At the recent Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival 2018 in Las Vegas, Anonymoose and Fusionx had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael-Christopher Koji Fox to talk about Omega, astrologians, temperature, and The Primals (and to not talk about Zenos or Ascians … except for that they’re not supposed to have shadows).
Read on for our full interview!
Gamer Escape: Let’s start with some cosmological clarity; so much has changed since the last time we talked about it. You’ve mentioned in the past that the thirteen different dimensions (shards) branched off of the Source at the same time, and these fourteen dimensions have been diverging ever since. More recently, the Omega story arc shows us traveling across this vast interstellar (at least) space. How much of the Source dimension’s universe is copied over? Do you guys know?
Michael-Christopher Koji Fox: Well, I can tell you that a lot of stuff regarding Source, and shards, and what’s going on is one of those things that’s going to be explained a lot more in coming patches and expansions, so I’ve been told not to get too deep into it. We had a lot of those questions, as well, for Oda-san; we can’t really talk about these now, but answers are coming.
But, in the sense of, “How far is the split?” To my knowledge the split is focused mainly on Hydaelyn, the planet, being split. Now, how far that extends, that’s one of those things I’m going to have to confirm with Oda-san.
I think other questions were like, is Hydaelyn the only planet that split? Are there other planets that split? Can you talk about the Dragonstar? That confirms there are other planets, so Hydaelyn is not the only planet in the universe. But is the Dragonstar part of the Source’s universe, or is it a different universe? And what about the Dragonstar, does it also split into thirteen? Do all planets split into thirteen?
The only thing that I can confirm is that Hydealyn is not the only planet in the universe, but beyond that it’s going to be one of those things we’re going to be talking about in the near future. Hopefully, a lot of those answers will come to light.
GE: So, Omega and Midgardsormr are definitely from the Source dimension, just from out there, somewhere?
Koji: I’m going to say, “I think so.” But, again, that’s one of those things I would really like to confirm. At least, from what I know so far, yes. We’re not talking splits there. In a far away place, you have Midgardsormr…and in a faraway place there’s Omega and its creators, and then traveling the sea of stars to do his Omega shit and then wanting to become Man.
GE: I know I ask this every year but…I have to. Is the game still its own universe? It’s not connected to any other game universes?
Koji: At this point! (laughs) But that’s one of those things. Yoshida-san has said in some interviews where you get this question, “Is the lore set first and then you build quests off that?” While we have the core lore, Yoshida’s thing is that writers should be able to do whatever the fuck they want and not have to worry about the lore. Then they take that to the lore team and it’s the lore team’s job to make it fit with the rules we have.
Yoshida-san wants to give complete freedom to his writers to be able to create anything they want and not be restricted. They won’t want to think, “I want to do this but there’s this weird rule about aether…” It’s the lore team’s job to make that fit with the rules that we have. If you look at how aether works in 1.0 vs now…that’s pretty much how it goes. But, no, it’s not connected to the Final Fantasy XII universe or the Dragon Quest universe, I mean we did have that crossover…
Koji: First off, you have so many eras. You talk about them coming over the land bridge, but then that’s very recent. In general, people are migrating everywhere. Think about it in terms of Earth. Where were people, and how did they move, over a thousand years? Now multiply that by six eras! Shit happens here, in Eorzea, a Calamity, it gets too hot, it gets too cold; people move away to a place that’s better. They break off there, and come back.
So the Fifth Umbral comes and ice starts appearing and disappearing all over, and you can get to and from different places that you couldn’t before, sometimes; even the southern islands where the Lalafell are from. The Miqo’te are coming back from Ilsabard and they’re coming back from Meracydia, but they got there in different time periods. They converge on places that are rich in the aether, because that’s what it’s all about. Places that have more aether are going to be more lush, be better for growing crops and surviving, and there’s going to be animals.
And we explain that; everybody ends up converging in Eorzea because that’s where the best aether is and that’s where you’re going to have the best hunting. The Miqo’te especially being hunters are going to follow where the best animals are and that’s where it’s all rich. You go beyond that and things start losing that. There’s still aether everywhere in the world, but it’s the rich places where people converge. It’s like the Mesopotamian thing where you have the two rivers there, the rest is desert, people are going to come back here, even if they get shut out by a flood, they’ll come back at some time.
Everybody wants more lore on this stuff. The problem is we have all these stories to tell, but then we go to new areas and we focus on that stuff. The writers want to write about new stuff and the players want to hear about the new shiny thing in front of them. But at the same time people want to know about the Au Ra and the Miqo’te…or the Duskwights! We haven’t heard anything about them, we just know they’re all moody and dark. But then, of course, Yoshida and the quest team have all these new areas.
