Something About Japan: Square Enix on Luminous Studio and “pushing back” against the west

Agni's Philosophy

The western invasion of the east continued last week, with Assassin’s Creed III, Vita’s ACIII: Liberation, and Medal of Honor: Warfighter all off to strong starts in terms of sales. This week, however, saw the release of EX Troopers, the Lost Planet spin-off that publisher Capcom says won’t be released in the west – a timely reminder that Japanese gaming retains its own identity despite the increasing presence of western games in its sales charts.

Of course, few would tout EX Troopers, an anime-styled thirdperson shooter, as the future of the Japanese game industry. This week brought a unique perspective of what the future holds for Japan, though, in an interview with Square Enix technical director Yoshihisa Hashimoto. While the company has enjoyed success in the west of late, its Japanese operation has disappointed. Senior executive officer Koji Taguchi described the publisher’s lineup of Japanese games at E3 last year as “almost humiliating”; there is much, then, for Square Enix – and Hashimoto – to do.

Previously of Sega, Hashimoto worked on several Sonic games, including Sonic Advance and Sonic Adventure, before moving to Square Enix, where he was given the role of technical advisor on Final Fantasy XIV after the dev team was restructured. Hashimoto spoke to 4Gamer last week about his involvement in the ongoing development of Square Enix’s next-generation game engine. Dubbed Luminous Studio, it was unveiled at E3 this year, running the warmly received Agni’s Philosophy demo.

With the use of thirdparty engines more prevalent than ever, Square Enix’s creation and use of Crystal Tools in games such as Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV and Dragon Quest X marks the company as one of a select few to work on proprietary tech – something Hashimoto has much to say about. “In reality, when trying to do something a little unusual [using a third party engine], it becomes necessary to engage in negotiations with the company who created it, perhaps asking them to improve or extend some of the engine’s capabilities,” he explains. “The process is inefficient, and becomes a shackle to the artists. Therefore, with the technical side of Luminous Studio under our control, we can fashion an environment which allows our creators to let loose their full capabilities.”

Hashimoto’s hopes for the Luminous Engine are high indeed, but When 4Gamer suggests that the industry has moved towards the casual end of the spectrum, Hashimoto agrees: “Right now, triple-A development can feel like something of a fool’s errand. While low-budget titles seem to be making massive profits, big-budget, triple-A titles aren’t guaranteed to see a return in sales. From a business perspective, it’s not hard to understand the attraction to focusing on only the low and middle end.”

Agni's Philosophy

Hashimoto, however, remains positive in his belief in the lavish, big-budget productions for which Square Enix and its peers are renowned. “From my perspective, I think Square Enix exists because of the high end,” he says. “I would like for more lavishly made games to still be around. For example, I think 20 or so years from now, we’ll still have 2D card games, and casual puzzle games. The demand won’t go away, so neither will the games. In the same way, the demand for triple-A games won’t disappear either, though I feel we’ll have to work hard to ensure their survival.”

Hashimoto is not ready to put all his eggs in one basket, though. “Luminous Studio was not created for the sole purpose of making triple-A games,“ he insists. “Luminous Studio itself will not only be used to power PC and console games, but also used for smartphone, tablet, and looking even further ahead, cloud-based platforms. The aim is to broaden the vision of the company, and establish a better integrated game development environment.”

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