Official Earthbound 64 Cancellation Interview
The following article is a three-way discussion between Shigesato Itoi, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Satoru Iwata concerning the circumstances of the Earthbound 64 cancellation. The discussion goes on for quite a long time as they pore over every detail they could possibly think of to explain exactly what happened when they pulled the plug on the ill-fated Nintendo 64 game they’d been working on for a total of six years.
This discussion was posted alongside the official cancellation announcement on August 22nd, 2000, so it’s 13 years late to make it out of Japan, which isn’t surprising considering the volume. I recommend sitting down to read it when you’ve got time to burn.
(Original article can be found here.)
To Everyone Who Waited
A Discussion between Shigesato Itoi, Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto about the cancellation of MOTHER 3.
MOTHER 3 creator/scenario writer
MOTHER 3 producer
Former president of HAL Laboratory, current head of Nintendo’s corporate planning division and consultant at HAL Laboratory
MOTHER 3 producer
Head of Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development
Itoi: We’re publishing this discussion before the opening of Nintendo Space World which runs August 24-26, 2000. Upcoming games are announced on the 24th, but some people may be surprised to see MOTHER 3 absent from the lineup. So before that happens, I’d like to have a discussion between the three of us so everyone can understand why MOTHER 3 disappeared. I’m very sorry to say this, but we’ve recently decided to discontinue the game’s development. Is “discontinue” the right word?
Iwata: We first started the game six years ago on the Super Famicom, then transitioned it to the Nintendo 64DD halfway through; now we’ve aborted the last six years of development and disbanded the MOTHER 3 project teams. This doesn’t mean Itoi has permanently parted ways with the MOTHER franchise, and nothing’s been decided about the future of the game. What happened is that we couldn’t keep our promise to release it on the Nintendo 64.
Miyamoto: It’s really too bad, but the honest truth is that we couldn’t go on. It would have had far too much an impact on other projects like Project Dolphin. The reason we’re quitting is not because it’s not going well, or because the end’s not in sight.
It might be easier for people to accept this if Nintendo were a small company that got stuck because project money had dried up. You could try and put it optimistically by saying, “It’s out of our hands for the moment, but if we ever find ourselves able to come back to it, we will.” But it’d be irresponsible of us to say that.
Itoi: People often asked me for a percentage of how far along we were in production. How far would you say we got with MOTHER 3 before we had to let it go?
Iwata: The percentage changes depending on what you’re referring to. You could say we were halfway done, or you could say we were only fifteen percent in. I think it changes depending on how you look at it. But if I had to generalize it, I get the impression we were maybe around thirty percent done overall. But I don’t think there’s much sense in discussing a game’s completion level in numbers when there’s a time factor.
Miyamoto: Iwata might think it’s around thirty percent, but I feel it was at least sixty. There are many elements to it–like the compression of the scenarios, and the questions along with it: Is the scenario written well? Are the characters ready? Then there’s the question of whether the programming fundamentals are even capable of compressing the scenarios yet. Last year I felt much more overwhelmed by how much underlying programming we had left to finish—it wasn’t about how many scenarios were ready.
I think the basics of the game have been completed over the past year, and all we had left was data input—all we had to do was create whatever remained, and we’d be good to go. The thirty percent Iwata is referring to is the length of the overall scenario.
Iwata: I meant it from the point of view of a player experiencing the game as-is, with a completed product at a hundred percent. The “at least sixty” Miyamoto’s referring to is how much of the work was done from a creator’s perspective.
Miyamoto: But we had meetings to discuss whether we’d be able to push through the last thirty or forty percent.
Iwata: Yes, so we had every intention to do all we could to fight the futile battle. If we found a problem, we’d use every strategy in the book to comb through the issues one at a time, and if we found a part that was still lacking, we’d reinforce it. It was just a cycle of that, and it allowed us to accelerate up to a certain level and ultimately bring it to the “over sixty” that Miyamoto referred to. Miyamoto’s a very strict guy—even if you think something’s ninety percent done, he’s the one saying “This ain’t even halfway done!” So if Miyamoto says it was over sixty percent done, you could assume it was much further along than that—it was at a point where you could tell us, “You could’ve finished it if you just did it.” It was just the bad timing of maintaining the power required to finish the rest of the project when we have all these other things we needed to take care of. That brought us to the sad, unfortunate circumstances this time around of being impossible to finish.
Itoi: What kind of work still needed to be completed?
Iwata: Neatly packing the story, pictures, and script into a sort of container constructed through certain mechanisms—we still had to find the overall balance and finish the directing. If we didn’t bother polishing anything and simply tossed it all in, we’d have been able to finish it in a short time, but would it even be a legitimate product if we did that? We had to do it right.
The polishing was probably going to take more time than anything—placing the materials into the container and polishing them into quality contents that’d come across well to the player.
Itoi: Hearing that is going to make people out of the loop think that we obviously should have just done something—anything. I’m sure some staff, too, question whether it really was impossible in the end. It’s not like I haven’t felt that way myself.
I was in the forefront of the project, so at first glance people will probably assume it’s all my responsibility. After all, during MOTHER 2 I was accused of delaying the game because I was digging holes at Mt. Akagi.
Iwata: That’s not it at all. (laughs)
Itoi: After that, I was “doing nothing but fishing,” and now I’m sure it’ll be because I’m “on the internet all the time.” The people who talk like that only know a fraction of the whole story and are just looking for an easy explanation. But they’re wrong. The scenario was done a long time ago, and if what they were saying is true, then I could fix it with my own power. It’s not that simple. Some people question with good intentions whether it was a waste that we didn’t stick it out for the last forty percent, and it hurts to hear that.
Iwata: I’ve been showered with advice since last year, too: we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing, we need to think things over. I’m the producer of this product. I’m the decision-maker of this production site. When progress last year stopped making headway, when others told me, “Shouldn’t you think it over?” or the more straightforward “Shouldn’t you just call it quits?” I never lost my desire to do my best to finish the game and show them how we brought to life what we’d done so far. This time around, I had no choice but to pull a 180 from what I’ve always done once I reflected on whether we could afford to spend all the time and power it would take. Consolidating a complicated project of this caliber required a special kind of energy which required more than just a bigger team—it needed people with lots of experience and the right judgement. I wish we could have had a team of people with Miyamoto’s level of ability and experience to help us with the project. But I don’t think it’s entirely because our staff wasn’t capable enough; I think we could have finished it if we’d had better methods.
The thing is, in reality, the more the scope of a project expands, the greater the chances of things spiraling out of control if you don’t gather a team with extraordinary levels of judgement and experience. When we were developing projects at HAL Laboratory, there were the projects that we could keep under control, and those that we couldn’t. But everything that went awry had a certain scale it surpassed. MOTHER 3 was quite large-scale, too. Halfway through, we tried to come up with a way to shrink it back. We managed to pull it off to a certain extent, but it was still a real giant.
Certain circumstances in March of last year had me spending a third of every month in America. And since July of this year I’ve been spending more and more time in Kyoto, so the amount of time I was able to personally spend on the game was consistently dwindling. I wish I could have prepared for that by passing on the knowledge from my unique experiences to others, but I couldn’t. So I can easily see how my increasing distance from the project put it in danger of going off-course.
Itoi: It’s a huge deal when a producer can’t physically be on-site.
Miyamoto: I’d say Iwata wasn’t a producer as much as a…
Itoi: Gameplay manager, maybe? When Iwata was able to be on-site full time, he was good at making decisions to deal with parts that weren’t up to par, even when he had to deal with it in patches. He didn’t wait until something was finished up to a certain point to look at it, he kept an eye on it and saw what was lacking, what needed more attention, and when he needed to crack the whip with the team or when to let them rest. As long as he was there, he could cover it. But it was hard to manage all that when he was gone—everything took drastically more time.
Iwata: It makes a difference, doesn’t it? If I hadn’t been constantly going to America since March of last year, I might have been able to devote three months of my time to the team. But my time with the team became scattered, and I couldn’t see what was going on from far away. Of course I’d kept in touch through e-mail and phone, and I did what I could, but no matter how much effort I put in that way, it’ll never equate to being in the same room with everyone looking at the same things while we work. So of course I couldn’t pinpoint problems as quickly, and we’d always be one step behind on taking care of it. We suffered some losses from that, which meant everyone had to take the long way around for many things.