I just had this talk with Oda-san. A lot of the questions for the Q&A were asking about races and clans. A big thing is that more people over here (North America) are hardcore roleplayers. They want to know more about the characters they’re playing; they become those characters. It’s not as deep in Japan.
GE: On the official forums, you went back for some unanswered Q&A questions at one point. You talked about how Bahamut was re-materialized by his summoning. A dead thing goes into the Lifestream, it gets blended into pieces, and then people pray and that beacon draws and reassembles them somehow, even though it’s never really that thing again. So…Ysayle. She reaches out; she summons Shiva…allegedly. But, Hraesvelgr alleges that he ate Shiva and that she’s been with him the whole time. Where’s Shiva?
Koji: Well, yes, the eating part is still there. But remember how we once talked about how there could be multiple Ifrits? You’re just assembling pieces from the aether and forming them into something. There are parts of that being and parts of just regular energy in that core. It’s not all of their pieces. It’s some of the memories and then you’re filling out the rest. It’s kind of like when they find some tyrannosaurus bones and have to recreate the rest with plaster copies. It’s not the actual being. And then it dies off, and a little piece of it, while it’s existing in that form, goes back to the Lifestream.
When you’re talking about the Lifestream, there’s all this weirdness. And then it seems like every patch there’s a new way to summon a primal…but that’s not my fault! We have to keep thinking of new ways because they want special situations. But the essence is that, yeah, you’re pulling a piece of that person and filling in the rest of the energy that is formed based on what the summoner is thinking at that time.
GE: When did Zenos gain resonance? Even when he att—
Koji: I can’t say anything about Zenos…
Koji: I can’t say anything about Zenos!
GE: All of the Ascian overlords received names from the Final Fantasy XII “Scions of Light.” However, there were only twelve Scions and we’ve got fourteen overlords. Have you come up with two new names?
Koji: I actually can’t say anything about Ascians either…other than they’re not supposed to have shadows! Ascians are not supposed to have shadows…and they…are not supposed to have shadows! That’s all I’m going to say… (brief silence) …That’s what Ascian means! They’re supposed to be shadowless! That’s why I choose that word twelve years ago!
GE: (laughing) Do you think they would ever go back and fix this in the old scenes if they found a way to make it work?
Koji: I don’t think so, not at this point. I think the development team wants to pretend it’s a made up word that has no meaning and they want me to forget it, but I always remind them that Ascians aren’t supposed to have shadows. What you see is not a shadow it’s… the shadow of their clothes! If you saw a naked Elidibus walking around, he would not have a shadow. There you go, official answer! So… Travanchet was naked? Those aren’t clothes, that’s body paint!
Also, I don’t know about the names.
GE: Are the Astrologians really taking aether from distant stars? They talk about Shatotto like she did this big thing learning how to pull environmental aether, but stars!?
Koji: That’s supposed to be how it works. You have your mages that draw from the ambient energy from nature, the mages that draw from their own aether from within, the combination of two, and then someone asked about Astrologian, and where are they getting it. The Japanese is vague and says something like, “From… the heavens!” I wanted to be a little more specific to where you could work it out scientifically. I didn’t want it to be like, “It’s magic!” Everything else in the game has a definite reason. Look at it in terms of how even a faraway planet or sun will still have a minute amount of gravitational pull and affect on other planets. It’s kind of the same thing where aether, even though it’s far, still has traces that Astrologians learn to find, pull, and enhance so they can use the energy.
GE: The other planets are like, “What, you’re not pulling enough aether from your own planet? You gotta pull ours too?”
Koji: Maybe there’s this whole thing where all the planets are like, “Goddamn Hydaelyn, your guys keep stealing aether from us!”
GE: Any information on the language Ascians have in common or why they have a language in common?
Koji: Please look forward to it.
GE: When we zoom in on Shadowhunter’s belt, we see two red masks. Are we meant to assume that he perma-killed them? Or that he only killed their hosts?
Koji: That’s a good question. Please look forward to it.
GE: Oh, wow, and we try so hard to eliminate questions that will end in, “Please look forward to it!”
Koji: We’re getting to this point where for so long, especially regarding 1.0, we got better about it 2.0, we don’t want to leave loose ends. It’s starting to be very focused. Yoshida- and Oda-san want to go back, and tie those up, because people keep asking us about them. I think that’s one of the goals with future content coming up, hopefully over the next year. They don’t want as much stuff dragging behind us, anymore, and want to bring conclusion to a lot of these storylines. Again, hopefully, it’ll be the end for one piece…and we’ll finally find out what the one piece is…
…(whispers) It’s friendship.
