I spent some time last weekend and created the entry for my game, Subnodule. I’ve received some emails recently asking me about more information concerning its development. The resulting article is a template for how I plan to address each of my games – there are lots of links, music, pictures, and as much recollection about the game’s development as I could dredge up.
The Games link at the top of my pages will take you to the list of games with which I’m credited. There are other game links there you should check out as well.
The Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) is a game well-liked by many, and it has an overall aura of positivity around it. The soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta is amazing and legendary, just read the wonderful review over at Chudah’s Corner.
I can still vividly remember the first time I saw the game. Somehow, I was already excited about it before it was released. Maybe it was because I was waiting for a Zelda-like game on the SNES from Square (that was one of the team’s important design decisions – to make a Zelda-like action RPG), or maybe it was the already great reviews of Final Fantasy 6. Square was a company to watch.
I put the SNES cartridge in, and for the first time, I heard Angel’s Fear. Back then, this caliber of music was rare. The song portended quality and an experience not to be missed. Then, as the opening lines appeared with white swans flying across the screen, I saw the credits begin…… PROGRAMMED BY NASIR.
That stopped me.
For so long, I wondered what had become of my game programming hero, Nasir Gebelli. I didn’t know that he had moved to Japan in 1986 to program the Final Fantasy games, and that he almost single-handedly saved Square from extinction. I didn’t know how many games he made at Square before Final Fantasy I. This was the first evidence I had that he was alive and well and still making games.
Jumping into the game, I immediately noticed the innovative ring menu system. Everything was crisply programmed, Nasir-fast, and the graphics were at the height of SNES quality. They would be bettered in subsequent years by only a few games, Seiken Densetsu 3, Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger among them. So far, everything was what I had hoped for.
I started playing the game and loved having two players able to co-op. I played until I was distracted by something else. I came back later and played some more, but I didn’t get very far. Years pass.
Eventually, I started playing the game again and made a conscious decision to start at the beginning since it had been a while since my last play. Again, the same thing happened – after a while, I got side-tracked and eventually stopped playing. I even gave it another shot after a few more years had passed with the same result.
Why wasn’t I able to finish this game?
I had to think about this for a bit. It most definitely wasn’t the music, because that part was great. The ring menu wasn’t laborious either. So, no user interface issues for me. I did have some difficulty getting through the castle, because the werewolves moved very quickly and dealt harsh damage. But, the final time I played, I did get past that part.
No, I finally figured that the game just wasn’t that engaging. It didn’t feel cohesive; it didn’t flow like a game of high quality does. High quality design never has the player wondering what they should do next – they should already know the next step. They should not wander aimlessly in the world with everything inactive except the one object they need to click on. The reason the game felt this way, I suspect, was because the game was originally developed for a Super Nintendo CD system that Sony was developing for Nintendo. When the deal went south and Nintendo decided not to release a CD add-on for the SNES, Square had to make the game fit on a cartridge. So, they cut and cut and cut the game down: story, maps, dialogue, everything. The game had to fit and fast. The deadline was approaching.
Anyone in game development can tell you that this is a recipe for disaster. The end of development is so crucial to the finished game becoming itself, taking on its ultimate personality, that shipping it before it’s a cohesive experience is basically throwing years of effort and money into a fiery pit.
It was also likely affected by the English translation that Ted Woolsey had to do in record time that, due to a fixed-width font, greatly limited the words he could put on-screen and kept a great story from English-speaking audiences.
Compounded with this scenario was another wrinkle in the plans. Nasir Gebelli’s work visa had run out, and he had to leave Japan. Square moved Nasir and the entire development team to Sacramento, California, Nasir’s home, and Secret of Mana’s development was wrapped up in the United States. I’ll say that again.
Secret of Mana’s development was completed in the United States, in Sacramento, California.
Learning this final chapter in the development history of Secret of Mana was a revelation to me. The Seiken Densetsu series had always been a very Japanese set of games. I hadn’t considered they could be anything but. Yet, to learn that the lead programmer was a legendary Apple II game programming Iranian and the game was finished in Sacramento, California boggled my mind. Considering the ride this game took in development and how it plays, it all makes sense.
Secret of Mana retains a positive aura with the caveat that the experience can be messy to navigate (just focus on getting past the first 30% of the game) but may be worth the time invested if only to say you actually finished the game.
Upcoming – “A Second Look” is a new series of posts that offers perspectives on a range of media which has, for one reason or another, caused me to take a second look. Expect a variety of topics to be covered. My second look might be because the game illustrates top form in some way. It could be something that perplexed me. It might be a musician that I find myself going back to again and again.
I hope you enjoy it.
As a follow-up to my previous post about Stormwind’s texture misalignment, well, even after Patch 3.3′s release it is STILL misaligned where everyone entering Stormwind can see it.
But, if you’re flying in or out of Stormwind, you can see the carefully aligned texturing on the top of the wooden beams that was completely neglected on the bottom side.
Please. Just fix it.
I listen to game music. A lot. This is a recent trend circa 1995 with Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo. Well, it’s even earlier if you count the one time I finished Karateka in 1985 and let the music at the end of the game (scored by Jordan’s Dad, Francis) loop for hours as I recorded it on a tape player. But CD quality audio-wise, Chrono Trigger was the first game that demanded more attention. It was Yasunori Mitsuda’s first game composing job and it was pure magic. I still listen to that soundtrack today, interspersed with the thousands of other game songs I’ve collected.
When you play a game you are experiencing a combination of story/design, interaction and audio. The audio is a very important part of the gaming experience and I always listen to the music and sound effects because it was carefully designed into the game and frames the entire piece. After the game is over and you listen to the music outside the game, if you bother to get the soundtrack, you will remember what was happening during the game as you listen to the songs.
This is what I like about game music: it lets me remember playing the game without me having to actually pull out my SNES and find the cartridge and spend time replaying it. Listening to the full soundtrack lets you remember the whole game, not just one part of it. With a library of thousands of songs, I’m reliving many of the games I’ve played.
I also have a lot of music from games I’ve never played and after listening to them for so long, I feel as if I know the games without having played them. For example, I’ve played Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) and listen to all its music and remember the parts I played and it’s great. I also have the soundtrack to Seiken Densetsu 3, never released in the USA, and the music is similar in a way, but very different. And through the music I get a very good sense of the kind of game that it is.
Remixes take game music to a whole new level. The Zelda, Super Mario, Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger series have some of the most remixed songs. The styles these songs are remixed in vary from 70′s disco to jazz to orchestral to just plain crazy and creative. Best of all, you can get most game remixes for free from OCREMIX.ORG. Remixers have gotten so good at remaking these songs that they also create their own originals and recently have been scoring the soundtracks to new games such as Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD. The industry is waking up to a whole new world of talent – game music remixers. Back in 2005 when I started working on my MMO, I wanted to have remixers as composers for my game. Quinn Fox has already delivered some great stuff.
Illinois Afterglow – Quinn Fox
It’s true, game music doesn’t sound like anything you would hear on the radio or MTV and most people don’t recognize it when they hear it. They think it’s electronic music usually. But it’s not – it’s a special musical form that not only sounds great, but helps you to remember.
I like remembering.