GDC '08: Final Fantasy XIII powered by Crystal Tools

Square Enix renames the White Engine underpinning all its upcoming console efforts, suggests a Wii version and external licensing could happen in the future.

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SAN FRANCISCO--One of Friday's best-attended Game Developers Conference sessions was actually a dry technical recap of how a third-party publisher went about creating a new game engine that it would share among all its internal development teams. While it might seem odd that such a talk would inspire hundreds of people to form a line stretching clear across the Moscone Convention Center's North Hall, it becomes more understandable considering the session's title was "The Technology of Final Fantasy," and the games the engine will be powering include Final Fantasy XIII and Square Enix's mysterious unannounced massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Once the crowd had packed in to the auditorium, Taku Murata, general manager of Square Enix's research and development division, recapped the development decisions behind the publisher's White Engine. He also revealed the engine's new name: Crystal Tools. Speaking through a translator, Murata said that people had been discussing Final Fantasy in retrospective terms of late, and that he wants to change that to make people more excited about the present and future of the franchise.

While Final Fantasy XIII is a PlayStation 3 exclusive, Murata said Crystal Tools has no such affiliation, and is already compatible with the PC and Xbox 360 also. He added that some parts of the engine also support the Wii, but Square Enix isn't really touting it as a Wii engine because it's not fully compatible "yet."

Most of the talk focused on the development decisions behind Crystal Tools, from why Square Enix wanted a single companywide platform in the first place to how long ago Murata realized the benefits of real-time asset previews as an engine feature (that would have been more than a decade ago during development of Final Fantasy Tactics).

Fans who attended the show in the hopes of a glimpse of Final Fantasy XIII and what the engine can do were given the tiniest of concessions, as Murata showed a brief trailer at least partly based on the one shown at last year's Square Enix Party.

Murata also talked about some of the things the team working on Crystal Tools did right and wrong in the first year and a half of development. Getting the first version of the software up and running in just a year was a victory for the publisher, but he said the team realized far too late that they needed a technical writer to provide developers with proper documentation for the engine.

During the audience question-and-answer portion of the presentation, Murata was asked if the engine could be licensed to outside publishers, similar to what Epic Games has done with its Unreal Engine 3. Murata said it was possible in the future, but it wouldn't be possible right now, partly because the lack of proper documentation regarding the ins and outs of Crystal Tools would make it difficult to support.

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