E3 2012: Final Fantasy XIV Developer Interview
Looking back at Final Fantasy XIV one could say it was one of the most unprecedented games in recent memory. From falling flat on its face at launch to seemingly rising to heaven with version 2.0, Naoki Yoshida and his team at Square Enix should be given more than just a simple pat on the back. They’ve salvaged a MMORPG, a genre that typically lives or dies based on its first days and transformed it into a new vision – one that will hopefully live to succeed in the near future.
This year is a very important year for Final Fantasy XIV and as such we really pulled out all the stops to be sure we met with game director/producer Naoki Yoshida and localization specialist Michael-Christopher Koji Fox once again. Although we were only granted 30 minutes together, I came away with a sense of excitement and a reassurance that only so few people can give.
Much like the last time we sat down with Yoshida-san, he wanted to share with us a brief introduction of the concept behind Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 and how it has evolved from the current version of the game.
Yoshida: First of all we want to thank you for taking the time – we know you’re busy and we appreciate you coming to see XIV.
RPGSite: Thank you for having me!
Yoshida: We’re going to start off with the basic development concepts behind Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 and the three pillars which is like a tripod. Each of these three pillars support our game and we’ll be touching on that.
The first pillar would be a high level of gameplay, the second supporting pillar is going to be a Final Fantasy-feeling storyline – a high quality, deep story that will work alongside the high level of gameplay. The third pillar will be the high quality graphics that will support the high quality storyline, which will all be supported by the great gameplay. With these three we’ll finally have what we’re aiming for in Final Fantasy XIV 2.0.
Just with those three, the game is still not complete. When you have your tripod you need something that sits on top of it and this being an MMORPG, what’s going to be sitting on top of it is the player community. Once you have the three pillars – the gameplay, storyline, the graphics and the community on top of it then you can say that that is finally Final Fantasy XIV 2.0.
A good metaphor here is that currently in the version we have now the graphics pillar is pretty good. It’s high quality, probably the best still in the world, but the other two are not long enough so you have a very unbalanced tripod and because those two are unbalanced, the community on top remains unbalanced. It’s going to be our priority to make all three legs strong so we can have a strong community supported by it.
You might say “The graphics were fine, so why not leave that as is?” As you know, only high end PCs could experience that so by going in and revamping the graphics we’re keeping that pillar strong but we’re allowing more players to experience it.
And now it's your turn, if you have any questions.
RPGSite: Before we start I just want to say that I’ve been watching the game since the last time we met and I’ve just been really impressed with everything that the team has done and really respect that. You’ve taken a game that had a very difficult launch and you’ve built it up so much – if you look at it from launch to now the difference is so huge and the game is actually really fun to play now. Thank you for doing such an amazing job and keep up the hard work.
Yoshida: Thank you as well. To regain the trust that we had lost has been our top priority and we’ve worked overtime to regain that trust – it was our fault so we had to do it. Now that we have players like you saying that yes the game is fun, it’s great and that’s the best thing we can receive. For 2.0 we’re going to take it even higher.
RPGSite: That’s really great! So I guess my first question is sort of related to that. How do you feel about the success of the recent Welcome Back program that players were allowed to take part in? Do you feel it was better or worse than what you expected?
Yoshida: First of all with the Legacy program as you know was meant to show appreciation to those players who had stuck with us through the hard times. They’ve stuck with us so we’re going to give some back to them by offering this program with the reduced rates and to show our appreciation.
We’re very happy with how the players have seen that and seeing the players come back so they can be part of the Legacy program as well. With the Welcome Back campaign we’ve seen a lot of players coming back who haven’t touched the game since the original days and seen that it’s really changed a lot. Seeing that people are connecting and then subscribing, we’ve seen the amount of users increase in the past two months.
RPGSite: For 2.0 how will you be showing that the game has improved so much? Obviously you have the hardcore people who will go back to Final Fantasy but what about maybe expanding that to other MMO players?
Yoshida: The main thing is going to be the coming beta test and in the coming beta test we want a lot of different players to actually get in and feel the new game. Feel how it’s changed and feel what type of gameplay it has and then while playing it, being able to give feedback to the team and then have that feedback implemented applied directly so they can feel like they’re part of the game.
As you’ve seen Final Fantasy XIV coming back through these last few patches, we’ve been communicating with the players, opening up the forums, allowing [communication] back and forth between the players and taking that communication and implementing it into the game to make what we have now. I want to continue that through the beta to show players who get in there and say “I want something like this,” and then having that change.
Final Fantasy XIV got a lot of flak at launch for having gameplay that was really clunky, but now if we get players to get in and play the beta who might still have issues, we can then go in there, fix it, have them play it and have them realize it has turned into something that is really great.
From there, yes, we’ll have a couple other campaigns ready to try and get people from other MMOs to come in but that will be second to getting as many people as we can into the beta. They’ll be able to feel what the game is like and maybe they’ll feel “Oh this is great, I should leave the MMO I’m on now” and come to [FFXIV] instead.
The biggest campaign is going to end up being the players that get in there and play it—they’re going to go on Facebook, Twitter and comment about how great the beta they played was. From there it’s going to expand and that’s going to be the biggest campaign of all. Having them play it, feel it and then tell their friends; it all comes back to gameplay.
