The Lore Train: E3 2014 Interview With Fernehalwes

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Last week in LA we made some time to sit down with Michael-Christopher Koji Fox AKA Fernehalwes in an attempt to shrink ourselves down and enter a submarine like vessel that would be able to explore his brain and get answers for all of our Final Fantasy XIV related questions. However, the machine we were going to use in order to carry out this fantastic voyage never made it past airport security, and so we just asked him some questions the old fashioned way.

Read on for our full interview!

Additionally, you can listen to the new episode of Lorecast in which we dive into the contents of the interview.

GE: We know that, with Shiva, there is going to be a new Beast Tribe.* What is the process for creating an entire new race for Hydaelyn?
* At our PAX 2013 interview, Naoki Yoshida stated that Shiva would be “the Primal of a beast tribe that no one has seen.” It seems that  plan may have changed. Please look forward to it.

MCKF: First off, you’re assuming a lot with that first sentence there. I can’t go into it in detail, but you’ll start to find out about it in 2.3 with the story we start to tell about Shiva. I can talk about creating a new race for Hydaelyn, though, since we had to do it at the 2.0 launch with stuff that wasn’t in the game, and stuff when we originally made the game.

When creating a new beast tribe or race you have to start out with an image – it’s very visual. Our company has always been about the art and graphics and so we start with a beautiful piece of art that has been done and re-done over and over again. I’ve seen some early concept art for some of the beast tribes and when you get the final pieces it’s like, “Wow, this is awesome!” From there it goes to the lore team. We start building up the lore for them and how they’ll fit into the world and where they come from. The things I’m mostly involved in are naming schemes and language, and that’s really fun. We have to decide how we’re going to write the names, but to do that we have to decide what type of sounds their language is based on. Are they a knowledgeable race? Are they an advanced or a low-tech civilization? Then, of course, there’s the aesthetic side. We have to also create something that looks good in katakana.

Japanese and English are very different languages. English has more sounds, vowels, and consonants available. Then you have Japanese that is a very concise language with only five vowels and a set amount of consonants. There are a lot of things you can do in English that you can’t do in Japanese – or things that you can do in Japanese but they don’t sound cool. Coming up with something that works in Japanese but doesn’t feel bland in English, that feels unique compared to the other tribes, is something that’s very challenging, but also a lot of fun.

sylphThere are also a lot of things we’ve made that player’s have never seen. When we worked on the Sylphs, for example, I came up with a whole Sylph language that has never been in the game anywhere. I am going to sneak it in, hopefully, in this next patch.

GE: So at the next Fan Fest we can all speak Sylph to each other then?

MCKF: Haha, there are only a few words. I was only able to sneak in a little bit, but hopefully that’ll be in there and you guys can look forward to that. There are hints in there, as well, so I’ll base it off of certain things. Because they use these types of words, it’s because they’ve been influenced by different types of things, and that’s been part of their history even though it’s not their history. I love stuff like that, where instead of telling the history straight out, you leave hints about it.

GE: And then we have to come and ask you about it!

MCKF: (laughs) And then I have to go on the forums and say what I meant! “Enough speculation, I’m going to straighten it out!” But I’ll let you guys speculate for a while because that’s really cool, too.

GE: I’m not sure how many people know this, but you did some vocal work for some music in the game, right? Are you involved in the creative process for music when it involves lyrics?

MCKF: This actually started back in FFXI, when they decided to have lyrics in there with Distant Worlds at the end of Chains of Promathia. That was my first work with actually lyrics on an in game song and I worked with the main scenario writer with that. The team, I guess, liked that, so with FFXIV we worked on the main theme, Answers. I got to go to studio and work with Uematsu-san which was freaking awesome. Just to get that opportunity was exciting, and that kind of got my foot in the door.