Itoi: You know how explaining progress over the phone means you can only say something once it’s run through your own mind? If you don’t notice something that’s going on, then…
Iwata: The person on the phone or writing the e-mail is the only person whose persective is getting through. You’re not going to discover something that person doesn’t notice, even though you’d have seen it. Problem-finding is expedited through two things: a third-person perspective and techniques learned through experience. Really, we should have trained more capable people so we could handle things properly , but… HAL Lab was on the verge of bankruptcy at one point and had to be reconstructed. While that was going on, more energy had to be poured into result output than employee training. I think that was the right way to go, considering the fact that HAL Lab just succeeded in its reconstruction last year—although I’m not trying to defend that decision. I also think more energy should have been invested in personnel development. You only have 20/20 vision in hindsight, though.
Miyamoto: I’m sure no one thought those things would make it easier.
Itoi: Probably not.
Iwata: I have a feeling none of us even considered it.
Miyamoto: There was too much stuff right in front of us.
Itoi: Any and all venture businesses are like that, I’m sure. And video game companies have the fundamental makeup of a venture business.
Iwata: The structure of Nintendo’s development team is that of a business venture, too—the leader makes decisions on high-risk factors, takes the plunge, makes the product, and produces results.
Itoi: A real system of leader dies, game over.
Miyamoto: Nintendo is the one that’s asked a lot from Iwata this past year and a half. Even though we all understood Iwata’s situation, we were in a position where we needed to ask certain things from him. We would tell him “You’re gonna collapse if you work that hard” as we piled more things onto his workload. We’ve sent someone from our office to support him since June of last year, though. We’ve put a lot of effort into supporting him, and Iwata pushed himself as far as he possibly could. But it’s a tough call. If you want to say that Iwata couldn’t do his best, then it’s the same as saying there was no one out there with enough skill.
Itoi: That’s not true. People might get wrong impressions when you bring something up to talk about it, but if you don’t explain yourself, then you’re never going to get it across. But you can do that here at Hobonichi. So let’s do it. Bring out the big guns.
Miyamoto: You know…we might anger some people to say this, but games are never going to be truly ready.
Itoi: What a statement!
Miyamoto: It’s true. If you’re doing it normally, you can’t do it. And they’re out there—games that are not yet completed but assumed to be so. There’s a project plan, you follow it as instructed, you finish the job laid out, and if there aren’t any immediate bugs, then it’s considered ready. The entire time I’m creating something, I’m desperate to stop it from turning out that way. I question what it still needs halfway through production in order to complete it. I offer ideas and help the director in order to secure a level of quality fit for completion.
Itoi: Do you often go without noticing halfway through whether or not it’d be possible?
Miyamoto: It’s always a challenge we’re entering with new staff, so some projects have me checking on the team formations and leader development. I thought we might carry the accomplishments of MOTHER 2 over to the MOTHER 3 team, but the staff size increased and several people weren’t part of it this time. I always assumed we’d be able to make it, and didn’t try to judge whether we should be rushing the finish line or calling it quits. But looking back now, I see that’s something I should repent on.
Iwata: From that end, any normal project has a trial period where you make a sample product and get the green light based on the response. But MOTHER 3 was special in that we skipped the trial period and went straight to game production. Without that trial period, all we had was our experience and achievements from making MOTHER 2, without the benefit of starting off with a team of people who worked on MOTHER 2. We lacked certain things we had last time, and needed to step back and assess our overall power at the time. But just as Miyamoto said, it was more like “We need to do this.” So without thinking it over, we created other games on the side to keep making money while managing this one.
Miyamoto: If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves. Not to mention the two entire hardware shifts we dealt with. It was all too much to handle, so everything started buckling under pressure. That’s all the responsibility of the producers. The producers are the ones that foot the bill, though, so I feel absolutely terrible that I wasn’t able to be on-site myself, and that Iwata was at his limit.
Our supervisors have wanted to can the project since last year, but once the project was poised to close down, they started feeling like that’d be a waste. Now they’re the ones trying the hardest to protect it.
Iwata: Yeah, I was told, “Why don’t you just quit? I know it’s important, but realistically, you don’t have what’s required to turn this into the finished product you all had in mind when you started.”
Miyamoto: The producers that were cheering us on in the beginning had started pointing that out to us all the time once the project got trapped in development hell.
Iwata: It’s my job to carry the product into an environment where we can complete it; I struggled a lot in my efforts to achieve that, which included sacrificing my pride. I ended up asking for too much from everyone, though.
Miyamoto’s office has seen its share of finished projects and unfinished projects. When his team came to cheer us on right after they felt like we were getting a hold on things, I mentioned that we were in over our heads time-wise. And then it veered off into the conclusion we find ourselves with now. They were kind enough to feel like we had something going.
Itoi: It’s tough to put into words how you can tell whether something will finish or not, but are there any pointers you can tell us? Have either of you ever had a product that didn’t make it?
Miyamoto: I did when I was quite young. It didn’t even have a title yet.
Itoi: You started making a game without even deciding on a title?
Iwata: But Miyamoto has a more apt sense of when to call it quits, so I don’t think he’s had a project fail that he started himself. I’d always been proud of my spotless history of finished projects, but in the early years of the Nintendo 64, I tried making “Kirby’s Airland”. Even though I was involved in it, we weren’t able to bring it together. So we restructured it, and in the end we had two teams make Smash Brothers and Star Kirby 64. That was the first time, though, that I tasted failure. Time-wise, I was much more involved this time around, though, so that bitter taste is all the stronger.
Miyamoto: Sometimes things never make it to the shelves because the parts cost too much. But the final nails in the coffin are things involved with it. We had several projects underway overseas, and the number one example domestically was “Kimba the White Lion.” We did it one and a half, two years, and we reached a point where it was almost done, but we quit. Makoto Tezuka did the directing and settled all the affairs of the office, but it was happening at the same time as his movie. The movie had three more months to go, so he had to submerge himself in that priority. It’s common sense that three months means six months, which meant the cost of managing a team in that state for a half a year would be substantial. So they shelved it. It’s crucial that a director in that situation has the solid framework already constructed in his head. This is going to sound really abstract, but when framework isn’t some cheap fold-out box but is instead very solid to the touch, that’s my image of a “complete game”.
Iwata: Something with a level of completion that makes it feel solid enough to withstand something crashing into it. And someone—the director, usually—has thought out the structure so carefully with such a clear picture of its completed state that he’d immediately be able to answer any questions about what needs to be done at any point in time. That way, as the bugs get ironed out, there’s already an idea of how to materialize it, so all that’s left is the doing.
That’s what happens when making a game in super vague conditions which Miyamoto referred to as a one-way path to failure—and on a computer that comes to a halt with a single error, no less. That wasn’t the case in the slightest a year ago, but I get the feeling that sense of solidity comes from how quickly things have turned out this way.
Miyamoto: I’m sure there are things out there thrown together slipshod like something with all skin and no skeletal structure. I think it’s all in the eye of the director, but in film, too, there’s a sense of solidity (even during production) when you have something you don’t want to show to other people. One is the freshness of the idea in relation to everything else out there, and one is the quality of the programmers’ work. How it comes across is how it felt to the touch for the director personally. Some are extremely intricate on the outside, while others are a total mess on the outside but are equipped with rock solid framework. Either way is fine, but the one with the solid framework has a better outlook for its future. Some architects work better with wood, and some work better with iron. What we need to do as producers is adapt our products into something suitable for our designers. We produce in a way that we tell them, “Don’t bother going that way—set it up here, because you’re good with hammers.” To liken it to architecture, we started with the premise of needing to build a highrise for MOTHER 3, so we couldn’t just turn it into a wooden mansion halfway through, and we weren’t able to see that far ahead.
Each supervisor has his own style for creating and assembling things. When I make things, I start at the tips, so it turns into a randomized tree with no trunk. That makes it impossible to see how it’ll turn out, but I’ve gotten good at forming these shapeless things into shapes of my own once I started assigning them names to make them look well-balanced. That’s a method I came up with while continuing to draw out my own bad art.
Itoi: What do you mean by “naming” something with no shape?
Miyamoto: Sometimes it seems really refreshing when someone suggests looking at something from above after everyone’s been watching it from the side, don’t you think?
Itoi: So “naming” refers to discovering a perspective…
Miyamoto: Exactly. So I think to pull everything together from another perspective, whether it be at a planning stage or a bogged down stage. What happens most commonly, especially with children who were raised on video games, is that people want to focus on perfecting the details so much that the details are the only parts of the picture that are being created. I don’t know if they mean to bring it together using my technique of working from the outer corners inward, or leave it to someone who’s good at making the framework, but either way they’re pounding away at the leaves without a set technique. That pours most of the resources into the minor details, which consumes energy.
