As Hiromichi Tanaka, producer of Final Fantasy XIV, hacked his way through a demonstration of a "Puk Extermination" Guildleve quest, Famitsu flanked him with some questions about their presentation and what it says about the state of the upcoming MMO.
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In the gameplay videos, we saw some people fighting dodos and others fighting puks. It turns out that the full scope of the quest requires one to defeat dodos until puks appear. Tanaka states that this is just one of the many ways they will incorporate puzzle-solving elements into Guildleve quests. Also, while there may be an expansive area to explore, later builds of the game will display your targets on the map, so finding those puks that need exterminating will be much easier. As an alpha version, the demo at Gamescom did not include this feature yet.
When the interviewer remarked on how beautiful the graphics were, Tanaka took the opportunity to give some hints about how powerful they will become. It turns out the background scenery was heavily compressed for the demo, and will be greatly improved to the point where individual trees will be rendered far into the distance.
At this point, Tanaka begins attacking some dodos and moves on to discuss the battle system. In Final Fantasy XI, the player would select the attack command and enter an Auto-Attack mode. To spice up the flow of battle, Final Fantasy XIV will require players to select commands each time they attack, and the combination of commands they choose will determine the technique they use. This will put all new emphasis on strategy and keep players engaged in battle.
Action Commands, as Tanaka calls them, are lined up along the bottom of the screen as icons. Those who are grumbling about a passing resemblance to World of Warcraft will be happy to know the layout is tentative and certainly subject to change. The current setup has players selecting an ability from the from the bottom which then appears as a command in your gauge. There are two gauges - one for the left hand and one for the right hand. For example, the character that Tanaka was controlling had a shield in his left hand, so the left-handed gauge had shield commands registered to it.
To activate an ability, the player needs to store up their "Action Gauge." The strength and accuracy of a technique can be further increased by storing up the "Power Gauge." The "TP Gauge" also makes a return, which when full will alter the effects of your technique in a variety of ways. The TP gauge will increase when the player attacks or is attacked by an enemy. During this explanation, Tanaka unleashes Red Lotus Blade with a grin, much to the delight of the interviewer, who immediately recognizes the sword technique.
Magic will be used the same way - through Action Commands - but will only be available if you are equipped with a weapon that allows their use. Swords give sword-based abilities and staves will give magic-based abilities. Also, there are skills that cannot be used until you have acquired enough skill in a particular weapon. In total, you can line up 10 commands in the bar of icons along the bottom. However, in future versions Tanaka states they intend to include a macro system, so players can customize and combine their favorite abilities to their liking.
Another bit of customization, to which players are responding positively, is the ability to drag-and-drop the various info boxes around the screen. There are default positions for each piece of the UI, such as Action Commands, player status, chat box and party status. These will all be movable, and the chat log will be fully adjustable as well. The camera position will have options as well, although the main position will be an over-the-should third person perspective. Tanaka expects there to be three different camera angle to choose from in the final version.
When asked why they decided to go with this battle system, Tanaka explained that first and foremost they wanted to get players more active in battle, which the auto-attack system discouraged. Final Fantasy XI focused on each job having a clear role, with players designing parties around combining those roles. However, in Final Fantasy XIV, they wanted to develop a system where players could easily enjoy the game alone, with a friend, with three people or more. The system is built around the concept of meeting each player's own playstyle.
Tucked in next to the Action Commands, the interviewer noticed a smiley face, which Tanaka revealed was a set of emoticons. In Final Fantasy XI, players were limited to creating emotes through text, but Final Fantasy XIV will provide a set of graphical smileys for users to express themselves. In addition, there are the motions that we all saw displayed in the video at Gamescom. According to Tanaka, these were created through the use of motion-capture technology. However, capturing facial expressions proved too difficult, so the developers ended up designing those manually. Unfortunately, players cannot use full-body emotes during battle at this stage.
At this point, Tanaka finishes up his quest and warps back to the starting point of the Guildleve and moves towards the Aetheryte. Although prevalent in the demo, transportation via Aetheryte will not be so common in the actual game. The majority of their use will be involved with the Guildleve system, as players need to travel to the site of the quest and back again. However, like the user interface, a lot can change before the final game is complete. Tanaka says the game is likely only 40-50% complete at this stage, and the demo cut out basically any elements that were not essential to displaying the Guildleve system. The main focus of the presentation at Gamescom was to show players how Guildleve worked, and how it delivered quests that were enjoyable and light on time. However, this is not to say things will be all fun and games. While the quests shown to players took only 15 minutes of their time, there will many more quests with varying levels of difficulty and time requirements. In addition, there will be hordes of other monsters roaming the countryside that will be sure to make completing your intended task a little trickier.
Tanaka admits that showing off an incomplete game can draw criticism from disappointed players, but he hopes that others may show praise for how far Final Fantasy XIV has come. Currently, the most advanced portion of the game is the graphics, so there are many areas that many completely change before the release date. The idea is that Square Enix will showcase new portions of the game as they continue development, allowing players to experience individual content before a complete beta is put together. While in Germany this meant a playable demo at Gamescom, there may be a playable version that users sign up to try out in Japan, more like, as Tanaka put it, a giant focus group. Players will be added gradually, and once the game is polished enough, and there is a solid base of users, they will initiate an open beta.
Whatever the shape it will take, Tanaka uses his closing words to assure fans everywhere that everyone will get a chance to play a demo of the game, saying, "The fruits of our labor are finally coming to bear, and the development team is working hard to get the game ready. We're planning to let everyone get a shot at a playable version like we have done here in Germany, so please look forward to it."