Video games of all flavours are filled with real-world items that pop up time and again all over the place. Coins, rings, stars - these things are part of the vocabulary of games to the point that we don't really notice them any more, and it's usually the same with level furniture and background features. Occasionally though, a real-world object will really catch your eye and make you wonder why it's there. Case in point: Moai.
Pronounced moe-eye, the large monolithic statues from Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean can be found in a surprising number of games on all platforms, including Nintendo's. The most recent example is probably the Moe-Eye statue that Mario can take over with Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey, but there are countless others to be found in games from the past 35 years or so, and one person has taken it upon themselves to catalogue the lot on a website called (appropriately) Moai Games.
To find out more about these mysterious monoliths and the reasons behind this endeavour, we spoke to Matt Sephton to ask him about the project and... well, why Moai?
Nintendo Life: Firstly, tell us a little about yourself and what it is about Moai that you like so much. Have you seen one in real life?
Matt Sephton: I'm a professional programmer and lifelong gamer. I started out programming with 8-bit home computers and progressed from there, whilst my gaming started with the SNES, through my favourites the DS and Wii, all the way to the Switch, and most other platforms in between.
As for my fascination with Moai, I'm interested in the unexplainable things that have been left behind by previous civilisations: the Pyramids, Nazca Lines and stuff like that. I think Moai are the coolest of the bunch. To see them crop up in video games in odd ways is just an extra bonus that ties together two of my interests quite nicely.
In terms of real Moai I've seen the one at The British Museum in London, and have a small Moai that I bought from a garden centre sitting on my window ledge at home. I imagine my little one is much easier to dust than the one at The British Museum!
Moai have a long history in video games, featuring prominently in Konami’s library, for example. Can you remember the first game you spotted a Moai in?
You're absolutely right that Konami pretty much own, or maybe that should be owned, the idea of putting Moai in games. You can see on the web site that they have by far the most games featuring Moai. In fact, you could argue that Moai was almost a Konami mascot to rival Mario and Sonic as they even had its own game Moai-kun.
I read that during Konami's golden period (80s/90s) one of their staff, Yoshinori Sasaki, had the nickname "Moai Sasaki". Perhaps that was the reason they featured them in most of their games? A bit like how Nintendo have "Totaka's Song" in so many of their games.
The first game I ever saw a Moai in was Pang (aka Buster Bros) on the Atari ST. I loved that game beause it showed so many cool and interesting places from around the world in the background of each stage. For me the backgrounds provided the incentive to progress through the game rather than any sorts of achievements. Spoiler: Pang's final stage is set on Easter Island and you see a row of Moai in the background.
As an aside, my favourite version of Pang is the amazing dual screen Nintendo DS version, which is a phenomenal game. But sadly there are no Moai in it! Whilst the game features UNESCO World Heritage sites, they didn't feel the need to include Easter Island. Shame!
What was the genesis of this heady project? How many of these have you seen first-hand?
Nice pun! Well, back in 2013 I saw a thread on a gaming forum (NeoGAF) that served as a place for people to post screenshots of Moai in games as and when they encountered them. I submitted a few and so did many others, and the thread would come and go over time. Since then I've become aware of other places that had similar small lists of Moai: books, video game databases, tumblr blogs, other forums, and I was still keeping a small list of my own. So I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a dedicated site to act as the master list. One weekend last month the stars aligned - so I bought a domain name, installed WordPress, and entered the first 40-or-so games in an evening. A month later the site is fast approaching 400 games - far more than I would have ever imagined!
I've seen a large majority of the featured Moai myself, and for many of the games on the site I captured the screenshots myself. Emulation and cheat codes help a great deal. For some games I have to use Let's Play videos. For others that are lost to time, magazine screenshots are all I can feasibly use. I've gone to some lengths, such as searching many vintage magazines on archive.org, and even reconstructing screenshot that I only have in an incomplete or partial state. Why do this? It's the thrill of the chase!
There is a queue of games that are awaiting screenshots. One I'll get to soon is Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan for 3DS which has a QR code that should unlock some Moai-related content.
Of all the examples submitted to your site, do you have any favourites?
I'm eager to figure out which game was the first to feature Moai. Right now there are 3 games that were released in 1983, one is American and two are Japanese. In 1982 one of the real Moai from Easter Island was shipped to Japan to be displayed in an exhibition in Osaka. That cultural event could explain their sudden appearance in Japanese video games so soon after. I'm hoping to speak to the creator of the American game to figure out what inspired them.
My favourite of those three is an obscure Japanese adventure game about the lost continent of Mu (also known as Atlantis) which was released on some Japanese 8-bit home computers. That one is extra mysterious, so is my favourite to date.
I also like the stranger appearances. The "Moai on the beach" in Second Life has a real sense of humour. And of course the "Moai in shades" from Super Mario Odyssey is cool because you can play part of the game as it.
They're all Moai, but they're all different and that's what I love about this project.
Is the intention to make it a comprehensive catalogue?
My main intention it's just to have a bit of fun and see how far this thing can go. It provides a talking point and provides a common thread through our wonderful hobby of video games. If somebody visits the site and also discovers a new game, or rediscovers an old game, then that is enough of a reward for me.
As long as people keep submitting Moai, or I continue to find them myself, then I'll continue to update and expand the site with relevant information.
Are there any other objects that pop up in video games that you think might be worthy of a similar list?
There sure are! There's site called the Video Game Soda Machine project that catalogues appearances of soda machines in video games. In fact I've submitted many soda machines to that site so you could say it is a major influence for the Moai Games site.
Personally, I'm also planning another site listing every Hanafuda video game that has ever been made. (Hanafuda are the flower cards that Nintendo was founded to manufacture). I've been collecting the data on those games for years as a big spreadsheet, so just need to find another free weekend to turn it into a website. There won't be as many entries as there are on Moai Games — currently I know of around 150 Hanafuda games — but each will be packed with much more individual detail.
You can check out the project for yourselves and contribute via Matt's site and follow him on Twitter. Our thanks to Matt for his time and graciously complimenting our pun. It was tough, but we limited ourselves to just the one - you've got to keep a Moai on these things.