The producer/director of Final Fantasy XIV talks about the game's future.
Final Fantasy XIV producer/director Naoki Yoshida met with several members of the gaming media on Monday at Square Enix's North American headquarters in El Segundo, CA. The purpose of the media blitz was to discuss the growth of the game, including SE's plans to release an updated version of FFXIV by the end of 2012.
Yoshida's busy afternoon included an hour-long interview with the ZAM Network. All questions and answers were translated by Michael-Christopher Koji Fox of SE's localization division.
Before taking questions, Yoshida delivered an opening statement: "We believe that we have some of the best fans in the world, and that for the past year, the reason that we've been able to continue is because we have this great fan base that has supported us through the tough times. We'd like to believe that everything we're doing now, and the version 2.0 we're heading for, is for our fans, and we're making it for them."
And now, the Q&A:
Naoki Yoshida (right) with Scott "Thayos" Pesznecker.
ZAM Question #1: While some people are excited by the announcement of FFXIV Version 2.0, others are apprehensive. They feel the game they started playing -- which they actually enjoyed -- is going by the wayside. What would you say to these concerned players?
Yoshida: "The question is a little bit abstract. There are a lot of different players and a lot of different players have their different tastes. For some people, they will like one aspect of the game and don't want that to change, but for other people, they didn't like that, but they like this aspect and don't want that to change.
"For example, you have the crafting system, and in (patch) 1.19 we got rid of a lot of those huge, long recipes where you have to take tons and tons of materials and ingredients before you were able to get to the final product. But among the players, there were a lot of players who enjoyed that complex system. I guess for them, you could give them one answer of 'we changed it this way, but we have this for you,' but that might not be the one thing that other players really liked of the old system.
"The one thing though is we don't want people to think that version 2.0 is going to be a completely new game. It's still going to be FFXIV, it's still going to be in the world of Eorzea, it's still going to have those features that players have come to get used to in FFXIV. That's through these updates that we'll be making up through Version 2.0, that the transition from the game we have now into the new Final Fantasy XIV will be very smooth, but it's not a totally different game.
"Yes, the graphics engine will be changing; yes, there will be overhauls in the UI; yes, we'll be redoing the server system; yes, we'll be changing the overall service; but even with all these changes, players will still be able to know this game is Final Fantasy XIV. Players won't have to worry about losing everything they liked about the game to begin with."
ZAM Question #2: Over the course of Version 2.0's development, how is the development team going to be allocated between the game's current version and the new version?
Yoshida: "It's not really black and white. There's not a line where you are only working on current content, and you are working on the future. There's a lot of overlap in there. If there was a line, you could maybe say 80 percent of the team is working on current content, whereas 20 percent of the team is working on Version 2.0. But the thing is, we're making changes to the battle system now. Those battle system changes are happening in real time, and they've been happening since the start of the new team, and the thing is those things are all going up to 2.0. The changes they're making now are not just for now, they're for Version 2.0 as well.
"And then in that 20 percent of the people who are working on stuff for 2.0, it's mostly programmers, getting that foundation ready, and the fundamental changes that they're making.
"As the producer/director, (I am) pretty much on both, no sleep."
ZAM Question #3: So have you maintained the structure of developers being split into teams with specific tasks, and now those teams are working on both versions of the game, in that what they do will be carried over to version 2.0?
Yoshida: "A lot of people in the game design teams will be working on both (versions). For example, they have their monthly tasks, and you could say the level design members will have maybe 20 percent of their tasks be stuff exclusively for 2.0, while the remainder of their tasks are for monster distribution in certain areas or contents that will be released in the next patch. You have your team, your level design team or your battle teams, and they'll be doing things for both.
"And one of the biggest things is because we have Final Fantasy XIV now and we're going to be making (the new) Final Fantasy XIV -- it's new but it's not a completely different game -- it's good to have people who are working on the current stuff also working on the future stuff. So you have that when you go into 2.0, it's not going to be a totally new game, because the people who are making 2.0 are also the people who are working on (patches) 1.20, 1.21.
"On the other hand, you have some (development team) members, for example, in Patch 1.21, they hope to be releasing two new instanced raids. We have one person right now who is only working on that, and he isn't allowed to do anything on 2.0 because we want him to concentrate on that."
ZAM Question #4: Between now and Version 2.0, there's going to be that unique storyline. When Version 2.0 launches, how many missions and quests in the game now will be completely scrapped or redone?
Yoshida: "We can't tell you a lot, but we can say a lot of certain contents will remain in 2.0. For example, big things that have been added like the beast tribe strongholds, you'll still be able to access those and content surrounding those will be kept. Things like the guildleves and the guildleve system we have now, we hope to keep that intact. Then you have things like all the story that is obviously in the now -- the Grand Company type of story, the Garlean Empire, the whole disaster type of scenario -- things like this will probably be, for the most part, 'this is it.' You play it now, and see it now, and that will change.
