Remember that time in which Square Enix tweeted a picture of a rock being photographed and then reproduced in Final Fantasy XV? Let me refresh your memory.
— Final Fantasy XV (@FFXVEN) October 16, 2015
At that time, that tweet sparked ferocious mocking from many, including some news outlets, that apparently don’t have a very clear idea of the importance that techniques like photogrammetry are gaining in the gaming industry.
Today Square Enix published the second part of the interview to Lead Environment Artist Hiromitsu Sasaki on the official Japanese blog, and they were kind enough to provide a full English translation.
You can read it in it entirely below, and among the many pieces of information on how the game’s environment are being developed, maybe it’ll give you a better idea of the importance of that rock, or at least of the kind of work it represents.
Taji: Mr. Sasaki, thank you for joining us today.
Sasaki: Thank you.
Taji: Ok, let’s get straight into it, please tell us what you do.
Sasaki: I am the lead ENV artist on the dungeon team.
Taji: Env.. enviro…?
Sasaki: Environment, from the English. Basically, the team that make the backdrops. We shorten it to ENV.
Taji: ENV eh? Thanks. So your team of ENV artists create the graphics for the dungeons in FFXV right?
What exactly are you working on at the moment?
Sasaki: We are fine tuning the lighting and textures in the dungeons right now. It links directly with improving the final visual quality.
We are really tweaking how things look, such as the balance between light and shadows, making sharp rocks look like they would hurt if you touched them or surfaces to look slippery etc.
Taji: Modern games all have such beautiful graphics, so this is an important stage in ensuring that high final quality!
What to watch out for in Mr. Sasaki’s work
Taji: So is there anything in particular that you want the fans to look out for in FFXV?! I would be grateful if you could answer that from a developer perspective based on your actual work on the game!
Sasaki: When making the dungeons they have to be dark and scary, but I also never forget to make them beautiful as well and aim to make something that sticks in the player’s memory. Aside from that… I am also in charge of something a bit gruesome called “regulation”…
Taji: So what is this reg.. regu.. regul… this gruesome thing then?
Sasaki: It’s called “regulation”, again from the English (Lol).
Essentially it is making the rules. There are lots of rules that govern the game world, and I fine tune those rules. For example, the height of terrain you can walk over or the angles of slopes etc. And FFXV attacks those rules fairly viciously!!
Taji: Fairly viciously eh?!
Sasaki: Indeed (Lol)
For example the slope angles. When you are placing monsters in the world, most of the time they will be fighting on flat terrain, but for FFXV you can also have battles taking place on some pretty severe terrain, such as steep slopes. In that sense FFXV really pushes the rules of the environment so there are heated debates on how those rules should handle things, right down to deciding on a single angle etc.
Taji: Heated debates?
Sasaki: Yeah, heated debates (Lol).
The more you push the rules, the more things you cannot control about character and enemy behavior. When you look closely you sometimes see that the visuals look off or that attacks aren’t landing because of the terrain rules, and thus battle cannot take place.
We really want to prioritise the gameplay feeling good over small graphical failures, but if you do that then the visuals start to look bad, so there are debates about what the best way to handle things is (Lol).
Taji: All the development staff have somewhat of an attitude that they won’t compromise on quality don’t they? I guess you get these kinds of conflicts when nobody wants to budge on anything.
Sasaki: That’s right. But that is what makes things interesting. When faced with a conflict like that the team naturally comes together to try out various things and it ultimately results in the quality improving.
Taji: That is a fascinating topic. It sounds like there are passionate debates every day about how to bring the most fun and excitement to the game!
I personally like the battles in FF very much and really get excited thinking about playing those kinds of battles across naturalistic terrain. I think players will enjoy the battles in FFXV in a new and exciting way, different from the battles seen previously in the FF series. So FFXV is one to watch there!
So Mr. Sasaki, when people think of you they remember the rocky terrain location hunting video on Twitter. What is the exact relationship between location hunting and making the game? The term “location hunting” brings to mind TV or filmmaking rather than games…
Sasaki: Our location hunting is slightly different to when a TV series would look for places to film. There are broadly two types we do.
These are when the objective is to experience something and when we go to collect design reference resources, and the rocky one was of the latter type. Talking about taking pictures for design resources, recently we often use a method called photo scanning that lets you create a 3D model from a photograph. It requires photo data from all angles and thus consumes an incredible amount of memory; probably over 10 times what it would to produce the same in-game object on a PS3. Incidentally, the reasons why we go out of our way to do location hunting and collect data is because it is actually quicker to use real rocks to get the data and it obviously improves the final quality as well.
Taji: It looks like it takes a lot of time to go out on location hunts but is that not the case then?
Sasaki: If you gather information before heading out and are clear on what data you want then it does not take all that much time. For example, something that would take 3 days’ worth of work at my desk can be done in half a day with a location hunt and would not incur the same costs.
Taji: So location hunting improves the quality and does not cost time or money? I guess there is no reason not to do it eh?!
So for the rock we saw on Twitter, did you have an image in your head when you started?
Sasaki: That’s right. The one I found was quite close to the rock I had drawn in my head. We endeavor to keep the costs down while creating high quality game worlds that feel even more real through collecting good resources like that rock.
Taji: So even one rock takes a lot of effort then!
Sasaki: That’s true. We really take care with the history and story behind each area, with all the rocks and wildflowers etc. For FFXV we started creating the world terrain from the continental level, with the mountain ranges and the flow of the rivers etc. and have polished it to a level where each region and location actually has its own unique climate and topography.
Taji: So creating on the continental level… does that mean that the world of FFXV has seen things like tectonic plate shifting over many centuries like on Earth?
Sasaki: That’s exactly right. So we don’t just plonk down the assets that we photographed on our location hunts willy-nilly, and actually consider the right geographical situations to use them in, looking at how this continent would have been in a certain way in the distant past and how that would make this particular piece of ground form in a certain way or things like that.
Taji: Things in the natural world really do change a lot depending on the environment you find them in don’t they?
All the rock information that our followers posted on Twitter also shows the unique characteristics of those locations.
Sasaki: The team looked at all the rock references that people sent in and got very enthusiastic about it. There were some places we learned about for the first time and it was all really useful reference info for us. As we are now in the final stages of development we don’t go on many location hunts at the moment, but if we can find good leads on reference data, not just for rocks but for anything, then we will always go out and photograph it.
Thanks to everyone for sharing your rock information with us!
Taji: As community manager I would like to go on a location hunt too and let all the fans out there know about all the info we gather first hand. So to finish off I would like to hear a comment from one of the people who read this blog.
Sasaki: Thank you for all your support everyone. We don’t get many opportunities to show people what goes on behind the scenes in game development, so I am happy that people can see it and that they show an interest in what we do.
Taji: Thank you very much. Do you have anything else you would like to say?
Sasaki: Well… Let me tell everyone about the similarities between weight training and game creation?
Taji: !? Now you mention it a lot of the FFXV development staff are pretty beefy aren’t they?…
Sasaki: I spoke to Mr. Tabata about this too and there really is a parallel there! It might get a bit longwinded but are you ok with me explaining it here?
Taji: Mr. Tabata thinks so too? I have to hear this! But unfortunately we have run out of time for today. So sorry, but please could you tell us next time when we get another opportunity to speak. (LoL) If all the fans want to hear about it then we will put something solid on the plan! Thank you for your time today!