I can’t really flesh it out into a real post (although I’m trying to figure out a way to), but I just wanted to let you fuckers know:
I just picked up a mint condition copy of the Earthbound strategy guide, INCLUDING the scratch n’ sniff cards…
for FIVE DOLLARS.
I already own the game, and a slightly messed up copy of the guide, but this is a very, very rare find. If this tells you anything, the guide, in MODERATE condition and without the cards, can go for up to a hundred dollars. I’ve never actually seen a copy that still had the cards in the back, so I don’t know how much they increase the price by.
I may review it later, just because I enjoy looking at it. In the meantime, I’m just gonna look at it.
Well, I’ve done a little bit of work with the game. I have maybe the first two minutes of the game created. Cyrus (our beloved hero) can now set out from his farmhouse, meet a couple of people in town, and interact with one shopkeeper. Not that there is any money, of course. Or any way to earn money. But it’s a start.
Obviously, there isn’t much there yet. I’m not a fan of drafts, so I don’t know exactly where I’m going with the story yet. But I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want and where I want to go with it. Essentially, I want to create a game in the same vein as Earthbound. Of course, making a game inspired by other games has been attempted before, and its usually resulted in ridiculous rehashs (“Marith sacrificed herself to save the world from Strepheroth!”), but I think I can do it well, considering the tremendous influence Earthbound had on me not only in the way I like my video games, but even in the way I think and act. I know this sounds either contrived or insane, but please bear with me.
I first played Earthbound at age 7. Obviously, this is a very impressionable age. I’m pretty sure I still told everybody that Billy Idol was my dad (since Rebel Yell is so badass it causes pregnancy, this may be true) and that my name was “Justin Donatello Leonardo Raphael Michaelangelo Strong” at that age (altered weekly depending on which Turtle was my favorite). I was always enamored with things with a “wacky”/absurd sense of humor, for example Looney Toons and Animaniacs, but I went into Earthbound for the promised fart jokes (of which there were only 2 or 3, and also Pokey shits in the desert, so I guess that kinda counts too). While I was quickly disappointed on that front, I was really impressed with a lot of things about Earthbound, and I still am. The game is one of the few things that has appealed to me for 14 years, and not just out of nostalgia, like so many other things. My appreciation of the series has even grown over the years, possibly due to maturing mentally and emotionally. I’ve really noticed how heartfelt and meaningful the game is, and as a result, I’ve decided my overall goal for the game is to capture the essence of what made Earthbound so, well, Earthboundish.
Of course much of that essence is usually attributed to the script, and for good reason. Even though the idea of a modern RPG has been done before, Earthbound’s concept and plot remain completely unique. I think what really makes it special is that Shigesato Itoi is a man who both had something to say and was tremendously capable of saying it. He wanted to tell a personal story in his own style, and he did so in a way that is easily relatable. While it would have been easy to just make a goofy little RPG full of throwaway jokes and satire of American culture, he chose to make the story funny, but full of likable characters and situtations, which, beyond just making you laugh, make you think “how would I feel in that situation?” The characters’ feelings and behavior are displayed in a way that make you genuinely care for them and feel real sympathy, or even empathy, just like you would a real person, instead of being used for gags, like in most forms of comedy today. Every joke, even little ones like “All the information is there, except for the information that isn’t there”, create (and draw you into) a cohesive and connected world and mindset for the characters, instead of eliciting a brief chuckle. Earthbound managed to do things that most other games, even recent ones, could only dream of doing, or in some cases, claim to do (i.e. Fable 2), by creating a world where you care about every inhabitant, who seem to just be going about their daily lives, albeit in a peculiar way. Just like in real life, not every person you walk up and talk to are going to respond with a comment about whatever the most important thing going on in town is, or about how happy they are you’re going to save the world. Not everyone has heard of Ness, Paula, Jeff, Poo, and their quest to save the world from Giygas. To them, you’re just a bunch of teenagers walking around town, and they respond as such. And just the same, despite the questing and psychic powers, at heart, the Chosen Four really are just a bunch of teenagers, who would be leading regular lives if not for the whole Planetary Savior thing. Unlike so many other RPGs, whose protagonists seem like they’d be going off trying to save the world from nothing in particular even if they weren’t destined to, you get the feeling they would probably just being going to school and watching TV at home if they weren’t destined for more, like they’re real people who just realize there’s something they have to do. That’s what separates Earthbound’s story apart from its peers, and why other games haven’t been able to creating something like it. Gimmicks like “karma systems” (recently bitchslapped by logic in a Penny Arcade comic and news post) only go so far because, at heart, you don’t believe everybody, every last person on the face of the planet, each person and monster and even animal, lives a life that revolves around you and your exploits as a magical hero with no life or purpose outside of saving the world this one time.
