It seems that you've really listened to the community while creating A Realm Reborn; can you give us examples of how that's affected the game?
"To give one example, for the map on version 1.o we were very much set on having it as a seamless open world setup and because it also had to support the PS3 we chose to realize this through using instances.
However, this resulted in some fierce criticism from players who said that they could not get excited or enthusiastic for the world and were seeing the same old vistas wherever they went. So for ARR we completely re-designed all of the maps from the level design and artwork level up and in the end wound up re-making all of them. Also, on a more subtle level, we have really paid attention to the feedback we received over the alpha and beta tests regarding things like the user interface, the order in which class actions are learned early on and the nature of those actions themselves etc. and carried out extensive fine tuning to get these aspects just right.
There really are so many ways in which we have responded to feedback that I cannot easily count them all!"
There seems to be more fan service in A Realm Reborn than in any other Final Fantasy game. Does this in some way prevent you from creating a really fresh experience?
"No, I really do not think that is the case at all. To me, fan service is something that comes later after you have got a solid gameplay base for the main game down and created an original and exciting experience. This is because fan service should be just that; a kind of additional service and not a core part of the game.
To give an example, most MMORPGs have some kind of mount system.
But in FFXIV your mounts are not simply a way of getting around and as well as riding Chocobos across the land you can also dismount to raise and nurture them or even fight alongside them in battle. This is one of the unique and original experiences that FFXIV offers.
So on top of that solid system we have added other mount types which do come under the category of fan service, such as the Magitek armour designs from FFXVI.
In this way we have made sure that FFXIV first offers its own unique experience and on top of that there are many points where elements from the whole Final Fantasy series are featured as fan service. Because we have stuck to this design philosophy I think it is safe to say that you need not worry about a lack of originality!"
Do you think it'll be hard for people who didn't play Final Fantasy XIV to understand the game, since A Realm Reborn is something of a sequel?
"There will be no need to worry about this either! The story for ARR is completely new. It goes without saying that there will be several key words from the mythology carried over from the original due to the story taking place in the same world of Eorzea and the same time period after the unprecedented events of the 7th Umbral Era. Even so, these events are no more than the back story at the start of ARR and both new players and players of the previous FFXIV will begin from exactly the same position and experience exactly the same game.
If you look at the opening story for Final Fantasy 1 then I think you will get the right idea. It tells of how "The world once faced a great crisis and 4 heroes appeared to save it from oblivion. In ages to come they would become known as the warriors of light..." and the jump off point for ARR is exactly this kind of scenario!"
Even though playing with a controller works unexpectedly smooth, do you think people playing with a keyboard will have an advantage?
"If you are to talk about advantages or disadvantages then I think you have to clarify what you mean by that and set down some premises. From the point of view of being able to target multiple objects in rapid succession I believe the mouse is indeed superior as it is a dedicated pointing device. As a game pad does not have pointing device functionality I believe it is pointless to debate about this.
However, when targeting in MMOS, the vast majority of target selection is simply holding down the Tab key to select the nearest foe or object. In this kind of situation the input relies on a button press so I feel that gamepads can compete here with a "nearest" button. In addition, by deciding where to assign this button on the controller and creating macros to put on the cross hot bar it will be possible to control both movement and carrying out actions simultaneously.
So I feel that overall it is an unexpectedly even matchup when you compare the two input methods. We have had many novice players try out both to test them and the results show that for beginners the pad is clearly at an advantage for carrying out battle actions and performing movement and actions together. Ultimately I think that everyone should play using whichever control style suits them best."
You've said earlier that you plan to release smartphone apps for A Realm Reborn. Can you tell us more about your plans about them?
"Yes, we aim to release applications at the same time as the game's official service begins. These applications are broadly split into 3 types: Communication tools, database tools and premium paid services.
