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Square Enix Looks for Answers in the Cloud

Shinra Technologies may be owned by Square Enix, but it's actually hoping to change all video games.

We've always been buying consoles and PCs to play our games, and the power bringing them to life happens on the machines in our homes. A popular vision for the future involves cloud computing breaking that cycle. Shinra Technologies, a wholly-owned spin-off of Square Enix, is one of those companies.

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The elevator pitch for Shinra is an attempt to move consumers away from buying hardware by having the computational heavy lifting take place in the cloud. This could, in Shinra's words, open the door to game concepts that wouldn't be possible when companies like Microsoft and Sony must always compromise console technology to make it affordable.

Shinra is lead by Yoichi Wada, the former CEO of Square Enix. Wada left his post last year, not long after the publisher revealed it would take a huge financial hit. Slow sales prompted Wada to step down, but he became a chairman of the Square Enix board later that year.

It's not hard to imagine how Shinra might apply to online games. In an MMO, where bits of latency are less of an issue, developers could create worlds impossible to render on consumer-level hardware. All players would need is the ability to log-in and receive a video stream.

When Shinra was announced, the company released this teaser video:

You might have noticed two experiments in there. One involves a big, complicated 3D world. President of technology Tetsuji Iwasaki estimated there were roughly 20 miles of game world being shown at once, with more than 620,000 trees loaded into memory simultaneously.

"I began to think 'if we have 100 people playing together, and, up until now, they've only been putting their positioning data on the server, what if they were all playing together in a way where their game calculations were done once for those 100 people?'" said Iwasaki. "We would be able to vastly simplify the way that the game is calculated. As an example, let’s imagine the protagonist is running on everybody’s screen, and we have the animation and rendering calculation that has to be done to get that protagonist to be running. Instead of calculating that 100 times, we calculate that once and send that video back to the users."

This doesn't have to only apply to big-budget games, either. Wada views Shinra as a technology to enable a broader spectrum of games. Right now, he views development exclusively moving towards small scale creations built by tiny teams and huge projects funded by tens of millions of dollars. The middle is falling out, and Wada argues cloud computing could play a role in bringing it back.

"This is our true feeling," he said. "This is what we feel very deeply [about]. We want to open up the future of games, together with the users, together with the developers. Together, with everyone, we open up a new future for games."

Use of middleware is a relatively new phenomenon in Japanese game development, one that contributed to setbacks during the past generation. It's not uncommon for Japanese game developers to build entirely new engines for the next game, and often won't share tools between teams. While there's been great change in this area, it's certainly not to the point where one could imagine a Japanese game company sharing technology outside its offices. More than anything, this is why Shinra isn't an internal project.

"There’s two important points in splitting it off from Square," said senior VP of business Jacob Navok. "One, we need to be able to gather content from lots of developers and publishers. Two, Square Enix, as a company, needs to be free to be able to put its content on to various cloud systems, including PlayStation Now and others."

"We want to open up the future of games, together with the users, together with the developers."

When asked whether this was a heated discussion within Square Enix, Wada smiled.

"In those terms, I may not have been a typical Japanese [executive]," he said. "This method didn’t seem particularly unnatural to me. I thought this was the best, and this was the natural route to take."

Wada looks at the video game industry in 2014, and sees creative stagnation. Throughout my conversation with Wada and his team, everyone emphasized a belief Shinra could benefit game design. It's early days, however, and there aren't many games to prove this potential. It could. It might.

"My aim is to bring the cloud [to everyone], and create a very extreme game that is just mind-blowing," he said. "This is a win-win situation for the consumers and us because the consumers don’t have to invest in the machines that we will have in our data centers. Everyone will be sharing them. Consumers will be able to have these extreme gaming experiences without investing a lot on the machine of the devices."

Wada and company speak of themselves in a sort of savior role, one that's identified core issues with modern games, and technology can provide a solution. It's ironic, then, to choose the name Shinra. Final Fantasy VII players recall Shinra was the tyrannical corporation from the series' PlayStation debut.

Pointing this out prompted laughter from the whole group.

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"Cloud is the protagonist in Final Fantasy VII," said Wada. "As a joke, we chose something from Final Fantasy VII. Shinra was a very evil, massive company, and they always remained evil. But we are very good people! [laughs] The logo for Shinra Technologies was drawn by the artist who drew the logo for Shinra in Final Fantasy VIII. The logo in-game was black and red--evil. We took that away, and we changed it to blue and white, to not make it so evil."

