This Important Piece of Star Fox History Was Almost Thrown Away

Picture: Nintendo Life/Damien McFerran

star fox may not be one of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises, but it certainly has a passionate following; the first SNES game was groundbreaking in that it leveraged the Super FX chip to create a compelling 3D world, while subsequent titles refined the format and took it in new directions. However, since 2016 Star Fox Zerothe franchise has unfortunately remained dormant.

Even so, anything related to the genesis of Star Fox is likely to attract attention, and we were recently informed that one of the very first development artwork relating to the game was nearly thrown away.

We received an email from someone called Chris Stokes who claimed to have the very first Star Fox cast concept art. “It was a gift from Shigeru Miyamoto to Jez San of Argonaut,” the email continues. “I don’t know if it’s by Miyamoto or Takaya Imamura, because it’s not signed.”

We’ve duly passed on the contact email of San, who founded Argonaut, the UK developer that helped Nintendo create the original Star Fox – the company also designed the aforementioned Super FX chip. San confirmed to Stokes that it was indeed legitimate concept art and had been gifted to him many years ago.

Star Foxq
Image: Chris Stokes

Stokes explains how the art came into his possession:

I’m a Linux system engineer and used to be employed at PKR, a game company owned by Jez San. When I joined the company, my boss was Jeremy Longley, who founded Lost Toys, and who previously worked with Peter Molyneux at Bullfrog. As he was showing me around the first day, there was a pile of boxes in the corner, and in the boxes was the picture. I knew it was from Star Fox and I obviously knew about Jez and Argonaut’s involvement in the game, and with the Super FX chip in the cart. Jeremy told me that the boxes were all Jez’s stuff and that the design was gifted to Jez by Miyamoto, and as far as he knew it was the first concept art for Star Fox.

Fast forward about six years, and PKR was in trouble. Stokes continues:

The company was about to be dissolved. We received a message that everything on the 5th floor (now mostly empty) was going to be thrown in the trash and if anyone wanted something they should go get it. I knew what was there and so I rushed in and basically stole it, or saved it, however you want to look at it. I kept my ownership of this image a secret until I couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to know for sure where it came from and what it was. That’s when I emailed you, still not wanting to tell Jez about it lest he want it back. So I bit the bullet and emailed Jez about it.

I haven’t gotten too much information from him other than he doesn’t mind me having it. He added that “Most likely Eguchi drew this. Check out the Star Fox credits and he’ll be the lead designer.” Takaya Imamura was the game’s lead GFX designer, Eguchi was the director, and Miyamoto was the producer, so it’s unknown who did the drawing.

The only other information I got from Jez was this: “I think Dylan brought it back with him from one of his trips to Japan for me. They also gave me a cartoon sketch of me. I don’t know where we are either.”

“Dylan” is, of course, Dylan Cuthbert, an Argonaut staffer who moved to Nintendo’s Japanese headquarters to work on Star Fox and eventually became a full-time Nintendo employee – he went on to found Q-Games , which would work on Star Fox 64 3D model.

We spoke to Dylan about the art, and he said it was indeed Imamura’s work, even going so far as to show the image to the artist to confirm it:

Imamura said it was one of the first images he drew – he drew several at the time, of course, and Nintendo probably archived them. I think this is the one I looked at when I named Fox, Slippy, and Peppy (Imamura had already named Falco – he wanted an F-Zero style name).

This photo could be originally mine in fact, that’s what I think. It would have been in a box with the other discs and the source code. I looked for someone who might have found a box of stuff like this at Argonaut after I left that had my old records in it – I’m looking for the source code for X.

Unfortunately, when we passed this information on to Stokes, he confirmed that he had only taken the box artwork from PKR, and that the rest had, to his knowledge, been destroyed – meaning the code Source X, an extremely important game in Nintendo history, is sadly lost forever.

Still, at least Stokes was able to save Star Fox’s artwork from destruction – the very first design of Arwing’s team of famed pilots. Cuthbert even kindly offered to have the work signed by Imamura – meaning the question of who created it will never need to be asked again.

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