Itoi: You’re absolutely right. After all, the minor details take up the most memory.
Miyamoto: MOTHER 3 fell victim to that disease, which I’m sure is the same issue causing trouble in so many places and companies around the world. Managers have this illusion that piling all the details together will result in a structure, so they’re thrown off guard when they hear otherwise. I think a lot of companies are like that.
Itoi: Like hiring nothing but construction workers who build exterior walls.
Miyamoto: Yeah, since that’s the part being judged.
Iwata: You can only see that part from the outside, so seeing it on a screen makes it look dramatically different.
Miyamoto: People say Nintendo games aren’t fit for magazine pages—like their charm shows when you can see it moving.
Itoi: Oh! That’s totally it.
Miyamoto: With MOTHER 3, there may not have been enough people who understood that, and if the team had seen it more clearly, things might have worked out. We got close, but we didn’t have conclusive evidence.
Itoi: Did MOTHER 3 have a particularly difficult structure?
Iwata: That one was clearly my fault. A long time ago I once said, “Never say a programmer CAN’T do something.” Those words sort of take on a life of their own—dropping the word “can’t” can close the doors of possibility. Generally speaking, everything will work out eventually if you put in the effort and push onwards, but everything still operates within certain limitations. So if something is honestly impossible to do, you need to accept that. Oftentimes the case is that something is possible, but sacrifices will need to be made. Or that something is possible, but it cannot exist alongside some other thing. So that’s what I meant when I said “Don’t say you CAN’T be a programmer,” but “don’t say you CAN’T” is the only part that took off.
There was a time when the early designs for MOTHER 3 were really reckless. We were working with specifications that surpassed the system capabilities and memory capacity. We starting working on the game with the premise that we’d create something that’s never been done before.
Itoi: Everyone put a lot of effort into it, didn’t they?
Iwata: On the other hand, during MOTHER 2, we were in a time in history when there were strict limitations on every little thing. So we said, hey, all we have to do is just go for it. And we did, and we managed to break through those walls. But I think that set a precedent that made people expect more than what our collective power could offer.
But the initial planning was really imprecise for a while, and I didn’t notice it, so it’s no one’s fault but my own. Things got pretty far before I came to work on-site, and I realized we were going to hit our limitations and had them change course. That took up a lot of time. For the first year after I got super involved with the on-site workplace, we had to use all our energy to change the parts that weren’t going to work. I think it looked to others like I’d spent nine months on the team and we didn’t move forward an inch. That was right when Miyamoto said last summer that we were going to have to think things over, because it turned into such a struggle. It more or less cleaned up, but…even if we’d figured it out, it was still going to take an enormous amount of energy to turn it into a completed product. It would have required sacrificing a fair amount of other projects we had lined up in order to spend enough time on it to see it through to the end. I think this time around, we couldn’t handle the prospect of sacrificing the future just for the sake of the game.
Itoi: I can clearly remember the amount of effort we put into MOTHER 2 in the beginning. We were dealing with a tough childbirth, and right when we thought we were going to suffer a stillbirth, Iwata swooped in and worked it out, like Superman. Right when we were at a stalemate and were aiming to change the programming, he fixed it up. And sales numbers aside, at the very least, everyone ended up offering very kind words about the game.
It came to fruition right when we thought it couldn’t, and that deified Iwata. We thought that as long as Iwata was around, we could do anything.
Something really typical about me personally is, MOTHER 3’s scenario originally had twelve chapters total. It’s an RPG with twelve chapters, so each person has a different playing experience—something I’d never do now. But at the time, my ambitions were really out there, so I had ideas for how to run each chapter. I’d have one chapter work as a normal RPG, another chapter of just cut scenes, and another one with a game that had overlapping timelines.
We were working with 3D polygons, so I was under the impression that as long as the main characters were finished, all we had to do was move our puppets around the stage. Let’s change it to twelve scenes, I thought. No problem. But in reality, if their movements change to match the scene, the programming changes entirely, too, for each event. I didn’t even consider that, and just plowed on, surprised at how much fun I was having. The thrill of feeling like I could do anything was incredible.
Iwata: The extent to which our desire for creation exploded the moment we were set free from constraints was so extreme, it was like the Big Bang itself. And that’s how it felt for everyone. Come to think of it, we’d actually gotten to Miyamoto’s creation process for Mario 64 over a short period of time. A lot was only possible because it was Miyamoto, but everyone was bit by the bug then. Like 3D was the answer to all our problems. We can’t deny that we’d all contracted 3D-itis, and I think Nintendo preferred not to use pre-rendered videos.
But even so, every single industry was obsessed with 3D media. Honestly, if you had the right tools, you could pull it off. It took a lot of energy, but the image would show up. But we’d underestimated the cost, time, energy, and the compatibility required to make a game like that successfully. If Itoi had come to me now with all the ideas he had for MOTHER 3, I’d tell him it’s impossible to do all of it. I’d ask him what elements he felt most confident about, and go from there.
Miyamoto: We even discussed its possibility on the Dolphin [next version hardware; initial name for GameCube].
Iwata: To be fair, there are a lot of problems that could be solved on the Dolphin, especially with rendering speed and processing speed when lots of things appeared on the screen at once. Things like that. But it still doesn’t solve everything.
Itoi: It provides functions to solve problems, but that’s about it.
Iwata: Right. That’s one factor. But it’s not that clear-cut when you’re working with a product that smoothly combines everything to feel good to the touch. You need to focus your energy on the elements you’re confident in. We’re already well aware that our customers are insatiable connoisseurs, so we needed to keep up a certain level of detail to our work and limit the number of elements we were trying to fit. So by the time we made up our minds about it, we’d gone at such a slow pace that all the things Itoi came up with for us weren’t even in style anymore. I guess that’s the thing about freshness factor in games.
Miyamoto: Honestly, we wanted to have it released by last winter. When we failed to reach that goal, we realized we were going to have to re-think things. Then we said we’d absolutely have it out by Christmas this year. And then just as we said earlier—with the 30 to 60 percent completion—things started getting uncertain, and as it stands today, it’s just not doable. So we’d have to make sacrifices if we were going to keep working on it.
Itoi: So you’re saying there wasn’t going to be a market for it anymore once Christmas passed.
Miyamoto: No, it’s not that. I think people would still buy the game. Some people even say we should at least let the players enjoy the game as it is, bugs and all, for those who really want it. But this is a product—we can’t just do that. With all the high expectations for success, it’d just end up being outdated.
Itoi: It’s like someone secluded in the mountains slaving away at developing an automobile that runs on gasoline, only to bring it back to the city and everyone’s already using them. That’s how it is with all computers now. So the issue of time is a huge one. Plus there’s a lot we could say about the influence of Mario 64.
Iwata: The achievements and crimes of Mario 64.
Itoi: It was too good, and now none of the other actors stand a chance. Everyone thinks, now, how awesome it would be to play an RPG that handles like that. People see proof through Mario and Zelda that Miyamoto is able to do that.
Iwata: …And that’s not actually the case, but he’s certainly doing enough to cause people to think that.
Itoi: So people idolize it. An RPG is a system where symbols come together, and something happens which is portrayed in even more symbols. There’s always a sense of wanting more from a system like that, and when we want to portray a game as more than just a collection of symbols, Mario give us some incredible hints. It makes us feel like we can add elements to make it into a viscerally interactive drama.
Iwata: That’s because everyone is expecting us to skillfully use cinematic methods to strengthen the impact of the role-playing.
Miyamoto: In the early years of the N64, I showed a sample of Mario to Dragon Quest’s Horii. Horii, too, made a mad dash for 3D. He said Dragon Quest would be entirely different if they could make the game like that. But I stopped him and said it wouldn’t be Dragon Quest anymore if he just marched square in like that. I said it’d take time. But it might have been my fault in stopping him that he instead moved to the PlayStation (laughs). Maybe I was too straight with him. Even as calm as Horii is, he was extremely interested in bringing all his characters as close to reality as possible.
Itoi: I’m sure that’s what he wanted.
Iwata: I think that’s an innate desire in scenario writers.
Miyamoto: But I thought Horii’s writing was interesting because he didn’t show that side of him.
Iwata: I’m not sure that’s something a third party can really know.
