EarthBound Scratch n Sniff Lives On
Some years ago, maybe a few months after MOTHER 3 was released in Japan, a fellow by the name of Brendan Sechter approached me and Reid about working together to get a license to translate and sell MOTHER 3 in English. It was kind of cool, because he had actually helped out with the game’s development in a small fashion – he’s even listed in the credits! Sadly, that plan fizzled out due to bad timing and some various business hurdles, and we eventually lost contact with him. Thus began the fan translation.
Anyway, just recently, long-time fan OKeijiDragon got in touch with him again and did a short back-and-forth interview with him about his experiences helping test the game, some new info about the old Nintendo 64 version, and more!
Many, many thanks to OKeijiDragon, and sblur and Jeff for alerting me to this In case you haven’t seen it already, you should give OKeijiDragon’s documentary about MOTHER 3/EarthBound 64 a watch sometime too!
OKei: Hello, my name is [OKeijiDragon]. Are you the same Brendan Sechter who’s name credit appears under ‘Special Thanks’ in the ending credits of a Japanese video game called “MOTHER3″? If so, hi! If not, I’m sorry to bother if you aren’t him.
Brendan: Hello and thank you for your message.
Yes, once upon a time in a land far far away, I worked as one of few people debugging Mother 3. Believe it or not, I beat the game with no equipment and no items. After that I had intended to attempt a clear in under ten hours (I power leveled and used magic in the no stuff playthrough), but the game mastering was announced. I love the game, but I don’t think I ever want to play it again. =P
OKei: That’s pretty neat to do a no item run in the game, I can’t imagine myself do that, =O lol.
The reason I contacted you, is because I am producing a journalistic documentary about the video game for YouTube called “Shat-Canned Legends”, and I am researching about its development and its past. (If you would like to see an example of my work, I have here a YouTube URL here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGLFw_8DveA I saw your name stood out in the game’s credits as the only non-Japanese name. I thought you’d be the first person to contact. =)
Do you mind if I can ask you some specific questions about the game? It would be greatly appreciated! So were you really the only non-Japanese person working on the game?
Brendan: Ask me anything, but remember that there are some questions I will be either unwilling or unable to answer.
I was the first westerner Brownie Brown actually hired. Mother 3 was developed by BB in collaboration with Itoi Jimusho, HAL and Nintendo. I suspect that I was the only westerner who helped out on the title, but Koreans and Chinese are not uncommon in Tokyo. I’m not aware of any other non-Japanese contributors, though.
OKei: I understand, I’ll be reasonable with my questions. =)
- What was it like to work for a Japanese company, being the only person who wasn’t Japanese?
- What was your first assignment working on MOTHER 3, and what was it like?
- Are you still working for Brownie Brown or Nintendo in any capacity?
Brendan: Working for a Japanese company as the only westerner, when they were not prepared to deal with westerners was a very educational experience. My Japanese was good before working there, and it got that much better. That is where I learned emails in Japanese that are suitable for a business environment.
The first thing I did on both of the games I debugged there was play through the game in a normal fashion for a week or two and write monitor reports. A monitor report is just your opinion on the game. I don’t think either had a completed last area or ending when I started working on them.
I’m not working for Brownie Brown or Nintendo any more, but sometimes I go back and see the people at Brownie Brown to the extent they are willing to put up with me. =)
OKei: Could you tell what that other game was, I didn’t know you worked beyond Mother 3. You were part of the Super Mario Club right, the group that tests games for Nintendo? or were you working on a different entity?
Here’s a few more:
- Were you ever told of Mother 3 being on a different console once before?
- Did you ever meet Shigesato Itoi personally?
- This game is famous for it’s emotional story. Did you ever felt emotional from playing the game?
Brendan: The other game I tested was Magical Vaction 2. My name is not in the credits in the Japanese version, and I don’t think it is in the credits in the English version. MV2 is fun and wacky. The secret dungeon is also very hard.
I worked for Brownie Brown, the developer of Mother 3. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of Nintendo located in Kichijyouji. The senior staff is made up of ex-Square employees, primarily people who worked on the Seiken Densetsu and Romancing Saga series, among other things. Mother 3 was published by Nintendo, and Mario Club also tested both games.
If you are eluding to the Mother 3 prototype for the N64 developed by HAL, it was floating around the office and used for inspiration. The GBA version of Mother 3 is the same game made by a different developer for a different platform. Let’s just say the development cycle for this game was very, very long.
After the game was mastered, there was an event where Shigesato Itoi got together and talked about Mother 3 with some there people. He signed a paper cup for me, which I gave to a Japanese friend who is very passionate about the Mother series. There was a page on net about this event, but I couldn’t find it when I searched just now. (Mato note: It looks like the pages for the event were taken down recently, it was broken into several pages, they’re on archive.org starting here)
I like certain parts of Mother 3 very much, but when debugging something you see many broken versions, and by the time everything is fixed, you are sick of the game. Mother 3 has an excellent story, and is a very solid game. I had not played Mother 1 or 2 before testing Mother 3, so I didn’t have any expectations for the game going into it. I probably felt emotional when seeing certain things for the first time, but that was a long time ago, and they made play it over and over and over. =) Hence a no equipment no item clear with the boy and the dog for as long as possible.
OKei: Very interesting information so far! Yes, I especially know how long it took for the game to come out (14 years!). It was first made for the Super Famicom, then on the Nintendo 64, then cancelled in 2000 after 8 years! It seems you are familiar with the N64 version. =) Did you ever actually played that prototype, and if so, do you think it’s still around their offices? How much do you know about it?
