The following is a feature story about the birth of Earthbound Zero. Although most of the quotes here are taken verbatim from text files and web sites, some of them are modified or reconstructed to make the story flow better. This is essentially what Steve Demeter (who's now super famous for his iPhone app Trism) said or wrote, but it is not exact, nor did I actually interview him. The idea was just to write an article in the newspaper style; it didn’t have to be completely true. That being said, all the FACTS within the article, such as names and dates, are correct to the best of my knowledge.
So read on, and learn the story behind this lost classic!
* * *
“I’ve told this story so many times to so many people already, one last time won't hurt,” Demi said. In May of 1989, Nintendo of Japan published a game called MOTHER for the Japanese equivalent to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The quirky game, starring a psychic young boy and his wacky friends, quickly became a bestseller. Nintendo had planned to translate and release the game in the United States in the spring or winter of 1991, but for reasons Nintendo never officially revealed to the public, it was canceled before distribution.
But thankfully for the classic gaming community, things are not always what they seem.
|A screen shot from the NES Earth Bound Prototype|
“This is where the story takes a weird turn,” said Demi. “After a month or so, we finally managed to find out the e-mail address of the guy who bought the prototype cartridge.” However, the new owner, NES collector Kenny Brooks, was reluctant to allow the game to be copied through a process called “dumping,” fearing that the value of the original cartridge would decrease dramatically if it were widely available for download.
“A deal was struck for $400; $200 up front, and another $200 after we finished dumping the game,” explained Demi. After he copied it, the cartridge was to be sent back to Brooks.
In an ironic contrast to the weeks of waiting leading up to it, receiving and copying the prototype went strikingly fast.
“The cash was mailed on 4/22/98, the buyer sent the game on 4/25, and the game was copied, hacked, and released on 4/27,” said Demi. “Once we had the money, things went so fast it made my head spin.” A few minor alterations had to be made to the game’s code to get it working properly on the popular emulators of the time, but thanks to the skilled hacking of several dedicated programmers, it was all completed in a matter of days.
Reactions on the Internet were swift. Earthbound fans jumped at the chance to play the prequel, christened Earthbound Zero by Neo Demiforce to avoid confusion with the English MOTHER 2 translation, and the game quickly appeared on countless web sites for download. News of Earthbound Zero even appeared in several well known video game magazines, including Gamepro and Electronic Gaming Monthly.
“To all of you who helped, just let me say thanks,” said Demi. “Thank you so much for having the guts to invest in something as shaky as this and helping not only the Earthbound series to live on, but also the universal trust of people like us.”