The "coincidences" go even deeper.

"Our New York office is actually within the Avalanche Studios office in New York" he said. "If you remember, in Final Fantasy VII, the resistance that tries to go against Shinra in the game is called Avalanche. They battle Shinra."

Clever girl.

Shinra's business center is located in New York for talent recruitment and tax reasons, while its development efforts are happening in Montreal. Though Shinra shares an office with Avalanche Studios, there are no formal plans for the company to work on anything using Shinra's systems. That said, Wada suspects something will come of the close cooperation and interaction between the two companies.

We won't have to wait very long to see Shinra in action, either. A beta launches early next year in Japan, with other countries to follow soon after. The initial beta will feature "catalog content" (read: old games) and a stress test in the form of a simple, overhead 2D RPG.

It's not much. Technology means nothing without games to back them up, which Shinra doesn't have yet.

"We come from passion and love for the industry and a feeling of frustration about what we see happening right now--a lack of innovation in game design," said Navok. "Everything looks cookie-cutter. [There's] a lack of innovation in technology, which is resulting in products that always have to look the same because it’s the only way that they’re going to sell. We are hoping that by introducing a very different type of technology, we can come up with new game designs that will get people excited and see something new for the first time in a long time."

Patrick Klepek on Google+

67 Comments

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Steadying

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I fucking love that it's called Shinra Technologies.

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etpc

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Edited By etpc

i will still violently oppose cloud-based gaming because the idea of surrendering MORE control to publishers does *not* sit well with me.

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Loafsmooch

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Can't wait til Cloud and Sephiroth engages in battle.. in real life!

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BBAlpert

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Edited By BBAlpert

Shinra? Avalanche?! This can only mean one thing!

Square Enix is finally working on Half-Life 3!

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Guttlesswonder

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Had to throw a Jurassic Park reference in there. Seems like it could be an interesting system, but only time will tell.

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hassun

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Edited By hassun

As long as they don't remake FFVII and let it rest I will fully support all these naming schemes.

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rahulricky

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May have misunderstood what I just read, is this particularly different from the cloud stuff that Microsoft is doing or OnLive?

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veektarius

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Come on, Shinra wasn't that evil.

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Seeric

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I'm not a big fan of technology which relies heavily upon 'the cloud', but I would certainly support any effort to bring back some balance to the development costs of games; the last generation has created an exceedingly rapid rise in low-budget games in the $5-15 tier and many of these have been innovative and/or enjoyable, but nearly everything in the $40+ price range has stagnated into 'playing it safe' simply because of the absurdly high development costs. It would be nice to see innovation come back to mainstream gaming.

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huss

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And so begins the prophecy laid out in Final Fantasy VII.

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sungahymn

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The logo for Shinra Technologies was drawn by the artist who drew the logo for Shinra in Final Fantasy VIII.

@patrickklepek Pretty sure you mean Final Fantasy VII (7), not VIII (8). Unless it was a mistake made by the actual guy saying it.

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Harletron

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This sounds like one of the few not terrible uses for cloud computing. ArcheAge just launched and it lags like crazy and has a million billion people all camping every spawn. If this makes it so people can spread out fast great. It sounds awesome for MMOs, but for single player games? No thanks, I'll take my software and hardware limitations for the illusion of actually owning a piece of software, thanks.

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UltimAXE

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Edited By UltimAXE

I fucking love that it's called Shinra Technologies.

I have no real interest in what they're trying to accomplish here, but it makes me happy that a company called "Shinra" now exists in my world.

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Nasar7

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I approve everything about this.

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PBalfredo

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Somebody needs to replace the background music of that Shinra Technologies video with the Shinra Corporation theme.

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DS23

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Oh look Square is being overly ambitious again this always turns out well!

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s-a-n-JR

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I fucking love that it's called Shinra Technologies.

Hell yeah.

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Parsnip

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It's too soon for cloud gaming.

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cloudymusic

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@ds23 said:

Oh look Square is being overly ambitious again this always turns out well!

On the plus side, when they dream up crazy new technologies, it often leads to hilarious videos like this.

Loading Video...

The video in the article has a small tinge of that weird SE magic, but it could go a lot further.

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mosespippy

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Square Enix isn't a financially well off company right now. I hope this isn't their UDraw tablet moment; a single financial mistake so large it sinks the whole company.