"The Grand Companies will still be around after 2.0, but, for example, most of the Grand Company quests you see now are all in preparation for this disaster that is approaching. The Garlean Empire is approaching and they're doing all this stuff in secret. Those quests will probably change."
ZAM Question #5: What about Grand Company membership? Some of those quests have been all about getting you to sign up.
Yoshida: "If you join Limsa Lominsa, then yes, after 2.0, you'll still be in Limsa Lominsa.
"For example, one thing right now is all the Grand Companies have their different agendas. If you played all three stories, you can see they're all going in different directions right now and they all have their different storylines. But we hope in the next few months to introduce content where all three companies get together to try to fight off one big type of situation that's -- I can't say anything more. But we have the scenario all written, all the way up to the end, a lot of exciting content. We're not just making it up as we go.
"Another example is the Ifrit battle. With the Ifrit battle, we expect it to still be available after 2.0, but the reason behind the Ifrit battle -- why are you fighting Ifrit now, where did he come from -- all of that background story is now, and you have to play now to be able to experience that."
ZAM Question #6: Can you shed any details on what the nature of this story is going to be?
Yoshida: "It all pretty much resolves around the coming of the Seventh Umbral Era. Currently, the world is in the Sixth Astral Era, and there's been all of the prophecy about the coming of the Seventh Umbral Era. This is pretty much Eorzea is facing, and the story that's going to be released is surrounding that, that there is this huge danger that is looming on the horizon, and it is fastly approaching Eorzea. What we can tell you is we've already shown you some artwork in how the field maps are going to change in 2.0, so you kind of expect that what's coming is something that's going to dramatically affect the world. Over the next few patches, there's going to be lots of different dangers, all this is going to come to light, and it's going to be about the players standing up in the face of this danger, attempting their best to push it back."
ZAM Question #7: Will this one-time storyline content be solo or small-group friendly? Grouping with people can be challenging given the lack of a party search tool and linkshell management tools.
Yoshida: "Hopefully for Patch 1.20, our next patch, we will have a greatly improved player search system in place so people who are looking for parties can find people at least with the same level of ease players in FFXI have. We hope to have that in place by 1.20.
"When you think about it, if you're having the players stand up against this huge threat that is on the horizon, having a solo player fight against Ifrit is not how you would envision saving the world. We want to have a lot of party-based content for the patches that are coming up with this storyline that we're doing, but we realized finding a party is very difficult, so that's why we made it a priority to get this in, not at 2.0 but at 1.20, so players can experience this party-based content in a party rather than have to wander around and find people.
"Another thing we're going to be adding for version 1.20 is we're going to be updating and improving the market system. It's going to be in a format that's really close to what the auction house is in FFXI, where you will be able to search for individual items, and you will be able to buy them from that, and then you will be able to see the last 20-something prices. It's something very close to what FFXI has. We want to have this ready for 1.2, then have players play this, see what we've done in 1.20, and then make the decision whether they want to start the subscription. And that's why we won't be having subscriptions start until after 1.20, so players can see what we've done in 1.20 before making that decision."
ZAM Question #8: Many long-time players felt jilted when their gear became dated in Patch 1.19. Any chance more gear becomes dated as Version 2 or future patches are implemented?
Yoshida: "(I) would like to apologize to all those players who had their items change to dated items, but (I) want to promise we won't do that anymore, we are pretty much done with those changes. The reason why we had to do this is when we made our major changes to the battle system, to maintain balance with this new battle system, we had to make major changes to the recipe system, and that was pretty much the only way that we could keep balance to the game after making those changes to the battle system. It was necessary to do this. Now that we've made those changes to the battle system, we shouldn't ever have to do that again. At 2.0, we don't have to worry about items becoming dated at that point as well.
"What we would like is for players who have those dated items, even dated items can be turned into materia. Those items players have made in the past and have been using, when the spirit bond reaches 100 percent, turn those into materia and then put those on the new items. Then you can have your old items and your new items together as one. That's the kind of image that we had."
ZAM Question #9: Seamless zones are being eliminated in Version 2.0. Many people like seamless zones, which weren't in FFXI. What is the benefit to having zones with transitions?
