EarthBound Beginnings was designed and directed by famed Japanese copywriter and television personality Shigesato Itoi. The game's original release was named after John Lennon's song "Mother", which moved Itoi so much that he wanted other people to be moved in the same way. Itoi could heavily relate to the song, which dealt with Lennon's experiences growing up without either of his parents; Itoi's own father was absent for much of his life. Because of this, he chose to isolate the role of Ninten's father as simply a voice on a telephone, a role that would be inherited by Ness's father in EarthBound. Itoi also felt that "MOTHER" was a fitting title for the game, as it was noticeably more "feminine" than most RPGs.
A proposal for the game was initially presented to Shigeru Miyamoto, who rejected it due to the commercial failure of other celebrity-produced Famicom games. Itoi was so upset that he cried on the train ride home. However, he later received a callback from Miyamoto, thereby commencing development.
Shigesato Itoi, the game's designer, has said that the last parts of EarthBound Beginnings were not tested for bugs and balance issues due to time constraints. When talking about this at a Mother 1 + 2 promotional event, Itoi humorously stated, "When we got to fine-tuning the difficulty there (Mt. Itoi), I was like, 'Whatever!'"
The game was released in Japan again on June 20, 2003, as part of the Game Boy Advance compilation Mother 1 + 2. Nintendo published Mother 1 + 2 with the intention of advertising the upcoming Mother 3. It retained the censorship of the unreleased translation and other changes, such as the names of towns.
Before the release of the game twenty-five years later, Nintendo of America had originally planned to translate and release Mother in the United States under the title Earth Bound. The localization was completed in 1990, but marketing pushed the release into fall of 1991, and it was eventually canceled. The Localization Producer and English Script Writer for Earth Bound, Phil Sandhop, explained, "Once the Super NES squatted in the pipeline and shoved the game aside from its appointed time, I believe that the marketing execs just decided that the game would be too expensive to produce and unsuccessful without marketing, and that's why it fell into oblivion." However, the project's failure was not in vain. In response to the extensive changes made to MOTHER, Nintendo began making more of their games with an international audience in mind; often, a game would be pre-localized even after its Japanese release before being sent to Nintendo's overseas studios.
In 1998, the fan translation group Demiforce found a beta cartridge of the game on eBay and organized an effort to collect enough money to buy the game. The project was a success, and soon after, the game was dumped into a ROM and circulated around the internet. Due to a glitch with the most accurate emulator of the time, Demiforce hacked the game while also appending "Zero" onto the title to retroactively discern it from its sequel, EarthBound. This hack ran in NESticle, but also triggered a new anti-piracy message at two key points in the game; the game was since further hacked to prevent such issues. Since Demiforce had built its reputation on releasing their English translations out of the blue, some fans debated whether the cartridge had been translated by Nintendo or by Demiforce themselves. However, today it is generally agreed that the cartridge is legitimate, as Mother 1 + 2 and EarthBound Beginnings contain all of the changes found in the beta cartridge.
During 2007, Tomato, better known within the Mother series fan community for his involvement with "The Unofficial Mother 3 Fan Translation", began work on a remake which used the graphics engine of its successor, EarthBound. This made the game's maps complicated to work on, and on August 6, 2008, Tomato said of the development's progress, "I already made most of the necessary tools, and as you can see, I had all of the enemies, the entire script, all the items [...] But the problem is the maps, and without a reliable map editor, it's just not gonna happen." His resources were then designated to providing an alternate translation, which he recently released as part of Mother 1 + 2.
Nearly 26 years after being released in Japan, Mother was released in the United States and Europe as EarthBound Beginnings on June 14, 2015. It is fully translated into English, using the same ROM as the unreleased NES prototype and the Mother 1 + 2 release.
Censorship and Localization
During the localization from the Japanese Mother to the English EarthBound Beginnings, many names and graphics were changed, as well as features added. Shigesato Itoi was heavily involved with this localization and many if not all of the changes were approved by him. Most changes are to reduce the difficulty, adhere to the strict censorship policies that Nintendo of America enforced from 1985 to 1994, and make the game more accessible for English speakers.
- The game's title screen changes the name from MOTHER to EARTH BOUND.
- The opening credits are rewritten to be clearer and more grammatically correct.
- The game's setting is explicitly listed as 1988 in the Famicom version as well as Mother 1+2, but in the NES version, the year is left vague for unknown reasons, simply stating "80 years have passed since then" after explaining George and Maria's story.
- Giygas, whose name was originally rendered in Japanese as 'Gyiyg', is translated as Giegue.
- Several enemies are renamed for censorship purposes (i.e. changing "Devil Truck" to "Psycho Truck").
- The Black Blood gang is renamed to the Bla Bla Gang
- Several of the game's graphics were censored:
- Crows no longer hold cigarettes in their wings.
- B.B. Gang Members no longer smoke cigarettes.
- The B.B. Gang's leader no longer holds a knife, and his left elbow is changed for reasons unknown, likely a sprite error. His skin is also darkened for unknown reasons as well.
- Kelly, Nancy, and Juana's chests are altered to remove the nipple-like reflections on them.
- Gang Zombies and Nasty Zombies have their gunshot wounds replaced with ties.
- Shroudlies no longer drip blood from their hands.
