The Mother franchise is 30 years old, so GameCenter CX’s Shinya Arino interviewed Mother creator Shigesato Itoi. When Itoi was asked about why he wanted to make a game with Nintendo, Itoi said that “I owe a lot to Mario. I have asthma, and I start coughing when I lay down. I’ve always had a hard time sleeping, and for a while I had to sit up at all times or else I just couldn’t stop coughing. The only things I could really do while sitting up at night were read a book or play a game. So I’d wake up and grab a controller, and Mario would see me through my asthma at night”. After Arino asked if that made him want to do it, and Itoi said that “it’s more like I felt indebted to Nintendo”. Itoi also explained how he and Nintendo got together 30 years ago. According to Itoi, it had nothing to do with making a game, but “another reason entirely”. You can see his story in full down below.
“The first time I went to Nintendo was actually for another reason entirely. They had a game they were working on and just wanted my input. I hadn’t worked on games, but the president, (Hiroshi) Yamauchi, happened to see me talking about games on a TV show. Games were more unpopular back then. I was defending them on TV, saying something like, ‘Manga used to be taboo — you’d be scorned for having manga as a college student. Video games are in the same position today, and although it sounds a little extreme, I think games will eventually be an even bigger part of our culture than manga.’
People at Nintendo wondered who I was after that, and Yamauchi said he wanted to meet me. They invited me to their office to ask me what I thought of a game, and after that, we chatted for a while. That’s when (Shigeru) Miyamoto came in. We ended up becoming really close — we got along quite well from the start. I told him I actually had an idea of my own, and pulled out some copies of the notes I’d taken, asking him if he thought it would work as a game.
I pictured them jumping up from their chairs, saying, ‘Wow, what an idea! We must try it!’ It was a dream of mine that they’d make a game using that idea, but instead the conversation just kind of stopped at Miyamoto asking me how serious I was about it. Itoi, how involved do you plan on being in it? Being totally involved in a project can be very demanding.” He sounded very solemn.
He probably assumed I wasn’t interested in being involved. Plus the extent to which he warned me ended up being on a totally different level than the extent to which I assumed it would be demanding. …From Miyamoto’s perspective, it’s easy for someone to say they want to make a game. It’s the ‘making’ part that’s incredibly difficult. Just like it’s easy to say, “Some old guy in overalls is gonna jump around and save the princess.”
I knew I wanted to make a game, but when my resolve was questioned, I was very sad about it. I went back to Tokyo totally crushed. I thought Miyamoto and I had hit it off well at first, but then I was like, “What a taskmaster.” (Laughs)
He did say to me, ‘Give me some time to figure this out and see how we can get a team together.’ So he was earnest in making it happen. But from my perspective, since he didn’t say how interesting it looked, I’d assumed that meant he didn’t like it. I’d never made a game before, so I interpreted his response as, ‘Well, it’s not great, but if you’re going to keep insisting on it, I guess I’ll think about whether we should bother putting a team together’. As someone without any experience, it was easy to get paranoid.
He was kind enough to take it seriously. I didn’t know anything, so I just mumbled a thank you and quickly headed home. They gave me a ride in a black car and treated me well, but I just got more and more depressed. I’d been expecting a torrent of praise, but by the time I got on the bullet train back to Tokyo, I was actually in tears.
It turned out that it was all in my head. He put together a team for me. Their internal teams had their hands full, so he went to the trouble of reaching out to a company that would help me make the game. I met up with the development team at a tiny Japanese restaurant so that they could gauge how involved I’d actually be in all the hard work Miyamoto had warned me about, and so we could get to know each other.”