Shigesato Itoi, Giygas, and Boobies
Until now, there hasn’t been a page or a resource that listed all of the known EarthBound Zero prototypes and information relating to them. Hopefully this will help fix that.
What we know:
We know there are at least five prototype Earth Bound NES cartridges in existence. Four are floating around out there in collectors’ hands. One is verfied to exist inside Nintendo of America, thanks to inside sources.
Quick history of the first leaked prototype:
Sometime in 1998, someone named Mariotti posted “EarthBound NES cart for sale” on a message board. It wasn’t clear how this person got it, theories are that he either snuck it out of NOA or received it as a gift from someone connected to NOA.
A Kenny Brooks bought it for $100. Around this time, EBounding posted on another message board that he liked EarthBound, and Kenny let him know that he was the one who bought the prototype.
At the same time, demi of Neo Demiforce, a ROM-translating group, had been working on a fan translation of MOTHER 1. The news that a prototype English version existed caught people’s attention, so EBounding got Kenny and demi in contact with each other. Kenny was unwilling to sell the cart, or even to let demi “rent” it so he could dump the ROM and send it back, since that would probably lower its value. Eventually, Kenny agreed to let demi borrow it for $400 so he could dump the ROM before sending it back. The small community on demi’s site quickly pooled the $400 and the ROM was dumped and spread online days later.
Many people doubted the authenticity of the prototype, claiming that someone had simply hacked MOTHER 1 and put the translation onto a cart and sold it. However, interviews with the English development team seem to indicate that the prototype was real, and every change and enhancement that EarthBound Zero had were present in the GBA MOTHER 1+2 port released in Japan in 2003. Portions of code specific to EarthBound Zero were later found in MOTHER 1+2 as well. As such, it’s now very clear that the original prototype was the real deal.
History of the ROM:
At the time the ROM was dumped, Nesticle was by far the NES emulator of choice. There was a problem though – Nesticle wouldn’t run the Earth Bound ROM – it would just hang before doing anything. This was due to a bug in Nesticle. Xodnizel quickly found a way to fix this by changing one byte in the ROM. Officially, the game was called Earth Bound, but since the SNES sequel was called EarthBound, demi also added the text “ZERO” to the title screen of this second ROM version, which was then distributed online.
Shortly after this, people started hitting anti-piracy screens at certain points in the game. It turns out that the changes Xodnizel and demi made caused the game’s checksum to screw up, thus triggering the game’s anti-piracy code. Xodnizel (and possibly others) went in and made fixes to turn the piracy checks off completely. This third version of the ROM was then distributed online as well.
Incidentally, these three versions of the ROM cause lots of headache for people making hacks of the game or for people who buy reproduction carts that use the second version of the ROM.
Notes: I don’t think this one has been seen for years. If anyone knows who has this one now, please let me know!
Notes: jollerancher is a collector of prototype games and came across two separate Earth Bound prototype carts. He apparently got them when he bought a box full of stuff from a guy who used to work for Nintendo. You can see these carts and all his others here. He sold both carts (and many of the other prototypes) in 2006. More info can be found here. Roo later bought this cart and has shown it off in several videos.
Notes: In 2009, Matt Alderman, a former Nintendo Power game play counselor, posted a prototype on eBay. He had been given the opportunity to play through the game before it was finished, just before the game was scrapped. After much harrassment and even having his account flagged by lamers, he sold it offline to an unknown party. This cart’s current whereabouts are unknown.
Ownership: Nintendo of America
Notes: At least one copy of Earth Bound is confirmed to exist inside NOA. Employees (or maybe just a certain group of them) are allowed to check out things kind of like a library (is this it?), but they’re not allowed to take them out of the building, possibly not even out of the room. It’s probably safe to assume NOA has several copies, but for now we know of at least one for sure.
Some other technical info:
Based on the circuit boards, the latter three are all on an NES-TKEPROM-01 circuit board, which it seems Nintendo used for a lot of its prototypes. jollerancher’s first one does have a case, labelled ‘EARTHBOUND’ in sharpie. It’s not clear if the second one has a case, but the circuit board does have a few noticeable differences from the first one.
According to the Lost Levels page, the game had “2 Meg of program ROM, 2 Meg of character ROM, 64KSRAM and battery”, which corresponds with the 4 1MB EPROMS on the board. (On jollerancher’s protos, they are labelled CHR 0, CHR 1, PRG 0, and PRG 1.)
Prototype #4 was in a cut open Zelda case (it probably never had a cart of its own) and did not have labels on the EPROMS, which is dangerous because prolonged exposure to UV rays (from sunlight or something else) will erase the ROM data inside. Hopefully the current owner has covered them up. The EPROMS were also a different manufacturer than jollerancher’s boards, and they were mounted on DIP sockets instead of soldered right on the board.
That’s all the information I’ve been able to dig up so far. Many thanks to Skulryk for helping out with most of this data-collecting. If you happen to know more about any of these or have other useful info or pics relating to them, please let me know!
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