Itoi: It goes both ways. I wrote the final chapter for MOTHER 3 in a way that I couldn’t possibly portray. I didn’t know how I was supposed to pull it off, but if I saw a world that was successfully created in a sample piece, then I figured I could just look at that and see what I’d change to make it work.
You know how photographers take lots of extra pictures and sort through the negatives to choose the best ones? Well, I thought we had to make it along those same lines, so I just went ahead and over-made the scenarios in the same way. A scenario writer has a strong desire for the other team members to at some point see his scope of imagination, and just get it.
Miyamoto: And this time, before we decided to cancel the game, Itoi offered several proposals for solutions that we were incredibly interested in because we could tell just by listening that it was stuff we couldn’t do. If we’d decided from the beginning what we were going to stuff the game with, we’d have had a perspective that allowed us to see which hardware would best serve our needs, and how far our boundaries extended if we were to make it for the N64.
—What were Itoi’s solution proposals?
Itoi: Having three of the chapters made completely of still pictures and text to act as transitions.
Iwata: He suggested we just use text and still images since it was otherwise physically impossible. Even if we did that, though, there were still ideas for settings that we could work with.
—The way you’re talking about MOTHER 3 makes it hard to figure out what kind of game it was.
Itoi: Yeah. But how much are we allowed to say about it?
Miyamoto: I was relatively distanced from the project, so I haven’t heard much beyond Itoi saying he wanted to make the game reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. I interpreted that as making an orthodox RPG game reminiscent of MOTHER 2. But hearing them talk about it today makes me wonder if I was wrong about it. This goes back to the perspective I mentioned earlier, and the same goes for using 3D, but—I realized there really were bold ways to create the game. Like having a new structure to the game itself or having a text-only chapter when dealing with scenarios and text that needed to be fit into digital media form.
Looking back on it, I understand the capabilities of the N64 and future hardware now, and I think we can work and design around them appropriately. But until I reached this point, I assumed that MOTHER 3 would be a pretty standard procedure for an RPG aside from its brand new battle system and 3D cut scenes. So it’d be interesting to hear a little more about how it was originally supposed to turn out.
Itoi: No matter what we do, or how we do it, we’d be throwing away the story. So I don’t know. If we end up releasing a novel, for example, then we can’t say anything.
Miyamoto: That’s true. I’ve played through the first half of the game, so I understand, but…
Itoi: The first half runs pretty normally. Then there’s a triple-play twist in the story. The main character changes for each chapter, but it’s all connected.
Miyamoto: In a way, it’s tearing down the RPG format. For some people, that might involve losing the enjoyment of watching one player steadily growing stronger.
Itoi: We experimented with revolving main characters in MOTHER 2 as well. The hero Ness was the starting character, but the player gets to see the growth of the other characters when the story cuts to Jeff or Poo, who go through their own story as the new main character before meeting up with the rest of the group. It went really well.
Iwata: The start of MOTHER 3 was the thought, “we can do even more.”
Itoi: One more thing is the concept of a single place changing over time. We were still on the verge of death from producing MOTHER 2 when I first got the idea for MOTHER 3. I bothered one of the guys by calling him up to declare that I had an idea for MOTHER 3. I wanted to do a simple detective story where the city was the main character. Then there’d be a hack detective who makes a living on investigating affairs and stuff like that. He’s a womanizer who meddles into the business of the girl at the flower shop, takes a train to the next town over to work on a case, goes to the library to research materials, and lives off of the money he gets by solving petty little cases. So I thought of a project to have this worthless detective caught up in a huge murder case he starts to solve. The most important part of the plot was going to be how the story from the flower shop keeper would change from one day to the next. That would start to add up bit by bit. She wouldn’t say it the day before, but the next day, when a man really passes by and you question her again, she’d tell you that a man had passed by. It’d be a game about a city that continues to grow. I started making MOTHER 3 with that concept as its core.
All the RPGs up until now have fundamentally been road movies. A wandering hero travels from town to town, and stuff happens. If you return to a previous town, the story there’s already done, so all you can do is go around saying, “Hey, long time no see.” I wanted to first make a structure that built things up in layers and had the character grow with intervals of time. Then it would proceed to the last chapter with characters that have continually rotated, and a world that has changed so much, you can’t remember what it was like to begin with.
Miyamoto: That sounds more like Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask than MOTHER 2.
Itoi: You’re right. In a way, it’s Majora.
Iwata: There’s something in common at the root of both ideas.
Miyamoto: When the framework of Majora was finished, everyone decided that we needed to make the game based on a three-day time period.
Itoi: Having a three-day period allows for a road movie mixed with a city setting, and having someone’s present self differ from their past self, which is all really transformative. It’s probably possible within a scenario, but it’s really broad. Broad and vast, and there’d be a million characters
Miyamoto: There’d be citizens living in a town, and if you talk to twenty people in order and something changes, sequentially speaking, you’d just have to make a different script for twenty people—but once you make them react to a circumstance unrelated to the plot development, suddenly you need to make over a hundred different patterns.
Itoi: I’d want to include that aspect of listening to town gossip. There may have been problems because of the scenario, but I made it all really extravagant by adding behavioral styles, cut scenes, making connections in conversations, and adding some tear-jerking scenes. Once someone sees that, it’s hard to bring it back. You see all the hard work you’ve done and you want to keep it—people who less and they’d wonder why it wasn’t as good as what they’d played up to that point. People involved with the scenario don’t want to drop a single detail. In my case, I’d say I could drop a part if I could make up for it in a different spot, but in the end the story is a sort of list of specifications, so it’s easy to get stubborn about it. Which only makes sense. There’s twelve chapters, though, so…
Iwata: You were only trying to protect the unique essence of the MOTHER series.
Itoi: The whole feeling of MOTHER is how ridiculous it is that we went so far to make certain parts of it. It’s amazing that we even want to do that. Well, there were times we came to a standstill, but we spent a lot of time on it and made it to the point that Miyamoto could say we finished sixty percent. So I know that we could technically make it, but if we did it properly, it’d still take another two years.
Iwata: It’d end up taking another two years if we went on with only the team members we could guarantee.
Miyamoto: If we went on with our current direction of trying to consolidate everything, it could go either way—it could be done in less than a year, or it could be impossible to finish in even two years.
Itoi: It was insane. We designed everything one at a time—each enemy had their own personal world and view of it, and then there were all the people, the vehicles, and the buildings. It was a structure of creating several separate worlds.
I’m going to announce the game logo either way, so, MOTHER 3 is written with a combination of trees and metal. It was a concept of combining two things that otherwise had no chance of ever binding together, making some strange object with a really uncomfortable beauty to it. The first tentative title was “Forest of the Chimeras.”
There are a lot of chimeras in the game—separate creatures that are combined into one. There’s a recklessness to it, and another way to describe it is the bully Sid from Toy Story who tears his toys apart and puts them together all messed up. That’s the world of the enemies—I was excited when I saw that. I was happy to see it somewhere else.
So on our end, there’s a strange world that you can’t quite decipher between the middle ages or the old west, and in the end you realize the circumstances of what made it so strange. It was made in a way that you’d be thinking “This is weird…” then make it through chapter eleven, and hit chapter twelve and scream. It’s terrible.
If I really had enough time on my hands I’d novelize it. I even thought it’d be nice to make into a kamishibai [picture story show]. There was also the idea to compromise by tearing off three chapters, using the finished pictures of the characters, and inserting it in a kamishibai style, but even that wouldn’t be quite right.
Miyamoto: What about making a film of it?
Itoi: I can’t see it being a movie. But if I have an opportunity to present it, I’d like to give it a shot. If it were actually possible to make it into a movie, that’s one I’d like to see.
─You did use the term “Hollywood-like” earlier.
Miyamoto: Maybe it’s a question of quality and directing.
Itoi: Probably the directing. There’s a ton of surprising stuff that keeps popping up.
Miyamoto: A bombardment of it.
Itoi: I wanted the creativity to pull a double-jump—it’s my dream to create a picture that makes a person standing behind me go, “What is that?!” I didn’t want the story to progress while the landscape stayed the same. I had a deep desire for the scenery to change before your very eyes.
Miyamoto: We couldn’t bring it all together with the N64 hardware. I wonder if there even existed a method to bring it together. There were plenty of parts that couldn’t actually work on the N64 or that had a bad effect. It’d be nice if we could completely fix them by spending months and months revising the whole model and tinkering with the system, but in reality there were just so many issues… which is why I mentioned earlier that we could have done it on the Dolphin. But the design and framework weren’t quite up to speed yet. We’d have been better off just fixing those.
