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Dengeki Interview Hiromichi Tanaka

Dengeki Games managed to get Hiromichi Tanaka to answer a few of their questions about Final Fantasy 11 and Final Fantasy 14, including the past and future of both of these games. He also answered a few interesting questions about his own past in the gaming industry.

Translated by FFXIVCore

  1. Party Play is the Heart of the RPG
  2. 8 years of FFXI, and what’s in store for the ninth and tenth
  3. XIV as an evolution of/escape from XI
  4. The joys and pains of making an MMORPG, and what lies ahead

Party Play is the Heart of the RPG

Dengeki Osho (DO): I’m sure this must be the busiest time for you right now, what with FFXIV’s service just beginning, but we’d like to ask you about FFXI and FFXIV. First, however, we thought we’d talk about the original Final Fantasy series a bit. You’ve been with FF since the beginning, along with having your hand in a lot of other RPGs, correct?
Producer Tanaka (PT): That’s right. It’s a bit daunting to think that the first one was released over 20 years ago. I also helped with a few action games for a time, but most of my work was done on RPGs.

DO: Did you like RPGs when you started working on them?
PT: I used to play Wizardry and Ultima with Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy –Manly), and that’s what lead me into the video game industry, so I guess that’s where my roots are.

DO: You were in charge of the battle system in the original Final Fantasies, right?
PT: Actually, I handled everything not related to the story. (He laughs) I left the scenario to Sakaguchi and the others, and basically just did the parts I wanted to do.

DO: The game system has changed with every FF since the first one, but the job system that started in FFIII left a lasting impression on a lot of people and was even used in FFV and FFXI. What made you want to keep using this system?
PT: In online or single-player RPGs, the basis for play lies in the party. Each member of the party has their own role to play, and this system wraps those roles up nicely as a “job.” You could say that this is what defines Final Fantasy as a game.

DO: In the DS version of FFIII, the balance of the jobs changed a lot with the addition of new abilities. Was this influenced by the feedback you got from FFXI?
PT: That’s right. In the original FFIII, many players would constantly change their jobs and aim to make “elite class” jobs, like ninjas or scholars.

DO: It got to the point where you pretty much needed those classes in the last fight, if I recall correctly.
PT: Also, in FFXI, the job a player used became their identity. Players he liked using the warrior would try to build their warrior to the strongest it could be. When we ported FFIII to the DS, we used that idea and made it so classes like warrior and could fight at the same level as ninjas and scholars.

DO: Many FFXI players, myself included, were very attached to the job they decided to focus on. The Armoury System in FFXIV is quite different from this system. Could you remind us how these systems are different?
PT: In FFXIV we made it a point not to use the word “job” at all in the system. Gladiators and conjurers are “classes,” and the idea is to take abilities learned from these classes and put them together to create your own job.

DO: Even at the beta stage, it seemed like many people were trying a lot of different ability combinations. PT: In FFXI, the support jobs for certain jobs became really fixed, like the warrior complimenting the ninja as a sub job. We wanted the players to have a bit more freedom. Furthermore, the use of this system allows for different play styles while solo or in large groups, and strategies will change depending on the abilities available. We wanted it to be a system that wouldn’t pigeon-hole users into certain roles. If a player wants to be a full-out attacker, they can set all their abilities to attack abilities. If a player wants to be purely heal-based, they can remove any aggressive abilities. For this reason, we’d like users to be able to save ability sets, but at this time it’s not yet possible. We’re hoping to add that in an update.

DO: So we’re looking at a very different system than FFXI. In FFXI, a player’s identity was mostly decided by their job choice, like someone who was very dedicated to their paladin. What do you think will become a person’s identity in FFXIV?
PT: We’re working on making “companies” in FFXIV a tighter-knit system than the linkshells of FFXI. Though there is more flexibility in the growth system than there was in FFXI, the sense of community and the sense that you are a part of a greater whole in your FFXIV group will start to define your role, and through that, your identity.

DO: The company system was not in place during the beta version, so it’s the system that most people are wondering about…
PT: We can’t tell you about it yet since it will be introduced in a patch after the retail version is out (he laughs). First we’d like people to get into their linkshells, and then start getting more people under the same flags, working like a guild or clan system.

DO: When you say it will work more like a guild system, you mean it will serve more of a purpose than just a means of communication, like the linkshells were?
PT: Linkshells are taking care of in-game communication, so we also need to take care of out-of-game communication.

DO: By using the web?
PT: FFXI players used outside forums to talk strategy and other things, but this time we’d like to provide that for them through the Players’ Site.

