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Square Enix ventures into cloud-gaming technology with Project Flare

Square Enix announced today that it is working on Project Flare, a cloud gaming initiative that it hopes will open the doors to new experiences in video games, deeper immersion and low latency.

During a series of demos shown to Polygon, Square Enix's director of business development Jacob Navok explained that the company is tapping into a new way of using cloud technology that will change not only the way games are distributed, but the way they are designed and played.

"So up until now when we've talked about cloud gaming, we've mostly talking about streaming games," Navok said. "They weren't really cloud games to us. Gaikai, OnLive and the other companies were just putting a console in the data center. They weren't actually changing anything about it. There was a shift in the distribution model, there was a shift in the business, but there wasn't a shift in the game design. It wasn't a shift in technology."

"You can imagine what we could do if these weren't just boxes but people or NPCs or enemy characters or lots and lots of robots flying."

When players experience video games on their current consoles, those games are processed locally using the chipset within the player's machine. This single chipset has limits to what it can do, so developers are subsequently limited in what kinds of games and experiences they can design. The games are restricted by the technology. Project Flare aims to remove those restrictions. Instead of having consoles, computers or any other game-playing electronic device process and render the game's data locally, the rendering is shifted to a virtual supercomputer. This allows for "unlimited processing potential."

"When you have a virtual supercomputer, you have new ways of interacting with content, you have new ways of distributing that content and that should result in new experiences," he said.

Navok showed Polygon two demos using existing video games to illustrate some of the possibilities of Project Flare. The first example was from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In this demo (above), the player walks up to a pile of hundreds of boxes and fires a weapon, causing all the boxes to fly into the air and tumble to the ground. The demo played out in real-time with zero lag because all the incremental physics relationships between the boxes were calculated on a separate server — something that Navok said would normally be impossible to do on a single chipset. The frame rate would drop to the point where the game would be unplayable.

"Now we're not saying the next Deus Ex game is going to be Deus Ex: Boxes," he said. "But you can imagine what we could do if these weren't just boxes but people or NPCs or enemy characters or lots and lots of robots flying.

"What we really want to get across today is that even utilizing our existing titles, we can come up with new concepts. We could possibly achieve real-time battles that look like battles in the Lord of the Rings movies."

In a second demo (below), which featured Final Fantasy 11, the game was able to stream video to the player showing the perspective of all the other characters in their party. While Final Fantasy 11 wasn't designed to have such a feature, Navok explained that these demos give us some idea of the possibilities the technology offers.

Project Flare is still in its early stages of development, and Square Enix is currently seeking partners in game developers, publishers and technology makers to help shape the future of the technology. The company announced today that it will be collaborating with Ubisoft, but it is open to speaking with other developers about ways the technology can be used and distributed.

Square Enix is looking to launch Project Flare in the next 2-3 years, although it has not yet determined how the technology will be made available. Navok told Polygon that the company aims to make it as accessible as possible to developers, whether they be from big studios or small independent teams. Developers who are interested in working with the technology should contact Square Enix through the Project Flare website.