Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Interview With Naoki Yoshida – Airships, Snowboarding and Crafting

While at GDC this year, PlayStation LifeStyle’s own Dan Oravasaari got to sit down with Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Director and Producer Naoki Yoshida and talk about the highly anticipated expansion for A Realm Reborn

[** All communication was handled through a translator.]

PSLS: With Heavenward being the first massive expansion for A Realm Reborn, what are you doing to bring in new players, as well as those who have stepped away from the MMO?

Naoki Yoshia**: Of course there are specific elements that we have incorporated into the expansion that will be attractive to the new players and the players who have stopped, but with that being said, we consider this a new installment in the Final Fantasy franchise. That is how big the volume of the content that is included is, as well as you being introduced to new elements such as jobs or character growth elements. So, people who look at it will think that ‘wow this a whole new RPG that just came out’ and that is how we have been messaging it through our PR, as well as with our level design, game design and through the development of the expansion. We want to have new players and other players to get interested in coming back to FFXIV, because we have this new thing that is coming, and it is a whole new game that is going to introduce them into a whole new world of FFXIV.

PSLS: Have you taken, or are you going to take any steps to respond to some of the upcoming changes in the MMO market, such as with Elder Scrolls Online, which is now coming to consoles and moving to a free-to-play model?

NY: No, we do not feel that we are being influenced by that kind of model shift. Especially with an MMORPG, it is a kind of a game as a service, where we are kind of almost in the service industry.

Say you are in the restaurant business and you own a steakhouse, and you see another competitive steakhouse that a popular feature or some other element that draws people in, of course you would have to look at what they are doing and they are keeping their quality of meats, and what they do in terms of service. In that same respect, we do look at the other MMO titles that are out there and do some research on what they do and have, Elder Scrolls Online included. But, for FFXIV and the players that belong to the world of Eorzea, we feel that we don’t need to put things in that are not necessary for that game.

So, just because ESO moved into a free-to-play subscription model, it doesn’t necessarily mean for us to move into that direction as well. Also, for use we have taken player surveys and took a look at what our customer satisfaction level is and we actually garnered data that shows that over 80% of our players are satisfied with the subscription model and they feel very assured that it is a constant. You are safe to be in that environment, and you know that you can expect a decent amount of updates and content. So, we don’t believe that FFXIV needs to shift in that direction and not everything that other competitors or titles do will necessarily apply to our title.

If WOW ever goes completely free-to-play, maybe we will consider it. (Laughs)

Flying Mount

PSLS: Heavensward looks incredibly gorgeous, but were there any limitations or issues having to develop it across multiple platforms, since it is reaching the PS3, PS4, PC and now Mac?

NY: The platforms that we do have the game available and will be available on, we have got the PS3, PS4, Windows and we are also going to be releasing on the Mac well. So, first and foremost, if the players experience is ruined because you are playing on a different platform, that is a no-no.

Since the 2.0 of A Realm Reborn, and the graphics that are implemented in that version of FFXIV, we have incorporated a flexible graphics engine so that the different elements that are applied to the graphics, like the anti-alias, the shadowing, like how strong or weak the shadow effects are, or whether you can turn them on or off, those items can be configured by the players on the platform. So, the base engine structured so that it is optimized for the platform you are playing it on and not only is it flexible, it is scalable. We have that in place, as well as for some of the lower performance machines like the PS3, we compensate by having lower polygon on our objects, so we have that system in place. That has been working fairly well for ARR, so for Heavensward, we have applied that same kind of system, so we can maintain a very hi quality visual and still be able to compensate for the lower end machines, so that it still looks good.

With Heavensward we are introducing the flying mounts and of course the speed in which it travels compared to a ground mount, or on foot, is about three times faster. So, of course you have that rendering speed of things in the distance showing up quicker and it might take time for certain elements to be read and depicted within the screen, depending on the console it might take a bit more time read off of the hard drive to put that information on the screen. For example, say an NPC, like the character model is lagging to show up, we will at least have the name of that character show up first to give you that information, so that you will know that you are aiming towards a certain destination and you wont take away from the gameplay experience. There are little subtle things that we have also paid attention to in order to maintain the gameplay experience.

