Community Spotlight: Meet the Artistic Heart of the Final Fantasy XIV Community

May 13, 2013

We often interview game developers, publishers and other industry insiders, but they aren’t the only ones that contribute to build our hobby. Often the best moments of being a gamer come from the interaction with other gamers, especially those whose hard work enriches our communities: Modders, Community coordinators, forum moderators, guild leaders, fan artists. There are many that act behind the scenes to make the gaming community a better place. That’s why the “Community Spotlight” feature on DualShockers places some of those often unsung heroes of gaming under the titular spotlight, letting them tell us what they do and what drives them.

With the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and the undergoing beta, the Final Fantasy XIV community has gone though radical changes. A lot of the players that previously gathered on the official Lodestone forum moved to the beta forums, and things started to slow down considerably, making some wonder if there was even a community anymore.

Nique and Vergil drawn by Nique

But the fire was still burning under the ashes left by the fall of Dalamud, and two players named Nique Amrita and Vergil Renata (we decided to use their in-game names for this article in order to preserve their privacy) decided to move. Almost at the same time they created two threads (here and here) in which they started posting their art inspired by the game and its community. Many other players and even other artists started gathering around them and soon those threads started to function as a hub for the community as they waited for A Realm Reborn. 

Both Nique and Vergil have a very unique approach to most of their Final Fantasy XIV-specific artwork. Nique likes to focus on the community itself, painting lovely little doodles portraying many of the players in hilarious situations. Vergil centers a lot of his attention on the game’s Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida (that I recently interviewed here), and created the concept of an in-game minion inspired by him named “Mini Minstrel”, using him as the protagonist of some extremely funny skits.

A couple days ago I got the chance to have a chat with both Nique and Vergil (while doing some timezone-related acrobatics, since one of them is in California, the other is in Australia, and I’m exactly in the middle…) to ask them about their activities in the Final Fantasy XIV community, their work as artists and their expectations for A Realm Reborn.

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Vergil deals with his Mini Minstrel

Giuseppe: To get started, why don’t you two introduce yourselves?

Nique: Hello, I am Nique. I am an Australian Lady who likes to be creative. I love video games, mostly on PS3 and PC ; my main job in Final Fantasy XIV is White Mage and I’m looking forward to try Summoner.

Vergil: I go by the name Vergil Renata, and I’m from California. I’ve been drawing and playing games for as long as I can remember. I’ve been playing FFXIV since April 2011, and I’m doing my best to support A Realm Reborn.

Nique’s portrait of Linka Sunniva (click for the full picture)

G: You two contributed, with your art, to keep the community of the official Lodestone forums tightly-knit in a period in which a lot of people moved to the beta forum. Was it intentional or it just happened to turn out that way?

V: Both, actually. I always wanted to make some kind of art topic, but I’m a very, very shy person. Coincidentally, I came up with the Mini Minstrel during sculpture class while figuring out what I should do for an oil clay project. The Mini Minstrel is still my only topic, and it took me several minutes to make sure OP was perfect enough. I actually made a lot of friends on the Lodestone, Twitter, and Tumblr when the Mini Minstrel topic was still new.

N: It was very unintentional. Actually I just drew a few people after finding their comments on the Lodestone funny and they (as well as a few of my Linkshell members) encouraged me to make a thread in which to draw more people. I could not have been happier when it became a hangout for the whole forum, I have met and learned about many community members. It was even better when other artists like Vergil and Denmo appeared.

Most of my inspiration comes from the conversations the other community members have, so it’s also thanks to them that it has become such a fun place to hang out in.

Vergil’s self portrait (click for the full picture)

G: How would you describe your style?

N: Personally, I am very unfocused, I will try anything whether it’s physical materials like clay or pastels to digital. Overall my style is about fun: I used to stress a lot about getting everything perfect, but nowadays I try to be more relaxed and make others happy. When I draw seriously I still stress over quality and details, though (laughs).

V: My style is as enigmatic as I am. Sometimes I like to draw chibis overloaded with cuteness, and other times I might paint something straight from a nightmare. I prefer digital media over traditional, and I really, really love colors (which can range from pastel to neon depending on the theme of the image). I mentioned a few times that I was hardly drawing until the Mini Minstrel because I didn’t feel inspired; now I can’t stop painting!

One of Nique’s glamour screenshots, featuring Sophia Ainslade 

G: Are there any artists that contributed to your own artistic growth and inspiration?

