Mother to Earth: The Untold Story of EarthBound is a new documentary about EarthBound. It’s not the EarthBound that fans might be thinking of. They might not realize this but EarthBound was the second game in the series. The original was for the NES and it was released as Mother in 1989 in Japan.
Nintendo wanted to bring the game over to the West. The translation was finished but the project was scrapped at the last second. Eventually, a prototype cartridge of Mother leaked in 1998 and was dubbed the TK-69 cartridge. At the time, Mother was going to be called EarthBound in the West years before the SNES sequel. In 2015, the game was officially released digitally on the Wii U as EarthBound Beginnings. That is only a small taste of what narrators/directors Joshua Bone-Christian and Evan Butler dug up on this infamous canceled project.
6 Phil Sandhop: EarthBound Beginnings’ English Localizer
This whole story ultimately begins with Phil Sandhop. He worked at Nintendo from 1987 to 2004. He began as a Game Counselor. At Nintendo, they played video games and got secrets to then pass along to people that called in needing help. This eventually led to Phil writing his first localized script for a video game: Final Fantasy.
He played the original in Japanese so he had some knowledge of the game already. He then got to work on the English localization for Mother. EarthBound was his idea for a new name that randomly came to his head. He even thought of a sequel name, SpaceBound. He finished the script and Mother was ready to ship except that it was canceled at the last minute. This is why so many prototype NES cartridges exist out there. Phil and the other Game Counselors got to test out the completed game.
5 Matt Alderman And The Game Counselors
Matt Alderman was another Game Counselor at Nintendo who got the cushy job of playing games all day. He was there from 1990 to 1997. He was lucky enough to play Phil’s version of Mother. After it was canceled, he still had a copy. He planned to return it if Nintendo asked but they never did and so the classic game for the NES remained in his hands.
Eventually, years down the line, he was encouraged to put it up on eBay to get the game out there. It was never a money thing for him but either way, the bid got flagged. Matt then took the auction down, and that was seemingly it for his story. However, his exploits would lead to someone else.
4 Greg Mariotti And Collectors
Greg Mariotti is not tied to Nintendo at all, unlike Phil and Matt. He was and still is, a humble collector of video games. When he was younger he used to go to a local video game store called Famcom. Eventually, he amassed a huge collection of classic NES games. He also gained a reputation at that store.
The manager, Ron, unearthed a prototype of Mother and offered it to Greg. He acknowledges in the documentary that he played Mother for a few minutes, just to see if it worked, and then shelved it. RPGs were never his thing. Years passed, his collection got dusty, and then ironically he sold his collection back to Famcom except for Mother. He decided to privately sell the prototype online and got $125 from someone named Kenny Brooks. This bid, unlike Matt’s, did go through.
3 Steve Demeter And Fan Translations
There was someone else interested in the English prototype of Mother though. Steve Demeter, at the time when he was 17, was running a translation group. He went by the name DemiForce online which should sound familiar. He, and his team, are responsible for translating some Japanese-only games into English. For example, he helped work on an English patch for Final Fantasy 2 on NES. This was way before that game was officially released in the West. Even though Mother was already translated, Steve was interested in dumping the rom online for everyone to enjoy.
In the documentary, Steve acknowledges that he seemingly bullied Greg to give up Kenny’s name. Greg was trying to protect Kenny’s name from one collector to another. Eventually, Steve broke Greg down but wasn’t able to buy Mother from Kenny in the end. Kenny instead allowed Steve to borrow the game for $400 so that he could put the rom out online. Steve was the one who renamed it to EarthBound Zero after his love of Street Fighter Alpha, aka Street Fighter Zero in Japan. This was the first dump in 1998.
2 The Composer Of Mother, Keiichi Suzuki, Speaks
Keiichi Suzuki was, and still is, part of a rock group known as Moonriders in Japan. Shigesato Itoi, the director, worked with Suzuki on some projects before Mother. Since they had good chemistry, Itoi asked him to write music for Mother. Suzuki did, not just for Mother, but for the sequel as well. He enjoyed classic games on the Famicom up to that point but never dreamed of working on a title himself.
He was the writer while Hirokazu Tanaka was the programmer. Tanaka has coded a ton of Nintendo games with his music. Suzuki said that Tanaka would come from Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto to work on the music for Mother at his house. Suzuki would play something on the piano and then Tanaka would translate that music into data on his computer which he brought from his hotel every day. One of the more interesting aspects of this interview was that Suzuki had no knowledge that the U.S. was supposed to get a version of Mother back then. He was a bit shocked when he got to see a prototype cartridge.
1 Where Is The TK-69 Cartridge Now?
The infamous TK-69 prototype cartridge passed through many hands after it was dumped online. In their research, the trail stopped cold with a collector named Andrew DeRouin. He had bought it from Kenny for $1000 after it got dumped online sometime after 1998. That is a hefty sum for a prototype but not the highest.
Andrew had it for a couple of years and then sold it to his friend. This friend then went into the Air Force while his copy of Mother sat in a personal safe at his parent’s house. This was for fourteen years. No one touched it at all in that period. One day, out of the blue, Andrew asked if he could buy it back. His friend accepted and didn’t even want money. When Joshua and Evan contacted Andrew, he had just gotten the prototype back. After years of research, Joshua and Evan finally solved their mystery.