Shigesato Itoi only ever created three Mother games, and for decades, Super Nintendo’s EarthBound was the only title officially available to North American audiences. Yet the series retains a fanatical following, and we love to soak up any new tidbits we can about the series. A lengthy interview with Itoi commemorating the 30th anniversary of Mother (EarthBound Beginnings in North America, released for Wii U finally in 2015) has been translated into English, and we now know a bit more about how the series came to be. It involved gratitude, persistence, and some ego deflating courtesy of Shigeru Miyamoto.
How Shigesato Itoi felt “totally crushed” by Shigeru Miyamoto
Some of this information was actually already known, but parts of it are new and some of it bears repeating. As Shigesato Itoi explains, then-Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi invited him to give feedback on a game Nintendo was developing. Yamauchi had invited him after Itoi said positive things about video games on TV during a period in which video games were not as accepted socially by the public. While at Nintendo, Itoi met Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, which thrilled Itoi and they “got along quite well from the start.”
However, when Itoi then revealed that he had his own video game idea and pulled out his notes, Miyamoto became stern:
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. …
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. …
I was also surprised that no one was remotely surprised by any of the ideas I presented.
Shigesato Itoi left Nintendo “totally crushed,” in spite of the fact that Shigeru Miyamoto earnestly told Itoi he would look into putting together a team for the proposed project. He just assumed Miyamoto’s lack of explosive enthusiasm for his idea meant the idea wasn’t worthwhile. Itoi even cried on the train ride home! But as he later realized, Miyamoto was actually just “kind enough to take (his idea) seriously.”
Miyamoto did of course help assemble a team for Itoi, and the rest is history. Take a moment to pet your EarthBound cartridge if you have one.
Creating Mother for Nintendo was an act of gratitude
Itoi didn’t get inspired to make video games in a vacuum. Playing the original Dragon Quest as an act of boredom was what spurred some of the mechanics of Mother into being. However, his desire to create games for Nintendo went deeper than that:
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.
When pressed a little further, Itoi concluded his thought with, “It’s more like I felt indebted to Nintendo.” Gamers around the world are now indebted to Shigesato Itoi for EarthBound and its siblings, so the good feelings just continue to flow.
If you have time to spare, check out the full, multi-page interview.