Final Fantasy XV is in its final stretch of development, and DualShockers had a chance to touch base with Game Director Hajime Tabata, to get an update on what we can expect from the title and from the additional two months of development until its release on November 28th.
In about 45 minutes of conversation, Tabata-san took the chance to clarify quite a few elements that had left us with doubts, including the passage between the open world portion of the game and the more linear part, a mysterious clay version of what appeared to be the map of the game, and much more.
He also talked about DLC, weapons, frame rate, his own personal feelings about the upcoming release, and what he learned from developing a game that is completely different from what the team created before.
DualShockers: Recently you have mentioned that the game is running close to 30 FPS on both PS4 and Xbox One, and that the team is working on stabilizing the frame rate. How confident are you that they will be successful in achieving stable 30 FPS on either or both consoles?
Hajime Tabata: That was part of the reasons why we extended the release date. When the actual consumers will have a chance to play the game, we don’t think they’ll find that to be an issue.
DS: Deciding to delay the game, even if just by a couple of months, can’t have been easy. How long ago did you realize that this was probably the best course of action? How difficult was it to convince the Square Enix’s executives that the game needed more time?
HT: The decision to extend the release date out happened just a little bit more the actual announcement to the public, and the time it actually took to arrive at this decision was very short. It was actually a pretty immediate decision that I made myself.
Convincing the executive in charge, which would be our CEO [Yosuke] Matsuda was pretty much instant. It didn’t take much convincing.
There were a couple of reasons for this: one of the reasons why our CEO Matsuda-san gave his immediate greenlight to move forward with this extension, was because looking at the game on a global scale, we wanted to make sure that we were able to deliver the same standard of quality across the board to everyone around the world. Looking at this from a Final Fantasy brand perspective it all made sense to him.
The other factor was that we wanted to achieve greater conditions that we had originally planned for, and he shared our sentiment towards doing so.
DS: Could you talk in more detail about the improvements the team is doing to the master version that was recently showcased?
HT: You won’t really see a huge difference from Gamescom today, because it is only two weeks since then, so the build that we have here has been improved slightly, but the biggest difference is that you have a bit more freedom in steering while driving. That is one of the biggest changes you’ll see in the build that you’ll play today.
That was one of the things that we intended to add with the day one patch, and has already been implemented.
DS: What about the improvement that we’ll see when the game will be released?
HT: Originally what was intended for the patch was all these elements that would improve the usability of the game. That also includes fixing bugs or optimizing the actual game. And also the freedom to steer your car. On that point, allowing our players to freely steer their car impeded on some of the progress in the game, so wanted to make sure that the game itself was perfected prior to actually implementing that aspect, and to solve any issue that might come out from that.
There are other factors similar to that, that were also considered for the day one patch.
Aside from the whole optimization element, the other big factor was the game balance. For example, in the leveling system. We are ensuring that people will be able to better navigate the information and play at ease. These improvements were also originally intended for the day one patch.
DS: You mentioned that the first part of the game is open world, while the second part tightens on a more story-driven narrative, built around a train ride. During that second part, can we still go back and explore the open world, or we’re bound to the linear path until the end? I remember that we’ll get the flying Regalia only towards the end of the game, so there has to be some room for roaming, isn’t it?
HT: To go back on the more linear part of the game… It actually transfers into that linear part of gameplay when the story ramps up and gets into its final stages. Rather than the latter half of the game, it’s very close to the end of the game, so to speak.
After the train segment, the whole structure of the game completely changes. You cannot go back and forth on the world map between the two parts. That said, there is a gonna be a menu function that allows you to access the earlier areas that you roamed around in the earlier parts of the game.
Once you’re done with the train segment, it’s not yet the end of the game. There is still another set of events that awaits you. I can’t tell you what it’s going to be, but it drastically changes up [the game].
DS: In the two videos posted with the initial hour or so of the game in English and Japanese, there was an interesting Easter egg: When Iris tells Noctis that their little outing looks like a date, Noctis gives two different responses. In the video in English he’s evasive, and Iris gets angry. In the video in Japanese he gives a softer response, with Iris being amused by it. Was that the effect of a conversation choice? If yes, in most cases we have seen conversation choices having three options: Is there perchance a third outcome to that situation? Maybe one in which Noctis is a bit of a playboy and answers that it is actually a date?
HT: About the possibility of a third choice, please play the game and see it for yourself, but with regards to these conversation options that are included in Final Fantasy XV, they don’t change up the story drastically.
It’s something that allows players to convey their feelings and their own responses in certain situations. It’s something that they can enjoy on the side of the main story.
Whether you respond to Iris in an evasive way or have a softer tone, it’s something up to the player and how the player wants to interact with her.
DS: In quite a few occasions, videos featuring development and technical presentations at events like CEDEC showcased a clay model what seems to be the game’s map. We did recognize places like Altissia, Lestallum and the Duscae region, but I don’t believe its nature has ever been confirmed. Is this the actual map of Final Fantasy XV?
HT: I think you’re referring to the clay model that the development team created early-on in the development process, prior to constructing the overarching game.
That was our initial mock-up of the map, and so that’s where we kind of determined the overarching scheme of the map. That said, there have been changes that have been implemented to what you see there. So it’s probably safest to understand that as what became our basis for constructing the actual map.
It’s really kind of the initial step we took in terms of evaluating where it would make sense to have a journey by car, where it would make sense for players to explore, and where it would make sense to have the train ride sequence and what not.
It also helped us evaluate what kind of technology we needed in order to achieve all those elements that you see within the map.
DS: The last DLC of the season pass hid a bit of a mystery. In most places, it’s just described as “Expansion pack,” but in one instance it appears that a press release from Square Enix Japan called it “Online Expansion Pack.” Is it really online? Could you give some details about it?
