This is part 6 of Wild MOTHER Party – a round table discussion on the MOTHER/EarthBound series of video games with series creator Shigesato Itoi, musician Maximum the Ryokun (of Maximum the Hormone) and Kenny Omega.
You’ll probably want to start with Part 1 if you’re just joining in.
In this installment, Shigesato Itoi has some professional advice for Maximum the Hormone.
Senpai Notices Ryokun
Ryokun: There’s one thing I wanted to ask if I ever got to meet you, Mr. Itoi.
Itoi: What is it?
Ryokun: When you first brought your pitch for MOTHER to Nintendo, I heard they pretty much ripped it to shreds. Is that true?
Itoi: Everyone tells it so dramatically, but truth be told, the whole process was more professional than the stories make it sound. I went in expecting to be showered with praise for my ideas. On my way to Nintendo, I felt like [seminal Japanese rock musician] Eikichi Yazawa, back when he was on top of his game – “I’ll blow ’em away in one hit!”
I knew I was showing them something monumental. So when they looked it over and reacted to my pitch like it was just another proposal – “Oh, is that so? Hmm… If we were to make this design into a game, then…” They were much calmer and more clinical about it than I’d hoped.
Itoi: Which I took to mean I’d failed to delight them at all. I felt talentless and devastated – I cried on the bullet train back home. My hopes were too high going into the pitch meeting. But of course, in the games industry, ideas alone aren’t enough. Knowing how to bring those ideas into reality is just as important as the ideas themselves.
Nowadays I can look back on myself, crying on that train, and smile. But I also think, man, I was so stupid! Still, that was the start of my career as a game developer. So to sum it up, the design for MOTHER got across just fine – the people who approved it were just way too professional about it for my liking. [Everyone laughs.]
Ryokun: When my band plays live, we’ve got our fans right in front of us, so we can see their reactions immediately. But when we put out a CD, there’s no way to know exactly how people react to it. Our fans aren’t the type to go out of their way to give us feedback unless it’s really big.
I can’t stand namesearching myself, and I don’t go looking around the internet and social media for reactions. But if I just sit there and wait for the listeners’ response to come to me, it never comes!
Itoi: Tough nut to crack, huh?
Ryokun: A little while back, Maximum the Hormone put out a book of sheet music for our songs. We didn’t want it to just be another boring old scorebook though, so we made it so that when you first open it up, you’re greeted by the words, “SUDDENLY: A PUBE!” and there’s a single hair that looks like a pubic hair taped to the page.
Ryokun: We had a lot of meetings with our publisher about this. “Which of these artificial hairs is the most pube-y?” “What material can we use that’ll stick to the page well, not break down over time, and not cost too much?” Very serious business conversations. And they stuck those pubes on page one, by hand, book by book. And once all those books – and all those pubes – were on shelves… crickets! No reactions at all! [Everyone laughs.]
Ryokun: We wanted people to shout at us, like, “‘SUDDENLY: A PUBE?!’ Aw man, what the hell?” But again, I didn’t really go digging for reactions online, so everything I saw pretty much ended at “yeah, that was fun.” Which was a bummer after all that work.
Itoi: If I might give you some advice about your Sudden Pube, as a senior creative director…
Ryokun: Oh, please do!
Itoi: Most people don’t want to use the word “pube” like they’d have to to give you the reaction you wanted. In other words, even if they think it’s funny, it’s difficult for them to express it out loud the way you’re hoping. if they would have any reaction, it’d just be the “what the hell?” part. But that wouldn’t be enough to say, so in the end they just default to not having any reaction at all.
Ryokun: Ahh, huh, okay.
Itoi: That’s the problem with the word “pubes.”
Tanaka: Mr. Itoi is taking this very seriously… [Everyone laughs.]
Itoi: Your band’s relationship with its fans seems kind of like a cliff with no bridge leading to it. People who’re good at jumping and climbing can get to your cliff and back. Since there’s no bridge, you can’t cross over to it just by walking; you can’t get into it easily, which is thrilling in its own right. And that’s a selling point that Maximum the Hormone should embrace.
But if that’s all you have, it’s hard to create the empty spaces we’ve talked about. The stimulation is a momentary thing, like a blip on an EKG graph, over in a moment. You want it to be more like an entire mountain.
Itoi: So – and this might be presumptuous of me – I think Hormone could use a “Get Back.”
Ryokun: Get Back?
Itoi: Long story short, the Beatles went through some really hard times as a group, and capped them off with a sudden return to their rock’n’roll roots. At the time it felt like a regression, but in retrospect, those simpler songs were more than enough. Now, I love the songs they recorded around then.
When you strip yourself down to the basics, take away the frills and keep it sensible you have to put your foot down and say, “THIS is what we’re all about,” no matter how upset it makes your fans. That determines whether you can tough it out or not. I feel like if I were Maximum the Hormone’s creative director, I’d take you guys out to dinner and suggest you give that a try.
You’ll have some fans who’ll act like they’re pissed off and disappear for a while, but maybe it’s about time to try something that’d drive those fans away. Maybe I’m overstepping my boundaries a bit here, but I think it might be time for Maximum the Hormone to enter your “Get Back” phase.