Crystal Tools

Last updated

Crystal Tools
Developer(s) Square Enix
Initial releaseSeptember 2007;11 years ago (2007-09)
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Wii
Type Game engine
License Proprietary
Website www.square-enix.com/jpn/index.html

Crystal Tools is a game engine created and used internally by the Japanese company Square Enix. It combines standard libraries for elements such as graphics, sound and artificial intelligence while providing game developers with various authoring tools. The target systems of Crystal Tools are the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows and the Wii. This was decided with the intention of making cross-platform production more feasible. The idea for the engine sprang from Square Enix's desire to have a unified game development environment in order to effectively share the technology and know-how of the company's individual teams.

Game engine Software-development environment designed for building video games

A game engine is a software-development environment designed for people to build video games. Developers use game engines to construct games for consoles, mobile devices, and personal computers. The core functionality typically provided by a game engine includes a rendering engine ("renderer") for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine or collision detection, sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, streaming, memory management, threading, localization support, scene graph, and may include video support for cinematics. Implementers often economize on the process of game development by reusing/adapting, in large part, the same game engine to produce different games or to aid in porting games to multiple platforms.

Square Enix Japanese video game company

Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd. is a Japanese video game developer, publisher, and distribution company known for its Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts role-playing video game franchises, among numerous others. Several of them have sold over 10 million copies worldwide, with the Final Fantasy franchise alone selling 144 million, the Dragon Quest franchise selling 78 million and the Kingdom Hearts franchise selling 30 million. The Square Enix headquarters are in the Shinjuku Eastside Square Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company employs over 4300 employees worldwide.

PlayStation 3 seventh-generation and third home video game console developed by Sony Interactive Entertainment

The PlayStation 3 is a home video game console developed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It is the successor to PlayStation 2, and is part of the PlayStation brand of consoles. It was first released on November 11, 2006, in Japan, November 17, 2006, in North America, and March 23, 2007, in Europe and Australia. The PlayStation 3 competed mainly against consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii as part of the seventh generation of video game consoles.

Contents

Crystal Tools entered development in August 2005 under the code name White Engine. It was intended for the then PlayStation 3-exclusive role-playing game Final Fantasy XIII . The decision to expand Crystal Tools' compatibility to other game projects and systems marked the official project start for a company-wide engine. Development was carried out by the Research and Development Division headed by Taku Murata, which was specifically established for this purpose. As Square Enix's biggest project to date, the creation of Crystal Tools caused substantial problems in the simultaneous production of several flagship titles; various critics cited the engine as the primary cause of significant delays in the release of Final Fantasy XIII.

<i>Final Fantasy XIII</i> 2010 role-playing video game

Final Fantasy XIII is a science fiction role-playing video game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles and later for the Microsoft Windows operating system. Released in Japan in December 2009 and worldwide in March 2010, it is the thirteenth title in the mainline Final Fantasy series. The game includes fast-paced combat, a new system for the series for determining which abilities are developed for the characters called "Crystarium", and a customizable "Paradigm" system to control which abilities are used by the characters. Final Fantasy XIII includes elements from the previous games in the series, such as summoned monsters, chocobos, and airships.

Taku Murata is a video game programmer working for Square Enix, as well as the general manager of the research and development division of the company. He was born in 1965 and joined Square in 1991. He is most notable as the main programmer for Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. He also worked on the development of the PlayOnline service. Murata also helped promote a new proprietary cross platform game development tool called Crystal Tools. His latest work was on Final Fantasy XII as the programming supervisor of the game.

Features

Crystal Tools is a unified game engine by Japanese developer and publisher Square Enix that combines standard libraries for graphics rendering, physics processing, motion control, cinematics, visual effects, sound, artificial intelligence and networking. [1] [2] Its target systems are the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows and the Wii. [1] On the development side, the engine takes the form of various authoring tools focused on large-scale game projects. [1] [3] It encompasses a character viewer for 3D models, an effects and a cutscene editor, a previsualization tool, and a sound maker. [1] [4] Usage of the third-party programs Autodesk Maya, Autodesk Softimage and Adobe Photoshop is supported via plug-ins. The individual authoring tools are connected over a communications server called GRAPE2 which reads all the different data formats, processes them and gives an instant preview of the final game. [1] The engine is highly customizable and can be expanded with new functions and tools should the need for them arise. Although Crystal Tools allows for easier cross-platform development, the differences in the target systems' video memory and microarchitecture still necessitate fine-tuning adjustments in the games, for example concerning texture sizes. [1] [5]

Physics engine Software for approximate simulation of physical systems

A physics engine is computer software that provides an approximate simulation of certain physical systems, such as rigid body dynamics, soft body dynamics, and fluid dynamics, of use in the domains of computer graphics, video games and film. Their main uses are in video games, in which case the simulations are in real-time. The term is sometimes used more generally to describe any software system for simulating physical phenomena, such as high-performance scientific simulation.

Computer animation art of creating moving images using computers

Computer animation is the process used for digitally generating animated images. The more general term computer-generated imagery (CGI) encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to the moving images. Modern computer animation usually uses 3D computer graphics, although 2D computer graphics are still used for stylistic, low bandwidth, and faster real-time renderings. Sometimes, the target of the animation is the computer itself, but sometimes film as well.

Cutscene

A cutscene or event scene is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player's actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events.

Development

Origins

As a video game company with different production teams, Square had wished for its employees to efficiently share their know-how and technology even before the merger with its competitor Enix. The desire for a common development infrastructure and engine dates back to the 1997 role-playing video game Final Fantasy Tactics , which was created in the transitional period from 2D to 3D game production. [3] Back then, the artists working on the game asked programmer Taku Murata for a fast way to check how their work would look in the final game. As the development was carried out on personal computers, the graphics were displayed on computer monitors. This looked very different from the PlayStation console's actual graphics displayed on a television screen. Initially, a faithful preview of the game's visuals was too time-consuming because all data had to be transferred from PC to console first. To evade this step, Murata created an instant preview tool. With this, he soon witnessed a boost in the artists' productivity and in the quality of their work. For 2000's Vagrant Story , the developers opted to reuse this instant preview tool rather than programming a new one from scratch. [3] Murata and his colleagues added new functions to create a unified preview and cutscene tool tailored to the game's fully polygonal 3D graphics. With 2001's PlayOnline service, the company then made its first foray into introducing a common software for all its divisions. [1]

Square Co., Ltd. was a Japanese video game company founded in September 1986 by Masafumi Miyamoto. It merged with Enix in 2003 to form Square Enix. The company also used SquareSoft as a brand name to refer to their games, and the term is occasionally used to refer to the company itself. In addition, "Square Soft, Inc" was the name of the company's American arm before the merger, after which it was renamed to "Square Enix, Inc".

Enix Japanese video game publisher

Enix Corporation was a Japanese video game publisher that produced video games, anime and manga. Enix is known for publishing the Dragon Quest series of role-playing video games.

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

After the Square Enix merger, however, the individual teams still continued to program and customize their own tools for each game, which would eventually go to waste as only their respective creators knew how to use them. With the amount of assets and tools required by the in-development Final Fantasy XII and the impending advent of the seventh console generation, a common data format for the company was proposed in 2004. It was to be developed in-house and replace general-purpose formats such as FBX and COLLADA. Realizing the goal of an engine with a common set of tools proved to be difficult, as many production teams wanted to further their own interests rather than those of the company as a whole. Select staff members from different company divisions teamed up to work on the project on a voluntary basis, but their loose organizational structure failed to yield results. Nevertheless, Murata considered this group effort a first step in the right direction. [1] In 2005, he was appointed general manager of the newly formed Technology Division. [3] Although this enabled Murata and his subordinates to talk about a company-wide engine more extensively, the lack of manpower again prevented any significant achievements. [1]

FBX (Filmbox) is a proprietary file format (.fbx) developed by Kaydara and owned by Autodesk since 2006. It is used to provide interoperability between digital content creation applications. FBX is also part of Autodesk Gameware, a series of video game middleware.

COLLADA is an interchange file format for interactive 3D applications. It is managed by the nonprofit technology consortium, the Khronos Group, and has been adopted by ISO as a publicly available specification, ISO/PAS 17506.

Version 1.0

Following the public's positive reaction to the graphics of the Final Fantasy VII Technical Demo for PS3 presented at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2005, it was decided to release the role-playing video game Final Fantasy XIII on the PlayStation 3 rather than the PlayStation 2 as originally planned. [6] In August 2005, the Technology Division began working on the White Engine, a PlayStation 3 engine that was supposed to be exclusively used for Final Fantasy XIII. [1] [6] [7] Eight months later, however, it was decided to repurpose the engine to further make it compatible with other projects such as the action RPG Final Fantasy Versus XIII (later rebranded and repurposed into Final Fantasy XV ) and the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Final Fantasy XIV . [6] [7] [8] In order for the company to stay competitive in a multi-platform environment, support of the engine was extended from the PlayStation 3 to the Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows, both of which were successful in Western markets. [1] [5] This marked the official development start of a company-wide engine for whose purpose the Technology Division was expanded into the Research and Development Division in September 2006. [1] [3] Murata remained the division's general manager with a full-time staff at his disposal. [1]

<i>Final Fantasy VII</i> 1997 video game

Final Fantasy VII is a 1997 role-playing video game developed by Square for the PlayStation console. It is the seventh main installment in the Final Fantasy series. Published in Japan by Square, it was released in other regions by Sony Computer Entertainment and became the first in the main series to see a PAL release. The game's story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins an eco-terrorist organization to stop a world-controlling megacorporation from using the planet's life essence as an energy source. Events send Cloud and his allies in pursuit of Sephiroth, a superhuman intent on destroying their planet. During the journey, Cloud builds close friendships with his party members, including Aerith Gainsborough, who holds the secret to saving their world.

Electronic Entertainment Expo annual trade fair for the computer and video games industry

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly referred to as E3, is a premier trade-event for the video-game industry. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) organizes and presents E3, which many developers, publishers, hardware- and accessory-manufacturers use to introduce and advertise upcoming games and game-related merchandise to retailers and to members of the press. E3 includes an exhibition floor for developers, publishers, and manufacturers to showcase titles and products for sale in the upcoming year. Before and during the event, publishers and hardware manufacturers usually hold press conferences to announce new games and products.

PlayStation 2 sixth-generation and second home video game console developed by Sony Interactive Entertainment

The PlayStation 2 is a home video game console developed and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was first released in Japan on March 4, 2000, in North America on October 26, 2000, and in Europe and Australia in November 2000, and is the successor to the PlayStation, as well as the second video game console in the PlayStation brand. As a sixth-generation console, the PS2 competed with Sega's Dreamcast, Nintendo's GameCube, and Microsoft's Xbox.

During development of Crystal Tools, the Research and Development Division continually surveyed what types of tools were needed to create Square Enix's flagship titles. Among the most frequently requested features was an extensive use of character close-ups. This made the staff realize that the Final Fantasy series put great emphasis on the "anime-like coolness" of its characters. Consequently, the engine's developers focused on attractive visuals rather than on accurate physics. To achieve a stylized look, a post-processing filter for additional lighting, blur, and visual effects was implemented. Square Enix's large teams were typically composed of a mix of industry veterans and rookie game developers. To accommodate this, the graphical user interface of the engine became another main feature and was designed to be as intuitive as possible. The large investments into technology and human resources quickly made the White Engine the company's biggest project to date. After one year of work, version 1.0 of the engine was completed in September 2007. [1]

