ZeaLitY 1Up Interview
These are the full Q&As used to create 1Up.com's interview with ZeaLitY about the Chrono Compendium. Check out the final interview here.
- 1 1. How did your community begin? What inspired the creation of your community?
- 2 2. What is it about the Chrono series that attracts people long after its demise?
- 3 3. What are the difficulties in keeping a community alive that’s focused on an ostensibly dead franchise?
- 4 4. How do you keep your community alive and active?
- 5 5. What are some of the biggest projects completed by your community?
- 6 6. Do you have hope for another game in the Chrono franchise? How do you feel news of a new game would affect your community? (i.e., Are you afraid of your community growing too large?)
1. How did your community begin? What inspired the creation of your community?
The Chrono Compendium got started in July 2003, a short time before fan sites yielded ground to Wikias for franchises. It began as a group of Chrono fans discussing the plot at a forum. The Chrono series involves time travel and was chiefly written by Masato Kato, known for his twisty, detailed stories, so there was fertile ground for discussion. We realized we'd created some novel perspectives on the plot and the beginnings of an internal consistency rule-set for time travel, so we sought a permanent site. Ramsus, a fellow fan, set things up and acted as the technical administrator, while I handled the site content. We had a lot of science majors contributing to the discussions (notably GrayLensman), so it was top-shelf and high-quality as far as in-universe analysis goes. Over the next three years, we wrote an encyclopedia using MediaWiki, created an entire set of articles, theory, and mystery pages, and a modification section/forum for hacking Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
The modification section started as a compilation of the older work of Chickenlump, JLukas, and Geiger, who'd been ROM hacking Chrono Trigger for some time prior. In November 2004, Geiger released the editor Temporal Flux, which allowed unprecedented easy editing of Chrono Trigger's locations, events, and dialogue, and now has even more interesting features. This kicked things off in earnest. The Compendium set up a forum devoted to ROM hacking ("Kajar Laboratories") and began centralizing utilities and information like offsets at the site. I also got together with some of the community's best minds and created a long-term ROM hacking project called Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes. We knew that many, many modification communities never get off the ground because everyone's doing their own thing instead of working on a common project. We sought to make the entire community's talent flow towards Crimson Echoes, with eventual success thanks to Agent 12 and Chrono'99, two other die-hard fans. Many other forumers started their own projects.
2. What is it about the Chrono series that attracts people long after its demise?
I'd highlight two reasons.
The first is the quality and depth of the Chrono games. Chrono Trigger, on the strength of its undeniable genius and an unassailable dose of nostalgia, has achieved godlike status among RPGs. Radical Dreamers has often been considered one of the most interesting and sought-after lost gems of the Satellaview era, while Chrono Cross—despite maligning by some fans—was also a huge seller and hit. A common thread for all games is the story's depth. These games had tons of memorable characters and plots that covered different eras and dimensions. There were glimpses of ancient and future civilizations, mysterious phenomena, and other hanging plot threads that cultivated the imagination of fans. Today, if you visit surviving Chrono forums, you'll still find a lot of discussion asking about plot points, whether its what happened to the character of Magus after Chrono Trigger or about the Neo-Epoch easter egg in Chrono Cross. Each time someone plays these games and finds a mystery, they search for an answer, and usually get embroiled in the wealth of narratives and enigmas the series offers.
This is mostly credit to Masato Kato, who wrote the majority of the games' scenarios. Kato loves using themes of dreaming, time travel, fate/free will, and romanticism in his works. He's also known for his use of sudden, innovative twists, such as Crono's death in Chrono Trigger, Serge's transformation into Lynx in Chrono Cross, and even the journey into Cloud's mind after his lifestream poisoning in Final Fantasy VII. His interviews reveal a very deep thinker, who's adept at surrounding himself with like-minded talent. The artists for Chrono Cross evoked his romantic ideas perfectly in El Nido's stunning aesthetic, and Yasunori Mitsuda's excellent music doubles as an extension of Kato's writing when they work together. The results are vast worlds that draw players in and leave them thinking about the experiences, eager to share what they've felt with others. People still get this today. I started discussing the series in 2002 after playing Chrono Trigger, as I just had to share how awesome the Kingdom of Zeal was.