V: Plenty of artists from the FFXIV community, in fact! Nique is obviously one of them, and I look up to artists like Denmo Mcstronghuge, Esumi Aoi, and others. My list of artists outside of FFXIV is even bigger. Some examples are AAAGH, Priestessofpie, and Terrterr. While I was starting to study art in seventh grade, I fell in love with Grandma Moses, Salvador Dali, Rembrandt, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, and Vincent Van Gogh’s works (Editor’s Note: remind me to never pronounce “Van Gogh” in public again. Both Vergil and Nique are probably still laughing). 

N: When I was little I was very inspired by Salvador Dali. It might be a little odd for a 10 year old to like “the metamorphosis of Narcissus” but I loved that so many different meanings and ideals could be taken away from one image. Likewise I really like Yuumei, particularly his ‘Guilty‘ image. On a more relaxed note I took a lot of inspiration from Nintendo 64 game manuals and from the always gorgeous work of Hyung Tae Kim.

Vergil’s painting portraying Garuda and Shiva (click for the full picture)

G: What about your background as gamers? What genres and games do you like the most, besides Final Fantasy XIV?

V: I grew up around adults who constantly played video games, so I played mostly Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo games when I was very little. I’m still a big fan of Zelda, Mega Man, Pokemon, Mario, Sonic, Final Fantasy, and the list goes on and on. My first MMO (I think) was either Furcadia or Final Fantasy XI, and I’ve been playing those –mostly free to play ones– ever since. A few MMOs I played are FlyForFun, MapleStory, Eden Eternal, Earth Eternal, Rappelz, Aika Online, RIFT, TERA and World of Warcraft.

N: I remember playing Bubble Bobble with my Mum. I loved Mario Paint. It came with a mouse and was the first time I was exposed to digital art in any form. Those are very old games but I still have them both in the top of a wardrobe (laughs) I remember playing Turok 64 with the neighbourhood kids and yelling ‘frag the monkey!’ at each other My favourite games are Final Fantasy VIII, Journey, Odin Sphere, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. I love a good story, even if you have to make it up yourself like in Journey. I adore fun side quests such as Final Fantasy VIII’s card queen quest and raising and racing Chocobos in Final Fantasy XI. Also, i love decorating my Mog House over and over. I am looking forward to do that again in Final Fantasy XIV.

Nique’s take on Vergil’s painting above

G: A lot of your art is related to Final Fantasy XIV. Can you explain why you find the game so inspiring?

V: I’m just getting back into drawing again. Even though I’d like to get more recent original work done, I’m just in love with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn‘s art style.

N: I think everyone can agree that in video games when you talk about art Square Enix is at the top of the list. Clothing concepts, character concepts, music, environments. I think it is hard to not be inspired by FFXIV . I really hope they have many more community gear design contests though, because I think many fans have a lot to offer to the game.

Nique’s and Vergil’s ring concepts for the Community Gear Design Contest

G: As artists yourselves, what do you think of A Realm Reborn’s art and art direction?

N: I  love the new concepts that are coming out such as the PvP gear. Some of the Darklight gear was a little questionable because they made people look like chess pieces. I was really afraid that FFXIV was going to commit the same sins as XI and just reskin the same gear meshes over and over. I am very happy that this is not the case and we are seeing gear that pushes the boundaries a little bit like the long Vanya Robes and the great little details like the Fleur de Lys on the White Mage artifact armor. Square Enix has been releasing a lot of new images lately and I am overjoyed at the rebuilt Gridania and Limsa Lominsa, especially the night time screenshots.

V: As previously stated, I love A Realm Reborn‘s art direction to death. I feel that the original release’s art style was missing a certain flair to it, and a lot of the armor at the time looked the same. Then came the primal weapons, relics, Darklight armor, and 2.0’s concept art PDF. I even fell in love with the artwork for the new areas (laughs).

Aya Ishida sharing pie with Muller Gilgamesh painted by Vergil 

G: Much of Vergil’s art is themed after Yoshida-san himself, and Nique portrayed him as well. He gained a degree of respect and even love between the game’s community that’s almost unprecedented. What makes the man himself so special according to you?

N: I think it’s because he seems so real. Usually there is a level of unspoken distance between corporate officials and the consumers, but Yoshi-P seems like the kind of person that would give you real attention rather than fake attention. Even little things like having Square Enix allow moderators to poke fun at players and each other — Yoshi-P included — is something that helps solidify the whole community. But overall the proof is there, since he has taken over the game has undoubtedly improved over and over and that is the reason he has earned respect.

