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14 Nov 2010

After Square Enix posted a general outline of some of the things they hoped to include in the November and December updates, fans wrote into Japanese gaming site 4Gamer with their opinions.  Namely, why weren’t some of these issues fixed before the game was officially released?  4Gamer decided to see if Square Enix would give them some more insight into what they hope to achieve with the upcoming version updates.  What follows is our translated version of 4Gamer’s email interview with Square Enix that addresses player concerns, lag, and what areas they see as the highest priorities for improving the game’s playability.  The first question was about billing concerns and rumors that players using Crysta would have to pay late-payment fees if they ran out of funds.  Square Enix’s operations team addressed the issue reassuring players that they would not be hit by fees in such cases.  The rest of the interview is below.

–When the names of the servers to be used for the official release were announced, some Japanese players took advantage of that in order to gather together to create de facto “Japanese servers”.  Is that playing into server stress and lag?

Answer:  Actually, there are tens of thousands of characters on each world and none of the servers are overly populated compared to the others.  The overall distribution is close to what we wanted.  There isn’t a point to keeping the names secret.  People would just assign numbers to them instead, like “Server 2”.  If we wanted a perfect distribution of players, people would have been assigned to a server randomly.  However, that’d only be inconvenient for the players.

Right now the problem isn’t having people concentrated on certain worlds; it’s that people are concentrating in the same areas.  If players are distributed across the game world more evenly, the servers would be able to handle even more simultaneous connections.  The problem lies in the programming that handles processing load for the area servers.  We’ve made optimizations and continue to strengthen the servers by splitting up areas.  We feel that right now we’ve almost resolved the server lag issues and we’re seeing improvement.  As for the language issue, we can’t deny that there are worlds skewed more towards a certain language(s), but we’ll leave things up to the players.

–A lot of the problems we are seeing were reported back in the closed and open beta tests but weren’t fixed when the game was officially released.  It seems like your responses to the situation are too little too late.

Answers:  We’ve sorted through the large amount of feedback we received and passed the most pressing issues on to the developers.  We also created a list of what needs to be worked on in what order.  It was decided during beta testing that our efforts should be focused on debugging the game and we weren’t able to make all the changes we wanted.

There are also things we thought would be low priority projects that have actually led to huge problems in the official release.  We weren’t on the same page as our players and we apologize for that.

-We know that you’ll probably release patches to eliminate many of the problems.  Have you thought about using test servers where players could help with debugging like they do in EverQuest or World of Warcraft?

Answer: We do have a number of test servers that the developers and QA team use everyday for debugging.  However, they are not open to the general public.  When it comes to the test servers used by other companies, there is benefit to the reports given by some of the players who participate.  However, we’ve also heard that they aren’t really used for the purpose of debugging and that many players dislike having to weed out bugs that aren’t related to leveling and character progression.  You also have to have two versions of the client installed which puts a heavy burden on our players’ computers.  PS3 users wouldn’t be able to participate at all.

There are other issues that keep us from opening up our test servers to the general public.  For example, some players use the early information they receive to start buying up certain items to earn money, thus becoming a target for RMT, and it would be impossible to gauge how much damage that would do to the community.  Certainly, we could try to put a heavy veil over things while we work on development but that would slow down things down and possibly even become a source of even more bugs.  It’d be very difficult to operate like that.

Currently, we plan on using focus groups when new additions are made to the game.  We’ll gather feedback from them and making adjustments based on it.

–The current trend in recently released MMORPGs is to have a user interface similar to that used in World of Warcraft.  FFXIV doesn’t seem to be influenced by the game in that regard.  Given that this game was released worldwide, I’d say it takes a bit of courage to go a different direction.  Why was the user interface for FFXIV so different from the norm?

Answer:  The current user interface uses a combination of controls similar to FFXI.  It was built to be compatible for both controller and mouse/keyboard setups.  What it really should be is a system where you can use just a controller or just a mouse/keyboard.  The fact of the matter is that there are underlying fundamental problems and the developers didn’t have the time to create that type of system.  FFXI was originally released as a console game first.  This time however, the PC version came first and the lack of quality mouse controls stood out like a sore thumb.  When players, especially those living overseas, compare it to how other PC based MMORPGs work, they feel it is very hard to use.

