Shigesato Itoi reveals MOTHER’s original title while reminiscing with Miitomo’s producer
By now I’ve gotten to a place where I can finally read Shigesato Itoi without assuming it’s always going to be about MOTHER, so this caught me very off-guard: In an article posted on Hobonichi today, Itoi sat down with Yoshio Sakamoto to talk about his work as producer for Miitomo. At one point early on the subject turned to Itoi’s first visit to Nintendo, where he revealed MOTHER’s (EarthBound Beginnings) initial working name.
Itoi: Is this the first time we’ve met?
Sakamoto: Actually we met a long time ago. (laughs)
Itoi: Oh! Pardon me. When did we meet?
Sakamoto: So, there’s that game “Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School.”
Itoi: Yeah! (laughs)
Sakamoto: It’s a really old game now [released on the Famicom in 1987], but when we first started production, our president at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, insisted that I ask your advice if I was going to work on it. So we had you come visit the Nintendo office. I was a project manager then.
Itoi: Oh, really!
Sakamoto: Yeah. (laughs) So I asked you for all kinds of advice, and when we were done, you said, “Well, actually…”
Sakamoto: Yes. You showed me the plans for your first game, MOTHER.
Itoi: That’s right. It wasn’t even called MOTHER at that point. My temporary title was ESP1.
Itoi: That was my very first time going to Nintendo. By the way, did you happen to know why Yamauchi told you to call me over?
Sakamoto: No, I don’t.
Itoi: I only heard about it later, but there was a feature about video games on the late-night show “11PM.” It was a time when video games were under a great deal of scrutiny and viewed much more negatively than they are now. I happened to be on that episode, and I was defending video games. I talked about the way college students used to be criticized for reading manga, and how over time manga was given a right to be a part of society. “Games are criticized the same way now,” I said, “but it’s really no different.”
Yamauchi just happened to have seen the episode, and he said [mimicking Yamauchi] “Damn right!”
Sakamoto: You sound just like him. (laughs)
Itoi: So that’s how I came to visit Nintendo, but I see, now—that’s when you and I first met. That really brings me back.
Itoi: Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School was a sort of communication-based game at the time, wasn’t it?
Sakamoto: I suppose that’s one way of putting it. (laughs) [A real phone number appeared in the game, and you could call it to receive hints.)
Itoi: And did we ever meet after that?
Sakamoto: At the MOTHER 2 launch party. I was pretty close to Hirokazu Tanaka and spent a lot of time with him. I was standing with him when you called out, “Hiroka-chaaan!” Your wife was there, too, and I was able to meet her.
Itoi: Ah yes, I remember that day well. (laughs) While we were still working on MOTHER 2, Iwata asked me if he could make a selfish request. I asked what it was. He asked me if I would invite my wife to come to the launch party.
Sakamoto: Ahh. (laughs)
Itoi: She usually doesn’t like to go out for things like that, but it was the first time Iwata ever asked for a favor, so I had her come with.
Sakamoto: So that’s why I was able to meet her! I was a little bit full of myself back then and had kind of dreadlock-looking hair, and she said, very politely, that I had a “strange hairstyle.” That compliment is a treasure I carry with me to this day. (laughs)
I’m really curious to know how this fits into the timeline of Itoi’s first meeting with Miyamoto, who he actually presented the proposal to.