The second reason is the availability of ROM hacking tools and the ease of modification. A lot of current-gen developers have realized that adding significant support for modding doesn't pose a threat to intellectual property; it encourages the fanbase and lengthens the game's life. Geiger made Chrono Trigger immortal by releasing Temporal Flux. Anyone can take a ROM, get the editor, and make their own scenarios or continuations of the Chrono series. FaustWolf, utunnels, and others did the same with their work on Chrono Cross. Though unsophisticated compared to Chrono Trigger hacking, Cross hacking has already resulted in a modification that replaces the character Guile with Magus textures and status screen icons.
More numerous than the end-users of this hacking knowledge, though, are the tinkerers themselves. For many people, technically dissecting a beloved 8 or 16-bit game is a cherished hobby. It heightens their appreciation of the game and brings them closer to the developers who crafted the systems. Even more fun is dissecting beta or alpha versions of games; fans compare differences or find hidden, canceled features. The Sonic 2 Beta community is a great example; one of their community members, drx, recently found the same beta version of Sonic 2 that was used on Nickelodeon Arcade. Kajar Laboratories similarly started out small, but ROM hackers would come along and investigate things here and there. Before the cease & desist order, Kajar Labs was successfully decoding Chrono Cross's file structure; working on a near-complete model viewer for Chrono Cross's objects, monsters, and characters; discovering how to composer and insert new music into Chrono Trigger; and even getting into some difficult Chrono Trigger ASM hacking. While Kajar Laboratories is less active due to the loss of modding, fans around the community are still motivated by their love of the series to gather here and share fanfiction, Chrono-themed artworkd, interactive Flash projects, and even short animated films.
3. What are the difficulties in keeping a community alive that’s focused on an ostensibly dead franchise?
First, there has to be some kind of recognition that the franchise is dead. It's counter-productive to have an attitude of endlessly holding on (unless there's a healthy ROM hacking group churning out new games and stories, but we can no longer do that). Recognizing that the franchise is dead allows one to look for new things to talk about or uncover.
Second is finding help. A fansite for a new game can easily find several editors to coordinate things like fan art submissions or collect and write content and features. On the other hand, a community for a dead franchise has to have committed leadership, as volunteers are hard to find. Visible site and community updates are a must. Any visitor who comes along and see that this dead franchise has a dead website and dead community is not going to stick around. I can't understate how much I personally had to do to get the Compendium going. I virtually wrote the entire encyclopedia, maintained all fan creation, ROM hacking, and feature submission, collected and edited good discussion for the analysis section, and got the games' corresponding Wikipedia articles to featured status (with some much-appreciated editing help from WikiProject: Video Games). It's been the same process for QuestFan, a site I made in 2007 about The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (also a dead community). I'm still working on getting that article to featured status at Wikipedia.
The last issue is maintaining activity, period. The Chrono Compendium is very unique and very lucky in that, from the beginning, we wanted to be the absolutely best site. We were hell-bent on centralizing all information about the series, to the point that we were even asking authors of certain GameFAQs if we could host some of their unique information (like damage calculations). This paid off, and now, if a fan wants to walk down memory lane or a new player is looking for information, they're coming to the Compendium—a holistic, self-contained community. Many other communities aren't so unified. These days, franchise Wikias are performing that centralization role, but Wikia has some limits. Namely, Wikia is still bound by copyright control, so fans can't host as many things (like official art or remixes) as fan sites can (which many companies choose to overlook, since fan sites are free advertising and support for their franchises). Second, Wikia wikis don't necessarily have editors who set up supporting forums, and any forums would have to be off-domain at other sites. At fan sites, however, the forums are in many cases the backend for content. These sites thrive on and are sustained by the discussion community.
4. How do you keep your community alive and active?
ROM hacking and modification is the best way, although we can no longer do it. So, we have year-round, 3-month long contests and events, sometimes with prizes. They include a fan art contest, fan fiction contest, remix contest, and "Dream Splash", which is a site-wide event encouraging people to submit anything—art, fiction, or remixes—around a central theme, like a certain character or place.