One of the issues we’ve received a lot of feedback on is how the menus are layered.  When you work with a controller, you press buttons to progress to the next menu.  However, with a mouse, it’s ideal to take care of everything with just one click.  It doesn’t work that way in FFXIV and we understand that is a huge problem. There is also an issue with the system menu for the actions you use on targets.  It appears to meld with the main menu and that is also unappealing to some players. (Translator Note: I’ll be completely honest.  I’m not exactly sure what issue they are talking about.  For those that are interested, the line in Japanese is  またターゲットに対するアクションがシステムメニューとして、UIデザイン上メインメニュ ーと同階層に統合されてしまっているように見えることも気持ち悪さの原因と思われます。)

In order to fix this problem, we decided the only thing to do is create another mouse-based UI in addition to the current controller-based UI.  Development on this is already underway.

–Whether it’s the user interface or character motions, it takes so much time to do anything in the game right now.  All of those motions (crafting, gathering, changing battle stance, etc) eat up time and stress out players.  How will you address that issue?

Answer: UI lag is caused by a number of things.  Some of it is caused by the UI itself.  That should improve greatly with the programming optimizations we’ve made for the next version update.  Another part of it is server lag.  When there is less server lag, some players have said they feel like UI lag has improved.  When there is a lot of stress on the servers, or a lot of people gather in the same area, etc, players feel like the user interface is laggy.  When we do the November version update, we’ll be dividing up the load across multiple servers that will handle the areas where people often gather.  The third problem is that a lot of data is passing between the client software and the server for every action a player makes and waiting for a response slows things down.  It would be nice if we could have the client software process a lot of this information and just pass the results to the server.  However, due to the way the game is setup, this isn’t possible.

So you have three problems piling up on each other:  UI issues, server lags, and too much data being passed back and forth.  We working to address each one of these issues and I think players will notice improvements with each version update.

–There’s a problem we’ve heard about relating to the selection of path companions during the main scenario quest line.  There is a chance that you could inadvertently choose the wrong path companion because the “OK” choice is at the top of the selection list.  We’ve heard of cases where people are chatting and hit the enter key to send their message only to have it confirm a path companion choice instead.  Are you considering any adjustments or the ability to choose a new path companion?

Answer: There should have been another screen added where people would confirm their path companion choice.  We’re in the process of fixing it now.  We are also looking into how we can help out the players who ended up choosing the wrong path companion.

–Will an assist command be added?

Answer:  We’re looking to add an assist command in the version update that will follow the November and December updates.  Prior to that, we hope to make targeting easier with the November version update.  For example, some of the adjustments are reminiscent of FFXI.  If you defeat an opponent, you’ll auto-target the next one.  If you aren’t targeting anything and an enemy begins to attack you, you’ll automatically target that monster.  Other adjustments are planned as well.  We’ll also tackle other problems, like the lack of a set key for targeting the nearest NPC.

–When my inventory is full, I’d like to be able to confirm whether an item should be thrown away or not.  Would there be a way to adjust the user interface so you are warned when your inventory or loot list is full?

Answer: I think we should address this issue by making it so that your inventory doesn’t fill up to begin with.  It’s too easy for the player’s inventory to fill up and that puts you in a position where you have to throw stuff away.  It’s also hard to notice when your inventory slots are filled.  I feel we should make it easier for players to notice that.

For starters, we’ll be increasing the number of items players can hold in their inventory.  However, part of why people don’t feel they have enough slots is because there are just too many unneeded drops.  One way of dealing with this is to create regional flavor with monster drops.  That will keep you from getting too many different kinds of items but also make it easier to aim for the drops you want most.  All of the +1, +2, and +3 items are also adding to the inventory problem.  For the moment, we’re going to leave the +3 items as is and get rid of the +1, +2 items.  Let me clarify what I mean by that.  The +1 and +2 items you already have will remain unaffected.  Instead, we’ll be adjusting the drop rates that so you only obtain regular or +3 items.

