Gamescom 2012 marked the first time that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn would face the toughest test it will - the scrutiny of the public eye.
Amidst a busy schedule of stage presentations to try to convince the public to give the game a second shot, Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida took time out of his busy schedule to chat to us yet again about how the process of putting FF14 together again is going.
If you're more into the nitty-gritty of mechanical changes in FF14 2.0, watch out for a follow-up where we go deep on that stuff in the near future. You can also check out our detailed interview from earlier this month, too!
Naoki Yoshida: For Gamescom, we've prepared a lot of new assets and media - screenshots, artwork, in-game footage - so rather than give you a barrage of speech, we're going to let the game do the talking.
Before we begin, one thing I want to emphasize again to you and your readers is that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn isn't in any way an expansion or update of the current version. It's completely new.
The development team and the company believe this is the newest instalment of the Final Fantasy series.
[We're shown a presentation of the game.]
RPG Site: This is supposed to be a fresh start for the game; can you describe exactly what has changed in the various areas?
Other than the main parts of the cities, all of the maps have been redesigned from the ground up. The UI is completely new - it uses no elements at all of the previous UI - it's an all-new interface.
The server architecture - all of the coding of the server systems have been rewritten. Then there's the graphics engine - this is an all-new graphics engine created specifically for FF14. So pretty much everything has changed.
RPG Site: Features and graphics likely aren't going to be your main problems. One looks fine, while the other seems to be plentiful - it's regaining trust with the players. People lost trust in the name Final Fantasy, especially 14, with what happened. This surely has to be a massive task?
Yoshida: We all realize that regaining trust is not very easy. Losing trust is very easy - you can lose trust in an instant - but regaining it takes a lot of time. So first, we're going to spend a lot of time to regain that trust.
I then have to ask what I can do as a producer and director to get that trust. I think -- the simple answer is just to make A Realm Reborn an interesting game. Yes, we can have great graphics, yes, we can have a lot of different features - but we have to make it interesting, as that's what's going to keep the players there.
That's what's going to get the players who are playing it to go out and spread the word that this is an interesting game. That's the best kind of marketing - that players who are playing the game find it so interesting that they go out and tell everybody else that it is interesting. That's what is going to slowly rebuild the trust of the players.
While we're doing that, of course, we're listening to players, getting feedback from them, making the game better and making it more interesting - continuing to support the game to show that we are backing the game and continuing to make it better. This is what I feel will allow both the game and the company to regain that trust.
RPG Site: Can you go into a little detail about how you're going to test to ensure players like what you're doing?
Yoshida: We have an alpha test that's going to be a server stress-test planned for the near future - once that is completed we'll take feedback from there and feed it into changes for the beta test, which will be a little more open, and then we'll take feedback from that as well and feed that into our final efforts.
So we do have many, many chances to tweak and take on feedback.
RPG Site: We've got Magitek Armor, Meteor... what I can only assume will be called MogNet...
Koji Fox, Localization Dept: [Laughs] Now I have to call it that!
Yoshida: This all comes back to giving the game a real Final Fantasy feel. The series, as you know - each Final Fantasy is always a little bit different to the ones that came before.
Up until about 7, you did have things that were pretty much similar throughout the series, but since then it's been drifting off to completely different things every time - and losing that Final Fantasy feel. That's what we felt - that the series was losing that FF feel.
With A Realm Reborn we wanted to really get it back to that FF feel. So, take bringing in aspects from other Final Fantasies - not just from earlier ones but later ones. By bringing stuff in from across the series we get the fans who love the old games - people who know all about Moogles and Magitek armor - but then also from the newer games as well - so newer fans can also feel at home in this world.
That's a big thing for us - to bring those people in. When you're playing an MMO, it's for a long time - for five, ten years - so we need to have these things that drive all sorts of different players.
By adding all of these new aspects from the FF series to the game - then it becomes... well, fans that don't really play MMOs, it's not about "Oh, this game is an MMO" - it becomes "Oh, this game is a Final Fantasy!" As well as an MMO.
With that you break down that barrier, and it's easier for players who wouldn't usually play an MMO to get into it, because they play it as a Final Fantasy.
