4Gamer E3 Interview

As always, I have a lot of appreciation for the people at 4Gamer.  Their articles feel more informative and gamer-friendly compared to the magazine powerhouses of Famitsu and Dengeki.  The interaction between their staff and FFXIV producer Hiromichi Tanaka also seems much more relaxed.  What follows is our translation of 4Gamer’s E3 interview.

I highly suggest that you also check out the original article in Japanese on their website to see all of the interesting photos and screenshots.

–Thanks for letting us interview you today.  Is the build we are seeing at E3 the same as the beta build?

Tanaka:  It is pretty close to the beta build.  We haven’t finished all of our final debugging that will take place prior to releasing the beta yet.  There are also some balance issues that need to be worked on.  However, I think it is safe to say that it is a lot different from the alpha.

–How have reactions been from the people that have played the E3 pre-beta build?

Kurosawa:  According to the staff, the reactions have been very positive.

–Can you tell us why you decided to show off this pre-beta build at E3?

Tanaka:  We knew from the beginning that we’d have to get the beta started around this time of year.  Despite that, I have to say that the alpha took up more time than I had expected.  It took awhile to deal with the server load issues.

–There have been a lot of changes made for this build like the graphics, character creation screens, the battle system, etc.  The most striking change is the adjustments made to the battle tempo.  Is this the speed you originally planned on for FFXIV?

Tanaka:  Even before alpha testing started, we already knew we would probably be changing the battle system.  However, we still went ahead with the alpha test, knowing that the system in place was poor, because we wanted to get feedback directly from the players.  A lot of testers wrote in to say that the battle tempo was slow which pretty much confirmed what we already felt.  We started to think about how to improve the battle tempo and that led to getting away from the system we had before where people would store up their power and after some point, release it into their attack.  Now, we have a system where your gauge regenerates over time and your attacks will use up a portion of that bar.

–It’s great that the battle tempo has improved but it seems to me that it is too quick for people to be able to chat during battles.  How do you plan on dealing with that?

Tanaka:  I agree that it is a bit difficult to chat with the battle tempo for the beta.  One thing we plan on adding to the beta that isn’t present in the E3 build is a macro pallet system.  You can use it to link a personalized message for your party with a particular command.  We hope people take advantage of that capability.  We are also looking at including visual cues of some sort that would allow your party members to know what enemy you are attacking.

–What about support for voice chat?

Tanaka:  People playing the PC version can use Skype or other programs like that.  However, the same can’t be said for people on the PS3 version.  It is hard to find a system that would work for people playing on both platforms.  In other words, we can’t support it.  It is also impossible to create a basic auto-translate function, like that in FFXI, for voice chat.

By the way, did you try out the regular version today?  We have a tech demo display as well using 3 monitors and 3D Vision Surround.

–We were on the regular version but we also got to spend a little bit of time checking out the 3D Vision Surround version as well.  The characters seem to naturally pop out of the screen.  You are still deciding whether or not to take advantage of this new technology for FFXIV, correct?

Tanaka:  We decided to try our hand at making the tech demo with the cooperation of Nvidia but we are still debating whether we will use the technology in the actual game.

–The graphics in the E3 build got quite an upgrade as well.  I saw for myself that the new lighting effects aren’t just for the building interiors but also affect things on the field.  Will this new system have an effect on the required specs for the PC build?

Tanaka:  The things that need a lot of processing power, like increasing the depth of field and ambient occlusion, will be optional settings.  Outside of that, it actually takes less processing power than the alpha.

–So if you keep the graphics the same, the beta will require less processing power than the alpha?

Tanaka:  That’s correct.  One of the biggest changes we made was moving from projection shadowing to depth buffer shadowing.  It really makes the shadows pop and actually requires less processing power.

–Will we be able to adjust the graphic quality settings in the beta version?

Tanaka:  Yes.  There will be a configuration menu under the main menu and there will also be a way to customize the settings before you launch the game software.  We’ve also just released the official benchmark program so people should use it to see if their own systems will be able to handle the game.

–It seems like the environment will be really stable and things will run smoothly for PC testers. What can you tell us about testing for the PS3 version?

Tanaka:  The PS3 build is still under development.  Komoto was supposed to come with me to E3, but due to the PS3 version development and last minute work on the beta version, you only get me today from the Japan side.

–Since the hardware for the PS3 is pretty much the same for everyone, I imagine you have a different set of obstacles to overcome when working on options and settings.

Tanaka:  For FFXI, we were able to provide players with a number of options and settings to choose from.  We plan on doing something like that for FFXIV as well.

