The dust has settled since the release of Final Fantasy XIV‘s latest expansion Stormblood, and it’s time to reconnect with Director Naoki Yoshida and hear directly from the Lion’s mouth how things are going at Square Enix.
Alongside Yoshida-san, we also had a chat at Gamescom with Main Scenario Writer Natsuko Ishikawa, who is certainly a major contributor to the quality of the expansion, considering that one of the major selling point was the great story.
Giuseppe: Stormblood appears to have been received very well, and we recently heard that the game achieved record highs subscribers after the release of the expansion. How do you feel about the results of the release? Is there something specific that players shout “Yoshidaaaaa!” about?
Naoki Yoshida: Like with Heavensward, we were on a tight development schedule for Stormblood, and we never really had the time to stop and reflect leading to the launch. It was received very well, better than we expected. It’s regarded very highly, with a great reception. Of course it was surprising, but at the same time, it made us very happy.
On top of the reception being very positive, we also see returning players bringing in new players, adding to the amount of “Warriors of Light” that are playing Final Fantasy XIV. There were some areas in which people complained in terms of job balance, and some players felt that it was a little off, but this has been addressed through our minor patches leading up to 4.06. I think things have settled down at this point.
Natsuko Ishikawa: With the Stormblood story, it shifts to different regions within Eorzea, and different parts of the world. We were kind of worried how in the real world each country would reach to the different settings, but it seems everybody love the story, and it was received positively. Of course I’m happy about it, but at the same time, I’m pleasantly surprised as well.
Warning: The following question and answer might be considered a mild spoiler if you have not played Stormblood‘s main story quest yet.
G: For the first time in the Final Fantasy XIV story there appears to be an element of romance between the player character and Lyse. It is very subtle, and I believe that it could be interpreted both as love or as a strong friendship. Is this a correct interpretation, and was it intended for players to be able to interpret the relationship romantically, if they so wanted?
NI: It’s not deliberately meant to clearly indicate that there is a romantic feeling between Lyse and the player character, but the Warrior of Light is a significant figure within the realm at this point in the narrative, and the allies’ bond has become very strong.
In Final Fantasy XIV the writers cannot determine the character’s age or sex, so I do want there to be room for imagination. Perhaps Lyse does feel something that’s more than friendship? It’s good to leave it to the imagination.
NY: Even I, when I was looking at some of the dialogue involving Lyse and even Alisae, thought “oh, this can be taken a certain way.” I think that comes from a strong admiration these characters feel towards the Warrior of Light. For example, if it so happens that the player is male, playing a male character, it could easily give that sort of idea that perhaps there is a chance. It’s certainly not strange, and I think perhaps Ishikawa-san is perhaps deliberately writing that into the dialogue.
But at the same time, as another example, if the player is a woman, utilizing a female character, or if he is a man playing a female character, you could easily take the dialogue as strong words of admiration towards a strong woman. I think Ishikawa-san was able to write the lines so well that it can be interpreted in either way.
G: Many popular MMORPG, when they are a few years into their life cycle, have their engine updated in order to keep up with the leading edge of visuals and tech. Is that something you might be considering for Final Fantasy XIV?
NY: I won’t say that it’s completely out of the question. Considerations should be made, but in terms of our planning for Final Fantasy XIV, there are certain elements of the next expansion that we already have to start thinking about and making plans for. There are no specific plans for a graphics engine update at this point, but there is a clear reason for that.
Previously, with MMORPGs there were sorts of updates to the graphics engine – I’m very aware of that – but at the same time, the visual standard for online games and MMORPGs in particular was going at a certain pace, matching the advances of the machines those titles ran on. There were big gaps that needed to be filled, and that’s why the games needed to update their engines to catch up to the hardware. Developers did not want their MMORPGs to run at a lower graphics quality that was perceived to be the standard in terms of hardware. As the ceiling was raised, the MMORPGs’ graphics also needed to catch up.
