A longer interview was conducted at gamescom by Famitsu with Hiromichi Tanaka. Tanaka showed off the alpha build while answering questions, giving us hints as to how guildleves work as well as more information about the battle system. At the end, he talks about how he thinks game testing will proceed and his thoughts on when we’ll see an open beta.
One thing gamescom attendees have commented on is that the playable version shown used a mouse and keyboard. This was a deliberate decision on the part of SE. Tanaka says that it seems there are more PC gamers than console gamers in Germany and players there are more familiar with keyboard/mouse controls than using a controller.
Additional Details on the Guildleve System
The guildleve used in the interview was called “プーク被害続出” (Puk shougaizokushutsu), one of 3 they prepared for the show. If I was going to name it in English like they do for FFXI, I’d probably call it something like “Perpetual Problem with Puks”. Basically, the puks are continuing to be a nuisance for people. Tanaka says that while the leve is about killing puks, the puks won’t appear until you kill off some dodos. Some leves will have a puzzle element to them that you will be required to figure out before you can finish them. The leves will also vary in difficulty.
You will be limited in the number of leves you can carry at one time forcing you to plan out your schedule. Of course, you’ll also be able to assist with the leves your party members are working on too. While not a part of the demonstration build, in the finished product they plan on providing you with the general location of where the monsters are on a map when you are working on a particular leve. Also, there will be other monsters on the field that you will have to deal with in addition to the ones you are going after.
As Tanaka starts to eliminate the dodos, they talk about how the battle system works. This is looking to be much different from FFXI! In FFXI, we have an auto-attack system. You engage the enemy and your character auto-attacks depending on the delay of the weapon, the amount of haste you have, etc. For FFXIV, there is no auto-attack. That’s right. Tanaka says there is no auto-attack and you have to select your commands each time. The way you combine the commands you use will affect what abilities you can use as well so this will be an important part of battle strategy. When asked why they chose this type of battle system, Tanaka said they wanted a more engaging battle system that requires more strategy than what you get from an auto-attack system.
Action Menu, Action Command, Action Gauges….. I’m sensing a pattern here
You can select the commands by using the Action Menu at the bottom of the user interface. These commands are called Action Commands. He says they are still working on the user interface but one thing he points out is that in FFXIV, you can ready your weapon at any time. You could take it out and run around if you want, even with no enemies in sight. In FFXI, you were only able to take out your weapon if you were actively battling your enemy with it, meaning that most of the time mages had their staves strapped to their backs all the time. The abilities you have pre-set will appear in the Action Menu. You are limited to up to 10 different commands in the Action Menu. Think of it like Blue Mage in FFXI. You have to select what you want to be able to use ahead of time. You also have to think about how your battle strategies change depending on if you are playing by yourself or with other people and make careful decisions about what to place in your Action Menu. We will also see player-defined macros again but how this fits in with the Action Menu wasn’t made clear.
The commands in the Action Menu will also change depending on what weapon you currently have equipped. Carrying a sword will get you one set, switching to a staff would bring up another set of commands suited for magic users. There will be abilities you cannot learn until you have sufficient skill in a particular weapon.
Once a command is selected, it will appear in the side gauge. There are two Action Gauges, one for each hand. This means you can have separate commands, a far departure from FFXI. One example Tanaka gives is that you could have a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. Each hand would have separate gauges controlling the actions. Once a gauge is filled, you can use that command. There is also a Power Gauge that affects the power and accuracy of a command. Finally, there is a TP gauge. The types of abilities you can use will change depending on the TP you have so you will need to build TP during battle. Tanaka confirms that TP will build much like it does in FFXI where you have to attack or be attacked to gain TP.
Also in the Action Menu are icons for selecting an emote or even an item. Emotes in FFXI were all text-based commands but in FFXIV you will have the option to select them using the graphical user interface as well. Tanaka says currently it is not possible to use the emotes during battle. The emotes shown off at gamescom are certainly impressive. The body movements for the emotes were recording with full motion capture but because capturing facial movements is much more difficult, those were handmade by development staff who are specialists in face creation.
The Action Menu and various gauges are just one part of the new user interface being planned for FFXIV. The chat window will be customizable, allowing people to adjust the size of the box as well as the number of lines shown at one time. Changes to the interface can be made with a mouse. How this will work on the PS3 version is not mentioned in the interview.
There are also changes being planned for camera angles in the game. The game is currently in the alpha stage but they are looking into providing two different 3rd-person points of view, a 1st person point of view, and a point of view looking over the shoulder of your character. (EDIT: Later video footage and interviews state 3 camera views. This could have been a mistype for the printed version.)
At this point in the interview, Tanaka had finished the guildleve and warped back to the Aetheryte that was the starting point for that particular guildleve. He says that warp may look convenient but it’s not something you use very frequently, limiting it to pretty much just after clearing a leve. Players will still be required to travel out to where the monsters are on their own.
Focus Groups and Beta Testing
The conversation then focuses on development and the beta everybody is hoping to be a part of. The interviewer remarks that he was surprised to see it was already playable just 3 months after the announcement at E3. Tanaka responds by saying they’ve been working on the game for about 3 to 4 years so rather than “already” it feels like “finally” to him. They wanted to show off the game as soon as possible to gather user feedback this time around. In that sense, he thinks beta testing will start a little sooner than later. The game overall is about 40%~50% complete but there are still parts of the basic underlying systems that are not complete yet. However, rather than complete those and start the beta, they are looking to start it early. If they wait too long, it is harder to make those changes later on. He says people may be surprised by how much isn’t completed when the beta starts but that having it so rough is a good thing.
When asked if the battle system shown at gamescom is the most developed part of the game at the moment, Tanaka replies by saying that actually he thinks the graphics are probably the furthest along. There are still parts of the game system itself that need to be created and a lot of things that are still not settled. The interviewer had complimented Tanaka on the graphics and he said what we are able to see at gamescom is a simplified version and for the final release, the details will be so amazing that we can see each individual tree even from far away.
This interview did not touch on character customization. However, from the contents of the interview, we can guess that character height will not be freely customizable like it is in NCSoft’s AION. Tanaka talks about the height of the Lalafell and how he thinks they will be about that height in the final product as well.
Tokyo Game Show?
A few weeks from now is Tokyo Game Show and the first opportunity for FFXIV to be on display in Japan. However, Tanaka does not give the most promising news on that account. When asked if people in Japan will get a chance to play with the demo as well, he says he’d like to make it where people play a “Development Build” which is similar to the alpha build presented at gamescom. This is a pre-beta build of the game. They don’t have a schedule set yet, but he says it will probably not be in the form of a display at a show. Instead, they will gather users for focus groups to examine particular parts of the game. Once things are settled to an extent, they will move into the beta, gradually increasing the number of users until finally they do an open beta test. Based on this information, the idea of a playable version of FFXIV and the announcement at Tokyo Game Show of when the beta test will start at seems unlikely. However, I will hope for the best and you can be sure we will cover any FFXIV related information at Tokyo Game Show.