PSLS: With Heavensward being very much its own product, or installment, will there be any changes to the main scenario from ARR?

NY: Yes, the ARR story arch will come to its conclusion, we are releasing our final patch update in the march timing, patch 2.55, which concludes the ARR arch and bring it to a finale. Of course, we have the existing characters that still live in Eorzea, and there’s the over arching land of Eorzea and that whole universe still exists. This may be a bit of an older reference, but [the TV show] 24, you have ended the first season and are going into the second season. It will be interesting to see the references that are made from the existing characters from ARR, but also there are enough new stories to enjoy in Heavensward as well, so we believe that not only existing fans and new fans will both enjoy the new story arc.

PSLS: Will you be able to take the flying mounts or the single-rider airships out of Heavensward into ARR?

NY: The flying mount and the single-rider airships will only be available in the world of Heavensward. There is actually a reason why you can’t fly in the A Realm Reborn areas, and that is because at the start of ARR there was no concept of flying and so everything was designed to be traversed on foot or ground mount. So, of course even if you were able to fly, there are no elements to interact with in the sky. With Heavensward we have focused so that you can fly and there are elements that you can see. So if you fly over there you may discover something new, and once you do get there, there is actually something to do. It is the joy of discovery and there actually being a new element there. We have focused our attention there, and if you were to be able to fly through ARR, there nothing interact with in the sky, you would just get tired of it.

The development team can actually take the flying mount and place it in ARR realm, but as I said, there is nothing to interact with and the map hasn’t been structured to compensate for the characters to be moving in the air so fast that the polygons get messed up too.

PSLS: With the crafting mechanic becoming such a popular part of ARR, have there been any additions or expansions to those elements?

NY: Not only for crafting, but also the gathering elements will have that raised level cap. All jobs across both disciplines of war and magic and hand will have their level cap increased from level 50 to 60. Through that you will be learning new skills and abilities that pertain to your craft, as well as new actions that are implemented in your synthesizing of your materials as well as gathering them. So, there’s going to be new elements that you gathers can explore, like new elements where you can harvest different ores or buried items you can search for. That’s an expansion element.

With that being at the base, it will expand. We are planning to implement a new system for the crafters where we currently call it Specialist, of course the name isn’t finalized, it might change in the future, but they are specializing in the specific craft. So at a certain tier you can advance in those specific tiers to become a more proficient crafter of that certain discipline and we would like to start that around the launch of Heavensward, so depending on which job you choose to kind of master and become a specialist, there will be actions that are specific to this crafter, but at this specialist level. It will continue to expand.

For the gatherers, you will be able to go into contract with different regions, like say for instance, Ishgard opens up in Heavensward, but your gatherer can make a sort of contract that will let them mine for special ores that are only available in that area, or are very rare materials that can only be harvested in certain areas. So, you will be able to kind of strategize where you want to have your headquarters, but you want to explore into different areas to gather rare materials to grow your collection. In summary, not only battle content, but your crafting and gathering, all aspects of what was in ARR is going to expand and you have the opportunity to experience a new type of gameplay with Heavensward.

PSLS: With the popularity of Triple-Triad, and the Golden Saucer, will anything like that be available in Heavensward, Or will there be any changes to the existing content?

NY: Yes, there will be content that will be updated even after the launch of Heavensward. I can’t say much about it just yet, but there is going to a brand new element introduced into the Golden Saucer area that is comparable to Triple-Triad or the Chocobo racing, that is already under development, so please stay tuned for more information that will be revealed. Also, speaking of the Gold Saucer, I don’t know if you are familiar with Final Fantasy VII, but there has been some feedback wishing for the snowboarding game, so maybe that will be something we will have to consider.