ARROSTSo, when Soken came on board, he said he wanted me to continue doing songs. He’s on the cutting edge with the music and the SE music department and he wants to do a lot of things, and that includes music with more vocals. Back in the Famicom days, you were restricted to only a few channels and beeps and boops, and now, because you can do recordings and full orchestrations, he really wants to do that. There are a lot of songs now that have lyrics in them, and he keeps coming back to me and it’s a lot of fun – the process is really interesting. Usually, he’ll hum into a recorder while he’s going home or waiting on the train platform, and that’s how he gets his ideas. Then he’ll come into work the next day and make a song based on that. Once he has that he’ll take that and put in a guide, like a piano or organ or something, and send it to me and say, “OK, I want lyrics, you have three days.” What I’ll usually do, I try to get into the same type of mode he does. So I’ll get his song and put it on and go home or walk somewhere for lunch and just listen to the song on a loop and I’ll try to get ideas that way, and it works really well. After you hear the song about twenty or thirty times you start to hear the words in that melody.

They aren’t just random words, either. I have my knowledge of Titan, for example, so when I was writing the titan lyrics, it just came to me. It’s not completely random, though, because there are some things I like to do when writing those lyrics. I like to think that, with the Primals, while they’re not connected, they’re kind of connected, because its all one world. You would think that all of these Primals know of each other. The themes are, again, very similar; even though each primal and tribe has its own agenda, it’s all kind of the same – there is a connection there. So, in the lyrics, I try to keep some things the same. I’ll use certain words that I used in one and try to use them in another song, as well, so you can have those little connections. For example, I used terms like “forsaken” in one and said, “OK, this is a theme used with all the primals, so I want to make sure I use it in other ones as well.” You’ll see things that are connected, and words that are the same as other ones, to keep those themes alive and going while still having an original flavor for each one, as well – since, after all, they are all independent primals.

The fact that I’ve sung on them, Soken is like “Oh yeah, you should sing; it’ll be great!” And I’ve never sang on anything before Good King Moggle Mog and he’s like “Oh yeah, you should sing it and, because it’s Moogles, you should change your voice and I’ll add a bunch of effects. It should be OK.” Then Titan comes up and he says “Oh yeah, you gotta sing Titan, too! Channel your inner Disturbed.” So I went home and listened to a bunch of Disturbed albums. I don’t know if it worked or not but, I mean, people seem to like the song, so maybe at Fan Fest they’ll get me to sing it or something. Like an old Star Onions type of thing and bring a band to Fan Fest.

Then, for Leviathan, it was all Soken and I had to help him with his English, he kept asking me if he was pronouncing things right. I said it doesn’t matter! It’s punk, it’s rock it’s all about ahhhhh.

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GE: There are several animations in the game right now that use what looks to be some type of text, such as Tri-disaster. What do some of these animations say? How are the decisions made as to what animations get text added into them and what they’ll say?

MCKF: The art team will come to us with a design and say “OK, we want to use text in this, like some kind of ancient glyph,” and so I’ll base it off of existing lore and think of types of cants or things that could go in there and fit the lore for what type of spell it is. We usually transform those into Eorzean, and so what you’ll see a lot of times there is Eorzean. Sometimes, depending on the type of spell, it can be, like, more ancient type of glyphs. We have a set of glyphs from previous Eras, as well. All of them do have meaning. Whether the team will release those in larger form in the future or not, I don’t know. We’d probably need a lot of people banging on the doors for that.

We’ve got something coming up for the Hunt with an on screen graphic that’s actually really detailed. All of that text we wrote in a bit of archaic Victorian English with weird spellings and awkward grammar and it all sounds very official. Some of it may be small, but some of it can be read, so you guys should have fun deciphering it.

GE: Why do the Ascians have shadows now? Wasn’t being shadowless part of their identity?

MCKF: It’s about perception. People see what they want to believe, or what they do believe. Ascian legend has been around for a long time in Eorzea, and there are a lot of rumors around. When rumors are said over and over again, they’ll start to become fact. Kind of like when people talk about aliens, there’s that “Grey” kind of alien, and that’s become like the alien. It’s one of those things where you start to believe what you’re supposed to believe. The Ascian legend is so old, and there are so many things attached to it, that people start seeing what they already believe.