–When you get right down to it, the background drawing distance and the number of characters you can have on the screen at the same time are going to be less than a high spec PC, right?

Tanaka:  Yeah.  But we are making it so that you really won’t notice a difference when you look at it.  It doesn’t affect game play in any way.

–When do you think the beta test will begin?

Tanaka:  Well, you saw the E3 build for yourself.  System wise it is almost ready to go.  We’ll do a bit of touch up work, fix some bugs, and after that, if it seems like there are no major problems, we’ll release it right away.

–So at the earliest, it could be within a month?

Tanaka:  I think so.  The alpha test will come to an end this week and once I return to Japan, we’ll start working on preparation for the beta test right away.  Once we have a better idea of the timing, we’ll let people know.

–More testers will be added once the beta starts right?

Tanaka:  Yes.  Right now for the alpha we have 10 worlds and the number of testers is in the tens of thousands.  That will go up even more.

–I heard that you received a lot of feedback on the alpha from players outside of Japan.

Kurosawa:  Every so often the feedback is summarized and sent to the development team.  The testers have sent in their opinions on all sorts of things and tell us frankly how they feel.  They are really spirited about their feedback and I mean that in a good way.

Tanaka:  Every week we get a report about the feedback sent in from each region.  The developers can use that to find out what issues are important to the community and what they are talking about the most.  The adjustments we make are affected by that feedback.

–I would imagine that players from outside of Japan are more proactive in giving feedback.

Kurosawa:  It’s true.  They don’t hold back which actually helps us quite a bit.

Tanaka:  I’d say they send in about 10 times the comments that we get from Japanese players.

–What kind of things are you planning on including that will allow players from all regions to build a community together?

Kurosawa:  FFXI also has cross-regional servers so we’ll be building on what we did for that game and keep adding different things to make it possible for players from all regions to enjoy the game.

Tanaka:  I’m not sure about the timing yet but at some point we’ll be adding different community tools.  One of the things we have planned is something we are calling “player sites” that have a bulletin board function.  Every player will be able to create one.

–What about an auto-translate function?

Tanaka:  We plan on including something similar to what is in FFXI.  Back to talking about community tools, we plan on adding something like the linkshells from FFXI as well.  However, there will be a way to create even larger groups by using “Companies”.  We’ll release more details about that system later.

–For the meantime, would it be ok to think of companies in the same way guilds are used in other games?

Tanaka:  Well, yes, they are close to guilds but at the same time, they are also much broader in scope.  For example… oh wait, I can’t tell you yet! (laughs)

–Is it fair to say that development is coming along smoothly?  After all, you still plan on releasing the game this year, beta testing will start in the near future, and even PS3 testing won’t be too far behind that.

Tanaka:  We don’t really know how things will go until after we start beta testing and read the feedback sent in from the testers.  However, the general game play mechanics are pretty well set so we hope people look forward to the game.  We want to put as many things as possible into the beta build.  Once things are more stable, we can transition into the official release.

–We’ve already talked about the battle system, the change in tempo, the lighting, etc as being some of the biggest changes in the beta build.  Is there anything else you’d like players to know about?

Tanaka: Game play has changed quite a bit but basically, it’s the same game.  We have the armoury system, a game that has more action than an auto-battle system would, the guildleve system, etc.  The game has also become a lot more stable and as we add more players, it will become a much more richer experience.

Kurosawa:  The character creation screens have been updated and it will be possible choose from all of the races when creating a character.  I hope people find they can make something they like.

Tanaka:  There are a few options that haven’t been included yet, like the ability to change the color of a Miqo’te’s tail.  However, all of the playable races will be in the beta.  The other small details and options will get added in time for final release.

–Still no male Miqo’te though, huh?

Tanaka:  Not at the moment.  They will probably appear in the game as NPCs.  We actually had plans to include even more clans but as development progressed we had to trim things back.  So what you see now is what we will have for the meantime.

There have been changes made to the physical bonus system as well.  HP and MP will now level up on their own and the elemental bonus will be easier to understand.  There were a lot of players in the alpha that said they didn’t know how they should build up their character’s stats so I think the new system will be easier for them.

–Can we get some parting comments for our readers?

Tanaka:  The beta will be starting soon so please look forward to it!  I’ve got the developers and Komoto hard at work back in Japan.

Kurosawa:  We plan on making a game where people from all over the world can enjoy themselves so I hope you enjoy it as well.

–Thanks for taking time to talk with us today.