Dark Knight

PSLS: Could explain how the Free Company system will evolve with the release of Heavensward?

NY: Just a quick overview of what Free Company is, it is a group of adventurers coming together in a group, of course we the Grand Companies, which is the city state run, almost like a military or government organization. Free Company is just players coming together, like a guild to form a group. Some people just purchase housing, and use that as the headquarters for their activities.

Starting with the launch of Heavensward, we are introducing a new system where you can do Free Company crafting, where you are crafting as a group. With that, if you have Free Company housing, you can set up a basement workshop where you can get together with your Free Company to make things. The two biggest elements that are going to be introduced for Free Company crafting is going to be building your own airship, and you can build your own house. Like the external look of it.

Especially with the Free Company airship you can build, not only will it start to be available at the launch of Heavensward, it is the type of content that we want to continue expanding throughout the consequent patch series, or 3.x series, that we are calling it. So over the course of about a year or so, this content will continue to evolve and expand. With building the airship, you are not building a pre-determined airship, you are going to be choosing your different parts, like the engine, the body, the sails and each part has a different stat. So, if you want fuel efficiency you pick this tank, so with that you get to design your own airship with your Free Company as a group.

At first you will just be sending the ship out to explore the areas, but eventually with the patch series we want to make it so that players can actually board the airship and use it for travel and continue to expand on that. So, this whole idea of Free Company and Free Company crafting as well as the airship, or building an airship is one of the major end game content that the development team is putting a lot of love and effort into.

PSLS: With the expansion of being airborne in Heavensward, will there be combat instances in the air? Or, will it simply be a method of travel?

NY: The nuance is a little difficult to explain, but Yoshida-san’s request to the development staff is to not to include battle content when the players are just traversing in a public area.

Having enemies just being airborne, like say you are fighting someone in the air and you are a tank, it requires you to be near the enemy to take the aggro off of them, but you also have to think about what happens when you aren’t flying at the right height, what about the hit area. It is just too much to deal with and it is not contained as a sort of entertainment element, so it doesn’t feel like it is necessary.

That is why Yoshida-san made the request that we don’t want random enemies placed where people travel in public. But, with that being said, if it is a contained element, like say you are fighting an enormous boss that requires you to come in on a flying mount to get through the obstacles to attack, or if it is a contained element where it is set up or controlled, if it is staged and interesting as content, then it is definitely something worth exploring to incorporate, but that is where we are at now.

PSLS: With the new raid Alexander, there is going to be two different difficulties in which you can fight him. Will there be a difference in rewards for each tier? And if so, what would they be?

NY: Of course, otherwise no one would attempt the hard more (laughs).

With that being said, with the design or the look of the gear we don’t want to isolate the casual players who want to attempt the raid, so we want them to get the reward as well. So in terms of how the gear or item drops would look, they would be the same or similar. But, of course we want to have an appropriate reward for the hard mode as well, so we might make it so that the player can color coordinate the gear that drops, or by making the rate in which items drop would be higher, or there might be an added effect to the stronger items that drop, or any sort of element that would clearly distinguish it for hard mode. Of course, there will be a difference there.

With the hard mode, Yoshida-san recommends people to be prepared, because we are going to make it hard. It is going to be harder than the Baphomet dungeon, so be prepared.

PSLS: With Heavensward adding so much new content, is there anything players should before they enter the new world?

NY: One thing that does need to be mentioned, for players that have never played ARR and want to get into Heavensward, don’t just buy Heavensward. Because, it is the expansion pack. We will have have a bundle pack available for those that haven’t played ARR yet, and it will contain both 2.0 and 3.0 together. We do also have the free trial available as well, so if you haven’t played it before, we recommend them trying this as well and then purchase the bundle if they feel like they would continue playing in this realm.

 A special thank you to Square-Enix for meeting with us during GDC 2015 and a very special thank you to Yoshida-san, his translator and his staff for being very kind and speaking with us about Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward.