Square Enix enters cloud gaming with Project Flare

The Final Fantasy developer feels the future is in cloud computing, and they're partnering with Ubisoft to make it happen.

Square Enix is quick to point out that Project Flare, their upcoming foray into the world of cloud gaming, is not like the systems you already know. “Gaikai and OnLive are ‘streamed’ games. Not really ‘cloud’ games,” says Jacob Navok, director of business development for Square Enix. “[Flare] replaces the console with a supercomputer.”

There aren’t a lot of hard details about Project Flare today. There is no set business model in place, and outside of Ubisoft, most of the business partners are still being locked down. Square Enix sees this more as an statement of intent: They want other developers to know what they’re working on and why they think it’s the future.

The development house behind Final Fantasy decided to get into cloud gaming because they didn’t see the technological advancements they’ve been expecting in the field. “[Flare] separates computer processing from rendering processing. We separate the CPU from the GPU. Some games are compute heavy, and some games are rendering heavy. And you can’t really balance them when they running on one, single processing unit. But Flare introduces an exponentially scalable system that isn’t possible with streaming games.”

“Everything in current streaming games is running in its own individual instance.” Flare, instead “creates one instance and shares those resources...Supercomputer-like experiences are possible with Project Flare through a unique, patented architecture that enables cost-efficient scalability and processing power through which images are streamed as video.”

The technology sounds far-fetched, but Navok moves on to the visual demos to give me a better understand of the service. I look at an image of a meteor crashing into the earth with rock particles exploding violently outward. “If you wanted to do this kind of scene in a highly realistic way, something that looks like a Hollywood special effect or movie, you’d have to take hours to render each single frame. We only have milliseconds to do that in a game. So it would be practically impossible to do this in a place where we only have one chip lying under someone’s TV.”

Next, he shows me Square Enix’s MMO Final Fantasy XI, but laments that you don’t know that much about what your other party members are doing. “All I have is a little bar on the outside. But everything's just shared data. Everything is just a little video screen. So why shouldn’t I be able to see exactly what my party is seeing.” Smaller screens showing each of his other party members pop-up on the side of the screen as he continues, “Why can’t I zap to another town just by clicking on somebody else’s video screen and instantly be next to them?”

Navok moves on to a video of Deus Ex streaming on screen but with an impossible number of crates. Something that seems like it would cause horrible slowdown in even a behemoth of a machine. But the framerate barely registers. The next demo lets me manipulate incredibly high resolution character models and a flying dragon streaming live over a tablet while manipulating the camera.

But all of this goes beyond just offering a new game delivery service. One of the possibilities Navok sees is an entirely new game where you leap from screen to screen traversing puzzles designed around multiple users playing simultaneously. “Game design itself could change radically.” Navok says. “If I had Deus Ex, which is a stealth game, and I added video screens to it from around the world, it could start to be a strategy game, because I have to keep in mind all the other things that are happening in this world as I’m going through the game. ”

It may still be a far off idea, but Navok says, “Why should we be designing all this content ourselves? Why shouldn’t we take Google Maps to design our cities, traffic data, or weather patterns? Why shouldn’t we be using IBM’s Watson to power our AI? We don’t have to worry about the connection coming to the local client anymore, everything’s going to a data center; it’s going to be very fast.”

“Cities in a game tend to have a couple people, and a few cars.” He stresses that you can’t render a real crowded city because it would just “overload the processor” without even thinking about the AI and other considerations. Flare will solve that by providing the processing power to render a realistic, elbow-to-elbow croweded city street like downtown New York.

But does all this mean Square Enix will be abandoning the current hardware model in favor of a new streaming business model, or is there a system that they hope to outsource? “We’re very open,” Navok says. “We could be working with Sony or a console company. We could be working with Valve or one of the other companies. We could be doing it ourselves. We don’t know yet.”

Project Flare is still a couple years from being a consumer-ready product, but whatever form the cloud service ultimately takes, Square Enix hopes it will change gaming in ways even they can't foresee.

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justinhaywald

Justin Haywald

Senior Editor, Earthbound fan, and snazzy dresser.
101 comments
Zloth2
Zloth2

This sounds exactly like what XBox One is doing.  Instead of making the game totally in the cloud like OnLive, you farm out the stuff that isn't timing critical to the big servers.  It won't be easy to pull off but, if they can make it work, it would sure be nice.

