Dengeki - Devs Talk Future Beta Plans

Dengeki magazine was lucky enough to get a shot at the alpha build for Final Fantasy XIV.  They printed most of the information we saw yesterday in Famitsu, but also got some time to sit down with Producer Hiromichi Tanaka and Director Nobuaki Komoto!  Together, they discussed details of the alpha and plans for the progression of beta testing.

Check out the details below.

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- When Final Fantasy XI first started, it began with a beta test.  Why did you decide to go back even further this time and start with an alpha?

Komoto: At the beta stage, a game is relatively complete.  In order to better take in user opinions and make more adjustments, we wanted users to see an earlier version and let their feedback affect the direction of the game itself.

- So, does that mean there could be some dramatic changes after the alpha version?

Komoto: Yes, there could.  We're already wondering ourselves what shape the game will take after the alpha testing is complete.  There are issues we have seen arise, and we want to think of how to best fix these and add in user suggestions at the same time.

Tanaka: For the alpha test, we only have one World.  The idea is we first test that World for stability and then in phase 1 of the beta test, we begin to add more Worlds and collect as much data as we can.

- Will the amount of playable cities increase in the beta phase?

Tanaka: More than simply increasing the play area, we want to test and adjust the core mechanics of the game.  For example, we want to see if leveling up works properly or if attaining a new skill rank works properly.  Our number one priority is to monitor these things closely.

Komoto: Just like how we set a limit to the levels, we want to place benchmarks and see if they can be reached without major issues.  We expand the system a bit, and then sample data from within those constraints.

Tanaka: We want to examine the speed at which people grow, as well as the core game mechanics, and see if we need to make any adjustments.

- So, then it sounds like we won't really get the full game until the official release version.

Komoto: We think the full scope of the game will come together sometime during the beta phase.

Tanaka: The game system will be completed during the beta phase, but I would say you probably won't see the entirety of what the game world has to offer until the official release.

- I got to try out the Guildleve system, and it feels like a great way to manage your play time.  You can complete a quest within 30 minutes and then start a new one right away.  It feels like Assault in FFXI, where you can enjoy some casual challenges divided into easy to manage chunks.  Forgive me if I'm wrong, but it feels like a system really designed around light, casual play.

Komoto: That's true, but I wouldn't say it's just a system for light play.  What we wanted to do is design something that casual players could enjoy.  That entails making it simple and easy at first.  However, while the rules are simple early on, future quests add more rules and more variations to Guildleve while at the same time putting players up against tougher monsters.  That's the kind of system we're considering.

- As for character growth, it appears there are Skill Ranks for each Class and Physical Levels for the avatar itself.  Physical Levels are where you can freely spend points on different parameters, right?

Komoto: In the alpha, there is a cap on Physical Levels, and you can't redistribute points already spent on parameters just yet.  Later on, we want to allow players to reallocate points in case they focus too heavily on a certain attribute and want to adjust that.  We also plan to make it so you cannot simply max out every attribute, so players will have to work to find a good balance.  For example, you may raise a certain skill in order to play a Warrior-type class.  If you later want to go as a Disciple of Magic, you can then reallocate those points into something more beneficial for a magic-user.

- Regarding character customization, will there be any limitations on attaching skills from one Class onto another?

Komoto: If we can, we want to allow players to use skills from other Classes on their current one.  However, there are many things to test out regarding this, such as how the effects of skills will be weakened when used with other Classes.  For example, maybe a certain combination of skills doesn't work well together, or perhaps another combination is too powerful -- we want to maintain game balance as we go forward.  There will, of course, also be some skills that we simply won't allow to be attached to other Classes.  At this stage, we are still looking to see how things work, so feel free to try out any combinations you wish.

- With FFXI and Support Jobs, there was a limitation, and in general you wanted users to play Jobs a certain way, which made it easy for other players to pick up on what that Job's role was.  If you can freely set abilities on different Classes and freely boost your parameters, will that make it difficult for players to define roles for Classes?

Komoto: That's why we feel it is most important to have Classes defined by their main skills.  Although there is wiggle room for adding other abilities, a Class that excels at tanking will usually be considered a tank first and foremost.  From that starting point, you can begin to fine-tune your role based on the situation and see how your Class works with other Classes.

- How are crafting skills coming along at this point in the alpha?

Komoto: We've touched on them so far and let players get the basics of cultivating materials, but we're still seeing how the system will take shape.  We plan to have players able to gather materials in field areas and are preparing Guildleves that involve cultivation and harvesting.  However, we're still in the testing phase for these aspects of crafting.  Also, we're going to make skills for harvesting and crafting and want to make the whole experience fun for players.  Fighting battles is fun, but we hope to create a game where players can have just as much as crafters -- raising skills, going on adventures, and even completing storylines.  Guildleves should be very useful for making this happen.

- How many different types of Guildleves are there in the alpha version?

Komoto: Not so many.  A little less than 20.

- Will players be able to solo even some high-level Guildleves?

Komoto: We hope to allow that by use of the selectable difficulty levels.  That isn't to say there won't be any party-related Guildleves, but we want to allow solo players to enjoy Guildleve as much as possible.

- Speaking of which, is 6 members the average party size?

Komoto: This time, we've set the maximum for parties at 15 members -- almost the size of an alliance.  However, they aren't divided into units.  A party of 3 is fine, a party of 8 is fine, and we don't want to impose any standards from our end.  Instead of forcing minimum party sizes on players, we want to allow them to freedom to put together any group they wish.

- I was surprised to see that Teleport and Warp were available to every Class right from the start!

Komoto: There will be costs attached to those abilities, but that hasn't been implemented yet in the alpha.  We hope to make it so players with limited time can travel quickly, but also add elements that players with time to spare can enjoy if they decide to travel back on foot.  We are looking to provide enough warp points to make these abilities a real help for players short on time.  As for costs involved, we don't plan anything really restricting, and hope to keep it down to almost nothing.

- The range of motion for avatars was astounding.  Lalafell are especially cute.

Komoto: They're sickeningly cute, aren't they? (laughs)  This time around, the amount of motions and equipment and everything has been expanded extensively.  Then there's the facial improvements.

- The facial expressions are amazing.  Characters in cut scenes are so expressive and have voices, too.  Compared with current MMOs, especially FFXI, the world of FFXIV just draws you in completely.

Komoto: I had that same feeling when viewing the cut scenes myself.

- The alpha only supports Windows, but will the beta phase add support for PS3?

Tanaka: We may not make it in time for phase 1 of the beta, but around phase 2 of the beta we believe we will be able to support PS3.

- How long do you plan to run the alpha and stage 1 and 2 of the beta?  Are you just seeing how things go and playing it by ear?

Tanaka: Things may change as the product we are making changes through testing.  The alpha and phase 1 of the beta will be pretty similar.  Phase 2 of the beta is where the game will begin to change based on the feedback collected from the alpha.

- Will phase 1 of the beta add more Worlds than the alpha?  Will any of the feedback from the alpha influence the initial beta stage?

Tanaka: Between the alpha and phase 1 of the beta, we don't expect much to change at all.  Phase 2 of the beta and onward will see the game get updated and become vastly different.

Komoto:   More than a set length for each phase, I would say it's how many stages we need.


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