GE: Can you give us some details on what happens to a person when they become tempered by a Primal? How much of their identity remains? Also, speaking of “tempered,” some people have taken to the idea that this term was only supposed to be attached to Ifrit, since tempering involves heat, and we see other terms attached to the process with other primals (Drowned / Touched). Care to shed any insight on what’s up with the different names?

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MCKF: Back in 1.0, in that first Ifrit battle, that whole thing is that Ifrit has his blue flames that he spits out. That’s what tempers the people. There used to be NPCs that would go “No! I’d rather die than be tempered!” because it takes all of you away. It tempers you, removes part of your will to make you more acceptable to the teachings of Ifrit and the Amal’jaa. How much of the identity remains depends on how much tempering has been done. You don’t get a full tempering in one shot. One tempering will remove some of your will, but you’re still kind of conscious. If you remember back in 1.x you have people in the Serpent Reavers that were “drowned,” but they were still talking about their lives in the past, but now they’ve changed.

GE: So, it’s like a diet tempered.

MCKF: Yeah, there’s still a little bit of them left, but they’re convinced of the true power of Ifrit, Leviathan, etc. The more you get tempered, the more you lose. Currently, there is no known way to cure the tempering. Currently.

For Ifrit, the process is his blue flame. For Leviathan, they’ll dunk you in the holy water and you become Drowned. It’s the same process, but it’s a different kind. For Garuda you’re being touched by her gales of tempering, and so we’re calling it Touched. It’s that element washing over you and taking part of you away. You can assume there will be something similar with Ramuh and Shiva like Shocked or Frozen.

GE: We can’t wait for all the Frozen references with the Shiva quests.

MCKF: Oh, my god (laughs). I’m already planning quest titles already so… (laughs)

SPOILER ALERT
The next question contains spoilers regarding the Second Binding Coil of Bahamut Turn 4

GE: In the story line for Turn 4 of the Second Binding Coil of Bahamut… we see a familiar face or rather, a familiar helmet. Nael deus Darnus has the appearance of a female! Who is she? Will this ever be explained?

…It’s totally Bradamante, right? Right?

MCKF: It is not Bradamante, because she was killed by Nael van Darnus. Ever since that kill, you can think that Nael started going crazy after that whole incident with Bradamante. As for that being Bradamante – that isn’t. That isn’t. As for who it might be… speculate speculate speculate! As for Nael van Darnus being a female… up until recently, no one has seen under that mask, so when you never see what’s under a  mask, people start to assume things. So, yeah! What really was under the mask of Nael van Darnus?

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GE: In the battle with Greg… er Gilgamesh, he attempts to attack you with what some players might assume to be the Bradamante only to claim that it’s not the powerful weapon he thought it was. Where is the real Bradamante? Is there any connection to Turn 4 of the Second Binding Coil?

MCKF: Back in the day, Nael used Bradamante. We know that that is a fact. Back in 1.x you have your battle with Nael van Darnus and you defeat him. As the area crumbles around him, Bradamante falls.

Then, a Coerthan merchant finds the Bradamante, and who does he sell it too? Some old guy that that uses it as a gardening tool in Thanalan. He decides he can’t use it and just throws it in his field.

Then…guess who finds it? Hildibrand! He tries to use it and has his ass blown off and it just falls away into Thanalan.

Who finds it after that? Gilgamesh! He picks it up and from there you know the rest. So yes, it is Bradamante, the one that Nael used.

I know someone out there is going to say “But, what about that second battle when you fight Nael and he’s got that, he shouldn’t have it because he dropped it right?” That was when Bahamut was manipulating the aether, and so everything that Nael was using, and wearing, isn’t real. It’s aetherial.

GE: What are you most excited about working on right now that you can talk about freely?

MCKF: We’re going to be adding a lot of new lore. You got a taste with the Sightseeing Log. Each place you clear you get a little blurb about that area. There’s going to be a lot more of that stuff. I can tell you I’ve probably translated/created/written, so far, about 200 of those and I still have another 200 or so to go. Again, tiny blurbs that aren’t force-fed to the player, but there are little interesting tidbits in there. Some of it is stuff we already know, and some of it is like, “Oh! OK!” I’m really excited to do those because it’s a place to get in lore that, again, it’s hard to get in some places. With item descriptions, you’re limited to 2 or 3 lines. With quests, it’s hard to re-access because you have to go and replay the quest or go back to the NPC. With these new logs and the data being right there, then the players can go back and reference things and parse it easier. So having this in here is really exciting. We’ve been given a way to expand the game and put in things that there’s never really been a place to put in before. To be able to expand on stuff like that is really fun. It’s not going to be limited to places, either, so lots of stuff you guys will be able to use.

GE:  It seems like the crossover events (FFXI, Lightning, DQX), and even the Hildibrand quests, stretch the boundaries of the world lore a bit. Is it a challenge for the team to work around? How do you approach it?

MCKF: To a lot of player’s it’s “Oh, they’re just throwing in some random character and they’re ruining the world because that doesn’t match the world.” It is a challenge in the sense that we want something that fits the world. But, the thing is, there’s a lot that you guys don’t know yet when something from another Final Fantasy makes an appearance in Eorzea. I can’t tell you about it since it will be explained in the future, but there is a reason behind it. It’s not random, but why it’s happening is something you’re going to have to wait for.

When my team first started doing this we thought, “Oh god, how are we going to do this – how are we going to explain this?” But then we got the real explanation of why this is happening and it made it easier.

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With Hildibrand, it’s especially challenging because it’s so different from the other quests we do. We have a very dramatic, engaging, and serious main scenario. But, it’s good; it’s a nice kind of comic relief. To take that and make it into something that’s going to be universally loved… the team has done a good job of making something that’s not too Japanese. It’s comic relief with a lot of visual humor and you can’t really localize around that. If you look at the Japanese text, it’s very Japan centered and you would have to know Japanese culture to get most of the humor. But we’re able to take that and make it something that fits with that character. Beyond the text, the type of Character that Hildibrand is, they’ve made him lovable by not just America, but France and Germany as well. It just shows that the team did a really, really good job making something universally loved instead of something that’s really, really anime. The people that love anime will be like “Yes! I love this! This is exactly what I wanted!” and the people that don’t like anime will be like “ehhh.” With Hildibrand though, it seems like everyone loves Hildibrand and that’s something difficult to do when having so many regions. Hildibrand quests are always fun, but they’re also a challenge. Remember the dance? We also had to come up with a song and coming up with the song we thought “oh man this is gonna be…” but once it was completed it was like “this is awesome!”

GE: Is there a vocal version of it floating around anywhere?

MCKF: Nothing official, but I know the guy on my team that did the translation has sung it before in the office.  We’re gonna have to get him or some voice actor if mister Hildy is every voiced we gotta get him to sing the song so people can make it their ringtone or something.

GE: Anwyll would be displeased with me if I were to not ask this question: Back in the original version, there was “the key” (and similar horns) that played what felt like a fairly significant part in the story line. Can you tell us what they were? Will we ever see them again?

MCKF: The Key is not as exciting as it probably should have been. That key was an important part of the story back then and it’s basically an enchanted item that assists in the summoning of primals and other types of creatures by manipulating the aether around where it is used. The Ascians would give it to certain beast tribes as a nudge like “Heeey, here ya go! I’m not going to tell you what to do with this, but I can tell you what you can do with this!” And, again, it’s one way the Ascians tried manipulating the beast tribes. It’s not going to summon the primal, but it’s going to make it easier. There’s also that Thanalan quest where Corguevais blows the horn, and the Coblyns all start to mass. To go off of that, and whether it will play a part in the game from now on, we can tell you that if you look closely in the game, there is a certain staff that a certain important someone used in a certain important something and that staff was broken but it’s now somewhere and you can take a look at it and that also might be of the same type of make as this Key…

GE: I think I know what you’re talking about!

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MCKF: But then it’s like, what was the purpose of that key? And it was supposed to manipulate what to summon what? Yeaaah…