HT: In the actual news that we announced officially, we had no indication that it would be online. It might have been written somewhere in some cautionary remark, but from our official releases we have never mentioned that it was online.
We haven’t announced the details yet, but what we want to tell our players and consumers, is that each of these pieces of content will be valuable on its own. That’s the policy that we have in place to develop content for our DLCs.
What that entails is also enabling players to do what they couldn’t do in the main game. For example what we really want to create is episodes around each of the characters, and allowing people to control them.
Given that the DLC information and the season pass announcement came immediately before the release date delay, there may be some people out there that might be concerned about what might have happened to the whole plan around DLC, and that might think that at the moment it’s a bit unclear.
We do want to reassure everyone that we will still release all the DLC content that we have already announced. There’s no need to worry about that. That said, of course, we are delaying the release date of the main game. As a consequence, we probably will have to re-evaluate the DLC release schedule. First and foremost our priority is the main game and getting that out. Afterwards, we’ll work on the DLC content. In Japan there have been a lot of inquiries regarding this.
DS: Just a few hours ago, Weekly Jump came out with an article showing guns, sniper rifles and “machinery” weapons. Looks like the team went all out to introduce elements that not many expected, like sniping mode. Can you tell us how these weapons will work, and why did you want to introduce firearms for Noctis as well?
HT: First and foremost, I wasn’t aware of the Weekly Jump article, so I don’t know exactly what it shows, and I can’t comment on its specific content. Yet, I can explain why we included firearms for Noctis.
From a game mechanics point of view, Noctis is able to use all all the weaponry that his party members can use. Since Prompto uses a handgun, Noctis can use a handgun as well.
From a game design perspective, there’s the option to really explore. We always wanted to ensure that players would be able to do what they wanted to do in this free-roaming environment. Surely there are players that wouldn’t want to just watch Prompto use a handgun or what not. When they see that happening, they might want to pick up the same weapon themselves and control it. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to make sure that the option was available to the playable character.
It’s not us focusing on implementing shooting mechanics. We wanted to ensure that it’s an action RPG first and foremost, and the fact that we have firearms in the game doesn’t change that.
DS: Do you have a more or less precise idea of how many people have been involved in the creation of Final Fantasy XV including outsourcing firms?
HT: The assets of the game are extremely extensive, and so we did outsource those to some of our vendors that we work with. That said, we didn’t just give them the job and that’s that. It was done in collaboration and in partnership with our internal teams. It was definitely a collaborative effort with some of our outsourcing companies.
The unique part of our production was that we were building the engine while we were also creating the assets and determining the specifications surrounding the game. That’s the reason why we took this approach for this particular project.
I honestly don’t know if this is accurate, but I often hear that games like Assassin’s Creed are created with massive teams of thousands of people. It’s definitely not that many for us, as we honestly just don’t have that many people on hand.
Now, through our experience on developing this game, we understand the needs behind this kind of massive-scale project, especially when it comes down to the finishing steps towards finalizing the game, which involves polishing, improving the overall quality, debugging and optimization. We’re also localizing the game as well on top of that.
The final steps are where the workload really increases, and given that this is our first time developing an open world game, we did kind of lack a certain level of experience on that front, so this was very much a learning experience. That is one of the reasons why we requested this extension to the deadline.
DS: We’re just three months from the goal. It’s been a long journey, but the pieces are finally falling in place. Yet some of the responses online to the delay have been a bit extreme. How are you feeling?
HT: In regards to some of the responses online, it’s always unclear how much those reflect the actual situation. I’m not too concerned about those comments floating around. That said, towards the people that have been waiting for a long time, and need to wait another two months for it, and are disappointed, I feel very apologetic. But we can’t just apologize. We want to make sure that we are providing them with something that they will enjoy. This goes hand-in-hand.
I wouldn’t say that I am stressed, and through this experience I have gained extensive understanding on why so many people are needed during the last leg of development. Looking at some of the global developers of open world games, we see that they bring in a lot of people during the final phase to finalize the game. This is something that I couldn’t unfortunately foresee, because it was a first time experience.
That said, I am grateful that I was able to learn from this experience, and to request two months of extension to the deadline to really finalize the game, optimize it, and polish it, and deliver it in the best conditions. I am really grateful for that.
The person who was really, really angry at the situation was my daughter (laughs). She assumed that the release of the game meant going on a trip somewhere, or getting more time with her dad, and she was very upset for the fact that it’s going to have to wait two more months. Surely that’s the same for a lot of the developers on our team, and I am very sorry about that as well.
Obviously, we were aware of the repercussions of extending the release date, and we made this decision together as a team. In that sense, we’re taking it to heart, and really taking as much time as possible to deliver the game in the best condition.
DS: Looking back on the whole development process, were there inspirations or influences on the game, whether it’d be other games, literature, movies or anything else?
HT: There were many inspirations along the way, that said, there wasn’t anything in particular that changed something drastically for our game.
More than that, what really inspired us, was the direct communication that we had with our consumers. We did a lot of that through the campaign for this game. We took a lot of inspiration and we learned a lot from this. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the way the final product is constructed has changed as a result of that, but it’s more the fine tuning that we have made to the game in order to ensure that our vision aligned more with what our players had envisioned for this game.
There certainly was some fine tuning that took place thank to the interaction that we were able to have directly with our customers.
With Final Fantasy XV, the entire game cycle differs significantly from anything that we have done in the past, including the basic systems of the game. It was a great thing for us to be able to deliver that to our consumers at an early stage through the demo, and have them play the game and give us feedback.
[On-location Reporting: Steven Santana – Questions: Giuseppe Nelva, Steven Santana]