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from Halkun's "Gears" document


On January 31st, 1997, Final Fantasy VII was released to the Japanese public. This single game both revolutionized and raised the bar of Japanese style console role playing games. It success was so staggering, it placed Squaresoft firmly on top the the the genre, displacing the Dragon Quest series created by the rival Enix company.

The story of how this game came to be has a story more expansive than the game itself. It starts, as most stories do, with its prequel.

Squaresoft and the "Big N"

In 1994, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy VI in Japan through an exclusive contract with Nintendo. The game was for the Super Famicom, or more internationally known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was a massive best-seller, and the powers that be decided to have the game "cross the pond" as it were for the U.S. audiences.

Sadly, as Nintendo had exclusive distribution rights to all games in the United States, the decision was made to alter the game. The traditional Final Fantasy logo was changed to one American audiences were more used to. The sequel number was also dropped from VI to III. Nintendo had only released two Final Fantasy games in the states. Part I for the NES, and Part IV for the SNES (Part IV was actually going to be a NES game, but was ported up in the middle of it's development. That, however is another story). The game was also edited for content. Several silly things like a programmers room and a porno book were removed. All in all the sales were modest, but it was nowhere near the success that the game enjoyed in Japan.

It was often said that the U.S. market was not appropriate for Japanese-style RPGs.

After the release of FF6 in the U.S., Nintendo started work on a new video game system. Codenamed the "Ultra 64" it was boasting a new 3D graphics core and a CD-ROM format for it's games. At the time, Nintendo and Sony were working together to create the "PlayStation Expansion" (PSX) CDROM system as an add-on to the Super Nintendo. It was also rumored that this technology was going to be in the Ultra 64 system as well.

Squaresoft decided that movie-like role playing games that took advantage of this new multimedia technology was the future. They invested billions of yen into SGI workstations when it was learned that the Ultra 64 was going to use a 64 bit R4300 MIPS architecture. A new threaded 3D engine was developed for the Final Fantasy series. A demo of the new technology was created on their new development systems. It was a simple battle engine using the characters from FF6. It was assumed that this would be the beginnings of FF7 for the Ultra 64.

Then the rug was pulled out from under Square's feet by Nintendo.

Nintendo and Sony had a falling out. An issue came about when both companies disagreed over who got to license the games for the new CD-ROM systems. Sony wanted control, but Nintendo balked. Nintendo also had problems as Sony was already making the sound chip for the SNES which was difficult to program for. Nintendo wanted more control.

Nintendo went behind Sony and asked Phillips for assistance, as they also could license CD-ROM technology. When Sony found out that Nintendo was going to someone else, (and a foreign one at that!), it was the last straw and pulled their technology. They also convinced Phillips, Matsushita, NEC, and Pioneer not to license any optical drive technology to Nintendo either.

Going alone, Sony decided to take their popular System 11 arcade boards, tack on a CD-ROM and called it the Playstation. You can read about that story in my PSX technical manual [http://www.zophar.net/tech/psx.html "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the PSX But Were Afraid to Ask"].

Nintendo, without a drive system, quietly disclosed to their third parties that the Ultra 64 was going to be cartridge based. The maximum limit that any game could be was 32 megabytes. Squaresoft was now in a bind, they had invested millions of yen into creating a movie-like RPG experience and now had to cut it down to fit on a cartridge. When it was revealed that the PSX would also be using a MIPS CPU, Square abandoned Nintendo and gained an exclusive distribution contract with Sony. The groundwork for Final Fantasy VII was now laid and could continue unobstructed.

The Production

Halfway through the production of Final Fantasy VII, two very important things happened. First a second team was spun off to start production of Final Fantasy VIII. This allowed a staggered development cycle were when one game one done, another would be half done, cutting production time in half. Also half way through production, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the producer, learned that his mother Aki had died. Sakaguchi drew on this death and altered the story in a radical way. It now revolved around life and death and the earth.

The Release

The game was shipped to stores in Japan January 31, 1997, but not without a few problems. First, the game was incomplete. A few scenes were not able to run correctly before release. Also the extra bosses were not added in time. These were minor issues that no one missed, and were later fixed in the U.S. version.

