Chrono Cross N64?

It's not what you think. A group of resourceful programmers are creating a N64 Emu version of the game.

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We recently spoke with Nathan Lazar, senior programmer at Resurrection Games, Inc. Mr. Lazar and a group of programmers are developing a Chrono Trigger game for the N64 Emu, CD-Rom, etc. The game, when completed, will be directly available over the Internet. He revealed some intersting details on N64 development and his ambitious Chrono Trigger project.

1. How will you distribute the game?

The binary of the game - the executable to be run on a backup unit or emulator of choice - will be distributed from the Internet. This way, amateur developers and people like yourself can play it on whatever medium you choose (i.e. CD-ROM, ZIP disk, etc.). There will be no cartridge versions since I don't have a cart writer/reader and ROM chips aren't exactly cheap.

2. How many versions are you making?

There will be only one version distributed to the public. Right now the cartridge size is roughly 28 Megabits and this is without most of the sound effects and 3D art - so expect it to rise. If the size exceeds 32 Megabytes, then the only way backup users will be able to play it is with a Doctor 512 Cartridge Emulator (512 stands for 512 Megabits, or 64 Megabytes) or a Nintendo 64 emulator like Nemu 64, which runs it just fine.

3. Assuming the game will be an RPG, how will it be like Chrono Trigger and how will it differ?

Yes, the game is an RPG and is essentially like Chrono Trigger in most aspects. There are two modes in the N64 version.

The first mode will be a highly detailed 2D update of the original SNES game with most environments being either prerendered or high-quality 2D remakes with 3D spell effects and distortions. This mode will run at N64's native resolution of 320 x 240 with sample-point dithering, not pattern dithering, and runs at a constant frame rate of 30 frames per second. Example: Marle is casting Ice 2. On the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), programmers used the add/subtract method to accomplish translucency to make the spell look a lot better. On the Nintendo 64, I make a 3D model of the Ice that is similar to the one on the SNES and add stuff like moving textures, light intensity, distortions, and other effects. The N64 is not capable of doing some of this in hardware, but I have found a method to achieve it in software. This mode is probably the farthest in development, since I am an expert in 2D graphics design. I'd say it is roughly 25 percent done.

The second mode will be the new 3D mode. All environments in the world will be rendered in complete 3D. The perspective will be just like the original Chrono Trigger - from above, much like Final Fantasy - but we might do a view similar to Zelda: TOoT to enhance the feel of actually being in the world. This part of the game is very hard to do since we have only four to five people working at it at various times. A good thing is that all models will have mip-mapping, different texture sets at different distances to improve clarity and performance, and LOD models - Level of Detail like mip-mapping, but with 3D models. You will have a choice to either have the resolution at 320 x 240 (regular resolution) or at 640 x 480 (high resolution). You will need the expansion pack for the high-resolution mode though, since it requires a lot of memory (2 640 x 480 color-frame buffers take a lot of memory).

Another cool thing in the game is that all textures will be on a 1:1 texel/pixel ratio with the polygons. This means that you get maximum detail and clarity. Unfortunately, this technique will only be used on the 320 x 240 (regular-resolution) mode, since it will be very slow in the high-resolution mode. The game, with about 20,000 polygons (fully textured, lighted, etc.) runs - with music - around 25fps. That's faster than Zelda: TooT.

There will also be a gallery similar to Soul Calibur where you accomplish certain tasks (that is, fight a boss, etc.) in the game to earn points to open stuff like original fan artwork and music. Here's an example: Let's say you fight Magus the second time with Frog. If you beat him, you get to open a secret card game in the gallery mode, much like the FFVIII one, where you fight Magus playing cards. You use spells and elemental attacks to defeat him and other characters from the game. This adds a lot of replay value. There are other minigames, but they are still in developmental stages.

4. Who's funding this project?

No one is funding this project. This is just one of my many hobbies.

5. How many people are working on it?

Roughly four people are working on it at different times. I work on practically everything, to be honest, since they have their own lives. The stuff I specialize in is programming (hence the title Senior Programmer), 2D art, 3D art, and even sound. We also have a number of testers with different backup units and emulators who help us find bugs and help with suggestions.

6. What other amateur games have you created?

I have created a number of unreleased demos for N64. I have started on games like Pokemon vs. Final Fantasy: Battle Card Bash, but I didn't finish them because of this project. Other than that, and some simple, lame minigames, this is my first attempt at making a complete game.

7. Why the N64?

As a gamer, I've always been a Nintendo fan, even though I own a PlayStation 2, PlayStation, Dreamcast, and Saturn. So, I guess that was the primary reason when I first started. I was one of the first people to get a N64 when it came out in 1996 - I even have my EB receipt in my wallet - so you could call me a Nintendo freak.

As a developer I chose N64 the platform because: One, it is equipped with a MIPS r4300i. I love anything MIPS, so this was one of my first reasons. Two, filtering. Bilinear filtering is one of my big issues as a programmer. If you overuse it, stuff starts to get blurry and ugly. But if you scale your textures on a 3:1 ratio (texture/polygon), you can get a sharp, but not pixelated effect. Three, display lists. I love these things. They are attribute lists for about anything you render on the N64 (either 2D or 3D). You have complete control over the RDP and RSP (the coprocessors inside the big RCP coprocessor) at any given point and can manipulate stuff in a variety of ways. Four, Z-Buffer. This is one of the big reasons why I chose N64 over PlayStation. In simple terms, this feature lets you not have to worry about sorting out how far and near you want to render stuff on the Z-axis. In PlayStation programming, you have to do something called a WorldOrderTable (which is a pain in the arse) to sort how you want to draw objects on the Z-Axis. Five, it's more challenging than PlayStation programming and Dreamcast programming. As you might of heard before, PlayStation is relatively easier to program than N64. This is mainly because it has better library support and it is easier to render stuff. But no Z-Buffer is bad, in my opinion. Dreamcast is a great system and has all of the N64 features plus more, but I tried out DC for a bit and found it much easier (if you call that a good thing). I prefer N64 though, since I am more accustomed to it.

There are also some disadvantages in developing for the N64. It is not as great to program as some might think. The RDP, one of the processors inside the RCP, on the system has a miniscule texture cache (4K). This means that you have to fit all your textures dimensions under 2,048 (i.e. 32 x 32 = 1024 [OK], 64 x 32 = 2048 [OK], 64 x 64 = 4096 [FAIL]). This is why you might see a lot of blurry N64 games out there. This is also why most programmers, and artists, don't prefer the system. Other than that, I really like the system. The display list system is nice. PlayStation programming is a lot easier than N64 programming, but I like challenges.

8. What does Nintendo think? Square?

Nintendo doesn't know about the project, and it isn't supported by them at all. The development system is GNU based, so it doesn't infringe on any of their copyrights. Square Co. Ltd. doesn't know either, but I don't think that they'll appreciate me using their copyrights. Because of this, I have put a disclaimer on the splash screen saying that Chrono Trigger is their copyright, etc. I really don't think that it will matter, though, since this is not a commercial project and that I'm not making any kind of money off of their hard work.

9. Do you have a web site we can check out?

Currently, the web site is down, but it'll be up and running before the preview demo is released.

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