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GDC08: Final Fantasy, beautiful men, and fighting the uncanny valley


Note: We'd like to show you images from the session, but as is typical of Square Enix events, no photography of any sort was allowed.

Isamu Kamikokuryo discussed the process of making art for Final Fantasy in a crowded Q&A panel at this year's Game Developer's Conference. At first, Kamikokuryo reminisced about how he got his job at Square Enix. It wasn't particularly romantic: he followed a simple call for applicants, and submitted a resume with a photograph of one of his oil paintings. He got a call back, and got a job that many fanboys would kill for.

Eventually, the discussion moved on to the high quality graphics that Square Enix has been able to produce in its pre-rendered movies. Asked how the team copes with "the uncanny valley problem," Kamikokuryo noted that it's something everyone on the team is constantly thinking about. "In terms of the uncanny valley, that is something we have to fight against. We can't go there -- that's basically how we feel about it. For all the things we create, many of the section creators get together and we make adjustments so this uncanny valley phenomenon doesn't happen. We don't usually use that phrase, because all the staff has this in mind while we do our work."

As the series progresses forward to more powerful hardware, Kamikokuryo noted that "we need to pursue something more realistic." They want to keep the "uniqueness of Testuya Nomura," but wanted to draw upon real-life inspirations. He noted the series' inspirations from contemporary design and fashion, and how they make playing the game more engrossing and "even more entertaining."

Stylization is important, of course. "For example, we want to emphasize coolness and cuteness through stylization. If you look at the characters from Disney or Pixar, they're not trying to make it too real. But the audience can get the theme from those films more directly due to the stylization." The team is constantly struggling between realism and a more stylized look. "We're trying to create something at the edge of the uncanny valley. Indeed, we feel some tension there."

One of the funnier questions of the session confronted the focus Square Enix seemingly has for pretty male leads. "Actually, people from the press from other countries ask me this question very often: why are Japanese characters usually young and good looking male fighters? ... I think the reason is because traditionally, in Japanese story telling, we have some kind of hero -- a young, good looking hero. It's much more acceptable for the Japanese audience."

He then turned to the audience, and asked the Western listeners: "Why in the United States, are the characters macho middle-aged kind of guys?" The audience laughed, and Steve Theodore (the moderator) commented that "It's because they make better Z-Brush models." The audience burst out in even more furious laughter.

At the end of the Q&A, a trailer for Final Fantasy XIII played. To set up the presentation, Kamikokuryo attempted to summarize the story, without revealing too many details. Unfortunately, this was seemingly the best he (and his translator) could do: "characters have to fight against the world... the world of enemies." Very helpful.

Concept art from the upcoming PS3 RPG was showcased, and it was absolutely stunning. We were able to see Cocoon, a giant green planet, encompassed by clouds. Green water, seemingly falls off the edge of this mysterious, enchanting planet. It's supposedly one of the main stages of the game. We got to see another area called Pulse, which appears to be a lush jungle environment. In the horizon, one can see the world of Cocoon.

We also had a chance to see more of the incredible airships and vehicles that will be available in the game. Most intriguing are these insect-like green hovering autobikes, with nymph-like creatures riding them. They're "the new Chocobo," Theodore joked.

And then, the slideshow ended. The concept art on display was gorgeous, filled with an incredible attention to detail that we'd love to see represented in playable form. The panel ended with the audience in high spirits -- and this blogger anxious to see more from the Final Fantasy world.

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