Final Fantasy XIV Interview with Naoki Yoshida and Banri Oda

At this year’s Gamescom, I had the opportunity to lead an extremely interesting Interview with Final Fantasy XIV Producer Nakoi Yoshida and Main Scenario Writer Banri Oda, in which we talked about the recent expansion of the shadow charm, the creative process behind FFXIV in General, and more.

(The Interview was held by means of a Translator in English. The original transcript can be found at the German Translation)

To speak first of all, thank you for taking the time today with us. Shadow charm is now for about a month on the market and I think it was probably a nice Surprise to see how positively the game was received by the Fans. How do you feel now that it is out there? Has it fulfilled your expectations or maybe even exceeded?

Yoshida-san: This is true not only for shadow charm, but also for all the extensions, where we work, but we always try heart and soul to be. In this respect, we have made shadow charm, nothing special. We have just done exactly what we always do. However, We would not have expected that the game will be a phenomenal success, yet in order that we would get extremely positive Feedback from Fans from all over the world. That was actually more than we had expected, and we are extremely happy about it.

Oda-san: The creative Team is really happy about how good the game is for the Fans to arrive. All Team members play with their private Accounts, and see that the player shadow charm really love. The Chats are full of comments and it is great to see that the Fans also play really together. We are really grateful for that.

The Story of shadow charm is based on a rather old quest series, the crystal tower quest line. What motivated you for the Story of the extension again fall back on this?

Oda-san: Because the shadow charm in the First play, and our characters from the Source is derived, there is basically no one in our world knows – apart from Ardbert, we already had taken, and Minfilia, the also First traveled. Apart from these two there is no one to to have the we have a strong bond; to the Story telling, we needed at least one other Person to serve as a kind of bridge between the worlds and was able to connect. The decision to use G‘raha, came from Ishikawa-san, who also belongs to the Main Scenario Team.

Yoshida-san: The ideas of G’raha and the crystal tower to use came almost at the same time. Since we had to find a way to travel through the Rift, we came up with the idea that the crystal tower is the perfect way to offered to accomplish this. At the same time we needed but also someone who could control him, and only G’raha actually came in question. So we brought both him as well as the tower in the shadow charm of a Story.

Oda-san: it is Also one of the main themes in shadow charm, of his own will, his feelings, views and opinions to believe and to different people, and G’raha combines all of these elements in some way. In this respect, we thought that it fits well in the story.

I think it is very Final Fantasy to take something from the past and turn it into a new Story re-use.

Yoshida-san: thank you. In the end, it is so that the entire development team from Fans of the series consists of titles like FFIV, V and VI, have you played when you were children and which you have, therefore, a strong emotional bond. I think that is exactly why you want to develop games that are in some way in connection with these older FF titles. What you have said so, just that the game in some ways is like the previous FFs, is a great compliment, and we are pleased to hear that.

Go back sometimes and play the old titles, to get Inspiration, or just to get in the right mood?

Yoshida-san: I don’t. *laughs*

Oda-san: I already sometimes.

Yoshida-san: The reason why I the old games are not really games is one of those that my role in the development team is Oda-sans. Oda-san, in Particular, is responsible for the creation of the real heart and the real soul of Final Fantasy XIV, so he’s trying to, of course, is the essence of the previous parts to bring back. He needs to understand the legacy of the series in all aspects, because the world would otherwise not really work and the player wouldn’t notice that something’s not quite right. Therefore, he must do a lot of Research to ensure that everything is as it should be.
Also: Even if FFXIV is a result of the legacy of the older titles out, it will not attempt to copy this. In this respect, Oda-san must, of course, the old titles again and again, to Rate, to have all the references in the head, but as for me, I have very special memories of the games from back then, when I played as a child, and I would leave them alone as they are. If I would play the games now, as an adult, again, you would feel probably different, and I think it’s good to have someone who sees the title from a different perspective.

There are several people working on the scenario. How is this handled within the team? What is the process when it comes to write the Story for new extensions?

