You can't have a proper discussion on the Mother series without bringing up the enthusiasm of its stateside fans; the two are entangled, strands wrapping around each other to make up the DNA of Starmen.net, the most devoted video game community online.
Since EarthBound's (Mother 2) SNES release in 1995, Nintendo of America has, for the most part, ignored the title and its cult following. Combating Nintendo's apathy towards bringing the rest of the games to the U.S., the Starmen.net crew pooled its resources and talents together to conceive the EarthBound Anthology, a 250-plus-page collection of fan-created work and a chronicle of Mother's history.
Starmen.net co-founder Reid Young sat down with us to talk about EarthBound and the anthology -- its production, ambitions, and success at catching the video game media's attention. Read on past the post break for the first in a two-part interview on Mother's past, present, and, hopefully, future.
For those who aren't familiar with Earthbound, what is the significance of the Mother series? What separates it from other titles, driving its fans to such extreme devotion?
The weirdness of the games definitely has something to do with it. Each game is unusual, but not in the "oh, yeah, Japan is really weird" way that we're used to now. EarthBound, in fact, is a story based largely on western pop culture. For example, there are dozens of Beatles references in the game, like the yellow submarine you use to reach Deep Darkness. Even the name of the series is a reference to John Lennon's song "Mother."
The Mother games somehow manage to mix the mundane with the ridiculous while keeping it believable. And better yet, they do this while avoiding the standard RPG clichés; there are no swords and shields, no world maps, no mystical elves and dragons, and definitely no anime-style haircuts/outfits/facial features.
There are a lot of truly endearing moments in the game. One of the characters is a nerd living in a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. His best friend ... helps him escape so he can meet up with his estranged father. When they meet, the father, a famous scientist, stops working long enough to recognize him and remembers that he used to wet the bed. After offering him some food, the old scientist gets back to work, mentioning that it might be nice to meet up with his son again in 10 years or so.
EarthBound is a unique, fantastic game, and that's why we love it.
If the series really is as important as its fans believe it to be, why haven't more of the games made it to the US? If the Mother series enjoyed so much success in Japan, why wasn't the same true for Earthbound in the states?
The first game in the series was actually translated and ready to be released for the NES in 1990 -- the only thing left to do was to print the packaging materials, burn the carts, and launch a small marketing campaign (RPGs still weren't very popular in the states back then). Unfortunately, the marketing department at Nintendo of America decided to scrap it because they wanted to focus on the SNES, which launched a year later. The guys at Lost Levels actually wrote up an extremely thorough report about the game's history, including an in-depth interview with Phil Sandhop, the game's localization director. It's a fascinating peek behind the curtain.
In 1995, Mother 2 was released in America as EarthBound. Unfortunately, the conditions at the time weren't ideal. Lots of popular SNES games and RPGs, including Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III/VI, were released or about to be released for the SNES, giving EarthBound some pretty serious competition. The marketing push for the Virtual Boy was in full swing, the Playstation was just around the corner, and the N64 wasn't too far behind. Not a great time to release an unheard-of RPG.
Another factor working against the game was the price: $70. Apparently this was partially attributable to a chip shortage which drove up the prices of cart-based games at the time, but I think the biggest contributor to the price was the player's guide, which was packed-in -- gamers didn't have the option of purchasing it separately. Also, to accommodate the player's guide, EarthBound came in a massive box. Because of how big the box was, the game was frequently pushed to the bottom or top of the shelf.
As far as I'm concerned, though, the nail in the coffin was the marketing campaign: "This game stinks." Seriously, that was the marketing slogan.
So after a decade past since the last Mother title crossed the Pacific, the Starmen.net community decided that more action needed to be taken beyond the ineffective petitions you'd employed in the past. Could you tell us a bit about the EB Siege and its specific goals?
The Siege is pretty much an amalgamation of all of our past efforts. We've done calling campaigns and letter campaigns and art campaigns before, but never at the same time, and certainly never with the informed sense of timing or determination we've got now.
The goal of the Siege is twofold: to get people talking about EarthBound, and to get Nintendo to hear people talking about EarthBound. Nintendo provides several avenues through which you, the consumer, can contact them to give them your feedback. We've decided to make use of those outlets, and have been asking EarthBound fans to call in, write in, and even send in envelope art with their requests. We don't tell people what to say/write -- we just want them to tell Nintendo what they want. Not surprisingly, most EarthBound fans want the sequel they've been waiting 12 years for.
And then there's the Earthbound Anthology?
Yeah, the EarthBound Anthology is another part of the Siege. Our goal with the anthology is pretty simple -- we want to spread the word about EarthBound. We decided that the best way to spread the word was to show off the talents of EarthBound fans, who are incredibly gifted and prolific when it comes to art. Some of my favorite proof:
Jon Kay, our resident designer/artist, came up with the idea of the anthology. It's a 268-page, full-color, perfect-bound book with about 230 pages crammed full of artwork. The first 30 pages of the book are a discussion of the Mother series and its unfortunate relationship with North America: what the games are, why they're great, why EarthBound sold poorly in America, and why we think it's worth resurrecting. Included with the books are a set of DVDs containing all the stuff we couldn't print -- videos, animations, and music made by the fans.
Designing and compiling the book took a little over a month ... The last two weeks were a sleep-deprived nightmare. Towards the end of the project we launched a fundraiser to cover the costs of printing. I expected to be able to raise around $2,500, but we ended up with $7,750 when it was all said and done.
We decided to send copies of the books to influential people in the gaming industry [hoping they'd] give us some press. We came up with a list of potential recipients, mostly bloggers and magazine editors, and overnighted the books a few days before E3 in hopes that they would be intrigued enough to ask Nintendo reps some questions about the Mother series.
So many have had the book in their hands for a few months now ... How would you rate the effectiveness of the campaign so far? Would you say that the donators who funded the anthology's creation got their money's worth, in terms of realizing the Siege's goals?
We actually only sent books to about 10 different companies/organizations prior to E3. In early August, we sent off a second batch of books to an additional 5 or 6 places, and a couple copies to some organizations who requested extras to pass off to colleagues.
The campaign has definitely been a success, though, even though it's still early; we've been mentioned in dozens of blogs and gaming communities, and we've also gotten requests for interviews from a couple of magazines. So far, the most prominent nod we've received has been from the guys at Nintendo Power, who wrote about us in their Community section.
I think (hope) that we'll see a bit more press before it's done, though. Lots of the companies who received copies of the books haven't published anything yet, so I hope they'll bring it up once EarthBound is released on the [Virtual Console].
We're also having the books translated into Japanese. We're going to be sending copies to Iwata and Miyamoto (both of them worked on the series), our friends at the King of Games, Mother Party (which is like the Japanese equivalent of Starmen.Net), and of course, several copies to Mr. Shigesato Itoi, the creator of the series.
[End of Part 1]
Make sure to join us again tomorrow for part two of our scintillating interview with Reid Young, in which we chat about what's next for the Starmen.net community, Earthbound on the Virtual Console, and the Mother 3 fan translation project!