Nowadays, especially with console hardware, what is considered to be the top of the graphics pipeline is much different. It not really used for MMORPGs or multiplayer games, but it’s more aimed at single-player games. Top level technology is designed to display single player games with very high graphics quality.
For example, Horizon Zero Dawn: if we were to use the same engine for Final Fantasy XIV, it would not be optimal. It doesn’t support the requirements of an MMORPG. We wouldn’t have to lower the number of characters rendered at the same time. There actually isn’t a big gap between the capacity of the hardware and what we’re trying to achieve in a MMORPG.
Within Square Enix’s Business Division 5, we do R&D with updated technology for rendered graphics, and we also do a lot of research on the graphics pipeline aspect. For instance, there is tech that can shrink or enlarge a character’s pupil depending on how much light there is. It’s certainly not impossible to implement that into the game, but if you’re using a machine that can run the game stably at sixty frames-per-second, this tech might slow down the performance, and drop the frame rate maybe down to thirty frames per second. Would we really want something like that? Is it worth it?
Lastly, and this could also be a problem, going back to the example about Horizon, it took them six years to make that epic game, and if we were to run on the same kind of graphics engine, and we were to operate on similar technology, utilizing a similar pipeline, just implementing new gear could take us even two years. Would you be able to wait that long?
G: The pupil tech seems to be a bit overkill maybe… But we could at least get that butt slider… [Editor’s Note: The “butt slider is — depending on who you ask to — part running joke, and part popular request among players. With the move from version 1.X to A Realm Reborn, the rears of many characters have been considerably flattened, and many would love to be able to have more curvy alter-egos with the implementation of a dedicated character customization slider]
NY: People still bring that up, mh? (Laughs) Of course, if we were to implement some sort of new technology, we might actually focus on the optimization of characters.
G: For the longest time, performing in-game activities while AFK [Away from the Keyboard] was considered very negatively by MMORPG developers and players. Nowadays the trend has been changing, with some popular games implementing some limited forms of AFK progression, with players able to leave their characters logged in performing things like fishing, or slowly leveling up by beating on a mannequin. It’s happening especially with Korean MMOs. What are your feeling about this kind of activities? Are they being considered for Final Fantasy XIV?
NY: You mentioned Korea, and that sort of activity is indeed rooted in Korean games, and there is a reason why that culture is brewing. In Korea, a game’s performance is judged on how long players are logged in from internet cafes. High traffic in that direction helps a game being recognized as performing well, so players cannot be allowed to run out of things to do, they always have something to do and be logged in, even if it’s botting. That’s the foundation of how that trend started.
With Final Fantasy XIV, we currently have no plans at all for that kind of activities. This isn’t because of a specific policy, but we don’t want to give our users the idea that they must be logged in at all times, or else they’d be missing out on something.
Rather than thinking that it’s positive that you can perform activities while AFK, players tend to look at it negatively, and think that they’re missing out if they can’t participate in those activities [if they’re implemented]. For example, let’s say that I have a lot of free time, and I’m able to leave my character in game fishing, whereas Ishikawa-san is very busy and she is unable to log into the game at all. She would look at me and wonder why I get an advantage. Players who wouldn’t be able to keep their characters logged in would be dissatisfied, and might think that they can’t catch to those who can. They might even quit the game.
With Final Fantasy XIV our content is set up so that you can play in short time spans, logging in a little bit of time each day. Even if you take a break from the game, you can always come back and you still have a chance to catch up to those who are on the front lines. You can play very flexibly, so we believe that kind of system is not necessary.
Not just us, but I believe World of Warcraft is similar as well: we’re not worried about the concurrent users. We look more to the daily active users and the monthly active users. There is no need for all of our players to be logged in at all times. That being said, if there is a higher demand from players worldwide, if for quality of life or for the sake of the player’s experience, that sort of activity is necessary, we would like to hear feedback, to see if our players desire it.
If you want to read more about Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood, you can also check out our review. The game is currently available for PS4 and PC.