GE: You said we’d see the Heart of Sabik again…soonish. And then we didn’t see the Heart of Sabik again…ever. Did it get put off? Did it get moved from somewhere it was meant to be? Is it still out there?
Koji: (Defensive) You got it in the lyrics of the Ultima orchestra version! It came back! (laughing) At this point, it’s a question for Oda-san. Who knows, maybe someone threw it down into a ravine and it’s next to one of Nidhogg’s eyes. “They’ll never find that!”
GE: Speaking of stuff we talked about before that may have fallen through the cracks… Do you have any updates on the so-called mysterious primal? There was the idea that right after Gaius took Ala Mhigo, he was going to keep going, but a primal halted his advance. It could have happened in ’57; could have happened in ’62.
Koji: That was related to the whole, “What lies deep beneath Silvertear!?” Yes, something stopped his advance. And then there was the trailer beam, tons of primals shooting out. And then there was the seal. What is it sealing? What was going on in there? A lot of this is where the 1.0 story was supposed to go, and there’s a lore reason for that.
When the Calamity happened, it caused a lot of changes to Hydaelyn. Whether that was enough to seal off something that was already sealed, but the seal was getting weak, or… That I don’t know. There could be something like that. The hint was that Gaius was stopped for a reason, and that it was a powerful force. There’s a presence. It wasn’t just Midgardsormr there, it was more of a force, and I can’t say anything more, for now.
GE: Some things from 1.0, one serious, one humorous. Fans made a big deal out of this old line, Minfilia suggested that those who’d beheld the end of the Walker’s path seemed to her as though they’d seen something either too terrible or too shameful and they were traumatized. Should we be worried?
Koji: I don’t think you should be worried. This also kind of ties to the presence that stopped Gaius’s advance. It would have played out in that direction, and now I don’t think it’s going to. I don’t even know if that presence is still there. I’d have to ask Oda-san. It all kind of led to the endgame content that was supposed to wrap up the original.
GE: In 1.0, we found those Allagan Runestones; they had the symbols of the Twelve on them. Later, it was said Allag made them before abandoning worship of the Twelve. So you have the runestone of Menphina…but it has two moons. They made that second moon! And like, way later! What is this!?
Koji: I have…no idea (laughs). Maybe it’s the moon and its reflection on Silvertear Lake! Let’s go with that! It’s that now. I don’t know…
GE: A lot of information seemed to be chaotically shifting just before the 1.0 release. Right before launch, for example, they said, “Here’s a calendar!” and then the game comes out right after, totally different calendar. Ringing a bell?
Koji: Yeah, I had to translate that stuff.
GE: OK, do you have any idea why, with Eorzean stuff, all of the elemental cycles ended up starting with ice…but with the calamities it’s wind?
Koji: No idea! I don’t remember if all the calamities – the order – were decided beforehand… or if we had one or two decided and then we decided to write the lore book, like, “Holy shit, we need to come up with the order for the other ones.” I can tell you there is no significance to that so many start with ice, though.
GE: How did the belief in the Mothercrystal spread so quickly? Everyone’s all about the Twelve and then we disappear for five years and get back to everyone saying, “May you ever walk in the light of the Crystal!”
Koji: It’s all Scion propaganda. They’re passing out leaflets or something. (laughs) They want to push the whole Mothercrystal thing and get that out there.
When it comes down to it, there are tens of thousands of people in this world and most don’t know about Mothercrystals, just like most people don’t know that the planet is called Hydaelyn. There are no TVs, there are no science books, close to half of the people are illiterate. A lot of people are still living pre-technology…ish. I mean, there are water clocks and chronometers and people see how things are powered with aether. But, for the most part, people live in shacks or in these towns where they don’t know what’s going on.
The people you come into contact with seem to know this stuff. We’re not letting you talk to the rest of the people that have nothing to say. In a super open-world game we’d have people walking around town like, “I like farming because I need to support my family,” but we need to condense it down. Even the cities themselves are – in theory – way bigger, but we need to condense them down.
We give it a sense of being huge, but we can only add the people that are going to give you the information that you’re going to need for the game. We have to ignore the rest, but they’re there. So when the XIIth legion comes and (laughing) it’s like ten guys, is that a cohort? No, no, there are people there, but it’s condensed.
GE: So on the copied worlds or shards or reflections or what have you, do they experience all of the calamities that we on the Source do, or just the one that deletes their world?
Koji: I can’t talk about this! You’ll find out soonish. But, go ahead and speculate. The calamities, it’s the Ascians that are trying to do this. And their focus is on this world, the Source. Take it to mean whatever you need it to mean.
