A reporter for ITMedia Games, with an admittedly sour outlook on MMOs, sat down with Final Fantasy XIV Producer Hiromichi Tanaka to find out what he was missing.
Tanaka sheds some light on his motivations and those of his team and tries to explain how FFXIV will set itself apart in a world already swamped with MMOs.
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-- I'm not the biggest fan of MMORPGs, so please forgive me if some of my questions are a little strange. Now, I got to play FFXIV earlier, and my first impression was how incredibly beautiful the graphics were. I played FFXI before and it's just worlds apart.
Tanaka: (laughs) What you played was a pre-beta version, but compared with the alpha, the graphics have been given quite a boost. As an online game, we plan to continue improving the look even after service begins.
-- The MMORPG genre is unique in that you raise a player over a period of time, and the game itself has like a "lifespan" wouldn't you say?
Tanaka: Yes, that's true. In fact, amongst the staff, we wondered in FFXI would last beyond 4-5 years in the beginning. However, you have games like Ultima Online and Everquest that started long before FFXI and yet are still operating today. There are titles out there that only last a short while, but we've been very fortunate to have a player base that has supported us to this day.
-- I see, so it's the passion of the players that really drives a game's success. Now, will FFXI users be able to carry over their data into FFXIV?
Tanaka: No, there will be no transferring of data. The games are completely separate, and if you want to enjoy FFXIV, you are joining up for a brand new service. Still, there are some commonalities between the interface and avatars. And of course, we haven't forgotten our dedicated FFXI players and will continue to support FFXI for as long as people keep playing.
-- So, what considerations went into the construction of this new world for FFXIV?
Tanaka: We thought about players transferring from FFXI to FFXIV and decided to make the avatars the same. Users can grow attached to their online persona, so we wanted them to have the same options for avatars should they move over. While their player character may look similar, the adventures that lie before them are completely new. We feel it gives them and their avatar a fresh, exciting experience to look forward to.
-- When it comes to MMORPGs, there are people who say they take up too much time, or that it's difficult to get started as a new player. How will FFXIV combat these opinions and bring in more casual gamers?
Tanaka: (thinks a bit) When we started up FFXI, we built a game aimed at more hardcore gamers. However, 8 years later we have seen an increase in casual, or light users. This is where FFXIV's Guildleve system comes into play. There are mini-quests that can be completed in as little as 30 minutes, and while you participate, you are also skilling up your character. In this way, people can enjoy the game without worrying that it will eat up too much time. Also, this time we have the Armoury System, which allows players to easily change classes at any time (except mid-battle) by changing their equipment. This removes the need for party members to go back and change jobs constantly and is very useful for solo play.
-- Although this is a numbered Final Fantasy, it has a very different style and system. What about FFXIV makes it a Final Fantasy title?
Tanaka: If you're asking me "what is a Final Fantasy?" then that's a question I get quite often. Unfortunately, I don't have a clear answer for that. There are some similarities between the worlds, such as the crystals and the use of elemental magic spells, but for the development team, it's always about creating the best RPG out there. Of course there's some pressure that comes along with aiming so high, so it's good to have people on the team with confidence in their own original ideas. If someone comes to us just looking to create a "Final Fantasy," they probably won't make it past the first interview. (laughs)
-- There are certain icons that are uniquely "Final Fantasy" such as the Chocobo and the Airship.
Tanaka: There was a Chocobo in town during the Alpha. (laughs) It's not used for riding yet, though. We're thinking of using Chocobo in a way that hasn't been done yet in the series. There will be airships, too.
-- Looking at it the other way, what kind of challenges does a Final Fantasy present?
Tanaka: First, just making an MMO is a challenge in itself. Looking back at FFXI, no one really understood what a massive task that was in the beginning. Once we got going, it became a big success and we're recording better sales that any other series title to date.
-- Certainly, online games are a completely different beast and it takes a special know-how to develop them. On that note, will there be any features introduced to keep the player community active?
Tanaka: In FFXI, we had the "Linkshell" which was simply a way to connect a group of users. For FFXIV, we are preparing "Companies" which will make for more tightly-knit groups. We will set it up so members of a Company can communicate in-game or on the Web. We want to have an official site where these players can get together.
-- Compared with when FFXI released, there are now a lot more rival MMORPGs out there. What is going to set FFXIV apart from the pack?
Tanaka: That would be the battle system, which is probably also the greatest difference from FFXI as well. The Armoury System, which I explained before, will certainly set us apart, but players can also mix abilities they learn across different classes and re-create memorable jobs from the Final Fantasy series in their own way. This is why we separated classes into Disciplines instead of giving them traditional Final Fantasy job names.
-- So, you're really putting more power in the users' hands. By the way, you have consistently developed and worked on FFXI for almost 10 years now. What exactly is the draw for you?
Tanaka: (without pausing) It's about bringing people together. With the traditional RPG, the creator puts together a story with gameplay and cutscenes, and the user consumes it. With an MMORPG, the story is never finished. Friendships are born and tales are constantly woven between players... it's an RPG full of meetings and partings and many of our more passionate players carry over that experience into the real world. I find it fascinating to see how the world grows and expands outside the scope of the pre-built scenarios -- I might even call it an addiction.
-- So, in essence, a game is about giving the players a place to have fun, would you say?
Tanaka: Yes. This is why there are many virtual worlds that don't succeed -- they forget how to make it a game. Even if you are bringing people together, if there are no goals to accomplish, then there's not much propelling the development of the world.
-- Thank you very much for your time. Thanks to our chat, I've become a little more optimistic about MMORPGs.
Source: ITMedia Games