Japan's CEDEC conference brings under-the-radar news

Tokyo Game Show might be looming just over the horizon, but not all the interesting developments on the Japanese side of the games industry are coming out of a packed-to-the-brim Tokyo Bay convention center. Earlier this month, the annual CEDEC conference was held in Yokohama, Japan. CEDEC is a conference sponsored by Japan’s Consumer Entertainment Software Association (the same group that puts on TGS) and is geared heavily toward development, much like the Game Developers Conference. Unlike GDC, however, CEDEC is considerably more low-key – though that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some interesting news flowing forth from the event.

Two big pieces of news came from the folks at Square-Enix. At a panel about working with Western developers, Square-Enix staff members Yosuke Shiokawa (Director of Final Fantasy Dissidia) and Yuki Matsuzawa (Concept Artist for Final Fantasy XIII) announced that they have been working on a yet-unnamed “large scale project” that “targets overseas gamers” for a year and a half. The game is being co-developed with an American team. The session wasn’t about the particulars of said game – it focused more on the core differences between Japanese and Western game design methodology (including the rather silly Japanese developer assumption that Westerners inherently want their games to be more “realistic” – which, they noted, wasn’t really true). While the title itself is still shrouded in secrecy, we’ll probably be hearing more about it sometime early next year.

Square-Enix also announced development of a new game engine called “Luminous,” which project producer and technical director Yoshihisa Hashimoto called “a game engine that can truly take on the world head on." The engine apparently incorporates elements of tech from now wholly Square-Enix-owned Eidos’s previous projects, and is said to be a “general purpose game development environment.”

But perhaps more exciting to those of us let down by The Last Guardian’s non-appearance at E3 was a presentation given by Fumito Ueda, the title’s director, alongside animator Yasuo Otsuka. The presentation was about using the power of animation in visual entertainment mediums, and touched upon such topics as the development of the animation algorithm for Trico, the game’s griffon-like creature companion. Rather than making a 3D model first and then applying animation, Ueda’s process involves figuring out the sort of motions he wanted the creature to do, then building a model around them. At one point, Ueda took out a board with designs from the game, saying "I made the game to give life to this picture. The game concept and the rest came after that."

There were several other developer panels and discussions, such as Sega’s Yakuza development team discussing their ability to turn around high-quality titles in a short span of time, a look behind the AI of Final Fantasy Dissidia, and the creative process behind Final Fantasy XIV’s base character designs (yes, this was clearly a pretty Square-Enix heavy conference).

CEDEC also held its annual awards ceremony for 2010. While most of the winners were Japanese, Infinity Ward won top honors in the Visual Arts category for their work on the Modern Warfare titles. The dev team behind From Software’s surprise hit Demon’s Souls took the Game Design award, while the staff of DS-based music composition application KORG DS-10 won in the Sound category. A special “lifetime achievement”-style award was also given to Namco founder Masaya Nakamura.

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