E3 2015: Shinra Technology Roundtable and Interview with Yoichi Wada

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In a small conference room in a hotel across from E3, the bustle of the convention was mostly removed. While tons of games already in development were being shown there, Shinra Technologies was talking about the technology that they hope will be shaping the future of games. If their vision comes to fruition, the kind of games that are possible could be completely different from the games that were being shown in the halls across the street. Yoichi Wada, president of Shinra Technologies, talked first, presenting an overview of their vision.

The way it was explained, Shinra’s technology sounds like a form of distributed or cloud computing. Basically, rather than playing a game directly off the player’s console or PC or whatever, the game would mostly be running on a supercomputer managed by Shinra. The biggest advantage of this is that it allows developers more freedom when making their games. As one of the developers in the roundtable explained it, “rather than building the game for the box, we can design the box for the game.”

On a PS4 for example, the many different aspects of a game, such as lighting and physics, have to share the limited resources that the PS4 has. However, if the game is running off of a Shinra’s system, the computer can be built to the specific needs of the game and each game aspect can be given its own GPU or CPU as necessary. This removes limitation allowing for larger game worlds with better looking and more realistic environments.

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A tech demo shown during the roundtable highlighted a dynamic world running on the technology. The Living World is 32km by 32km environment with details like trees and terrain loaded in. The world was shown deforming in real time with advanced water physics for lakes and with 16 million AI controlled dragons flying around. To talk more about some games, there were three game developers at the roundtable who were discussing their projects, which are using Shinra’s technology. The games they talked about are in very early development so they didn’t have any video or images to show beyond some concept art, however the games certainly sounded impressive.

The first developer to talk was Hardsuit Labs. Their project involved an ever evolving world where the player must balance out the species in a biome as they evolve and adapt. They said their project needed the Shinra technology because of the scope of the world and the minute detail involved in each animal as they evolved.

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Next was Human Head Studios who talked about a naval battle game. They are working on a game with “huge, volatile, dynamic” water where things like the tide and the swell of a wave could all play into the thousand ship battles. They talked at length about how most games get by on very basic water simulation and how Shinra’s cloud gaming could allow them to create much more dynamic water physics.

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Finally, Camouflaj talked about a stealth survival multiplayer game. In it, players could destroy parts of the environment “not as a wow factor but as a way to create meaningful gameplay.” The game relies on the technology to allow for real time environment destruction.

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All three games talked about were multiplayer games and Shinra talked about how their focus is on multiplayer. The way they currently plan on setting up the hardware would be impractical for single player games. Multiplayer games would have multiple players connecting to a single super computer. Not only can the computer perform much better than a consumer computer, all players would be on the same connection so multiplayer games would not suffer from synchronization issues or “lag sniping.”

Naturally, one of my concerns, which was asked by another journalist during the question section, was how they plan to deal with lag due to connecting with consumers. Wada agreed that it was a key concern and said that they plan to start beta testing the network in the US in August in specific areas. Beta tests are already underway in Japan.
Shinra wrapped up with a few details about their future plans. One thing they are hoping for is a low barrier of entry. They don’t have any distribution or specific platforms currently planned but they envision the service working on everything from consoles to PC to tablets.

I also had a chance to sit down with Mr. Yoichi Wada and ask him a few questions, through a translator.

Can you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about Shinra technologies?

Wada: As I mentioned this morning, the game industry is developing and it is growing but I believe it is coming to an impasse. Sustainable growth is dependent on our ability to create new experiences and that is why I established this company.

So you would say that the advantage of this technology is to bring more vibrant worlds to life? Worlds that you couldn’t produce on a smaller home computer or home console?

Wada: Let me frame the conversation in that, for PC games for example, every time we have an advance in technology we have increased potential to provide new game experiences. Whether that is realized or not is depending on the time but that is something I have seen. So these days for example, you’ll see that almost all of your big games now are like movies and I would attribute that to the advances made with developments during the PlayStation.

There are many different kinds of technology that could power new experiences. VR is something that is getting a lot of attention recently and I see the potential there as well, but what I also see is the potential when you move processing to the cloud. There is a lot of new potential for new experiences there.

What kind of timeline do you see for this technology, when do you think a gamer might be able to get their hands on one of these experiences?

Wada: To kind of explain where we are in our timeline, while the Shinra system is not fully developed at the moment, the core components are there and it is functional. We’re already at a stage where developers can come in and create content for us. We’re reliant on the output of the content by our developers, so developers are coming and creating content for us and consumers won’t really be able to play with that until those are done. Since that’s the case, even though we don’t have a specific time set, we’re looking for some time next year where you will be able to get some of those experiences.

If you’re just looking at the porting and streaming of catalog content, that’s something we can do already. This summer we’ve already announced our closed beta in the US and so those users in the US will be able to get their hands on and see what the Shinra experience is with current titles. Obviously our focus is on new experiences and that is going to take a little bit of time before we can bring those to be worthy of exposure to the general public.

