Monday, September 13, 2010

Of Rusted Bikes and Faceless Dreamers

The other day, I saw a picture of the “Mach Pizza” air freshener you could have received if you guessed the mystery smell on one of the cards in the back of the Earthbound player’s guide, and something dawned on me: Not many people got their hands on one of those. Nobody I knew sent in that card, because none of us wanted to deface our player’s guide. Many of the copies of Earthbound I see on eBay say they have the cards intact, which means the sellers didn’t sent away for it either. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if fewer than 20,000 air fresheners were made, and only a fraction of those are still in existence today.

The more I pondered the situation, the more I stared at the picture of that lonely, forgotten air freshener, the sadder I felt. The more I looked at it, the creepier that little Mach Pizza man looked until I shut down the browser and did something else.

This isn’t the first time something Earthbound related has done this to me. I’ve played Earthbound Zero plenty of times with no problems. But like that Mach Pizza air freshener, things go awry when I start thinking too much. Every once in a while, when I’m playing EBZ at night, and the house is silent as a tomb, strange ideas slither into my subconscious and burst into my waking thoughts.

We were fortunate enough to have gotten our hands on the Earthbound Zero (MOTHER 1) prototype, I’ll think, but what else we don’t know about? How much of my childhood did Nintendo quietly cancel because it wouldn’t have brought in enough of a return on their investment?

Paranoia – the mild kind, not enough to make me stop playing, but enough to make me uneasy – washes over me. “I shouldn’t be playing this. This game… doesn’t exist,” I say.

And yet, it clearly does. It defies logic.

People I’ve never met before – faceless, nameless people – put hundreds of hours of their lives into creating Earthbound Zero for me; for us. Yet they’re nothing but names in the credits. I saw a picture of the game’s translator once. The man’s name was Phil Sandhop. He was smiling. I wonder if he even remembers the day the picture was taken.

Phil Sandhop, 1989
I’m sorry your game never got the release it deserved, Mr. Sandhop. I want you to know you did a great job on it and I really enjoyed it. Tell me, though: Would you have worked on the project as hard as you did if you knew what fate had in store for it?

Everyone else I can’t thank, because I don’t remember their names, I’ve never seen their faces, and they probably don’t speak my language anyway. They are faceless, nameless people who once dreamt of making the English translation of MOTHER 1 great.

When I was about four years old, my mother used to take me for walks through the woods about a quarter mile from my house. At the end was a street that led back to civilization. But right before the intersection, just steps away from the road home, a stream ran next to the street. Inside the stream was a small, rusted bike. The steam flowed over it like it had always been there, like it was some sort of natural debris.

Earthbound Zero, even though it was lovingly crafted, even though it was nurtured and had a chance to mature, never made it out Nintendo’s door. Like that rusty bike in the brook next to the street, it never fulfilled its true purpose. Like the rusty bike, the trees grew around it so it was obscured; no one could see it anymore, and everyone forgot about it. I’ll wager that aside from my mother, I’m the only one who remembers that bike anymore. If a one-in-a-million chance hadn’t brought the English MOTHER 1 prototype to us via emulation, Earthbound Zero might as well have been tossed into the stream next to that bicycle. Even with the way it is now, one can only wonder how many people who otherwise would have loved it missed out on such a wonderful game.

And that, I realize, is why that innocent-looking Mach Pizza air freshener made me feel so sad and creeped out: It never really did what it was made to do. Nobody really had one, and most people who did probably left it in the package or threw it out. While it’s just a piece of scented cardboard, it represents someone’s thoughts and creative actions that were, for the most part, ignored and lost in the stream of time.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pull an ancient bicycle out of a brook.

No comments:

Post a Comment