Former Fox Engine Lead Talks Bug-Plagued Releases, Japan, Virtual Reality; Praises Naughty Dog and More

Julien Merceron had his capable hands in two of the most promising engines created in Japan, Konami’s Fox Engine and Square Enix’s Luminous Engine, while he worked as Worldwide Technology Director for both publisher. Now he’s setting out to do the same at Bandai Namco.

Merceron talked about a variety of interesting topics during an interview on the French site Gameblog.

First of all, he gave his opinion on virtual reality and augmented reality, and on what could hinder its early adoption:

“There is a huge risk regarding Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Back then, when 3D TVs arrived on the market, we thought that there was going to be a real revolution. Except that the first products did not meet the consumers’ expectations, and unfortunately, the stereoscopic 3D tech saw its end arrive rather quickly.

I’m afraid that, if the quality of VR and AR products is not high enough, we might unfortunately find ourselves in the same situation. So, I really believe that we must also continue to seek innovation maybe somewhere else. VR and AR are not the only fields where innovation can be found, and I’m going to try to find something.”

Then, he continued by explaining the most relevant problem we face today.

“The number one problem is going to be discomfort. This is why many developers are trying today to reach the maximum [frame rate] they can get, namely about between 90 and 120 frames per second, to provide the users with the best comfort. One of the biggest problems today, is that the resolution is not really sufficient yet.”

Asked what kind of resolution would be optimal, he elaborated further on the topic:

“I think we are still very very far from it. Some people say that by starting 1080p for each eye, things are going to be good. Unfortunately, I believe that we will need more than that, and that the current power of consoles is not sufficient to give the proper comfort to the eyes.

So, it is true that the number of frames per second will be extremely important, and maybe even more in the immediate future for AR than for VR. Developers that will be able to find an interesting concept and reach 120 frames per second, have the potential to give birth to something that will captivate the audience. Yet, users will also have to be given good choices regarding the games they can buy, so that they do not end up with the titles that plagued by bad resolution and a frame rate. Unfortunately, if too many users have bad experiences, as this experience is going to be quite costly, we’re facing a real problem”

Merceron also talked at length about the situation of the Japanese gaming industry, and the problems that plagued it in the past:

“There was a rather difficult transition period back when [in Japan] they didn’t have any interesting middleware. Even back then, one of the currently most used engines, Unreal, was very very far from being perfect. There really wasn’t a viable alternative.

Today, there is more tech available. There are also good quality Japanese middleware options on the market. As of today, Japanese developers have many options. They can continue to develop their technology internally, especially if they are seeking very specific innovations, or they can use middleware options. I would say that this transition period that is behind us, was extremely difficult because they all tried to develop internally back when middleware options did not exist, and they almost all failed in that quest.

I was able to help Square Enix, then Konami and now [I’m helping] Bandai Namco. But I’m not going to be able to help them all. Clearly, it is true that we’re now seeing a very positive evolution, even on their market approach. For instance now  they are aiming for the global market. In the past, they acted almost only on the local market. Mobile was, I would say, a supplementary lung to them, because all mobile activities work very well in Japan: that cash flows allows them to invest in new things.

I would say that today we are in a very interesting situation which might be more comfortable for Japanese publishers and developers. Today, they have options, they ask themselves the good questions. Then, I think that every company will take its own decisions. A group like Bandai Namco is trying to remain more open regarding the diversity of platforms, is looking for innovation, and this is something that fully matches my ambitions.”

Interestingly, Merceron explained that Japanese developers and western ones have a very different attitude on releasing games with bugs and patching afterwards, which is becoming incresingly common in this generation.

“Nowadays, with the latest generations of connected consoles, and with PC that have been connected for a very very long time, whether you use Steam or else, the systems to manage patches are running very smoothly and are very well implemented. On mobile, people are already used to getting new versions of the application. These kinds of things have become standard practices, and I think that nowadays they’re getting abused [by developers].

Since it has become an habit for everyone to get new versions, be it for work applications or others, this is getting abused. That is to say that many games get released when they’re not finished, and it is truly catastrophic. I think hardcore gamers are used to this kind of things, and it may not seem too serious to them. But there is a whole new generation of consumers that absolutely do not understand this fact, and there is a real risk for us if we continue in that direction, we might have trouble expanding our market and opening it to everyone, be it on consoles, PC or mobile. This is the first problem.

Secondly, it is true that there’s a trend for games to appear on the market less buggy in Japan compared to European and American games. This is an issue of ethics. Namely, for Japanese developers, there is an issue of pride part of their culture, and you can also find it on how game development works.

The habit there is not to leave any bugs behind before handing the code out to artists or other people. They will make sure very conscientiously that everything runs smoothly. So it is more an issue of ethics, and obviously, when you have this habit while developing a game, when the end of development draws near, things are rather clean. Some small problems might remain here and there, but during the development of Metal Gear Solid V, for example, the game was always very stable, even during very hectic development phases.”

Lastly, Merceron talked about the experiences that most impressed him in the past few years, bringing up Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and more.

“When I’m asked this question, I often think about The Last of Us. Because there is indeed emotion, something very special about that game. Many developers tried to implement into a game an interactive character, who moves around with the player, but every time the character would get in your way, be in front of the camera, and it was a disaster.

They did a phenomenal job on this character’s AI, so she would always be in the right place, yet you can still see her and read the emotion on her face. I have tremendous respect for the work that was done on the Last of Us.

This game often comes to my mind, but among all the games I played to these past years, Skyrim from Bestheda is the game I spent over 500 hours playing. I used to always hate the Elder Scrolls games in the past, so I didn’t want to play that game. Yet I heard many people say “I want to play that game,” so I told myself that I should maybe give it a try. And this game is extraordinary.

I didn’t have time to play to Fallout 4 yet but I’m going to once I had enough time to play to all Bandai Namco games. I must catch up on the range of their products. After playing all of their games and knowing well all of their different IPs, besides the obvious ones that everyone plays, I will definitely move to Fallout 4.

That’s certainly some dedication. I don’t know how many Technology Directors actually play all the games of a publisher that hires them, and Bandai Namco releases a whole lot of games.

Merceron surely has a few intense gaming marathons in his future, but I can’t personally wait to see what he’ll do at the house of Tekken and Ace Combat.

[Translation: Morgane Bouvais]

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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