Chrono Trigger Resurrection
Interview with Zeenborby Will Trip, October 1 2005
Welcome, Chrono fans. As you know, last month marked the one year anniversary of the closure of Chrono Trigger Resurrection, a project to recreate ten scenes from Chrono Trigger in a new 3D engine. Unfortunately, they were only able to complete a portion of the Zombor battle on Zenan Bridge; the cease & desist letter from Square soon after immediately sparked caustic reactions from Chrono Trigger fans. While many of these knee-jerk eruptions were nonsensical and made without any concept of why corporations protect their copyright, a few inquiries did interestingly point out that Square Enix seems to be ignoring the Chrono series currently. Regardless of the reasons behind the closure, the hype cooled as the team retreated to work on a new project, but the buzz surrounding the incident ensured that the memory of the project would become a permanent fixture of the Chrono community. Until now, we've been left with the tombstone that is the Resurrection website's front page: a word of thanks, a trailer, and a few screenshots. For the first time, the project director has given an interview describing the beginnings of the project, its stride, and ultimate downfall, and his thoughts on the matter. This interview was conducted by Will Trip, a journalism graduate student, and we owe him the honor! Now, let's peer into the whole story of the project.
1. An easy one: How old are you?
I'm currently 23... But I've been professionally making games since 2001 and been doing it in my spare time since 1999.2. How did this project come together? How did you assemble your team?
This project actually started back in 1999 when it was originally in development for Nintendo 64. At the time, I was teaching myself how to program and familiarizing myself with console architecture, as well as the underground Nintendo 64 hacking scene. From late 1999 to mid-2000, I worked on getting something running on the screen and creating an engine framework for the game.
Following a published interview on Gamespot about the project, I received an e-mail from Mat Valente asking if he could help remake the soundtrack to N64 format. Mat, otherwise known as TSSF (The Super Street Fighter), was one of the most talented re-maker's in the videogame music scene -- So I had no problem accepting his gracious offer.
When Mat joined the team, I looked to contract some artists to start creating 3D assets for the game. Unfortunately, I just graduated High School and had no job... This meant cash was hard to get a hold of. I managed to find a 3D artist on IRC in a modeling channel and he started to make a very low polygon version of Crono.
It became apparent that it was increasingly difficult to get assets when I needed them and, due to my relative inexperience with programming, I had difficulty architecting the correct structure for the game. I decided it was best to postpone the project and start training myself more. I started teaching myself how to program on the PlayStation and Dreamcast consoles to diversify my technological understanding.
After many months of training, I caught a break and was hired by a relatively new company (DC Studios) in mid-2001. After a few very educating years at DC, I felt like I needed a new challenge and thought it would be a good idea to start up the project again, in my spare time. I messaged Mat and asked him what he thought of re-creating CT on current generation consoles (GC, PS2, Xbox, etc.). He seemed enthused, so I immediately started looking to contract artists by positing a request for artists on GamaSutra's project page.
While browsing responses from the posting, I found a 3D artist named David Ying that had familiarity with an anime style and was a die-hard Chrono Trigger fan. It was very important to me to have people on the project who loved this game as I did, so David became the 3rd member of the team.
We were finally starting to have a decent amount of assets, but I noticed that it was becoming difficult to dictate the look of the game since I wasn't an artist.
During the later days of August 2003, I was training a new 2D artist (Luis Martins) on how to use tools at work and we started to talk about games. It wasn't long until I asked him, "Do you like SNES RPG's?" After an enthusiastic "yes", I opened up a file of Crono's Room. He immediately asked, "Is that Chrono Trigger??!" We then went on to talk about the project and my ambitions for it. I was very happy that someone of his skill knew of the game and that he could recognize it from nearly a second of looking at it. The next day, I asked him if he would join the project as an Art Director and concept artist.
Almost immediately after having Luis join the team, I started to realize the potential of the project even more than before. He drew up new concepts for the characters and we started to increase the quality of the characters by a 10-fold since we had proper direction.
By mid-2004, we were ready to show something to the outside world of the project and released a small teaser of the main character, Crono. A month later, we released a plethora of screenshots and concepts just before the annual E3. We honestly didn't expect much of a response. Within a week, our web site consumed almost 1 terabyte of bandwidth due to nearly 1 million unique visits. Needless to say, we were shocked.
After the unveiling, we recruited more developers to work on the project... Notably: Michel Cadieux, Moise Breton, Xavier Dang, and Micheal Demirel.
3. Do you feel Square-Enix was justified in their actions? It's a given that they own the intellectual property of Chrono Trigger and were within their rights to stop the project, but do you feel they handled the situation the right way? Was there another way they could have handled it?
I can understand where Square-Enix is coming from. I felt no remorse or hate towards them when I received the Cease and Desist. As for how they handled it, I don't see how they could have handled it any other way. Let's just say that I am grateful that it was just a letter and not a court visit.
4. Were there any initial worries that something like this would occur? Was there any initial contact with Square-Enix? Were they aware of CT:R prior to the Cease and Desist order, and if so what were there thoughts?
I initially wasn't going to release any media to the public until Luis persuaded me that it would be worth showing it people who might appreciate it. Our stance was that the demo and any subsequent media of the project would be viewed as a tribute to the game, much like fan art or music. So in our minds, we didn't think Square was going to stop it since it wasn't commercial.
There was no direct contact with Square-Enix throughout the development of the project until the Cease and Desist. We did notice, however, that there were employees from Square-Enix Japan visiting the web site after the initial media release while looking through our Web logs.