Of course, I didn’t realize all this when I first played Earthbound. The first thing in particular that struck me was how vivid and pretty the color scheme used in the game is. I may be the only one who thinks so, but I always loved bright colors as opposed to superlight pastels and superdark primaries, often the two extremes you see in games. Earthbound’s graphics are like nothing else. Oftentimes the game’s “poor graphics” are pointed to as a primary cause of the game’s failure, but I consider it to be one of my favorite games graphically. It’s true there’s a very simplistic art style involved, but you could still tell pretty much what everything you were looking at was, and it was attractive and distinct, with a lovely color palette and smooth, flowing animation. Even if the battle scenes weren’t particularly well animated really animated much at all, what was there was very unique and cool-looking. The visual style may not really make up the heart of the game, per se, but I think it is a major part of what makes the game stand out, at least at first glance (especially the unique character designs).
The sound, on the other hand, is vital to the game. Not only used in the traditional sense to heighten emotion, the music in Earthbound gives a texture to the game that couldn’t be achieved with the graphics. Nobuo Uematsu is probably still my favorite game composer, of course, but Keiichi Suzuki (already famous in Japan as a member of the Moonriders), Hiroshi Kanazu, and the great Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka (another revered game composer who wrote, among other things, the brilliant soundtrack for Metroid) created something truly unique and spectacular with Earthbound’s soundtrack. The game has its share of fun, quirky, catchy musical asides, but there are several tracks that hold an immense emotional depth. For example, the music played while boarding the bus with the Runaway Five sounds exactly what you would think it would sound like if you just saved a nationally popular Soul/Blues group and they were riding you into another town. It seriously feels like a cut scene from the Blues Brothers (who, by the way, the Runaway Five were obviously based on). The same goes with Onett’s main theme, which just has an overall feeling of the fresh thrill of adventure and which may be the best “setting-out-on-a-quest” tune since the main theme of Final Fantasy 2/4, and Paula’s theme, which I find perfectly encapsulates what it would feel like to meet a famous, cute psychic girl that has been having dreams about saving the world with you (before you ask, I have absolutely no clue how to explain that. Just go with me on it).
Of course, it’s all these things that make the game so much more than the sum of its parts. There is one particular scene, however, that I want to note specifically, because I think it sums up everything about the nonsense I’ve been rambling about. Take a look at this screenshot of Ness’s house.
When you just look at a picture of it, it really doesn’t hold any kind of emotional power or anything. It’s just a cute drawing of a house. But add Ness’s mom’s loving, motherly dialog and the beautiful remix of Pollyanna (a song from the first game in the series that was a key plot point, with a beautiful melody, and which is later revealed to be a song passed down through the generations by Ness’s family), and, despite the fact that the music’s full of surging, spacey synthesizers, it’s the epitome of hominess. It no longer feels like you’re just playing some goofy little video game. It makes a very distinct emotional connection with you. It creates an almost palpable feeling of being at home. It (again, bear with me here, because I’m not used to being open with my emotions, especially in public writing) makes me almost tear up and even makes me want to call my mom. It makes me feel like a safe, loved child, like I’m having my hair dried by my mom after a bath, like I can smell cookies baking, like I never learned to swear or drink or fight, like I’m not corrupted and everything is still pure and good and right. This isn’t just from nostalgia or from memories of playing the game, because I never had any experiences like that while playing the game. I know this sounds contrived and overenthusiastic, and maybe it is. But I just can’t fully explain why some 15-year-old video game that features a talking pile of vomit has touched me so deeply, and this is about as close as I’m ever going to get. This game has some incredibly emotionally resounding moments, and still, to this day, I can’t think of a single other piece of art that could ever mean so much to me, and this is exactly why. It’s that type of emotional resonance, that heartfelt, meaningful spirit, that I want my game to have at its heart. I’ve been given the best possible example I can think of; all that’s left is to see if I have the skills to actually do it.