DO: So, the style is a bit different, but it would be something similar to a social networking site, and will be different than the way FFXI was connected with the web.
PT: We’re trying to make this game different from FFXI in many ways, and that’s something I’m looking forward to, as well. (He laughs) Top

8 years of FFXI, and what’s in store for the ninth and tenth

DO: FFXI was Square Enix’s first MMORPG and a numbered FF title, so there must have been a lot of pressure on you. What do you think was the hardest thing about making it?
PT: Definitely the technology we were working with. The PS2 hard disk and modem hadn’t been finished yet, and we also had to consider a consumer release for the PC, as well. Back then, mainstream American MMOs like Everquest and Ultima Online were built with the PC in mind, as they still are today. These two already had a huge presence in the marketplace, so we needed to make something that appealed to foreign audiences as well as Japanese in order to compete and overcome.

DO: After FFXI, most games using the hard disk, aside from the ones that also used the modem and the multi-matching broadband service, didn’t do very well. That must have been quite an adventure for you.
PT: It was, but you never know how things will turn out until you try it. One defining characteristic of MMORPGs is that they continue to evolve after release through patches and other updates. Our real start on the project was after we got word from SCE that the PS2 would be getting a hard disk and an Internet connection.

DO: For us players, getting our hands on the hard disk was our first mission (he laughs). It’s been 8 years since FFXI’s 2002 release. When you first began, how long were you expecting to keep service up?
PT: We figured we wouldn’t be able to turn a profit unless it ran for at least five years, so while making it we had to keep in mind that it had to be created with computer specs that would let it run for five years without feeling too aged. When it started, many people thought the specs were too high, but it was something that had to be done. Otherwise, FFXI would have seemed old a lot sooner than it did.

DO: At the time, the PCs in our office couldn’t run the game well enough, so play revolved around the PS2. Now, FFXI can be run quite easily on laptop computers.
PT: FFXIV is currently in the same situation FFXI was when it started, which is why so many users had difficulties running the game with their specs during the beta. I’d have to say I’m in that group, as well (he laughs bitterly, fighting back the tears). We’re going to add options for players to scale down the graphics quality in order to help the game run better on lower-specced computers.

DO: FFXI recently got some pretty big upgrades with the Abyssea expansion contents and the level cap being raised to level 99. What are your plans for the ninth and tenth year of FFXI?
PT: Actually, the dev team just had a meeting about plans for next year, and since we’ve just raised the level cap, we’d really like to give the high-end players more to do. We’ve been adding a lot of content for lower level players and introduced the levelsync system, but the contents after this will be focused more on the high level content.

DO: Reaching the level cap has become a lot smoother, as well. People who haven’t logged in recently thought it was a joke when they were told that you could go from level 75 to level 80 in a day! (He laughs) It used to be that leveling was the greatest motivation to play the game, but now it’s much easier to level, and most people are taking their time enjoying what lies after the leveling. How did you guys decide on another bump in the level cap after the last one six years ago?
PT: First, we felt that the number of things you could do at level 75 was pretty limited. Since raising the level cap would increase the amount of abilities available from a sub-job, there would be more possibilities for hybrids. We had abilities that you could learn from merit points, but according to a survey overseas, many people would have preferred just raising the level cap. The only problem was that we had a lot of contents that were designed for a level 75 difficulty, and raising the level cap meant it would make those contents too easy. It was a bit scary, but the dev team manned up and plowed through the level cap. We’ll have to stay on our toes for a while after this is implemented, too.

DO: The last patch introduced Scars of Abbysea to FFXI. What would you say is the main attraction of this expansion? PT: We’ve added a good number of NMs (Notorious monsters) like we did in Vision of Abyssea, but we think the greatest draw is the new sets of artifact armor. There’s a new set for every job, and all the designs are different from what we’ve made so far. The designers had a bit of a difficult time with it.
DO: A lot of players have been waiting for that ninja hood, and the head piece for the puppet master was really something else! I’m looking forward to getting them, myself (He laughs). Top

XIV as an evolution of/escape from XI

DO: FFXIV’s service opening is upon us. Could you once again elaborate on what parts of FFXIV are taken from FFXI, and the parts of FFXIV that you wanted to take in a different direction? PT: I personally believe FFXI is an example of the best form of MMORPGs, and I feel proud of what FFXI has become over the past 8 years. However, my opinion is not the only one out there, and others have a different idea of what the ideal MMORPG is. FFXIV was the product of what Director Komoto and the others thought would make the ideal MMORPG. The reason we began production was because, after eight years, FFXI’s graphics were beginning to look dated compared to other games. When we thought about recreating FFXI with current technology, we decided instead that we might as well create FFXIV, a whole new game. We figured, if we were going to make a new game, putting the same system in wouldn’t be as fun as a whole new system. We got rid of auto-attack and opted for a command-style battle mode, focused on a battle system where positioning was more important, and tried to make a system with more flowing customization than the job system, along with other changes. On the other hand, we kept some of the ideas present in FFXI, like the linkshell and the play areas divided into regions.

