take it seriously. I didn’t know anything, so I just mumbled a thank you and quickly headed home. They gave me a ride in a black car and treated me well, but I just got more and more depressed. I’d been expecting a torrent of praise, but by the time I got on the bullet train back to Tokyo, I was actually in tears.
...It turned out that it was all in my head. He put together a team for me. Their internal teams had their hands full, so he went to the trouble of reaching out to a company that would help me make the game. ...I met up with the development team at a tiny Japanese restaurant so that they could gauge how involved I’d actually be in all the hard work Miyamoto had warned me about, and so we could get to know each other.
This interview, conducted by Game Center CX, gives an extremely personal and interesting look at Itoi's work with Nintendo, as well as Itoi himself. Make sure to take some time and read the full thing.