Here are some more questions:
- Do you recall if there was a moment in debugging were you would actually fight the Ultimate Chimera in the game? (It’s this giant red thing you encounter late in the game:
- MOTHER 3 enthusiasts have found many unused objects inside the game’s ROM, some range from interesting to baffling: These example should show what I mean: http://mother3.fobby.net/unused
Here are some other interesting ones too:
There also happens to be unused, alternate death scene for the main antagonist Porky, that was also found inside the game’s ROM, which also suggests a different ending and scenario for the character:
Did you recognized any of these images while debugging? It be interesting to know what they had in mind for the game.
Brendan: Well, the president of Brownie Brown said that if I want to try out the N64 prototype, it’s in the meeting room. I wasn’t a Mother fan, but I was trying be enthusiastic about my position there, so I tried it out. As far as I can recall, it was most of the first chapter (with a very Flintstones feel) and some cut scenes. The game crashed toward the end of the chapter.
When I was looking for the link to event I attended, I saw some screenshots of the N64 version that I didn’t remember. Either I have a faulty memory, or there was more to that prototype than I thought. In any case, it was clearly the same vision as the GBA game. I suspect it is in a drawer or a box at Brownie Brown, unless HAL or Nintendo repossessed the cart.
I’m pretty sure the ultimate chimera is something you run from. You may have played around with something like RPG Maker. It does a good job of illustrating how an RPG splits battles and scripted events into different systems. I don’t remember what happens when the chimera catches you, but I remember it was worth avoiding. I’m sure the script says something to the effect of: “if touched by chimera, do something bad”. I doubt a battle sprite or any of that good stuff exists, but who knows what was planned.
Due to the long development cycle of the game, it is only natural that there is a whole bunch unused stuff in the game. Have you ever done multiple drafts of a report for school? Imagine if all the parts you changed or didn’t actually use were somehow saved in the report (with the track changes feature in MS word, this can actually happen). That is basically what happened with Mother 3 (and many other games).
I vaguely recall writing something, probably in perl, to see if there were any unused messages in Magical Vacation 2. There was talk of using it on the Mother 3 data because there was probably a lot of unused text. It should be obvious that the unused Mother 3 data was not purged, and that there were indeed a lot of unused messages. I didn’t know about all the other unused assets, but they don’t surprise me.
OKei: So you have played N64 build, that’s fascinating man! Could you please elaborate more about that particular build?
- Was it running on a stock N64 or was it on 64DD hardware?
- Do you believe it is possible for them to release information about that version in some capacity today? I believe it to be a very interesting piece of Nintendo’s history.
- Do you also recall them mentioning any sort of international release for Mother 3 outside of Japan? It is a very popular import game for many gamers in the industry and most were disappointed of Nintendo not releasing it in the USA.
Brendan: Brownie Brown had a stock N64 in their meeting room. The game was stored on what appeared to be a rewritable N64 development cartridge.
The program on the cart appeared to be very much an alpha build. If it had been moderately ready for a release, I suspect it would have been released for the N64. As things were, the GBA version of Mother 3 was pushed out the door as the platform was being buried. I’d say chances are slim to none that the public will ever get to meet the N64 prototype.
Brownie Brown is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nintendo. Nintendo handles their accounting. When Nintendo says “jump”, they jump without asking “how high?” As far as I know, Nintendo never officially said anything to Brownie Brown about an international release. Presumably Nintendo did not release an international version of the game because the Japanese sales figures were too low. This is standard practice. This is also not uncommon for a developer / publisher relationship.
For what it is worth, Brownie Brown earns royalties for units sold, and the director of Mother 3 really wanted to see an international release. I’m sure Brownie Brown would be totally down with an international commercial release. I believe that anything is possible, and that anything can be negotiated, but I wouldn’t hold my breath unless you have some serious bargaining power.
OKei: I see, I expected to hear an “out of the question” answer about the prototype. Also, from about those unused stuff from earlier, it sounds like they have been left out in the ROM for a while. =P Nice to know the director wanted US fans to get a taste of Mother 3 as well. =)
Now, if I may ask you some technical questions about the game.
- When did you begin debugging for the game and how long did it last? Can you also recall the process for debugging such a large span game?
- If you could tell, what was the worse and best experiences you had working on the game?
- Do you recall who programmed all the status screens and the text windows? Apparently, it became quite a problem for game enthusiasts and hackers trying to backwards engineer the game.
Brendan: I can’t imagine I’ve said much about the prototype you didn’t know or couldn’t have otherwise guessed. According to your documentary, the final version of the N64 game was a cart that didn’t get released.
I joined Brownie Brown around the tail end of development. We switched back and forth between Magical Vacation 2 and Mother 3. The timing is a bit of a blur. I can’t say what happened before I got there.
The best part was seeing the finishing touches gradually appear. Worst part? The underwater area.
Hiraishi is listed as the system programmer in the credits. Aikyo is listed as the battle programmer.
OKei: I guess I know *so* much more about this game than I actually should, lol! Thanks for viewing my documentary, I actually am gonna update that video with much more information in the very near future.
I suppose that’s all the questions I have for the moment. Thank you very much for answering my questions about the game so far, Mr. Sechter. I’m sure your replies will make fans very happy!
Brendan: No problem. FYI, I mentioned the N64 prototype because I want to stress that there is no mystery Mother game was never released. You got Mother 3. When development was handed over to Brownie Brown, they were also given everything they needed to get the job done, including previous reference material. The GBA version is the final draft of a vision that took a long time to get out the door. Count your blessings instead of worrying about what could have been. =)
OKei: Oh, I appreciate the MOTHER 3 I got in the end, sir. It’s a fine game, with or without it’s past. And on the contrary, this stuff fascinates me and others because it teaches about the steps it takes to develop a video game. These are also things of which tell many interesting stories and sciences (if I can call them that) behind them, well as the lasting-influences they leave to the makers behind them. Thanks for your time, and Merry Christmas! =)
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