DO: Did you keep the races similar to FFXI’s races to help FFXI players get used to the new world?
PT: Pretty much. We made the game with FFXI players in mind, so we wanted them to be able to play with the characters they knew and loved. There were ideas to add a male Mithra and a female Galka, but, unfortunately, due to developmental limitations, we had to throw those ideas in a vault for now. We may be able to see them later, when the time is right.

DO: How is FFXIV’s Eorzea different from FFXI’s world of Vana’diel?
PT: First, we wanted Eorzea to be a world without “super technology,” or technology that is beyond the current world’s capabilities. In Vana’diel, this sort of technology was scattered in bits and pieces across the land, but in Eorzea we’d like to keep all the technology together in one time period, so it doesn’t start to feel too science-fictiony.

DO: In addition, the fields have become vaster and the movement between them is seamless, with a very natural transition in the music, as well. Nobuo Uematsu is responsible for all the music this time around, correct?
PT: We wanted the regions each to have their own specific flavor, so each region has its own field, battle, and even guildleve music. If you listen to these three songs back to back, you could probably understand the concept behind the regions. We gave Mr. Uematsu some pictures of the areas and asked him to compose freely, so there are some songs that don’t seem very video-game-esque, and we think it brings a nice, fresh feeling to the game.

DO: The system is focused on the idea that players can play the game comfortably even when they only have a short amount of time to play, and this revolves around guildleves. How do you think players will approach this after service starts?
PT: There were a lot of people in the beta tests who finished their guildleves alone, but we feel that’s kind of a waste. These were designed to encourage party play, since these guildleves help players level much faster than grinding on the surrounding monsters. Players can ask people for help with their guildleves, and then help other party members with guildleves they may currently be holding. We hope people will do this more often when retail service begins.

DO: This is also a question about play time, but we’re sure you’ve had a lot of feedback about the surplus system, so please tell us more about that.
PT: We think there was a bit of miscommunication when we mentioned this system, and we wanted people to know this will only affect people who do nothing but play. We predict that 95% of players will not be affected by this system. The majority of players won’t even notice it. We’re trying to decide if we want to set the limited time to eight or ten hours a day, but what we really wanted to do, as we did in FFXI, was to get a message to those who start to “live” completely inside Eorzea to PLEASE go outside before it damages their health. We also implemented this as a measure to protect against RMT, and we think they’re the only ones who will really feel the pinch of the surplus system.

DO: I feel like this will also affect Dengeki’s playing guild since we need to play so long to write our articles, but we’ll do our best to make it back to reality once in a while (He laughs).


The joys and pains of making an MMORPG, and what lies ahead

DO: Mr. Tanaka, you and your dev team have been working on and maintaining FFXI for about 10 years. What would you say is the most difficult part of making an MMORPG and what is the most fun?
PT: The most fun and fulfilling part of making an MMORPG is hearing feedback from the users. I love actually getting in the game and hearing whether they’re enjoying it or not. If we make a mistake on an offline console game, we can’t respond or do anything about it except keep the mistakes in mind for the next game we make. However, when making an MMORPG, we can constantly update it with patches and keep the users in mind during development. The most difficult part is something that hasn’t really changed since making games on NES carts: the amount of information allowed. With the NES, it was how much would fit on a cart, but with MMORPGs it’s the client size and server capacity, so every single bit counts. Every time we work with something new, if we’re already at full capacity, we have to decide whether to drop something to add in the new thing or to just drop the new thing altogether. Since the NES, we’ve had advancements in technology, leading to larger media like CDs and DVDs, and they STILL get full as soon as we start! (He laughs) We realized that you deal with the same restraints when working with bandwidth.

DO: For our last question, we’d like to ask you to secretly divulge any information you may be able to… (He laughs)
PT: We can’t give you any specifics, but we have XIV planned up all the way to next winter, and we’ll be making an announcement about how it’s going to go down pretty soon. It’s going to be a pretty full year!

DO: As a player myself, I’m really looking forward to watching how XIV begins, unfolds, and evolves as a game.
PT: Then I hope you enjoy it!



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