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Hailinel

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@mosespippy: Shinra is a spin-off subsidiary of Square, not a part of Square Enix proper. UDraw and the way it sunk THQ was different; it was a gross over estimation of a physical product no one wanted to buy. I doubt Shinra as an organization is fiscally irresponsible in the same manner. If it starts going bad, Square can pull out. THQ couldn't pull out of the UDraw.

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Bones8677

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We are happy to welcome Shinra Technologies to the world of gaming tech. Now put your hands together for a new up-and-comer in the mobile market, SKYNET.

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TheHT

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Edited By TheHT

Sounds neat! Obviously if it works it'll be great, and if it doesn't no one will be surprised.

It's an interesting endeavour, especially from a fairly prominent Japanese game company.

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ArbitraryWater

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Shinra Technologies is a great name for a corporation.

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Jazz_Lafayette

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Edited By Jazz_Lafayette

It may speak poorly of me that I thought the most exciting thing in that video was the herd of little zebra... pig... things.

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Benmo316

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I love hearing about companies trying something progressive like this. But now we wait. There's no sense in getting worked up about what may or may not happen with this right now.

And yes, naming that company Shinra Technologies is fucking awesome.

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IAmNotBatman

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It all seems a bit 'foggy' to me... know what I mean... huh... HUH!? ahahaahahaha... yeah...

The technology seems cool I guess but the duders need to make an actually GOOD game aswell otherwise it's just a waste of time for Square and an awesome exposure to tech for other rival companies.

Naming it Shinra Technologies is pretty awesome in a way, but it's basically teasing FF7 fans (me included) to wanting a remake which we'd mostly forgotten about (that teaser from years ago...) and the company Shinra isn't exactly a nice one so, I dunno how I feel about all of this really.

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monkeyking1969

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Edited By monkeyking1969

Streaming games will not really be terribly effective until broadband even where is best now, like Google fiber areas...is 10x above even that. I say that because you don't just need the 'average' speed to be fast, you need the slowest speed you see any given week to be stupid fast too.

I also can't help thinking that spin-off or not, Square Enix need to get their games on any medium up to snuff.

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cornbredx

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This all well and good but I didn't see how they are going to account for the lag.

I'm still not impressed by their changing the name of an off site server infrastructure and calling it the cloud. That still doesn't really mean anything, no matter how many times you say the words.

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JackalFrost

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This should scare the shit out of all of you. PS Now is bad enough. Do not spend a penny on any product utilizing this.

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Budwyzer

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Ok. I'm confused here. Is this different than how OnLive or Gaikai does it, because those services basically run VMs that people stream and so even if they were playing an MMO then everything gets processed per VM instead of once in a central machine and then streamed out? If so, then this is a nice logical step forward.

Where I'm really confused is how are the requirements for this any less tied to an always on connection like the XBone was originally announced as and people flip their shit over? The XBone was originally announced as a machine that would utilize cloud computing, but they had to dump that idea because the people forced them to dump the always online part.

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mike

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@budwyzer said:

Ok. I'm confused here. Is this different than how OnLive or Gaikai does it, because those services basically run VMs that people stream and so even if they were playing an MMO then everything gets processed per VM instead of once in a central machine and then streamed out? If so, then this is a nice logical step forward.

Where I'm really confused is how are the requirements for this any less tied to an always on connection like the XBone was originally announced as and people flip their shit over? The XBone was originally announced as a machine that would utilize cloud computing, but they had to dump that idea because the people forced them to dump the always online part.

It's two different things.

Microsoft was touting "cloud computing" as a way to enhance games and deliver more graphical power and capabilities to Xbox Ones through "the power of the cloud." The whole online DRM thing was a completely separate deal where they were originally going to require people to log in to Xbox Live every so often in order for games to even work.

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EXTomar

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Edited By EXTomar

@budwyzer said:

Ok. I'm confused here. Is this different than how OnLive or Gaikai does it, because those services basically run VMs that people stream and so even if they were playing an MMO then everything gets processed per VM instead of once in a central machine and then streamed out? If so, then this is a nice logical step forward.

Where I'm really confused is how are the requirements for this any less tied to an always on connection like the XBone was originally announced as and people flip their shit over? The XBone was originally announced as a machine that would utilize cloud computing, but they had to dump that idea because the people forced them to dump the always online part.