GE: We have an Eorzean unit for distance, and one for weight. Is there one for temperature? All the alchemists talk about specific temperatures. And what are they measuring that in?
Koji: Huh, that’s true. Wow.
GE: I’ve been calling it fahns. (laughs)
Koji: (laughs) Celsiors… Kolvin… I’ll have to ask Oda-san. That’s good! We should have one! I don’t think it’s ever come up. We’ll do it, I’m going to write that down, that’s an awesome idea!
GE: If everything is in backwards-ass American units, is it Fahrenheit…?
Koji: It wasn’t American, but the old British Imperial system. I think that idea came from the original lead on FFXI, Richard Honeywood, and he came up with the ilms and the fulms and the yalms and the malms and he said it was from the royal measurement of onzes and ponzes and things like that. So it wouldn’t be Fahrenheit, it would be Celsius…? No. What did they use? Hotte, with an ‘e’? Hotte and… Colden… I don’t know. We’ll have to find out and we’ll match it. But it’s not supposed to be American, it’s supposed to be British.
I’ll have to check that out—when did temperature measurement become a thing, how long ago did they have thermometers… I know what I’m looking up after this interview! But yes, I’m going to ask Oda-san. Maybe Iwao-san already thought of this and it’s in one of his documents from twelve years ago.
We’re still finding stuff. We have the new lore book with the saints, that was all pre-1.0, too. One of the first things I did in like ‘06 or ‘07 is when those were written up, and they never made it anywhere. It took a second lore book twelve years later to get that out.
GE: Why did it take so long to get those (the Guildleve Saints) out there?
Koji: It’s one of those things… They were reserved for the Guildleves, which were supposed to be a major thing in 1.0, so we had all this background stuff for it. Then Yoshida comes in and says, “This is not a major system. This should be on the side, and we shouldn’t have a focus on it,” and they just left it in for experience leveling for your third or fourth job or whatever.
So, while you still have the guildleves and you can write flavor text for them, there was no more focus for the saints. We got to throw some bits in. We had the Church of Saint Adama Landama, and that saint that walked up through the Nail and collapsed. But it was one-off stuff we could use for flavor.
It’s hard to bring all of them… because we had like 50 of them. There were some cool ones that didn’t even make it into this one…
GE: So the original King Thordan had his Knights Twelve, and one of them threw him into a chasm. Do we know which one?
Koji: Who threw him!? (laughing) I’m going to ask Oda-san that, as well! That’s a good question! (scribbling) Who… threw… Thordan… into chasm. OK!
GE: In the game, they’ve gone over a few times how a calamity works. There are a bunch of disturbances, it blows out a barrier. Is that how it works or is it one interpretation of how it works? Some fans are even putting forward the theory that Hydaelyn is eating the shard worlds and leaving it out of Her side of the story!
Koji: (shocked laugh) Oh, man! The official answer, at least for now, which is believed by most of the people in Eorzea experiencing and studying what’s happened, is that it’s about the disturbances. Too much aether is drawn out from the planet, something breaks while that’s happening, and while it’s broken, it allows shit to happen, and things go crazy. Then you get this period afterwards where the planet is healing itself to prevent that from happening again.
GE: Ever since we started getting hints about the game’s cosmology and about Zodiark and such, sometimes rather than talking about Darkness and the inter-dimensional rift, they seem to name-drop the void, instead. In that intentional?
Koji: That’s more of that misinterpretation. We’re throwing in little bits of misinterpretation. The void was originally, “We don’t know where it comes from!” There was no information as early as 10-15 years ago, for most people. That’s why it’s “voidsent.” They didn’t know. They’re obviously not from this planet, they can’t be from this planet, we’re going to create something we call “the void.” This is before people actually learned that the void is actually a shard that has lost all of its Light and now you have these beings that need aether and they break through to suck out the aether of Hydaelyn. So sometimes “the void” is still used in the sense of “beyond our ken.”
GE: So even from an Ascian you can’t really be sure when we’re talking about the cosmic void versus the philosophical void?
Koji: There are times that it overlaps, I would think…and you get that sense. We like the overlapping of terms to create a little bit of fuzz. I hate how games just give you 100% correct information all the time. That never happens in the real world. There’s always a little bit of misinformation in there. You hear it and believe it; then all these people are saying it’s this though, maybe this is wrong, and this is this
GE: From the development angle, until now, everything was always presented as so mysterious. What are the Twelve? Who knows. What are the Elementals? Who knows. (pauses) Do we know what the Elementals are, yet?
Koji: Who knows?