We also seek interviews with developers and translation of Japanese materials, like interviews or guidebooks that didn't come out in the US. For whatever reason, we've had a difficult time finding help in translating things. It was really unfortunate, as there have been a lot of interviews and features on the Chrono games to come out of Japan that were never translated to English. If you check out the Chrono Trigger article on Wikipedia, you'll see it has a massive section on its development. That entire section is rather recent, and only exists because we finally got help from GlitterBerri and some others in translating interviews about Chrono Trigger that came out fifteen years ago. There's a lot of stuff yet to be translated, including numerous developer interviews about the games. Since these interviews often contain really interesting (and sometimes earth-shattering) information, their translation and release keep the community going.
A third way we've kept it going is through a quality General Discussion forum. The Chrono Compendium was started by several bright people, and that created a forum culture that's survived through the years. Our moderation was always very hands-off; we let disputes resolve themselves, rather than locking everything or encouraging drama. This mature environment led to a solid community of friends, which spawned a lot of enriching discussion and links among members. It's hard to create an atmosphere like that with very steady hands and cool heads, but it can be done. Some of the greater ROM hacking community's biggest problems have come from the volume of drama and discord it seems to generate, with translation hacker elitists and pet project promoters stirring things up. I'm glad that was never a part of Kajar Laboratories.
Lastly, the Compendium's excellent site and infrastructure keep the community going. There is no page on the Chrono Compendium that's unfinished. Everything in the series has its own encyclopedia entry, whether character, location, magic tech, or weapon. If someone wants complete, authoritative information on something or is looking for good discussion, the Compendium as it exists right now demonstrates that they'll get it. Anyone can do this, too! They just need some hard work and determination. If some links on a community fan site are 404s, or certain information hasn't been added yet, the entire community is metaphorically resting on an incomplete foundation. Pour some serious effort into making a perfect repository of information about the dead franchise, and it'll pay off. A great Community About page also helps by outlining the community's current goals, structure, and history (like http://www.chronocompendium.com/Term/Chrono_Compendium:About.html). Don't be afraid to get meta, but organize meta-information about the community well.
5. What are some of the biggest projects completed by your community?
Haha, it'll be kind of painful to make this list knowing that when we got the C&D, ROM hacking was becoming incredibly savvy and accessible to fans. This stuff would have paled in comparison to future works!
- 2009 - Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes: When Temporal Flux came out in late 2004, I immediately wanted to make a long-term project with it. Crimson Echoes had a rocky development history, but gained steam in 2007 thanks to contributions from Agent 12 and Chrono'99. What resulted was a full sequel to Chrono Trigger with a longer playtime than the original and a slightly steeper difficulty curve. Crimson Echoes took full advantage of the Chrono Compendium's encyclopedia and analysis to create a watertight plot that brought together old characters and introduced some new (with a familiar feel). We poured hours of our lives into this to make it approximate professional quality. Square Enix sent a cease & desist order on May 8, right before our intended release date, June 1. We were putting the final polish on the game at the time, and had just concluded a massive beta-testing operation that fixed ~2,000 bugs. The C&D took out Kajar Laboratories as well, but fellow administrator FaustWolf uploaded a playthrough he'd recorded during late beta testing to Youtube so that fans could still enjoy the work (http://www.youtube.com/user/CEMemorial). Today, the domain http://crimsonechoes.com/ chronicles the history, plot, music, and development of the project, and several new ROM hacking projects have spontaneously begun underground and off the Compendium, which no longer hosts information of any sort on the subject.
- 2009 - Chrono Trigger Prerelease Translations: A beta version of Chrono Trigger (called the Prerelease) was released to game stores and reviewers before the game's Japanese release date. In 2008, Kajar Laboratories successfully ripped the original Japanese script, and GlitterBerri translated it for us. It proved to be a goldmine of interesting facts and glances into the game's early development. (For example, Slash and Flea were originally named Wiener and Ketchappa.)
