Getting Up Close And Personal With Square Enix's New Engine Blew My Mind

This last Friday and Saturday in Tokyo, Square Enix held their 2012 Open Conference. While there was some talk about the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV, the majority of the two-day event focused on Agni's Philosophy: Final Fantasy. Agni's Philosophy is the real-time tech demo of Square's new Luminous Engine that was first presented at E3 2012. The big draw of this video is that none of it is pre-rendered — none of it is a recorded FMV. Instead, everything is being done in real time by the Luminous Engine. While I thought I understood exactly what that meant, it wasn't until I spent the better part of two days up close and personal with the Luminous Engine that I came to understand how amazing it really is.

Despite it having a mini-Final Fantasy story all its own, Agni's Philosophy's true purpose is to show off all the different things this engine is capable of doing. The tech demo opens to a truck driving past two hairy animals. This is nothing special until you realise that not only is every individual hair on their bodies being rendered in real-time but also the hairs are moving in accordance with the wind and movement of the animal. More than that, you can see the animal's refection in a pool of water — an image that is a real-time copy of what the animal is doing — that is distorted due to the depth and clarity as well as the movement of the water. But what's truly amazing about this is not only that it is being rendered in this way but also that it can be changed drastically with a click of the mouse.

Let's take the old man in the next scene for example. Nearly everything about him can be changed on-the-fly by moving any of a set of slider bars: his skin colour, the amount he is sweating, the brightness of the sun upon him. But his hair — specifically his beard — is astonishing in and of itself. Its thickness, the way it clumps, its length, its stiffness, its colour, its elasticity, even how curly it is can all be changed on-the-fly. The hair is also capable of interacting with other objects automatically as well. At one point, this scene was paused and we were shown a floating white ball moving through the beard with the hair reacting realistically with no extra input needed.

In the next scene inside the temple, particles are the name of the game. From the start of the scene there are thousands of red and yellow glowing insects flying around. Soon they are joined by blood particles and chunks of flesh as the summoned dragon begins to form. Every single one of these particles — insects, blood, flesh, and even smoke particles from the numerous candles — is individually rendered. Their size, colour, opacity, thickness, and even their individual movements can all be changed again with a simple set of slider bars. Like the hair, these particles also respond automatically to the objects they interact with — both solid objects and other particles.

Later, as Agni is attempting to escape with the crystal, we see her grab a glass bottle, make it glow with magic, and dump it on her arm to heal her wounds. Believe it or not, the most amazing thing in this scene is the glass bottle. The magic light passes through the bottle exactly as a bottle of that size and thickness would in the real world — they even showed us the calculus formula to prove it. Again, nearly everything about the bottle can be changed on the fly: its thickness, the dirtiness of the glass, even odd textures in the glass. But this is not the only time light comes into play.

Realistic lighting is one of the key players in the aptly named Luminous Engine. Great care has been put into having it affect all the objects you see in the tech demo, from water, to glass, to human skin and hair. But perhaps the most interesting lighting effect has to do with the eyes of the characters. The eyes themselves in Agni's Philosophy are all structured like real human eyes, complete with a lens. From that, the engine is able to automatically (and correctly) put the reflection of what the character is seeing onto its eye. Of course, reflections don't appear only on eyes, but rather on all even slightly reflective surfaces in the demo.

The Luminous Engine is simply an amazing piece of technology. The way it handles light, particles, skin, and hair is nothing short of astounding. Frankly, when you get down to the details, it looks better than any other real-time engine I have ever seen.

Simply put, the Luminous Engine is Square Enix's attempt to show that they can not only make a world that looks and acts exactly like the real world, but that they can also do it in real time. But more than that, it's Square Enix showing that they are already prepared for the next generation of consoles — that they have already worked through and conquered all the problems that other developers will face over the next coming years. And that's the reason this conference was open to the public and streamed online: they want you, the common gamer, to know that they are ready.

But while Square Enix spent a lot of time at the conference detailing how to work with the engine for the best results, it remains to be seen if making a game with the level of detail present in Agni's Philosophy is even practical. Regardless, one thing is for sure: the next generation of games will have the potential to look far better than anything we have seen yet.


    We've seen this realtime rendering in the old PS2 FF8 re-rendering and the PS3 FF7 rendering though haven't we? Unless I can see this running, playable in a game, I'm not going to espouse actually being impressed. Does it look nice? Sure. For pictures. But until its playable, it's just theoretically nice.

