Programmed by N A S I R
March 23, 2015 11:04 AM   Subscribe

It was common practice in the 8/16 bit era for Japanese programmers to use pseudonyms or abbreviations in the game's credits, so you might not have given too much thought to the name NASIR popping up in the credits for Rad Racer, Final Fantasy II or Secret of Mana. In fact, NASIR was just the first name of programmer Nasir Gebelli, an Iranian-American who first made his name programming ambitious games like Horizon V in the Apple II era.

Introduced to Nintendo and Squaresoft by Doug Carlston of Broderbund, Gebelli was hired by Square and went on to work there for many years. He was a rare example of a foreign coder finding his way to the higher echelons of a Japanese game firm.

Unfortunately, Gebelli remains a somewhat elusive figure. He retired from Square to travel the world and hasn't been heard from much since. He did resurface for a Apple II reunion party at the now-defunct Ion Storm in 1998 and you can watch some snippits from an intervew he did with John Romero. (I apologize for the 90s MTV camera zooming)

Chris Crawford (of Balance of Power fame) also mentions Nasir in an article on his website, but doesn't seem to be aware of his later Square career, noting that Gebelli was one of many coders briefly famous in the Apple II era.
posted by selfnoise (10 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
popping up in the credits

Is this something I'd have to beat a game to understand? 'Cause the only things that rolled at the end of an NES game for me were tears--down my cheeks.
posted by resurrexit at 11:10 AM on March 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Great post! As a child I thought that N A S I R credit at the beginning of Secret of Mana added an additional layer of mystery to the game. It haunted me enough, and popped up in enough other Squaresoft games, that I must have looked him up many years later. Definitely a figure from a bygone era, just like Ted Woolsey.
posted by byanyothername at 11:15 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd always assumed that the NASIR from Final Fantasy was just an acronym for some anonymous collective of Japanese coders who'd somehow gotten ahold of a set of spuriously translated AD&D sourcebooks and decided to make make something in tribute. I had no idea it was just one dude programming everything; I thought that the battle system, the inventory/status system, and the overworld/town exploration system were all done by separate teams working in concert. Awesome.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:44 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Gorgon, a sort-of Defender clone, was the first Apple ][ game we ever bought -- at a cost of like a billion weeks allowance.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Sirius Software [where Nasir worked] came out with a bunch of action games, and Nasir made nine of them in just the first year. He was chain smoking, drinking coffee, and turning out these games. He never had a program that would save his code; he typed them directly into memory on the Apple ][. There was no source code or comments. He'd type in one line, it'd be converted to machine code, then he'd type in the next line. There were no symbols; nothing. He had to keep the whole game in his head. He kept doing that all the way up to Secret of Mana [a 1993 game for the SNES]. He used the same mini-assembler built into the Apple ]["

- Matt Barton interviewing John Romero in Honoring the Code (Conversations With Great Game Designers), page 11.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:09 PM on March 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

Is this something I'd have to beat a game to understand? 'Cause the only things that rolled at the end of an NES game for me were tears--down my cheeks.

It used to be a tradition to have some credits actually on the game title screen, and that's true at least of Secret of Mana and FF2(JPY). The credit for Rad Racer is on the demo (attract) screen.

Great post! As a child I thought that N A S I R credit at the beginning of Secret of Mana added an additional layer of mystery to the game.

I just never thought about it at all because games were always full of strange jokey names in the credits. Supposedly this was partially due to Japanese companies not wanting their employees poached, but I'm not sure if that's something that really happened or just a rumor.

He used the same mini-assembler built into the Apple ][

This is... bonkers. Thanks for that link, I might have to read that book!
posted by selfnoise at 1:19 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had Neptune and Autobahn for the Apple II. Even as a child I knew the the name NASIR as some kind of standout. The games were just stylistically different from anything else. Notably, the sprites were bigger.

After I discovered the limits of the performance of AppleSoft BASIC, I started writing 6502 assembly language code. I spent a lot of time on my blitter, as most programmers of that era did. The blitter is the tight little loop of code that copies pixel data onto the screen. Most Apple II games spent most of their time in that loop. A 1MHz 6502 can only copy so much data in one 30th of a second, and this places a hard limit on the total size of all moving objects on screen. Despite dozens of hours spent optimizing that loop, my games had tiny sprites.

Nasir's games all had these HUGE sprites. How the hell did his blitter work?? Did it... run in the zero page... ?
posted by rlk at 2:08 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've never heard of code actually running in zero page going faster on 6502, but certainly keeping vectors there helps save cycles. If NASIR is the kind of coder it sounds like he is, I wouldn't doubt that he uses self-modifying tricks.
posted by JHarris at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2015

What's really tripping me out is that despite rarely giving more than a fleeting thought to the abbreviated nicknames that were always popping up in 8-bit era credits, my brain was like "AH YES NASIR I REMEMBER HIM" as soon as I saw this post.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:15 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

This thread reminded me of an Apple ][ software package called The Graphics Magician (warning: big-ish PDF) (demo) which was a toolkit for animating sprites and other graphics wizardry. (If you remember the first graphical adventure games where the scenes would be slowly drawn with lines and colored flood-fill, that was probably this toolkit.)

I remembered it because it offered multiple ways to draw sprites to the screen, each with unique properties. For example, you could put a black border around your sprites, and then the engine could OR them with a background buffer before blitting them to the primary frame buffer. You'd overwrite other sprites if they overlapped, but otherwise you'd have smooth sprites with no flicker that overlaid a background, and you wouldn't have to waste time erasing the previous sprite. But if you moved the sprite faster than your border allowed, you'd leave a trail.

Alternatively, you could just XOR once to erase and once to draw, and you'd have flickering sprites but no worries about how fast they moved. (I also remember a weird mode where you XOR the background and OR the foreground, but don't see it here.)

Anyway the Apple ][ had a weird 7-bit pixel layout which repeated every two bytes, so for performance reasons it'd behoove the developer to store 7 different bit-shifted versions of their sprites (6502 had shift-by-one but not shift-by-n). This was cool, though, because you could make each frame slightly different and voila, animated sprite! This is what it looks like Nasir is doing in Gorgon.

The animation works fine if you're moving left and right at a constant speed, but since each frame is bound to a particular (X mod 7) coordinate, the animations would cycle at weird times when, say, scrolling the screen as in Gorgon. But Nasir does something clever! When the player scrolls the screen left or right, the landscape is redrawn for every change of X coordinate, but the enemies only redraw every 7th X coordinate. This ensures that the animation doesn't go haywire while scrolling, and also looks subjectively faster because you are spending less time drawing enemies and more on scrolling landscape. When you stop scrolling, the enemies move smoothly again.

And this was just in 1981! The heroics hadn't really even started yet.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:42 PM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

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