In a wide-ranging interview with GameCenter CX the creator of the Mother series, known as Earthbound in the west, has shared a trove of gaming memories and tidbits about the series' development with the show's presenter 'Arino Kacho'.
As you may well already know, the Japanese show features comedian Shinya Arino in the role of a manager at a game development company who takes on various retro games, presumably for 'research'. The show often features game developers (Satoru Iwata made an appearance discussing Balloon Fight, for example) and a recent interview with Shigesato Itoi has been translated (as spotted by Siliconera) and made available online. It's well worth sitting down with your favourite beverage and giving it a thorough read through.
The interview discusses all three games in the series. Itoi begins by reminiscing about how it began and how he wound up pitching his ideas to Nintendo thanks to feeling in debt to a certain famous plumber:
Itoi: 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.
Arino: And you can’t call on anyone in the middle of the night, so it was you and Mario. Did that make you want to work with Nintendo?
Itoi: It’s more like I felt indebted to Nintendo.
He goes on to discuss Dragon Quest and wondering why all the heroes in RPGs were so heroic:
I wanted a weak hero. The main character in Mother has asthma, and his dad is never around. That was the setup I had in mind when wondering what kind of adventure story I could make.
Despite having never before worked in game development, his opportunity to pitch a game idea to Nintendo actually came about fortuitously through then-Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi seeing him on TV discussing games. He was predicting that they would end up being a more significant part of Japanese culture than manga:
Arino: So the President of Nintendo spotted you saying that on TV.
Itoi: Yeah. 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.
Arino: The creator of Mario! Was that the first time you two met?
Itoi: It was.
Arino: Were you excited to meet the man who made Mario?
Itoi: Yeah, I was so happy. 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.
Itoi excitedly recounted his ideas to Miyamoto, although they weren't as enthusiastically received as he had expected:
Itoi: 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. He said, “Itoi, how involved do you plan on being in it? Being totally involved in a project can be very demanding.” He sounded very solemn.
Arino: So the mood changed a little.
Itoi: 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.”
Despite feeling depressed that Nintendo didn't appear to be going crazy for his ideas, Miyamoto put plans in motion for development and assembled a team. Itoi surprised Nintendo by wanting to write the entire game. He goes on to discuss the development team working in a flat, how Mother 2 (Earthbound) hit a major bump in development which Satoru Iwata helped them get past by coordinating a total rebuild of the game from scratch.
Iwata was wonderful at splitting up work and finding ways to make efficient progress, so we had more people actively working on different sections at any one moment. It’s like everyone had been using a manual shovel to dig a hole, and then Iwata came and said, “I’ve built a jackhammer for each of you — please use them.” Things went significantly faster when we moved from shovels to jackhammers.
There's much more, including Mother 3's rocky road to release (in Japan, at least) and even some details about how all Nintendo employees hated wearing their beige overalls. When you get 15 minutes free, we highly recommend reading through the entire interview.
We're off to hire a private detective to find out what TV shows current Nintendo President Shuntaro Furakawa watches in the hope we can weedle our way into a casual meeting with Nintendo luminaries.