Another issue stems from the armoury system as it encourages players to often make equipment changes.  We need to increase player inventory capacity but that could add to the problem players are already facing with user interface lag.  Because of that, we can’t make any major changes until we fix that root problem.  This is another issue we’re working hard to improve as quick as we can.

–We know that an item sort function will be added with the November/December updates.  Would it be possible to allow players to reorder their items freely as well?

Answer: We’d like to add an item sort feature as soon as possible.  We are envisioning a system where players will select a sorting method.  For example, all items would be at the top of your inventory while all equipment would shift to the bottom.  You could also have it work the opposite way.  The ability to freely move items around in your inventory is planned for later version updates.

–There is a bug that often keeps players from receiving skill points under certain conditions when in a party.  Are the developers aware of this bug and how are they dealing with it?

Answer: We’re currently working on fixing that particular skill point bug.  However, there is also another system issue at work that can sometimes lead to misunderstanding.  A single party can only have control over one monster or one monster party at a time.  If they defeat a different monster than the one locked to their party, they won’t receive skill points for it.  We’re currently looking into the best overall way of dealing with this issue.  That said, there are still bugs, and we continue to investigate and squash them one by one.

–There is also an issue where, during battle, a monster that has moved outside of their normal realm will go back and recover a large amount of HP.  Is this part of the intended system design?

Answer: The issue you are describing occurs when a monster has a set territory.  If you can pull monsters far away and then fight, everyone sticks to that style of play.  (Translator’s Note: In a sense, he is referring to parties that pull monsters back to camp and fight in the same place.) To keep this from happening, we’ve made it so that monsters will sometimes stop following players if they step out of their territory.  Now, imagine that the monster is running back to its territory.  Players could use that time to heal up and then return to battle.  That’s why monsters also regain HP when they return to their territory after stepping out of it.  However, there is an issue with the programming for monster behavior when it has left its territory so we still plan on making adjustments.

–On top of the crafting recipes being complex, you’ve also opted to use websites outside of the game to list the recipes.  Would it be possible to create a system where, much like local guildleves, you choose a recipe from a list of previously created items and have it preload all of the items needed for the synth?  Also, don’t you agree that there are too many steps required before you start crafting?

Answer:  We’re working towards a system just like you described.  The goal is a system where players can choose a recipe from a list of items they have created before.  For starters, with the mid-December version update, we plan on adding two lists: a recipe memopad and a crafting history.  Each list will hold up to 8 of the most recent entries.  We plan on making it so that when you select a recipe from the history, it will automatically select all of the needed ingredients.  We are also currently working on the reducing the number of steps required before you can begin a synth.

In addition to these changes, we are looking into a way to allow players to see a history of all the items they’ve created in time for the version update that follows the mid-December one.

–It’s currently very difficult to tell which items are slightly or heavily damaged.  Would it be possible to add some feature that makes it easier?  For example, you could display a message that says which part of you has been affected by damage, change the color of the item name in your inventory, or add the name of the armor slot affected on top of the warning icon.

Answer: We’re currently hard at work to improve the situation.  The plan is so that when players open their inventory or equipment menu, they’ll be able to quickly tell in a glance which items have been damaged and a general idea of how much they have been damaged.

–Would be it possible to create more of the specialized inventory tabs to cover things like armor?  When you play a lot of classes, your retainer fills up with crafting items and 80 inventory slots just isn’t enough.

Answer:  With the next version update, we plan on increasing the number of items a player can hold at one time.  However, as you mentioned in your question, the main problem is that there are so many different kinds of items.  80 sounds like a huge number when you compare it to the 30 you start off with in FFXI.  However, a big part of FFXIV’s appeal is the armoury system and it eats up a lot of your inventory slots.  There are a number of ways we can deal with it.  For example, we can make it easier to get the items you want, reduce the number of drops or unnecessary items, or change the number of items per stack like we did with the crystals and shards.

–When it gets crowded around the retainer bell, the game gets really laggy and it’s hard to exchange items with your retainer.  What about changing it so that you could summon your retainer anywhere in town?