    Wow. Square enix have the best engines and artists in the game. I cant wait to see ff15!

    Yoshihisa Hashimoto is quoted elsewhere as saying that the engine will scale from PC to next-gen consoles to mobile devices. He also said that this demo was running on a high-end PC (assembled from parts that are commercially available now). While the engine will run on consoles it's not going to look the same.

      "While the engine will run on consoles it's not going to look the same."

      So you have the specs of next gen consoles? Care to share?

        Well we only have rumours, but it's telling that not a single rumour has pointed to the next-gen consoles having CPUs or GPUs more powerful than currently commercially available PC parts. There's one rumour going around pointing to the PS4 using a HD 7970 as its GPU, but most are talking about 7800 series or lower.

        Even without the specs of next gen consoles they wont be anywhere near as good as the next generation of PC specs.
        If they are building next gen now, they will be using current PC gen hardware and not even top tier PC hardware.
        So by the time they pick the parts that allow the lower price needed for console buyers mixed in with the fact that all consoles are ALWAYS lower specced than PC, throw in all the added crap consoles get like licencing, blueray drives, memory, HDD, assuming console developers dont want to go over the 1k mark you will NEVER get a console that looks as good as a PC... unless its developed without restrictions on price or by Valve.

        history will show this to be the case, the PS3 came closest to a high end PC when it was released, and it came out with a 1k price tag (which was ridiculous, they copped so much flack about it they had to release the lower specced version), but even then it still never looked as good as the PC game counter parts of the time.

        The original Xbox sure HALO looked great for a console game, one of the best of its time, but there was way better looking games on PC.

        Console while good for the masses or people who dont know enough about building a decent PC, or dont have the money will allways be a "good enough" system, but never a top tier rig for visuals.

        IMO, consoles had a big advantage because they were designed to only play games, which meant the entire software stack and CPU cycles were catered for that single purpose.

        But thanks to Moore's law and multicore CPU's, PC's running games while also runnning a full blown OS is no longer such an arduously expensive thing. I don't think we'll any longer see console games at launch blowing away PC games like we used to.

        Consoles won't go away though. The convenience, price and its place in the living room are both factors that work for it.

    Very impressive. If the engine looks even half to three-quarters this good on next gen consoles we're in for a treat!

    Lets hope SquareEnix can evolve their gameplay also, or at least return too their roots. Go back to true turn-based gameplay please.

    I'm sure the crytek people will say their engine can do all this stuff and has been capable for a couple years. It's just that you can't get it looking anything like that running in games on normal hardware.

    I think the point of, lets see this running in a game looking like this. is very valid. So a high end PC? That could be anything. It could be 4x GTX690 in SLI for all we know.

    It'll be interesting to see how disappointed people are when the next gen consoles come out. They won't look anywhere near this good. Hopefully with these tools they are aiming high and the PC versions will look good for a while.

      Oh so you know the specs on next gen consoles too?

      Did I miss some groundbreaking news?

        You missed the basic rational thought classic 101. As has already been explained to you, as next gen consoles are being made now and have been for awhile they had to be using currently available tech, its not possible they reached into the future to grab a gtx 790 or whatever floats you boat, thus when they are released they will be inferior to the best available gaming pcs. personally I can't see the next PlayStation running 4 cards in sli.

          the PS3 is running 7 CPUs in parrallel with one additional redundant CPU (simplified). Everyone seems to be forgetting the fact that consoles require far less overheads in terms of processing and RAM. On top of that they can be designed from the ground up to solely run videogames, and therefore be optimised for them.

          As a side note, the PS3 specs are 3.2GHz 7 core CPU with 256mB ram. try and get a PC with the same specs to run crysis, please.

          Not worth your time reply to the woefully ignorant, if someone doesn't understand PC gaming has better visuals then any other platform, they aren't familiar enough with gaming in general to warrant acknowledgement while posting on a gaming site.

    After watching this I feel like I have just watched a trailer for a movie.

    Graphics look nice, but square's weakness has never been their graphics... square's image is a bit immature (teenage characters / ott drama / cutesy animals / weird religious cults). Older gamers just can't get into square titles anymore. Maybe they know their audience... ?

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