In the States, a demo of FF7 was released with the game "Tobal No.1". It was a modified version of the first part of the game using characters not available until later. It was also the first release in the states that called the game by it's proper number. It was also the first time American audiences saw a true Final Fantasy logo. The game was released in the the states September 3rd, 1997. This release included a round of bug fixes, in including of the missing bosses, and the nonworking scenes were added properly.

Later, Japan got a re-release of the expanded U.S. version, along with a scene viewer and other bonus content. This was called "Final Fantasy VII International"

The PC Port

With the wild success of FF7, Square's shareholders were beginning to pressure the company to start diversifying their products. At the time, Square was only making games exclusively for Sony, and limiting their market. It also became apparent that their older games were not suitable for more modern systems. Even Final Fantasy VI, the game previous, was fixed to a single platform and could not be adapted easily to other computer systems. Square made the choice to update their old games to modern programming languages and platforms. They also decided to port Final Fantasy VII to the PC.

Square chose Eidos of the publisher for their PC ports. At the time Eidos has successfully handled the conversion and release of Core's widely popular "Tomb Raider" game from the PSX to PC. Having experience in marketing and distributing PSX to PC conversions, the company seemed to be the right choice.

In the beginning, however, the PC port suffered many problems. When the contract programmers received the FF7 source code from Square, it was a horrible state of atrophy. When work started on the port, it was soon discovered that they had received an earlier, buggy version of the program. Work had to stop while Square accumulated a later version. It was also discovered that the people and equipment used to create the backgrounds for FF7, were now being used for FF8 and FF9. There was no way to re-render the backgrounds and the port team was forced to use the original low color/low resolution PSX dependencies. The movies faired worse. Squaresoft never rendered high resolution versions of the movies. The movie format was incompatible with Microsoft's DirectX system, so it was decided to convert the compressed PSX movies to one more native to a PC platform. This caused disastrous results. The movies were now a copy of a copy of a low resolution render.

Square also refused to have anything added. It was to be a straight port of the PSX version with the same exact interface. Concessions were only made to text input. The game could run in a "high resolution" mode of 640x480, which isn't really a lot in terms of PC resolution. It was also limited to 15-bit color.

More problems arose. The PSX had the ability to use different color depths on the screen at the same time. Many graphical effects depended on this ability. Many PC graphic cards did not have the ability to use color look up tables when placed into high color modes. This caused the game to go into a low resolution software renderer if this functionality wasn't available. FF7 was also designed for 15 bit graphics. This caused noticeable color banding on a PC screen. The sound architecture is also wildly different and suffered as well.

The PC port was released in June of 1998. It was late, buggy, and not very well ported. The game initially was incompatible with Cyrix and AMD CPUs, to which Eidos technical support simply refused to support at first. Many people with high-end graphic cards found themselves forced into a software renderer due to a lack of a color lookup system. Movies played upside down, or crashed the system all together, as it used a 3rd-party renderer. The only solution Eidos came up with was to offer a save game past the crash point, destroying hours of work by the user. Many sound cards were not designed for MIDI playback and the software player used too much in the way of resources, slowing the whole system. The initial keyboard configuration was grossly unintuitive, using only the numeric keypad. Many laptops without one couldn't even use the game as you had to use the number pad to access the configuration menu....... and the box was ugly.

Eidos was dropped when Final Fantasy VIII for the PC was released.

Where are they now?

The PC port is now out of print and does not run on the Windows NT type kernels due to some farflung misallocated pointers. Many now play FF7 via PSX emulation. With this way of playing the game, graphic modes higher than 1024x768 resolution, 32-bit color, and texture filtering, can all be used. The PSX version is also stable and for the most part, bug free. The engine has continued to be built upon. It has also been used in other non-Final Fantasy games such as "Parasite Eve", which was the first to support full body textures before FF8. The PC port is still supported by a small band of users. Unofficial patches have also been released with varying degrees of success. Not bad for a little engine that could.