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From Final Fantasy to Forspoken: A brief history of Luminous Productions

From its origins to the development of Forspoken, let's look at how Luminous Productions was formed — and where it's going.

Much has been said in the past few months about Forspoken, and not all of it has been good. While I enjoyed my time in Athia, many have already written off this debut title by Luminous Productions as a game that was dead on arrival.

Yet what often gets lost in this discussion is the company behind the game. Luminous Productions is relatively new on the scene, only formed in the past few years from the remnants of a division of Square Enix. With a history focused on redefining the cutting edge of technology, its first foray into video games shows a lot of promise for the burgeoning company.

Now that they’ve fully developed and released one title, it’s a good time to look back on what their early history has been — and where Luminous Productions can go from here. Even with Forspoken’s rocky launch and reception, the company has plenty of promise under the hood.

2011-2012: Getting the engine running

The Agni’s Philosophy tech demo showed the power of the Luminous Engine.

The history of Luminous Productions begins around 2011 at the offices of Square Enix. Specifically, Square Enix Business Division 2 — one of several parts of the company that worked on the Bravely Default series. Square Enix brought in technical developers from other companies, including SEGA, to work with them.

One of the initial goals of this team was to develop a brand-new game engine for their future projects. Dubbed the Luminous Engine, the idea of this engine came from problems with the development of Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Specifically, their then-current Crystal Tools engine needed replacing, and the team was given the task of creating a technologically-impressive engine.

The engineers added and perfected several technologies that made it stand out. For character models, hair and beard simulation includes multiple lighting, shader, and physics technologies for GPU-accelerated hair rendering. Special attention was given the real-time global illumination system, with ray tracing and path tracing to enhance how lighting affects the world.

Over the next year, the team worked hard to get the Luminous Engine up and running. It was first revealed to the public via Agni’s Philosophy, a brief Final Fantasy tech demo revealed at E3 2012. It showed off the performance and graphical power of the engine and impressed many who saw it. For Square Enix, it also represented a way to reinvent their progress on the next Final Fantasy game.

2012-2018: Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV was the team’s next big project.

Up until 2012, the Final Fantasy Versus XIII project was languishing in development hell thanks to its outdated engine. Thankfully, the Luminous Engine gave the team an opportunity to refresh development.

Square Enix Business Division 2 was now fully committed to the upcoming release. With the game’s official adoption of the Luminous Engine, however, it needed to be designed for the then-future eighth generation of consoles. Thus, the game was retitled Final Fantasy XV and restarted development for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

With the development kit for the engine, Luminous Studio, Square Enix could create more advanced graphics and animations. It also allowed the development of the game to continue smoothly over the next few years, with the game finally getting a release date of Nov. 29, 2016.

The game received praise for its visuals, with the features of the Luminous Engine receiving particular praise. However, what followed next paved a unique path for the FFXV and Luminous staff.

2018-2022: Luminous Productions is born

Forspoken Key Art
Forspoken is the debut title for Luminous Productions.

After the release of Final Fantasy XV and its post-game content, including the game’s PC port, Square Enix began the process of reshuffling the game’s development team. After COO Hajime Tabata left the company, Square Enix decided to reshape the team into a new entity known as Luminous Productions. This would spin off from Business Division 2 and leave that division effectively dismantled.

Initially, Square Enix envisioned Luminous Productions as a resource for developing video games and “other entertainment content.” This latter concept was later dropped, and the company would focus squarely on developing video games while incorporating internal research and development.

The good news for Luminous Productions was that it already had an engine built and ready to go. With the upcoming PlayStation 5, they had a perfect console to design for as well. Engine development and R&D were moving along, but the next step was figuring out a new game project to work on.

Thus, development began on a new AAA title that would take advantage of the technical capabilities made possible with the PS5. The company wanted to create an action-RPG title with a global market appeal, rather than solely focusing on the Japanese audience. To this end, the company brought in around 20 developers from outside Japan to create a truly worldly staff.

The project, initially dubbed Project Athia, was revealed in 2021 with an initial release window of Spring 2022. There was initial excitement over this first new title from the Final Fantasy XV team. Unfortunately, the lead-up to its release was shaky, to say the least.

2022-now: Forspoken and the future of Luminous Productions

Frey Holland
If nothing else, Forspoken is a graphical marvel.

Forspoken was set to launch in early 2022, but as is the case with many games nowadays, it was delayed. With a new release date of Jan. 24, 2023, Luminous Productions and Square Enix had the rest of 2022 to hype the game up.

With occasional gameplay trailers, the developers showed off the promise of the engine from a gameplay perspective. The fluid animations and high-speed gameplay performed very well in the Luminous Engine. Yet the tone (and especially that one trailer) turned some people away, no matter how pretty the game looked.

That seems to be true with Forspoken’s recent release, which could best be described as muted. While it got plenty of advertising pre-release, the noise surrounding the game in the week after its release is certainly quieter than the developers and publisher would have liked.

So what’s next for Luminous Productions? We don’t know what projects they’re working on right now, although they likely have something up their sleeve. It doesn’t look like they’re involved in the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI, although it’s possible that they’re assisting in development as it enters its final stages. One thing’s for sure: with a powerful engine on its side and a full AAA title under its belt, the future certainly looks bright (heh) for Luminous Productions.

Forspoken is available now for the PlayStation 5 and PC. What kind of game would you like to see Luminous Productions do next? Let us know!

Daniel Hein

Daniel Hein is either A) a lifelong video game fanatic, writer, and storyteller just sharing his thoughts on things, or B) some kind of werewolf creature. We're not quite sure which yet. He also makes mediocre video game retrospectives (and other content!) on YouTube where you can watch him babble on for hours about nothing.
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