Version 1.1 and later

Crystal Tools in 2009 Crystaltools.jpeg
Crystal Tools in 2009

After version 1.0 had been finished, the engine's code name White Engine was changed to the official title Crystal Tools. [1] [2] [5] This was not only done to represent the company and its works better, but also due to the refractive effects of real-life crystals that were meant to symbolize the flexibility of the engine. [5] Over the next few months, the programmers advanced the engine to version 1.1 and added preliminary support for the Wii. [1] In September 2011, Final Fantasy Versus XIII director Tetsuya Nomura announced that his team had replaced Crystal Tools with a proprietary action game engine that was supplemented by the lighting technology of the company's new Luminous Studio engine. [9] Other teams, such as the staff behind Final Fantasy XIII-2 , kept using and refining Crystal Tools. [10] For Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII , the engine was adjusted to make it more suitable to games with an open world design. [11]

Problems

While Final Fantasy XIII was in production, the development of Crystal Tools caused significant problems and delays. The programmers spent much time on taking all demands from staff into account. Based on this feedback, Murata's team tried to adapt the engine to the needs of several game projects, which proved to be virtually impossible and prevented the engine's specifications from being finalized. [12] Furthermore, as separate groups were working on the individual tools of the engine, there was no comprehensive software documentation to ensure usability and compliance. [13] Unable to wait any longer, the Final Fantasy XIII team had no choice but to begin creating assets to keep to the game's production schedule. However, the lack of specifications resulted in these assets being incompatible with the engine. In the end, it was decided that Final Fantasy XIII was to be the principal focus of Crystal Tools and the game's team began cooperating with the Research and Development Division more closely to receive the required tools and specifications. [12] While preliminary support of Crystal Tools was developed for the Wii, the console did not fully support all components. [3] In 2008, Murata said that Square Enix might license the engine out to other companies at some point in the future, although the limited documentation and the impracticality of supporting licensees posed great problems in doing so. [1] [5] Two years later, Final Fantasy XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase stated that developing an engine from scratch to go with a new game may have been a mistake and a likely cause for the long period between the title's announcement and release. [14]

Reception

At the time of Final Fantasy XIII's release, Crystal Tools was met with praise from critics. Eurogamer 's Richard Leadbetter described it as an "excellent 3D engine". [15] Nate Lanxon of Wired UK felt that it produced "some of the most breath taking cutscenes and 3D graphics" seen on the Xbox 360 and that it made "lengthy cutscenes more movie-like than ever". [16] Writing for RPGFan, Stephen Harris called Crystal Tools an "impressive software" that "powered the jaw dropping visuals in Final Fantasy XIII". [17] As time passed on, however, various media outlets criticized Square Enix for building their own engine. GameZone's James Wynne saw Crystal Tools as a means of "combusting money" during its development, and said it was "fairly out of date" by the time it had matured enough to be used for the company's projects. [18] GamesRadar's Ashley Reed faulted Crystal Tools for leading to extended delays in the company's release schedule and even lowering the quality of some games. She blamed the engine for having caused a "catastrophic meltdown" for Final Fantasy XIV. [19] Harris said that people had come to expect "pretty" graphics from Crystal Tools and that Final Fantasy XIV simultaneously "met and completely shattered" those expectations. He felt that the game was "the most visually astounding MMORPG ever created on the PC platform". However, he called certain graphical features "resource hogs" and was disappointed with the "steep" hardware requirements recommended by Square Enix to run the game. [17] RPGFan's staff writer Derek Heemsbergen said that Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII could be seen as "a desperate attempt to squeeze one last game out of the aging graphical engine". [20] Wynne equally panned Square Enix's alleged decision to drop Crystal Tools in favor of the newly developed Luminous Studio engine. [18]

Games using Crystal Tools

TitleYearPlatform
Final Fantasy XIII [1] 2009 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Final Fantasy XIV [7] 2010 Microsoft Windows
Final Fantasy XIII-2 [10] 2011 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Dragon Quest X [21] 2012 Wii, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII [11] 2013 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows

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