V: Back when I started playing FFXIV and joined my first linkshell, I lurked the forums and read all the Letters from the Producer so I have some idea on what will happen to the game (or on whether I should have even kept playing it). So while my linkshell mates were complaining about the content from the described patches like 1.17a and the /targetmode jokes, I waited to see what Yoshi-P would do to turn this game around. And I was glad I waited patiently for 1.18, as it glued me to the game from there on. When SE released the PDFs about 2.0, I had so much faith in Yoshi-P…I’ll say this again and again: He’s my hero.

Yoshida-san went overboard with the fuel… (Painted by Vergil) 

G: What makes the Final Fantasy XIV‘s community special for you?

V: I’ve always preferred smaller and tighter-knit communities, because it’s how I am. Even in real life, I avoid bigger and more chaotic groups. This is also why I almost never talked on the Lodestone forums, only participating in art-related topics and contests and making silly statements until I posted The Mini Minstrel. Nique’s Super General Discussion thread also managed to get me out of my shell, because it’s like the perfect place to get away from all the chaos in other places of the Lodestone forums

N: I’ll admit I have not played more then five MMOs, but in that limited experience I’ll admit the FFXI and FFXIV communities are cut from a HQ cloth (laughs). I think many of the community members are very loyal to the Final Fantasy brand and as such are more like minded. Perhaps that is why we get along so well (most of the time) Even when we disagree with each other it is usually because we are each trying to show our support for the game, even if that means loudly protesting or arguing an issue that we disagree on. It is often still done with the greater good in mind.

Nique’s hilarious “Bathouse” strip

G: How do you feel now that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is finally about to be released?

N: I am very excited! I know a lot of people who are planning to take holiday time at release. I am actually just as excited for the patches following release because of the promise of Housing features. Housing is something I am really looking forward to.

V: Time flew faster than I thought! Thankfully I’ll be playing A Realm Reborn during summer vacation. Though, I have mixed feelings about it: my biggest worries are on whether I will continue playing it or whether I’ll be so busy with the endgame that I’ll end up forgetting about art again (laughs). But I can’t wait to get back into the endgame and seeing all my friends again.

The Mini Minstrel devours his birthday cake by Vergil (click for the full picture)

G: What feature of the new game are you excited the most for?

V: I can’t choose between housing and endgame content. I loved decorating my Mog House in Final Fantasy XI, and I’m imagining that XIV‘s housing will have a lot more options. For Endgame, I’m dying to see the new primal fights, the return of the relic weapon quests, and new content like the Crystal Tower.

N: New dungeons, Housing, Chocobo breeding and fighting all of the Primals again, I really want to see how those battles have changed. I really hope for a lot of customization where Chocobo raising and racing is concerned.

According to Nique you should let people heal while drunk. As a tank I’m not sure I agree…

G: How do you think the community will change with the release of A Realm Reborn and the influx of so many new players, including the ones on PS3?

N: Like I said before, I think most people are brand loyal so I think we will continue to see a lot of people with common interests. I am excited at the thought that there will be many more people to meet and play with, I’d love to get to know enough people in Australia that we could host a real life get together event sometime.

V: As much as I fear the community becoming chaotic, I don’t have much of an idea. I hope ARR becomes successful and the PS3 release brings in more players.

Vergil and the Mini Minstrel prepare for the implementation of the Arcanist class…

G: Is there anything you’d like to add or say to conclude this chat? Maybe send a message to the Final Fantasy XIV community, or to those that are preparing to join it?

V: I can’t wait to return to Eorzea and see everybody again and to meet more friends. I’ll do my best to continue contributing fan art and actually become part of the community. See you soon!

N: For the new members: regardless of if you are a fan of this game or any other, together we are all gamers, come into A Realm Reborn with joy in your heart and fun in mind!

A White Mage-themed doodle by Nique

And there you have it. A lovely chat with two very interesting gamers and artists that kept me awake (with the help of abundant coffee) from six to eight AM. If you want to see more of Nique’s and Vergil’s art, you may want to check their Deviantart pages here and here.

Besides them the Final Fantasy XIV community includes many great artists that weren’t directly featured here like Esumi Aoi (Aka Evil-siren, that is also a talented cosplayer and one of my personal favorites), Denmo McStronghugeLilithali Zenevieva, Linka Sunniva and Aguri Greygoose and Arosa Evans from the Japanese part of the community. There are many others, and it’s impossible to name them all, but it’s always amazing to see how art can bring a community together.

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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