Oda-san: What is the structure of the scenario team is concerned, there are ten writers, each of them for a certain type of Quest is responsible. One of these Quest types, the main scenario written by the scenario writers and Yoshida-san himself is, of course, and we usually have very intense Sessions, where we talk about what should happen in the Story next.
Then there is the Job – and roles-Quests that certain people will be allocated. This think of something and I reviewe it, before everything san goes to Yoshida’s, so he can sign off on.
And then the Side Quests were there, of course, in each Region. These will be developed in much closer collaboration with the actual Game designers, which they must then integrate into the game. The Team decides how many Quests are in each settlement, etc., is necessary, and what kind of Gameplay they have. As the first to be so set these things, and then there is a Meeting of the scenario team in which we have to discuss about how exactly we are going to implement everything.

Yoshida-san: Overall, allowed just four people in the main scenario, since it will, of course, is very important. One of which is Oda-san, another Ishikawa-san, and then two are even younger scenario writer, and will improve steadily, and the work in the Moment of the Story for the Patches. It takes a certain level of skill to write great main scenarios, i.e., the number of people that can work on it is, of course, limited, and the writers have to earn the right to do this, in the first place.

My compliments in any case, the Side-Quest Team. In my opinion the Side Quests in shadow were integrated into the charm so well in the main story as never before, and it has made a lot of fun to play this.

Yoshida-san: The Side Quests were actually all from Oda-san gereviewed. We had a couple of episodes that we are no longer housed in the main story, but then as the Side Quests still have to be published. Therefore, the connection was so strong. For this reason, it was also possible for us to ensure that the Side Quest Team and the main scenario Team and the Oda-san so closely together, could work to deliver great content.

Oda-san: Since we are the universe, the First in the shadow charm for the first Time have seen, and it is, therefore, very much that the players can learn and record had to, we want to make sure that the main and side quests are closely connected to each other so that the Transition to the new world and their story is working smoothly. In this respect, many thanks for the compliment.

Is there any main or side quest that is not quite the way you would have liked?

Oda-san: Ah, Yes, the Job Quests. We had to set this before we had any information about the First, so we had to be very creative to create something that in the new world would fit in a world that didn’t exist yet. That was hard. I can’t now change a thing, but I wish there was a way to combine these Quests with the First.

Yoshida-san: What the development process is concerned, we can things don’t really change – different elements, such as the Story and the Gameplay, you will need the same time to be developed and progress moving forward at different speeds. We are trying but, nevertheless, is always to connect it all, as far as possible and to consider all areas as being equally important.

Shadow charm a whole new set of things was introduced, new races, new Jobs, a new world with new story. How does the, if you develop something like that? Write first the Story and then consider what the Gameplay would fit best into, or determine which Gameplay we want to add new elements and write the Story then this, …?

Yoshida-san: My personal goal in Final Fantasy XIV is to have the best possible gaming experience, and all of these things are because of them. So what do I do usually, is that I have a General Design document dock, in which I capture in short all the important elements: the main story, new races, new Jobs, new places, new Dungeons, etc. Then I give the document to the Teams, so that they can build on this Info. Of course, I’m also in Brainstorming Sessions and Meetings. The main story is created, for example, usually in a three days long Session, in which we consider the entire Plot for the new expansion, and so similar to the run even when all the other elements. It is always the Team and I are.

One more question, for the Trust-System: I think the System was a great idea, but there are plans to expand it, so that, for example, three friends can play together with a NPC?

Yoshida-san: *laughs*. At the Moment, the Trust System is set up so that you draw with three NPCs in the fight, observing one’s own behavior, a surround, and then react, as is each player’s most useful. We would add more human players to the Party, would have to be the System correspondingly more complex, the game behavior, to analyze and to react to it. If we wanted to make something possible, we would have to adjust some things, and the NPCs could lose their effectiveness. We want to keep the quality of the system, however, as high as possible.
In addition, more players in combination with our current 17 job classes, the number of possible Job combinations, strong would rise and we would have to consider all these combinations for each Dungeon. And of course we would have to check every combination manually, to make sure that everything works as it should. The amount of work and Debugging costs would be enormous, and the introduction of these Changes could also delay the publication of further extensions. Everything is not so simple. For this reason, there is currently unfortunately no plans to make the System more human players are available.

