Final Fantasy game publisher Square Enix is setting up its “revolutionary” cloud gaming technology, previously code-named Project Flare, as a separate subsidiary dubbed Shinra Technologies. Among the cool tech it promises are cloud-based landscapes in games that are 17 times the size of the huge fantasy environment of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
By setting up a separate entity, Square Enix will make it easier for Shinra to develop its technology and partner with external game companies. Eventually, it could also evaluate at a later time whether to spin the subsidiary off as a separate company with its own external funding.
Shinra Technologies will be based in New York and run by president Yoichi Wada, who is the former CEO of Japan’s Square Enix, the publisher of blockbuster titles like Tomb Raider and role-playing games such as the Final Fantasy series. Wada said in an interview that Shinra wants to enable new types of game experiences through proprietary cloud technologies. The subsidiary hopes to launch beta tests in the U.S. and Japan in early 2015.
The division is holding its coming-out party for the press and developers at an event today in Tokyo. It will show off a video of what it imagines will be possible with its cloud technology.
Shinra is going to need a lot of help. It will have to work with customers such as game developers to create gigantic worlds. And it will need partners in the data center and networking space to provide the infrastructure for its high-quality cloud games, which put “virtual supercomputers” in the hands of gamers.
It may sound far-fetched. But Wada believed in the technology so much that he gave up the top job to take on the project. With Shinra’s architecture, a single copy of a game and its assets are stored in the cloud. When a gamer starts a game, the game is streamed as video to the player. That means the player doesn’t need expensive hardware to play the games. Shinra said it has partnered with world-class infrastructure companies and network providers to ensure high video quality and minimal latency, or delays in interaction.
It is also in negotiations with game makers.
“Ubisoft has long believed that the cloud will play an important part in gaming’s future,” said Yves Guillemot, CEO and cofounder of Ubisoft, in a statement. “We are intrigued by the direction Shinra Technologies is taking and look forward to seeing what their architecture and technologies can deliver.”
Shinra is seeking additional influential developers to make practical use of its technologies in game development.
Wada, who is no longer involved in Square Enix management, said that it made sense to separate Shinra from Square Enix to avoid conflicts, as game makers may not want to rely on another game publisher for their fundamental technology. For now, Shinra is 100 percent-owned by Square Enix, which has provided the capital for the division. Shinra has 20 people, and it plans to expand on a global scale.
“We have a global opportunity in mind,” Wada said. “There is more talent available to us, and finance is flexible as well.”
As we noted in June, you could think of Shinra as “cloud gaming 2.0,” as it is more ambitious in intertwining traditional programming and cloud infrastructure than previous efforts to take advantage of Internet streaming. Shinra wants to make more efficient use of server hardware to support multiple players on each graphics processing unit (GPU) in the cloud. Shinra-enabled clients will access supercomputing power across the Internet.
The company wants to create virtual game worlds that are massive and require no loading times. They will be dynamic and detailed. Everything in the world will be calculated, rendered, and be deformable. Every player will share part of a giant game engine. All players will be in the same world. Physics and artificial intelligence are shared across users. Networking, patching, hacking, and pirating will be gone.
In a video demo, Shinra showed you can fly like Superman through a world filled with mountains, rivers, and 620,000 simultaneously rendered trees. Square Enix calculates the entire map, which is fully multiplayer, at once. Then, it encodes the slice of the world that your character can see, and it sends that to your computer or device in real-time.
In a demo in June, the team showed what it called a “swappable animal mammal,” or SAM. There were 500 such SAMs, which looked like zebras or deer, in a single space. They were running on “flocking” A.I. — or behaving like a herd of animals that move in a flock. When I squeezed a trigger, the SAMs all came running to me. When I pressed a button, they all ran away from me. Each SAM has its own A.I. and reacts to one another.
One of the newly disclosed features is “massive physics,” which means that the entire game map and everything within it can be deformed as a result of interaction in a game.
Jacob Navok, senior vice president of business development for Shinra, is one of the believers in the project. It also includes Tetsuji Iwasaki, senior vice president of technology; and Kristina DeRosa, director of marketing.
In an interview, Iwasaki said that he is focusing on developing a fundamental architecture, as the cloud tech can “basically do anything.” He hopes to distribute development kits in the future for three very different kinds of cloud gaming architectures.
“I hope this will make people more excited about the technology,” Iwasaki said.
“This is like a holy mission,” Navok said, in an interview. “We are crazy gamers who are frustrated with games coming out. We see cookie-cutter games on consoles. We want to drive the engine of game design.”
As for the name, it comes from Final Fantasy VII, where a character named Cloud saves the world. Shinra refers to the Shinra Electric Power Company, which serves as the planet’s de facto world government.