RPGSite: Speaking of the beta, could you maybe touch upon that going forward and how that will impact both the PC and PS3 versions?
Yoshida: Before the beta we’ll have an alpha test. It’s going to happen sometime in September is what we’re planning for. It’s going to be a short test mainly because we’ve completely redesigned our server system so it’ll be a server stress test. We’ll get some players on to make sure the servers don’t explode or crash all the time.
And then from there we’ll go into the beta, starting with the PC beta test –getting feedback from players, getting rid of the major bugs, and once those are gone we’ll go into the PS3 beta test which will be running at the same time as the PC test. That’s pretty much all we can say right now about the beta test but later in the summer we’ll have more information regarding that.
RPGSite: With the PS3 version are there any plans to do anything extra for those fans who have waited so long? If they haven’t played the PC version there’s no way they can get in on some of the stuff that has happened with that version story-wise and bonus-wise. Will there be anything for PS3 users to try and entice them to play the game?
Yoshida: We will probably have some sort of pre-order campaign like we always do. We don’t want to do anything that will make both versions totally different. We want to respect the fact that there’s a lot of players playing now and stuck with us during the hard times and yes we do have those bonuses [for PC players] but we feel they deserve them.
It’s not like those bonuses will give players an extra advantage, so we’re not thinking of anything that will make the PS3 version completely different, but that’s not to say that there won’t be something in the pre-order campaign that will be specifically for those new players.
RPGSite: Last time when you spoke to my associate you mentioned that you really liked Diablo. Have you played Diablo III at all and if so what do you think about their social features such as the auction house and other PVP features? Would you consider something like that for FFXIV?
Yoshida: Currently we’re in the last stages of development and so I’m really really busy with no time to sleep. A lot of people on the dev team and a lot of friends are playing Diablo and want me to play and it’s so tempting! But I realize once I start playing I won’t be able to meet deadlines. For now I’ve been holding off from playing Diablo III.
Even though I haven’t been playing myself and even though I really want to play I’ve been listening to people playing all around me and been reading up on things like the auction house and PVP. Regarding the auction house, up until now the Diablo model has been off-line, and now since online is free they’re using this as their business plan to get money.
It’s different from the business model we have for Final Fantasy XIV, so to try and bring in something like what they have in Diablo doesn’t really meet with our own strategies at this time. It’s not like we’re saying we’re never going to do it but currently it doesn’t fit with what we have. We agree that what they’re trying to do is something that’s very challenging and it’s exciting to see a company trying this out.
RPGSite: How do you feel about Star Wars: The Old Republic and their recent subscriber decline, and with The Elder Scrolls Online coming out next year, how do you feel about competing with a MMO from a franchise that has been doing a bit better than Final Fantasy has lately?
Yoshida: The Elder Scrolls Online has been in development for a long time so we can’t let that influence us now. We’ve come this far and we have pretty much what we’re going to do now and they have what they’ll be doing; it’s kind of too late to change things based on that.
What we do think our biggest advantage is, is that we had the last year and a half to build up a large amount of content to have at 2.0’s release and that is a big thing we feel hurt Star Wars. They didn’t have enough to do at the beginning and so what we’ve been concentrating on for over a year in development is making sure when players come into 2.0 that there’s going to be so much to do, that they’re going to be able to play. I think that’s our biggest advantage.
So yes, we feel there will be comparisons to The Elder Scrolls since they’re launching around the same time, but hopefully we can have that advantage by saying this is what we have.
Koji: We didn’t mention this but we have an up and running version of 2.0. It’s not connected to the server so the monsters aren’t moving or anything, but this is running at a little less than 30fps. It’s optimized for the PC, but it’s about 15% optimized so we have about 80% more optimization to go.
RPGSite: It looks good for being so little optimized.
Yoshida: We still want to wait to optimize it more before we show the public but we want you to see it so you can tell everyone you saw it in motion.
RPGSite: Yeah, this looks really fantastic! When I saw you guys weren’t showing the trailer for E3 I was so disappointed. There’s not anything really at the booth for XIV and then when the trailer got cut I was like “No…!” I think this makes up for it.
Yoshida: The main reason is if we showed a little bit there wouldn’t be as much of an impact compared to waiting a bit until we had a lot more. For example more battle scenes or more actual content—stuff that’s more optimized. Rather than show a little bit that might put some people off we’re going to wait.
RPGSite: That makes sense because if you show it early, people seem more willing to criticize it and won’t look at it later when it’s actually a lot better.
Now with the graphics engine is it completely all new or is it still based on Crystal Tools?
Yoshida: It’s completely new. It’s made especially for XIV.
RPGSite: Does it have a name?
Yoshida: We haven’t even had time to think of one, so we just call it “the engine.”
This is the Black Shroud close to where Gridania is. You can see how much the game has changed.
RPGSite: It looks totally different, but that’s a good thing.
Yoshida: We definitely want you to tell the players and get them excited.
RPGSite: The interface looks really good too. A lot of the complaints I see from people who have gone back and are currently playing are saying there’s a lot of good things now but the interface still feels archaic.
Yoshida: Yes, that's true!
Yoshida: That's all the time we have, thank you very much.
RPGSite: Thank you!