This Week in the Magazines: Famitsu Interviews Tanaka and Komoto

I’m back!  I’ve moved into a brand new apartment that is much nicer than my old place.  It’s also not flooded out and molding which is a plus.  Sadly, moving meant no Internet access for awhile.  I’ve been wondering about what’s been happening in the world of FFXIV and it seems like a ton of alpha news has been released through the Japanese media this week!

We’ll start with Weekly Famitsu who had a chance to sit down with Final Fantasy XIV Producer Hiromichi Tanaka and Director Nobuaki Komoto.  There is a lot of interesting information inside along with a startling picture!

What’s so startling about this picture?  I’ll leave that up to you to figure out. But before you run off to do your detective work, let’s take a look at what they had to say.

Beyond Expectations

A common complaint we’ve been hearing in reports from the Japanese media (like Famitsu or 4Gamer) is that it is difficult to log into the game and actually play enough to really test things out.  That’s the first topic they deal with in the interview.  Tanaka begins by explaining how the alpha test is currently being held.  Testers in Japan, North America, and Europe have scheduled separate login windows in which they can test the game.  Each group has an equal number of testers.  Based on the experience they had with testing FFXI, they figured about 50% of each group would be logged in at one time.  However, the number of people actually trying to log in is much higher.  This is especially true for the Japanese test times.  After April 15th, they adjusted it to where testers’ virtual place in line for logging in would be held for up to 10 minutes.  Testers are asked to try to log in once every 10 minutes.  Thanks to a version update, you can also see how many people are in line waiting in front of you.  Server stability issues might continue to plague testers for awhile but the staff at Square Enix is working to make things better.  They want to apologize to all the testers and thank them for all they have done so far to make FFXIV a better game.

Culture and Comments

Next, they get into the comments players have made about the alpha build so far.  The comments really help them make the game better from a player’s point of view.  As the developers, they already know what buttons to press, where to go, what to do, etc.  However, this information isn’t always relayed to the players in a way that is easy to understand.

It sounds like hearing the comments from the players has been refreshing for Director Komoto.  He says he’s been away from FFXI to work on FFXIV for a long time and it made him feel so far from the players.  Now he’s taking in the comments and checking in with staff on the floor for developers and the operations floor.  It makes him feel like saying “I’m back!”

As for the comments themselves, as they are still really just testing the controls and response times, they’ve asked for feedback and a lot of it is about the same sorts of things.  There is also no tutorial as of yet so many players say the controls are hard to understand.  For example, they published a manual on the tester’s site and immediately received feedback on it.  That forces the developers to look at things from a different angle, look at things from a player’s voice of view.  It makes them feel like they still have a lot of work ahead of them before they release the final product.

There are also cultural differences that have appeared in the comments so far.  As mentioned before, the number of testers is the same per group but the number of comments is completely different!  The Japan group has submitted around 5000 comments so far.  However, the European group is around 19000 and the North American group is around 25000 comments.  Komoto also remarks that a lot of the NA comments are more about ideas for things they want to see included versus feedback on what is already in the game.  In comparison, the Japan group gives off a more gentle feeling, as if they are warmly looking over the staff.  He was expecting harsher feedback but so far just getting in the game has been a huge problem for the Japan group especially so that may be part of it.

They really want the testers to send in their comments though.  Tanaka and Komoto both say that they are working hard to incorporate the ideas from the players and will continue to do so up until the official release and beyond.

Inside the Game

Have any of you seen Azagba Tanaka yet?  That’s the character Tanaka is using to log in during the test windows and experience the game with the players.  Komoto remarked that the staff is generally staying out of things because it is hard enough for the testers to get on the server.  Tanaka laughed and said he waits in front of his computer and keeps trying his luck in the “login battle”.

When asked about the alpha schedule, Komoto said their current goal is to have three stable testing runs per group per week.  They have to get things stable enough so that the testers can really play for a decent amount of time.  Also, they are thinking about changing how they currently run the tests.  The login windows are set for each group but there are people who can’t play during those times.  The alpha testing period is also likely to run longer than they had originally scheduled due to continuing server stability issues.

One interesting bit of information to come out of this interview was about how they plan on wiping character data many times during the test cycle.  Right now, there is a certain character growth pattern being tested.  However, there is another pattern they are considering as well.  At some point, they will wipe everyone’s character data and begin testing the second pattern as well.  Komoto says they will probably wipe character data during the beta and even right before the official release as well.

Once things are stable, they will move into the next stage of testing where testers are spread out across multiple servers.  They haven’t decided if they will call that stage Alpha 2 or Beta 1 yet though.  They also don’t know when they will introduce other parts of the game, bringing it closer to the final release version and making it what most companies would refer to as a “Beta build”.

Some people might also be curious to know when we’ll see the global servers FFXI has become known for.  Right now players in different regions are limited to separated play windows and can’t interact with each other.  Tanaka says that when the test servers are open for testing 24 hours a day, people will probably start playing together.

65%

The final batch of questions were about the overall progress of the game’s development.  The graphics are almost complete but they will still do touch ups here and there.  The planners and programmers are also working on their last batch of adjustments.  However, Tanaka says its hard to say how far along the game is.  He says a low-ball estimate might be 65%.  Also, what testers can currently access is less than 10% of what they plan for the final product.

PS3 users will have to continue to wait for their turn at testing.  While it is being developed at the same time as the PC version, all Tanaka will say is that they are continuing to work towards releasing both official versions as the same time.

That’s all for this time but be sure to check back later in the week for more information about the alpha test straight from Japan!

Information and the image for this article are adapted from the interview that ran in Weekly Famitsu No. 1118, published April 28th, 2010.