Nasir Gebelli

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Nasir Gebelli
ناصر جبلی
Born1957 (age 64–65)
OccupationProgrammer, video game designer
Years active1978–1993
Known for
Notable work

Nasir Gebelli (Persian: ناصر جبلی, also Nasser Gebelli, born 1957) is an Iranian-American programmer and video game designer usually credited in his games as simply Nasir. Gebelli wrote Apple II games for Sirius Software, created his own company Gebelli Software, and worked for Squaresoft (now Square Enix).[1] He became known in the early 1980s for producing fast action games for the Apple II, including 3D shooters.[2]

From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, he developed home console games for Squaresoft. He was part of Square, programming the first three Final Fantasy games,[3] the Famicom 3D System titles 3-D WorldRunner and Rad Racer, and Secret of Mana.

Early life and career (1957–1985)[edit]

Gebelli was born in Iran in 1957. Because of his family relationship with the Iranian royal family of the Pahlavi dynasty, he migrated to the United States to avoid the 1979 Iranian Revolution and study computer science.[4] He was inspired by Golden age arcade games, such as Space Invaders.[5] Gebelli's first project for the Apple II was EasyDraw, a logo and character creation program he used for his later games. He then began programming video games in either 1978 or 1979.[6]

Sirius software[edit]

As a college student, he demonstrated a slide show program he wrote at a computer store to the stores' owner Jerry Jewell.[5] In 1980, he joined a new company founded by Jewell and Terry Bradley, Sirius Software.[5] Gebelli's first game was Both Barrels.[6]

Within a year, Gebelli programmed twelve games.[5] He wrote the code in his head, then quickly entered it before forgetting the details.[7] His action games were well-received, and three of his games, Phantoms Five, Cyber Strike, and Star Cruiser, appeared on Softalk's Top Thirty software list in March 1981.[8] Six of his games later appeared on Softalk's Top Thirty list in August 1981, with the highest at number three.[9] His best-selling titles were Space Eggs and Gorgon,[1] which were clones of Moon Cresta and Defender, respectively.[10] Electronic Games referred to Gebelli as "ace designer Nasir" and gave Gorgon a positive review.[11] BYTE assured readers that Gorgon would not disappoint "Nasir Gabelli fans".[12] Gorgon sold at least 23,000 copies in a year, making it one of the best-selling computer games through June 1982.[13] Gebelli's games used page flipping, which eliminated the flickering that early Apple II games experienced.[5][8]

Gebelli software[edit]

He left Sirius in 1982 to establish his own software company, Gebelli Software, which released its first game that same year.[1] Entitled Horizon V, the game was a first-person shooter with a radar mechanic.[14] Sirius released the Apple II game Zenith later in 1982, which added the ability for players to rotate their ships.[15] 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.[16] In March 1983, however, Andromeda (fourth place for Atari 8-bit), Russki Duck (tied for sixth for Apple) and Horizon V (tenth place for Apple) received Softline's Dog of the Year awards "for badness in computer games" based on reader submissions.[17] Horizon V sold 5,000 copies during its first few months on sale in 1982.[13]

IBM arranged for Gebelli to produce launch titles for the IBM PCjr, announced in late 1983.[18] Gebelli's company was not successful, and the video game crash of 1983 caused Gebelli Software to close.[1] Afterward, Gebelli went on an extended vacation traveling the world. When he retired from Apple II development, Gebelli had eight games on Softalk's Apple II best-seller lists, more than any other game designer.

Squaresoft (1986–1993)[edit]

In 1986, Gebelli became interested in developing games again and met with Doug Carlston, his friend and owner of video game developer Brøderbund. Carlston told him about the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System and how he should start creating games for the console. Gebelli was interested, and so Doug offered to fly to Japan with Nasir and introduce him to his contacts at Square. Nasir had the opportunity to meet with Masafumi Miyamoto, founder and president of Square, who decided to hire him. The programmers, especially Hironobu Sakaguchi (a long-time fan of Gebelli's work), were aware of Nasir's reputation and were excited to have him join.[3]

Famicom 3D System[edit]

While at Square, Nasir programmed the game Tobidase Daisakusen for the Famicom Disk System, released in the United States in early 1987 as 3-D WorldRunner on the NES.[6][19] 3-D WorldRunner was a pseudo-3D third-person platform game where players move in any forward-scrolling direction and leap over obstacles and chasms.[6] It was also notable for being one of the first stereoscopic video games.[19] His second Square project was Highway Star (Rad Racer in the U.S.), a stereoscopic 3-D racing game also designed for the Famicom 3D System in 1987.[1] He went on to program a sequel, Rad Racer II, released in 1990.[1] According to Sakaguchi, Square initially hired Gebelli for his 3D programming techniques, as seen in 3-D WorldRunner and Rad Racer. [20][21] At the time, Gebelli did not know any Japanese and had no translator, so it was initially difficult to communicate with Sakaguchi. There were only three staff members working on both games, Gebelli, Sakaguchi, and graphic designer Kazuko Shibuya (who later worked on the Frontier games). Both games were commercially successful, selling about 500,000 copies each.[6]

