Luminous Studio talk from Square Enix, and Japan stands up to the West-
The battle of west versus east raged on last week. Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed’s vita title Liberation along with Medal of Honor: Warfighter are advancing well in terms of sales. On the other hand, Capcom released a Lost Planet spin-off called EX Troopers, and Capcom states there are no plans to send the game westward. Seems this is a reminder that Japanese gaming will keep an identity of its own regardless of the increase of western games in the sales charts.
As a third person shooter in anime style, EX Troopers may be deemed the future of the Japanese game industry. An interview with Square Enix technical director Yoshihisa Hashimoto brings out a unique perspective of what is in store for Japan’s future. While the company has enjoyed success in the west lately, its Japanese operation has disappointed. Koji Taguchi, senior executive officer, described the publisher’s Japanese game lineup at last year’s E3 as “almost humiliating”. Seems Square Enix and Hashimoto have a bit of work to do.
Hashimoto worked on several Sonic games while at Sega, such as Sonic Advance and Sonic Adventure, before making the switch to Square Enix. When moving to Square Enix, Hashimoto was given the role of technical advisor of Final Fantasy IX after the restructuring of the development team. Hashimoto spoke with 4Gamer last week on his involvement in the ongoing development of Square Enix’s next-gen game engine. The now labeled Luminous Studio was revealed at this years E3, showing of the well received demo of Agni’s Philosophy.
With the use of third party engines becoming more common overall, Square Enix’s creation and use of Crystal Tools in games like 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.”
The Luminous Engine receives high hopes from Hashimoto, 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.”
Hashimoto hold positive beliefs in the extravagant, bigger-budget productions that Square Enix and its peers are well known for. “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.”
Although, Hashimoto makes no claim to putting all the eggs in a single basket, he insists “Luminous Studio was not created for the sole purpose of making triple-A game. 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.”
So far, we’ve only seen Agni’s Philosophy from Luminous Studio. Square Enix would certainly have at least one game in the works, right?“Yes, I think I can tell you that we’ve already entered that phase,” Hashimoto says. “However, the engine itself is not yet fully finished, so we’re not working on anything full-time. Right now arrangements are being made as we prepare to work using the real thing.” Creating the engine is only a halfway point, and Square Enix’s Japanese studio has to go the rest of the way by producing games that stand above games like Final Fantasy XIII to ensure that the considerable R&D investment is worth while.
Capcom has been standing as the alpha wolf of Japanese game makers courting the west since Keiji Inafune’s infamous “Man, Japan is over” comment at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show. Although, the recent PS3/3DS shooter, EX Troopers, was designed with a specific aim at the Japanese audience. 4Gamer caught up with producer Shintaro Kojima to discuss the process and philosophy behind making a game in a genre that is not so popular among the Japanese audience.
“EX Troopers isn’t a shooting game,” he insists. “It’s an action game with a good tempo, satisfying shooting and cool-looking dodging. Our original plan was to make something like a more relaxed shooter. Even though a lot of shooters come out in Japan, it’s still a big hurdle to overcome as it’s still generally considered a difficult genre. Personally, I enjoy those games, and would like to try and dissipate the air of difficulty that surrounds them.”
The cell-shaded art style commonly found in manga is familiar to the Japanese audience. Kojima’s design approach was to incorporate a feel, along with the mechanics, of Japanese action games into this new project, similar to what you would see in Devil May Cry. “The style we went for was ‘action game with shooter elements’,” he explains. “Building on the idea, the pace improved, and the whole thing felt better than if we had gone down a fully shooter-like road. While concentrating on getting the feel of the shooting right, we adjusted the level of auto-aim to ease target acquisition, while also adding in a lock-on system to easily switch between potential targets. This turned out to be the solution in our struggle to create a satisfying shooting system.”
Though it’s refreshing to see Capcom release a title not chasing a western audience – or developed by a western studio – after so many years of doing so with varying degrees of success, it seems to me that E.X. Troopers may well be more forward-thinking than it at first appears. As a title aimed at middle-school children, Capcom could well be playing the long game, trying to instill a taste for western game mechanics in its players from a young age. It seems like Capcom could well have a grasp on a strategy for the future of their games in both east and west.
Square Enix’s Hashimoto had quite a bit to say on the matter of western game design, along with the future of Japanese gaming. “I believe Japan is capable of producing interesting games, but looking at the influence, we are being pushed around by western games without a doubt.” When talking on the topic of Kojima Productions’ own next-generation engine, the Fox Engine demonstrated in the Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zero trailer, Hashimoto was hopeful. “Honestly, I thought it was amazing,” Hashimoto says. “I also thought, ‘We [Square Enix] won’t lose to this though!’ It was quite motivational.
“Recently, it feels like the Japanese game industry hasn’t lost, and is gradually pushing back.”
Hashimoto is certainly optimistic about the future: “For us not to lose, we really have to exert ourselves… But, I feel encouraged.” After many years of the Japanese gaming industry being thought of as struggling to compete with western studios, we give hope that they found solid ground to stand upon.
For now, we’ll wait with our old friend, Noctis
-cited to source
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