Yoshida: "One of (my) favorite games lately is Red Dead Redemption, and they did the seamless world really beautifully. If you could make an MMORPG that fit in that size of a world, then seamless would be the way to go. For a large MMORPG, you have to have a lot of content, and when the map becomes too small, then you don't have enough room to put all that content in. For example, you have a battle with Garuda, and you want to have that on the top of a mountain, a very big mountain. But in a seamless world, people are going to have to get to the bottom of the mountain, and then climb up this whole mountain to get there. Unless your MMO is called Mountain Climbing Online, it's not something that most players are going to want to do. Yes it's seamless, but do players really want to spend 30 minutes climbing the mountain before they get to the fight.
"If you do have, for example, a small road leading up there, then yes, you can have monsters on it and have it a challenge to get up there. But if it's a seamless, open world, then you're just going to have this big mountain, and players are just going to be running up this mountain and that's it.
"You can make the game so you have that road up, make invisible walls and make that road up to the mountain and have it filled up with monsters, but that just creates stress for the players. Yes it's seamless, but there's that unwanted stress, when players, what they want to do is fight Garuda. Even though you take away the seamlessness by having the zones, you can still make the experience similar. For example, once you get to the top of the mountain, you can still look down and see the bottom of the mountain and have this wonderful landscape in front of you, but without having to actually go up that landscape. You can go there, fight your battle and still see the beautiful scenery without having to go through the pain.
"The one benefit of going beyond seamless is you can make things more dynamic. If you want to do something dynamic, yes you can make something dynamic in a seamless world, but you have to do everything in between there as well, which takes a lot of time and effort and can be a very challenging thing. By removing the seamlessness, you can make each area be that much more dynamic and add that much more content to it, and so that's the exchange that we're offering the players. Yes we're going to be moving to this zone type of system, but each area is going to be that much more original and that much more dynamic."
ZAM Question #10: Will the giant zones in the game now be split up into smaller zones at Version 2.0?
Yoshida: "Currently, you have the main three large zones and then a few smaller zones that you have. You have the deserts of Thanalan, the forests of the Black Shroud and then you have the fields of La'Noscea. You can expect these to be split up into four or five smaller zones, and also there will be additional dungeons and additional instanced raids. So yes, the bigger areas will be broken up into smaller areas."
ZAM Question #11: What are Free Companies, and how will these be structured? Are these the player-run companies we heard about in the past?
Yoshida: "These are player-controlled companies. You can think of it like the guild systems that a lot of other MMORPGs have, the player-run guilds. Think of it as each player, for example, five people can be a Free Company. I can be a member of the Order of the Twin Adder, he can be a member of the Maelstrom, he can be a member of the Immortal Flames, but we can all get together and make our own Free Company. Individuals can do the Grand Company content on their own, and then we can make this Free Company with a lot of people from different companies. And also, the Free Company can sign up to join the Grand Company, so you can experience Grand Company content through your Free Company, even though if I'm in Gridania but our Free Company signs up to work with the Maelstrom in Limsa Lominsa, then we can do those contents as well. That's one thing where players will be able to cross over.
"So when players make their own Free Companies, they can decide what they want to do. They can go, "OK, I only want to have people from the Order of the Twin Adder be in my Free Company, and their Free Company is going to be hardcore, or they can have a mixture of lots of different players. That will be up to the players."
ZAM Question #12: Can people experience all the company content through Free Company participation, just by signing up with all the different companies?
Yoshida: "The content will be different. There will be the Free Company content of the Grand Companies, as well as the solo content of the Grand Companies. You'll only be able to do the solo content of the Grand Company you're in, but when it comes to the Grand Company content that's for Free Companies, it won't matter as a solo player which company you're in, it will matter which Free Company you're signed up with. It will be two different stories."
ZAM Question #13: With how servers will be set up in Version 2.0, players will be able to look for groups across different worlds. Will players be able to freely switch which server they play on, or is this server setup only for finding parties for specific events?
Yoshida: "It's going to be more for single content. It will be the matching system where a lot of people want to play a certain instanced raid, so you get yourself in a queue and then it matches you with people from all the different worlds for that content only. So it won't be something like, 'I want to play on this world today, I want to play on this world tomorrow,' it will only be for the single content, that matching system.
"But, for example, if you're on this server, but then a lot of your other friends join a different server and you want to move, by introducing this worldless server system it will make it easier for players to have this option to be able to change. It's kind of like FFXI, where every now and then we offer you can do world changes if you pay a fee -- that's not saying we're going to do a fee, we haven't decided yet. There is the problem with the RMT that if you make it easy to switch servers then all those problems come up. But whether we charge for that, that's something we'll discuss and we'll think about once we get to that point. But by going to the worldless server, that will make it easier to do that, and we hope to have an option to let players switch worlds.
"There are games such as RIFT that have their world-switching system, and so we're looking at things like that, things that are working in the world now, and we want to choose the best type of system that's going to benefit the players the most."