-RPGamer-
-RPGamer-

The future is in a buzz word that has existed for quite some time, Square and Enix I used to think you were the best. It is sad that I hope for you to be even close to good.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Cloud computing might have a place in multiplayer gaming online.

But not in single player games.

SQUARE, YOU MAKE SINGLE PLAYER GAMES, REMEMBER?

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

"Gaikai and OnLive are ‘streamed’ games"

"... 
and processing power through which images are streamed as video.”

So you're still just streaming a video, and will experience the same problems as with OnLive lag. More importantly (in my opinion, as OnLive isn't a bad service if not for the abysmal lack of games), if your connection goes down, or they have server maintenance  you can't play games. I'm not okay with that.

Nice idea, and two solid companies doing it, but I'm not sure we NEED that much power in our games, anyway.

cirugo
cirugo

How much are people going to have to continue to be victimized by networking problems (outages, hackings, connection failures) in both work AND play before they finally catch on that any network- based model (which is what cloud computing essentially is) is NOT the future?

James Buck
James Buck

Keep the goodness away from UBI-soft

Jared Beasley
Jared Beasley

I think this is a great idea the possibilities of what they can do are endless. If you dont have good net its time to up grade tp comcast or whatever company that offers xfinity cuz its the consumer thats holding back these systems. The tech is there but the people arent.

moesuir
moesuir

and Sony said this would be impossible.....Liars.

Trevor Merrill
Trevor Merrill

Sure, in an ideal world...where none of us actually live

David Chang
David Chang

Still better than Square Enix at least...

BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

This whole article is just a cleverly written ploy to get the customers (us) more ok with the idea to accept streaming digital online only games inwhich I will never be ok with ever. They can keep their cloud ill stay in my heap of physcial media down on earth thanks.

gamerboy100
gamerboy100

Wow, all of these comments and nobody seems to have noticed the typo at the top of the page.

"The Final Fantasy developer feels the future is in cloud computing, and they're partner with Ubisoft to make it happen."

Jean Fernandez
Jean Fernandez

They're blind... it's a shame they'll fall with cloud gaming.

Terry Jaye Yazze
Terry Jaye Yazze

I just want to put the disc in a console and go right into the game without all the hassle of this day and age of gaming, dont chat about rankings, or having to have internet, tons of menus, overloaded console features.

DVONvX
DVONvX

Microsoft was right. 

justinmccrary
justinmccrary

It is astounding how anti tech most of you are. This is future tech. Which will improve over time. If we had waited for everyone to have cell service before we had cell phones we still would have no cell phones. With all the complaining I hear on this site about the price of tech these days I figured people would be behind this. Down the road services like this will alow consumers to have high end PC performance with out the need for expensive hardware. I know most of you can't see that because you hate everything. With this working companies could release a console with very little specs for around 50$. Its the perk of having a service based system. However most people are to short minded to embrace anything new. Everyone is so negative these days. You making me negative

Nuttanon Prasartkul
Nuttanon Prasartkul

Internet speed is not fast enough. Maybe for future. But, Not today or tomorrow. I'm sure.

Craig Surgenor
Craig Surgenor

Tomb Raider, Assassin's Creed style sounds alright

Abdul Rahman
Abdul Rahman

As long as the game runs on the original hardware to an optimised state with of course the cloud module being available as an option. Thereby providing more detail to the game instead of having all the storyline. Then it’s worth getting behind (if it shuts the PC gamers up).

Daniel Almanza
Daniel Almanza

Oh what am I saying, TR died a long time ago :'(

Michal Peňáz
Michal Peňáz

Square Enix and Ubisoft ? Deus Ex 3(4) guys NOW ! (I'm not counting invisible war, that game never happend !)

Derrick Skinkis
Derrick Skinkis

Remember when someone told MS that HD DVD was the future format? yeah that worked out well.. Consumer market does not have good enough internet access to have something like cloud be successful

Ljubiša Isaković
Ljubiša Isaković

Yeah they're all happily jumping on the cloud bandwagon thinking that cloud is smh a magical solution to piracy problem...

Nathan Nandy Smith
Nathan Nandy Smith

It depends how much of the game uses the cloud. Titanfall uses the cloud for alot of the ai in the game but most of the operations are local.

Mel Mullins
Mel Mullins

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't internet speeds have to exceed that of even Fiber, for cloud computing to really add much to any given game....I mean we're talking nanoseconds for these elements to be implemented in "real time".

Brock Lockhart-Doyle
Brock Lockhart-Doyle

Actually, cloud computing would be very interesting and exciting to see.