The original announcement was confusing and poorly delivered (remember "Drivatars"?). The basic problem was the more they talked about the "power of the cloud" for things that really didn't need to use the "power of the cloud", like loaning an old game to a friend, the worse and more confused the messaging got.

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Musubi

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I've said it before and I'll say it again I want LESS physical things I have to own to play games. Cloud gaming seems like the ideal future honestly. Playing a game as soon as it releases without any downloading sounds GREAT.

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thomasannanders

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I hope and wish that Squaresoft will remake FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX!!!!!!!! That would totally make my day seeing and playing those games with better graphics!!!!!!!!!!! Square, you remade FFX an it was awesome.....please, please remake FFVII, VIII, and IX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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geirr

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Now that Evil Within wants 4gbs of VRAM I'm sure PC games next year will want 32, so sure, do the computing for us, Shinra.

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CommodoreGroovy

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Edited By CommodoreGroovy

I'm interested in seeing where they go with this. It seems like a potentially neat idea, but with the track record for cloud gaming, this could really go either way.

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cooljammer00

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Isn't this the cloud computing/gaming we were talking about last year? How is this any different?

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cassus

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Latency, you will not get past it, that's why cloud computing works only in metropolises and close to cloud computer hubs out and about.

You get a less responsive gaming experience with video compression artifacts..

The fact that he used MMO's as an example tells me that he doesn't know much about mmos.. Sure, mmo's don't need a 50ms ping to be playable, but every bit of lag delays your counters.. And in many mmos, the window for counters is already kinda short (silencing a short cast spell is hard enough when you're not desynced..) and comboing spells and whatnot gets harder as latency goes up.

I'm sorta less amped about the cloud now than I was when it was first being talked about. It's like having the worlds slowest portable insecure storage medium.

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Aetheldod

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@etpc said:

i will still violently oppose cloud-based gaming because the idea of surrendering MORE control to publishers does *not* sit well with me.

Amen brother ... I just hate being tied to the internet and server whims to be able to play games.

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Gimbal_Lock

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Honestly this just seems like a clumbsy attempt at justifying the transformation to games as-a-service, to which the benefits to the users would get outweighed by the benefits to the publisher. There could be some potentially unique gimmicks for games that could be done with the technology, but we were saying the same with the Kinect years ago. The same people with the resources and money to force people to deal with games as-a-service are the same people that I don't particularly expect to come up with creative uses of new technology.

If this thing were used as lifetime subscriptions and is per-game: fine. Everybody knows that this isn't going to be how they end up trying to sell it, though.

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Jeust

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Edited By Jeust

I'll believe in such ideas and technologies when good internet speeds are cheeply available to the majority of the population in first and second world countries. Otherwise it will turn into another Onlive.

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Thedrbrian

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As an example, let’s imagine the protagonist is running on everybody’s screen, and we have the animation and rendering calculation that has to be done to get that protagonist to be running. Instead of calculating that 100 times, we calculate that once and send that video back to the users

So everyone just watches the same video stream. That sounds fucking great.

Still none of this makes fiscal sense unless you're a publisher dyi... trying to stave off bankrupts or piracy.

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Jeust

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Edited By Jeust

@thedrbrian said:
As an example, let’s imagine the protagonist is running on everybody’s screen, and we have the animation and rendering calculation that has to be done to get that protagonist to be running. Instead of calculating that 100 times, we calculate that once and send that video back to the users

So everyone just watches the same video stream. That sounds fucking great.

Still none of this makes fiscal sense unless you're a publisher dyi... trying to stave off bankrupts or piracy.

Still how can the protagonist can be running in everybody's computer unless it's a game composed of solely running, and even then it would be impossible, as there is no synchronicity between all players.

Although you can do that with calculations, you have to create for each player a session, so you can ease the calculations to some degree, but you will to send to each player their session's data.

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shodan2020

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So does that mean NYC = Midgar?

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Jagged85

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Shinra and Cloud are supposed to be enemies, not buddies...

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Hailinel

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@jagged85 said:

Shinra and Cloud are supposed to be enemies, not buddies...

Well, what's left of Shinra does try to redeem itself post FFVII.

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Vuud

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I'm a cynic and I think this is being done mostly for the added bonus of making piracy more difficult. It's the same reason I think games are 50 gb now and nobody sees that as a terrible and wasteful problem. Bigger files are harder to share.