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Fans have been hoping for a current-gen re-make of Final Fantasy VII, more or less forever. FFVII is easily the most popular of the series and its fans have been captivated by the idea of seeing this venerable title realized in the same lavish 3D style given to the more recent games. (No, do not do the fanboy thing on me here. This is the game that expanded into Crisis Core, Before Crisis, Dirge of Cerberus, Last Order, and Advent Children. It’s okay if you didn’t like it, or liked another entry in the series better. But this game marks the point where Final Fantasy became big in the west and moved beyond the Japanophile niche to become a defining force in gaming. Even if it’s not your favorite.) Recently Final Fantasy XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase stated that doing a proper re-make on the PS3 would be prohibitively – perhaps even absurdly – expensive and time consuming.

And the fan reaction to that announcement was sadly predictable. I’ve read comment after comment accusing Square Enix of lying. Or of being incompetent. Or just a big bunch of meanies who could snap their fingers and make the game appear, but they won’t because … they hate their fans? I guess?

It reminds me of a quote that was making the rounds this week:

“Nothing seems impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it himself.”

So let me shed some light on this: Yoshinori Kitase is absolutely right in saying that doing a fully inclusive re-make of the entirety of FFVII using modern-day tech would be a major, major challenge. I’m sure the “forty years” figure being thrown around is just the product of hyperbole, but the fact remains that there is a reason they don’t make ’em like they used to. It’s the reason I’ve been banging on about for half a decade. Modern graphics are crazy expensive.

Fans are acting like the game is halfway done because, hey – they already have the script, right? And the gameplay mechanics? Those are done. And they could use the models from one of those other games? Why don’t they just do it? They just need to drop in some new graphics and – Boom! Done!

The sad truth is that all of these resources are worthless. “Writing the script” is such a minuscule part of the work that needs to be done that it’s hardly worth considering. We’re talking a hundred hours of work versus hundreds of thousands of hours of work. (And besides, a script written for a text-based game will need some editing if it’s going to be performed by voice actors.) The gameplay mechanics – assuming they wanted to keep the old mechanics and not fuss with them like they always do – also make up a very small portion of the total work. The people saying “they just need to drop in new graphics” are missing the point. That is the part of the game that takes a long time. This is like saying, “We have the script for James Cameron’s Avatar, we just need to add some footage and the movie is done!”

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This isn’t like the update for God of War, where they released the game with newer graphical assets. That was updating a game that was already in 3D and ran on last-gen hardware. FFVII was a top-down view game with a lot of 2D assets and it was released two hardware generations ago. There are simply no resources from that game that could be adapted for today. You’d need to start over.

Sure, they have the 3D models for a couple of the central characters that could be imported from one of the more recent spinoff titles. But even those aren’t going to be PS3-level quality. And why do a re-make and then cut corners on the central characters by using models designed for the PSP? That would be crazy. In any case, you need to fill a world, here. This isn’t like the old days where you could paint people onto the background and make it look like the place is inhabited. Now you need everyone in 3D. From Kalm to Cosmo Canyon. From Costa del Sol to the Golden Saucer. From Junon to Rocket Town. Not to mention everything in Midgar. This game was designed for a different system with different limitations. When they designed Midgar they weren’t thinking about the lack of occlusion you’d have if the city were in 3D and viewed at street level.

I (briefly) worked on Black Sigil, a Chrono Trigger-styled jRPG for the Nintendo DS. I’ve seen what it’s like to set up an in-game cutscene in those old titles, and it’s nothing compared to the staggering volume of work needed to make just one 3D character. I’d be willing to bet that the effort needed to script all of the cutscenes in FFVII was less than the effort needed to bring Vaan to life in Final Fantasy XII. Just Vaan.

Think about the cutscenes from FFVII. The characters didn’t have a lot of different animations, did they? How many times did Cloud do that “head shake” move? The days where a lone scripter can make a character walk two meters, face the camera, shake their head, print some text, and walk off-screen are over. Now you need a motion-capture studio. Motion actors. Voice actors. Then painstakingly set up the lip sync. Build the 3D environments. (Which must be more complete than the old 2D environments, since now the camera can move around and show you things that were always off-screen before.) Set up the textures. The lighting. The camera angles. The material and shader properties of all the items in the scene. In Black Sigil a single scene might take me a day or two. Now that same scene would take dozens of people weeks to accomplish. We’re talking about more than two orders of magnitude increase in work being done. There is a reason games now have budgets that rival Hollywood blockbusters.

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What’s worse, is that these new technologies form annoying dependency chains, so you can’t make the game happen faster by just throwing more people at it. You can’t have taking heads without bodies. You can’t have moving bodies without motion capture. You can’t do the motion capture until you’ve designed your environments, since the motion actors need to do things like lean on walls and walk up steps. (So you have to know where those things will be when the game is done.) The lip syncing can’t be done until the voice acting is recorded. And the person setting up the in-game cutscenes needs basically everything else done before they can do their job.

When they began work on Final Fantasy VII in 1995 the game had a budget of $30 million USD. Game budgets have ballooned by more than a factor of ten since then. Do the math and realize that the lack of a re-make is not because they want to hurt your feelings.

I realize that Square Enix kind of brought this on themselves when they did that FFVII tech demo for the PS3. It was a cruel tease to show fans that classic opening in modern hi-def glory and then end it right at the moment where the game would normally begin. I still get this itch to pick up the controller and play the game when the movie ends, only to realize that there is no game when the movie ends.

You can hate Square Enix for leaving fans hanging. Maybe they’ll be crazy enough to attempt it someday. But do not imagine that because they have some old 8-bit music and fifteen year old PSOne source code sitting around that they have some sort of jump-start on the project.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning. And none of that is his day job.

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