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Square Enix's Merceron: Middleware Can't Replace Talent, Right Team

Square Enix CTO Julien Merceron warns against using middleware to replace talent, and suggests developers on Unreal-powered The Last Remnant may have had "a false se
Trying to replace programming talent with middleware is always a mistake, says Square Enix CTO Julien Merceron. Powerful middleware sometimes "gives producers or game teams a false sense of security," according to Merceron. "And when they discover how non-adapted the technology they have chosen is, it's far too late already for them," he adds. Merceron, previously CTO of Eidos, took the technology reins for the entire group after Eidos was acquired by Square Enix. In today's Gamasutra feature, he paints a positive picture of the tech sharing that has already begun between the two companies. One challenge -- or opportunity, depending on how one looks at it -- inherent in the two companies' integration is that, as a Japanese and a European company respectively, Square Enix and Eidos come from two different worlds, from the perspective of approach to tools and tech. Discussing the decision to license versus build, Gamasutra asked Merceron about Square Enix's first Unreal Engine game, The Last Remnant -- an implementation that wasn't very successful. And according to Merceron, some of that game's missteps might have been due to that "false sense of security" he mentions. "One of the traps with middleware is that some game teams believe that, because they got this middleware, maybe they need less programmers on their team, or maybe they don't need that many skilled programmers," he says. "Sometimes middleware is just something that a studio or a game team is going to use because they don't find the right people." "And it's true -- how many talented physics programmers are there out there? I don't think that you could find three to four extremely talented physics programmers per team." However, Merceron says he's seen companies try to fill in talent gaps using middleware "I think that replacing talent with middleware is the first mistake that some game teams can make because, when it is too late -- when you realize that actually the middleware won't be able to provide the features that you need -- then basically you don't have anyone that is able to solve the problem on your team," he explains. "If you're trying to make this type of game, then this technology is really adapted to it; and if you're trying to make that other game, then probably choose the other one," he adds. "And again, that's the only approach you can have if you're kind of lacking innovative people and talented people." The Last Remnant may have been the wrong project for the wrong people at the wrong time -- and if so, it seems that by Merceron's philosophy, there's little Unreal could have done to help.

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