The communication tools will allow you to check all kinds of detailed player information for both yourself and our friends, such as equipment, level and free company membership etc. Using this application you can exchange information with your comrades even when you are not logged in to the game and discuss over email about what kind of adventures you should go on that evening based on the data. The database tools are perfectly suited to looking up information about the items, quests, dungeons and monsters in the game. They will provide an offline search function where you can look for the items you want and then find out which quests will allow you to get those items and which NPCs offer those quests, or if the item is a dungeon drop then which dungeon it is found in and which monster has it etc.
Finally there are the premium services. The services offered by these applications will be expanded and updated as the game develops and offer you the chance to participate in the game and perform certain tasks in the ARR world while not logged in, say from school or work. The services will include things like putting items out to market, purchasing items, transferring your characters around etc. and we plan to charge users a small fee to carry these out while away from the full game."
A Realm Reborn is of course a Japanese RPG, but how will you make sure it's appealing even to players used to western MMO's?
"First of all, in order to appeal to all fans of the Final Fantasy series from around the world we have made special efforts on the standard of the graphics and the story composition. We have also recently been taking a lot of care over the story development, which was likely to have been seen as aimed at a slightly lower age range in some quarters. In addition to that we have made sure to include the kinds of experiences and functions that you can get in the west and all the functionality you would expect from other games has been made as natural and integral as possible for ARR. With all that in place I want for players to experience and savour the uniquely Japanese world of Final Fantasy."
I played the A Realm Reborn beta and was stunned by the graphics, but also how heavy it was to play it on a regular computer. What are your thoughts when it comes to MMO's and graphics; aren't you afraid to alienate those with older computers?
"It is a shame that I cannot ask you what the specs of this "regular computer" were or what graphics options you were using!
FFXIV:ARR will actually even run on a Core2Duo PC of the sort that has now gone out of production. Of course, you will have to set the graphics options to "standard quality" to do that though. We look at the share of the user base for different PC specs across the world and set our minimum standards required based on that. This policy will not be changing in future and for FFXIV our aim is to give players as many options as possible.
For example, to play with the maximum graphical settings you will need a pretty formidable setup but by lowering the settings you can still play with whatever environment you have and will not need to buy a new machine. The level of graphics desired by each player is different so we will not be forcing a certain standard on anyone and will continue to place importance on giving different options to suit everyone.
MMORPGs are games that will naturally be played for a very long time so I personally feel that these kinds of options are vital.
The PS3 version will be pretty special too so look out for that!"
The music was one of the best things with Final Fantasy XIV, can you tell us more about why you decided to remove Nobuo Uematsu's work in A Realm Reborn and will he return with more music for the game in the future?
"We will of course still be using Mr Uematsu's music for ARR. The reason that we are updating the music now is very simply because we are also updating the game design, the story and all other aspects of the title as well. Even so, the theme song for the game is still Mr Uematsu's "Answers" and we will be consulting with him regarding further updates to the score so watch out for future developments."
Could you ever see A Realm Reborn adapting to the free to play model, or make it possible to by stuff via micro-transactions in the future, or is it unsuitable for the Final Fantasy franchise?
"At present we have no plans to try the F2P model for ARR. This issue is very prone to becoming a debate over "which is better" but personally I feel that if we are going to continue giving large scale updates In a stable manner then we need to maintain employment stability for the development staff and that the subscription model is most suited to providing the stable income stream required to support that.
F2P and subscription models lend themselves to very different game design philosophies and directions and I want to get the game up and running under the ideal business model. However, personally I do not think that micro transactions are inherently an evil thing and view it objectively as a new type of model where individuals decide on the value they place on individual items or services and whether or not it is worth spending money on them.
If you look at the coin op games of the past such as Space Invaders or Tetris then players would naturally spend many coins as individual small transactions to complete these games and I don't think that this has changed. I do not believe this is something to make sweeping "one or the other" decisions on, but to judge based on factors like the number of players, the scale of the game operation and the direction of the market etc."
Thanks a lot for taking you time with our questions and good luck with the promising game once released!