Iwata: Also, I thought this while working on it myself but of all the teams I’ve worked on games with, I really questioned how much Itoi and his team should focus on creating a 3D world when Itoi is a man whose greatest talent lies in words. Last fall, Pokemon Gold and Silver game out on the Game Boy, so of course it didn’t have a 3D world. It had the two-heads-high character size, and to put it badly, they sort of toddle around when they move.
So does that make it boring? Not at all. Looking back at the script of MOTHER 2 makes me question the meaning of the extreme amount of energy we’re using to turn this into a 3D game… Well, in the beginning Itoi and I were both caught up in the 3D obsession and felt obligated to do so. But if I’d heard now that Itoi had written a new story, I’d definitely rethink whether it was a good idea or not to make it in 3D. Our MOTHER 3 production method has probably just been to devote a ton of energy to every single part of the game, but now it’s causing a lot of trouble for us. If we don’t pick and choose where to devote our energy, we can’t complete a fresh new product in a short amount of time. The original theme we were going for was a major-league MOTHER product set free from any restrictions. Our defining concept was to make something without any boundaries.
Itoi: Like we were invincible.
Iwata: The hardware for the N64 was like a dream come true with all the new possibilities it opened up—it wasn’t immune to limits, though. There was still only so much we could do. When Miyamoto and all of us try to overcome those limitations, it may look like we’re gracefully swimming across the water, but underneath the surface we’re desperately paddling for our lives.
Itoi: We don’t look graceful! (laughs)
Iwata: It may not seem that way to those of us who know what’s happening on the inside, but it looks graceful to those who only see the final product. All they think is, “Wow!” Even though we’re flapping like wild fish underneath.
Miyamoto: You could say the staff had us in a choke-hold.
Iwata: More than half of our production time is spent on the uncreative parts of the game as we struggle within all the hardware constraints to make the game handle well—not look showy. But the fact that this is a product that Itoi and I are collaborating on creates some kind of enormous, inscrutable, vague power that makes us start it on the premise of creating something without anything holding us back. We should have known better halfway through, but once we get moving, we can’t get ourselves to tone it down, because it turns into an obligation to throw away things that we’ve made up to that point. If we’d toned it down two years ago, we’d have had two years’ worth to go back over, so the game would probably be out by now. But to throw away parts while the thing’s in motion takes tremendous courage that we didn’t have. We were in a role that required us to do that, though.
Miyamoto: The whole reason for making the game was simply because MOTHER 2 sold well, and that it seemed only natural for Nintendo to make a MOTHER 3. We had a team to work on it, so we figured, let’s go for it. It was a commercial decision. I wasn’t above that level about it. On the other hand, it was the same as what I told Itoi when he wanted to make MOTHER 1: You can do it if you work on it full-time.
Itoi: Yeah, that one time you made me cry.
Iwata: You should probably explain that.
Itoi: I was visiting Nintendo for some other work around the time I was interesting in making MOTHER. I figured as long as I was there, I’d show them my idea for this interesting game I wanted to make, and I brought a project proposal. And even though I was there on a different assignment, I was able to meet with Miyamoto and asked him what he thought. He said it looked good, but that didn’t mean I could pull it off. At the time, I had no idea the project proposal stage wasn’t the part that impressed anyone in the gaming industry. There are a lot of people who present their proposals to game production companies, and I was no different.
Iwata: Aside from your fame.
Itoi: No matter how amazing an idea seems, it’s meaningless if someone isn’t able to make it. And Miyamoto told me that flat out. I was in the advertising industry, so I was used to starting with a concept, forming an idea, and finishing it once I had a sense of completion. There’d be a cameraman, a designer, a model, a scene, and a filming style. We always had at least a certain point we could get to, even if it wasn’t all the way. But with games, a plan to create something is worth nothing if it’s impossible to pull off.
Miyamoto calmly and gently explained that to me, but I was overcome with a sense of powerlessness. I was really convinced I had something incredible, but once I realized it was going to require an actual ability to bring it to fruition, I felt a deep loneliness as if I was turning back at the base of this incredibly enormous mountain. I cried in the bullet train on the way home. I didn’t mean to, but it just came out. And I realized what it felt like to be completely helpless.
Miyamoto had hit the nail on the head. What we decided to do afterwards was to put together a team, and if we were compatible, we’d be able to bring the idea to fruition. I had a team assigned for me, and that’s when the production finally started. To make a long story short, it revolved around making MOTHER as a modern day role-playing game. The reason no one was making any modern-day RPGs was because it’s a huge pain. There are no magical powers in our modern world, and you can’t give everyone weapons. We couldn’t just have children shooting off pistols. So there are a ton of detailed limitations.
I wrote the project proposal on the basis of how great it would be to overcome those obstacles and successfully make a modern-day RPG. And sure enough, it turned out really interesting. But while we were still working on it, the team was in Ichikawa in Chiba, so it was a cycle of my driving to Ichikawa in the middle of the night, then heading back to Tokyo in the morning. I found it really exhausting, but at the same time I wanted it more and more. We made MOTHER 2 with a different team, and as I said earlier, it was all about to capsize when we met Iwata and the day was saved. I figured MOTHER 3 was going to be fine because we had struggled so much with 1 and 2. But MOTHER 3 ended up being the least okay.
Miyamoto: I personally can’t believe I said something so rude to a professional from another industry. But the next time we met, I brought a super thick packet of development texts from a text adventure game and showed it to Itoi. He’s always been very interested in games and has a great understanding of them, so it was very proactive of him to work with someone from another genre. Around the time the game started coming to light, it was a period in time when major advertisement agencies would shovel an ad into the arms of celebrities and declare tens of thousands of products as good as sold. Lots of businesses were doling out cash for celebrity names.
I felt Nintendo needed to avoid that approach, so if I were to work on it with Itoi, I intended to make him write everything himself. So I showed him the giant mountain of papers. I was telling him he’d need to put in the work and write it all himself.
I, too, was often misunderstood in the game industry. People assumed that all I had do to sell a game was put my name on it. But I would work on things myself, and everything I’ve ever accomplished is because of all the blood, sweat and tears I’ve poured into my work. There’s no use going through so much pain and struggling if all it takes is stopping by and smiling a bit. So the true value of Itoi’s game was going to lie in the blood, sweat and tears he would pour into to the game.
But Itoi still had his full-time job, and game production isn’t something you can do on the side. But Itoi seemed dead serious about it and offered to lighten his copywriting load, so I put together a team for him in Tokyo. He’d mentioned at some point that he liked work atmospheres that felt like an after school club, like a group of volunteers working from someone’s apartment. So we started from there.
Makoto Tezuka, who I mentioned earlier, used his father’s property—Kimba the White Lion—to bring things together across several genres. And with Itoi, we said that we’d call it quits if he couldn’t give us the time—since we trusted that he would, we okayed the project. There was all kinds of criticism about it, though. Some people accused us of wagging our tails at celebrities, others questioned whether a copywriter could do such a thing. But none of that had anything to do with it—I had Itoi make the game because I was confident in him. And that’s how it was for both MOTHER and MOTHER 2.
MOTHER 3, though, also served as a product strategy. Itoi had already made “Itoi Shigesato #1 Bass Fishing Definitive Edition,” he had new dreams in mind, and probably knew that he couldn’t throw pitches with a 100% success rate. So Itoi brought the outline, I brought the team, and the team would create the game. I was the acting producer for other things in the company, though, so I’d come by and I wouldn’t know where things were at—I don’t think that was an effective way to work.
So if I were to take on the project as it stands now, I don’t think it’d be possible without training a group of Itoi doppelgangers to take on Itoi’s outlines. So just as Iwata said, we don’t know if 3D is the way to go, or if a novelization or a movie would be better. We’ll have to think it over.
Itoi: There was a huge increase of complicated things I didn’t understand. When we ride an elevator, we know how it works, but we don’t listen to a mini-disc player and know how that works. In the same way, a game’s production site quickly turns into a black box for me, so I expect too much of it and get frustrated when things don’t move forward the way I thought they would. I already experienced that with MOTHER 2. I realized I couldn’t be the producer for it, but I still stayed glued to the project and handed that black box over to someone who knew how to solve its problems since I knew it was over my head. And Iwata agreed to do it since he wasn’t aware of the fate that lay ahead of him. There isn’t a single person who can see inside the whole black box and examine it.
