It’s a good time to be an Eorzean. Final Fantasy XIV patch 2.4, Dreams of Ice, has just released, adding new dungeons, the rogue class and ninja job, a new primal battle with long-standing series summon Shiva, The Final Coil of Bahamut — the third and final chapter of FFXIV‘s ultimate end-game raid, and countless other tweaks and new features.
Square Enix also just announced FFXIV 3.0 Heavensward, a whole new expansion that will add way too much content for me to list in an opening paragraph. Well okay, a few highlights: Dark Knight class! New areas and primals! New playable race! Flying Chocobos and single-rider airships! That’s all coming in Spring 2015.
Finally, fans worldwide have had the chance to attend the first-ever FFXIV Fan Festival — recently held in Las Vegas and London, with an upcoming stop in Tokyo. I attended the first of these events, and had the great pleasure of sitting down with Naoki Yoshida (Yoshi-P to his friends and fans), the producer and director of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Naoki Yoshida: Thank you so much for taking time to come to the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival — our first one — here in Las Vegas. It’s an honor to have you here with us.
PlayStation.Blog: Thank you for putting this festival together! Many events year-round host hundreds of games, but there are so many people here who are just incredibly passionate about Final Fantasy XIV.
NY: It’s been a long road. We went through 1.0 and the trouble there, then into 2.0, and getting here to 3.0 and this Fan Festival… it’s been a crazy ride, but it’s all because the fans have supported us and we thank you for that.
PSB: FFXIV is one of the few MMOs to exist on PC and console simultaneously. Is it challenging to keep updates consistent across three platforms?
NY: Actually, there aren’t that many challenges, because this is how the game was planned from the beginning. We have our graphics engine, which will work on low-end and high-end machines, so we don’t have to think “Okay, we can implement this but because we have to implement it on PS3 we won’t implement it here.” We don’t need to think about that because it’s been in our plan from the beginning to be able to make something that will work on all of these systems. Now, there are things like, the PS3 has less memory so not as many characters can be displayed on-screen at the same time, but we don’t let that control how we make each patch so we don’t think of it as a challenge.
PSB: You just announced a lot of new things here at Fan Fest: Heavensward, more details for upcoming patches… you even talked a bit about 2.5. How do you keep track of all this content? How do you implement these things in such a way that no one aspect of the game becomes unbalanced?
NY: We have been planning stuff that’s going to be released now and into 2.5 for over a year. When we made our plan for 2.0, we made that plan all the way to the end of 2.0 as well. Other than ad-libbing new content when we get feedback from players, we pretty much already know what we’re going to do. It’s not like we’re making stuff up as we go and having to do it immediately!
Not just what we’re going to release and at what times, but things like when are we going to raise item levels, when are we going to release a new part of the raid, and when we are going to fix or adjust other parts of the raids. So basically we’re going to make sure that the balance isn’t going to break if we do these things, because they’re already in our plans.
Maybe we’re making two dungeons at a time — even though from the player’s perspective it looks like we’re making two things at the same time, within our company we have things split up so our devs don’t get confused either. They know “Okay, I’m working on this 2.4 thing,” or “I’m working on this 3.0 thing.”
We have this giant task board with all of the tasks and timelines and what people are supposed to do — it’s such a large project that we have more than 10 project managers making sure that everything is getting done on time and that everyone knows what to do. If anyone’s going to be confused, it’s going to be myself. [laughs]
PSB: Final Fantasy XIV continues to grow and improve with each update — a couple of my favorite recent additions are Syrcus Tower and Hullbreaker Isle. Is there any content on your personal wishlist you’ve got tucked away, waiting for an opportunity to slip it into the next patch or start working on it?
NY: There’s a lot! Thinking of new things to add is our job. There are lots of things we want to do, but the technology isn’t ready yet, or it would take too long to develop and implement. We know players really want to get into Chocobo breeding and raising — there are lots of things like that we know the players want.
Programmers have already started working on new things that we’re planning on adding in 2.5. We’ve learned so much over these past few years programming and trying new things in 2.0; we’re going to try a lot more things in 3.0. We have a lot of cool stuff that we’re planning for it, but there are people in this room who don’t want us to say anything, so… [laughs]
PSB: I noticed earlier that while you were on stage you pantomimed playing with a controller — do you normally play with a controller, or with a keyboard and mouse?
NY: Because I am the producer and director, it’s my job to show the people of the world that you can beat this difficult content, these difficult duties, with a controller. So at work, whenever I do my checks on new content and duties, it’s always with a controller. So when I was out there playing on the floor with fans, I was playing with a controller. Those guys out there are hardcore, so I knew they’d be watching closely, but I think I did a good job keeping my DPS up.
At home I play with a gaming keyboard and mouse, and if you look at my screen it’s just hotbars everywhere [laughs]. But yeah, when it comes down to it, I want to make sure the controller mode works and is usable by all players, so that’s why I test it. The one I don’t use the most is probably a normal keyboard and mouse — I’d probably have a hard time using that.
PSB: You’ve managed to translate a very complex control scheme to an input device with far fewer inputs, and everything still manages to feel intuitive, thanks to some clever control combinations you’ve included. For example: hitting up and down on the D-pad to select party members (which makes healing much easier), or hitting L2 + R1 to cycle through hostile targets.
NY: Just to tell you a little more about that controller mode, the idea of how to do it came really quickly with the Cross Hotbar, but it took a lot of time to get it to feel just right. You mentioned the toggling: the first time we had that, doing Cross Hotbars and toggling at the same time, it didn’t work the way we had it so we’d be playing and saying “I can’t do this, we gotta fix this!” Then we’d fix it and get feedback from the players during and after our beta phases, and create something that feels right for everyone. We’ve put a lot of work into it, and for you to tell us that it’s great is one of the best compliments we can get.
PSB: Have you explored any enhanced sharing functionality to tap into PS4’s Share button? For instance, a photo mode like some recent games have implemented?
NY: We’ve been getting that same kind of feedback from PC users as well. These are your characters, and you want to people to see them! We understand that. Not just for PS4, but for PC as well to have some kind of photo mode to give players more ways to show off their character is definitely something we’re considering. The biggest thing for us is we want all our players to have the same experience. We don’t want there to be any difference in experience between PC and PlayStation. We’ve had a lot of help from Sony to help us achieve that same type of experience, and we want to continue working with Sony to make sure the experiences are as close as possible.
PSB: Before I let you go, do you have any parting thoughts for PlayStation fans?
NY: Very soon, we’re going to be starting a free trial for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 players. You just need to download and install the client, and you can play for 14 days up to level 20. Hopefully, this will bring in a lot of people who haven’t played but have been thinking about playing. It will give them a chance to feel the game and experience Final Fantasy XIV and the world of Eorzea. And if you like it, we have this great content in Heavensward coming right up! Stick with the game, and stick with us for adventures in Eorzea and Heavensward.