Original English Version

First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. Shadow charm has been out for about a month now and I think it must have been a nice surprise to see how well-received it was by the fans. How do you feel now that it’s out and new things are on the horizon? Did it meet or even exceed your expectations?

Yoshida-san: This is not just the case for shadow charm but for any expansion we’ve released in the past, but we always try to pour all our heart into it, so we didn’t really do anything special for shadow charm this time. We just kept on doing the same thing that we’ve done so far. Having said that, we did not expect the game to be such a phenomenal success, nor that we would receive search extremely positive feedback from fans all around the world. That was indeed more than we expected, so we are extremely happy about the results.

Oda-san: The creative team is very happy about how well the game was received by the player. They all play the game on their personal accounts, too, and when they do, they see that the players really love the shadow charm. The chat windows are full of comments and it’s great to see that the fans actually play the game together. We are really grateful for that.

Shadow carrier’ story is based on a rather old side quest, the Crystal Tower side quest – what inspired you to build on that story line for this expansion?

Oda-san: Because the shadow charm takes place in the First and we are people from the Source, there is not really anyone there who knows our world except for Ardbert, who we’ve met before, and so, Minfilia, who has also travelled to the First. But apart from those two people, there isn’t really anyone there we have a strong connection to, so, from a storytelling point of view, we needed at least one other person who could breach the gap between the worlds and connect them. The decision to use G’raha for this came from Ishikawa-san, who is another one of our main scenario writers.

Yoshida-san: We had the idea to use the Crystal Tower and G’raha almost at the same time. Since we needed to find a way to travel through the rift, we thought the Crystal Tower could be used as a means for that, but then it needed someone who could somehow control it and G’raha was the only person who could really do that. So we brought both him and the tower into the shadow charm of a story.

Oda-san: So, one of the major themes in shadow charm is to trust in your wants, emotions, opinions and views and to pass them down to different people, and G’raha is kind of the culmination of all of that, so we thought that he naturally fit into the storyline.

I think it’s a very Final Fantasy thing to do, to take something that came up in the past and use it again in a fresh story.

Yoshida-san: Thank you. You know, at the end of the day the members of the development team are all fans of the series, of legacy titles like FFIV and V and VI, which were the ones they played when they were children, so they have strong memories of and feelings for these titles. I think it is for this reason that they so try to develop games that in some way connect to these older FF titles. So, what you just said about the game, in a way, being like older FFs is a huge compliment and we’re really happy to hear that.

Do you sometimes replay the old FF games to get inspiration or just to get into the feeling again?

Yoshida-san: I don’t. *laughs*

Oda-san: I do sometimes.

Yoshida-san: The reason I don’t really is because my role within the development team is different from Oda-san’s. Oda-san, especially, is responsible for creating the very heart and soul of Final Fantasy XIV, so he’s also trying to bring back the essence of previous titles. He needs to understand the legacy that is Final Fantasy in every detail, otherwise it’s gonna break the world and players will notice that things aren’t quite right. So he really needs to research everything over and over again to make sure everything is and feels as it should.
What’s more, even though FFXIV was born from the legacy of the older titles, it is not trying to copy those games. So, of course, Oda-san needs to go back to the old titles, sometimes to remember all the references, but as far as I’m concerned, I have this specific memory of when I played those games when I was a child and I’d rather keep them as they are. If I played them again now, as an adult, they would probably feel different and I think it’s good to have someone who looks back on those games from a different perspective, too.

There are several people working on the scenario. How do you handle that during development? What’s the process behind coming up with new stories for the game?

