It was a peaceful Friday morning half way through 2003 when I looked through the window and saw workers installing a sign for a new store opening across the street from my parent’s place. I was still in collage and at the time playing ‘Chrono Cross’ on the PSone. I have played through the first CD and couldn’t wait to get to the next when I found out that it was busted. Frustrated, I purchased three more copies with the same defect, and that was probably why that particular sign caught my attention.
The store was named ‘Chrono way’ and it was a place that sells video games, I went there to inquire about chrono cross and to my surprise the owner – Kashou* – was a huge RPG fan … kind of hard to find in Jordan back in those days, we talked for hours and as it turned out he named the store after his favorite game: Chrono Trigger.
With me and Kashou sharing the same taste and passion for games, a remarkable relationship started that was beyond customer/shop owner. We traded games, Anime series, movies and had long gaming conversations and none gaming alike. We shared the same dream of one day creating a game and living in Japan (ya’all know how it is). Whenever I had some free time, I would go across the street to play a couple of rounds of Street fighter with him, talk about games, trade some CDs and go back home.
One day, Kashou introduced me to one of his Friends – Isamu – and he was almost identical in terms of tastes and thought, both of them expressed their plans of creating a game for the Nintendo GBA. I was immediately interested and wanted to participate in anyway possible. Kashou, the shop co-owner Ken, Isamu and two other friends were all programmers … with Kashou’s brother Ari – a skilled 2D artist – and his best friend Shark doing the art work for the GBA project then code named Okami – way before the Capcom game came out – they wanted someone to create the music for the game … They had me in mind.
We started out working at home in our free time, and communicating through email. But as we expanded in number – we were a team of 10 by then and my friend Kenshin joined the troops – and due to dial up connections, email communication wasn’t sufficient enough. We came up with an idea of renting a small office – two 3×3 meters rooms to be exact.
Elements Team office was furnished with mattresses and four plastic backyard tables on which we mounted our home PCs. My keyboard spent it’s night there to use as composing device and near the kitchen area sat a small TV and the super Nintendo were we played International Super Star Soccer pro 2000 and Super Street Fighter 2 in our breaks.
Each one of us had to pay a total amount of 10JD monthly – Around 15$ – to sustain the office, which wasn’t much, and with us using our own computers and equipment I’d say we were doing fine financially. Beneath our office was a bakery, which helped save up lots of heating expenses during winter time (but almost killed us during summer) But hey, we always had fresh bread in the kitchen.
Work was hard and we were over ambitious; we worked on two different games at the same time, one was Okami a side scroler and the other was ARPG a super Nintendo style RPG with Arabic dialog and lettering.
We worked our way through the late hours of the night, getting off work at around 11pm, before turning that small office into a small StarCraft frenzy that lasted till the early hours of the morning.
Isamu and Ken approached their senior years in collage and ARPG was decidedly their graduation projects, our goal was to create a world map where the character can move, interact with other characters and fight random monsters.
We had many obstacles in developing the game, one of them was that the GBA didn’t recognize Arabic characters, in which we used images and concatenations instead. The hell of my work was using the s3m format in sound, which basically consists of infinite loops of Wave samples that can be started and shushed at certain time frames, musical notations were numbers not notes. The sampling process gave a lot of the team members some restless nights, and probably ear problems that still haunt me till this day.
To run the game on the GBA device we purchased a hacked cartridge from Honk Kong for a staggering 150$ price tag. That particular item can be hooked to a PC via USB and a ROM can be mounted on it, most programming was done via emulators and when the time came to test it we mount on the drive and test it on GBA itself.
The professors obviously weren’t impressed with our accomplishment – all though some local news papers were – their reaction was confusion, as they are not familiar with the concept of games let alone an RPG. Their reaction was a disappointment that was one of the reasons that led to final demise of the team.
The team was ambitious to say the least, but we had a huge loop hole, we weren’t all free at the time to dedicate our full attention to the project (with every member of the team studying in school), the team lacked the vital role of the game designer which we didn’t understand then, we were all game designers, we planned the game one sprite at a time, none of us had a full image of the final product if ever. Not to mention that we never knew what we were going to do with the game if it ever came out … we just wanted to make a game, and that was all we cared about.
Many disagreements among the team led eventually to it breaking apart, the last straw was Kashou leaving the country to go to Japan; almost half his dream, he’s currently working on the other half.
If anything, I am nostalgic when I remember those days … It was the passion that fueled me to what I am doing now and what probably will be doing in the future … I am still just doing this to make games, and i still don’t care what i’m going to do with them afterwards – i tend to leave that to my supervisors now. The memory of the team still fills me with pride, It’s living proof that if you have a dream you damn well should do something about it.
The outcome of the team was a complete level of Okami (still have the file but lost the emulator to run it and take screenshots) and ARPG first chapter (from which the screen shot above is taken)and 8 sound track s3m files (that are virtually useless now).
We were the only 10 people in the entire country with a hint of an experience of what game development really is. So, when a game development house opened shop in late 2005 and started hiring, they hired the whole team and built the team around us, propelling most of us to careers in games since.
*I refrained from using actual names for privacy reasons, I used our gaming nicknames at the time.