Final Fantasy[edit]

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 in Japan, it featured several unique features, a character creation system, the concept of time travel, side-view battles and transportation by canoe, boat and airship.[22][23][24] It also had the first RPG minigame, a sliding puzzle added by Gebelli into the game despite its not being part of Squaresoft's original game design.[25]

He went on to program Final Fantasy II, released in 1988, introducing an "emotional storyline, morally ambiguous characters, tragic events". He also made the story "emotionally experienced rather than concluded from gameplay and conversations". The game 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".[22] Final Fantasy II also featured open-ended exploration[26] and an innovative dialogue system where players use keywords or phrases during conversations with non-player characters.[27]

Gebelli went on to program Final Fantasy III in 1990, which introduced the job system, a character progression engine allowing the changing and combination of character classes.[28][29] Midway through the development of both Final Fantasy II and III, Gebelli returned to Sacramento, California from Japan due to an expired work visa. The rest of the development staff followed him to Sacramento with materials and equipment needed to finish game production.[30]

Secret of Mana[edit]

After completing Final Fantasy III, Gebelli took another long vacation and later returned to work on Seiken Densetsu II (released as Secret of Mana in the U.S.), 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 team who created the game had worked the first three Final Fantasy titles: Gebelli, Koichi Ishii, and Hiromichi Tanaka. The team developed Secret of Mana to be a launch title for Super NES's CD-ROM add-on. After Sony and Nintendo backed out of making the console, the game was changed to fit a standard Super NES game pak.[31]

The game received considerable acclaim[32] for its innovative pausable real-time battle system,[33][34] stamina bar,[35] the "Ring Command" menu system,[34] its innovative cooperative multiplayer gameplay,[32][36] and the customizable AI settings for computer-controlled allies.[37]

Later life (1994–present)[edit]

Following Secret of Mana's completion, Gebelli retired with income from Square royalties and travelled the world. In August 1998, Gebelli attended an Apple II Reunion in Dallas, Texas, at video game developer Ion Storm offices. There, Gebelli met developer and fan John Romero, who interviewed him.[1][38][7] Gebelli lives in Sacramento, California, where he has lived most of his life.


John Romero (Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake) credited Gebelli as a significant influence on his career as a game designer.[38] He also cited Gebelli as his favorite programmer and a notable inspiration, mentioning his fast action and 3D programming work on games such as Horizon V and Zenith.[2] Gebelli also inspired the careers of other developers, such as Mark Turmell (NBA Jam, Smash TV).[7] Jordan Mechner has also credited Gebelli's work on the Apple II as inspiration and as a major influence on the creation of Karateka and Prince of Persia.[39] Richard Garriott (Ultima) also praised Gebelli's ability to craft games that "were really playable and fun!"[40]

Final Fantasy went on to become a major franchise, and Hironobu Sakaguchi went on to become a well-known figure in the game industry. Final Fantasy's side-view battles became the norm for numerous console RPGs.[23] Developers used Final Fantasy II's activity-based progression system in several later RPG series, such as the SaGa,[41] Grandia,[42] and The Elder Scrolls series.[26] Final Fantasy III's job system became a recurring element in the Final Fantasy series. Secret of Mana has also influenced later action RPGs,[36][43] including modern titles such as The Temple of Elemental Evil[44] and Dungeon Siege III.[36]

List of games[edit]

Sirius software[edit]

