How a mod collective gave Cloud a “heart attack”
What a difference a higher frame rate makes.
There are moments when you can see the game struggling to process all that’s happening on-screen. Actions slow to a crawl. Animations become choppy. It’s enough to pull even the most nostalgic gamer out of Final Fantasy VII’s most exhilarating moments.
That’s why one group of video game modders set out to make the original FF7 run at 60 frames per second (four times faster than its creators ever intended). The result is velvet-smooth gameplay free from the visual stutters and chugs of the original.
“It really happened due to a spirit of collaboration and passion.”
Tsunamods, a global collective of modders looking to “re-imagine” FF7 — and modding in general — released its 60fps mod on January 19. While game mods are often solo hobby projects, the group’s founder Brendan Hough (known online as Tsuna) saw this as an opportunity to reshape the entire community with a collaborative project.
“I was so fed up with everybody just being on their own, saying, ‘Hey, I made this mod’ and then somebody else being like ’I can do it better than you,’’ Hough tells Inverse. “Now, everybody shares their information. Together, they create something 10 times better than they would have done on their own.”
Tsunamods has a video walking through how to install and use the 60fps mod.
“A bunch of machine code”
The 60fps mod makes FF7 a (nearly) seamless experience that’s more attractive to younger players who didn’t grow up with PS1-era graphics. It’s also the latest in a string of enhancements for the classic RPG by Tsunamods. The Echo-S mod adds voice acting. Time Keeper incorporates a day-to-night cycle and weather. The Cetra Project replaces all of the classic 3D models with HD versions from 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.
According to Blake Wilkey, one of the contributors on 60fps, the project began with reverse engineering almost every digital asset in the game, because the modders don’t have access to the source code.
“We’re working with a pre-compiled file — a bunch of machine code,” Wilkey says. “That’s not the way the developers originally would have created the project. And before you can modify it, you first have to understand what the various chunks of machine code are actually doing.”
Bringing the mod to life has been a years-long process of trial and error. Wilkey had a lot of help from members of the community, like Julian Xhokaxhiu, who helped reverse engineer FF7 and authored FFNx, a platform that’s been the basis for numerous mods of FF7 and 8. Another modder called Vertex combined Wilkey’s code with Xhokaxhiu’s graphics manipulation. They’re credited as the official author of the 60fps mod.
Despite their ingenuity, the Tsunamods group faced a stiff challenge: The game’s original code simply was not constructed to accommodate running in 60fps. Essentially, the game runs in cycles but simply telling it to do more actions in one cycle to bump up the frame rate isn’t going to work.
“If you try to unlock it and tell the game you have more time to do stuff, it’ll just go crazy,” says Xhokaxhiu.
Making FF7 run four times faster resulted in some unexpected side effects. Critical conversations breeze past in the blink of an eye. Cloud seems to have what Xhokaxhiu describes as a “heart attack” while trying to pull off precise movements.
Vertex helped put all the code together with various patches to address these and similar issues, exemplifying how the collaborative nature of Tsunamods allowed the team to achieve something truly unprecedented in the modding community.
“It really happened due to a spirit of collaboration and passion, as well as the magic of open source,” says Wilkey. “Everyone who came into the community did something, and then that thing they did let the next person go further.”
Modding is an unpaid, time-consuming passion project that often involves finding creative workarounds for unanticipated problems. That means there are loads of projects out there with enormous potential that never get finished. The open-source approach of Tsunamods allows these projects to survive — and potentially be developed further by other members of the community.
“There’s a deep, emotional connection that motivates everyone on the team.”
Like with any fan-led mod project, there has been some concern about developer-publisher Square Enix potentially shutting everything down. Still, the team feels confident their approach won’t raise any red flags.
“You must purchase the original version of the game to use any mods that we release,” says Wilkey. “We’re shipping copies of Square’s game for them. People go to the Steam store to try mods that are being released.”
Whether it’s the 60fps mod or one that literally turns everything in the game into Barret, it all comes from a place of passion and deep love for the original.
“Final Fantasy 7 was just such a formative transformational game for all of us when we were kids. There’s a deep, emotional connection that motivates everyone on the team,” Wilkey says. “Modding this game is basically the programmer version of writing fanfiction.”