RPG Site: The MMO world was hit with the news that Star Wars: The Old Republic going partially free-to-play - given this news, how do you feel about other models than subscription?
Yoshdia: We're not in the position to say that a free to play model is better or a subscription model is better - really, it kind of depends. It depends on the type of game. Each model has its benefits - each model has its good points and its bad points.
What we want to do is that - we originally promised fans that we were going to release this type of game - it was going to be a subscription model. You'd pay a certain amount of money and you'd get a certain amount of time to be on the servers for 24 hours. This is what we promised. The first and foremost thing is to follow up on this promise and release it.
That doesn't mean to say we're not watching and considering other types of business models - like a hybrid model or free to play models - for the future, but that's something we'll think of after we've fulfilled that first promise.
Yoshida: Since I've joined the team, I've done my best with patches and so on to alleviate that issue - adding more quests and adding more freedom to how many times you can do them.
It's gotten better even now, but with A Realm Reborn we'll be continuing that. We'll have a lot of content out there that'll be repeatable, and people who have no lives can play for as long as they like! But please don't play too much that you pass out or something! [laughs]
RPG Site: Have you thought about how you're going to expand past launch? Is this a game you envision full expansion packs for, or will you stick to smaller, digital add-ons like the Crystalline stuff in FF11?
Yoshida: Basically, we're going to keep an orthodox type of update system - every two months we're planning a big version update, kind of like what we're doing now. To address your point, when we want to release new areas and maps then a traditional expansion makes sense to release new areas and maps, and then of course patches after that again on that two-month schedule, and in those we can also build on the story and things.
RPG Site: What about mini-games? I heard that you had ambitions to a card game...
Yoshida: As for mini-games... we're not against mini-games, but I'm waiting for the perfect mini-game. We realize that it's just like - y'know, an 'okay' type of mini-game, people will play it one or two weeks after it's released, but then it will die down and it'll just be dead weight in the game.
So I'm waiting for something that people will really like; I'm waiting for an idea from any of my dev team members that comes up with something that I will think is perfect and that players will play for a very long time.
I've gotten things like Chocobo racing and card games, but nothing has left a really deep impression... I'm still waiting for that perfect mini-game.
RPG Site: I actually kept my subscription to Tetra Master Online for probably a good year after my main FF11 subscription expired.
Yoshida: [Laughs] The problem with Card games and things like that is what you really need is - it can't be something you do by yourself, it has to be player battles. If that's the case, do you just play to play? What about rewards?
But then, on the other hand, if there's rewards and there's two players - one might lose on purpose so the other can win and get the rewards, which is obviously cheating... so, how do you cover these type of problems?
Conceiving and building a system that covers these kinds of bases is what is taking a long time with creating mini-games - as well as coming up with something perfect.
RPG Site: A lot of Japanese developers describe the Japanese development process as a lot less streamlined than the Western one. People sit in a room together and talk for seven hours about the eye color of the main character... [Everyone laughs] Things take a long time to get done. Was that a problem when you came into FF14, and did you streamline it?
Yoshida: [Laughs] When I took over the project it was December 2010. In about a month, I went over the game, figured out what needed to be done and made up a list. At the end of January, I submitted this long, long list to the team, saying this is what we need to do.
In the past 14 months, I've taken the game from what it was to what you've just seen on the screen. I think that's pretty streamlined.
There was a time when dev teams were like that - but there's no way we would've gotten this far in 14 months if we were doing that. We've pretty much changed the way we do our development in the team. We've tried to approach a more Western style. Our schedule is broken down - you're welcome to come and visit us, and you'll see all the schedules all over our walls - it's very systematic.
RPG Site: I was speaking to your own technical director, Hashimoto, a few months ago at E3 - he of course worked on the Agni's Philosophy tech demo as well - and he was gushing with praise about the idea of East/West collaboration within this company. You've obviously had localization in-house - how do you feel this, and other collaborations, benefit development?
Yoshida: The graphics engine for A Realm Reborn is actually built by Hashimoto-san's team - and his team over there is about 40% non-Japanese - so we've already got this team creating our engine that is very, very global and international.
In the development team we have programmers from China, France and other places as well, and it definitely helps - so we're already moving towards that!