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An interview with Nathan Lazur, the creator of the ill-fated Chrono Trigger remake known as Chrono Resurrection.

Today, we pull up a chair and talk to what could be the world's biggest fan of Chrono Trigger.  While some are content to merely profess their love for this epic Super NES adventure game, Nathan Lazur put his money (and hundreds of manhours) where his mouth was and brought the game into the 21st century with a polygonal remake for personal computers.  In this edition of The Brews Brothers, Nathan shares the details of Chrono Resurrection's development... along with the tragic demise of this ambitious project.

GRB:  What were your plans for Chrono Resurrection?

LAZUR:  From the start, the plan was to re-create ten scenes from Chrono Trigger into a nicely packaged demo as a tribute to the original game. Some other fan-made homebrew games out there regularly set impossible goals that are unattainable because lack of resources, experience, and/or funds. We wanted to make sure we didnít shoot ourselves in the foot and set easy-to-achieve goals that allow iterative development. We were planning to release a playable version of the demo to the public in Christmas 2004, but the cease and desist from Square-Enixís law firm unfortunately prevented that from happening.

GRB:  Was the game intended as a sequel to the original Chrono Trigger, or a remake?

LAZUR:  Chrono Resurrection is a remake of Chrono Trigger. Of course, we added a bit of our art style into the mix and changed the story a bit to make sure that the demo play-through flowed well. But for the most part, the demo was meant to replicate the feel of the 16-bit classic while enticing the player with current-generation graphics, sound, and animation.

GRB:  What programming tools and experience were necessary to make the game?

LAZUR:  The entirety of the engine, tools, and game code were written by me Ė all from scratch. Re-inventing the wheel is usually frowned upon in the coding community, but it was justified because the experience of developing an entire game from start to finish has tremendously allowed me to grow professionally. My personal goal was to learn how to make a game in itís entirety for contextual reference at work.

As for the experience necessary to make the game Ė Itís tough to judge exactly how many years would be necessary to do what we did. You see, just about everyone on the development team make games for a living at game development studios around the world. When we created the demo, we were all pretty much the same age (22-24) and roughly had about the same amount of experience professionally (2Ĺ years professionally, up to 5 years of development at home). It takes many years of passion and hard work to be able to create a final result that is appealing. For instance, our art director, Luis Martins, has been drawing his entire life and only started to truly have his skills mature and his work improve when he joined the industry.

Another key factor is who you work with and how well you work with them. If you have a connection with the people you work with, you can achieve great results. This especially is true when you can work with some of the team members in person. Fortunately, we made a small studio in my apartment in Montreal, when I lived there, to be able to cooperatively develop the demo after work in a motivating environment. It also didnít hurt that we were die-hard Chrono Trigger fans.

GRB:  How many people worked on this game?

LAZUR:  When we first started, it was just me, our musician, and a contract artist. As development of the engine and game framework progressed, we enlisted more team members. Just before the cease and desist, we had 9 people on the team.

GRB:  What was Square-Enix's response when they discovered that you were working on the game?

LAZUR:  Well, their public response was a Cease and Desist in September 2004. But itís a little peculiar if you ask me. When we went public with the demo media just before E3 2004, we unexpectedly received tons of press and fan response. While looking through the Web logs, we noticed a lot of proxy IPís and they were downloading *a lot* of data. At the time, we thought it might have been low-level employees, such as programmers, artists, etc. because there were no e-mails telling us to stop development. This barrage of traffic from Square-Enix lasted for 3 months before the eventual Cease and Desist. And of course, the Cease and Desist was a legal obligation for Square to protect their IP, so we really donít know what anyone from Square-Enix thinks from a creative point of view.

GRB:  What is the future of fan-made tributes to popular video games?

LAZUR:  That depends on the publisher. Valve and Rockstar had no problem endorsing fan-made tributes to their games. Other companies such as Nintendo and Square frown upon fan-made tributes as shown by their numerous Cease and Desists.

My personal opinion is that anyone can make anything they want. If you want to release it publicly and the IP is someone elseís, you might have complications with potential copyright infringement. If not, then you can privately enjoy something that you always wanted to do and to be able grow while creating it. I think thatís the most important aspect of home-brew tribute development.

GRB:  What compromises can fans and corporations like Square-Enix make to ensure the continued development of fan-made tributes to popular video games?

LAZUR:  Iím not sure there is much fans can do because all of the power, by law, is held by the IP owner. Weíve had numerous petitions to ask Square to re-instate the project that amounted to nothing, even though they were very flattering. Fans must understand that a company like Square-Enix created a property that took time, money and talent to create the original game and that it is their right to be able to say what does and doesnít fly. Some publishers accept free press from re-makes; some may think it could damage the perception of the original game if it ends up sucking. A lot of that depends on the skill and experience of the development team.

The only compromise I can think of is for the fan-made tribute development team to privately create a polished demo and then present it to the publisher in question. That way it can be dealt with a more traditional business procedure.

Screenshots taken from Nathan Lazur's web site, Opcoder.

Check out my 1UP article, Singin' The Brews, to learn more about the homebrew gaming community! 

part 1: neill corlett

part 2: kirk israel

part 3: nathan lazur

part 4: ron lloyd