Answer:  We’re working on improving the lag players experience in town.  Part of the problem also lies in the user interface itself.  We are continuing to make adjustments one by one and are seeing gradual progress.  There are also problems with the synchronization method used when exchanging items with your retainer, the client software design, and server lag.

Since the towns are currently managed by one server, we expect that the lag will decrease quite a bit if we split the load across two servers.  The most popular place in each town is the Adventurer’s Guild, so for example, if we split off the Adventurer’s Guild from the rest of town, people in other parts of town won’t be affected.  Likewise, people in the Adventurer’s Guild won’t be adversely affected by the rest of the town.

–Sometimes when you check a bazaar, the only thing in there is a request for repairs.  Would it be possible to add another icon for repair requests?  That way, if someone is selling items and looking for repairs, you’d see both icons next to their name.

Answer:  We’re hoping to include that with the December version update.  There will be two icons, one for a bazaar and one for repairs.

–Due to the lack of content, it’s hard to tell how far players are getting in the game.  Based off of my own experience in-game, I’d say everything up to Rank 20 seems like just a warm up or even a tutorial.

Answer: Everything up to Rank 20 is supposed to be like the beginning stages of the game.  However, despite this, it’s taking players longer to reach Rank 20 than we had expected and many people haven’t reached the class quests that start at Rank 20.  That’s why we plan on making adjustments with the next version update so that players can reach rank 20 quicker.

Once you get past rank 10, the leveling pace slows down.  That makes people feel like there isn’t much in-game content to work towards.  Because of that, I feel we should add a lot of additional content, something for each level as a goal to work towards.  We also need to make improvements so that equipment or guildleves provide motivation.  We also need to add more for the crafters and gatherers.

There is yet another issue adding to the lack of motivating goals in-game.  The market system is still incomplete and needs additional features.  Obtaining new equipment is one goal players have that is hard to work on right now.  Disciples of the Hand depend on Disciples of War and of Magic to purchase the things they create.  Because of this, in FFXIV, you can’t get equipment for each level from NPC shops, nor from monsters as drops.  The ability to search what is being sold by retainers isn’t related to just the in-game economy.  It’s also important for meeting game related player goals.

–During Behest, it’s hard to tell who is participating in a run, making it also hard to tell who has control of what.

Answer:  When doing Behest, there is an issue where you can’t tell if another player has come to join the fight or not.  I think it’s important that we make it clearer for players to tell who is there for Behest.  As for the experience and skill points earned, we planned on having them on par with the rewards you can gain from guildleves.  However, people don’t seem to be progressing much so we are thinking about making adjustments.  We’d also like to make adjustments to who has rights to attack a monster or group as soon as possible.

–It’d be nice to have a way to try on armor before you buy it so you can see what it looks like.

Answer: In addition to a general search function, we also feel that sooner than later we’ll be showing off the ability for retainers to wear equipment you’ve given them.

–There are some camps used in local leves that are hard to reach when compared to the rank or level of the player.  For example, Camp Crimson Bark near Gridania.  Unable to turn them in, they remain on your leve list.  If you’ve already completed the requested items, you can’t cancel the leve either.  Would it be possible to make it so you can cancel local leves?

Answer: We plan on including that feature by year’s end.

–It’s possible to use an /equipaction macro to register the crafting and gathering actions but there isn’t a macro command to remove them.

Answer: We plan on addressing that by year’s end.

–Are there any other additions in the works?

Answer: We’ve heard players complain about the fact that they can’t repair their own undergarments.  We’ve decided to deal with this problem by making undergarments equipment that won’t wear out anymore.  We also are planning adjustments to the rules that govern how you obtain skill points, as well as adjustments to enmity, physical accuracy, and magical accuracy.  We are planning on a wide range of changes and additions, which you can view here on the Lodestone.

–Any comments to our readers here at 4Gamer?

Answer: (From Director Komoto)  We’ve heard many players ask why a particular issue or another hasn’t been addressed yet.  We’re listening to everyone and we ourselves don’t like things the way they are.  That’s why in addition to gathering feedback and information from the community worldwide, we’re having discussions with the operations team to determine how critical each issue is to the community.  We’ll strive to release patches as soon as possible for those important issues.