By the way, this seems as good a time as any to mention that Starmen.net have just started selling some awesome Mother 3 books. More info can be found here, and the books can be ordered here. They get free advertising cause they’ve just been so good to me (and the community at large) in the past. >_>
And to those of you who are pissed off about the lack of humor lately (haha, I know, you don’t exist), don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten what this site is for. I’ll be back with dick jokes and old games soon enough. I’ve just got other things going on too. Suck it up and hold on. I’ve got something extra special coming up as soon as I get my hands on a camcorder. =O
Well, I’ve mentioned it to some people already, but on the off chance that the site is being read by someone other than a few of my close friends, I’ll say it again: I’m making a game. I’m making it in RPG Maker VX. Yes, I know of the stigma associated with RPG Maker. I’ve worked with RPG Maker for somewhere around 10 years now, beginning with RPG Maker 95, and I can honestly say that, if you’re looking to just write a game, like I am, it’s phenomenal, because someone of my limited programming knowledge can make the game just about as complex or simple as they want. I still have trouble doing what I want here and there, but for the most part I can get just about whatever I want out of the system.
At the core, my feelings on game design are that it doesn’t matter how complex the game is, you can still make valid, even exceptional art out of it. Case in point? Earthbound.
A quick history, for those disturbed individuals who are somehow uninformed:
Known as Mother 2 in Japan, Earthbound is an RPG centering around a boy and his friends saving the world, just like pretty much every other RPG of the era. However, that’s where the similarities end. Instead of the same boring-ass fantasy setting every other game has (An aside: Final Fantasy is different. It’s usually a steampunk environment. Steampunk rules.), Earthbound was set in a modern environment, a skewed interpretation of America called Eagleland. The main character, Ness, is a 13-year-old boy who has to fight furious cups of coffee and deranged mummies to defeat the personification of evil and his right-hand man, Ness’s fat, cowardly neighbor, Pokey. The world of Earthbound is one in which you’ll encounter aliens, ghosts, demons, zombies, possessed statues, and monsters, right alongside the more “mundane” aspects of life, such as deranged cops, angry old women, exorbitant resort town prices, demented hippies, cultists, and pizza delivery.
The Mother series is quite popular in Japan. In America? Not so much. The original game in the series was originally set to be released in America (also under the name Earthbound), but was cancelled at the last minute. Literally. As in, the game was fully translated, localized, put through Nintendo of America’s censorship process, and even had a manual/strategy guide written. All that was left was to manufacture and ship the game. Then they decided, with the launch of the SNES in the same year, gamers would be too distracted to buy NES games, which is a valid concern, I guess, but considering that at the time Nintendo was sitting on top of a pile of money tall enough to be a hazard to aircraft, I don’t think releasing a game that likely would have been at least a minor hit would be a huge hit to the Big N’s profit margins, especially since most of the work was already done. For whatever reason, it wasn’t to be, but in 1995, Nintendo decided to give the game’s sequel a chance, and released it in America as Earthbound.