- A small, barely-noticeable bloodstain on Dr. Distorto's coat is removed.
- Crosses on gravestones were replaced with obelisks, crosses in churches were replaced with stain-glass windows, and crosses atop churches and on priests' necks were removed entirely.
- Several overworld characters are redesigned to remove resemblances to the 1950 comic strip Peanuts:
- Carol's hair is straightened somewhat in order to bear less of a resemblance to Sally Brown.
- The girl with glasses has her straight hair tied up in pigtails in order to bear less of a resemblance to Marcy.
- The tramp boy has the dirt around his feet removed in order to bear less of a resemblance to Pigpen.
- The stripe on Ninten's shirt is changed from black to beige, though this change is possibly to better reflect his official model, rather than to differentiate his design from Charlie Brown.
- The map appears as an item in Ninten's basement in the Famicom version. In later versions, the map is now an option in the menu, and the item box that contained it in the Famicom version now contains a loaf of Bread.
- Most of the game's locations are renamed to better suit English-speaking audiences:
- Mother's Day was renamed Podunk.
- Thanksgiving was renamed Merrysville.
- Santa Claus Station was renamed Union Station.
- Halloween was renamed Spookane.
- Easter was renamed Youngtown.
- The Advent Desert was renamed the Yucca Desert.
- Valentine was renamed Ellay.
- Holy Loly Mountain was renamed Mt. Itoi.
- The Time Machine (which, upon buying it, triggers a cutscene that uses it up immediately) was replaced with the more practical Super Bomb.
- In Twinkle Elementary School, one kid asks Ninten in the Famicom version "Have you played Dragon Quest IV? I'm still having trouble with Dragon Quest III." In the NES version, to avoid copyright issues (as the Dragon Quest franchise was the intellectual property of Enix Software, and is still owned by them today as Square Enix), Dragon Quest III and Dragon Quest IV were respectively replaced with Super Mario Bros. 3 and the nonexistent "Super Mario Bros. 7".
- The following glitches were fixed:
- A glitch involving Bread Crumbs commonly used to skip large portions of the game.
- A glitch where the Flea Bag can be used to stall the R7038 and R7038XX fights to the point where the maximum limit of 255 turns is reached, causing the battles to end by default. This glitch can be utilized to avoid losing Teddy or EVE, though doing so would cause some minor graphical glitches.
- Pressing and holding the B button on the overworld causes the game to run twice as fast, effectively functioning as a run feature.
- Several portions of the game's map were altered:
- The Crystal Cavern was simplified.
- The path to Mt. Itoi was simplified (by blocking off the misleading portions of the path).
- The layout of Spookane was altered.
- An extra cavernous path was added at the summit of Mt. Itoi. This path forks between the crater where Giegue's mothership lies, and a room filled with Giegue's prisoners.
- The prison room was initially located lower on the mountain, where EVE can access it. The cavern to this room was completely removed in the NES version.
- PSI powers are learned in a different order.
- When Ninten learns a melody, the background now changes to a set of downward-scrolling black and purple lines.
- The man in Magicant's Magic Fountain changes duties from a healer to an ATM.
- If Ninten incorrectly answers one of the Forgotten Man's questions, the Forgotten Man will simply restart his prompt, instead of warping Ninten to the beginning of Magicant.
- Enemies from the Yucca Desert now appear in the train tunnel between Union Station and Reindeer, likely to discourage players from skipping the Merrysville portion of the game.
- The battle with R7038 has a more optimistic ending: in the Famicom version, R7038 would flee by tearing a hole through space. Lloyd will arrive in the Army Veteran's tank, having hoped to save his friends, and will express his dismay at his inability to assist them. In later versions, Lloyd successfully reaches R7038 in time and destroys him with a shot from the tank. However, Lloyd, not being the best shot in the world, hits his friends as well and doesn't completely destroy R7038, leaving room for the robot's improvement.
- When Teddy lies in bed, recovering from the wounds received from R7038, he is aligned closer to the center of the bed. Due to the Famicom version's ambiguous ending, it is implied that Teddy dies in the 1989 release.
- The rocks blocking Giegue's lair are redesigned.
- The circumstances surrounding the Eighth Melody are heavily altered: in the Famicom version, Ninten and co. are instantly warped to Queen Mary after learning seven of the Eight Melodies. After hearing the parts of the song that the trio learned, Mary sings them back and remembers the eighth one on her own. In later versions, Ninten and co. learn the Eighth Melody from George's spirit, via his gravesite. Ninten and co. must then return to Magicant on their own (possibly done to encourage players to obtain the Onyx Hook earlier on in the game), and must manually reach Queen Mary. They then sing to her the Eight Melodies, which she then recites, remembering only the words.
- The dialogue associated with the Famicom version appears translated in the NES version's ROM, yet goes unused.
- The XX Stone is only cosmetic in the Famicom version. The revisions given to it in later versions effectively make it one of the most drastic changes in the game.
- The ending was heavily revised.
- The Famicom version is more personal when it comes to names; the player is asked for their own name for Ninten's name, their friend's name as Lloyd's name and another friend's name as Teddy's name. When asking for Ana's name, the game uses just "A girl's name". The NES version just uses generic "boy" and "girl" nouns when asking for all names.