Ian Vance
Ian Vance

Until the consumer backlash hits. Terrible move if they make single player modes online dependent. Diablo III is a perfect example that users don't want that.

Shane Rath
Shane Rath

Dem 300,000 servers on X1 though...

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

I forgot about cloud gaming.

Since Microsoft have already hit their performance maximum for next gen it will be interesting to see how good cloud gaming really is. I mean everyone says it will be crap but I will accept that it is crap when I can see that it is crap.

bloody-hell
bloody-hell

Games as streamed service is something I have no interest in because ...
- I am dependent on their server's availability
- I am dependent on bandwidth (in their datacenter, international nodes as well as my own internet line)
- there will be picture quality issues, picture fragments due to streaming
- there will be input lag due to streaming
- I don't own the game but basically rent it as a service I can only use on the mercy of the developer / publisher / hoster
- horrible monopolization, agreements, customer milking, usage tracking and legal nightmares
- the list goes on and on

In a perfect world this would be awesome tech, playing games streamed to my home, but let's face it - well, no need to even face it because UbiSoft has their fingers in it as well as other "business partners" and we know how bad their "services" and reputation currently are.

I don't trust them to not fuck this up, but perhaps it helps in getting rid of them when they put all their money in that service and then fail and go bankrupt.
I'll rather continue enjoying my bought and owned, offline playable DRM free games - That's the future, it always was.

Doomerang
Doomerang

I'm not sure about you Square, but maybe - just MAYBE - you should focus on trying to improve your games (as in, games that appeal to the fanbase that helped get you established and aren't simply reliant on buying out other companies like Eidos) and not worry about something that is not only impossible in modern times, but also in a field you have zero experience with.

randomkidlol
randomkidlol

Couldnt you solve this problem by simply upgrading the hardware on the user end instead of making some massive complicated cloud network?

And if the user cant afford to upgrade, thats too bad for them cuz then they cant get good framerates during intensive sequences.

anonymousicko
anonymousicko

Bullsh*t. I'm not going to pay $60 for a game, + online subcription and internet connection just to play a game. And that is not even include DLCs.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@Zloth2 The only reason they want to do it is control.  Control over your game.  Control to be able to take it away.  So yes, exactly like what Microsoft is doing.

And you shouldn't stand for it.

Ragnawind
Ragnawind

@Zloth2 You are confusing Microsoft's dedicated servers and OnLive's streamng with cloud technology. All 3 are completely different things. What this article describes, though, is true cloud technology, assuming they succeed with this ambitious project. OnLive is streaming, just like Sony's Gaikai is. This runs the software on a remote host and streams the feedback and visuals to and from the source and destination. XBOX's dedicated servers basically work like in MMOs and that everyone connects to a server to send and receive data, like the drivatar things. They are also used to host online matches. With true cloud gaming., there is one server that takes on everything itself.. All users who connect to it have access to what is available to them. There is only ever one instance of everything accessed at once, also. As the article states, you and another person can load the same data at the same time, but it could look different for both users viewing the same data. It is a very hard concept to understand and explain, though, for most people, but all of these types of services are completely different from each other.

hystavito
hystavito

@Thanatos2k All games, singleplayer or multiplayer, will eventually be streamed or if you want to use their term, umm, clouded? :)  It has the great benefit of being able to flip a switch and take the games away any time they want right?

Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@BlackBaldwin I highly doubt it is as powerful as they say it as well. If it was, Kingdom Hearts 3 would use it to be on Wii U. Personally, I'd rather have it on GOG or Steam just to avoid MS and Sony getting a cent from it. I also hate idea of having to stay online when I can't get an ISP that doesn't randomly disconnect and the other issues that come with cloud gaming.

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

@justinmccrary 

Proof that we're not anti-tech: we say YES to Occulus Rift, NO to always-on.

Give us real advancements, and games. Anything else is just a paper-thin ploy to get us "connected" (to advertisements).

Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@justinmccrary What happens when a cloud game gets pulled? You can't play it anymore, if I'm not mistaken. What happens when too many people try to play at the same time? You get congestion and may have slow down or waiting for your turn. The reason people don't like it is because they feel like it is going to take away their rights as consumers.

Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@Ljubiša Isaković Unfortunately, it causes more problems that it solves. SimCity shows it. Steam and GOG have ideas on how to succeed. Steam offers bargains on games frequently. GOG replaces DRM with VIP treatment. Both are much more respectable solutions than requiring a constant internet connection.