When you talk about middleware, are you speaking about plug-ins and less about engines, or do you feel the same way about licensing engine technology?
JM: Both of them can be of great help, and both of them can be extremely dangerous.
This is before your time, but Square Enix had its first Unreal Engine game, The Last Remnant -- and it was...
JM: You saw the talk last year at GDC?
I didn't actually see that talk, but I played the game, and its implementation of the technology was not great.
JM: Yeah. Again, you know, I think that sometimes it gives producers or game teams a false sense of security, and when they discover how non-adapted the technology they have chosen is, it's far too late already for them.
One of the traps with middleware is that some game teams believe that, because they got this middleware, maybe they need less programmers on their team, or maybe they don't need that many skilled programmers. Sometimes middleware is just something that a studio or a game team is going to use because they don't find the right people.
And it's true -- how many talented physics programmers are there out there? I don't think that you could find three to four extremely talented physics programmers per team. For example, let's say you have like 30 game development teams; if you're looking to find two or three extremely talented physics programmers for each of your teams, that's going to be extremely difficult.
Some companies decide to restructure around building some physics middleware and sharing it within the group; some others decide that, "okay, I'm going to put my physics programmers in these teams, and then I'm going to basically use physics middleware on these other teams."
But, again, coming back to what I was trying to say, some people use middleware because they just don't find talent, and I think that replacing talent with middleware is the first mistake that some game teams can make because, when it is too late -- when you realize that actually the middleware won't be able to provide the features that you need -- then basically you don't have anyone that is able to solve the problem on your team.
Most of the time, you get down to... if you're trying to make this type of game, then this technology is really adapted to it; and if you're trying to make that other game, then probably choose the other one. And again, that's the only approach you can have if you're kind of lacking innovative people and talented people.
And our industry is still small! I think that, in the good days, everybody's fighting for finding the best talented people in our industry; and even when there are layoffs in our industry, I think that most likely it's not these highly talented people that are back on the market.
I think many teams are struggling to find talented people and to find actually the skill that they need in their teams, and so sometimes they just need middleware; and there's no other task for them. You have the choice. I think that this is where you need to be really creative and really serious about your approach.
The Last Remnant
You're talking about making decisions on a project basis, which seems to me deciding at the level of what game do you want to make and then making the technology decisions. Is that something that you're going to help with when it comes to projects starting up across the whole empire of Square Enix?
JM: Yes. Yes, and one of the most important things is to get projects starting in the right condition and putting every game team on the right path. That's probably one of the top five most important things that need to be done. Obviously, one other aspect is really looking ahead and building the long-term for the company on the technology side, and when you're working with people that have a vision, with people that know where they want to go, that is fantastic.
The Tokyo branch had kind of a road map going before the merger; externally, we knew what was going on with the Fabula Nova Crystallis games, so I have a feeling that there was already an overarching plan there. And Eidos Montreal obviously had Deus Ex and Thief already decided upon, too. So a lot of decisions I guess are being made in advance in those studios already.
JM: Yes, there are a lot of things that had been established in the past. I had, obviously, the pleasure to be part of all of these big aspects on the Square Enix Europe studios aspect of things. When it comes down to Tokyo, obviously there are a lot of projects that started, there are a lot of things that are happening, and basically, right now, I'm working with the people over there to start to get on the right side. That's why I'm going to be very involved on the Japanese side.
The way I will work with all of the studios will be similar to how we have worked before. But you might imagine that there will obviously be an explosion of workload, now, as many synergies and technology tools transfer have been identified already, and obviously I need to catch up and start working on the sharing aspect of things. Obviously, the list of things to do is pretty significant, so right now a team is being assembled in Tokyo, and that team will work with me and help us accelerate the early steps.