GE: …So we have all of this for years and years, Eorzea’s this big mystery. Then we go over to Othard. One moon in Othard and it’s like, “Here’s the auspices and the kami and it’s all real!” What?
Koji: That’s what they believe! It’s all about the belief systems over there. I think they wanted to do that—to make it that it’s so ingrained in that society that they’ve made it real by believing it to be so. And…it is! (laughing) Because we have auspices all over the place!
GE: In the Warring Traid arc, Regula van Hydrus summons this…tiger thing…and it starts using arcanist abilities. Is that a hint about something to come or was it just a cool magitek-mimicking-magicks thing?
Koji: I don’t know; I’d have to ask that one. A lot of times, there are reasons, Oda-san will work with the effects team and let them know what kind of effect to use. If it’s not something being used over and over again by lots of different enemies, there are usually reasons. I don’t know the reason for this one.
GE: I’ll leave that on the unknown list for now!
GE: In the new lore book, you released the whole Far Eastern alphabet (Hingan). Is it based on anything? What’s it like trying to build that?
Koji: That Far Eastern alphabet was all Oda-san. I think they based it on regular Japanese characters. So, it’s kind of like the Eorzean alphabet where we used English and where, if you look really close, you can kind of see what it is and where it comes from. They wanted to do a similar type of thing with the Hingan as well by basing it off Japanese. You can probably read what’s going on there and there are hints in there.
GE: Aside from an extra weekly spreadsheet from me (Anonymoose), what was different about making this lore book compared to the first one?
Koji: In theory, last time it was a crunch because we were doing patch work and also prepping for the next expansion, all while doing the lore book. It was like, “There’s no way. We only have five months.” So this time, they told us about it way in advance; last year is when we first heard about it. And it was like, “OK, we’re going to do this! Yes, we’re going to have all this extra time, we’re going to start writing here, that’s going to give us even more time! I won’t have to translate too much in that core period! We’re going to be done, we’re going to have months!” And then, of course, everyone gets busy, and the first text I get is literally five months before the due date, which is exactly the same as it was for the first lore book.
But, I knew that was going to happen. I had already allocated translation time for the core translators that were going to work on it, and myself. I ended up doing about a third of the translation, and then the remaining two-thirds was split amongst four other people. That was the first thing, though, in that meeting in November, I was thinking I need to get Moose on this, and started putting things in motion there, asking the publishing team, “Do we have the money for this? Can we do this? Can we do this right?” and getting the permissions from the teams and everything.
GE: Did I find enough to justify bringing me on?
Koji: Dude! I mean, according to me and Oda-san, because you ended up finding a ton of stuff. Especially with those dates, oh, my god. We spent, after you found that, a whole morning, probably a good three hours, going over that and figuring out with Oda-san and talking with him; “Oh my god, we have to do this.” We tweaked it a little bit and thought, “OK, we can’t do this. We have to tweak it a little bit more,” and then you got the final product. But that was literally half a day with me and Oda-san working it over going, “Holy shit, we need to fix this!” And then Oda-san said once you have that in English, I’m going to write it in Japanese. We fixed the Japanese as well. I never would have caught that!
GE: Switching from book to concert performance, are you guys trying anything new up there later?
Koji: Yes we’ll be doing some new things, some first time things.
GE: I recall you—in another interview—saying “I get up on stage and I think, I don’t know if it’s going to work, I’m going to feel ridiculous, but in the moment, it works.”
Koji: That’s how it always is. It’s actually the easiest thing that I do during Fan Fest, getting up there. I get the most nervous right before, but once I get up there, it’s all white, I don’t see anything. I just Eminem it, lose myself. Because if I think about it, I’m going to end up falling down, tripping over myself, or doing something really stupid that I shouldn’t be doing and people are going to laugh at me. I think about it too much and I can’t do anything because I’m thinking about it too much. With this, I just sit back and kind of blank out and go through the motions and do the thing, because there are awesome musicians surrounding me. I could wish for nothing more.
It’s completely different from the Star Onions. I went to a concert about a month ago and the drummer’s there, in his band, that I’ve known for ten years and have seen them on TV and he’s there playing. “Oh, my god, that’s the guy that’s in my band and I play with!” Just being with those guys, it’s so overwhelming. They know what they’re doing, and because of that I don’t have to worry about anything. I just kind of get up there and as long as I remember the lyrics…even if I don’t remember the lyrics. There’s the prompter down there, which I don’t want to be staring down at all the time. And Soken is so good about making sure everything goes well, and we have lots of practices.
It’s going to be fun though. This concert will be pretty awesome. We’ll be doing stuff we haven’t done. We haven’t done Rise in America, and we’ve done it everywhere else… it should be a lot of fun!