- 2008 - Chrono Trigger: Prophet's Guile: The Crimson Echoes project was in development hell in 2007, so I suggested we make a short ROM hack to stir up more interest in the community and solicit some help with Crimson Echoes. The result was Prophet's Guile, a ROM hack about Magus's time in the Kingdom of Zeal before Crono and the other protagonists show up. The ROM hack showcased some of the newest edits we were capable of, including use of songs from Radical Dreamers and Romancing SaGa III. (We released the tweaked music as the Prophet's Guile EP, which retains an entry at http://vgmdb.net/album/13984.)
- 2007 - Chrono Trigger Retranslation: Chrono Trigger's North American release suffered from space constraints on dialogue and Nintendo of America's censorship at the time. Despite these limitations, Ted Woolsey did an incredible job. The space constraints were such that some plot-relevant dialogue had to be cut or changed, though, so we enlisted the help of KWhazit to make a faithful, literal retranslation of the original Chrono Trigger. We discovered several interesting plot and character differences. Unfortunately, the retranslation followed several other retranslations of popular games, which were carried out with adverse attitudes towards Woolsey. Many people assumed that we were criticizing Ted Woolsey's original translation and claiming our own as the authority; we'd really never meant to make more than a reliable bible to the game's original plot and characterization.
- 2006 - Chrono Cross File Structure: In 2006, a French translation group analyzed the technical working of Chrono Cross as part of their French translation patch; the game had never been released in any language other than English or Japanese, so European fans have had to take it upon themselves to provide these translations. We'd always been interested in visualizing the game's beautiful location art and character models without other graphics in the way, so interested Compendium community members took the work of these translation groups further, more deeply analyzing the graphics formats and finally writing exporters so we could capture the imagery in all its original glory.
- 2005 - Chrono Trigger Colosseum: Agent 12 came to the Chrono Compendium in 2005 and expressed interest in using Temporal Flux to create a Final Fantasy VII-style colosseum for Chrono Trigger. The result pushed the limits of Chrono Trigger's event code, but was a solid success. We held a contest for whomever could beat the hard mode with one character the fastest, and German fan CyberSarkany won. We commissioned CuteLucca, a "big name" fan artist for Chrono Trigger, to draw and color a special piece of fan art as the prize.
6. Do you have hope for another game in the Chrono franchise? How do you feel news of a new game would affect your community? (i.e., Are you afraid of your community growing too large?)
Now that I'm starting my career, and occupying my time with ideas on humanistic stuff, I've had less of a desire to maintain the Compendium. My first reaction to thinking about a new game is, "Jeez, all my free time would instantly vanish for at least a couple years!"
But honestly, yeah, I'm hoping for another one. There are too many burning questions left unanswered by the existing games, and I want Masato Kato to have his new shot. Kato's been through a lot of new game development since then, and you can bet he'd return to the Chrono series full of new ideas and seasoned by experience. Though revising all our analysis to reflect canon and adding an entire new component to the encyclopedia would be excessively laborious and time-consuming, it's a labor of love. As I mentioned, Wikia sites are starting to replace traditional fan sites and their communities, but that's not been true with Chrono thanks to the Compendium's dedication to centralizing and archiving everything. We've got something unique, here, and any time invested in maintaining it is worthwhile. We're like the England of fan sites. If wikis represent new democratic republic states, we're like the transitioning point from old style hand-crafted fansites (monarchy states) into new wiki-based sites. However, unlike all the other sites that were either new states or total revolutions, we sort of adopted and integrated a wiki into the pre-existing model of fan site administration.
We've worried before about too many new members coming in and disrupting the mature atmosphere, requiring more moderation and breaking the "hands off" feel of things. Chrono Trigger DS came out in the meantime and brought a lot of new members, but things worked out. Dealing with a new game would be much harder, but a curiosity to see if we could keep that wonderful community would override any fears of losing it. The current community would go insane with an announcement. I'd do something ridiculous, like edit the site's color scheme, or something. It'd be pure madness. The community's heart beats on hot-blooded surrealism in the first place (like the Ganbare Goemon series), so we'd have some kind of "Salvador Dali meets Gurren Lagann" explosion of festivity. Let's hope it happens!