First announced via a surprising reveal during Sony's E3 press conference last year, Final Fantasy XIV was supposed to built upon the foundations set down by its online predecessor Final Fantasy XI in 2002.
Yet since its PC launch in September the title has been dogged with problems. Today marks Square's first retaliation, by way of a multitude of fixes and amendments to the title bundled together in FFXIV's first version update, and our first chance to talk to its creators since the game's release.
Sitting in a quiet conference room in the company's London offices, Hiromichi Tanaka, Senior Vice-President of Square-Enix and Sage Sundi, Global Online Producer field questions about the company's latest attempt into the MMO field. Tanaka-san sites forward, hands clasped together, listening intently while questions are vocalised and translated by the on-hand interprator.
Sundi-san, on the other hand, leans back. His posture is part deference for his colleague, part knowledgeable expectation of the questions to come. His body language suggest a more relaxed air, but his changing facial expression as each question is aired - problems with the game, optimising the experience for console, that other MMO that lingers like a white elephant to every MMO out there - tells a different story. A tightening around the eyes, a grin of resignation as they're brought up.
They are inescapable questions. But both men present an honesty in answering them, and are eager to address concerns with the title.
What has the reaction been to Final Fantasy XIV since its launch?
We have recieved a lot of feedback from the players, and unfortunately we noticed a lot of players were unsatisfied with the current status of the game and we feel very sorry we didn't meet expectations.
One of the reasons behind that is that during the course of beta testing we should have been focusing on is polishing the game but because there was a lot of bugs that we were not expecting, we ended up focusing on debuging. Therefore we didn't have the manpower to polish and implement all the feedback we recieved. Therefore today we announced our future plans for version updates that hopefully will meet expectations and allow players to enjoy the game once again.
Surely such bugs and problems were to be expected?
There were a lot more than we expected, especially compared to Final Fantasy XI, because of the game's structure. It was taking longer than we were expecting to fix bugs or implement new things. We were expecting the development process to be smoother but unfortunately it wasn't.
Now the game is launched, if we want to implement some of the feedback from the players, its quite challenging because of that structure. And so for the first version of the update we're planning to do is to improve the user interface. Using the current data structure we are prioritizing those areas we can fix straight away.
But at the same time there are areas that we need to change fundamentally. We're doing that simultaneously but those changes will be made available at the next update early next year.
How large is that team and how is that feedback correlated?
The team dedicated to developing version updates is the same that developed FFXIV and will continue to keep the same size of team for the future.
There are dedicated community teams in Japan, US and Europe to listen to the community and pass on the feedback to the development team, along with priorities to what should be implemented.
Did the user interface problems arise from making it console-friendly for the impending PS3 release?
It's one of the reasons. Usually for the mouse and keyboard there'd be a different user interface but because we were focusing on the compatibility, we wanted players to have the same experience on the mouse and keyboard as they would on the joypad.
But because of the grammar of how you make and select commands are totally different we should have had two different versions but we were not able to have that ready for launch. However at the same time because the Windows version came first it really was noticed by the PC players, but for joypad users it doesn't seem to be that difficult, so we are trying to look into new interface so the mouse and keyboard.
What lessons did the company learn between the launch of the two online Final Fantasy titles?
One of the main things we learnt from FFXI was the community feedback- listening to it, especially because we want the game enjoyed worldwide. Its very important not to listen to one particular region, but listen to all.
After FFXI we decided to have cross-platform and cross-region model for FFXIV, and especially since MMOs and PC games focus on the hardcore gamers but we wanted to introduce the excitement of MMOs to other players as well so to have a casual aspect of the game it was effective to have a console version.
Can you speak briefly about porting a MMO to console, as you did with Final Fantasy XI on Xbox 360 and PS2, and did that impact on the creation of FFXIV?
From an operation point of view the Xbox 360 and PS2 version were very similar. Talking specfically about the Xbox 360 version, it used Direct X technology and so it was easier to develop the game compared to the PS3 because its similar to the PC.
Although we had FFXI on Xbox 360, due to Microsoft's Xbox Live policy, which is a more closed policy than the internet we are not able to have a cross-platform FFXIV. We haven't reached an agreement with Microsoft but we're still talking to them.
The obvious question - how do you feel FFXIV compares to the other MMOs out there and what sets your title apart?
We have been working on the FF series for over twenty years now and what the audience loves are the epic story-lines and beautiful cut-scenes, both of which you can expect from FFXIV.
Other MMOs present the world and its design, then leave you to create a story within it. In FFXIV you can create your own story by meeting new players in the game but you can also follow the main story quest, which we believe to be unique.
As for competing with other MMOs and taking their audiences - we want to attract new audiences, especially Final Fantasy players who have never played MMOs, to which this will be a new experience and thereby increase the number of MMO players.
Should we expect to see a future online installment- Final Fantasy XVI perhaps?
[laughter] It's very difficult to predict the future, especially since we just launched FFXIV. We want to continue working on this title for a minimum of five years. Final Fantasy XI has been out over eight years, and counting the Japanese beta, nine. So we really want a long life-cycle for the game. All the development team are working hard towards that.
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