Nasir Gebelli (Persian: ناصر جبلی, also Nasser Gebelli, born 1957) is an Iranian-American programmer and video game developer. Gebelli co-founded Sirius Software, created his own company Gebelli Software, and worked for Square (now Square Enix). He became known in the early 1980s for producing 3D shooters and other games for the Apple II computer, and later became known for his work at Square, where he produced the early Final Fantasy games alongside Hironobu Sakaguchi, as well as 3-D WorldRunner, Rad Racer, Secret of Mana, and other titles.
Born in Iran, Gebelli moved to the United States to study computer science. In 1980, Gebelli started Sirius Software with Jerry Jewell. While part of Sirius Software, Gebelli developed advanced graphics techniques for the Apple II. Gebelli's first project for the Apple II was EasyDraw, a logo and character creation program which he used for his later games. At this time, Gebelli gained a reputation for producing games at a rapid pace, sometimes as many as 12 in a year. Among those games produced were his best-selling personal computer games, Space Eggs and Gorgon. Gorgon in particular sold 23,000 copies within a year, making it one of the best-selling computer games through 1982.
By 1981 Electronic Games referred to Gebelli as "ace designer Nasir", and BYTE assured readers that a game would not disappoint "Nasir Gabelli fans". He left Sirius that year to establish his own software company, Gebelli Software, through which he released the 1982 Apple II game Horizon V, which was an early example of a first-person shooter for a home system and featured an early radar mechanic. That same year, he released the Apple II game Zenith, a similar first-person shooter with the addition of allowing the player's ship to be rotated. In October 1982, Arcade Express reviewed Zenith and scored it 9 out of 10, stating "celebrated Nasir proves his reputation" with "this visually striking first-person space piloting and shooting" game. In March 1983, Andromeda (fourth place for Atari 8-bit), Russki Duck (tied for sixth for Apple) and Horizon V (tenth place for Apple) all received Softline's Dog of the Year awards "for badness in computer games" based on reader submissions. IBM arranged for Gebelli to produce launch titles for the PCjr, announced in late 1983. Gebelli's company would not prove very successful, and the video game crash of 1983 caused Gebelli Software to close.
Time at Square
After Gebelli Software went bankrupt, Gebelli went on a long vacation traveling the world. He resurfaced in 1986 and went to visit his friend Doug Carlston, owner of Brøderbund. Gebelli was interested in developing games again; Carlston told him about the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System and that Nasir should start programming on it. Gebelli was interested, and so Doug offered to fly to Japan with Nasir and introduce him to his friends at Nintendo and Square. Nasir met with Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo and several people at Square. Nintendo was apparently uninterested; the programmers at Square, especially Hironobu Sakaguchi (a long-time fan of Gebelli's work), however, were aware of Nasir's reputation and were excited to have him join. Gebelli arrived at Square around the same time Akitoshi Kawazu and Takashi Tokita became employed there. Along with Sakaguchi, their combined appearance culminated in the separation of the “Square” label from parent software company Denyuusha.
Famicom 3D System
While at Square, Nasir first programmed the game Tobidase Daisakusen for the Famicom Disk System, which released in the U.S. as 3-D WorldRunner for the NES. It was released in early 1987. Using a similar forward-scrolling effect to Sega's 1985 third-person rail shooter Space Harrier, 3-D WorldRunner was an early forward-scrolling pseudo-3D third-person platform-action game where players were free to move in any forward-scrolling direction and had to leap over obstacles and chasms. It was also notable for being one of the first stereoscopic 3-D games. His second Square project was Rad Racer, an early stereoscopic 3-D racing game also designed for the Famicom 3D System in 1987. He would also program its sequel, Rad Racer II, in 1990.
Gebelli then teamed up with Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu and Yoshitaka Amano as part of Square's A-Team to produce Final Fantasy, the first entry in the popular Final Fantasy series. A role-playing video game released for the NES in 1987, it featured several unique features, including an experimental character creation system that allowed the player to create their own parties and assign different character classes to party members; the concept of time travel; side-view battles, with the player characters on the right and the enemies on the left, which soon became the norm for numerous console RPGs; and the use of transportation for travel by ship, canoe and flying airship.
He went on to program Final Fantasy II, released in 1988, introducing an "emotional story line, morally ambiguous characters, tragic events," and a story to be "emotionally experienced rather than concluded from gameplay and conversations." It also replaced traditional levels and experience points with a new activity-based progression system that required "gradual development of individual statistics through continuous actions of the same kind," a mechanic that has been used in a number of later RPGs such as the SaGa and Grandia series, Final Fantasy XIV, and The Elder Scrolls series. Final Fantasy II also featured open-ended exploration, and introduced an innovative dialogue system where keywords or phrases can be memorized and mentioned during conversations with non-player characters.
He then programmed Final Fantasy III, released in 1990, which introduced the classic job system, a character progression engine allowing the player to change the character classes, as well as acquire new and advanced classes and combine class abilities, during the course of the game. Midway through the development of both Final Fantasy II and III, Gebelli was forced to return to Sacramento, California from Japan due to an expired work visa. The rest of the development staff followed him to Sacramento with needed materials and equipment and finished production of the games there.
Secret of Mana
After completing Final Fantasy III, Gebelli took another long vacation and later returned to work on Secret of Mana, the second entry in the Mana series, released in 1993. The game made advances to the action role-playing game genre, including its unique cooperative multiplayer gameplay. The game was created by team members behind the first three Final Fantasy titles: Gebelli, Koichi Ishii, and Hiromichi Tanaka. It was intended to be one of the first CD-ROM RPGs, as a launch title for the SNES CD add-on, but had to be altered to fit onto a standard game cartridge after the SNES CD project was dropped.
The game received considerable acclaim, for its innovative pausable real-time battle system, the "Ring Command" menu system, its innovative cooperative multiplayer gameplay, where the second or third players could drop in and out of the game at any time rather than players having to join the game at the same time, and the customizable AI settings for computer-controlled allies. The game has influenced a number of later action RPGs, including modern RPGs such as The Temple of Elemental Evil and Dungeon Siege III. Following Secret of Mana, Gebelli has since been succeeded (for the most part) by Ken Narita.
Life after Square
Following Secret of Mana's completion, Gebelli essentially retired with income from Square royalties and travelled the world. In August 1998, Gebelli attended John Romero's 1998 Apple II Reunion in Dallas, Texas at the Ion Storm offices. During an interview between the two, Romero credited Gebelli as a major influence on his career as a game designer.
Nasir lives in Sacramento, California, where he has lived most of his life. Sakaguchi and Nasir remain great friends.
- Star Cruiser (1980, Apple II)
- Phantoms Five (1980, Apple II)
- Both Barrels (1980, Apple II)
- Gorgon (1981, Apple II)
- Space Eggs (1981, Apple II)
- Cyber Strike (1981, Apple II)
- Pulsar II (1981, Apple II)
- Autobahn (1981, Apple II)
- Horizon V (1981, Apple II)
- Firebird (1981, Apple II)
- Russki Duck (1982, Apple II)
- Zenith (1982, Apple II)
- Neptune (1982, Apple II)
- ScubaVenture (1983, IBM)
- Mouser (1983, IBM)
- 3-D WorldRunner (1987, NES)
- Rad Racer (1987, NES)
- JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part 2 (1987, NES)
- Final Fantasy (1987, NES)
- Final Fantasy II (1988, NES)
- Final Fantasy III (1990, NES)
- Rad Racer II (1990, NES)
- Secret of Mana (1993, SNES)
- Final Fantasy Origins (2002, PlayStation)
- Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (2004, Game Boy Advance)
- John Romero, Nasir Gebelli at MobyGames
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[...] So for Final Fantasy II and III, our staff actually brought all the equipment, everything that was necessary to finish those games, to Sacramento, because (Gebelli) couldn't come back to Japan. [...] We finished Final Fantasy II and III in Sacramento, California. [Laughs]
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- Secret of Mana hits App Store this month, EuroGamer
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- on YouTube