Last year, Final Fantasy 14 received its third expansion; Shadowbringers. It received near-universal acclaim and introduced a new world, new races and new jobs to the game. We travelled to London in 2019 to go hands-on with Shadowbringers and chat to Director and Producer Yoshida Naoki about the game.
Now, almost a year after the release of the expansion, we had the opportunity to talk to Yoshida about Shadowbringers with the benefit of hindsight. We spoke about both new and old things and about the way the game works overall.
If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy 14 or just interested in game design, it’s a fascinating insight from someone working on one of the biggest games in the world today.
Final Fantasy 14 Shadowbringers
PowerUp! – As races such as Viera and Hrothgar come from FFXII and FFX respectively, how difficult was it to find a way to incorporate them into FFXIV in terms of lore perspective?
Yoshida – Viera, who first appeared in the series in FFXII, were created by game designer Yasumi Matsuno, and he worked on the writing behind the FFXIV alliance raid, Return to Ivalice.
Within that, it was decided that the Viera would turn up halfway through, so it was Matsuno-san who neatly decided the lore behind it all. Therefore, it helped the lore between FFXII and FFXIV to stay consistent.
For the Hrothgar, this was a different race that we only based on the Ronso from FFX, so there was no discrepancy there.
PowerUp! – Speaking of design, how difficult is it to make races that are so different, like the Hrothgar and Lalafell, fit into the game in a seamless way, for example as part of battles?
How do you design combat actions that work for all characters regardless of shape or size?
Yoshida – First of all, whilst there are indeed differences to the appearance in terms of the graphics, each and every race is the same in terms of collision detection on the servers, for things like battles.
Yes, Roegadyn and Hrothgar feel bigger, whereas Lalafell feel smaller, but in actual fact, the size of the column which determines a character as an object is the same, so it’s never unfair in any way.
In fact, if we made any playable characters bigger than Roegadyn or smaller than Lalafell for example, the difference between the actual object size on a server and how they look in the game would be bigger, so it would feel uncomfortable when playing.
As such, implementing characters that are out of scale isn’t possible.
There is little difficulty in the battles themselves, but there are several issues we face with graphics-related elements in general. Especially adjustments needed for specific racial characteristic with regards to gear models, and how detailed adjustments are all needed manually for not just big and small dimensions, but movement areas around the shoulders, neck length, leg length all the way to gender-related differences.
If it’s not that, the textures may end up looking too stretched, or having the polygons sticking widely into the body. Of course, before each patch release, we also carry out checks on the camera views for each race in cutscenes. For example, is there a character or object that covers a part of the player’s body, or perhaps a situation in which too much space is given, etc.
In important scenes, we even use special camera angles for Lalafells or specific camera angles for Roegadyns accordingly. Adding new races incurs a range of costs like these ones; which is where the difficulty lies, and implementation is not easily doable.
PowerUp! – Even though Shadowbringers deals with some very heavy/dark themes, it also includes a lot of lighter content. Dohn Mehg, for example, is quite fanciful and even feels like Alice in Wonderland.
What was the reasoning behind creating such colourful and different content for FF14?
Yoshida – The region of Il Mheg, with its dungeon included, was created with the theme of “a region decorated by a bunch of playful faeries as they liked” in mind, which is something less touched upon within the fantasy elements depicted in FFXIV up until now.
Amidst the surrounding regions that are “stagnating”, I wanted to bring a change with the fae folk that spend their days as they please – having nothing to do with the pending doom of the world. Therefore, it was created with my permission to use colours close to the primary colours – that were not deliberately used until now.
If it did indeed leave an impression to you, then that was, of course, the intention of the development team – so we are really happy to hear that.
PowerUp! – With update 5.0, Final Fantasy XIV added a number of new features. One of the most exciting of these is the NPC Trust system. Now that Shadowbringers has been available for some time, how have you found the players reaction to the system?
Have there been any surprises?
Yoshida – The Trust system implementation went extremely smoothly, as planned, and I indeed think it was well-received.
I think the reason for that is that we spent time on the acting of each Trust NP, and the system is thought to be casually accessible – i.e. it’s also easily used for learning mechanics and such. My biggest concern was that I’d receive lots of feedback like “it’s so convenient that we want you to make the system available for all dungeons!” haha.
Supporting the Trust system for each dungeon involves bespoke AI treatment for each one – and is therefore impossible to do all at once, but there are places that we hope to increase the support for it bit by bit.
PowerUp! – Gunbreaker and Dancer jobs have also been made available to players. Are there particular things you pay attention to when creating new jobs, so you can keep a good balance between new jobs and existing jobs?
Having been available to players for a while now, did they require some additional tweaking in recent patches?
Yoshida – When adding new jobs, the first thing we think is “which role should we add a job to”. This time around it was Tank and Physical Ranged DPS that we went with. The structure was that it was the fourth job for the tank role, the first time a role saw four jobs, and the Physical Ranged DPS that caught up with the rest with its third job.
After deciding this, the next point is about in what form this job will have an “original job experience” when compared to other jobs. So those in charge give their various ideas and we discuss them to go on to make decisions. Luckily, we’ve never had the situation in which we made it but found that it’s just not fun at all, so we needed to change everything completely.
It’s at this point that the battle system team really play their part. After the jobs are implemented, what they focus on is painstakingly aligning the functions with the other jobs in the same role. It’s not just about the amount of damage output but we need to make sure they line up all-in-all. While it’s something that’s extremely difficult to manage, we find it to be very important.
The challenge I can see for recent jobs that were newly added is which actions to add to jobs after the level cap has been increased. This is because the level of perfection has become higher at the point of implementation each time, due to the dev team having improved their skills!
Thanks to Yoshida Naoki for his time and to Square Enix.
Featured Image Credit: Nova Crytallis