Miyamoto: Successfully making something into a completed product doesn’t have to be another MOTHER—it can be a little more slipshod than that.
Iwata: Looking back on it, I can say, “If only I’d known that MOTHER was jam-packed with things only Itoi could ever come up with…” We didn’t have any ideas how to cut it up into parts and make it all the best we could before bringing it all back together—we were really caught up in it.
Miyamoto: I think we probably should have listened to what people had to say when they claimed MOTHER was better than MOTHER 2 (laughs).
Itoi: Nooo (laughs). Even if we did, no one could say anything after playing Mario 64 (laughs).
Iwata: Yeah. Everyone honestly felt like every game from now on was going to be like that, so it had a huge effect on the gaming world.
Itoi: Yeah (laughs).
Miyamoto: Well a lot of people thought games were going to become movies, and we were right to disagree, but at the same time, we were wrong. It would have been better to say they’d become Game Boys.
Itoi: We tried to make something that was like a big cheap dining hall offering food that tasted like it was from a specialty shop—a restaurant so huge you couldn’t even see the other side from where you stood, but every single dish still tastes like it’s from a restaurant specializing in it. And we tried to make a restaurant with the most delicious soba. Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has a narrower focus, and we’re satisfied if people who love good food come and say how good it is. Like we start from that narrowness.
If people don’t have any control over how far they’ll let their dreams go, they’ll turn out like us (laughs). We did feel like other people were already capable. Square had its own formula. Dragon Quest came out late, too, which was extremely reassuring for us (laughs). Dragon Quest is commercialized now, though. It was only natural for us to want to make something better than Dragon Quest, but it’s not good to think like that. They’re two different things.
Anyway, we were really excited when we came up with the battle system. It was based on using music as a fighting tool. What’s the name of that one guitar that anyone can play without lessons?
Iwata: The Jaminator.
Itoi: That’s it. There’s a Jaminator worked into the battle, basically. So if you get a good grasp of the rhythm and perform the music well, you fight much more effectively. It was really interesting. So even if it’s only in some parts of the game, there you go, you’ve got a Jaminator.
— That certainly is a specialty shop.
Itoi: It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Not that we were doing the impossible, but we would need all the time in the world to finish it (laughs). So, frankly speaking, not once did we say before today, “Let’s do away with MOTHER 3.” We can’t even say that now. We’re not sure.
— Yeah. I haven’t seen you utterly discouraged about it, so I wasn’t sure how you felt about it.
Itoi: I’m not happy, and I’m not disappointed. I feel exactly the same as when I lost my father. As the eldest son, I was responsible for the funeral, but it was all so normal, aside from the fact it was the middle of winter. I just cried as much as people who were really distant from him. The funeral finished, New Year’s came, I went back to my hometown and was watching TV while sitting at the kotatsu and I realized with a start that my father wasn’t there. In the same way, I feel bad for my staff “children”, because they seemed unbearably curious about how I felt about it all. Part of them seemed angry about it, like they were just begging me to say something, anything. But I was honestly just blank about it. So I’m able to discuss what caused us to fail from a distanced perspective, but when asked about my personal feelings, I could only say something in shock or resentment if there was some huge downfall like losing our funding or some other shocking reason. But, I don’t know how to put this—it’s like I can see every viewpoint. So there’s nothing I can do about it. I was wondering earlier whether I’d be able to talk about my feelings at some point in the conversation, but sure enough, I can’t think of anything. I can only say that it’s disappointing—that sense of unfinished business. And the way my mind works is by thinking of the next step. Since I haven’t been able to come up with anything yet, I wouldn’t think “This means I’ve lost,” I’d think, “Now that I’ve lost, what do I do?” And it’s not easy to answer “What do I do?” because the game has gotten so enormous. I’m truly at a blank.
So I’m very sorry for everyone who’s been waiting for it, but for now the MOTHER series goes up to MOTHER 2, and even if there’s a future game with the name “MOTHER 3”, it’s not going to be the MOTHER 3 that it’s been. I think the MOTHER 3 that we finished halfway through is just going to end up as a story that only I and the staff know.
Miyamoto: Even when we were making MOTHER 3, some of the staff questioned whether fans would denounce the installment from the series.
Itoi: Yeah, that’s how much of a departure it was.
Iwata: We even had that intention. We started with an idea to betray the players’ expectations of what the MOTHER series was like.
Miyamoto: I thought that was an interesting approach. This industry dictates that a series carry on a sense of continuity, with the same mechanisms and a story that sticks to the flow of the game. I figured that staying off that bandwagon was a prerequisite for Itoi’s involvement in the game, and thought it best to let him do as he pleased.
Itoi: But by the end of the game, at least, the player would be well aware of the fact that the game is still part of the MOTHER series.
Iwata: I’m starting to feel more and more sorry for everyone reading this.
Miyamoto: I hope we can get everyone to at least feel like they’ve played MOTHER 3, though (laughs). Maybe a novel is better. Regardless of what that would mean as a business decision.
Itoi: Even if we couldn’t find a publisher and had to release it independently.
Iwata: I thought about it too, but there’s nothing we can do for now. All the team members I can ask for help are busy with other things.
Itoi: There’d have to be a team with dozens of men to work on a game of this size.
Miyamoto: The other day, I was discussing the prospect of releasing it on the Game Boy Advance with Iwata, but another producer really socked it to us. He said it’d take just as much time to create a GBA game as it would an N64 game.
Iwata: Well, I wouldn’t say he socked it to us, but he did say that.
Miyamoto: All the producers did.
Itoi: Like they couldn’t believe you’d said that?
Miyamoto: Not so much that as much as saying, “It’s no easier on the GBA—it’s just as much work.” Everyone understood that really well. They’re so reliable.
Iwata: We weren’t trying to imply that it was going to be any easier on the GBA. We were just saying that if we make the game in the future, we’re going to need to go where the market is, and on a platform that’s going to be an effective outlet for an Itoi script.
Miyamoto: Everyone’s feeling like it’d be a huge waste to start all over again. Like it would take a lot less effort to finish what we’re working with now than it would be to start from scratch and make it for the GBA.
Iwata: They’re probably right. The required skills and the type of staff would change a bit.
Itoi: Would it take something like sixty people working per month?
Miyamoto: Forty people at the peak of it. If there’s a debugging process, over fifty people. Iwata, what are your thoughts on the MOTHER 3 cancellation?
Iwata: I feel genuinely ashamed.
Itoi: But that’s not a thought. It’s too early for us to be able to think anything of it yet.
Iwata: I guess. In the end, I’m the one who made the decision to call it quits, so I feel more of an obligation to have an opinion about it than you would.
Miyamoto: We just really wanted MOTHER 3. The reason we’ve been struggling since last year to something—anything—with it is because we wanted the game so badly.
Itoi: Of course I have a lot guilt. I had players asked me every single day when the game was coming out. I’m sorry. I’ve failed you.
Miyamoto: We may have made our decision to cancel, but I’m still in the boat of trying to figure out what else we can do with it. Someone’s going to get mad at me for being irresponsible and increasing the burden, though (laughs). In the end, somebody’s going to have to do it. I’ve always felt that MOTHER 3 is a game that should exist. But if someone questioned what I did to ensure that, the truth is that I wasn’t able to do anything, and I feel terrible about it. Iwata might feel ashamed because he’s the producer, but I think it was impossible with all the other stuff he had going on.
Itoi: Not to mention being hospitalized once during the project from overwork and stress.
Iwata: I’m sure I’d have something to say if I had a scapegoat. Like Itoi said earlier, if I could say “I hate money,” or blame it on someone who had a particular problem or something, even if I couldn’t reveal what it is I’d at least have something to say—but that’s not the case.
I have no thoughts other than my embarrassment that we couldn’t bring Itoi’s hard work to fruition—that we couldn’t deliver, even though we announced that we were working on the game. I’m embarrassed that we weren’t able to finish it. That’s all.
People who watched from the inside have been kind enough to say it was merely unavoidable, but that doesn’t make me feel any less embarrassed, even if there is nothing more to the story. If we’d correctly analyzed the situation during production, focused on the most important parts of the game and rebuilt it even if it meant throwing away what we’d already worked on, then I think we’d still stand a chance to complete the game in one form or another.
But we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw away all that we’d made, all that we’d built up. We hadn’t even fathomed the idea of it. We can only discuss doing that in hindsight now. If we told our colleagues now, oh, if only we’d done such and such two years ago, everyone would nod in agreement. If we’d gone back in time two years and said everything’ll fall apart the way it is so throw it away and start over, I don’t think anyone would believe us.