Nintendo has a reputation for snubbing Earthbound fans, but to be fair, they seemed to really try hard with the game’s release in America, giving it a gigantic, attention-grabbing box, including a free strategy guide with every purchase, and using a novel print advertising method, including a scratch-and-sniff page and a $10 off coupon. Unfortunetly, this kind of backfired, and honestly, I can see why. They went for a gross-out angle, using the tagline “This Game Stinks”, and the ads contained phrases like “not only does the game of Earthbound stink like some foul creature of the sewers…” and “burping, belching, gaseous monsters”. I understand the gross-out angle, it probably seemed like it would work pretty well, if the target audience was the under-12 crowd (and also idiots), but mother of Christ, they made it sound like someone just shit in a box and included a strategy guide. I, however, was 7 at the time, so I unashamedly enjoyed the advertising.
Anyhow, the game didn’t perform as expected, so NOA callously threw its hands up and said the game was dead to them forever. So far, across nearly 15 years of begging, pleading, and incredible displays of devotion, they haven’t reversed their position. In the meantime, a remake of the first two games and a sequel, Mother 3, have been produced for the Game Boy Advance. Part of the leadup to both involved the tireless work of the ever-optimistic, incredibly dedicated Earthbound fanbase, centered around what is quite simply the most amazing fansite in video game history: Starmen.net.
Founded in 1999 (as earthbound.net) by Clyde Mandelin (Tomato) and Reid Young (Reidman), Starmen.net is more than just the regular Geocities fansite that you still see sometimes from that era, with dizzying parallax backgrounds and content stolen from various places. In fact, it has a tremendous amount more content than even any video game website I’ve ever seen, official or unofficial. Enormous collections of fanart, animations, music, comics, fanfics, and even entire fangames. Most interesting to me, however, is the enormous collection of articles. Themed around any number of things from the state of the community to theories about mysteries in the game to comedic essays concerning character relationships. (The article section, dear readers, is what inspired me as a kid to become a writer. In fact, were it not for this article section, it’s possible that none of you would be forced to read this article as a polite favor to me right now.)
Perhaps most remarkable about Starmen.net, however, is the extraordinary work put into making the world (and NOA, especially) acknowledge Earthbound’s greatness. Several letter writing, envelope art, and call-in campaigns (The newest iterations of which are still ongoing, and I suggest you participate), 3 petitions (1 with 1850 signatures, one with 10,013, and one with an amazing 31,338, including 1200 that were handwritten), interviews in several major media outlets, and, perhaps most representative of the what this community can do that others can’t, the Earthbound Anthology, a gorgeous 268-page collection of fanart and information about the series and its seemingly cursed history in America. In addition to about 750 pages of art, it includes 6 CDs of fan-created music (SM.net’s own Rock Candy series and the Bound Together project) and 2 DVDs of various clips (one featuring xfixjmg6′s /earthbound live action prank series and one featuring a select group videos from SM.net’s fan videos section). This staggering collection, meant to represent the dedication, loyalty, and talent of the community, was sent to various media outlets, including EGM, Nintendo, Kotaku, Destructoid, and Gamespot, with the intent of creating an acute awareness of the series in the media which, hopefully, would lead to stories creating a big buzz around Earthbound’s then-pending Virtual Console release (which is now, sadly, a lost hope).
I would like to take this time to mention that, as a member of the press, I have not yet received my copy of the Earthbound Anthology. As a long time member of the Earthbound community, I feel that this wrong should be righted. I don’t think the book should be withheld from me just because I’m not an “important” press outlet with a “large readership” or any “influence”, or just because I have a “drinking problem” or “unpaid child support”. I’m still a member of the press, dammit! I will have my book! Or, alternatively, I won’t. It could go either way.
Now that you’re essentially caught up on Earthbound’s history, you might as well read the rest of developer’s diary, assuming I ever finish it. It’s related to Earthbound, because that is my primary influence in the game I’m making. If there’s one thing I can draw on for inspiration, it’s Earthbound. Case in point: all of the information in this article was drawn from memory. I’ve been fanatical over the series for nearly 14 years, so hopefully I’ll be able to figure out what it is that makes the game so magical. Next entry we’ll examine the game’s essence. Ok desu ka?