Julien Merceron of Square Enix in an interview with James Brightman:
This generation has been way too long, and I say this because you have a lot of developers that work on a new platform, and perhaps will not succeed, so they will wait for the next generation, and will jump on that platform. You could not do that with this generation though.
I almost made a fool of myself at the coffee shop just now. Luckily I was able to internalize the maniacal laughter and near spit-take. Does Merceron not know that readers can see exaclty what is being said? Let’s play Read Between the Lines for a second.
Got your answer ready?
Sure reads to me like this is exactly what Square-Enix was banking on this generation. The Cell turned out to be a pain in the ass, their games are little more than cut-scenes with button presses to advance frames, and they thought they could hang on until the next gen where they could get closer to what has always been their wheelhouse: big, flashy, CG Videos.
So what—besides graphics—changes next generation for Square-Enix? I hesitate to call them creatively bankrupt. But it certainly is an apt metaphor. They had great ideas, made great games, and the world moved on without them. Now is the time for a company like this to be developing new ideas, pushing the limits of design. The hardware has been mastered, regardless of how arcane it was to figure out. Instead, they’re complaining that they can’t make games look better.
How about just making them better in general? I’d be just fine with that. Guess what? Merceron tries to answer this very question.
Here’s the hedging:
So focusing on graphics only is a big mistake. People will need to focus on animation, and I believe our Philosophy demo is highlighting that, but also on the AI and physics too.
One of these things is not like the others, boys and girls. Let’s run it down. First we have graphics, but as Merceron says, focusing only on that is a big mistake. Next up is animation. You know, the way a character or environment moves. That’s not focusing on graphics (yes, it is). Then we have our black sheep, AI. Poor AI. It must get really lonely waiting until the last throes of a console generation so that someone can talk about you. I’m sorry it has to be that way. So at least that makes one item that isn’t technically just graphics by another name. How about number four, physics? Well, physics affect how things move in the environment and how they react to each other. You can see buildings crumble with physics, watch a piece of cloth move with the breeze—it’s different every time—and gaze in wonder as ripples bob peacefully across a tranquil pool. Sound familiar? That’s because I’ve just tricked you into thinking physics isn’t graphics when actually it is.
So, just to recap, that’s three out of four not-focusing-on-graphics things that are, for all intents and purposes, graphics. The other is AI, and we all know what an enormous problem that is to solve. The hole keeps getting deeper; I just hope someone at Square-Enix has the guts or brilliance to break from tradition and give us games that play like the next generation, not just look like it.