Gebelli software[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g John Romero, Nasir Gebelli at MobyGames
  2. ^ a b Barton, Matt (19 April 2016). Honoring the Code: Conversations with Great Game Designers. CRC Press. ISBN 9781466567542 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b c Gifford, Kevin (2011-12-21). "Hironobu Sakaguchi on Final Fantasy I's Roller-Coaster Development: How a college dropout and an Iranian programmer created the JRPG blockbuster". Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  4. ^ "Hironobu Sakaguchi Interview". Niconico. April 20, 2015. Sakaguchi: That is Nasir. He was originally a royalty of Iran and heard that he went out of the country and went to the United States at the time of the Iranian Revolution.
  5. ^ a b c d e Levy, Steven (2010-05-19). Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. O'Reilly Media. p. 263. ISBN 978-1449393748.
  6. ^ a b c d e (February 1999). "Hironobu Sakaguchi: The Man Behind the Fantasies". Next Generation Magazine, vol 50, pages 87-90.
  7. ^ a b c John Romero, Nasir Gebelli Interview at Ion Storm, 1998, YouTube (February 6, 2017)
  8. ^ a b Robert Koehler (April 1981). "Nasir" (PDF). Softalk. Vol. 1, no. 8. pp. 4–6.
  9. ^ "Softalk 1981 08" – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ "Nasir Gebelli and the early days of Sirius Software". The Golden Age Arcade Historian.
  11. ^ "Computer Playland". Electronic Games. Jan 1981. p. 38. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  12. ^ Callamaras, Peter V (December 1981). "Gorgon". BYTE. p. 90. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  13. ^ a b "List of Top Sellers". Computer Gaming World. Vol. 2, no. 5. September–October 1982. p. 2.
  14. ^ John Romero, Horizon V at MobyGames
  15. ^ John Romero, Zenith at MobyGames
  16. ^ "Zenith Review" (PDF). The Hot Seat. Arcade Express. October 24, 1982. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  17. ^ "Everybody Doesn't Like Something". Softline. March 1983. pp. 22–23. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  18. ^ Wiswell, Phil (1984-01-24). "Coming Soon: Games For The PCjr". PC. pp. 142–145. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  19. ^ a b "3-D World Runner". AllGame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  20. ^ (February 1999). "The Man Behind the Fantasies". Next Generation, issue 50, p. 89.
  21. ^ Foster, Neil (November 19, 2017). "Rad Racer". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  22. ^ a b Roschin, Oleg (March 26, 2006). "The World of Asian RPGs". MobyGames. p. Final Fantasy. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  23. ^ a b Vestal, Andrew (1998-11-02). "The History of Final Fantasy". GameSpot. p. Final Fantasy. Archived from the original on 2006-07-14. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  24. ^ Vestal, Andrew (1998-11-02). "The History of Console RPGs". GameSpot. p. Final Fantasy. Archived from the original on 2004-04-09. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  25. ^ "インタビュー『FINAL FANTASY I・II ADVANCE』". Dengeki (in Japanese). 2004.
  26. ^ a b Jeremy Dunham (July 26, 2007). "Final Fantasy II Review". IGN. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
  27. ^ "Final Fantasy Retrospective: Part II". GameTrailers. 2007-07-23. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  28. ^ "Final Fantasy Iii". Archived from the original on 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  29. ^ Square Enix Co., ed. (1999). Final Fantasy Anthology North American instruction manual. Square Enix Co. pp. 17–18. SLUS-00879GH.
  30. ^ Mielke, James; Hironobu Sakaguchi. "Interview with Hironobu Sakaguchi". Electronic Gaming Monthly (232). [...] 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]
  31. ^ Parish, Jeremy; Frank Cifaldi; Kevin Gifford (December 2003). "Classics Column #1: Desperately Seeking Seiken". Ziff Davis. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  32. ^ a b Secret of Mana hits App Store this month, Eurogamer
  33. ^ Secret of Mana, RPG Fan
  34. ^ a b Secret of Mana, Apple iPhone Apps
  35. ^ Barton, Matt (2008). Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games. Wellesley, Massachusetts: A K Peters. ISBN 978-1568814117.
  36. ^ a b c Dungeon Siege III Developer Interview Archived 2011-01-02 at the Wayback Machine,
  37. ^ Secret of Mana Archived 2013-07-29 at the Wayback Machine, Thunderbolt
  38. ^ a b Nasir Gebelli at Apple II Reunion on YouTube
  39. ^ Jordan Mechner, Tweet, Twitter (January 31, 2017)
  40. ^ "Apple II Celebrates 35 Years with Ultima, Prince of Persia, Choplifter". Now Gamer.
  41. ^ Romancing SaGa, RPG Fan
  42. ^ Francesca Reyes (November 4, 1999). "Grandia". IGN. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
  43. ^ Barton 2008, p. 220
  44. ^ Barton, Matt (2008). Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games. A K Peters, Ltd. p. 220. ISBN 978-1-56881-411-7. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Szczepaniak, John (February 2018). The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers. Vol. 3. SMG Szczepaniak. p. 208.
  46. ^ a b c d e Caoili, Eric (January 4, 2010). "Romero Chats With Game Programming Legend Nasir". Game Set Watch. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  47. ^ Derboo (May 20, 2011). "Ultima, Wizardry, and issues of video game historiography". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  48. ^ a b "IBM PCjr. Exclusive Games - ScubaVenture & Mouser". Nerdly Pleasures. March 2014.
  49. ^ Jeriaska (April 28, 2011). "Interview: Serializing RPG Storylines On Final Fantasy Legends". Gamasutra. Informa Tech. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  50. ^ Schreier, Jason (December 18, 2017). "Final Fantasy is 30 Years Old". Kotaku. G/O Media. Retrieved April 8, 2021.

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