News/Fuzzy Pickles: EarthBound Localization Prototype
Hello everyone! Today we have something interesting to share with you. Presenting, a late debug enabled localization prototype of EarthBound (also known as MOTHER 2) for the SNES dumped straight from an original EPROM cartridge. This comes to you courtesy of Stephan "Archon1981" Reese who was kind enough to allow us to research and share with you all!
(NOTE: THIS ORIGINATED FROM A PHYSICAL EPROM CARTRIDGE AND IS NOT A “LEAK”. This has nothing to do with the recent events that have occurred over the past few months. We are not involved nor do we have any insight on what is going on. This and future announcements originate from legitimately acquired physical sources and any similarities are entirely coincidental.)
Development on MOTHER 2 began shortly after the release of the first MOTHER in 1989. This game, like its predecessor, was written/designed/directed by Shigesato Itoi - a well known Japanese copywriter and essayist that gained fame for his MOTHER game series. The game was originally designed to utilize an eight megabit cartridge size, but changed multiple times as the game continued to change in size and scope. Development on MOTHER 2 lasted at least five years, as the game experienced many technical problems and design changes. When the project was at risk of being cancelled, Satoru Iwata (who would later become president and CEO of Nintendo of Japan) and a crew of other programmers from HAL Laboratories hopped on board to assist in reprogramming the game in order to get development back on track. The game was originally going to be released sometime in January 1993 on a 12 megabit cartridge, but was delayed until development finished around May 1994 where the final game was released to retail on August 27, 1994.
It was decided that MOTHER 2 would be localized as “EarthBound” and released in the United States sometime in 1995. The decision to localize MOTHER 2 for English speaking audiences is a rather unusual one, since console role-playing games at the time weren’t usually big sellers outside of Japan. Since the English localization on the first MOTHER that was released for the Famicom was cancelled, the sequel had to be renamed to “EarthBound” instead for any release outside of Japan. The localization project began sometime in late 1994 under the direction of Dan Owsen, who was famously responsible for localizing most of the Zelda games released in the 90s, along with Kirby’s Adventure, the Metroid series, and Donkey Kong Country. Owsen worked on roughly 10% of the game’s text before being tasked to work on another project. The task of localizing MOTHER 2 then fell on Marcus Lindblom, who originally worked as a customer service representative for Nintendo of America before being promoted to Software Analyst. He quickly became a localizer, with his first project being Wario’s Woods shortly before working on EarthBound.
The localization project was in full production in January the following year for a targeted June release that same year. Marcus Lindblom was given relatively free reign to take creative liberties with the game’s script, since Nintendo was more concerned with making the game more identifiable with American audiences rather than providing a strict translation of the original’s references to Japanese culture and puns. Lindblom, despite not having much interaction with the original team in Japan (or Itoi himself), he worked alongside Masayuki Miura who translated the script. Marcus Lindblom worked extremely long hours to make sure that the game would be ready on time for its targeted release date. There were various issues that plagued the production of the game, both logistical (as far as localization goes) and technical. The complexity of the game’s script and potentially offensive artwork along with its many cultural references made it extremely difficult to get everything done within a short period of time. According to Lindblom himself, many of the graphical changes weren’t implemented until late March or sometime in April. Even weeks before the game was meant to go “gold”, the testing team could only play about half the game before it would stop working. It wasn’t until very late in development that the game could even be completed, which is possibly made evident in the prototype featured in this article.
This prototype build of the game was compiled on March 27th, 1995. At this point, the game’s text is almost completely translated with much of the artwork left to be changed. Despite being a localization prototype, the game’s debug features have been enabled to make testing just a bit easier. The game appears to be playable from beginning to end, as the only bugs to be seen lie in most of the graphics (for instance, some of the tiles used on the overworld are slightly corrupt and one of Ness’ sprites while wearing pajamas is corrupt as well). It’s likely that this prototype marked the beginning of the testing phase for the localization itself. The notorious anti-piracy checks that were implemented for the US version haven’t been implemented yet, and most of the code that deals with the game’s script and events is drastically different in comparison to what would be used in the final release. The earliest known time frame that cartridges would have been manufactured that we could confirm was around the 17th week of 1995 (April 24th to April 30th), so the final version of the game would have been finished shortly before the 24th. The game would eventually be released on June 5th, 1995 in the United States only.
(Image sourced from Earthboundcentral.com - https://earthboundcentral.com/2012/02/earthbound-at-e3-1995/)
The earliest mentions of marketing “EarthBound” by name in various magazines can be found around March 1993. The game received a rather extensive preview in issue 70 of Nintendo Power (March 1993) along with an extensive review in issue 73 (June 1993). The screenshots featured in the preview are based on an earlier prototype in comparison to the prototype featured in this announcement article. Since production on the English version mostly began in January, it failed to make an appearance at the Winter Consumer Electronic Show (WCES) of 1995 which was held from January 6th to the 9th (which was coincidentally the very last CES where video games were featured predominantly). Instead, the game made an appearance at the very first E3 press conference which was held from May 11th to the 13th in 1995.
While the game wasn’t much of a success outside of Japan due to a possible combination of poor marketing and lack of interest in role-playing games with less than impressive graphics from the general public at the time, the game became a cult hit. A sequel was produced that was originally slated for the Nintendo 64DD before being switched to the Nintendo 64 toward the end of its life as a 3D role-playing game. Ironically, the sequel experienced even more troubled development as the game was in development for almost four years before being cancelled. The game would eventually be reborn as a traditional 2D game for release on the Game Boy Advance where it remains a Japanese exclusive even to this day. Ness, the main protagonist from EarthBound, would make appearances as a playable fighter in the Super Smash Bros series - but outside of this, EarthBound remains one of the least acknowledged games by Nintendo. The original EarthBound (along with its prequel, known as EarthBound Zero outside of Japan) would be rereleased on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service almost twenty years later on the Wii U, and was made available for the first time in Europe. Fans of the series still yearn for an official release of a translated version of MOTHER 3, a demand that to this day is still largely ignored.
Thankfully, the series continues to live on through the support of the fans. Through fan support alone, interest in EarthBound along with its prequel and sequel allowed the game to remain relevant long after the release of the third and final game in the series came and went. It was the efforts from the fans that allowed MOTHER 3 to be translated into various languages so that it could be experienced by everyone outside of Japan. The series’ influence over the years can still be felt in games such as Toby Fox’s Undertale, which remains one of the most popular single player RPGs in recent years. Thanks to these fans, Itoi’s unique presentation and way of storytelling can still be enjoyed with relative ease for the years to come.
Once again we would like to thank Stephan "Archon1981" Reese for giving us an opportunity to share this with you all. As you can see we don’t normally deal with many SNES prototypes, but we decided to make an exception for this. Given that the EarthBound/MOTHER community has an extremely dedicated group of researchers and fans, we wanted to ask their help in preparing this announcement. We’d like to thank Mato (Legends of Localization and Starmen.net fame) for helping us find the right people to give this prototype the well needed research it deserves. HUGE special thanks to TeeEm, jeffman, and XKeeper for researching the differences in the ROM and HerringWay for disassembling the ROM in such a short amount of time - you guys are the best! Be sure to check out the disassembly here.
We know the past few months haven’t been easy for everyone given the unusual circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so we hope this and all future showings will help get you through these difficult times. Stay tuned in the not so distant future for some more fun!
Until next time, stay safe!