So even if we can see it now, there was a process to things, and this is how things turned out after we couldn’t grasp that process in a certain time frame. I think that’s the explanation I have for our defeat.
Miyamoto: It’s because you can’t see it from the inside. Spring last year I said “At this rate, we’ll never finish it this year,” but the people involved on site only realized that come fall. That’s how much they don’t get it—they’re working on it with the conviction that they can do it.
Itoi: It’s impossible to create something without conviction it can be done. You can’t run a marathon without a finish line, can you? If you start feeling like there’s no goal, you get exhausted. Even if some in the group can’t see it, if a person says, “There’s the finish line, keep running!” then people are going to have it in them to run.
Miyamoto: This might be a tough question for you, Itoi, but between all three MOTHER games, which one did you most want to create? Which one gave you the strongest desire to create a game that made players happy?
Itoi: I’d say it’s the first one. The second one I felt more capable and filled it in with what I wanted personally. The third one, I just wanted to go nuts with it. So my motives were different for each game, but the first one really had the most motive to it.
The third game started on the basis of my thought during MOTHER 2 that I wasn’t suited for the role of producer. I wanted to see how well I could do as a script-writer and join the team as just another member. So it’s not grandstanding, but I wrote a script that was like an attempt to go beyond defensive positioning and reach out my glove.
It was all my own, so others couldn’t interfere, but on the other hand I really packed the scenario full so that if anyone saw it, they’d be able to tell what kind of world I was trying to portray. So if there were to be something I reflect on, it’s packing it so full. But you know, I was probably the happiest I’ve ever been, living that dream of creating such a huge universe.
Miyamoto: Like it was surpassing just a game?
Itoi: Yeah. I don’t know if I could call it that, but it felt like I could go really far.
Miyamoto: It was right at the time when games were starting to reach parity for the first time with movies in terms of quality. When we first started working on MOTHER 3, Super Donkey Kong had come out, and cut scenes began making their way into games. Up until then, the gap between, say, Final Fantasy VI and movies was huge.
Iwata: The time when that gap seemed to fill so suddenly.
Miyamoto: Game quality was at a point when it caught up with top-tier entertainment, with visuals that had come so far that all we had left was coming up with new ideas for us to express. It was like we gained incredible calvarymen to make an unstoppable army.
Itoi: It sure did feel that way.
Miyamoto: We came in right during that time period. I think we got distracted by the prospect of building up that powerful army and lost sight of how we were going to form our battle strategies. So, Itoi, if you more clearly define your personal role in MOTHER 3, we can get a good idea of what shape MOTHER 3 should take next—or even skip MOTHER 3 and look at what the next step should be. I’d actually like to ask you about that.
Itoi: I think I need more time to think that over.
Miyamoto: Watching from the side, I got the feeling the staff is a mixture of some people who want to follow your instructions, and others who want to take what you’ve created and finish it up. Last year a lot of people were under the impression that they needed your agreement before doing anything, but I figured your position in MOTHER 3 was a little below that. I thought it was being treated as something you’d given birth to in the past, but people are still so passionate about it, which is why I’ve been asking if there’s a different path of development for it.
Itoi: When it comes to companies that work as an organization that steers a group around, I can’t stand managerial roles. I had to take a role kind of like that in MOTHER 2, so not only was I responsible for encouraging people, I had to yell at them and flatter them like some kind of preident of a mid-sized business firm. I worried about things that I couldn’t even begin to understand. I thought that was going to harm our initial creative process during game creation, until Iwata stepped in, offered to take over, and saved me from that role.
Anyway, with MOTHER 3, I stepped aside and entered the viewpoint of the customer so I could give serious thought to what I’d personally enjoy the most when playing an RPG. It’s fun to have different sets of music and never know what’s going to happen next, instead of being submerged in the same world the entire time. I wanted to give that to the player as a present. I wanted to make the game as a man with two roles: a player playing the game and a man setting the traps for the player. Then I’d get into the game and my trap-setting self would start trying to get a reaction from my player self. Making the game that way was extremely fun.
I’ve always felt like I could only ever do that with words. A classic example is the bat from MOTHER, which gets stronger as you go from the “Broken Bat,” to the “Normal Bat,” to the “Good Bat.” It costs virtually no memory or programming to do that. But this time, I realized there was a way to portray those aspects in a really huge way. We could draw out the really touching scenes. I figured that if we could do such amazing things with the world in the game, we should put that together with the script to beef it up. People were naturally going to be confused and find it difficult, but I felt they’d have the answers for me. But it didn’t end up being that easy, and the black boxes only grew.
Miyamoto: That’s definitely the viewpoint of the player.
Itoi: Yes, I’d taken a player viewpoint.
Miyamoto: It’s almost like ours (laughs).
Itoi: Well, I mean, I was making the game as someone holding the controller in his hands and desparate to be surprised. It’s the same way when I’m creating advertisements.
Miyamoto: MOTHER 3 was relatively geared toward the player. With MOTHER 2, especially during the second half, did you leave certain parts to the player as a way to clarify what wasn’t your job?
Itoi: It wasn’t like that. Rather than have things cut and dry, I believed there were parts that were soundless, made only of what the player was feeling inside. I’d tried some new things with MOTHER 2. It seemed like things that I shouldn’t have been doing, but I’m glad I did, and this time I hoped to do even more of that.
Iwata: I may regret the things I’m embarrassed about, but I feel no regret for cancelling the game. If I did, it’d be about the way we used our time, but I feel confident that my decision to cancel the game was correct.
Miyamoto: We knew it was impossible to cram together so much stuff, but we did it anyway, and just saved what we could do. Mind you, we saved the parts we were capable of, not the parts that we were supposed to leave in. So when I played it, it wasn’t like it was unfinished but incredible. I was just overcome with all the details catching my eye that I knew we’d need to fix. I saw how painfully close we’d gotten—we weren’t quite there yet, but I couldn’t figure out what was still missing. We can’t just work on it with such a vague analysis (laughs).
Itoi: Not at all.
Miyamoto: So I’ll always be stuck feeling how utterly close we were. If making games means a lot to you, Itoi, it’d be interesting to see you connect it with Hobonichi or something you’re familiar with rather than challenging yourself to work on something brand new.
Itoi: That’s true.
Iwata: It’d be best if it was an extension of what you make on a daily basis anyway, but since it needs variety, your approach would really only come across in spurts.
Miyamoto: There are boundaries we’re talking about here, and there are always standards, no matter whether you talk from the side of the boundary being emphasized, or flip 180 degrees and talk from the other side of it. I think you’d convey anything passionately as long as you’re connected with yourself, Itoi, but I get the feeling the most passionate part of you is slowly drifting away from your interest in MOTHER 3.
Itoi: It turned into a job of just partitioning my time.
Iwata: Only turning on your brain when MOTHER-related visitors would come…
Miyamoto: That’s what it turned into after slaving over it for six years.
Iwata: The fact that we spent six years on it was the worst part.
Itoi: But some things can’t be solved methodically. In the end, trying to solve them by suggesting certain methods is like saying, to put it excessively, “What would it take to move a soul?”
Miyamoto: The same goes for me (laughs). I’ve never been 100% involved in something Itoi’s made. If I were 100% involved, I think there wouldn’t be any point in him doing it, because we’d be reworking the thing around my boundaries, not his.
Iwata: Yeah, it’d get covered up. During MOTHER 2, I was able to work without feeling like I was covering anything up because I considered how to implement what Itoi wanted.
Miyamoto: Itoi, what do you feel MOTHER 3 is as a product, as opposed to, say, Zelda?
Itoi: I wanted to make something Nintendo couldn’t.
Iwata: We talked about making something that Miyamoto probably wouldn’t.
Miyamoto: What’s that supposed to mean?
Itoi: Tossing in a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make any sense, I guess. I don’t exactly know how to explain it in words.
Miyamoto: I think you got part of it down. You’ve got that way of pulling things out into the open.
Iwata: I think there were more elements to it than usual, but we were a long way from perfecting the recipe to blend them well. I felt it was going to take over a year to polish.
Miyamoto: I was surprised when I played the first half of MOTHER 3 the other day. I saw things I wouldn’t have done myself. Since I saw the material already completed, I wondered if I could handle coordinating something like that (laughs). It was what I’d be least likely to do, and it surprised me as a player, so I couldn’t tell if I’d be able to act as a producer that could amplify that surprise. I knew that there’d be no point if I covered things up. I was most distanced from the project this time, and was increasingly distant from MOTHER 1 to 2 to 3, so I didn’t think I could be properly involved in it.
