crystal-tools1.jpg
No photos allowed — so use your imagination…

Taku Murata, the general manager of Square Enix’s R&D division took the stage at GDC and made it very clear that his English was not very good. The packed house didn’t seem to mind one bit — of course those unable to understand Japanese were equipped with translation headsets, so that may have had something to do with it.

So there I sat, in the back of a jam packed room with my recorder jammed between my ear and the headset (no point in recording Japanese), as I feverishly jotted down the highlights you can read below.

Taku Murata starts by discussing the Square’s learning curve from Final Fantasy Tactics in 97, to Vagrant in 2000, to the creation of Play Online in 2001 as the company’s first attempt for common software, and finally jumps all the way to the release of Final Fantasy XII.

With this he discusses the large volume of assets and what it took for the company to make the jump from the PS1 to PS2, stating that they they ultimately decided to create separate tool sets for the different needs associated with the many aspects of developing the game.

He then goes back in time to 2004 to discuss new 3D data formats such as Collada, FBX, or propriety. After much consideration they decided to develop their own format based on thief own specific needs. The integration process was not easy, but through discussion they made it work.

As information became available regarding the PS3 in 2005, they developed a tech division within Square-Enix for the first time. He became the head of this division, and it was at this time they began creating their own development platform.

They announced the White Engine prior to the R&D division being developed in 2006, and today they announced a new name for that engine … Crystal Tools. He then asked for opinions on the name and received some applause.

He went on to discuss the essence of Crystal Tools, stressing coolness on multiple occasions, in that he felt it was more important for things to look cool as apposed to being accurate. He also discusses stylized expressions and shows us several examples.

The first is called “Character Viewer” which appears to be some sort of 3d Viewer for textures, containing a directory tree, model specifics, and more.

Second, the “Cut Scene Editor” used to check the detail of closeups, and make sure everything looks — cool. This is more like a movie editor he says.

Finally, he discusses the decision to use a GUI interface extensively. He explains that as the team got larger and the mix began to vary from high experience to entry level. He believed the GUI would help to level the playing field for the team and help overall productivity.

He then shows a slide which outlined the process they use internally, and follows that up with a trailer for FFXIII. The room erupts afterwards, although I did not see much if any new material displayed in it.

Taku Murata wraps things up by informing us that all the tools shown to us today were used to make the new FFXIII and FFXIII versus. He mentions that Square is also working on a next gen MMO which will also use the tools, but offers no additional detail for any of the games.

Square-Enix hopes that many will eventually make use of the newly named Crystal Tools, which hit version 1.0 this past September.