You mentioned some titles in development, one thing I’ve noticed recently in game development is titles that drag on and on in development. With all this extra power this technology provides, do you see that being a problem? Really long development cycles or is the technology focused enough to allow game developers to get their games out?

Wada: So one thing I can say is that the way we make games is going to change. While we can’t do an apples to apples comparison to the difficulties therein, we can say that the current difficulties will fade away and we will have new difficulties. When I was the CEO of Square Enix, one thing I could say is that we spent a lot of time making different game assets; chairs and stuff to put in the game. With Shinra, the focus won’t be on that, the energy will be put on powering new experiences and that is something we will be focusing on.

With access to advanced resources; CPU, GPU, etc, we have the ability to lighten some loads in terms of adding procedural generation of assets or putting more power into AI. So those components would, in theory, become easier to develop, but you still have to think of what kind of game makes use of that, right. There are fundamental complications that come from that.

I’d like to address three points game developers are always trying to focus on that with Shinra they will no longer have to spend on; these are areas that end users are not always aware of. The first one would be the importance of customizing the game to each console and making sure it runs on that equipment. Second would be standardization, especially for PC games, the ability to run on any spec or having minimum game performance. The third would be, especially for multiplayer or online games, the anti-cheat, net coding, and other similar components. By utilizing Shinra’s cloud technology, developers no longer have to worry about any of these because we can solve all of those ourselves.

During the round table you said that the beta was going to be in areas with fiber connections, do you see any issue with bringing the technology to areas with slower internet? Is latency a concern for those people?

Wada: I have two points I would like to address when answering that. First are the infrastructural trends in networking. Looking forward, I see a future where a lot of those problems or issues will be resolved by the evolution of the infrastructure. That’s one point. Second is the importance of creating a game design that answers the issues of latency. If you are always comparing this to laptops or mobile PCs and trying to use the same game design, there’s always going to be some issue with that. But if we focus on what can only be done on the cloud and create games that heighten or maximize that kind of game experience while minimizing the vulnerability to latency, that will answer that issue as well.

Let me give you an example from the past that I feel mirrors this. When the PlayStation first came out it used discs and the loading time was much longer than the, for example Nintendo, flash based cartridges. That was something that was perceived as negative, those long loading times. But the CD format allowed for new content, greater 3D assets, higher fidelity audio; these are all things that things that made the game experience more akin to movies and that was a big step for gaming. The development technology gradually caught up to the point where we no longer cared as much about the load times and the load times came down. And by then the users were used to. We had what was originally an issue was no longer an issue.

I see parallels with the cloud. In the beginning, we are going to have to create game experiences that are not vulnerable to latency. And what will eventually happen is that technological trends will work in our favor and we will be left with the unique characteristics of the cloud which people will already be inundated with.

And five or six years pass like that.

What would you say would be the ideal game for the platform or the game you or someone you know would most like to play?

Wada: One catchphrase or motto that we’re always bringing up when we’re looking at new content is the idea of a living world. I’ve been involved in the game industry for a long time and one thing I can say is that about the majority of games now is that the user or player is walked through an experience that is designed for them by the game developer. What the cloud allows for, and what we’re seeing coming, is emergent gaming; gaming that the assets are there but the player is creating their own experiences that weren’t necessarily foreseen or articulated by the developer.

Currently we think about games as we’re playing them. What I see is the, in the future, we stop the game but we’re still thinking about what’s going on in the game when we’re not present in it because it is persistent, it is ongoing. Those are the kinds of games, games that can take advantage of these and providing these experiences to the end user is something that, as you saw today, we’re thinking about and co-creating with developers.

Where do you see this technology interfacing with some other trends in the industry, such as VR like Morpheus or Oculus? Is that something that could be possible later on down the line?

Wada: VR is a very interesting technology and it is going to power a lot of games. One thing you can say about VR is that the standardization of it is going to be quite difficult. We have several kinds of VR and that doesn’t look like it is something that will be standardized in the near future. You’re going to have various kinds of standards, another format war almost, and that’s not something I see being solved in the near future.

VR and cloud computing have a very high level of synergy. VR is about what is being shown here [in your eyes] but what is being shown here is not being calculated here, that has to be done somewhere else. We’re talking about the high process capability of the cloud and VR is something we see a high correlation with, a high potential with. In the current environment, I don’t know if I say that people will believe me but my vision is that the real content that will make VR mainstream are going to be powered by the cloud.

Last, do you have any closing comments for the gamers out there who might be reading this article, like where you see this impacting them?

Wada: I think it would be great if gamers were more demanding about what kinds of new games they want. They’re being caught in the current stereotypes of what is possible and they’re not demanding enough new experiences. And that’s true of developers as well, they’re being inundated by what’s possible in the status quo and continuing that trend as opposed to designing new kinds of games. And saying things off hand things about what is impossible by current standards will be a catalyst for game creators, like us, to provide those new experiences. Without demand, it’s hard to create new supply.

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