5. What was your initial reaction upon receiving the Cease and Desist order? What was the team's reaction and what steps were taken thereafter?
When I first read the Cease and Desist e-mail, I thought it was a joke. I almost dismissed it until I showed it to Mat Valente, who said it looked legit. I then e-mailed back the lawyer and he told me "This is not a joke."
When I told the team, there were mixed reactions but I think the overall feeling was disappointment. During that time, we were preparing a trailer to release to fans and, needless to say, this had to make us change the ending of the trailer from "Coming Soon" to "Thanks for your support".
After the announcement to the public of the Cease and Desist, we took a few months off and decided to privately finish the project for ourselves. After all, we have spent a good 2 to 3 years on the project and it would feel very painful if we didn't finish it in some respect.
6. Have you or anyone from the team heard from Square-Enix since the Cease and Desist order? Has there been any attempt to contact them?
Of course, we asked the lawyer to send a message to Square-Enix to see a compromise could be made, but it went nowhere. I'm not even sure if it reached anyone.
Ironically, when Luis and I were waiting to see the PlayStation 3 demonstration at this past year's E3, a few Japanese game developers were asking us about the Nintendo booth and I looked at their name tags to see that they were from Square-Enix! Luckily, I had a picture of Chrono Resurrection on my PSP and when I showed it to them they were very enthusiastic. At the end of the discussion, which lasted one hour and ranged from past companies to the current state of the industry, they gave us their business cards.
7. There is a great deal of speculation on the message boards as to why Square-Enix wanted the project shut down ("they felt threatened by the quality of the project" "they may be gearing up for a new Chrono Trigger game"). Any thoughts on the speculation?
I think they were just protecting themselves legally.
8. There are a number of fans on your message board eager to see Chrono Trigger: Resurrection, well... resurrected. What are your thoughts on the fan support (i.e. petitions, letters to Square-Enix, etc.)?
To be honest, the entire team has been overwhelmed by the incredible response to the project. We wish to remain very humble and just say "Thank You" to the fans. All I can hope is that they're looking forward to our next project.
9. There are several other remake projects in the works or up-and-running all over the internet. Any advice you would give these companies?
I say go for it. I personally remade Chrono Trigger to appreciate the original game and to broaden my skills. Yes, there may be legal issues... But they'll just get a Cease and Desist just like our project unless they try to do something stupid like sell it.
10. I read on your message board that the team has an original project in the works. Care to share any details?
All that I can say is that we are thinking up of ideas and we have a current idea that has the potential to be very fresh and maybe even revolutionary if executed correctly.
By the end of this year, we hope to release some more information to the public.
I hope you've enjoyed the interview, and learned a little more about what exactly happened to Chrono Trigger: Resurrection. For those still holding ill sentiments, remember that Square Enix is a corporation, and acts on sound, business decisions. While fanart, fanfiction, and other expressions all infringe on copyright, most of it is tolerated; however, SE may have felt that Resurrection was going too far, and in the best interests of the company, shut them down. While this may seem harsh and indifferent, and while the Chrono series simply may not be part of SE's business plan currently, an entire business cannot be summarily condemned because of their adherence to copyright law. The Chrono series is far from dead; remember this before you type a hateful e-mail to their customer support. All right, stand by for Chrono Symphonic, everyone! It's right around the corner! Until then, ZeaLitY out.
Cease & Desist
The infamous letter is archived at a law site maintained by Stanford students, available here. The legality of the entire situation is also discussed below the letter on that page.
Click to see the studio where Chrono Trigger: Resurrection was produced.
-: Zeenbor begins working on an engine for a 3D Chrono Trigger game for Nintendo 64.
-: Zeenbor is interviewed by Gamespot. The interview still exists, found here.
-: TSSF signs on to redo the music. Some of his recent work can be found here.
-: The project is halted due to inexperience.
-: Zeenbor is hired at DC Studios, where he learns new techniques and information.
-: Chrono Trigger: Resurrection is revived, and new talent joins the project.
-: Chrono Trigger: Resurrection website is launched to much fanfare.
-: Over 1 million people visit the site, some from Square Enix.
-: Costs total $15,000 for hiring the team, buying equipment, and setting up an apartment studio.
-: Just as the new trailer nears release, Zeenbor receives a cease & desist letter.
-: Fans mourn the loss of the project.
-: The team moves on to a new, original work, while some die-hards still laughably threaten to take legal action against Square Enix for the cease & desist letter.
-: Visits to the site number 10,000,000, and downloads of the trailer number 7,000,000.
-: The new game project, which isn't an RPG, is slated for 2006 release.
Probable reason for C&D: The Chrono series most likely doesn't fit into Square Enix's business plan at the moment. Chrono Trigger Resurrection would have caused a huge resurgence in visible popularity, which might have put pressure on the company to continue the series. However, making a new title right now would be difficult, as Masato Kato and Yasunori Mitsuda, the essential Chrono series team members, are working freelance.
How you can help: By far, the best way to encourage the creation of a new Chrono title is to write Square Enix. A sample letter is available here. However, Square Enix in the United States has notified fans that they have little creative influence, and that it would be more helpful to the cause to contact Square Enix headquarters in Japan. However, the Chrono Compendium currently cannot find anyone willing to translate our sample letter to Japanese for fans here to print out and mail. If you can translate a simple letter, please contact me at the site e-mail.