Itoi: It happens. Look at Hollywood. They take avant-garde filmmakers and immediately throw them into directing roles in major motion pictures. David Lynch is the one who made Eraser Head.
Miyamoto: Maybe people in entertainment eventually regroup?
Itoi: Cutting open a field with one hand to let things roam free when they’re not the type that Nintendo would home-grow and keeping the reins in your other hand seems like your approach to working with overseas staff, but it seems necessary to use even more of that transfusion-approach.
I’m sure the sight of a player sitting in front of a TV with a controller is changing over time—it was once a normal daily thing and that’s no longer the case. Just as more people nowadays feel as if they’d properly seen a movie by renting it instead of going to the theater, there are increasingly less people who grab a controller, put in a game that they bought, and are ready to spend time playing it. So what are games going to become? If we think of what it means to play in front of an interactive screen, there are definitely hints beyond the context we’ve had up until now. I intended on making MOTHER 3 the last game that would involve someone just sitting down to play.
Iwata: You did, after all, write the script before the world would change so much, so there’s this style that clearly says, “I won’t be able to make it like this again.” It’s just that the Nintendo brand has more games with the creators’ personalities reflected in them.
Itoi: I’ve only ready about the decisions Miyamoto made during his production of “Majora’s Mask” in interviews, but I was struck to see decisions that could only be made by someone who had experience. Saying something like “We’ve already got the materials, so let’s make an adventure of it in three days” is nothing short of an adventure. I felt like taking things to that level would only have substance after having experience. In our case, we didn’t have enough experience to do that.
Iwata: No. So Miyamoto went on an adventure he could understand, and we went off on an actual adventure (laughs).
Itoi: We couldn’t understand a thing (laughs).
Miyamoto: My motto is, “The work hours are going up, so lessen the work.”
Iwata: Yeah, during the genesis of the Famicom I had experienced making a game in two months, with one year seeing several completed games. But there were people in MOTHER’s production team who’d been in the company for four years and had yet to complete a single game. I feel really sorry for those people, but the difference is enormous, and it’s serious. When you complete your first game, you finally get to play catch with the players. So lessening the workload is extremely important.
Itoi: If that were true, it’d be nice if we could get a hint from this discussion to allow us a glimpse at things ahead. One thing is, I know there are tons of people who were looking forward to the game, so I want to apologize to them. The bottom line is, I can only say that being in our position of creating the game would give them a taste of the same struggles we went through, but regardless, I’m sorry.
Everyone is a sender of something, so people in future generations are going to find themselves simultaneously coming across creative works as a receiver. I use this as an example a lot, but a man who runs a ramen shop is a sender of a media called ramen. But when that man goes to an appliance store to buy a refrigerator, he is the receiver.
Senders and receivers are only people who come and go, so lax things are okay, incomplete things are okay, when it comes to fine-tuned things the people who understand will understand, and people will no longer just flippantly say “Hey, I’m just the consumer.” The structure of games is supported by young consumers and people who are close to the creators.
In that sense, the fact that we’re sitting here having a discussion is going to be interesting to people now, ironically enough. They want us to talk more about things we weren’t able to before. So I apologize for one, and for another, this kind of thing is possible—it all stems from the same problems. We moved a large group of people through expanding time and financial costs in the production site. This will be more interesting to people who honestly understand that in this world, there is frustration in asking questions, there are failures, and there are setbacks. I don’t want people to think I’m being defiant by saying that. It’s on the premise of my apologizing.
Miyamoto: Over the past year we’ve been figuring out whether to apologize forever about it, or do something about it without apologizing. We can’t show that on the outside, of course. We were working on it because we believed it’d be released. Last week, my kid was on summer break and asked me if MOTHER 3 was coming out. I asked why and he said, “Well, if it’s not coming out, I’m gonna buy something else.”
Itoi: Your kid said that?
Itoi: Oh my gosh! Apologize!
Miyamoto: He contemplated buying Mario Tennis, but I couldn’t say the game wasn’t coming out yet, so I just said, “MOTHER 3 will probably be out.” (laughs) He played MOTHER 2 in third or fourth grade in elementary school.
Iwata: It’s really nostalgic, then.
Itoi: I’d love to make a game that becomes a deep memory like that. The author Hiromi Kawakami said she’s played it about eighty times. I love her writing style, so I was super happy when she told me that. MOTHER 3 hadn’t been cancelled yet when we met, so I told her I’d do my best.
Miyamoto: We thought about at least letting the players at the upcoming game show play what we had finished, but were told we couldn’t do that.
Itoi: Yeah. If they could only just play the introduction…
Iwata: We could get people to understand a little bit, but we wouldn’t get your message across—they wouldn’t know what you’d been trying to do with it.
Miyamoto: When things start getting tough, the normal thing to do is either cut it off or trim it down. We did our best to get from twelve chapters down to nine.
Iwata: It was seven. Well, I say seven, but technically speaking there were nine total. I figured the team would be spared a little energy if dealing with a lower number, so I called it seven.
Miyamoto: What would you say is the number of people on the team and the number of months we’ve spent on the project total?
Iwata: We’ve had so many do-overs and things thrown out along the way that it’s too hard to put it into numbers.
Miyamoto: There are people who’ve been drawing the art for us for over three years now. Programs are so unfair. If the game isn’t completed, the program is meaningless. But the music and the art have value on their own. The programming is just a loss.
Iwata: I don’t see it as a loss at all. It pours life into the game—it makes a game a game.
Miyamoto: If we were to do it over again we’d have to start from scratch, wouldn’t we?
Itoi: Well, even if we work on it again I have no intention of turning it into something so big again. It’d be a vignette.
Miyamoto: Even so, it’d take a lot of work.
Itoi: I’m wondering, Miyamoto, if games nowadays are going to have teams working on them that are smaller and don’t spend as much time on the game as we did for MOTHER 3.
Miyamoto: You bet. We can’t make any games, otherwise.
Iwata: There’s this really strange common sense now that says it takes a huge team of people working with a large scale and a lot of time to create a good game. A good game is supposed to be based on a good idea that’s very fun, even if it’s small. That notion disappeared somewhere along the way, and it’s turned into a battle of who can spend the most time and utilize the most manpower. You could even say that Nintendo needs to take a stand against this.
Miyamoto: You can make a game with ten people. If it’s not something like Legend of Zelda, anyway. Even Tekken was difficult because it had over twenty characters in the game, when all it really needed was five. That shouldn’t take more then a ten-man team. I think there are a lot of games like that. If you want to make a game that catches people off guard, all you need is maybe three people. If we look at what it means for people nowadays to have a game console in their home as part of the furniture, we should make it easy to use, even if it is designed to stay where it is. But who knows, maybe having it too easy to use will make it some cheap old thing in their house (laughs). Simple design can better handle more things.
Itoi: Let’s bring our discussion to a close with a few words from each of us.
Iwata: I’m truly sorry to everyone who’s been waiting for the game, and I really feel like we’ve missed an opportunity. So I feel the pain of the missed opportunity and the trouble I’ve caused a lot of people. I’m going to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
Miyamoto: I feel really terrible about it. I, too, wanted to play the game all the way through, so it’s really too bad. It’s a terrible feeling to have everything fall apart when we were so close to the end, but as I always say, there’s only so much energy in the people working on-site, so we need to decide how and where to allocate that. The energy we’re going to preserve now is going to be used on something new, and that not only means a lot for Nintendo, it also means that we’re going to be able to release something using all that energy we got back. Whether that’ll be something to replace MOTHER 3 remains to be seen, but all we can do is tell everyone to sit back and relax while they look forward to it.
Itoi: I think this is probably the last time there will be a failure based on seeing how far craftsmen were able to push themselves. I was a scenario director and a worker this time around, and this may be the last time a failure occurs because someone wasn’t conditioned to handle a large amount of people and a large budget. I’m disappointed in myself, too, and I don’t think we’ll be able to go forward with this until I work on my ability to both bring out the best in every single person working on it and consolidate the power of a large group. I’m going to use what I learned from these mistakes from here on out. I feel really bad about it, but it won’t do any good to mope about it. Whether it’s with Hobonichi or something else, I’m going to play like hell. That’s all I can really say, which I’m also sorry about. I think the sadness is going to hit me a half a year from now.
Thank you for reading.