Oda-san: Speaking of the structure of the scenario team, there are actually ten scenario writers and each of them is responsible for a specific type of quest. One of those types is of course the main scenario, which would be written by the main scenario writers and Yoshida-san himself, and we usually have very intense sessions where we talk about what should happen next in the story.
Then there are the job and role quests, which will be assigned to specific people. They will come up with those and then I want to review them before presenting them to Yoshida-san for final approval.
And, of course, there are also the side quests for each area. Those are developed in much closer cooperation with the actual game designers who want to implement those quests. They will decide how many quests are required for each settlement, etc., or what kind of gameplay they should feature. So first they want to decide on these things and then there will be a meeting of the scenario team where they will discuss how exactly to go about those quests.

Yoshida-san: As regards the structure of the scenario team, there are only four people that may actually work on the main scenario since it is, of course, really important. One of them is Oda-san, another is Ishikawa-san, and then there are two somewhat younger scenario writers who are growing and improving as writers, and they are currently working on the patch scenarios. It requires quite some skill to write great main scenario quests, so of course the number of people who can work on them is limited and the writers have to earn the right to do so.

Please forward my compliments to the side quest team. I thought that the side quests in shadow charm tied into the main story better than ever and it was great playing them.

Yoshida-san: Actually, all those side quests where reviewed by Oda-san. There were a few episodes that we had come up with that could not be told within the main scenario, but we used side quests to tell the additional story. That’s why the link was so strong. Because of this we were also able to establish that the side quest writers and the main scenarios writers like Oda-san would work really closely together to create great story content.

Oda-san: Because the universe of the First is something that we see for the first time in the shadow charm and there is a huge amount of information for the player to take in as regards the world and its people, we wanted to make sure that the main and side quests were closely connected, so that the transition to the new world and lore would be smoother. So, thank you very much for that compliment.

Is there any main or side quest where you feel it didn’t quite turn out the way you would have liked?

Oda-san: Ah, yes, the job quests. We had to decide on those before we really had any information about the First, so we had to really use our imagination to create something that would fit into that new world, into something that was not there, yet. That was quite tough. It’s not like I can really do anything about it now, but I wish there was a way to link them to the First a bit more.

Yoshida-san: When it comes to the development process, there isn’t much we can do about those things – different elements, such as the story and gameplay have to be developed at the same time, and they progress at different speeds. But we will still try to connect them as much as possible and to treat them as equally important.

So, for shadow charm you introduced a lot of new things: new races, new jobs, a new world with new lore. What’s the process when you create those things? Do you first come up with the new story and then decide what would fit gameplay-wise or do you take a look at what you want to introduce gameplay-wise and then fit the story around that, …?

Yoshida-san: My personal goal with Final Fantasy XIV is to create the best possible game experience and all those things are a part of that. So, what I usually do is create a general game design document with very basic info on all major elements: the main scenario, new races, new jobs, new locations, new dungeons, etc. Then I give that document to the teams so they can build on that info want. So, in the end, I come up with the rough structure and the different teams will work on the details. Of course, I want to join them for brainstorming sessions and meetings, though. For the main scenario, for example, we usually have a three day long session where we come up with the plot for the new expansion, and it’s almost the same for the other elements. It’s always the respective team and myself.

One more question, about the trust system: I think it was a great addition to the game but I’m wondering, do you plan on expanding on it so that, let’s say, three friends could also play with one additional NPC?

Yoshida-san: *laughs* Right now, the Trust system is set up so that when you choose to use it, the three NPCs will pay attention to the player, surround him and react in a way that will be as useful to them as possible. If we added more human players to the party, the system would have to be more complex in order for it to correctly analyze player behaviour and react to it. So, if we did that, we would need to make quite a few adjustments and the NPCs might so turn out to be less effective. However, we would like to keep the quality as high as possible.
What’s more is that with 17 jobs, if we allowed for more human players in the party, the number of possible job combinations would become much higher than it is now and we would need to consider all of those for each dungeon, and check each possible combination manually to see if it works how it is supposed to. The workload and debug costs would be enormous, so implementing those changes could delay the release of future expansion. It’s tricky. So, unfortunately, at the moment we don’t have any plan to open the Trust system up to more human player.